Music Morsels - May 2000
|CROSSROADS.......... Jacob Bunton of Mars Electric by Mark E. Waterbury
Pivotal moments in musicians careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
(As appearing in the May 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)
Dance music is extremely popular at the moment. There is a burgeoning music scene in Birmingham, Alabama - a scene reputed to have numerous talented players and bands. But it can also be a tough market to encourage people to attend clubs which spurs fan base growth - a prerequisite for success by those all-important label reps in the world beyond the heart of Dixie. Mars Electric is one band that through hard work and constant gigging channeled their music to the proper people, particularily the noted Senior VP of A&R at Columbia Records, John Kalodner. The band's work ethic, hard-rocking pop-edged music and live performances, combined with Kalodner's vast knowlege and experience in the music industry are a recipe that is already gaining national attention and acclaim for the foursome. With their debut CD "Beautiful Something" sliding up the charts and a hectic tour pace, the future for Mars Electric could be very bright indeed.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Jacob Bunton recalls from a very young age that there was an old piano at his grandfather's house. "Most parents put them in a play-pen to keep them quiet," Jacob remarks. "I could barely even sit up, but to shut me up, they sat me at the piano and I'd just bang on it for hours and it would keep me occupied." Jacob was always playing one instrument or another, dabbling with guitar and drums as well as the piano. He eventually leaned more towards the guitar, garnering a heavy interest in classical guitar as well as the rock and jazz aspects of it. After attending his first Motley Crue concert, he gained a keen perspective on the direction he wanted his life to go. "Seeing that concert, watching MTV and seeing all that glitz and glamour of the people up there doing it, I thought that was really cool." Jacob was in his first band called Allergic at the age of eleven.
At age nineteen, he formed a band called Wish in 1996 with his friend Michael Swann. "We had a veritable revolving door of bassists and drummers. Basically, it was just friends of ours who could make the gig because most of the people we knew wanted to just be weekend warriors. They didn't want to do it seriously." Wish recorded a demo that received good feedback and interest from the labels, including a deal with Atlantic Records that dissipated. The band worked relentlessly and performed at showcases, and eventually their manager mailed a copy of the CD to Columbia Record's John Kalodner. Kalodner visited Atlanta to watch a private showcase by the band at the Hard Rock Cafe, and then signed him to his own Portrait label "We were completely on cloud nine," Jacob recalls. "When (John Kalodner) walked in the room we were star-struck. He's kind of like a rock star himself, so that was really cool."
Columbia made them change their name to to avoid conflict with another band named Wish, and the group agreed on the name Mars Electric after a neighborhood business. Joining Jacob and Michael in the band were bassist Carl Ray Hopper and drummer Matt Finn, and eventually Michael would be replaced by Chris Simmons on lead guitar. The revamped line-up would then hit the studios to record their debut CD, "Beautiful Something". "I'm really proud of the songs on the CD because they are all little stories - things that I've experienced. I've recorded albums with other bands where there was always something I wished I could have done differently or wished I could have changed. But with this album, I'm one hundred percent satisfied with it." Mars Electric has been touring extensively coast-to-coast, most recently opening for Vertical Horizon. They are also doing a radio festival tour and will be co-headlining with the band Collapsis. Jacob is happy with the impact Mars Electric has made already. "You can't measure success in album sales because you'll drive yourself crazy if you want to sell a lot of records and you don't. The main thing is you have to be happy and that way you are successful. And I think we've achieved great success with Mars Electric because we're all happy playing our songs, traveling around getting to see lots of places and meeting really cool people. It's a lot of fun."
|INDUSTRY PROFILE - Indie Music Forum's Carolyn Ballen
by Mark E. Waterbury
(As appearing in the May 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)
Carolyn Ballen had the business side of the music industry in her blood. The Philadelphia native's grandfather had an R&B and Gospel label, and her family had been in the music manufacturing business for many years. While growing up, she listened to artists from Billy Joel to Steely Dan and James Taylor, although she never became a musician herself. "I lip-sync Happy Birthday," she whimsically comments. "I can't carry a tune or play an instrument, but I think that it actually heightens my appreciation for the music because the creation of music is something that I am quite in awe of." But Carolyn wasn't sure from the start that the business side of music would be a career involvement for her. "I didn't actually feel I would go into music until after college and after living abroad for a year. I had been a philosophy major, and I had no clear-cut plans of what I wanted to do. But I came back to Philly and started working for Disc Makers. I didn't feel as though I was entering the music industry per se. I felt that I was getting a real job that would get me some sales and marketing experience."
