Whether it is a testament to legacy or a ploy to make fans feel old, Tempe’s own heritage rockers of the '90s, The Refreshments, will be reissuing its debut breakout album, 1996's Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy, on vinyl record for its 20th anniversary celebration. It is scheduled for release this coming Friday, November 13.
Fronted by Roger Clyne [currently of the Valley’s powerhouse act Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers], along with drummer Paul "P.H." Naffah, bassist Arthur Eugene "Buddy" Edwards, and guitarist Brian Blush, The Refreshments earned a devout legion of fans in their local desert home, along with international success, with hits like “Banditos,” “Mekong,” and “Nada” (all of which still hold a spot in present RCPM concerts).
Clyne reflects on his breakout album by offering that “it is inarguably our most famous, and definitely one of our most beloved works between the Peacemakers and the Refreshments catalog.”
While the musical styling of the Refreshments and the Peacemakers flow together seamlessly, often making even the most seasoned Clyne enthusiast pause to remember which songs belong to what catalog, the inner business workings of the two acts were starkly different. Today, the Peacemakers are an independently operated entity — free from the creative constraints of a corporate record label. The Refreshments, however, were not. Instead, squarely under the thumb of Mercury Records after a management shake-up, the Refreshments' short-lived career was dictated by a “what have you done for me recently” system, and their artistic freedom was regulated to a radio single by single basis.
“We get to keep way more human touch when we’re independent,” Clyne says. “Those other machines can make a lot of money, but sometimes it’s at the expense of having any real feeling. It was my opinion the art should touch hearts.”
It was this relationship with the corporate structure that led to the parting of ways between the band and the label, and ultimately the breakup of the Refreshments altogether. For 20 years it has remained as such; very little contact has been had between Clyne and Mercury Records’ parent company, Universal Music Group. It was surprising then for Clyne when Universal reached out with an idea to reissue the Refreshments album as a vinyl recording.
“I thought we would remain basically invisible and overlooked to them,” Clyne admits, “and when they brought up that idea I was like, ‘Wow. That’s…cool.’” Plus the fact that Universal wanted to release it exclusively on vinyl was icing on the cake for Clyne who believes that vinyl records are making a modern day comeback by reconnecting people to a more distinguished translation of their favorite music. “They sound richer, and I love the scratch and pop that vinyl gets. Plus, it’s what I grew up with; I grew up with A-side and B-side.”
Prior to the 20th anniversary of Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy, Roger Clyne spoke with New Times to discuss not only the vinyl reissue of their classic album, but to offer up a history lesson for fans on the rise and fall of The Refreshments.
We’re speaking today because of the upcoming Refreshments vinyl reissue of Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy.
Yeah, man. That thing is coming out. I was really surprised, because that idea came from the record company, who I haven’t heard from in 20 years. I thought we would remain basically invisible and overlooked to them, and when they brought up that idea I was like, “Wow. That’s…cool.” [Laughs]
That is exactly what I wanted to talk to you about first: Whose idea this was. I was surprised by the announcement of this reissue. With the Peacemakers, you do everything independently, but the Refreshments were all major label stuff. So I'm curious about the rejoining of forces with the corporate music world.
The idea definitely came out of the blue from Universal. Like I said, I was surprised, but I was also really excited, because I’m still very proud of that record. I think it’s different in some ways contextually than how I’m writing now, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
It is inarguably our most famous, and definitely one of our most beloved works between the Peacemakers and the Refreshments catalog.
The songs from that album have certainly never lost their place in your live shows — even as the Peacemakers.
I made a choice a long time ago when I moved from being a Refreshment to a Peacemaker that I would stand behind my work.
I toured a long time ago with John Fogerty, and at the time he wasn’t playing much of his old catalog, and I remember missing it. I didn’t want to make the same choice, because it’s fun to hear those tunes; they connect people to certain parts of their lives, and reconnects people with the moment.
It might change if you ask me tomorrow, but I’d say right now [my favorite song on Fizzy Fuzzy] would be either “Mekong” or “Nada.” Both of those songs I still feel very connected to, and I’m still learning to grow through those songs.
In order to keep Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy in circulation, my little record label, that is the Peacemakers record label, orders from Universal. So whenever we offer Fizzy Fuzzy or The Bottle & Fresh Horses [The Refreshment’s second studio album] as an item online, we have to buy it first from Universal, and then sell it again.
Wow, so you have to buy your own album from the record label?
Yeah, would you expect anything different? [Laughs]
And, here’s an interesting story: the second Refreshments album, The Bottle & Fresh Horses, was actually discontinued by Universal. The last of that catalogue existed in our little warehouse here, and now they’re all sold out, so no longer can one find that album.
It was kind of a bummer, because we went to reorder like 500 of them and they’re like, “Oh, no, it’s discontinued.” [We said,] “Wait, what do you mean?” and they’re like, “nope, we don’t make that anymore.”
That’s unbelievable. I assume it is for those kinds of reasons that you took the Peacemakers and chose to do everything independently as opposed to the Refreshments having to deal with stuff like that.
We get to keep way more human touch when we’re independent. Those other machines can make a lot of money, but sometimes it’s at the expense of having any real feeling. It was my opinion the art should touch hearts.
Why vinyl only?
