Scouting a Deal

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

In the wrong hands, Trunk Federation could easily be dumbed down into a competent but generic grunge knockoff that might sell more records, but would have less character. Which is why the band wanted to ink with Alias. "We think they understand the value of being charmingly fucked up," says Sanford.

Throughout February, the haggling continued. Deal memo; response. Deal memo; response. The poker game started to fray the band's nerves. "When good things first started happening, nothing was casual anymore," says Andreas. "It got serious in a hurry, and everyone started getting weird and edgy."

The point of contention was obvious: No one wanted Alias to take its toys and go home, but band members disagreed on how far to push it. The crux issues were standard recording-contract fare--publishing rights; "points," or the royalty percentage the band gets from every recording sold; and "perks," like whether the record label buys the band a tour van and, in Trunk Federation's case, whether it picks up the long-distance tab for Kennedy's calls home to his wife and 3-year-old son from the road.

"I love them both so much, it's going to be really rough," Kennedy says. Trunk Federation will start touring seven to ten weeks at a time this summer, with two to three weeks between circuits. "The way I see it is a trade-off. That's what I have to do to make a living in music, and I don't want to have some lame blue-collar job for the rest of my life, so I'm not about to give this up for anything. But it's going to be stressful . . ."

The most critical section of a recording contract, however, is often the "recoupables," or how much of the band's advance money and promotional, recording and tour expenses come off the top of record-sale profits.

It's the recoupables that can make a term like "six-figure recording contract" extremely misleading, and this is where many bands get burned. If too much of a band's profit is recoupable, it can have a hit recording and conceivably never see a dime. Think of hitting a jackpot, watching all the coins come down, and then having some guy in a suit walk up, point out the fine print and scoop them all into his pocket. Whether Trunk Federation's publicity costs would be recoupable was a primary stumbling block in its talks with Alias. "This process is necessary but frustrating," Jenkins says in San Diego, sounding impatient. "I just want to get them in the studio and get going."

Jenkins will soon get her wish. Trunk Federation is scheduled to record in Los Angeles next month, and the band's Alias debut--working title The Infamous Hamburger Transfer--should be out by Thanksgiving.

The Van
Trunk Federation's rhythm section is always late. Late for interviews. Late for practice. And, right now, late for the band's designated meeting time at its Tempe practice space to load up the U-Haul and get an early start on the road trip to San Diego. It is now 4:30 p.m. Frostin and Kennedy, who always ride together, are nowhere in sight. Sanford, the health nut in the band, leaves to get a hummus sandwich. "I knew it," he says, pulling back into the practice-space parking lot to find no sign of his tardy bandmates. "I'm giving them the silent treatment all the way to San Diego."

Frostin and Kennedy finally show up at 5:15, entirely unrepentant. "We're just slackers," says Frostin later. "We both live far from the practice space, we always car-pool, and we have other priorities. We like to get that extra wink before practice, get that last drink or go out to dinner. Usually I'm late because I'm on a date or something. And Chris is married and has a kid--if he gets off work and wants to spend some extra time with them, am I gonna say 'hurry up'? No."

By ten to 6, the trailer is loaded and Trunk Federation is on the road. Andreas, who works days as a courier, says the road time passes easily for him. But this band doesn't really know about road time. Not yet. Until the South by Southwest gig, Trunk Federation's road dates were all within a half-day's driving range from Phoenix. Hearing the band members complain about the grueling 16-hour drive to Austin makes one wonder if they know what they're in for.

"We tagged like an hour onto the trip because Mark and I got us lost," says Andreas. "Everyone else was asleep. We went looking for a shortcut and wound up on this back road between El Paso and Austin that was just lined with road kill. There were all these dead deer, and then all of a sudden there were all these live ones, just standing at the edge of the road. It was spooky, man. It was like they were going to organize and kamikaze us."

The singer jacks the new Flaming Lips album, Clouds Taste Metallic, into the tape deck. The first song, "Kim Shot My Watermelon Gun," starts off with a piercing, singsong guitar line that slowly builds to a peak, then slides into a crash of drums, bass, and jagged, high-volume guitar interplay.

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