Rather than write better songs, though, more and more bands are relying on gimmickry to get their names out there. With Qwest's human-coupon event promoting the Starting Line concert (The Beatdown, September 4), I thought I'd seen the envelope pushed as far as it could go. But the absurdity continues.
Despite some technical and legal problems last week, the Tampa-based industrial band Hell on Earth is still promising a "live suicide" on stage. Apparently the group's past exploits -- "sodomizing skinned calves and blending dead rats, then having fans drink the concoction," according to its own publicity -- were not shocking enough. Lead singer Billy Tourtelot told RollingStone.com that the band had been contacted by a terminally ill member of a euthanasia society -- and a Hell fan -- who was willing to end his life in an attempt to raise awareness of "dying with dignity." To head off the event, which was originally slated for a concert in St. Petersburg this past weekend, that town's city council passed an emergency ordinance barring "self-murder for entertainment purposes." The band vowed to press on, but its Web site was hacked over the weekend, making it impossible for the show to go on -- at least electronically.
Hell on Earth says it will try again this weekend. And in the meantime, a local outfit has been equally calculating -- although not nearly as shamelessly gratuitous as the dimwits in Florida -- in generating media attention.
Right now, Talk Radio, an Aurora-based trio, is on the tongues of several program directors across the country. Why? Because the band's song, "Talk Radio," is being considered as ramp music for several nationally syndicated talk shows -- despite the fact that the song is an indictment of corporate radio. In fact, the band chose its name because of its disillusionment with "Clear Channel-type corporate music radio," says bassist Mike Rust. But there's irony here: The cover of Supposed to Be, the band's 2001 debut album on which "Talk Radio" appears, depicts a youngster about to smash a transistor radio with a hammer -- destroying the very vehicle Rust and company are now so enthused about joining.
Talk Radio's music bores the hell out of me. While the band's new album, Mixed Up, is tuneful at times and there are genuine moments of hilarity on songs like "She Called the Cops on Me" and "Sucks to Be Me," overall the music is just a notch above mind-numbingly dull. So it's probably a good thing that the band has something besides its music to get people talking.
But some groups still prefer to let the music do the talking. Rather than spend an inordinate amount of time coming up with a clever moniker and publicity stunts, they just focus on writing better songs. Ordinary Poets (formerly Acoustic Circus Band) is a prime example. Comprised of members of Sad Star Cafe, the Good Sirs and Soul Pilot, the band is preparing to enter Michael Levine's Studio 9 at Ken Caryl Ranch to record songs for Sony -- on the major label's dime.
Ordinary Poets have Acoustic Circus -- the event, not the band -- to thank for that. The wildly popular concert series features local acts and singer/songwriters in a casual, stripped-down environment. Organized by singer/guitarist Mark Sundermeier, the concerts exceeded just about everyone's expectations and led to a collective-effort CD, Acoustic Circus Volume I, designed to be a snapshot of the scene. Even cooler, the double album was paid for by the artists who appeared on it and given away free at the gigs. The shows were so successful that Sundermeier and the rest of the band -- bassist Dale Seaton, guitarist/vocalist D.D. Seaton, drummer Grant Bollinger and singer/guitarist Jason Scholz -- concluded that a name change was in order.
"I never liked the name anyway," says Sundermeier. "But we soon realized, pretty soon after being a full band at the beginning of the year, that people were having a hard time differentiating what was the show and what was us as a band."
Sony didn't have a problem figuring out the difference. Volume I -- which featured over two dozen of the area's best and brightest -- included three Acoustic Circus Band tracks that attracted the label's attention. Although he stops short of calling it a development deal, Sundermeier says the label was interested enough to offer to pick up the tab for recording costs.
"They haven't committed to anything big," he adds. "You know, we're not talking about a record deal; it's just money for development. It's not gigantic, but nonetheless, it means something, or they wouldn't even be bothering."
While Sundermeier is excited, he's careful not to get his hopes up. He's been here before -- and instead of making him rich and famous, his last record deal left him bankrupt.
In the early '90s, Sundermeier fronted a group of California transplants called Deafen Reality, who had signed to Polygram Records. After the players racked up $185,000 in studio time, with an album nearly completed, the label decided that hair metal was no longer bankable and dropped them. As a result, Sundermeier was forced to file bankruptcy two years ago.
This time around, he's making sure things are handled better. If he's lucky enough to get struck by lightning twice, that is.
"I'm talking to two or three different entertainment lawyers about going about this the right way," he says. "Because when this happened to me before, I was nineteen and like, 'Dude, rock and roll.' So I have to play it the smart route this time."
So now, when he and the rest of the Poets aren't holed up in the studio, Sundermeier is busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. He's helping Mike Makkay with bookings at the Soiled Dove while assembling the next compilation of Acoustic Circus and scheduling future Acoustic Circus shows.
Catch Ordinary Poets' final show of the year (and their last with the Seaton brothers, who are leaving to devote themselves to their other outfit, the Good Sirs), Saturday, October 11, with Strange Condition and Salus at Herman's Hideaway.
Upbeats and Beatdowns: Also this Saturday, members of Newcomers Home will celebrate the release of their live disc, Live at the Boulder Theater, at the Boulder Theater (fittingly enough). Hobbs NM (Aaron Hobbs from Blusom) will be at the Larimer Lounge, while the Bastard Squad and the Otter Popps slide into the 15th Street Tavern.