Making Single File's major-label debut was a struggle
It's tough staying punk-rock.
Although the ideal itself has never officially been defined, die-hard supporters of the genre have long claimed that to be a true punk-rocker, you must shun mainstream music and always remain a dark, oily stain on its bright shiny surface.
What if, in spite of a punk band's best intentions of ignoring the mainstream, it finds them anyway — does that still make them punk? Single File, they couldn't care less. How punk is that?
In late 2006, the band's song "Zombies Ate My Neighbors" began getting consistent play on the radio after lead singer/guitarist/bassist Sloan Anderson submitted the song to a "Best Band in Denver" contest sponsored by KBPI. The station passed on the song but gave it over to the more alternative-friendly KTCL, which put the song into regular rotation and gave the act exposure to legions of fans who had never heard them before.
The whole ordeal was quite surprising to the band and is still referred to as "dumb luck" by the members. The band also feels frustrated knowing that people will not know how much hard work it took to achieve that sort of luck.
"We put in three or four years touring and handling every aspect of our band, from booking our own shows to doing our own promotion — pretty much everything," drummer Chris Depew says. "When you put that much blood, sweat and tears into something, having someone not give you credit is extremely frustrating. Credibility is one of the hardest things to establish as a band, especially nowadays, when bands are in and then out the next week. It was very important to us for people to understand that this is what we had been doing the whole time."
Before "Zombies Ate My Neighbors" was ever heard on the radio, the trio, rounded out by bassist/guitarist Joe Ginsberg, toured tirelessly without any sort of label support. Playing more than 400 shows in and out of state, Single File booked shows as frequently as possible with that whole punk-rock, do-it-yourself ethic in mind.
"We would keep touring. We'd go out for a month, come back for like three or four weeks and do the exact same route," recalls Ginsberg. "We could literally tell kids we're gonna be back this day. Sometimes we would book the next show that night."
As if the rigors of balancing touring and everyday life were not enough, the band had the added pressure of living in three separate states at the time. While Depew remained in the band's home state of Colorado, Ginsberg attended school in California and Anderson was living in North Carolina, working on a career. Still hoping to keep the project afloat, Ginsberg and Anderson traded songs the only way technology would allow at the time, through voice mail.
"I would sometime text him first and tell him not to pick up his phone so I could leave a song on his voice mail," says Ginsberg. "That actually continued until this past year, when I got a Mac."
"We're finally joining the 21st century," jokes Anderson.
After a brief stint in which both Anderson and Depew moved to California, Single File decided to focus on music full-time, and, as Anderson puts it, "not have any more feet out the door." This decision meant that the band would have to leave California behind and make Colorado their home state again. This decision was made easy by a mutual love for the music they grew up on in Denver and the contempt they shared for the scene in California.
"We all came up in the punk-rock scene back in the days of Qualm, Pinhead Circus, the Fairlanes and the Gamits," explains Depew. "So we know that coming back to Colorado gave us a much better chance to start a scene around our band."
Anderson puts it a little more bluntly.
"L.A. is just a cesspool of crappy bands," he declares. "It's oversaturated and has too much stimulus to get anyone's attention. It's easier to be a band in Colorado. People are more receptive."
That reception turned out to be a warm one as the band began playing packed all-ages shows at the Marquis and the Gothic. The KTCL exposure happened shortly thereafter, and soon the group found itself being courted by major record labels that its Denver punk-rock heroes had decried for so long. Single File eventually signed with Reprise — but just as they were poised to record their debut for the imprint, the guys found out that major-label execs and DIY punkers don't always see eye to eye.
They were paired with Howard Benson, an accomplished producer and aerospace engineer whose credits include the last Kelly Clarkson record and the All American Rejects 2005 smash, "Move Along."
"He'll have you know how many platinum records he has," Anderson points out. "They're set up to just crank out records without even paying much attention. The studio is like a machine. It's like, you want a platinum record? Here it is."
Because of the way Single File had always operated and the way that Benson had become accustomed to doing things, tensions began to mount, the recording process slowed, and Anderson could not write lyrics for the songs that had already been recorded.
"The more I tried, the less I could write, and finally I just said, 'I can't do this,'" he remembers. "We went back on the road and did [a few tours], and next thing you know, it's October, and we didn't have anything to show for it. I was like, 'Shit, did I blow our big chance?' I can't even come up with one song idea, let alone a record's worth. All of us went in this downward spiral, and myself, specifically, kinda hit rock bottom. Somewhere throughout that spiral came all these new songs."
Slowly but surely, Anderson completed all of the lyrics for the album. He and Benson eventually compromised, and now, nearly two years after the band initially signed with Reprise, Single File will release its debut album, Common Struggles. The cover of the album depicts a sad-looking cartoon character with a cast on its arm, soaking wet, while a solitary storm cloud dumps buckets of water on him. It is hilariously tragic with a sweet side that almost makes you feel sorry for laughing at the little guy. This sentiment pretty much sums up the album, which is happy and peppy enough to be played at any high-school prep rally, but lyrically sad enough to be sung by the insecure nerd looking onward. "Mannequin Loveseat," in which Anderson bemoans, "I'm sad about pretty things just out of reach," is a classic opener for an album that almost didn't get released.
"They really wanted us to push us through the machine," says Anderson, "and this project almost came to an end because of contention between us and Howard Benson. In the end, I think Howard was happy that he compromised some of his production style to make a more honest, Weezer, grungy type of sound. I think he's more proud of this than most records that he has done."
If their standing up strong and throwing a spoke in the mainstream music machine until they made a record they wanted to make isn't the most punk-rock thing about the men of Single File, their desire to continually do so may be.
"Our label is a great label, and they are absolutely the right label for us, but we are constantly fighting them," says Ginsberg. "They try to throw things at us and tell us this is the way it's gonna be, and we tell them, 'No, that doesn't work for us; that's not how we want to do this.'"
"Nothing's going to change from how we started," Anderson concludes.
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