Every Wednesday is Heritage Hump Day! That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that walked the scorched earth of Arizona before the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have only seven days to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.
This week we celebrate the music and career of 9-Volt, a highly charged band with a relatively short shelf life led by Andy Mitchell, who had been in a popular Valley band called Dish and later became Verona. When Mitchell split from that band, they became Gloritone and found almost immediate success and scored a major label deal with a BMG subsidiary. Mitchell formed a band called Sauce that went nowhere and would have to wait, oh, a couple of months before Sauce got a deal with a major label subsidiary and had to change their name. Yep, that was the ’90s and your major label dollars at work.
It's all outlined in my June 1998 New Times profile of the band called "9-Volt Led the Charge." Much of the attention the band accrued was on account of a song the band recorded which by no coincident is this week's Heritage Hump single. And it's called "Stupid.":
"Andy Mitchell, singer/songwriter and the leading voice behind the hard-rocking power trio known as 9 Volt, wrote a clever song called "Stupid" that's turning a lot of heads, stupid and otherwise. A mere month after its release, the self-titled debut (that's 9 Volt, idjits!) was the fifth-most-added recording on college/alternative radio in the country. When asked if he wrote this song to illustrate the futility of language, how words dissolve like so much vapor when one is trying to articulate the condition of the human heart, Mitchell takes a sip of cold beer before responding with an emphatic "nah!"
"I'm singing this melody that's gonna get stuck in your head. You're gonna fucking hate this song, this stooopid song," he says, laughing.
Drummer Scott Collins is keen to point out, for those stupid people out there who know not which side of the idiot fence they fell off, that the song doesn't single out any group as being imbecilic, but rather that it is the song itself they are listening to that is being derided. "It is what it is. Self-effacing in a sense."
Today Mitchell recalls: "'Stupid' was the track that Crash/Pavement Records heard on our demo that got us signed. We released Swimming in Gasoline in 1998 and 98 KUPD and KDKB 93.3 both picked up the track 'Stupid' and put it in regular rotation for about two months.
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“'Stupid' was one of those songs that I wrote in 15 minutes that just poured out of me. It’s a very simple song with a great hook. ...It’s a song about Apathy. Going through life thinking not matter what you do the result will be the same."
NMG/Pavement Records, which also at the time had local bands Windigo and The Sport Model, signed the band to its alternative label, Crash Records, which had a distribution deal with Private I Records, which has the deal with Mercury Records. Hop in the Wayback machine, we're going back to 1998:
Crash then sent the trio to Illinois to record with celebrated AOR producer Gary Loizzo, who'd worked with such multiplatinum acts as Styx and REO Speedwagon but was itching to get his hands dirty in the murky waters of post-grunge rock.
"We wanted something very raw," says Mitchell. "I didn't do a lot of overdubs. We captured the band live. It's actually a little shinier than what we sound like live. Raw energy like an Everclear, Foo Fighters sort of sound. Not a super-spendy album, which is what we got."
Once the album was mastered, bassist Jeff Criswell decided to quit. "He kind of freaked out because he's got two kids and he was afraid if he went out on the road he wasn't going to make enough money to support them. That's an understandable concern."
Also hindering the production of the album was the name-change thing. "That set us literally two months behind," says Mitchell. "Crash said we need a name by Monday. As soon as we decided on a name, I had some ideas for a logo and I had an artist who did our demo logo. I put major pressure on him, and this poor guy went three days without sleep and came through."
9 Volt wasn't even on the 10 pages of names the band rifled through. "Phlegmgarden and Pokeweed were two that were up for consideration,"
Mitchell snickers. "Crash Records liked that Pokeweed since it's got the sex and the drugs in it." Collins' wife came up with Battery, but when that seemed to suggest assault and battery, she chimed in with 9 Volt.
Everywhere on the CD, it's the numeric spelling you see, except the spine, where it's written out. Maybe that's so brain-dead album cataloguers won't feel rushed trying to figure out what letter the name begins with.
Ah, yes, that "stupid" factor again.
Even the smartest bands come up against an apathetic public, personnel changes and dumb luck. Despite all the attention, 9-Volt fizzled out but you can see Mitchell today heading up a similar sounding band, The Andys, that play out fairly regularly today. The band which features two guys named Andy and the Stumbles' bassist Matt Sadler. All three presumably passed up Phlegmgarden as a viable band name. In hindsight not such a stupid move.