So close and yet so far...|
My first band was called The Beat Villains. We played live shows in Sacramento throughout the nineties and made a few recordings. Looking back on why the band didn't make it despite big opportunities, I'd have to say it just needed a lot more work, especially on my part. I simply did not have the time to dedicate myself to a music career and a radio career at the same time. The band ended up having a different line-up with almost every gig. But the band actually made money and had fans and was even considered by major record labels before it completely dissolved in the late nineties.
The Beat Villains was a society of musicians over time. Some of the members of the Sacramento music scene who played with the Beat Villains include Jimmy Brasier, Scott George, Peter Torelli, Jason Smith, Clay Bearden, Ron Givens, John Young, Eric Murray, David Conley, Ally Storm, Aaron Kinney, Michael Sylvestre, George Peterburs, Jeffry-Wynne Prince, Frank Simmons and others.
For what it was, the Beat Villains actually had an amazing buzz around town for awhile, partly because I talked about the band on my radio show. As I learned from my radio career, just because something gets played or mentioned on the air, doesn't mean it will be a hit. The Beat Villains were ironically a genuine crowd pleaser, despite the fact that I was not up to par with industry standards as a musician or vocalist.
After scoring local airplay and great response to my song "Waves On The West Coast" in 1989, I decided I wanted to keep on making recordings while working in radio at the same time. Well, it didn't exactly work out that way. I was fired from KWOD in late 1989 because a new management team came in and decided to make radical changes - that didn't quite work out. So they hired me back in 1991 and I was on the air again. I then created a local artist show Sunday nights because I had a lot of friends in local bands and I wanted to give them opportunities.
My songwriting repertoire had been steadily growing since high school. I now had over a hundred songs, but maybe only twenty were presentable to other musicians. After recording "Waves On The West Coast" with Harrison Price in 1989, I moved on later that year to work with Producer David Houston, who arranged and produced seven songs that I wrote and sang. He seemed legendary because he had worked with hit artists such as Club Nouveau and Tony! Toni! Tone!
But by 1991 I wanted to do something more rockin' so I recorded at Paradise Recording Studios, where I worked with the production team of Kurt & Craig, who engineered for Tesla. I certainly didn't want to do a hair band thing because my hair wasn't long enough and my attitude wasn't bad ass enough. I wanted to do modern rock, but I also wanted to work with someone who knew how to record guitar-bass-n'-drums only. No more keyboards - I wanted a rockin' sound as opposed to a slick sound. One of my songs they produced for me was called "Orange Underworld," which would be a future Tangent Sunset song and the name of my publishing company.
Kurt & Craig did a good job but the only reason I didn't stay with them was that I found a new producer who would work with me at no cost. His name was David Conley. I met him in 1991 at Naja Davis' house. Naja was my high school friend (and future Raiderette) who sung background on a song for me called "Survival" in 1989 during the sessions with David Houston. She had me DJ her wedding and David was the husband of Naja's sister. David was also the first manager for the band Cause & Effect, who were signed to Zoo Entertainment/BMG and had a few national hits such as "What Do You See" and "You Think You Know Here."
Working with David Conley
David produced a few recordings for me in his little home studio throughout 1992. He even got me to play my first live gig in his modern rock cover band called The Plastic Violets. David played keyboards and had me pose as a bass player even though the bass lines were coming from sequencers, not me - at least for the first set. The second set was live - and that's when I learned that I was no bass player, maybe even not a real musician at all. I kept trying to tell David in practices leading up to the gig that I wasn't ready but he kept saying "you'll do fine."
David figured the bass lines were too simple to mess up - even for a beginner. What David didn't understand was that even though I had been strumming guitar since 1976, I had no clue about rhythm. I simply did not understand timing and I couldn't seem to communicate to any musician what my weakness was. That night at Candlerock Lounge has become a blur to me now. All I remember was that the first set - all sequenced - was flawless and the crowd of about 100 people loved the set. The second set - all live - opened with Nirvana's "Come As You Are" and I blew it from the first note. It sounded worse than the worst garage band and the crowd quickly thinned out. Needless to say, the gig was a disaster and David promptly fired me after one gig.
But David and I remained friends and he continued to invite me over to his house to record.He agreed to play live with me again for a gig that he set up. I came up with the name The Beat Villains because in my mind I had a way of killing the beat of the music with offbeat timing. In June I met a drummer named Ron Givens at a night club called Key Largo and he agreed to play bongos for the gig set July 4 at Java City in Downtown Sac. We did mostly my original songs and a few covers such as "Things We Said Today" by The Beatles and another attempt at "Come As You Are" by Nirvana. This time we pulled it off. It was a packed house - mainly because it was an Independence Day celebration. We invited several friends and were given a warm response. It was that gig that made me realize that I can be a live musician after all.
Music Industry Friends
In August a record company friend of mine name Bill Pfordresher (who worked at Curb Records at the time and later Elektra) invited me to hang with him for a week in Los Angeles. He had heard some of my home recordings and David's production. He particularly liked the songs "Everyday Hideaway" and "Alien Sunset" and decided to book some studio time for me with his buddies in Malibu to re-record these songs. Bill's main claim to fame up to that point was that he had worked in the studio with Ambrosia during their hit success years in the early eighties. Bill eventually helped Kenny Wayne Shepherd get a record deal.
