Sunday, March 25, 2007

From "Nickel" to the Refreshments

First of all, thank you, Jonathan Lethem, for bringing some attention to the much-ignored form of the rock novel. Everyone who's interested in reading more novels dealing with this type of subject matter should send a message to traditional publishing by buying You Don't Love me Yet.

And guess what? Lethem also has music to go with his book! Take a listen here.

Of course, he’s not the only one.

Today I want to take you from the band origins of “Nickel” to the beginning of the Refreshments. As you may or may not know, “Nickel” was written long, long ago by a band called the Solemines. The Solemines, consisting of Tim Anthonise, Jim Gerke, Dan Lancelot, and me, were regulars in the Tempe music scene circa 1990-1991. We led off for the Gin Blossoms at the Sun Club and elsewhere. (Incidentally, the Gins paid $75 for their lead-off acts back then. I wonder what they pay now.) After a change of drummers, the Solemines continued for a short time in the basement of drummer Dustin Denham’s house, circa 1992. This second incarnation, which we ingeniously called “Solemines II,” never played a gig, but within the batch of material from this period are some of my favorite Solemines songs. “Nickel” is from this batch.

For years, it killed me this music was never played for people, much less recorded. Scratchy practice-room takes were the only proof the songs ever existed. I’m sure many of you have band stories about the songs that got away. “If only you could’ve heard them.”

Well, now we can hear at least one of them, and maybe someday we’ll record more.

When Solemines II disbanded, Dusty and I remained in contact, and eventually we got the lead singer of the Solemines, Jim Gerke, to come over and goof around with us in Dusty’s basement. This new musical act, which we called the Hanson Brothers--not to be confused with the real band called the Hanson Brothers from Canada--had a decidedly different take from Solemines II, or Dusty’s previous band, the Mortals. We were a bit sillier, a bit more tongue-in-cheek, and we certainly weren’t afraid to embrace our less-than-cool side. (Our most popular cover was “Don’t Tell me you Love Me” by Night Ranger.)

The Hanson Brothers played out maybe six or seven times, leading off at places like Papillon’s on Apache in Tempe. (We were supposed to lead off Christmas night at Hollywood Alley, only to be told at the door there were too many bands on the bill and we couldn’t play.) We managed to secure a New Year’s Eve gig in 1992 at Papillon's, leading off for the Phosphenes, and that was the extent of the Hanson Brothers’ penetration into the Tempe music pantheon.

Early in 1993, as the Hansons waned, Dusty, still itching to play, offered to call the lead singer of his previous band, the Mortals, who had just gotten back from an extended trip to a place called Taipei, Taiwan. I had reservations. The Hanson Brothers hadn’t officially disbanded, even though we’d all but ceased to practice. I was also working hard, and well into my senior year at ASU; I didn’t have a ton of time to dedicate to a new project.

Still, Dusty persisted, and in April of 1993, I relented.

Next week, hear about this exciting new band’s first practice.

Art

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Nickel

It happened. I'm still a little shaken up by the whole thing.

The boys laid down the law in the studio last weekend, and for the effort we have a recorded version of “Nickel,” the theme song of Stuck Outside of Phoenix, to enjoy for eternity.

“Nickel” absolutely would not be possible without the talents and selflessness of four people.

Tim Anthonise of Gloritone

Jim “Jimmi G” Gerke

Scott Hessel of Gloritone

Tony Robinson of Wahalla Music

All four endured next-to-no pay, bad pizza, and daylight savings time (even though we were in Arizona), so we could all enjoy this tune. If you haven’t already, check out Fainter Farther Still. I doubt you’ll be disappointed. And do you like alt country? Then you’ll love the Wormwood Brothers.

And guess what? The whole thing was so much fun it got us (well, me) jabbering about doing more recording next year.

So, are you ready for lift-off? Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, "Nickel".

How do you get a copy of “Nickel” for your very own? Oh gosh, it’s so easy. Simply email me, and write “Nickel” in the subject line. Not only will you be sent an mp3 of “Nickel," but you’ll be added to my email list. (If you suspect you’re already on my email list, write “I’m already on your email list” in the contents section of the email.)

