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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."

The street date for the new CD is July 22, but the Pinheads will be celebrating it a few days early: Their album-release party is scheduled to take place at Area 39 on Friday, July 18. After that, the road beckons. The band just returned from a West Coast jaunt that saw its members playing with Youth Brigade and another BYO signee, Brand New Unit. They'll venture into the hinterlands again beginning in the first half of August. "We should be playing here in Denver around then with Youth Brigade and Murphy's Law," Trevor reveals. "We'll do two weeks where we'll go to Reno, Washington, Portland and California, and then Youth Brigade will break off. After that, we might continue with Murphy's Law or we might just keep going on our own. But we plan to be gone for two and a half months and do the whole U.S. and parts of Canada. And then in February, we might be going to Europe with the Nobodys.

"What all that means, I guess, is that we won't be able to play around here that much for a while. Which is probably good. We don't want everybody to get sick of us."

Heard the promo on KTCL-FM/93.3 that implies the station is an alternative to corporate radio, even though it is a de facto member of the mammoth Jacor combine? Come on, guys: Be proud of your corporate heritage.

I know we are. On Thursday, July 10, Gina Goes Faster at the 15th Street Tavern, with Paleface. On Friday, July 11, Agent Orange is sprayed on the Aztlan Theatre; the Ted Bundy Band stalks the patrons at Cricket on the Hill, with Skull Flux; Jubilant Bridge can be spanned at Stella's; and Stanley Milton's Mean Streak wails at Ziggie's Saloon. On Saturday, July 12, Chautauqua Auditorium is the place to experience the fourteenth annual Boulder Folk & Bluegrass Festival, featuring the Velveeta Sisters, Laughing Hands, Jonathan Edwards and Dar Williams. On Sunday, July 13, Keith Murray and the Alkaholiks sober up at the Boulder Theater, and Hightone Records artist Dale Watson opens for Tina and the B-Side Movement at the Fox Theatre. On Monday, July 14, Boom Shaka rattles the Bluebird Theater. On Tuesday, July 15, Car81Mob gangs up at the Gallery Coffee House. And on Wednesday, Supergrass lights up in the company of the Foo Fighters at the Ogden Theatre.

One more thing: Johnny Clyde Copeland died last week as a result of complications from a heart transplant he received on January 1. Westword contributor Linda Gruno interviewed Copeland in May to advance his scheduled appearance June 1 at the Denver Blues Festival, but when Copeland canceled due to illness, the article was held. However, computer users can read the piece in its entirety by visiting the Westword Web address listed below. The profile is sadly ironic--Copeland speaks at length about how good he is feeling--but we believe that it remains a worthy tribute to a fine artist.

--Michael Roberts

Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox 2.0 at www.westword.com

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