Now that we all know most record companies are the loss leaders for their conglomerate parent company we always believed they were, you kinda wish just once someone at the label would say "I don't know how to do my job" instead of "We don't have a way of marketing you."
That was the speech Aaron Beavers of the Austin alt-rock, alt-country group Shurman got when his band begged off their deal with Vanguard Records and again when the band's independently released 2008 album Waiting for the Sunset was re-released by Universal Republic when major distribution failed to sell more copies in 2010. It couldn't have helped that the subsidiary, Vain Records, went belly up the week of release.
If Shurman's blend of classic rock sounds like Tom Petty and alt-country rock like The Jayhawks has fallen through the cracks much of their ten years, they've subsequently learned that there's a lot of life to be lived between those cracks, including accruing new fans overseas and off the arena circuit -- in short, when you do things your way that's where you're directing people.
Since opening up for Roger Cline and the Peacemakers back in the early aughts, Shurman has maintained Tempe as a second home away from home which is why they're having a CD release party here. They were here in November when Beavers was touring with John Popper and the Duskray Troubadours for six months, which gave him and the band time some breathing space and a clear head to plan the next move
We caught up with him between a dance card filled with phoner and early morning TV interviews to talk about how a band survives firing the Doc McGhee, manager of KISS, Bon Jovi, and Mötley Crüe and The William Morris Agency and still draw lots of healthy breaths in this business of show.
Shurman is scheduled to perform Friday, February 24, at 910 Live in Tempe.
Up on the Sun: Clearly having a major label affiliation isn't for everybody but what's the first album post-Universal feel like?
Aaron Beavers: Satisfying. We've been really lucky to get everybody on board with this project. Reviews have been coming in everyone seems psyched about the record. Some of these doors that we've been knocking on for 10 years finally seem to be opening. The good thing about going out with John Popper is I didn't have to deal with all this other stuff, like press and such. Just tell me where you need me. [Laughs]
But you've been an indie band before...
We've been around since 2001. Our first two records cam out on Vanguard, our last one came out on a subsidiary of Universal Republic called Vain Records. Just a total fucking debacle. The record business right now is such a mess, we were very fortunate to have gotten advances [and] a video was made for 50 grand. In the end what did it do for us? I don't know. It taught us a lot of what not to do.
Biggest what not to do?
Believe what people tell you. People who want to sign you to a record deal promise you anything. "We'll get you on the charts," "We'll put you on tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers," "I've got friends that do X,Y, and Z."
Then you get on the label and you're lucky if one thing out of fifty happens. Now we're surrounded by people we trust who are going to give is the truth even if the truth hurts. We're at the point where I made enough money from the John Popper tour that I bought my own recording studio so now we can make records anytime we want to and I don't have to ask someone for money or get a benefactor to come and help us. And we have Jono Manson (producer, also in the Duskray Troubadours) who I really trust to help us mix and master things so we could come to our fans with a record we can hold our heads up high with. Everyone is connected to this record, from the artwork [on]. The photos to the replication- a friend of mine, someone I met 10 years ago who got fired from his big job at Diskmakers and he started his own business. Everyone on this record is someone who worked for a big conglomerate, was living high on the hog in the music business now they're doing their own thing on their own terms That's how we fit in on this new business model and I'm totally cool with it.
So tell us about the old business model and firing Doc McGhee.
People told us we were crazy. "He's the biggest manager in the music business." Well, biggest isn't always better. We were signed with William Morris and they got us some huge gigs at Madison Square Garden but there was never any followup. We had all Michele Clark Promotions working our first record and gets indicted by Congress the week the record comes out.
So you didn't even get the chance to have payola work for you!
Exactly! "Wait, we've got all these guys with money." In the end it's been the best thing that's ever happened to go through this whole struggle and not be successful. It's kept the music real and weeded out the guys in my band who were playing for the wrong reasons. Trying to get blow or hookers or a Corvette. We all know those people at the end of a show. "You guys are great, my brother is the president of Clear Channel." We give him a card, load up our van and we know there's never gonna get that and we're OK with that . We don't want to talk to that guy, anyway. We're in a better place than we've ever been , the vibe and the energy and the teamwork is at an all-time high. That's the shit that really matters and you make great art and the people you're involved with are 100 percent in whether you're successful or not. You're lucky if you can be your own boss.
That song about lethal injection, "Eye for an Eye" is a pretty powerful song. How did that one come about?
I watched a program on TV about Willie Earl Poindexter here's a guy executed on death row and after he's executed we find out through DNA he's completely innocent. If you need any kind reason to get rid of the death penalty, it's that right there.
I once saw Steve Earle perform his executioner song from Dead Men Walking, "Ellis Unit One," in Scottsdale. And when he started talking about capital punishment, some idiot yelled out "Yeah," like he was for it. And Earle looked at him for a stone cold minute before letting him have it. Have you had that kind of reaction playing live, living in Rick Perry's state?
We've been holding off doing all the songs live, not wanting to give them away. The reactions been incredible. I played it to a friend and to Jono and he said you have to record it. I said it wasn't a real Shurman song with just an acoustic guitar. I mean, it's a complete buzz kill type song compared to the rest of our material . But Jono said "That song done the right way can be incredibly powerful."
I like that a record like this one can evoke more than one mood. Not everyone can be Lana Del Ray.
That's what I've always liked about Elvis Costello- he's not afraid of taking the album out of a vibe with a quiet song like "Indoor Fireworks." That's so admirable.
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Shurman has a lot of alt-rock and classic rock in its sound. So how did the various labels try to market you?
The reason we got a record deal in the first place was there was so much crossover potential on both sides. We went out for a month with Ted Nugent, then Hootie and the Blowfish, then Ryan Adam, then Drive By Truckers. All those bands don't share any of the same group of fans. So yeah, we eventually got the "You're too country for rock, too rock for country" rationale. We have no desire to make a strictly country record. When I said that to Vanguard, I said my job is not to market it, that's your job. Firing all those people was the best thing to happen to us. We want to wear the same clothes we wear on stage wedo when we go to the store. We don't want to dye our hair. I hate bands that do all that shit. They were telling us it was in their best interests. Well, not if we don't want to do it.