At this session I felt very comfortable. It was a small studio with keyboards everywhere. Bill's two producer friends laid down the basic keyboard tracks after listening to my demo. As much as I tried to get away from the synth sound, they had a way of making it all sound legit, plus I insisted on throwing acoustic guitar on top of it. The session took all day and when it was over both Bill and I were very happy with the results. For whatever reason, though, it went nowhere from there even though I was sure both songs could be national hits.
Opening For KWOD-a-palooza
As KWOD's very first alternative music festival in October 1992 approached I became more serious about a music career. I asked Station Manager Gerry Cagle if my band could open the festival and he had no problem with it. We even added KWOD's night jock Ally Storm to the line-up since she could sing and play saxophone. Ally would later become a radio star in San Francisco doing middays at Live 105. She was good looking, had a good-sounding radio show on KWOD and was a talented musician. So David, Ron, Ally and I practiced at David's house frequently. In the meantime I had Kevin Pratt at Bill Rase Recording Studio compile my best studio recordings from various producers and put together an album on cassette. This first Beat Villains album was called West Coast Pop Art Revival and included Kevin's remix of "Waves On The West Coast" as well as "Alien Sunset" and "Everyday Hideaway."
On October 7 the Beat Villains opened the station festival called "KWOD-a-palooza," which of course was named after the popular national festival "Lollapalooza." It was held outdoor at the Radisson in North Sacramento for a capacity crowd of about 1,000 people. Most people showed up early to catch the full line-up, which included Miss World, Material Issue, Cause & Effect and headliner Shakespeare's Sister, who had a huge current modern rock hit called "Stay." I'm willing to bet the main draw, though, was local heroes Cause & Effect, who were gaining national attention. Sadly, it would be the last time Sacramento would see keyboardist/singer Sean Rowley in action. He died a month later in Minneapolis from cardiac arrest triggered by an asthma attack. KWOD jock Michael Hayes preserved the entire show on video.
While none of us could foresee the tragedy that would strike Cause & Effect, we all had a great time at the show. The crowd reaction to The Beat Villains was incredible. This time I was very comfortable and was well-rehearsed, as I had now become pretty familiar with my own material, especially songs like "Everyday Hideway" and "Alien Sunset." David, who played keyboards, shared the spotlight by singing one of his songs. Ally also sang one of her songs. All together we did seven songs. At one point I stopped to tell the crowd "we have free cassettes in the back for the first hundred people who want one." I had no idea that the entire crowd would suddenly rush over to the booth to collect their cassette. It was a mob scene and I was stunned. Then again, it was free, so maybe that had something to do with it. I was pretty sure after the gig was over from watching the video that we upstaged all the other acts except maybe Cause & Effect.
In my mind The Beat Villains were on a roll and headed for the big time. But as usual, what slowed down the progress of the band was the fact that I had to put in a lot of work at KWOD, where I wore many hats. In January 1993 Gerry Cagle left for a music industry job in L.A. and I was given much more responsibilities. I was already Program Director and Midday Personality, but with Cagle's departure I was now in total charge of programming and only had to report to the owner, who left a lot of the decision-making up to me. So I ended up spending more time at KWOD and less time concentrating on The Beat Villains.
I wanted to do more guitar-oriented music but I kept winding up in keyboard situations. Nevertheless, throughout 1993 I booked recording time with yet another producer, Aaron Kinney, who had a studio Downtown called PasKey. Aaron, despite being a Led Zeppelin fan, had a deal with the analog recording studio next door called Enharmonic that he would only do digital clients. Then for reasons I can't remember David Conley, Ally Storm and Ron Givens all dropped out of The Beat Villains so I had to find new players.
Through a local band I liked called Mature Innocence, I was introduced to drummer John Young, who had just moved to Sacramento from Los Angeles, where he had grown tired of the glam scene. John and I had a lot of the same musical tastes - being Beatle fans. David Conley had also been a huge Beatle fan, which is kind of why I liked working with him. I liked the fact that not only could John play drums, he could play guitar and sing as well. After he introduced me to his bassist friend George Peterburs The Beat Villains had a new line-up. We practiced a few times at John's house but most of what came out of the PasKey sessions was the result of on the spot playing on the part of John and George. They pretty much showed up a few times and nailed the tracks. As for me, I was still uncomfortable singing in the studio environment.
The Freestyle Cassette
The project was finished in March 1993 and ended up being another free cassette release of The Beat Villains. The album was called Freestyle and featured my own cover art (see above) of a wacky cartoon depicting weird-looking characters who appeared to be dancing awkwardly. I didn't believe it was undanceable music, I just believed it was something besides typical dance music. The album featured a new version of "Everyday Hideaway" and a kookie song called "Level Headed Penguin." Like the last album, I made up about two hundred cassette copies and gave them away free to friends and industry people. From there it kind of went nowhere. The song that got the strongest reaction was "Level Headed Penguin" in which the lyrics were as follows:
LEVEL HEADED PENGUIN
by Alex Cosper
vocals/rhythm guitar: Alex Cosper
bass: Jason Smith
lead guitar: Scott George
drums: Jimmy Brasier
You come from a different class
that's why I just have to ask
where do you get your information?
could it be the level headed penguin?
