Scouting a Deal

Quirky modern rockers Trunk Federation have a recording contract in the bag

The Label Dinner
The scene here in a back room of an upscale Mexican eatery in old town San Diego looks like "The Last Supper" gone indie rock. Margaritas are flowing instead of wine, and the disciples have been replaced with a dozen young record-label reps in band tee shirts and tinted green shades who line both sides of the long wooden table. It's the body language that really nails the parallel--the slouches, the whispers, the agitated gestures and the hint of intrigue. There is a record deal in the air tonight.

Tough to say, then, who is Judas. The company in question is Alias Records, a Burbank, California-based modern-rock label that's been courting the Phoenix band Trunk Federation for several weeks. The offer that's on the table--almost literally in this case--is essentially the same long-term contract the band will be ready to sign later that month. But for now, there are still minutiae to be worked out. And record labels--even white-hat, noncorporate "indie" ones--take contract minutiae seriously.

The owner of Alias has brought almost her entire West Coast staff to San Diego for the band's show later this night at Brick by Brick, a rock club near Mission Beach. The move is part wine-and-dine goodwill expedition, part power play. The etiquette for outsiders here is: Have a drink, but trust no one. Looking for any edge in the negotiations, the label's lawyer pumps an unsuspecting friend of the band for information before she can even order--what do they want with this, how low will they go on that? In another context, the lawyer's behavior would be outright rude. Here, it comes with the territory, and it comes with a smile.

Three of the four musicians in Trunk Federation are eating at the less crowded of the two banquet tables, along with Alias owner Delight Jenkins and several Alias retail and radio product reps. Grubbing on chips and salsa is bass player Mark Frostin, who looks like Son of Sam serial killer David Berkowitz with an Afro ("I do not," says Frostin. "His nose was thinner and he was bald. When you're about peace and love, it sure does suck being compared to a loony who killed people"). Next to Frostin is drummer Chris Kennedy, a social recluse who bangs the hell out of his skins ("The only way to bring out the sound is to hit the drums hard, especially in a live situation").

And chatting with Jenkins is guitarist Jason Sanford, a former Deadhead who holds a master's degree in international business management from the prestigious Thunderbird school in Glendale ("When I go to bed at night, I try to picture myself in a suit and I get a blank. Basically, I spent a lot of money to learn I prefer to play guitar").

The fourth band member--lead singer, sole lyricist and rhythm guitarist Jim Andreas--is currently puking in the bathroom. Jose Cuervo's not to blame--the strict policy in this band is no alcohol or pot until after the show, and Andreas doesn't drink, anyway.

But whether it's the result of a blitzkrieg stomach flu or too many herbal energy packets taken with too little food, Andreas is one sick puppy. He gets back to the table, but the sight of food just makes him more ill and he quietly asks Sanford for the van keys. His exit is deliberately subtle--no need to seem weak when you're on display--but he is obviously dizzy. It is 90 minutes to showtime.

Meanwhile, Frostin has spotted the lawyer grilling his friend and wrests her away for a debriefing outside. "Musicians want to believe that the indie-label attitude has nothing to do with money, but that's a delusion," Frostin said a few days before the San Diego trip. "Unfortunately, once you start working on a deal, you have to separate the music from the business, or else . . ." Sanford finished the thought for him: "You better climb up the learning curve pretty quick, and you better watch your back."

The Show
Things are not looking good backstage.
It is ten minutes until Trunk Federation is supposed to go on, the Alias people have positioned themselves near the speakers, and Jim is throwing up again. Actually, still might be more accurate. Whatever got inside him is big-time bad medicine--he is pale, shaking and weak on his feet. Brick by Brick's owner comes out to the alley, takes one look and tells Jim he doesn't have to do the show. The owner's tone of voice says there is no fucking way he thinks Andreas is going to do anything anytime soon except go to bed or fall over.

The other band members are nothing but supportive--it is clearly Jim's call. And his call is to do the show. Steeling himself, Andreas shoulders his guitar and takes the stage, choking back a spasm of nausea even as he steps into the floodlights.

Andreas knows all too well what it's like to be sick and have to fight it. From the time he was 19 until he was 24, the singer was a drug addict--hooked on alcohol, heroin and cocaine. He went through five treatment programs before finally kicking the habit cold turkey after overdosing riding on a Greyhound bus.

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