By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
The most recent Denver appearances by Spell, including a June 28 date at Seven South, were the band's first as a free agent in quite a while. Which means, as you might have guessed, that the act's relationship with Island Records is over.
Guitarist Tim Beckman, who plays with bassist Chanin Floyd, drummer Garrett Shavlik and a new member, guitarist Tony Harsh, puts the best face on the situation. "We weren't really that bummed," he says. "Things get dicey when you're dealing with big companies, but we always got through it. We weren't shaken by the whole thing."
Late last summer, Beckman, Floyd and Shavlik traveled to Los Angeles to record their followup to Mississippi, Spell's Island debut (see Feedback, September 5, 1996). Beckman was pleased with the results, which were overseen by Nick Launay, a producer whose lengthy resume includes work with Talking Heads, the Birthday Party, Killing Joke, Gang of Four and Public Image Ltd. "It came out really cool. It definitely didn't come out sounding like Bush or No Doubt, which in my opinion is a plus," he notes. But shortly after the sessions were completed, Beckman continues, "the president of Island left--he quit, got fired, or whatever, and our A&R guy left--quit, got fired, whatever."
As a result, the bandmates suddenly found themselves in corporate limbo. Island was obligated to issue the disc; Spell had a two-record deal with the firm. But according to Beckman, "We would have had to put this record out with new people who we'd never worked with. Well, nobody in our camp was very excited about that."
This predicament was not unlike the one that led to the recent dissolution of Foreskin 500 (Feedback, June 19). Fortunately, things did not go as badly for Spell. "I think we were a red-headed stepchild--a reminder of the past. But they were actually really cooperative," Beckman points out. "The new president, Human Majd, called us up, and he was like, 'I want you guys to do what's right for you. If you guys want to seek another record company, we'll be cool about that and we won't tangle you up.' He pledged that they wouldn't fuck with us, and they haven't."
Earlier this year it appeared that the Launay recordings would be released by RCA's sister label in the United Kingdom, but that deal fell through at the last minute. So in recent months, Spell has quietly circulated tapes to a handful of labels. "We have a few majors that have expressed interest," Beckman says. "They've told us, 'We like the stuff from L.A., but throw us a few more.' So we just recorded some things at the home studio we've put together over the past couple of years, and I really like them. They're definitely on the grittier side of things." If none of the companies bite, he adds, "we've always had the chance to do indie things, and we might do them. We haven't sorted all that out yet."
When asked about Island's handling of Spell, Beckman is distinctly lacking in ire. He acknowledges that the company's launch of Mississippi, released in late 1995 during a time when the industry was absolutely inundating consumers with alterna-discs, was botched. "They definitely screwed up logistically," he allows. "There were an insane amount of modern-rock singles coming out every day, and because of that, bands like us didn't have a chance. It was a bad time to come out. But there are a lot more stories of complete failure in the majors than there are of success."
For Shavlik, this is his second unpleasant experience with a gigantic music company: His previous band, the Fluid, broke up after its debut for Hollywood Records was terribly mishandled. But right now, Beckman remains confident that Island's actions won't spell the end of Spell. "We all love touring and recording, and we're happiest when we're in the van, I think. We truly do have a ball, and we all still get along really well. And even though the Island thing is over, we had a gas. We paid for our house and drank from the top shelf for a few years, and we got to tour Europe and make fun of Live when we played with them. There's nothing wrong with that."
If another label came along, would Beckman turn and run as quickly as he could in the opposite direction? "Hell, no," he says with a laugh. "We're gullible."
The news is better for Pinhead Circus. The group, which has been associated with more music companies than any other outfit in the history of recorded music, has signed with its best one yet: Los Angeles-based Better Youth Organization (BYO), run by the combo Youth Brigade. "They just had their fifteenth anniversary," divulges bassist Trevor, who, like guitarist/vocalist Scooter and drummer Otis, prefers to keep his last name to himself. "So I guess that means they've been around for fifteen years, huh?"
The Circus's first release for BYO bears the catchy title Detailed Instructions for the Self-Involved and contains fourteen originals and one cover that Trevor declines to name: "When you get a copy, you can figure it out for yourself," he says. In terms of the new material, he claims that "we're kind of breaking away from the whole, like, humorous thing. It's not like we intentionally changed our songs; it's still the same stuff that we've always done. But I think it has a little bit more serious feel. I guess a way to describe the album is, it's a bunch of songs about youth and hardship and love and, you know, whatever."