You think you can hypnotize
that's why you think you are wise
you're so convinced you'll sweep the nation
guided by the level headed penguin
Control is what they preach (level headed, level headed)
your soul is within reach (level headed, level headed)
don't you wanna have power? (level headed, leaded)
more intense than flower power
Now you tie logic in a web
making sure the strings connect
then you salute your congregation
workin' for the level headed penguin
Control is what they preach (level headed, level headed)
your soul is within reach (level headed, level headed)
don't you wanna have power? (level headed, leaded)
more intense than flower power
Now if your show comes on TV
don't think you'll be selling me
because I'll be alert to change the station
turning off the level headed penguin
I'm gonna turn you off, gonna turn you off, I'm gonna turn you off, gonna turn you off...
© 1989 Alex Cosper. All Rights Reserved.
The Lost Album
As KWOD's ratings began to rise in 1993 under my programming, I began to focus more on radio than music. In fact, I kind of forgot all about The Beat Villains for about a year. Then in February 1994 I got together with John Young again to record ten new tracks for yet another album. This time I had an idea to make the recording very spontaneous. I wanted John just to come in and lay down all his drum tracks in one session even though we didn't spend much time together rehearsing the songs. To me, I didn't know much about drums anyway and figured whatever happened on drums would be fine. So John came into Aaron's studio, which was now at his friend Mark's house and hammered through ten songs in one session.
After John did his part I kept coming back to the studio time after time recutting vocals for the same songs and was just never satisfied. I was just too wrapped up in KWOD to really devote time to getting the songs down right. I was constantly going to concerts, having dinner with industry people and just spending long nights at KWOD trying to compete in the radio market with lots of imagination and limited promotional resources. It turned out to pay off on the radio side, but the new Beat Villains album ended up getting scrapped except for one song called "Joker X."
Rockin' the Channel 6 Festival
Somehow throughout the haze of constant radio work I was able to put together a Beat Villains gig for PBS-TV station KVIE Channel 6 on June 25, 1994. My friend Rick Neal, who formerly worked at KWOD, actually convinced former KWOD employee and KVIE promotion man Greg Hopke to put my band on the bill. It was supposed to be some kind of grandiose festival event, but what it turned out to be was a super-low turnout in which we played for a sparse crowd of about ten people.
It still seemed great to play at a TV station's festival, but you have to remember the last Beat Villains gig was in front of about a thousand people. Going from a thousand to ten can be a bit demoralizing, but then again, neither gig had anything to do with us being the main attraction. It was worth it since it was free exposure, if you can call it that. It was also fun to jam with Jeffry-Wynne Prince of Thin Ice. He went on to write songs for The Kimberly Trip. Jeff threw down a blazing lead guitar on several songs, especially on the classic "Level Headed Penguin." His band had also backed me on the KWOD CD compilation Blank Astronomy for the title track performed under the name Student Driver.
Mixed Reactions to Joker X
My excitement level for The Beat Villains picked up again in March 1995 when Karen Holmes, my former Music Director who followed Cagle to Los Angeles, informed me that she had talked her boss at VirtuallyAlternative (a magazine I would later write articles for) into including the song "Joker X" on the trade publication's CD sampler issued to alternative and rock stations around the country. The sampler was sent to radio stations on April 18 and I gave it to Ally to play on her nightly music test to see what the audience reaction would be. To my horror, out of the fifteen calls she put on the air only six liked the song. The ones who liked it sounded over 18 while the ones who trashed it were definitely much younger than 18.
I had thought the lyrics alone would entertain people since they were kind of nutty. But I was also cautious that "cool people" might perceive it as a slam or satire on cults. Or maybe people might think I was putting down the so-called "generation X," which was supposedly our target audience. I don't know if it was the lyrics or the overly-pronounced bouncy rhythm (like sixties dance pop) that turned off the teens, not that it was a scientific survey to begin with. I just knew that I wasn't going for teens anyway. I wanted the forward-thinking adult crowd that wanted something with depth.
by Alex Cosper
If you want me to join your secret society
I'm curious but I need to know more
I'm not a sucker for a scam that tries to make me feel insecure
I don't just fall through any open door
And when I read between the lines
I see the signs are so complex
it's not too clear what's going on here
in the acceptance of Joker X
Joker X is a strange, hard to explain character type
but just a little recognition makes an alter ego shine
and if you find that you're not of the norm
Joker X will invite you to conform
Joker X is a mask made of anything you decide
Joker X covers up everything you want to hide
Joker X will be looking for you
when the moon shines in your eyes
Joker X will resemble you
when you put on your disguse...
put on your disguise
Radio Says Yes, Music Pro Says No
The radio industry was a little more encouraging about the song. On April 20 I had lunch with a record rep named Bill Carroll who told me that 91X San Diego Program Director Kevin Stapleford liked the song. The next day Karen Holmes called to tell me that KRZQ Reno Program Director Blaze Brooks liked the song. But once indie record promoter Mike Jacobs told me "I think it's cool but it's not a hit record" I bagged the whole idea of it going any further. I respected Mike's opinion almost more than anyone else in the industry because he was a proven success in the industry at finding hit acts for the alternative format. Mike was the guy who convinced radio programmers to take a chance on groups like the Offspring, Green Day, Bad Religion and Sublime. He was well-respected in the industry.
