Like a lottery ticket, the promise of a major label deal often far outstrips what the opportunity actually delivers. Singer/guitarist Mike Garrigan discovered this firsthand. Snatched up at the tender age of 21 by Universal Records, he had a deal before he even had a band, and bypassed law school for a spin at the major label roulette table. "In retrospect, I was very young," Garrigan says. "To be in the situation where you're a songwriter and an artist at that age is scary. I realize now that I had a lot more responsibility than I thought I did to a lot more people."
Forming the band Collapsis with drummer Scott Carle (Dillon Fence), guitarist Ryan Picket and bassist Chris Holloway (both of Queen Sarah Saturday), they released an EP and full-length for Universal in 2000, but though they managed to sell more than 20,000 records, soon discovered the fickle downside.
"There's no street cred, it's all major label stuff. So once it got to the end of its natural life with the label, we didn't have the infrastructure to keep going," he says. "It's a bit of a misnomer that you can go from being a major label band to having street credibility with the fans. It just doesn't work that way."
After being dropped, Garrigan returned to the solo recording that earned him his first deal. He released his third solo album, The Promise of Summer, in 2002, then joined his friends Athenaeum, who played on the 1999 solo album, The Lessons of Autumn, which earned him his label shot. They too were dropped by Atlantic, a few months later. They back Garrigan in the new MG4 (as in Mike Garrigan Four) and just finished a four-song EP, Gravity Affects Me, at Garrigan's home that was mixed by John Plymale.
Gravity is a rock album with a tinge of the Southern pop sound Athenaeum draws from, melded to an introspective singer/songwriter sensibility. It's available online at www.mikegarrigan.com.
Like moths to the flame, SNMNMNM were drawn to the heat of the area's scene, settling here about a year ago after spending a couple years as a homeless, touring act. They nominally lived in Los Angeles, but discovered after moving there from Rochester, N.Y., that it's expensive paying for empty apartments while you tour. So they couch-surfed for a while and spent the next two years living a hand-to-mouth road existence.
"We'd be traveling from New Orleans to Pensacola and halfway there we'd realize we didn't have enough gas. So we pull out the atlas and find out where the mall is in Mobile, Ala., and go there with a CD player, pulling people aside, saying, 'Hey, want to hear a cool CD?' When they get done listening we go, 'We're trying to get gas to get to Pensacola, want to buy one of these?'" says Seamus Kenny.
The three friends from Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester (and Kenny's brother Matt) have an unusual lineup of tuba, accordion, guitar and drums, though Kenny also doubles up on rhythm guitar and trombone, while his brother, the lead guitarist, also plays trombone.
SNMNMNM just finished recording four new songs with ex-Zipperheads Ken Mosher and Tom Maxwell. The record will be combined with an earlier, limited release, six-song EP (now remastered), Asbestos Weekend, for a full-length entitled As Best As We Can, and released on the relatively new label Unschooled Records in the coming months.
"So far it sounds really good. But side by side with the old ones..." Kenny says with an audible sigh. "We still like the old ones, but the new ones--as far as recording-wise and where we are as a band, you can see how we've grown."
Audubon Park's Dave Nahm has been testing the waters as a comedian. "It's different," he says, "because you know immediately whether people like it or not; on the other hand, you know immediately whether people like it or not. You can't turn on a distortion pedal and pretend no one else is there."
But Nahm hasn't stopped making music. He just finished recording a five-song EP entitled The Bunny Is Not As Popular As Julius, with Nick Peterson (Fake Swedish, Des_Ark) at Polyphonic Audio. It will be released by the Lexington, Ky. label Baptistic Print.
The band--which features friends Robert Biggers (Cold Sides, The Nein), Matt Kalb (Hotel Motel), Finn Cohen (The Nein) and Ben Spiker--hopes to begin work on a full-length in the next couple months. Nahm describes it as a pop band and says, "We end up playing pretty loud, and we are prone to indulge in noise, but we write pop songs."
SNMNMNM plays Monday, Sept. 27 at Local 506 with Billy Nayer and Oct. 6 at The Pour House. Audubon Park plays Saturday, Oct. 2 at Local 506 with The Nein, Cold Sides and Sorry About Dresden.
Stay Poor/Stay Happy
A lot of Cub Country's folk-country falls more in the Leonard Cohen and The Byrds camp than the Flying Burrito Brothers or Whiskeytown. Former Handsome vocalist and Jets To Brazil sideman Jeremy Chatelain purveys a light, easy-going vibe that builds a strong pop aesthetic upon its loping acoustic guitar twang. Like a simmering sunset dipping into the mountain skyline, it exhibits a gentle sweetness that's quite infectious across the album's 10 tracks. There's a lot of variety--from the bubbly, spacious country-rock of "Missed the Train," which recalls the pop sensibility of Old '97s, to the spare, pedal steel ballad "Leaving the Bar," with its sad sack lyrics and haunting duet harmonies. There's "The West," whose folk-blues guitar, lush warmth and soaring vocals sound like Beachwood Sparks covering The Grateful Dead, and the Nick Drake-ish "Be Yer Own Hitman" drives a waltzing beat through a shimmering country-pop rainfall with a lilting arrangement that shines like the lights of a distant carnival. Chatelain's vocals are terrific and the songs are finely crafted, making this the kind of record that digs its hooks in deeper with each listen. While not groundbreaking, it has an affable charm that's hard to escape.
Cub Country play their record release party Friday, Oct. 1 at Local 506 with Schooner and Hotel Lights.