Carolyn went through the extensive training program at Disc Makers, learning everything she could about all facets of the company. Eventually she would join the marketing department, and it was while there she started attending music trade shows. "Once I started doing that and interacting with all of the musicians, the love and respect was just growing and growing. I felt that I wanted to do everything I could to stay involved with and be around musicians. I can't explain it; there's just something about it that feeds me energy." Carolyn became the marketing manager at Disc Makers, and started coordinating panels at trade shows and conferences that the company was sponsoring. "The panel coordinating was someone elses responsibility, and they just hated doing it, looked at it with dread. And I asked if they wanted me to do it, and I said, "Yes, please, please!" I didn't really know what was involved in it, but after I did a couple shows, I really developed my stride and really started to enjoy it." Carolyn started thinking of other ideas to help musicians, such as developing a video series.
In 1999, Carolyn left Disc Makers and was originally going to work in marketing wardrobes for bands and musicians. She disliked doing that, so she tried to get involved with coordinating panels at conferences again. Due to her different ideas about panels, that also did not work out. Her differing opinions fueled the idea for The Indie Music Forum. Originally, The Forum was just one panel, but quickly grew to a full day seminar that travels from city to city and deals with all areas and facets of the music industry. The event thrives more on open dialogue, and works at helping both musicians and those who want to work the business aspect of the industry prepare for their future careers by interacting with their peers. To further increase her own knowledge of the music industry, Carolyn recently went on tour with the Miami band Sonny Bones as their tour manager. "I try to do everything that is involved with the process of getting their music to the next level. And I never ever thought I would be working with individual bands. But I just fell in love with the band. They are just so amazing." She also does a lot of live music photography and really enjoys capturing the intensity of a live performance on film.
Carolyn thoroughly enjoys the interaction with the attendees at The Indie Music Forums. The next date for the seminar is planned in San Francisco, and Carolyn is looking forward to the growth of the seminar. "Certainly the awareness within the community has increased and people's interest in attending has increased. The great feedback and the increase in sponsorship has just allowed it to grow and my goal is to have the Indie Music Forum tour bus, and take it around to schools, cities and conferences across the country and just live on the road. I'd also like musicians to work along side me so they can book tours in conjunction with the seminar tour." :-> For more info on The Indie Music Forum, please visit the web site at http://www.IndieMusicForum.com.
|UNSIGNED ARTIST SPOTLIGHT - Robert Wright of Purple Mustard by Mark
(As appearing in the May 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)
Already a viable rock and roll force in the lower half of the Sunshine State, Miami's Purple Mustard looks to bring their own brand of psychedelic-flavored rock and roll to the masses. The band comprised of vocalist/songwriter/guitarist Robert Wright, guitarist Brian Scheinhoft, bassist Kurt Berge and drummer Stan Huhn have cultivated a good sized fan-base by touring hard in Florida and selected points north, and through widespread radio support of their debut CD "Meet The Mustard." Their recently released sophomore effort "The New Mary Jane" is already making a similar impact on the airwaves and the band is poised to take their show on the road to new environs soon. With a good feel for what the new brand of "alternative" rock and roll is beginning to sound like these days, the music of Purple Mustard may soon spread to places far and wide. This interview with Robert Wright gives a good perspective on what makes this band tick.
MM: When did you first become interested in music?
RW: In elementary school and junior high was when I first started to listen to the radio a lot and buy my own records. The first record I bought was The Beatles' "Let It Be." That was the first band I really liked, and obviously they were broken up by the time I got into them. And I listened to their solo stuff, and the Rolling Stones, too. I interviewed Rush when I had a publication in Minnesota. That was another band I really liked and nobody knew who they were when I interviewed them.
MM: When did you start performing seriously?
RW: It's weird because when my friends were putting together a band and we were deciding what instruments to play, I thought I'd play the guitar. So we talked our parents into buying us instruments. We took lessons and started putting together shows. Our first shows were fake shows mimed to records. (Laughs) It accidentally slowly started to happen.
