-Mega Multi-Media Heroes
-With radio friendly songs, business savvy and a decade of paying dues, the Uninvited have earned their shot at the big time
by Lee Abraham
"Put me in a soundbite, beam it at the satellite
Bounce it off the atmosphere and shoot it through the daylight
Comin' through your stereo, catch me on the morning show
If you want to sell the records then you gotta be on radio."
-Mega Multi-Media Hero-, the Uninvited
For most bands, -getting signed- to a record deal is a pipe dream. The odds against hitting the big time are staggering. Unfortunately for aspiring artists that just want to be onstage or in the studio making music, the circle game is so competitive these days that the behind-the-scenes bump and grind of managing a band like a business is as important as the penning perfect pop tune. Even after a band captures the Holy Grail and signs a deal, there's no guarantee that the crowded van and greasy bar food lifestyle of the struggling independent band will be transformed overnight into the Lear jet and poached caviar cuisine of the rich and famous rock star.
"It's not all immediate chicks and money, well maybe not immediate money," laughs John "JT" Taylor of the Uninvited, a pop rock quartet out of San Francisco signed to Atlantic Records in July of '97. "It took seven years and two albums before we got to what we thought was a pretty good plan."
Musically, the Uninvited -are- perfect for radio. Their songs are three-minute pop celebrations of deeply hooked melodies with crafty lyrics brought to life through extremely danceable, multi-influenced rock and roll. People hearing their music for the first time find it easy to sing along to their songs. Not only that, these guys are great performers. But as talented as they may be onstage or on record, the Uninvited's hard earned climb from Frat party jam band to major label recording artist is as much about the band's knack for numbers as its penchant for pop.
Fronted by JT and his older brother Steve, both guitar players, singers and songwriters, the Taylor boys have been making music together since they were knee high to a Stratocaster. Taking after their multi-instrumentalist dad who played music around the house when they were kids, Steve also plays an electric banjo and JT the mandolin. "Growing up, we were playing music all the time," says JT, "but it never occurred to us until years later that maybe this is what we should be doing with our lives."
After Steve finished a three-year commitment with the California Maritime Academy, he came knocking on his younger brother's door, at the time an undergrad majoring in film at USC. The brothers put together a band called -The Bogarts- and played frat parties and local bars. After about a year, the band broke up and the Taylors decided to take a more serious approach. "We chose a career path," chuckles JT. Billy ///// on bass and //// on drums joined the band and the name was changed to -the Uninvited.- That was ten years ago.
"The best plan is to become self-sufficient," says JT. "By the time we were doing our 3rd album, we figured that we were never going to set signed. The plan was to focus on 13 markets in different cities within a one day driving distance of San Francisco and concentrate on those areas. We packed up our stuff, quit our jobs, went into debt, finished the album and went on the road."
"We would go to a town, go to the radio stations and bug 'em to play the songs. Then we would go to retailers and ask them to stock the record and give the clerks albums and T-shirts and stuff like that. The kids run everything at the retail level. If they think you're cool, they'll take -Beck's- CD out of their listening booth and put yours in there, or they'll take Mariah Carey's poster off the wall and put yours up."
The plan involves a lot of work and a lot of road miles. In 1996, the Uninvited played over 200 shows and toured constantly. "The idea is just to keep going around in a circle your on this 6 week continuous loop through each town," says JT. "Finally things start cracking in those towns. You start building audiences, and an occasional radio station and retailer might support you as well."
"That's ironically what caught Atlantic's attention," marvels JT. "We weren't trying to get anyone's attention at that time, we just trying to make a buck and -keep- a buck. There were some stations in Monterey and Ventura that were getting really good response to the album. There was a store in Ventura where it was outselling everything in their store. Those are the things that catch a record company's attention. 'You're outselling my stuff! You're out-airplaying my stuff! Who the hell -are- you?'
"The last thing they looked into was the music itself. When they got interested, the first thing they did was call all the radio stations we were being played at. They called all the stores that were selling us. They ran their numbers, did their projections, then they asked for the CD and then finally came out to see a show."
After agreeing to contract terms, the band was whisked into the studio in anticipation of an October '97 release for their major label debut. The Uninvited did their part, delivering the tracks mixed and mastered ahead of schedule and under budget. Due to delays based on the record company's marketing projections which indicated that the timing wasn't right for the album's release, it took about a year for the Uninvited's self-titled debut to finally hit the stores.
Although they achieved their original goal of getting signed, JT and the others knew the music biz games were far from over. "The day to day reality hasn't changed," says JT. "We still travel in our van and sleep four to a motel room. But what has changed is the -potential- for change. That's new! We're playing on a whole new ballfield now."
As a major label artist the stakes are higher and the competition more fierce. Now instead of going up against a bunch of other local bands for a good draw at a club or time slot on a bill, the Uninvited are literally battling bands like Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins for radio play.
"The really tough part is going up against the monolithic corporate radio world that has to deal with the monolithic record companies," says JT. "Every radio station is owned by like one of three corporations now. Being a band on Atlantic records, the world's biggest record company, it's still next to impossible to get on the air. The week we released our 1st single, there were 99 other singles released that same week."
In spite of the competition, the Uninvited are succeeding in getting on the air. Locally, -Extreme Radio ///- has been playing -What God Said- and -Too High For the Supermarket- in heavy rotation. To their credit, for a band so cognizant of the business side of music, the Uninvited have refused to back-off from the stoned goofiness and playfully irreverent humor that balance the more politically correct aspects of their world.
"We are not trying to project ourselves as the Rastafarian poster children of '99 because that would be hypocritical. We also don't bring giant smoking bongs up onstage," laughs JT. "But the songs -do- reflect various points of our lives. -Too High for the Supermarket- actually started out as a joke, it made us laugh. We did it as a joke at a gig and the response was overwhelming, so we just kept doing it."
"I'm into pop music," says JT. "I love concise, catchy, hook-laden songs that stick in your mind and make you sing along. To me it's really important to hear a song and go, 'That's me, I know exactly what you're talking about!' In order for a songwriter to do that, he's got to find his unique voice. For me that unique voice includes humor"
"Humor is also an attention getting device. People at most bars are sitting there staring at you and are basically saying, 'You have ten seconds to impress me or I'm going to fold my arms, turn around and start enjoying this gin and tonic.' So what are you going to do to get peoples' attention? We could, you know, have haystack hair cuts, spandex ripped around the nipples and breath fire, but that's not us, people would see through that. So we relied on things that we felt were uniquely our own, humor being one of them. Different instrumentation being another, here's this electric banjo being played through a Marshall stack and a wah-wah peddle, most people find that a bit different too."