Recording at The Attic
Meanwhile, Ron Givens told me about a new producer to work with named Michael Sylvestre (aka Stubby). Stubby's claim to fame was that he won a huge lawsuit against a major label band with a national hit over copyright infringement. Stubby had shopped one of his songs around to the music industry and a similar song wound up becoming huge on the charts. Stubby won a big enough settlement that allowed him to invest in a professional recording studio. Stubby was also friends with Tesla and had produced a lot of local rock music at his studio called The Attic. I definitely wanted to get into the warmer analog studio environment all along, yet I kept hooking up with people who ran digital studios. I went ahead and recorded a haunting groove ballad called "One Long Winter" for KWOD's upcoming flood relief album called Overflow.
Overflow CD for Flood Relief Victims
The first ten tracks on the Overflow CD all had to do with the devastation caused by the recent flooding in the Sacramento area, which cost many people their homes. Most of these songs were based on lyrics put together by the KWOD audience. It was a fun and unique project. I had listeners call in on my show to contribute a phrase or line and then gave these lyrics to local bands and had them set it to music. There was a lot of enthusiasm from the community about this project because it supported local bands as well as the Red Cross. The idea was to throw a concert and anyone could show up for free and get a free copy of the CD in exchange for a canned food item. On the CD jacket, songwriting credit was given to all couple hundred contributors. It included The Beat Villains' song "One Long Winter."
Following these ten tracks was a "hidden album" of ten more tracks. The name of this hidden album was Buried Treasures and it featured ten local bands who sang about various themes. As a tribute to Jim Pantages, a local musician and Channel 13 cameraman who had been murdered after a gig on the K Street Mall in 1995, I included one of his songs as a hidden track upon family approval. I knew Jim personally. Rick Neal introduced me to him in 1989 during the time "Waves On The West Coast" was getting airplay. Jim, Rick and I actually got together for a rehearsal once after I had been asked to perform the song live at the California State Fair, but the gig never materialized. The venue where he was murdered also paid tribute to him by renaming the place the Panatages Theatre.
The Overflow CD was released in December 1995 and the concert was held at the Classic Jukebox in Roseville. The Beat Villains were the opening band and played for a crowd of about 175 people. The line-up included Ron Givens on drums and Jason Smith, who I met through Ron, on bass. At that show Ron introduced me to another drummer named Jimmy Brasier, who actually played with Green Day before they were famous when they were known as Sweet Children. At the scene was Frank Simpson from TV station Channel 31, who interviewed me and covered the event as a top story on their 10 O'Clock newscast that evening. By the end of the night we had given out 425 CDs in exchange for a greater number of canned goods, which made the Red Cross happy.
Playing with Chance The Gardener
Although we spun "One Long Winter" a few times on KWOD I preferred that we give more airplay to the other artists on the album, because I felt I had already had my share of airplay from "Waves On The West Coast" six years earlier. So every hour for the next month I let the jocks play whatever track they wanted off the album. It was the beginning of KWOD playing local artists every hour for the next year. Cake had broken nationally in 1995 and there was a sense of excitement that more Sacramento bands were about to hit the big time.
One of the bands that looked poised for national success was Chance The Gardener out of Davis. They had just been signed to Warner Brothers and were building a following around town. I liked their music, which was introduced to me by their young manager Zack Layton, who was also a regular listener of my midday show and always tried to get me to play more of the Brit pop bands, who were fading from popularity due to the Seattle explosion. Now he was into Americana music, which included Chance The Gardener. We started playing their song "Smoke" and then "Boise" in regular rotation along with other local bands who weren't even signed to major labels such as Tattooed Love Dogs and As Yet Untitled. Mother Hips were signed to American Recordings and we gave them a ton of airplay as well. We were even playing the hard-edged Deftones at night, who were now signed to Maverick.
In early 1996 Zack Layton convinced me to have The Beat Villains open for Chance The Gardener at a small coffeehouse gig in Elk Grove. I'm sure he saw the promotional value of an air personality from the most listened to rock station in town as the opening act. Of course I promoted the gig on the air like all the other jocks did, but mostly because we had started playing Chance The Gardener and were supporting the local scene. The March 22 gig attracted about 75 people and it marked the first time The Beat Villains got paid, which was a whopping $75. By now the line-up included Jimmy Brasier on drums, Ron Givens on guitar, Jason Smith on bass and me on guitar and vocals. I stumbled through the set, forgetting my own lyrics at times. But somehow the show still felt good, partly because I added witty comments in between songs.
Nevermind the Placerville Gig
On April 14 we played possibly our dumbest gig of all at a small place in Placerville called the Attic. It was dumb because I invited a friend from the record industry to check us out and it just turned out to be a low turnout of 16 people and a bad performance triggered by poor room acoustics and a lousy engineer. Whoever it was had all the instruments drowning me out, so I might as well have not been there. It was also a long ass 50 mile drive just to play for free. My record friend, Chris Bacca, was a promoter at the time but later got Save Ferris their deal with Epic. Chris told me we weren't ready to be signed. And you know what? He was absolutely right. We were sloppy and noisy. The only other memorable thing about the show was that a local band named Triple O Nine opened for us and they went on to become a top local band several years later under the name 7th Standard.
