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A few months ago, Pollen had a dilemma on its hands. The local pop-punk quintet was being actively courted by some heavyweight labels, most prominently Interscope Records. The question was whether to continue with an indie that was beginning to learn the ropes, the New York-based Wind-Up Records, or play ball with the really big boys.
After much consideration, Pollen decided to stay put with Wind-Up. The band members weren't particularly impressed with the label's efficiency up to that point (Wind-Up had botched the booking on an entire West Coast tour, and generally failed to promote the 1997 album Peach Tree). Pollen was also a bit concerned because ever since the company--formerly known as Grass Records--had changed ownership, the label had tried to monitor the band's creativity. Wind-Up reps wanted to observe Pollen in the studio, and even tried to keep the band from working with their friends and inspirations, the Descendents.
Such misgivings aside, Pollen sensed that Wind-Up might just be the perfect home for the group's next album. For one thing, Wind-Up had brought in some sophisticated marketing people who were primed to push the band with a ruthless savvy. For another, Pollen's loyalty figured to secure it a prized position on the label's roster. Right?
Well, during the last few months, Pollen has sent Wind-Up three separate demos, with a total of about 40 songs. The overriding message from the label, according to Pollen lead singer Dan Hargest, has been that the band should lose some of that "punk edge," bring down the guitars, and go for a smoother, radio-ready pop sound. In other words: less Rocket From the Crypt, more Third Eye Blind. For Hargest and the rest of this band of Pittsburgh transplants, this demand was the last straw in a creative tug of war that had been building for a while.
"They were already starting to push us," Hargest says. "We had to do stuff that we were uncomfortable with, but wasn't necessarily evil, y'know? They would listen to the songs and say, 'These don't sound like songs that are going to be playable on the radio,'" Hargest says. "At that point, we said, 'That's not what we're about. We're not going to do that.' But we compromised. We said, 'We won't write for the radio, but we'll give you a lot of songs that we've written and you can help us decide what goes on the album.'"
Already feeling like "corporate whores" for allowing the label to sift through their demos, Pollen's members refused to let Wind-Up tamper with their wall-of-guitars sound. "That's when we said, 'This has gone way too far,'" Hargest says. "I just told them to piss off. They asked us to do the very definition of selling out."
Unfortunately, Pollen's decision to leave Wind-Up comes at a time when the label's industry clout is at a new high, following the startling success of the abysmal Creed, whose album stood perched at the No. 24 slot on last week's Billboard 200.
"They're in probably the best position in the industry because they're considered a brand-new label, and they're batting a thousand 'cause the only thing that anybody knows that they've put out is Creed, and Creed has gone like multiplatinum now in the States, Japan, Canada, and all that kind of stuff," Hargest says. "Anything that comes out next is gonna sell 'cause it's on Wind-Up."
One thing is certain: That next Wind-Up release won't be by Pollen. When Hargest spoke with label chief Steve Lerner recently, he came away convinced that Wind-Up didn't want to work with the band if its sound didn't change. The group is ready to explore its options, and a new record deal seems likely in the near future. The frustration for Pollen is that this latest round of label upheaval insures that its hefty backlog of material will soon approach mid-'70s Rick Nielsen size.
"We have enough for two albums, and we just don't have anywhere to put it," Hargest says. "We know we won't be able to get a CD out this year, 'cause no one releases at the last quarter. We've been so far ahead of ourselves since our first CD came out. On every CD, it got pushed back an extra year. I can't believe that we recorded the first demo for this album in '96. It's amazing to me."
Six-Million-Dollar Clip: Bionic Jive recently hooked up with the high-powered L.A.-based manager Don Powell, who encouraged the band to make a video which could be shopped to labels. The resulting clip, for the song "S Flavor," has band leader Larry Elyea waxing enthusiastic. Elyea says the video was put together by multitalented band member Chris Elsner, mixing some live-in-the-studio band shots with a wild, innovative stop-motion animation style which apparently has even reps of MTV eager to determine Elsner's tricks. Elsner scanned the faces of the band members--including singer Derrick Burrows forming the sound of every letter in the alphabet--then converted the shots to animation, using stop-motion to create a series of bizarre visual effects.
"He came home in a drug-induced state one night and discovered it," Elyea says of the technique. He adds that MTV saw part of the clip along with a commercial Elsner had produced and wanted to know how Elsner did it. Of course, Elsner left them to figure it out for themselves.