That’s it. Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Art

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bottle, baby!

I’ve been in the studio all weekend recording an absolutely sinister version of “Nickel” with many good friends in Phoenix. Remember? Right now, it looks inevitable this tune will launch on my MySpace Music Page in a week! Check back here next Monday, 3/19, for details.

In an effort to pump the Chicago Martyrs’ gig on Saturday, June 9th, I will dedicate as many blogs as possible between now and then to topics related to the Refreshments.

After last week, I feel compelled to write a bit about a Refreshments record that doesn’t get as much attention, The Bottle and Fresh Horses. Many of the songs on Bottle were hold-overs from the period of writing before Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big and Buzzy. The idea was that since we had so many songs, why not keep a few for the next record? “Wanted,” “Dolly,” “Buy American,” “Una Soda,” “Broken Record,” these were all hold-overs. Everything else was written during the period after Fizzy and before Bottle.

I think somehow this juxtaposition of material still shines through, that there’s some conflict on Bottle between old and new. I think the older songs might sound a bit flat next to the newer ones, which isn’t surprising; bands tend to be more engaged in new material. But I also think we were trying to grow, trying to add dimension to the band that made Fizzy. While many may have hoped for Fizzy II, we were looking to the next phase, and I think that’s reflected in the newer tunes on Bottle.

In retrospect, I think Bottle will be seen as a transitional album, a batch of songs that stand up individually but may or may not congeal. In another way, it reminds me a bit of Fables of the Reconstruction by REM; no one calls it their favorite REM record, but no true fan would be without it.

By the way, you can expect a healthy dose of Bottle songs at our Chicago tribute show.

Feel free to add your take on Bottle in the comments section.

Art

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Feeling a bit fizzy today. Or maybe it's fuzzy...

In an effort to pump the Chicago Martyrs’ gig on Saturday, June 9th, I will dedicate at least one blog a month between now and then to topics related to the Refreshments.

It’s been almost nine years since the Refreshments played their last gig, but the phenomenon of the Refreshments isn’t going away anytime soon.

Case in point: someone who would know told me recently that the Refreshments’ first record, Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy, still sells 100 copies a week. Let’s put that into perspective. The album’s been out for over eleven years (release date 2/27/96); there is no one out there who’s job it is to sell it; there are at least 300,000 used copies of Fizzy floating around (A modest estimate; at the time the band was still together, the album had shipped over 300,000 copies); there are innumerable ways, in this digital age, to get a copy of Fizzy without paying for it; and yet 100 people a week still manage to go to a record store, go to the internet, go to iTunes and spend their money on a brand new copy of Fizzy. After eleven years, that’s astounding. I wonder how that compares to other bands' debut records of the same era. I bet we stack up pretty well.

A lot of people must wonder (I know one person wonders, anyway) if Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy is close to garnering gold record status. Here’s what I know: Fizzy had shipped at least 300,000 copies nationally by the end of 1996. Gold records are calculated by the amount of records shipped, and the magic number for a gold record is 500,000. If Fizzy sold 100 records a week (about 5000 records a year) for the entire decade following 1996--assuming a new record ships for each sale--then Fizzy has shipped, modestly, 350,000 copies. I say "modestly" because, even though the record currently sells 100 copies a week, that number has undoubtedly gone down in the intervening years, meaning it probably sold more per week a few years ago, and even more per week a few years before that. Considering all of this, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fizzy has shipped somewhere in the 400,000 range.

But these are all educated guesses. Only Mercury Records knows for sure how many copies of Fizzy have shipped.

For posterity, anyone want to know which metro areas bought the most copies of Fizzy? This I do know, at least as of Dec. 15 of 1996, and I doubt the pecking order has changed much in the intervening years. Here’s a top ten list, according to Soundscan:

10) Chicago
9) Sacramento
8) Detroit
7) Portland
6) Los Angeles
5) Atlanta
4) New York
3) Boston
2) Denver
1) Phoenix

And just for fun, here’s 11-20:

11) Philly
12) DC
13) Cleveland
14) Dallas
15) KC
16) Pittsburgh
17) SF-Oak-SJ
18) Houston
19) Minneapolis
20) Austin

Art