Transcentury Detour for Clean Air Awareness
The next KWOD local artist CD project would also feature a few Beat Villains tracks as well as one from Chance The Gardener. It was a clean air awareness album called Transcentury Detour, which encouraged people to drive less and be more conscious of the environment. The reason I picked this theme was that Sacramento now was rated seventh worst city in the nation for air quality. David Conley contributed an eerie track about pollution called "Breathe" under the name Taint. Naja Davis also came up with a haunting song that warned about pollution called "Brown Air." Cherry Murmur, who featured Jimmy Brasier on drums, covered one of my songs called "Story of the Open Road," which loosely and metaphorically documented the history of the automobile.
The Beat Villains contribution was a song called "Contour Drive," which finally had the R.E.M. type of sound I was looking for thanks to Stubby's warm production and my improved guitar playing. It was a song about trying to escape a polluted environment. The Beat Villains also did the title track, "Transcentury Detour," which was simply an upbeat surfy pop/rock instrumental under the name Cultural Dissolve. The album of ten songs concluded with "an underground talk show" featuring Ron Givens and myself talking about the probable causes and possible solutions of air pollution.
But the Transcentury Detour idea did not have the same impact as the previous projects I had orchestrated. I remember one person flippantly saying to me "Transexual what now?" Then the gig at the outdoor patio venue Paradise Beach in Citrus Heights on July 20 surely marked the project as mediocre when it drew a painfully obvious low turnout despite a week of on-air hype. We even promised everyone who showed up a free CD but the gig only drew about 100 people that afternoon. The problem was, it was only about ten to twenty people at a time who filtered in and out on that very hot 100 degree scorching day. The venue could easily hold a thousand people, so that made it even more embarrassing.
More Heat Than Hype
The Beat Villains, as usual, were the opening act. We had narrowed down to a three piece with just Jimmy, Jason and myself as Ron had moved on to David's band Taint. The good news was that we were becoming a tighter band and the performance was smoother than usual. It was the first time I had ever performed "Waves On The West Coast" live in public, so it meant something to me, even if only ten people watched and didn't realize the song had been a hit on the radio six years earlier. Chance The Gardener, the major label headliner who had more airplay in town than any other local band, also played for a sparse crowd. After the event even Zack came up to me and said "this gig was a bust."
It was a far cry from the exciting optimism just a few months earlier when The Beat Villains opened for Chance The Gardener at Old Ironsides, a club that only held 200 people, but was packed. It was Chance The Gardener's major label CD release party on May 17. We played to a screaming crowd despite having a last minute stand-in on bass. Jason couldn't make it because his father passed away that week. I completely understood but the show still had to go on, so a couple days before the gig I went on the air and asked if anyone wanted to play bass and I immediately got a call from Clay Bearden, who offered to step up to the plate. He did virtually one rehearsal with us and pulled off all the songs. Of course, they were all simple songs except for quirky time changes here and there, but I was totally amazed that he sounded like he had practiced with us for years. Also in that line-up was lead guitarist Scott George, who I met through Jimmy as they both played in Cherry Murmur.
Radio Still Awaits the Beat Villains
Five days after the Paradise Beach show on July 25 I drove to San Francisco and hung out at an annual radio industry bash known as The Gavin Convention. I ended up in a room with other alternative radio programmers who chose the music for their stations. One of them was Mark Hamilton, who I had known for years. I originally met him when he worked on air at Live 105 in San Francisco. He was now programming KNRK in Portland, Oregon.
On a walkman headset I played the Beat Villains song "Orange Underworld" for Mark. The song had been recently re-recorded at Stubby's studio. Mark liked it and said, "I would play this." It gave me new hope that we were on the right track, but I never followed up on it and nothing ever happened with it. I guess I figured we'd eventually put it out on CD (instead of a cassette) and at that point when the package looked more professional I would send it to him.
Playing with the Local Sacramento Scene
In August The Beat Villains were back in action as the middle band with headliner Chance The Gardener and opener Triple O Nine. It was at Harlow's, which was kind of an elite jazzy place. We had actually played two songs there in March during a Tattooed Love Dogs intermission and got a good reaction in front of a full house of about a hundred people. It was full again, as the club tended to be on weekends no matter who played. Even though we played for free it was a return to playing for a good size audience and it felt good. Somehow, though, we were double booked that night and had to hurry off to Old Ironsides after the set. So we played for a hundred more people that night, this time for $60. We were the middle act but our show kind of cut into the playing time of the headliner Sex 66. Everyone knew that crowds at Old I tended to thin out after midnight no matter who the headliner was. We all had laughs about it at the end of the night.
The next Beat Villains gig would come in September at an all ages club in Roseville called River Rock Cafe. It was small but held 200 people and it was a very packed house that night. It was always packed because it was one of the few places in town where teens could check out a local show at night. The headliner was As Yet Untitled, who had a familiar song on KWOD called "Across The Water," a dreamy modern rock ballad. Most of their music, though, had a more worldbeat/rock hybrid sound and they definitely had a local following.
The Art of Botching Simple Songs
Unfortunately it was one of those gigs where I stumbled in my playing and singing all because I still had not mastered the art of timing. The most awkward moment was when I switched to bass, an instrument I still didn't quite understand, and tried to play and sing at the same time. The song had the simplest bass line in my whole repertoire. It was "Everyday Hideaway," which simply repeated the four same notes (G-C-D-A) over and over. In theory a monkey could play that song. Yet I found a way to lose my place and mess up the timing. Even so, the audience gave us a loud cheering applause.
