Blind Ambition

Before Braille is after success, but will it endure major stumbling blocks on its way to indie credibility?

"What happened was Aezra gave us a deadline," he continues. "The recording process took longer than we thought, so we actually mixed the whole record, all 15 songs, in one day. So, obviously, there were gonna be problems and mixes that wouldn't make the cut. Bob had already agreed to remix for free any song they weren't happy with."

As it turned out, Aezra wasn't happy with any of the songs. The label balked at releasing the Hoag mixes.

"They really didn't give us a reason," Jensen says. "The only thing they told us was this is nothing that's close to what we think is worth releasing. They didn't give us the opportunity to remix it and didn't want us to work with Bob any longer. So for two months they searched around to find someone else to mix the record. They found somebody in Florida and mixed the record with him, and those mixes were horrible."

That somebody was Karl Richardson, famed one-third of the production team that brought you the Saturday Night Fever-era Bee Gees. They flew Jensen out to Miami to mix the record for a couple of days. "But we still had problems," he says, laughing. "Then they flew Bob Hoag out there, the same guy they thought couldn't give them a reasonable mix, for another two days, and finally three months after we finished tracking the record, we were able to come up with a record everybody was happy with. Aezra wanted a big, booming-sounding record, which I think they got with the mastering, which Bob also did."

Hoag also managed to get a heavy piano sound, usually banging away at the lower keys to underline a particularly dramatic moment. Plenty such moments turn up in The Rumor's opening track "Prelude: Secret Number 7" and the album's big stunner "Miracle Mile." In the rhythm section, Reed and Smith are unstoppable throughout, providing a substantial cushion for Jensen and Ringger to float above.

"In the early days, everybody would come in with a completed song and everybody would write their own parts," Jensen explains. "Now the songs are springing out more from jam sessions; when everyone's playing together, somebody has an idea and we sorta play off on that. Everyone in the band takes an equal part in the songwriting, so each member affects the sound. Having Reggie Patel on lead guitar, it's actually going a lot better now. He's changed our sound, for the better, I think."

When the talk swings back to Jensen's experience as a label honcho, he's reminded of how much he now goes out of his way to listen to the musicians he works with in his capacity as a label boss. "Now that we're working with a label ourselves and just really having to struggle to make things go our way, it's made me want to be even more generous and open to ideas from the bands I work with," he says. "At the same time, I know that any label exists to, ultimately, make money. I won't continue having my label if I don't start making more decisions that have to do with, How can I sell records?'"

Recently, the success of former Sunset Alliance band Fivespeed has put him in the profit column. "When they signed to Virgin, I saw money there," he says. "Virgin bought the record I put out, Trade In Your Halo. They paid for the licensing and, in order to do that, they had to pay a sum of money to cover my expenses and pay off my credit cards. It was a lot of money to me but I'm sure to most labels it was nothing."

According to Jensen, Aezra has sunk a quarter of a million dollars into Beyond Braille and is determined to protect that investment by any means necessary. Which means no guest appearances on other people's records. No more split CDs. No more comp appearances -- all things that help keep indie bands' names out there between releases.

"With Aezra, when we originally signed with them, we thought we were signing with an independent label; they were going to sign a bunch of respectable indie bands, who shall remain nameless," Jensen says. "One from here, one from California. They want to be a major and sign a bunch of different acts. We're not related to them in any way, shape or form except for the big stamp on the back of our record. Since then they've signed two pop artists, but they did put out a Toadies live album. That's rock. So we'll have some rock compadres on our label, and now they're talking to a pretty good rock band in Dallas, too."

Still, it's clear that Jensen -- who knows what label-conscious punk/emo kids are like -- bristles at the fact that he is on the same label as Robin Trower, dance-pop hopeful Sera, and Deep Blue Something, best known for the annoying-as-anthrax hit "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

"In the indie scene, people are just as loyal to record labels as they are to bands," Jensen says. "And when they go to the Web site and see a bunch of pop artists on the same label as what they consider a cool indie rock band, right away they dismiss that band. Who is this band on the same label as Deep Blue Something?' But at the same time, screw people who're gonna think that way. Those people need to grow up and like music for what it is. I don't make my decisions that way, and I think it's wrong for them to do."

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