A few weeks ago, Backwash received a press release from Wind-up Records in New York, a label whose most high-profile client is the ubiquitous radio-rock band Creed. "Creed and Wind-up Records will launch the ultimate fan connectivity tool," began this exciting news flash, "with a free download of a 'virtual pager' available at thousands of retail, radio and music Web sites across the Internet." Reading on, I discovered that, once installed on my desktop, this "virtual pager" would alert me every time there was news in the Creed universe. By providing a sort of digital umbilical cord between the band and its fans, Wind-up hopes to appeal to those who don't want to miss a minute of what will surely be an action-packed bounty of band information. I can just envision all of the telephone conversations that will soon be cut short by this fabulous invention: "Sir, I'm afraid I'll have to be going now. My Creed pager has just gone off, and it appears that there's some sort of emergency concerning the band's new single!"
Yes, the music-industry machine never tires of the marketing game, as evidenced by the number of strange band/product pairings we've seen over the past year. Consider the MTV-bred hard-rock band Fuel, which headlined at the Fillmore Auditorium last Friday night and is currently on tour, thanks to the generous underwriting of a corporate sponsor. And who might that be? Some sort of motor oil, maybe, or a carbo-packed new power bar? Nope: The band is touring for Nescafé. Is this Nescafé trying to hip-notize its image, or is Fuel showing us that, after a long day of thrashing about, these sensitive lads like to retreat to their shiny new tour bus for a soothing cup of hazelnut latte? Locally, the young popsters in Tinker's Punishment have just received word that their band is one of twenty selected as part of a promotional blitz for Amp Energy drink, a cylindrical Red Bull knockoff created by Mountain Dew. It's a great deal for the band, no question. Tinker's will be featured prominently in Amp's radio and TV spots and on its Web site (ampenergydrink.com), and will be given tour support and live opportunities as a result of the deal. The campaign plans "to do for indie bands, with Amp, what Mountain Dew did for extreme sports," according to Amp. Tinker's and the other bands -- including Meg Lee Chin, Phunk Junkeez and Wookie Foot -- are pretty amped about all this, and it's hard to blame them: These days, when music and commercialism are so intertwined as to be inseparable, why not just cut to the chase and align yourself with an actual product?
Fortunately, the world is big, and there's still plenty of room for record companies and artists who don't have the capital, or the sensibility, to invest in product tie-ins. Denver has a wealth of little indie bands and operations that rely on word of mouth and more organic means of promotion, and it just got one more: Earlier this summer, Animal World Recordings moved from its base in Tallahassee, Florida, to make a home in Capitol Hill, where it continues to function as an internationally distributed label with an emphasis on interesting and obscure pop and indie rock. Co-founder Daniel Gill moved to Colorado to take a job with Boulder's Fanatic Promotions; from here, he runs the imprint -- "as a hobby that's gotten bigger than I imagined," he says -- with girlfriend Reda Rountree. The two are currently working with, among others, Australia's Huon (an appealingly earnest pop group that smiled its way through an early show at the 15th Street Tavern last week, despite being heckled by lingering members of the bar's daytime crowd), the Furtips and Bingo Trappers from the Netherlands, and the No-Nos, a Portland band that enlists guitarist Mike Clark, familiar to Stephen Malkmus fans as a member of the Jicks.
This week, Animal World releases its most compelling offering yet. Better Than the Beatles, a lo-fi, star-studded tribute to that long-lost late '60s curio the Shaggs, hit stores on Tuesday, October 30, and includes covers by Ida, Optiganally Yours (a project led by Pinback's Rob Crowe), Thinking Fellers Union 282, Deerhoof, the Double U and other bands that share an affinity for the Shaggs' unplanned brilliance. The Shaggs, composed of four sisters named Wiggins with a median age of sixteen, recorded their one and only album, Philosophy of the World, in 1969. The girls didn't really know how to play or sing, but, prodded by their father, they nonetheless produced a kind of sideways gem that has since become a prized possession among collectors of visionary and outsider music. The tribute culls its title from Frank Zappa's decree that the Shaggs were, indeed, superior to the Fab Four.
"I definitely recruited bands who I could tell would have positive feelings about the Shaggs and be fans," says Gill. "I think there was just something about the whole outsider thing that is very interesting -- bands that are bad but don't realize they are bad. It's different from hearing a bunch of fifteen-year-olds who just can't play their instruments. They could play their instruments to some degree. The melodies are there; the execution just wasn't. Somehow, their songs are just insanely weird. I like it that they sang songs about their cats and their parents."
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The Shaggs tribute is just the first in a series aimed at widening our awareness of underappreciated bizarro acts, according to Gill. And for a debut effort, the timing couldn't be better: Artisan is currently wrapping production on a film about the Shaggs' brief career (all of the sisters are now housewives near the New Hampshire town where they grew up) directed by Pete and Pete creator/director Alison MacLean. Better Than the Beatles also features liner notes by New York's WFMU jock Irwin Chusid, whose book Songs in the Key of Z is a good primer for those who want to dig into "the strange and curious world of outsider music." So far, Gill says, the response has been promising: The CD has sold out of its first pressing in pre-sale orders. (Don't worry, there are plenty more on the shelves of your friendly record retailer.) Even if it doesn't come with any digital pagers or café lattes, this is music that's truly Shaggadelic.