So why has it taken four years for prolific songwriters such as the Badlees to release another album?
Here's your answer, step by step:
- "River Songs" — the group's third album, released independently in 1995 — quickly resulted in a national recording contract with Atlas/A&M Records. Songs such as "Angeline is Coming Home" and "Fear of Falling" became national hit singles, with the video for "Angeline" appearing on VH1.
- The band stayed on the road throughout 1995-96 as the "River Songs" tour rolled across America. In addition to club shows, there were opening act spots with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Gregg Allman and an arena tour with Bob Seger.
- In 1997, the band — working under the umbrella of Polygram Records — journeyed to the renowned Bearsville Recording Studios to record the follow-up to "River Songs." Additional sessions followed in Los Angeles. Titled "Up There Down Here," the album contains such concert favorites as "Don't Let Me Hide," "Luther's Windows" and the gorgeous "Running Up That Hill."
- Then came the sale.
- In 1998, Seagram's, the massive Canadian beverage and entertainment company, purchased Polygram for an estimated $10.4 billion. Labels such as MCA, Interscope and Geffen were merged with Mercury, Island, Motown, A&M and Def Jam to form the Universal Music Group.
- Widespread corporate downsizing followed. Thousands of employees lost their jobs. Hundreds of bands were left twirling in the wind.
- The Badlees, caught in the middle of the mess — along with more than 300 other artists — were advised not to release the album until the dust had settled at Polygram. Throughout 1998, the band continued to play shows throughout the region and branched off with various side projects such as The Cellarbirds and The Pete & Jeff Duo. They also released an independent EP, "The Day's Parade."
- All the while, the group was told to remain patient as the album's release date was repeatedly re-scheduled.
- Last month, word finally came. And "Up There Down Here" — despite its quality — appears to be a casualty of the merger. Universal, which now owns the masters, has opted to neither release the album nor keep the band on its roster.
Broken spirits? Forget it.
With the independent release of "Amazing Grace," the band is quickly moving forward. And — somewhat surprisingly — songwriter Bret Alexander says he feels absolutely no sense of loss about the already-in-the-can "Up There Down Here" album.
"The biggest negative has been the limbo and the not knowing," he says. "Joe Alexander, who produced it, has a good quote — 'It never gets any better than when you write the tune.' It's true. I already wrote it. We recorded it, we had a good time recording it, and we made a nice piece of music ...
"Everything else after that is really gravy. I don't know what it is in my personality, but it just doesn't disappoint me. I don't think about it."
Vocalist Pete Palladino agrees. Sort of.
"You put your heart and soul into something, and to not know the certainty of its future is heartbreaking," he says, hinting that the experience may have also influenced some of the songwriting on the new album.
"There's a perfect quote from the 'Amazing Grace' record in a song called 'I'm Not Here Anymore,' which I think is one of Bret's finest songs ... 'Some things a man can conquer, some things he must let go.' ... There comes time where you have to move on."
Still, Palladino — who believes "Up There Down Here" will be released eventually — also looks at the album in a positive light.
"What those songs are going to give to us, they've already given," he says. "We've already grown from those songs, and we've already taken from those songs. You'd like to share that with other people, but — like I said — there's things you can't control and things you have to wait on."
Control is one thing the band had little of during its time with Atlas/A&M. Radio loved "Angeline," but a misguided video — directed by "ER's" Anthony Edwards and starring "ER" star Julianna Margulies — failed to capture the spirit of the band or essence of the song. A video for "Fear of Falling"- also a radio hit — offered a much better representation of the group but was never even submitted to VH1.
And — most important, because of the sale — the band never released any new music through the label.
Alexander says the band sees its separation from Polygram as case of good riddance.
"Our years as a major label artist were the most unproductive years of our lives," he says. "The last thing we put on a major label we had done ourselves, and that was four years ago ...
"I don't give a damn about being a big rock star or being on MTV," he adds. "I like to write, I like to play, and I like to record. ... The more control I have and the more time I can spend creating to keep the juices flowing, the happier I'm going to be."
"The labels really think that you need them to do what you do, and that's just not true," says Palladino. "We've spent two years of our lives waiting — literally idle. That's two years too long."
Luck of the Draw
Alexander — wiser but not bitter — says that out of the hundreds of bands signed to national deals each year, only a few find the success they may have hoped for or had been promised.
"The Dave Matthews of the world? Insanely talented? Yes. But also the exception," he says. "There's many talented groups out there that never get that chance. That's just the law of averages. ... Why is Oasis huge right now and not insanely talented people like Marshall Crenshaw or Andy Partridge of XTC? ...
"Sometimes, it's just the luck of the draw."
Alexander says the Seagram's experience — plus the lack of control — would make the group think long and hard before re-signing with another major label.
"I don't want to give up my creativity," he says. "I wish there was a more human way to do it than with the major labels. I don't know the ins-and-outs of what it takes to be at Universal, but I know there's an awful lot of carnage.
"I'm sure all of the local bands putting out CDs want a record deal," he adds. "It's almost like you want that confirmation of your efforts. What you don't think about is 'Who are you signing to?' ... You've got to ask those questions. What's happened to us — and the 300 other bands ... there's no way on God's earth we ever could have known.
"People would rather believe a simple lie than a complex truth. That's the music business."
Palladino, posed the same question about re-signing, agrees.
"I'd like to read the fine print," he says with a laugh. "People don't always understand that a record deal isn't always a step forward. Had we known what we know now — when labels started flying out and see us to sign us ... who knows how things would have played out? In a way, we know too much.
"The labels know so little about music that it's scary," he adds. "And these are people that are in charge of careers. Nobody knows how to do what you do better than you do. But they'll try to direct you and steer you because they want to put their stamp on it, and it might not be good for the direction of the band.
"I'm incredibly jaded, and I'm not the only one. You've been lied to around every corner and told these empty promises. You just doubt everything. These people are lying, and you can tell because their lips are moving."
Now free of the Polygram/Seagram's quandary, the band is ready to move forward. Palladino says despite enduring what was clearly a very frustrating situation, the group has emerged better and more focused than ever.
"If anything, this horrible situation that we've been in and are still kind of wading out of has brought us closer and made us stronger than we've ever been," he says. "I think we're making tremendous strides with writing and recording ...
"It's been kind of a like re-birth."