Providence's Alternative Source!

Musicians are flakes . . .
. . . and other realities of the music biz

Mark Cutler

Are you in a band? Do you want a record deal? Then perhaps you ought to get organized. How many times have you been in a band in which one or more of the other musicians flake on you? Have you ever lost a gig because the drummer disappeared and didn't call? Ever work with a guitarist that couldn't get to practice on time if his life depended on it?

It's no secret that musicians are fairly undependable. Yeah, they're artists, but that's no reason to be irresponsible and disrespectful to the other guys in the band. If you want to take your situation to the next level, you've got to move forward as a team. It's like in World Cup soccer. If you don't attack as a team, and you leave your strikers out to dry, you don't score. The idea in the record business is to score a deal. Get signed. Together.

Let me extrapolate. Pretend for a moment that you're a record executive. You've got a bunch of demos in your CD changer and it's your job to pick one of them and award the artist a contract. Maybe you love this one, maybe you really like that one. Maybe one reminds you of a band that you used to love to see live. But you can't base your decision solely on which bands you like. You have to ask yourself, "Which band will succeed?" Let's say you know one band on your desk has already built a sizable following and sold a few thousand albums all by themselves. They've been able to gig consistently and effectively. They've built a solid network of clubs that they can go back to with regularity. They've already developed an Internet presence, and shown organization and commitment. Obviously, this band isn't waiting for the fairy tale dream to come to them. They're doing what they need to do, putting themselves into a position in which that dream is attainable. They're willing to work for success. They're hungry.

Then you hear the Perfect Demo: A band that sounds like the bastard child of Sonic Youth and Nirvana, with a little U2 thrown in and the pop sensibility of the Beatles. It's amazing. But the accompanying note is handwritten on notebook paper, stained with coffee, and it comes in an envelope with the old address scratched out and the new one scribbled in. There's no photo, no press, no sense of history or organization. You love the band. But would you, as an A&R guy, stake your career on them?

Record label executives are professional gamblers. They make a life out of taking risks. There are thousands of bands out there, and these guys bet their entire careers on a handful. The payoffs can be huge, but just like at the horse races, there is no magic formula for picking winners.

Plus, her job sucks. She has to deal with musicians every day. Like you, she has to deal with the same unreliability in musicians that you've had to deal with in your band. But they have it a thousand times worse. Their livelihood depends directly on the reliability of the musicians they choose to support and nurture.

So, to reiterate: It's easy to choose the horse that looks the fastest, but that's no guarantee it will win the race. It's much safer to bet on the horse with a history of wins. Similarly, a record exec can tell you in five seconds which new bands she likes to listen to, but in business decisions she's going consider a band's track record more than their sound.

It's the same with club owners and agents. They aren't attracted to the acts that they think "sound good." They're interested in the acts that are going to make an impact, sell tickets, and sell records. If you're that organized, and you're already doing these things without professional help, you're light-years ahead of your competition. Take this into account as you make your way down the ol' slippery slope of the record biz, and maybe you aren't such a flake after all.

THE DINO CLUB. On Mark Cutler's web site (, which hosts the information about his side project the Dino Club, there's a description of the band that goes: "It's an informal beatnik bragfest made up of five blood brothers who've played hard together, fought together, divorced together, dissected the many, many intricacies of pop culture, and most of all, gotten real, real gone together."

The fact is, these guys have seen the kinds of things go down in their lives and in the lives around them, that make for great pop songs. The band, which also consists of Bob Giusti, Mike Tanaka, Emerson Torrey, and Scott Duhamel, have enough experience in the local music scene to qualify them as . . . well, real dinosaurs. But they've also, together and separately, bestowed on us a tarpit filled to the brim with the bones of great pop songs. Hey! Drink Up, their debut as a unit, feels like the accumulation of all that experience. It resonates with pop smarts and great vocal harmonies, searing guitar and, best of all, amazing hooks. For those of you too young to remember Cutler and the rest, the album serves as a primer of pop songwriting. Study up.

Ostensibly, Hey! Drink Up is a collection of "drinking songs" that describe "hour after hour logged shivering in alleys, standing astride barstools." They stay pretty faithful to their subject, too. On "Settle Up," Cutler sings, "Why is that jukebox mocking me?" On "He's In Your Glass," the band sings (slightly off-key like an Irish drinking chorus): "He's in your glass/With every new sip it is clearer to me." On the eerie "Blackout," in which the song's subject experiences his first blackout, Cutler wishes, "I want so bad to pace myself, no luck." Come to think of it, the whole concept is a great idea -- writing music about drinking and bars and drunkenness and all the attendant bad decisions that accompany those things. For an observant songwriter like Cutler, with significant support from the rest of the guys, this is as fertile a topic as there is. Fortunately, with great grooves, perceptive lyrics, and nifty performances, the Dino Club makes the most of a good situation. Though after the album's over, and you realize the consequences of spending too much time on a barstool, you may think twice about the idea of "drinking up."

The Dino Club will perform at Jake's on Saturday, June 22.

WANDERING EYE. Last week I omitted Al Basile's website from his review, which is a shame because that's the only way you can buy the guy's terrific record, Shaking the Soul Tree. The website is, appropriately, Check it out.

Blackstone River Theatre regrets to announce that this Friday's show with Northern Ireland's Craobh Rua has been cancelled by the group and its management because they were unable to secure visas to get into this country.

The Deterrents are playing on Saturday (the 22nd) at the Met Café. Opening the bill will be the Damn Personals from Boston and the Blackstone Valley Sinners (featuring guitar ace Rich Gilbert). It's all ages and starts at 9 p.m. In other Deterrents news, the band just booked a week with Southern Culture On the Skids in July and is looking into recording.

Barn Burning hits AS220, also on Saturday. Opening is Marissa Nadler, a singer-songwriter comparable to Mazzy Star and Joni Mitchell, then ellison. A cool night of indie-style rock, etc.

The first In Your Ear (286 Thayer Street, Providence, 861-1515) in-store show was a success and now its time for the second. This Sunday (the 23rd) at 3 p.m., Les Baton Rouge, a riot grrrl style garage band from Portugal will add a little international flavor to the idiom.

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Issue Date: June 21 - 27, 2002