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It was at that point that the gods--or at least some powerful radio programmers--intervened. A radio mix of the song "Lucky Denver Mint" (produced by Chris Lord-Alge) was added to the rotation of highly influential Los Angeles station KROQ, seemingly catching everyone by surprise, particularly the Capitol staff.
"It came at a time when the whole music industry just shuts down, and there's nobody working," says Zach Lind, drummer for the band. "When everybody got back into the office at the end of the holidays, KROQ called Capitol and said, 'Okay, what's your plan?' And Capitol said, 'Uh, we're gonna release it in February.' It was a cool thing. We got what we wanted. Capitol didn't panic, and they did a good job."
"Yeah, I'm actually surprised how smoothly things have been going lately," chimes in Jim Adkins, singer-guitarist and primary songwriter for the group.
The album in question, Clarity, hit the stores on February 23, and is already creating a stir, with "Lucky Denver Mint" popping up repeatedly on local alt-rock station KEDJ, and the band packing Tempe's Green Room for back-to-back CD-release shows on February 27 and 28.
Powerful and stirring as "Lucky Denver Mint" is, it's easy to see why Capitol initially dragged its feet on Clarity. The band's rough-hewn 1996 Capitol debut album, Static Prevails, was a promising effort for four guys barely out of high school, but it sold less than 10,000 copies and gave few hints of the kaleidoscopic soundscapes to come.
Moreover, guitar rock of all forms has been bombing pretty regularly over the past couple of years, and there must have been concern at Capitol that this would just be one more album to get lost in the discount bins. But the recent surge of radio interest in the band has created a noticeably different attitude at the label.
"Capitol has lots of successful soundtracks, and we never were even approached one time to be on any soundtrack of any kind," Lind says. "And, all of a sudden, now we're gonna be on a soundtrack coming up soon. There's a lot of differences we've noticed, going to the tower, and people saying, 'Hey, how ya doing?'
"Like reps in San Francisco checking us out, asking us if we've ever played there before, and we've played like seven times at that particular club," Adkins says.
Adkins and Lind make these points without a hint of bitterness, as though they're fully aware of the game, and they realize there's no point in taking it personally. What's more, for all the frustrations that accompany a major-label contract, the Capitol deal did provide the band with the kind of recording budget that allowed it to turn the studio into a canvas.
"That's one of the main reasons we wanted to [be on a major label], so that we could make the record we want, to take the time to really do it," Adkins says. "You can try out your ideas and make sure they sound good while you're trying them out."
"We've recorded both ways--this way and really kind of stripped down, not a lot of time, not a lot of money," Lind says. "You'll have ideas, but you kind of have to pick and choose your battles, which ones you wanna do, and what sounds better. But with a budget and time, you can say, 'We have time. Let's just try it.'"
Working with Mark Trombino, who produced part of Static Prevails, the group gave free reign to its whims, almost as if this might be its only shot, and the result is an embarrassment of sonic riches. It's one of those rare albums that grows stronger with each listen, as new passages rise up and steal your attention: the sweeping violin-and-cello solo that redefines the fiery rocker "Just Watch the Fireworks," the lush harmonies of Adkins and guitarist Tom Linton on the chorus of "Believe in What You Want," the delicacy of Lind's bells on "A Sunday," so evocative of the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning."
Paradoxically, even as the band embellished its sound with strings, keyboards and drum loops, it captured the true essence of its sound better than on any of its previous recordings.
The album's most transcendent moment will probably be missed by all but the most dedicated fans. For the audaciously long closer, "Goodbye Sky Harbor," the quartet decided to ride on a repetitive, hypnotic guitar sequence for the length of an entire reel of tape.
The result is a 16-minute track that slowly, almost imperceptibly builds momentum. Nearly 12 minutes into the song, the instruments suddenly fade out, and you're left with overlapping vocal countermelodies and percussion. Eventually, electronic breakbeats make their entrance, and the tune soars off to its conclusion, an utterly different piece of music than the one it started out to be.