After the set I knew I had been busted by drummer Jimmy. I might be able to fool a crowd of kids but I know I didn't fool him. He just nodded his head "no" and didn't accept my alibi that everything was cool. He said it was sketchy and I knew he was right, but at the same time I wanted to look at the positives. For Jimmy, though, sketchy is sketchy and there's no way to candy coat it. My date, though, Vicki, said she liked it, which made me feel a little better on top of the fact that we made $40, which is actually good money for screwing up in public, even being split three ways. The only other person who came up to me to let me know it wasn't that great was a fan of my radio show. He was a middle-aged attorney who told me I better stick with radio. The irony, though, was that my radio job was about to end - just like my music career, at least for awhile.
Just as We Were Starting to Kick Ass...
But The Beat Villains were not quite finished yet even though there was still a mix of good and bad to come. On October 5 we played a kick ass gig on a kick ass bill with The Plimsouls and Oleander at The Press Club, which was a tiny shoe box venune that crammed in 75 people. The Plimsouls had just headlined a major KWOD festival a few months earlier for 2000 people (in which the main attraction was the quickly rising Jewel) and now they were doing this small gig. Oleander were friends of mine who had appeared several times as guests on "The Sound of Sacramento" under their previous name Jack. They were now getting a ton of airplay in town - not on KWOD but on our competitor KRXQ who jumped on the song "Down When I'm Loaded." They had just been signed to Universal, which was about to become the biggest record label on the planet.
We made a very funny movie that night of the event, which included an interview with Doug Eldridge, Oleander's bassist. We interviewed several people who obviously thought the whole night was killer. Our set for the first time seemed flawless and felt great. In fact, it was probably our greatest performance to date. The crowd pleasing song at all the gigs had been the wacky anti-conformist song "Level Headed Penguin." People said it was in the spirit of the Violent Femmes. That song got people rocking every time, no matter how botched the gig. This time the whole set seemed to get that same kind of wild reaction.
The line-up was Jimmy on drums, Scott George on bass and myself on vocals and guitar. We had such a good time we decided to stay for the other two bands after we put our gear away in Jimmy's truck. Then after a few rounds of drinks and festive socializing, the bad news - which later became part of the humor on the video - came when Jimmy approached me almost in a state of shock. He said, "A.C., someone broke my window and stole both of your guitars out of my front seat. They tried to steal your amp too but they left it on the sidewalk."
No One Said Getting Robbed was Part of Being in a Band
It didn't quite hit me like a ton of bricks because I was still in such a good mood. So we went and checked out the damage and sure as hell, someone had ripped me off, cancelling out the possibility that this was just a prank. I had just bought one of the guitars for $600 and I didn't exactly have the money to replace it right away. Somehow, though, I still took the whole thing lightly, maybe because I thought I was on my way to becoming a rock star and the whole thing would just work out. I looked around and noticed there was a loud frat party going on a block away. I assumed it was someone at the party who did it, or at least there was someone at the party who witnessed the break-in.
We hung out but I missed both Oleander and the Plimsouls except for a few peeps. I stayed outside most of the time talking with people about the incident, trying to find out if anyone saw anything. It was useless. We ended up back at Jimmy's apartment and did more videotaping. It became a hilarious video about how things simply were not meant to be great for The Beat Villains, no matter how optimistic things appeared at times. Part of the joke was that the gig paid $50, which was a start for buying a new guitar.
The following Monday I talked about the burglary on the air. Then a few days later I met George Grady, brother of Sex 66 drummer Dan Grady, at Old Ironsides. He said he heard me talk about the incident on the air and felt bad for me. He said he was a private investigator and that he would try to track down the bastards. It marked the beginning of a relationship that led to us launching SacLive a few years later, which would become a 24 hour live streaming internet radio station for local bands, the first of its kind for our hometown.
On October 19 I was lucky enough to have a sympathetic friend loan me his guitar for yet another Beat Villains gig with Oleander at Old Ironsides. This time it was for a small crowd of about 40 people but it marked another solid performance for the group. We made another $40. But I was kind of in a more lucid state of mind by this point and for the very first time in years I was completely unsure about my future. Two days earlier I put in my 30 day notice at KWOD after a disagreement with the owner about the direction of the station. The ratings were sliding and KRXQ, once a beaten dinosaur, was now kicking our asses handily. Part of the reason was that the music industry was putting out lame novelty songs for alternative stations and groups like Metallica for rock stations. Another reason was that the owner had been pressuring me all year to back off guitar music and get back into slick pop-sounding records. The stress was too much so I quit, thinking somehow I could spend more time concentrating on my first love, which was making music.
I told Jerry Perry, who interviewed me for his local band publication, Alive and Kicking that I would still be around and to look for me to play more shows in town with The Beat Villains. I sincerely believed that I was making a transition from a radio career to a music career, that it had to be and was meant to be. As it turned out The Beat Villains did one more show on November 2 before going on hiatus. It was the band's highest paying gig to date. For $200 we played for 40 people at The Nevada Club in Grass Valley with opening act Cherry Murmur. By this point the two bands had the same line-up with different lead singers. Their singer was Tom Bixby, who I went to high school with but didn't know it at the time. Bixby played in an early eighties band called Mod Philo, who I saw at American River College back then, marking one of my first local band concerts that I ever attended. "Bix" sang harmonies on a few songs with The Beat Villains after his set with Murmur. Scott and Jimmy played in both sets as well. It turned into an all night jam session that was worth the long ride.
