Well I never thought I'd lead off with the words “Twenty years ago…” and I don't mean to make anybody involved in this story feel old — least of all me, but, “gulp,” here goes.
Twenty years ago my friends Andy, Steve, Jim and I put together a company called Background Noise Productions and made a valiant attempt to bring new, undiscovered music to the burgeoning network of college radio. We created a database of every major record label, every independent record label, and every band we thought might be worthy of including in such a project. Then we created a database of every marketing director for every major business we thought might be worthy of including in such a project. We contacted car manufacturers, electronics manufacturers, shoe manufacturers, fast food companies, soft drink companies and credit card companies, to name a few. Then we contacted every college and university in the country that had a radio station and dumped them into a database too. Finally we decided it might be a good idea to actually interview a few bands so we'd have an honest-to-god demo to shop around when some company decided to throw a ton of money our way. It was hard enough convincing corporations that we had some kind of innate, preordained ability to point our collective finger at “tomorrow's hits today,” without actually having a few samples of what that music might sound like.
Looking back, I can't say we were completely to blame for stalling the careers of four very promising bands, but we did seem to have a bit of a Midas touch…in reverse. First we interviewed Wire Train, a fantastic band from San Francisco (who you are certain to hear more about at a later date). They released five excellent albums, and then MCA decided to simply shelve the 6th and 7th because they were “too weird.” From Ireland, we interviewed and drank Guinness with Cactus World News. They released one promising record in the US and then abruptly dropped off the musical map (although I recently found an active website that hinted at some new recordings). We also interviewed The Jazz Butcher; a quirky, clever-catchy band from London who, fifteen years later, sounded just as vibrant and vital in a small club in Arlington as they had at a sold out 9:30 Club show years earlier. When I re-introduced myself to Pat and reminded him of the interview—and our theory of how Background Noise had accidentally done more to destroy bands than promote them—he paused for a moment and then, making a face that said “it all makes sense now” —he concurred that their career was never the same after that evening of drinking and talking and eating stir fry in Chinatown with us. And finally, we interviewed one of my favorite bands (even to this day), from Australia: The Church.
In 1986 The Church had just released an album called Heyday on Arista Records. Although they already had four great records to their name, Heyday was regarded as a “comeback” of sorts; providing the band with a rejuvenation the likes of which they had never experienced before in the US. My partners in Background Noise weren't as enamored with The Church as I happened to be, but they agreed the band's star was definitely on the rise and their music was still obscure enough in the states to make them prime interview material. So we contacted Arista who was only too happy to organize an interview for us… without ever telling the band. So when we walked up to the stage after their sound-check at the old 9:30 Club and introduced ourselves as “the guys from Background Noise who were there to do the interview,” the first words out of Steven Kilbey's mouth were something along the lines of “what the fuck is Background Noise?” Or maybe it was “why the fuck didn't anybody tell us about this fucking interview?” Clearly there had been a little miscommunication. Sensing we were about to lose our one and only opportunity, I did the one thing I knew might keep the whole thing from falling apart. I offered to buy the band dinner (on the non-existent Background Noise company card). My partners flashed me piercing looks of incredulity. They didn't even like these guys, and now we were buying them dinner? At a vegetarian restaurant called Food For Thought? What the hell was I thinking? I was thinking that if these guys turned out to be pricks and disappointed me I was really going to be pissed off. Ten minutes after we arrived at the restaurant it was obvious that we had made a big mistake requesting to interview just the front-man, Steve Kilbey. He spoke not a word, but went straight to his tofu. The two guitar players—Marty and Peter—on the other hand, were animated and interesting and full of anecdotes about the tour, the new album, the books they were reading on the bus, groupies, and how hard it was to find a good vegetarian restaurant on the road in the US. I dunno. Maybe they were in good spirits just because they knew they weren't being dragged off to some unknown building for an “unscheduled” interview, like their band-mate, Steve. Or maybe they were in good spirits because Steve was being dragged off for an interview—more beer for them. Either way, despite the free meal, Kilbey looked permanently annoyed with the whole state of affairs.
To say it was the shortest interview I ever conducted would be an understatement. It felt like pulling teeth without Novocain, and it seemed to take hours even though my “hero” Steve Kilbey's one or two-word answers only took up about fifteen minutes of recorded tape. Less if you didn't count my questions. Finally, at the end of the grueling session, with all my questions gone, I leaned back and asked my two partners if they could think of anything else to ask. Steve whispered to me—but loud enough for Kilbey to hear—the question that has become my stock inquiry for every interview since that has gone off the rails: “yeah, ask him... if he could be any vegetable what would it be?” I laughed and turned back to Kilbey. Without waiting for me to repeat the question he looked straight at me and deadpanned: “Eggplant.” Then he unclipped his own mic, pushed his chair back from the table and stood up to leave.
After that lengthy introduction I should probably play a song from Heyday. It's a brilliant recording and there's lot of good songs to choose from. But everyone knows rock n' roll isn't about what you're supposed to do. So today's Happy Medium Song of the Day actually comes from the very first record by The Church, Of Skins and Heart — and it's the song that first introduced me to their wonderful music, before being introduced to the moody genius responsible for the music. The song is called “The Unguarded Moment.”