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.
From time to time we venture from our pre-2000 boundaries to bring you a band that reigned in the early aughts. We're still time traveling 13 years, so watch it as the Wayback Machine is gonna take sharp turns regardless.
This week it's Mesa-based indie band Before Braille, led by David Jensen, who started the Sunset Alliance label and later fronted such bands such as Art for Starters and Loyal Wife.
At the time of my October 2002 profile on Beyond Braille called "Blind Ambition," the band had just signed with a Cave Creek-based label called Aezra Records, which was best known as the home of Deep Blue Something, who made that annoying-as-anthrax hit "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Beyond Braille's first single from its debut CD The Rumor, "Twenty Four Minus Eighteen," had been getting heavy airplay on KZON-FM 101.5, and CMJ New Music Report, an early champion of the group, had already given it raves, placing the band in the company of Jimmy Eat World and Fugazi.
But there was some unease as a band that once embraced a wholly DIY ethic and whose lead singer headed his own label were now doing things somebody else's way.
"I'm probably the wrong person to talk to because I'm the most outspoken one in the group," Jensen says, laughing. "Well, actually that probably makes me the right person to talk to."
Aezra Records is wary of any negative publicity, Jensen says, so he minds his P's and Q's at the outset, all the while assuring me that we're getting the most positive side of the story he can tell.
According to Jensen, Aezra has sunk a quarter of a million dollars into Before 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.
In its haste to get the label the new material, Before Braille didn't even add the embellishments they'd envisioned for the songs, such as piano parts or harmonies. Jensen even sang scratch vocals with dummy lyrics in some places. "They fell in love with those songs, and, about a month later, we had a contract in front of us which we worked on for three or four weeks," says Jensen. "We set up some studio time with Bob Hoag at Flying Blanket Studios, but it wound up taking longer than we thought, about a month and a half, rerecording those songs and adding two new ones that weren't part of the demo.
As it turned out, Aezra wasn't happy with any of the songs. The label balked at releasing the Hoag mixes.
By now the statues of limitations have passed and it can be revealed that the final mixes the label signed off on were in fact the original ones they deemed unreleasable. Aezra, which said it wanted to be Arizona's indie rock label, followed up the Before Braille signing with a sort of Britney Spears/Alicia Keys hybrid artist from Florida.
An older and wiser David Jensen looks back on this episode and says, "I learned later that the person we thought was running the show wasn't totally running the show. And even though he meant well, he didn't do well for us. And no one at the label took our wishes or sensibilities seriously. Their decisions would alienate people who might actually like our band, including ourselves. It was a constant battle for us against misrepresentation. We also begged them to stop comparing us to Jimmy Eat World in its efforts to promote us. In fact Jim Adkins teased his childhood friend Brandon Smith (our bass player) about it. It was deserved."
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Two years after its release, Before Braille's debut was released and is still available as nature intended on Sunset Alliance Records. Our Heritage Hump track is from the 2009 posthumous release that was intended to be the followup to The Rumor, Kill the Messenger Keep the Message, and it's called "Subject Predicate."
"It's not my favorite track on the record, but it might be the most whimsical," Jensen says.
"Basically it's about me killing my ex-girlfriend and the guy I saw her with. After we broke up, I dropped by her house to give her back her things. I saw she was with another guy watching a movie. I was pretty upset by it and wrote this song that night imagining myself breaking in and stabbing them both to death. It's funny now because that ex-girlfriend is now my wife and we've got three kids and have been happily married for 11 years. Now, the only knife fascinations I have are to find the perfect paring knife to peel apple pairs.
"I'm not proud of my immaturity, but I also put a Before Braille bumper sticker on that guy's car that night before I left without committing any further crimes. To be fair, it was a new-school Mustang, so which one of us was committing the greater crime?"