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If you were to tune into KTKX 91.5/FM, a low-watt radio station beaming out of Texarkana, Texas, you might find yourself humming along to a voice belonging to Jonathan Kuiper, frontman and songwriter of Colorado Springs pop quartet Accidental Superhero. KTKX is among a growing list of similarly smallish operations -- in Pineville, West Virginia; St. Francis, South Dakota; and Potsdam, New York, among other cities -- that recently added two of the band's songs to their playlists. Theoretically, were you to drive from one corner of the country to another with your stereo tuner set to "scan," you'd stand a decent chance of crossing paths with Accidental Superhero more than once -- in radio-wave form, at least.
It isn't the modest airplay that's started to make things happen for this band, however. Currently courted by labels and on the receiving end of a heap of good press -- in July, the band was selected as the New York Post's "Buzz" artist of the week -- Accidental Superhero has attained something that many music-industry types in the post-startup era might dismiss as impossible: success on the Internet. Just last week, in fact, the band logged its 300,000th download on MP3.com, usurping totals for songs by such radio regulars as Jimmy Eat World and Linkin Park. And even before reaching that number, the band had seen its single "Miss You Like Crazy" reach the number-two position on the site's pop-music chart and number four on its Top 40 chart -- all without benefit of a record deal, a marketing budget or a single in rotation on major radio.
Not surprisingly, A&R men tend to regard this kind of grassroots success as a positive indication of what a band might do in the future. Kuiper says he and his mates have recently entertained offers from as many as ten imprints. (Presumably, these labels let mediums like MP3.com be their guide to undiscovered acts that do well with the Napster Generation.) Kuiper declines to name the companies the band has talked to: "You never know what might happen," he says. But clearly, the companies can use the assistance. As one executive of Arista Records told the Superhero lads recently, the industry "has had a bad year, because we've all got bad ears."
Refreshingly, though, rather than seize the opportunity to be one of the first commercial pop bands to emerge from Reverend James Dobbs Country, Accidental Superhero is biding its time and reading the fine print before signing on anyone's dotted line.
"We're not ashamed to admit that we do want to make money on this if it's possible, because we know that someday, eventually, we will have to stop," Kuiper says. "But we haven't had anything come along that had a good feeling to it. Six years ago, when we got together, we would have sold ourselves to the first buyer who came along. But now it's actually been kind of satisfying to get these offers and consider them but then actually just say, 'Well, you want our answer? Um, how about no?'"
Over the past six months, Kuiper adds, he's gotten a feel for both the phoniness and the fickle nature of the record business, beginning with the realization that the industry's impermanence is part of what makes it so volatile for young artists. A&R types tend to switch teams more often than pro sports players do, which makes it next to impossible to nail down a relationship with any one company. Labels open and close, get swallowed or just die out. And -- shockingly! -- he's found that gents in suits with platinum albums on their walls sometimes lie in order to close a deal.
"We were in this guy's office, and he'd given us this huge spiel about how artist-friendly the company was, how much they cared about nurturing their talent," Kuiper recalls. "Then the phone rings, and he has this conversation and then slams down the phone. He starts complaining to us about this group and their manager and how 'the band wants to be our number-one priority, but that's just not really our objective right now.' The ridiculous thing was, they were his only band at that point. And this was all in the space of, like, ten minutes."
But Kuiper's hesitancy to sign with a label also has something to do with the fact that Accidental Superhero is accustomed to doing things its own way. The band moved 10,000 copies of Everyman, its 1998 debut release, and expects to trump that number within the first few months of the release of a new, as-yet-untitled album due this fall. In an effort to create a built-in showcase for regional talent, the band organized the Colorado Music Revolution, which will team Accidental Superhero with kindred-spirit acts including Battery Park, Rubber Planet, Tinker's Punishment and Against Tomorrow's Sky. The series' first installment comes to the Gothic Theatre on Sunday, September 22, and the Fox Theatre on Monday, September 23, with Accidental Superhero headlining both nights. Apparently, this revolution will be live.
In about a week, members of Denver's Reno Divorce will board a jetliner bound for Europe, the start of a journey to a very specific destination: a storage locker in Brussels. That's where they'll pick up a booty of gear -- instruments and the like on loan from their friends in All, who store the stuff overseas for European tours -- for use on their own overseas tour. All's been through the international routine enough times to know a few tricks of the trade. For Reno Divorce, however, many aspects of the upcoming month-long jaunt across the Continent have come as a surprise.
"We were talking to our booking agent over there, and he was asking us what kind of catering we wanted," says drummer Andrew Erich. "We were like, 'Who are we? Bon Jovi?' Usually you're happy if you get a slice of cold pizza when you play."
Pizza may well be on the menu during the band's dates in Italy, but the rest of the itinerary suggests that the boys are in for less familiar fare. Reno Divorce will perform all over Germany, as well as in the Netherlands and England, where its record label, Boss Tuneage, is located. The band decided to hop the pond as much to promote its latest record, Naysayers and Yesmen, which has European distribution, as to simply shlep around the Old Country.
"When we were first talking about it, we were like, 'Oh, yes, it really make sense from a business point of view," Erich says. "But I think each of us was like, 'Hell, yeah -- we're going to Europe. We're excited to go over there and drive on the wrong side of the road.'"
Before the band takes the wheel abroad, Reno Divorce will headline a bon voyage show on Friday, September 20, at the 15th Street Tavern, with Ratbag Hero and the Hacks. Happy trails.