Good Year for Bad Days

Their record company just dumped them; Fiesta Bowl sponsors think they're dips; but Tempe still love its Refreshments

He made the date in Austin, took them out for lunch, got hammered on tequila, heard them play, and signed them.

But the band was not completely satisfied for reasons that none will talk about now. Dusty Denham, the drummer, was not living up to the others' expectations, and though the current band members toss about the word "professionalism," rumors on the street are even less flattering. In any case, the band fired him.

Denham did not return calls from New Times.
Peter Lubin was appalled that the band would fire its drummer right before it went into the recording studio.

P.H. Naffah, meanwhile, was working his day job when he got invited to try out for the drummer's spot.

"I had heard the band's music because it was the hottest band around town," he says. "In fact, I was envious as all hell, because I was working a shitty day job and I couldn't go out to see bands."

His sister and his fiancee, with whom he lived, constantly played Wheelie.
"I'd come home and they'd be playing the Refreshments' CD nonstop."
That was a good thing: He had the songs in his head when he went to try out, and he got the job.

Fizzy Fuzzy is essentially a remake of Wheelie, but executed at a much higher level of professionalism under Lubin's direction.

"They made us go to work and put the beer cans down," Clyne says.
But the work paid off. The Refreshments topped Billboard magazine's "heatseekers" list of new acts for weeks. Fizzy Fuzzy reached number 97 in the Billboard 200. The album is poised to go gold, having shipped close to 500,000 copies--not as well as the Gin Blossoms did with their two albums, but respectable nonetheless. "Banditos" climbed to number 11 on Billboard's Rock Tracks list.

The Refreshments hit the road, playing more than 300 shows in the U.S. and Canada.

They played to dead air in Los Angeles, braved flying chicken drumsticks at a music festival in Omaha, and got pelted with mud in Cleveland. But then they found they had cult followings in such disparate places as Denver; Minneapolis; Portland, Oregon; and Boston.

"You'd think someone in Boston or the Pacific Northwest wouldn't be inclined to know about taking road trips through Nogales or down to Rocky Point," says Brian Blush. "But regardless of where they're from, they pick up on that vibe."

"It is amazing to me to go to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and see 800, 900 people who know all the words to all the songs," says Peter Lubin. "That is very significant. Every gig they play, they have to spend an hour and a half signing autographs and answering questions."

They played Chicago on a Sunday night in January during an ice storm, and still managed to rouse 500 fans. They needed 30 security guards to get them in and out of the venue safely through the throngs of crazed fans in Springfield, Missouri.

"One guy sent us a naked video of his girlfriend dancing to our music," says Clyne.

They made appearances on the Conan O'Brien show and a PBS rock road-show series. They wrote the instrumental theme song for Fox TV's King of the Hill prime-time cartoon--Entertainment Weekly called it the best new TV theme. They placed another single on the soundtrack for the film An American Werewolf in Paris.

The Refreshments were hot.
Then their second album came due.

Many of the songs on The Bottle & Fresh Horses date to before the band's first album was recorded, others had been written on the road.

They'd all heard the gripes about Fizzy Fuzzy's accessibility, and although Clyne denies it changed his style in the slightest, Blush admits that it "affects your psyche."

The Bottle is edgier and darker. But it did not fare well.
Peter Lubin, who had signed the band to Mercury Records, had been fired in a management shakeup, and the Refreshments lost their inside champion. And although Mercury offered to let Lubin oversee the new album, Michael Lustig, the band's L.A. manager, thought that would be bad luck in an already compromised situation.

Lubin, who remains in close contact with the Refreshments as a friend and an adviser, tries to be objective about the second album.

"I think if I had to sum up the second album for myself, I would have to say it's frightening the extent to which their personality is missing from that record," says Lubin. "And I don't mean the material."

Indeed, the songs are vital and exciting in concert, but the rendition through tapes and wires is workmanlike.

The critics liked it better than Fizzy Fuzzy "because the songs are more mature," says Michael Lustig. "But sonically it doesn't have the immediacy that Fizzy Fuzzy did."

The record-buying public apparently agreed. The Bottle came onto the Billboard 200 at number 150 in its first week out, and then never showed up again.

How much Mercury promoted the CD is anyone's guess. It won't comment.
"I never got a Refreshments CD, and I get a lot of CDs from bands I never heard of," says Chicago DJ Marty Lenartz.

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