A String of Bad Luck
I had pioneered a new kind of radio for Sacramento, which included a local song every hour. It definitely forced KRXQ to start incorporating local music in their regular programming, which became the key to Oleander getting signed. Local artists seemed to understand and give me credit that I was the driving force behind airplay finally being given to their scene. So in that realm, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I had done something great for my hometown.
Bad things started to happen to alternative radio from that point on. It had nothing to do with my resignation, it was just a negative wave sweeping the whole alternative community at once, like a downward spiral that could not be stopped. Chance The Gardener got dropped from Warner Brothers shortly before my resignation. The reason was because the label had to negotiate a record-breaking $80 million dollar contract with R.E.M., one of my all-time favorite bands. In order to keep R.E.M. they had to drop a bunch of new bands. It turned out to be a money burner in the sense that subsequent R.E.M. albums failed to be big sellers. So depression struck Chance The Gardener's lead singer Stu Blakey, who also was suffering from personal relationship problems. He committed suicide by hanging himself and Chance The Gardener was finished.
Ratings started to tumble for a lot of alternative stations across the country and record sales in the format also began to sink even for major artists like Pearl Jam. Then big corporations started taking over radio, even alternative stations thanks to the Telecom Act, which paved the way for a very predictable and homogenized sound as big biz took over the radio industry.
Label Exec: "If We Throw a Lot of Money at You..."
I had no idea how I was going to pay the bills. All I knew was that I had built up a huge savings account and that I could afford to take some time off - maybe even a whole year. I wanted to use that time to write songs and try to get signed. By some temporary miracle, it looked like maybe a record label was about to sign me.
Ron Givens, who was the interim PD at KWOD for a few months, told me he got a call from an A&R exec named Bruce at a major label. Apparently Bruce liked The Beat Villains tape that I had given to a rep at his label named Rick. I called Bruce as soon as Ron told me the news and Bruce confirmed that he liked my songs. He asked if I had a manager and I said no. He said, "if we're going to throw a lot of money at you the first thing we need to do is get you a manager."
After the call I immediately called my record friend Chris and asked him to be my manager. He said sure. But then the next time I talked with Bruce the mood seemed to change. I told him Chris Bacca was my manager and he said, "Oh, Chris Bacca, huh? I guess you don't need me for nothin.'" I couldn't tell if he was joking or trying to send me a message. I didn't hear from Bruce again until several weeks later when he said "the next step is to see if the label wants to sign you." But I thought that was his decision. I guess it wasn't.
And the Record Label Says...
More weeks went by until finally in January 1997 Bruce called and said the label was going to pass on the Beat Villains because the songs all sound like singles and he was looking for an album band. It didn't make sense to me. The entire industry was moving away from album bands and pushing hit song-oriented bands. He said my songs "needed to breathe" and that they were too tightly structured like hit songs. I tried to understand his comments but they seemed to be full of contradictory rhetoric.
On one hand he said things like "it's a solid album...you're going in the right direction...it has serious potential... it's in the better half of the pile...you'll get a lot of attention in the industry." On the other hand he countered all those comments with "it's missing consistency...it's a little too laid back...a little too frat rock...not a lot of challenge...needs a more aggressive stance." I asked Bruce if he would still consider my music in the future and he said "absolutely."
After I got off the phone I said to myself "I'll show him." I was determined to get signed anyway. So I quickly threw together ten packages and sent them out to ten other labels. To my surprise, within a week I had four responses. Three were polite rejections but one was a message on my answering machine from a lady named Missy who said her President liked the tape and asked to find out a show date so she could fly up to see us.
Going For the Deal
I booked a gig at Harlow's for April 9 after convincing the owner that it would be an important gig, because it could be the gig to get us signed, which would be historic for his club. I guaranteed that I would fill the place because of my notoriety as a radio personality in town and the fact that I had developed a long mailing list.
During the months leading up to the gig I wrote some new songs including "Eye Of A Raven," which I considered my best song to date. I recorded it with Jimmy and a new bassist named Peter Torelli at the Attic with Stubby producing again and I thought it turned out great. I really felt it was the record that would finally get us signed because I felt it sounded better than anything I was hearing on the radio. Of course, all bands say that, but I at least had a track record in radio that proved I knew how to pick the hits.
I practiced thoroughly every day and told everyone I knew about it, that this was my big chance to get signed. What made the April 9 gig even more exciting was that another record friend of mine named Anthony said he would check out the gig. He was now in a position to scout bands at his new label. Another plus was that the show was going to be broadcast live on the worldwide web, which was a new phenomenon at the time. Local computer guru Jamie Mangrum had a website called Digimag that was completely dedicated to the local scene and he was trying to promote his site by offering to do live remote broadcasts over the internet for free. It was pretty revolutionary for the time.
Lineup Changes (Almost Every Gig)
Things started to unravel a bit when Jimmy quit the band to join Toadmortons, which was essentially the new Chance The Gardener. We had become friends with them through the gigs we had done together, and under the direction of singer Steve Bryant, the band pretty much picked up where they left off with their rootsy country/rock flavored Americana sound. There was a wave of that music starting to become popular and Jimmy no doubt saw more potential in that than in my project. Toadmortons, did however, agree to open for The Beat Villains for the April 9 gig. So, basically I needed a drummer as Peter Torelli remained on bass. Who did I call? Good old John Young. But he couldn't do that date so he recommended the guy who originally introduced me to him, which was Eric Murray. John, however, was committed to playing an April 10 gig with us at Old Ironsides. So I ended up rehearsing with two drummers for two different gigs.
