Music News

Signed, Sealed and Almost Delivered

Everything's coming up Roses these days for Nate Barnes and brothers Jake and Daniel Sproul. Three years after they banded together as Rose Hill Drive, they finally have a recording contract -- a joint deal with SCI Fidelity Records, the label founded by Madison House and the String Cheese Incident, and Megaforce Records, the New York-based indie best known for its work with Metallica and Anthrax in the early '80s.

"We chose to go with Megaforce because they were enthusiastic about the band," says Brian Schwartz, manager of the Boulder-based threesome. "More importantly, having SCI Fidelity involved meant that we were having family involved, meaning people that we're very comfortable with, people who we work with. The band is booked by Madison House, so SCI Fidelity is very much our people. We just felt like we were getting the best of both worlds: We could do business with people we are very comfortable with, and at the same time, we could bring in new people with new experiences who have more of a rock-and-roll background."

Fair enough. But Megaforce -- whose current lineup consists of Ministry, Clutch, Blackfire Revelation and S.O.D. -- is really more of a metal-centric imprint than a straight-up rock label, while SCI Fidelity is more entrenched in the jam scene, with a roster that includes String Cheese, Umphrey's McGee, Steve Kimmock and Railroad Earth. On the surface, that would seem like an unwieldy pairing -- but Schwartz contends that it makes perfect sense. "We were fully aware that SCI Fidelity is more of a jam label and Megaforce is more of a metal label," he allows. "But that being said, if you look at what Rose Hill Drive is and who they attract, they sort of fall right in the middle."

Rose Hill does have a noted ability for crossing genres, which is why the group has garnered enviable opening slots supporting acts ranging from Van Halen and Gov't Mule to Big Head Todd and the Monsters and Drive By Truckers. Moreover, the band's anachronistic approach -- devoid of glitz and pretension -- has a cross-generational appeal; its no-frills, blues-based sound recalls past rock behemoths such as Cream and Led Zeppelin, whose material Rose Hill reintrepreted flawlessly a few weeks ago at the Boulder Theater. But that's where that particular comparison ends.

"I think there could only ever be one Led Zeppelin," Schwartz declares emphatically. "I think it's time for there to be a Rose Hill Drive. I honestly don't think that anyone could ever have the same sort of impact that a band like Led Zeppelin had. However, I think that what Led Zeppelin did for kids and fans back then, Rose Hill does for kids and fans today. I think that they're the type of band that has the potential to leave fans with their mouths gaping wide open and just that sort of look on their face, like,'Oh, my God, I just witnessed history' -- in the rock-and-roll sense.

"Very few artists are able to reach the core of a person," he continues. "For those who saw Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix or Grand Funk Railroad, or some of these other bands, I can only imagine that they were just blown away, like they couldn't believe what they were witnessing. And that's the way I felt when I saw Rose Hill the first time, and that's the way I feel every time I ever see them."

Schwartz sought out the three musicians after seeing them at a Boulder festival a few years ago, "between the hot dog stand and the tamale stand," he remembers. "The first time I saw them -- when Daniel was seventeen and Jake and Nate were nineteen -- my jaw dropped. I said to myself, 'Oh, my goodness. I cannot believe this.' And I literally picked up the phone the next day and tracked them down and became their manager." He's guided Rose Hill ever since.

The band created such a deafening buzz right out of the gate that it attracted the attention of famed producer Brendan O'Brien, who offered to produce the act solely on the strength of its demo. The fact that O'Brien -- who's worked with Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots, and most recently produced Springsteen's Devils and Dust -- was interested in a relatively unknown act prompted a host of major labels to come courting. Rather than strike while the iron was hot, though, Rose Hill not only shunned those suitors, but inexplicably shelved the subsequent O'Brien sessions, reportedly because the recordings didn't meet the band's expectations.

As the members held off making a proper studio album, some of the early buzz began to wane. Though it would be easy to second-guess their decision to wait for just the right deal while they focused on developing as artists and growing their fan base organically, apparently the move paid off: In January, the act returned to Atlanta, where it recorded its debut with O'Brien collaborator Nick DiDia. And according to Schwartz, the results, which will be unveiled this summer, are stunning.

"A first record is monumental," he explains. "And I think a lot of times bands will make a first record prematurely. To me, that's often a mistake. But the greatest thing of all about waiting is that they have established who they are as a band. And they did that on their own, without interference from anyone. We could've signed a major-label deal when we had the opportunity, but it just didn't feel right. So we removed ourselves from that situation to do this on our own and got out on the road, where they could develop as a band, develop the sound, develop who the guys are, develop the way they think about things. And their experiences out there have really led to what I feel is an incredible book. This recording is a storybook of their lives, and it unfolds that way when you listen to it. The record is amazing, and we all feel so happy. It was really worth the wait. The guys are just at a place where they were truly ready to make their first record."

Although Schwartz isn't willing to divulge the exact terms of the deal, he maintains that it's right for the band at this stage, and that it's only the beginning.

"To me, getting signed isn't the milestone. The record is the milestone," he says. "Getting signed is awesome, but it's just one little step in a progression."

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Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera