I’m flying home from Atlanta today, Songs from Memory in the can and ready to press. I feel especially blessed to get to do this record after ten (!) years away from recording studios, and it reminds me of another time when circumstance smiled kindly upon me and my musical life.
Someone, I don’t know who, came across the announcement for the Ticketmaster unsigned band contest in 1994 in the New Times. We’d never heard of it, but it sounded like something cool to do: 36 different cities hosting a first round, then a bunch of regionals, then the final five bands head-to-head in Los Angeles. The winner got a check for something like $5,000 and a week’s worth of recording time at Bad Animals Studio in Seattle, enough time for an efficient little outfit like ours to make a whole record.
The Phoenix event took place at Minderbinders on Hayden Lane in Tempe. Five bands participated that Saturday afternoon, on an outside stage with no shade. The only other band I remember participating was Azz-Izz. I’m pretty sure we went on last. There was almost no one in attendance. We probably had a gig later that night, so I doubt anyone intent on the Refreshments experience bothered to go to Minderbinders that afternoon.
Strangely, I remember the gig being one of the best we ever played. We were getting better, gelling into something more than four guys who drank too much and hammed it up for the audience. We were a band getting ready for its close-up.
And we took Phoenix! Ticketmaster awarded us with an all-expenses-paid (although I remember Rog having to call the home office at one point to shake some cash out of them for things like tips for baggage handlers) trip to Seattle for the semi-finals.
I can honestly say I don’t remember a thing from the Seattle show--the venue, where we stayed, nothing--except for the fact that it was in Seattle and that we won again. (Thank goodness I’m getting this stuff down now or I may have lost it forever.)
So the finals, Los Angeles, five bands ready to claim the ultimate prize.
And we knew we had a big advantage over the other four bands going into it. Our fans got wind of this not-too-far-out-of-town show and many--a hundred or so, I‘d guess--made the pilgrimage to L.A. to cheer their boys past the finish line. It was greatly appreciated. If any of you are still out there, thank you.
Ticketmaster, fresh off the Eddie Vedder run-in, was out to prove how band-friendly it was, so this show in L.A. was pimped out. Grand ballroom with hardwood floors, video cameras flying here and there, dozens of monitors. I remember seeing the footage of it, and it reminded me of some elaborate MTV production mixed with a dash of American Bandstand.
We went on last of the five bands, which made us look like the “headline band,” especially when we went onstage and a good chunk of the heretofore ambivalent audience rushed the front of the stage and started dancing. We played “European Swallow,” “Suckerpunch,” “Down Together” and maybe “Mexico” or “Mekong.” The four other bands, all competent, were doing some variation of the grunge thing, and there we were, four guys from Tempe playing fun pop songs way too fast, and one hundred folks dancing their asses off. It felt inevitable, even as far back as that first gig at Minderbinders, that we’d take the prize. But it was still surreal after our set when the head of Ticketmaster announced our names and we himmed and hawed onstage, got our pictures taken, feeling both elated and ridiculous.
It turned out that 7,200 other bands submitted for the contest. 1 in 7200. It was a good thing no one told us the odds.