The Fluid's Breakup - The Vintage Version

The Fluid reunited to play a handful of shows, including a June 20 Bluebird Theater concert (click here and here for details aplenty), almost fifteen years after calling it quits in 1993. Back then, the musical divorce was big news, but since it took place prior to the launch of Westword's online archives, the paper's account has long been unavailable - until now. Below, find the original column featuring quotes from James Clower and Matt Bischoff that brim with fresh hurt and frustration even as they echo observations in a pair of new Q&As.

It's where yesterday meets today.

Feedback October 27-November 2, 1993 By Michael Roberts

"It's a pretty pathetic end to a great rock band, if you ask me," says James Clower, guitarist for what used to be the Fluid.

You read right: The Fluid - among the finest Denver acts of this or any other era - officially is no more. The departure from the band of drummer Garrett Shavlik (Feedback, August 25) was the first sign of cracks in the group, which had fought through thick and thick over the past eight years. It took two more months for things to completely fall apart.

As is always the case in the breakup of a relationship, each participant has a different take on exactly what went wrong. Clower's is the darkest version; he admits that he's angry about what went down. "I quit two weeks after Garrett," he notes. "I was basically fed up with all the bullshit. It just seemed like our label wasn't paying attention to us anymore. I feel that we got screwed by the industry."

It didn't take long. After a career of trying, the Fluid finally signed a major-label deal with Hollywood Records late last year. But Purplemetalflakemusic, the cool album that resulted, wasn't embraced by either radio programmers of the nation's album buyers. The reasons for this are many, including the glut of hard rock and grunge in the current marketplace. Still, plenty of the blame deserves to be left at Hollywood's door. The imprint is relatively young, and its record of breaking new artists is, to say the least, suspect: The corporation's biggest success thus far has been the acquisition of the back catalog of Queen, a has-been combo that suddenly became profitable again thanks to the use of the song "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the movie Wayne's World and the commercially timely death of lead singer Freddie Mercury.

No one in the music business was surprised, then, when changes were made in the Hollywood hierarchy. Unfortunately for Clower and company, these alterations - particularly the firings of company president Peter Paterno, a lawyer who had been associated with Metallica and Alice in Chains, and the A&R representative directly in charge of the Fluid - essentially eliminated their primary supporters at the label. As a result, an initial flurry of activity surrounding the band at the time the album first appeared in stores was followed by deafening silence. The players in the Fluid were left to twist in the wind during a midyear tour. "We were supposed to get thousands of dollars more than we did. I came back with twenty bucks in my pocket," Clower notes. "I'm financially fucked for the next couple of years because of that tour."

These obstacles plus what Clower calls "personality problems" led him to follow Shavlik out of the Fluid at the end of August. A major challenge, this, but the remaining members of the outfit (bassist/guitarist Matt Bischoff, guitarist Rick Kulwicki and vocalist John Robinson) decided to soldier on. They recruited Dave Stewart, who has gigged with Bischoff for years, most recently on his great Fluid side project '57 Lesbian, to play drums, and started rehearsing and working on new material. "I thought we were doing pretty well," Bischoff says. "We were doing our own thing and it seemed fun again."

"To everyone except Robinson, that is. After more than a month of woodshedding, he suddenly announced that, according to Bischoff, "he didn't want to be playing what we were playing - the kind of aggressive music that we made. He wanted to do songs that were quieter, gentler. And so he left, too, and at that point, with three members gone, it seemed pretty silly to call what the rest of us were doing the Fluid."

Where all of these departures leave the Fluid's record deal is anyone's guess. Reportedly Robinson, who's currently in New York City and unavailable for comment, would like to fulfill the Hollywood contract by issuing an album either as a solo artist or the leader of a new band. That would be fine by Bischoff, who acknowledges that the Fluid's agreement gave Hollywood a legal out if Robinson left the fold. "I have nothing but encouragement for him to do whatever he wants to do," he continues. "He needs to seek happiness in his music however he can." As for Hollywood, representatives there refuse to comment on the status of the contract. "I don't think they know what they're going to do about it," Bischoff says.

If there's a bright side to this psychodrama, it's that several good new bands may arise from a good old one. Robinson is a compelling frontman whose new direction may prove interesting; Shavlik is the guiding light of Spell, the subject of several raves in this space; Clower is putting together a new outfit that he plans to christen with the timeless moniker LTO (which stands for Lana Turner Overdrive); and Bischoff's ´57 Lesbian may soon be hitting local stages, possibly with the participation of Kulwicki. "I hope it'll be like the phoenix rising from the ashes," Bischoff states, adding, "In a weird way, the Fluid breaking up almost makes sense. We went through every possible bad thing that can happen to a band - thefts, fires - so it's only natural that this would happen to us, too. But I'm still thrilled to be doing what I'm doing. This time, though, I'd like to repeat all the good stuff and skip all the bad stuff."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts