City Paper is not for tourists
Sitting in their Mount Pleasant living room, the four friends that formed Tuscadero on Halloween 1993 contemplate stardom. The question of the hour is whether their new employer, Elektra Records, which on July 16 will issue a new version of 1994’s The Pink Album, will permit release of another album—this time of new songs—within a year. “That’s what Oasis did,” says drummer Jack Hornady. Bassist Phil Satlof points out that Stone Temple Pilots’ first two records, Core and Purple, hit the market in rapid succession.
But to contradict those tales of sophomore success, Hornady mentions the New Orleans trio Better Than Ezra, which hit big with “Good” (to which he provides the chorus’ “wah-ohs”), but soon disappeared back into the bayou. “But they [had] just one or two singles,” says guitarist/vocalist Melissa Farris. “If [Elektra’s A&R guys] think they can work four singles off of [our] record, they’re not going to let us into the studio.”
It’s quite strange to hear comparisons to alterna-rock’s big shots from a quartet whose bass player was not too long ago scooping cones at the Adams Morgan Ben & Jerry’s. (City Paper’s offices are right down the street from the ice cream parlor, so I’ve gotten to know Phil quite well.) Almost a year and a half after putting their collective minds to the task, Farris, Hornady, Satlof, and Margaret McCartney—who shares guitar and vocal duties with Farris—signed on the dotted line with the multimedia conglomerate. The process began when Tuscadero went on a short tour with the lo-fi outfit Sebadoh. “[Elektra] flew in the corporate Time/Warner jet,” Satlof says, “We got to meet the president of the label [Sylvia Rhone], who created En Vogue, and I pitched her an En Vogue/Tuscadero fiesta, but she didn’t go for it.”
“Elektra is the kind of label that pushes people to tour the crap out of their records,” Farris says, offering her theory that a second record won’t happen for a while. “Honestly, to get it done by the point when we’re supposed to contractually deliver, we’re going to need to go in the studio in a month. That’s not going to happen.” Satlof disagrees: “They will [let us make another record], but they won’t put it out.” Again, he brings up his better-known colleagues in the music industry. “Stone Temple Pilots and Oasis, they all had a big push on the record, and they came out with another one pretty soon—while the old one was…just starting to slag off,” he says, pointing out that the four or five singles released from The Pink Album will only be complemented by those on the yet-to-be recorded follow-up. “And then there’s the theory that if this record bombs, they want to get another one out really quick,” he continues, until McCartney interrupts, attempting to deflate the cooler-than-thou conversation: “Then there’s the kick-you-off-our-label-because-you-suck theory.”
All postulations of superstardom aside, the quartet takes its sound seriously. Instead of starting from scratch, Tuscadero went with what it knew was a sure thing. The band re-recorded and re-mixed its TeenBeat release with Mark Waterman, the producer that put Elastica at the forefront of the MTV-enhanced New British Invasion. The updated Pink Album contains new versions of the 12 original songs. Waterman re-recorded five completely and tinkered with the rest, substituting new vocal takes, changing some guitar parts, and adding a few keyboard nuances. Wincing, McCartney deems her old vocals “painfully slow,” but Hornady points out one local fan’s preference for the first version: “[He] said that ‘Hollywood Handsome’ is so much rougher on the original.”
Preferences for the old, tougher-than-leather Tuscadero doesn’t seem to bother the band all that much. Some scenesters are sure to take the sanitized Pink Album as a signal of the band’s lack of confidence in its new material, especially since Tuscadero tries out lots of new songs live. That Tuscadero made it to the majors in less time than it takes some bands to put out a flexi-disc sparks questions from jealous wannabes of whether the group is deserving. The re-release won’t be without indie cred though, since, as a TeenBeat/Elektra joint release, it will receive the Mark Robinson stamp of approval.
Robinson’s imprimatur is welcome, given that the band is pointedly being asked to prove its worthiness. Farris compares questions asked on a recent press junket to New York, citing two as the most obnoxious. The first came from a Baltimore fanzine: “Coming from a really old-school punk rock scene, how did you feel playing your obvious commercial pop? Don’t you feel guilty?” Farris said no. Another reporter demanded, “This section of the paper is called ‘Justify Your Existence,’ so explain to us why anyone in the world would buy your record.” She said no to that, too. Farris thinks there’s little reason to waste time caring about the opinions of provincial indiephiles, especially since the New York interviews were scheduled to break Tuscadero beyond the TeenBeat/Simple Machines/Dischord circle.
The idea, then, is to start out small and work up to the big time, and much of that philosophy is owed to Black Cat owner Dante Ferrando. “He really, as much as Mark Robinson, gave us our start,” Farris says. He did so by “giving [us] good opening slots and building [us] up to sell out the club.” Ferrando supported the band even to the point of giving Farris a job at the club and allowing her to take frequent time off to tour or record.
Unfortunately for Ferrando, his employee has quit her day job. Tuscadero will tour with hopes of big sales and constant radio airplay, and that will result in an audience that doesn’t know Mark Robinson from Adam. Signs of the kinds of crowds the band can expect are already popping up in its hometown. At Red, the new club jointly run by the 18th Street Lounge and Go! Compact Discs, local hipsters out in support of their own mingled with those who are completely oblivious to the indie scene. But that’s the point of pop music: to get as many people as possible to listen. The Tuscadero product is certainly of the moment, and the more play for The Pink Album, the better the band’s chance to get what it wants, which is, naturally, to be rock stars.
And that’s exactly what the members of Tuscadero are on the verge of becoming. The most there is to complain about the new boss is that sometimes Elektra’s A&R guy calls before 10 a.m. Satlof is quick to defend the practice of sleeping late, insisting that he and his bandmates do their part to promote pop culture: “We’re the ones up at night supporting late night TV.” Not a bad life, snoozing until noon, practicing for a few hours, and occasionally traveling the country. But Farris concedes 10 o’clock isn’t really all that early for rock stars. This time, though, it’s Hornady who brings the conversation back to reality: “Rock stars? I don’t know any rock stars.” CP
Tuscadero plays July 7 at 7 p.m. at the Carter Barron Amphitheater, 4850 Colorado Ave. NW,. with emmet swimming and the Delta ’72.