That was their idea too. The Peacemakers had done a few issues of vinyl in the last three years, then Universal came to us and said they’d like to reissue [Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy] on vinyl.
We were like, “it’s good to hear from you guys, yeah let’s do this.”
I think vinyl has been making a comeback. I think it’s a really cool thing to listen to vinyl, and it does sound different than digital stuff. I like it because I’m an old guy.
I find it’s reconnecting to people. They’ll listen to old recordings, or even new recordings, on vinyl and they sound inarguably different. They sound richer, and I love the scratch and pop that vinyl gets. Plus, it’s what I grew up with; I grew up with A-side and B-side, so for me it’s not only about being able to experience the art, but [also] going back to the nostalgia remembering what it’s like to be 14 years old having to sneak it because it’s a subversive record. [Laughs]
In 2013 the Refreshments played their first show together in nearly 20 years at Circus Mexicus. At the time you called it a “one-off” performance, but Brian Blush [Refreshments guitarist] said he hoped another reunion could happen in the future. Are there any plans of getting together now with this 20th anniversary vinyl reissue in the works?
There are no plans, but I certainly wouldn’t object to it at all. All those hatchets are buried in my opinion. If it became something that we all looked forward to, I totally would do it, but I haven’t set forth making a reunion any kind of a fruition. It’s not because I have any kind of bad feelings about The Refreshments, it’s just that we haven’t had [the time] to think about it.
That makes sense, and it circles back to the corporate aspect of things in speaking of hatchets. Did corporate pressure play a part in the separation of The Refreshments?
I’d give that a qualified “yes.” It ended up being the band’s choice, but I can give you the synopsis of the corporate preconditions if you want a quick history lesson in that?
I’m all ears.
Groovy, alright: We were touring on the second album, and it was after an administration change at Mercury Records. The Refreshments were [originally] signed by a president who was super supportive of the band, our direction, and our art. He said, “I just want you to be you, make your music, and the company is here to make you a heritage rock 'n' roll band and we want to be in this for the long haul.”
During the middle of the Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy tour there was an administration change. A new president came in and cleared out all of the staff that we knew, and had made a relationship with. That’s not uncommon, it happens in lots of corporate things, but one of the consequences of that was that we found ourselves being one of very few bands who didn’t get cut from the label. We were summoned to the new president’s office and he said, “Good to meet you guys, we’re keeping you on the label. I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but we want you to keep doing it. [Also,] we want you to go make a new record.”
We were all scratching our heads because Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy was doing really well, and we had tour plans across the globe. He said, “We’re going to scratch all the tour plans; go make me another record.”
He basically pulled the plug, and we got thrown into the studio without being able to develop a whole lot of new material. So we made The Bottle & Fresh Horses, and we did the best we could. Some people think it’s one of our best records, and some people don’t; it’s got its own cult, and it’s own sort of anti-cult.
That sounds like how sophomore slumps happen. You have your whole life to make your first album, and then when it does well the label tells you that you have 6 months to make a follow-up, and it better be just as good.
[Laughs] Yeah. And some of that we did experience. Now, we had quite a bit of that record written that would become The Bottle & Fresh Horses, but certainly that material didn’t have the time behind it. Like with Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy we got to play for years and hone it, and the songs developed a new deeper richer life through live performance. So those songs were very mature, and the newer songs weren’t there yet—we needed time to let them ripen.
So we go on tour with The Bottle & Fresh Horses, with what we’re hoping is a new administration behind us, but we found that we were going into cities with no support. There was no radio, no CD’s on the shelves, no tour poster in the bar window. We felt like we’d been abandoned.
Right at that time I got a call from the Mercury rep in legal who said, “Your option period is up, meaning Mercury has to make a decision right now to sign you to two more albums, or let you go.”
Now, at the time, contracts were such that records were giving pretty significant advances for the bands to make them an album. They said they didn’t want to commit to two more albums until they run another single in radio. The first single that was pitched to radio was “Good Year,” which was actually meant to be a B-side, but when Mercury didn’t give us creative control they selected that as the single, which we didn’t agree with, and it failed really majestically.
What would you have picked if you had a choice?
Oh, it was unanimous; it was going to be “Wanted.”
And for the record, the other administration under Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy let us pick the single. We flipped a coin between “Blue Collar Suicide” and “Banditos,” and it came up “Banditos.”
So on this phone call the Mercury legal says, “We want 90 days to work the new single with radio, and then we’ll determine after that whether or not we’re going to pick up your option.”
So I said, “You are going to evaluate us on the success or failure of one single?” And he said that the company wanted to see some traction before committing to another album.
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After hanging up, we had a band meeting that lasted 10 days, that was the full amount of time we had to make a decision. There was a lot of debate of what we should do. I was firmly of the opinion that I wanted my music evaluated in a larger scope than single by single. I wanted to be with a company that was honoring their word to have us be a heritage rock 'n' roll band who would stick with us through thick and thin and not single by single. That was the majority decision of the band — either you exercise our option to pick us up now, or let us go.
We passed that information on to our management, we sent it on to our attorney, and they sent us back a letter that said, “With regret, we’re not going to exercise your option.”
So, right there, is when we became a non-major label band [laughs]. Then, shortly thereafter, the pressures of being no longer on a major label were preconditions to the band breaking up.
Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers are scheduled to perform New Year's Eve at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe.