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"Really, Sire was the only thing we had going, and we were really close to getting the deal done [with them] but it never came through," Lauer says. "Sire Records' interest came at the tail end of our time together, and it just let the air out."
Crushed was born later that year after Lauer answered a classified ad posted by a band in need of a singer. Heavy local gigging, big crowds and little media appreciation ensued. In 1996, when the labels came panting, the major California indie upstart 911 inked the band. 911 flashed much enthusiasm and dough. In 1997, 911 released the band's debut, five-song EP. Shortly thereafter came the full-length Crushed.
Then somewhere in Texas in early 1998, midway through its second U.S. tour, Crushed got word its label just went belly-up. Undaunted, Crushed kept on touring, staying out for another month. It had a month of label tour support left in its account. Then it went from dealing with a hip label that understood the music to dealing with a bank.
Everybody knows bank people are no fun, particularly for a rock 'n' roll band living some childhood reverie crisscrossing the country meeting chicks and doing rock 'n' roll shows.
"After 911 was done, all of a sudden some bank in California owned our contract," laughs Lauer ruefully. "We had to deal with bank people!
"The bank goes, 'Hey, you remember that tour van the label bought you? Well, you can buy it for only $7,000.'"
The band bought the van from the bank. Later, it sold the vehicle for $10,000 when the insurance payments became unmanageable. At this point, Crushed had gone through its entire record company advance. The bank even owned the band's master tapes for its debut record.
At the time of the 911 bankruptcy, Crushed was doing well. On a national Canadian MTV equivalent called Much Music, the band's video was becoming a hit. The band had to cancel its Canadian tour. The single was doing extremely well on hard-rock radio in America and many insiders considered Crushed to be a shoo-in to the big time.
Lauer says the label spent too much money in all the wrong places. A common complaint among bands on new-moneyed labels that after a few short years flop like fish out of water.
As a prime example, Lauer cites 911's lavish launch party at Hollywood's Billboard Live. Exorbitant spending and swollen optimism were the main courses of the night.
"They had these huge screens called JumboTrons erected outside the club," Lauer says with a derisive snort. "We were on them via video cam from the stage inside the club.
"The label paid for an open bar that was completely open to the public. It was crazy. They put us up in this swanky hotel right off the Sunset Strip. They gave us each a luxury suite. We'd call each other up and go, 'Uhh, what are you doing? I'm bored.'"
After another year of more promises, unfulfilled dreams and record biz lows, the Crushed morale is still high. Four months ago, the band scored a management deal with Slayer and Machine Head's representatives and is currently working on new songs. Crushed recently turned down a tour with dinosaurs Dokken and Great White, seeing no point. Next month Crushed has yet another showcase, with five record companies having already made commitments to the show.
"You know this business sucks," chortles Lauer. "And that's where we are at still, a kind of holding pattern. We rehearse, we always write new songs, work our day jobs and play around once in a while."
Lauer had to go, more dirty pools in west Phoenix calling, and more songs to hum and sing.
But before he hung up, Lauer asked me the time-honored question musicians often ask when they suspect that time is running thin: "When are we supposed to stop? What am I gonna do if this doesn't work out?"