MM: How did Purple Mustard form?
RW: Basically we were doing another project in Miami called Perfect Murder. And we were fairly influential around here. When all the bands around here were getting Marilyn Manson-esque, real dark and heavy we thought we'd better do the opposite and that Purple Mustard would be a good thing, It was somewhat of a challenge for me to write good songs and sing harmony as opposed to just playing. I started out playing guitar, and when the 80's came along - when everyone was getting into technology - I got into synthesizers and drum programming and electronic goth-dance oriented music. After doing that for a few years, I decided to go back to basic and start writing songs like I used to. Actually, I found out it was harder than I thought it would be. (Laughs) I thought with Perfect Murder that Purple Mustard would be our alter-ego, and it turned out to be so difficult, it became a full-time project.
MM: How did you recruit your fellow bandmates?
RW: I've known Kurt for over ten years. Perfect Murder could be a two man, three man or four man project, whoever showed up. If I was by myself, I would just program the rest of it. Kurt was running sound at one of the clubs and that's how I met him. The other guys slowly came into the picture because we've had a couple of personnel changes as we've moved along. Brian joined us about six years ago and Stan came on about a year after Brian. He grew up with Brian.
MM: Is South Florida a difficult area for bands, especially rock bands?
RW: Yeah. There's so much going on in Florida. Everybody's somewhat complacent. It's not like a college town. Things pop up and people get hyped for awhile, but they lose interest fast. You can continue to play around here for your core people, and then after you get signed, a thousand people come to your show. (Laughs) I would call this area difficult. If you can maintain a following here, you can probably do it anywhere in the country.
MM: What are some tactics you had to implement for Purple Mustard to cultivate your fan base?
RW: We've always done full color work on our flyers to make them as noticable as possible. And we made little mustard packets up with our name on them. Basically for us, it was working ourselves up one step at a time. Doing a recording to "OK, now let's do a show", to "let's do a better club" to "let's try to get an opening gig". It's been a learning process for us.
MM: How has the response been to the music so far?
RW: We've had a phenomenal response so far, but we've built it over the years. The new material works better because it's our second album, and the first one wasn't meant to be that serious. With the second one, we realized this is what we are doing now so it was more serious of an album. I think we've been around playing long enough and working hard on our stage show. It's all clicking now. But everybody is responding real well. We're getting lots of dancing and feet-tapping. Things have gotten progressively better this year than the year before and the year before that.
MM: You've done quite well with radio, too. How did that happen?
RW: Radio was also a learning process. What we learned is that you have to proactively promote radio, because wih our first album, we just put them out there and thought destiny would take care of the rest. (Laughs) We realized with the harsh realities of the music business this time around, we would actually have to go out and work the radio stations and call the program directors. We knew that radio was not going to seek us out.
MM: The first time you heard "The New Mary Jane" once completed, how did you feel about it?
RW: Real happy about it. I think we felt like we had done something more than just a collection of songs put together. We had gelled and progressed significantly as players. The production is better, not as cluttery. On the first CD, we went a little overboard on production and we were a little more tasteful this time around.
MM: What is this "Magic Bus" we've heard about?
RW: We round up our people and we'll charge them an admission price, working with the clubs usually. We'll set up a bus stop or two and then we'll pick the m up and usually throw a keg of beer on there and drive them around and have a good time - sing songs, have giveaways, do whatever it takes to have fun. MM: Has that worked well to help grow your fan base?
RW: Yeah, because any extra little thing you can do makes it easier for people to come out. For our band, we tend to have a wild crowd who do like to party. (Laughs) In that regard, it's good for us because we know everyone is going to get to the show and get home and be safe. But it helps for people who may not normally want to come out to South Beach or Ft Lauderdale, because the Miami area's pretty spread out. The venues are spread out, too.
MM: Do you think this CD could really launch the band?
RW: I hope so. For me as a writer of songs, I think so. It's got a couple of songs on it that could definitely be hits. Usually when I'm writing, I tend to try to write what I want to hear, like "I can't find an album like this anywhere, I'll write one." What I tried to do with this album was write an album different than anything else that was happening but still the same. I know that sounds weird. Retrogressively futuristic! (Laughs) Find out more about Purple Mustard at http://www.purplemustard.com
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