The Harlow's Show - The One That Should've Mattered
After all that optimism, April 9 arrived and it was 9pm at Harlow's. No sign of Anthony or Missy but the place was filling up and there was a long line outside the door. It was a Wednesday night, typically a slow night at any Downtown Sacramento club, but somehow we were beating the odds. I recognized most of the people who showed up, because most of them were friends I invited, although I forgot to mention the three dollar cover, but that was still a deal, let's face it. All together 90 people showed up. None of them, however, worked at a record label.
I was more concerned, though, that the opening band hadn't started yet and it was now 10pm. Apparently Jimmy, who loved to be fashionably late at his own gigs just to prove that the clock was no big deal, was slow getting there and setting up. "Can't start without the drummer," was his attitude. I was getting pissed not so much at him but at the fact that it was a weeknight and it was getting late. Some of my friends even told me they had to get up early in the morning for work and couldn't stay late. The Toadmortons asked if I wanted to switch and let them be the headliner but my ego told me that would diminish our chances of getting signed, as I still was clinging to a thread of hope that either label would should up. It turned out neither did, but the show went on.
After the Toadmortons finally played we went on stage around 11:15. We opened with a rocker called "Island of Lost Art," which was also the name of my new website. As corny as it seemed, it got the crowd up and dancing. What was so amazing was that the crowd never stopped dancing. They boogied to our music all night. Unfortunately it was not our best night musically because it was a litte sloppy and confused at points but for some reason the crowd didn't care. They loved it and cheered wildly. The crowd only thinned out a little in our second set. One of the high points was our cover of "House of the Rising Sun," done in a more upbeat dance rock style. The gig turned out to be The Beat Villains' highest paying ever, as we reeled in $270 from the door. Being the fool that I was, I paid Toadmortons $90 even though they said we didn't have to pay them, leaving each Beat Villain with $60 to take home.
End of the Beat Villains
After the show one of the managers told me we did a good job. He was impressed that we could pull such a decent crowd on a typically slow night. But I said to him, "yeah, but we could have played better, plus the record people didn't even show up." I was happy about the loyal turnout but my emotion leaned more toward depression because the record labels had let us down. I started thinking to myself "this sure was a lot of work for nothing." I think it was that night I decided the whole dream was over, that The Beat Villains were not going to be signed. I was tired and disillusioned and it felt better just to let it all go.
The Beat Villains played one final gig the next night before fading into eternal obscurity. We played at Old Ironsides for 25 people with John Young returning to drums, opening for Cherry Murmur and The Kramdens. We made $25 that night, which was good for at least a few rounds of beers for each of us. A month later I did a solo gig at Border's Books and Music in Roseville for $100 only because I overheard an employee there say the scheduled act that night cancelled so I spoke up and said I would do it.
They warned it had to be mellow, though, and had to cater to a family crowd. At several points during the gig they had to turn the sound down because I was getting kind of screechy on vocals, which was odd, because usually I sang too softly. My friend Frank Simmons dropped in and I let him do his cover of "For What It's Worth" during my intermission between two sets. The first set was full of laughs as I cracked jokes between songs for the full house. But the second set was weaker material, weaker singing and a dissolving crowd. I felt empty inside at the end of the night.
Reassessing the Music Dream Job
After that I decided my savings were running out and I needed to get back to work. So I sent my resume out and eventually got hired at a radio station in Milwaukee, which lasted about six months due to the fickle management who were known for blowing employees out frequently. It seemed to be a continuation of the bad vibes that had plagued me since the night my guitars were stolen. Somehow I just couldn't catch a good break. By the time I moved back to Sacramento in August 1998, everything had changed. Radio everywhere had become more corporate, fixed and sterile.
Although I did return to radio briefly at KZZO in Sac the following Jaunary, it just wasn't fun anymore. I was discouraged from making funny remarks on the air because all that seemed to matter anymore to the big business of radio was not the music, the personality or the audience, but just the commercials. It was about how many commercials you could get away with playing in an hour. At that point I realized I needed a new career besides radio, but some of the alternatives I checked out were horrible so I drifted back to radio.
Seeds to a New Musical Path
Throughout the first half of the 2000s I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area where I created my own little recording studio. I made a living working for websites and hosting DJ events. I wound up back on the air at Energy 92.7. My new music project became Tangent Sunset and some of my home recordings made the Bay Area airwaves on an experimental podcast station called KYOU Radio. By this point I had become a better guitarist and vocalist.
The Beat Villains project had its ups and down but it was always a fun learning experience. The Beat Villains story in a sense represents a time marker because it was a time when major labels began to get hurt by new technology with the arrival of the internet, which empowered indie artists. By the 2000s I was telling people I did not want to ever get signed because there were better opportunities for indie artists to sell their own music online. Thanks to The Beat Villains I had a taste of how things were done in the old world. Tangent Sunset represents the new world in which the artist and the fans are in control while music execs now wonder: whatever happened to the record industry?