I’m convinced life moving is in dog years. Every calendar year is now equal to 7 years of normal human progress only a decade ago. I’m not just talking about the obvious examples in technology and science and other industries I would have gone into if I was smart. I’m talking about the music business.
10 years ago MySpace and Facebook didn’t exist. If you were in a band and wanted to get your career going you had to work your ass off, record a demo, try to get fanzine reviews and play as many shows as possible. Record labels still had power, so in some ways signing to one made sense. It’s what you did if you wanted to “make it.” The definition of this was different for everyone, but at that time it was the clearest road map to making a living.
With that in mind, this the story of Before Braille from Mesa, AZ as written by lead singer Dave Jensen, about the how the logical decision to sign with a label almost cost the band everything.
I got to know Dave when I was in college and interned at Flying Blanket Recording. To this day I’ve never met anyone so dedicated to their art that they’re ready and willing ready to risk physical, mental, emotional, and financial health for it. All of this could either get channeled into unbelievably great shows and albums (which it usually did) or horrific battles like the one you’ll soon read about.
It’s been years since Before Braille was alive but I still miss going to their shows and being around that kind of intensity. Offstage everyone was nice and calm, but it was awesome when the switch was flipped.
****Before you begin reading, listen to the album (or download it for free) here: The Rumor****
September 10, 2012 marks the 10 year anniversary of Before Braille’s debut full-length album, The Rumor. To represent this occasion properly, we may need to tell the story of how the album came to be.
Before Braille had been a band for about a year when they were featured in an article published by the East Valley Tribune entertainment magazine, “Get Out.”
In the story written by Thomas Bond, he listed the top 10 unsigned bands in Arizona. Before Braille was featured on that list. The article was seen by the new, well-funded record label, Aezra Records, who emailed the band with interest. Dave returned the email by shipping out a copy of Before Braille’s only multi-song release at that time, a “Triplesplit” with Fivespeed and Andherson, featuring the songs Select Start, Red Tape, and Low End of Luxury.
Aezra promptly responded with a request for 10 more songs. In this “demo deal,” Before Braille was given $1000 to deliver 10 new tracks in 10 days. Before Braille fulfilled this agreement, even though they didn’t have 10 completed songs at the time that were not yet committed to other releases. [Note: Dave never wrote lyrics for a song before going into the studio. Often he'd write them the day of tracking and/or during vocal takes. Even for songs like "The Annex," that were played live for years before recorded. And, to that point Before Braille would rarely complete a song before it was played live multiple times.]
Original recordings of the 10 songs on that demo (Oct. 22-27, 2001):
*Goodnight Quiet Noise
*Closure:Suggested [aka Abracadaver]
*Rest Your Feet Not Your Eyes [renamed: A Cinema Spine]
*Paranoia Pays Off
*Mesa In Schematics [renamed: Split Lip Envy]
*When the Feeling Fades
Camera Disdain [Re-recorded for Tired of Not Being Away From Here]
This Is Not Theory [Re-recorded for Spring Cleaning]
Hooray For Yourself [Re-recorded for Spring Cleaning)]
*7 of the 10 would later be re-recorded and included in the official 15 song release.
And here are the original demos/recordings of Before Braille songs that had been committed to other Sunset Alliance releases and were not initially provided to Aezra:
*Twenty Four Minus Eighteen
*No Karate Chops [renamed: Jaws of Life]
*Unfit Unfit pt.II
Venom By Memory [released on Emo Diaries 7, & re-recorded for Spring Cleaning]
Not Tonight Not Ever [PWD cover released on Spring Cleaning]
*5 of the 8 would be re-recorded and included in the official Rumor release.
After Aezra received the 10 new songs (given the name “DemOK”), they set up a showcase at the Hard Rock Cafe on Camelback in Phoenix. Before Braille was to open for Aezra darlings, Deep Blue Something, known for their hit, “Breakfast At Tiffany’s.”
The showcase went quite well. Before Braille was an inexperienced band, but with the help of a couple hundred friends and family and “fans,” Aezra was impressed to offer the band a contract, committing Before Braille to 5 albums. The current Aezra band roster at that time was concerning to Before Braille, but while in contractual talks, Aezra was very reassuring, particularly by submitting plans to purchase Barsuk Records and sign local friends Fivespeed and Seven Storey. (History has shown that Aezra’s plans changed.)
Braden McCall became a casualty in all this contract hub-bub. He expressed his concerns with the contract, the touring commitments and the demands on his other artistic pursuits, so he refused to sign the contract while the rest of the band inked along the dotted line. Braden later agreed to record his parts in the studio and worked out payment with Aezra. Rajiv Patel took over Braden’s role of 2nd and/or lead guitar.
As Before Braille prepared for the studio, they were receiving pressure to record at a “state of the art” facility in LA or Miami, but the band stuck to their guns and convinced Aezra to join the band in their investment with Bob Hoag and Flying Blanket Recording. Before Braille signed over every penny of their $45,000 studio budget to Bob/Flying Blanket. What Aezra did not know at the time was that Bob did not have a proper studio and this money would go to purchase a new console, 2″ analog tape machine, mics, preamps, compressors, and the whole lot. It would also go towards construction (Mostly by the hands of local band members in Quarter Inch Crown), for at that time Bob’s Flying Blanket wasn’t much more than a magic blanket, magic hands and a “Genius Radio.” The band was able to keep Aezra away from the “studio” until the construction was complete, avoiding what might have been a major wrench in the proverbial engine (or wrench in the closet if you prefer that euphemism).
While preparing for the studio, Before Braille wrote two new songs: Secret No.7 and The Spanish Dagger. Aezra initially refused to allow them on the album. After much debate, a compromise was reach; Secret No.7 would be allowed as the album opener (if the title included the prefix “Prelude”) and The Spanish Dagger would be track 2, if Low End of Luxury, After Arguments and Arrive Alive were included on the album. (The band had previously tried to remove those songs from the track list.)When recording for The Rumor commenced in March, 2002, there were a number of hang-ups. Too many to list. Primarily, the biggest obstacle was getting the band members to the studio. Because they had given their recording advance to Bob, each member of Before Braille still worked their day jobs and were unable to track together. This led Kelly Reed to track the entire album on drums by nothing more than a metronome and his memory (a feat that still blows minds today. All the basic drum tracks for every song were done w/o any accompanying music! This is insane and incredible!). Drums were completed in two days. Then, Brandon Smith came in after work and finished all his bass parts in a night.
As Hans and Braden and Dave started their guitar tracks, there were a number of equipment failures and mishaps in the newly constructed studio (Including 3 or 4 repairs to theMCI/Sony JH-24, 2″ tape machine, one of which was made after it rolled 50 feet down a driveway and crashed into a car–causing worse damage to the car than the tape machine). This, and the horrible scheduling, led to great delays and put the album way behind schedule. The pressure started to mount.
Aezra, to their credit, had been hands off during this process, but now they were starting to panic after a month had gone by and there were no completed songs. In fact, vocal tracking for the 15 songs was still at least a week away. Under all the stress of keeping a day job, selling his home (to cover Fivespeed “Trade In Your Halo” debt) and trying to co-produce an album, Dave Jensen had a bit of a mental breakdown. He voiced that he couldn’t bring himself to sing songs he had already tracked 2 or 3 times before, and it showed in his weak performance. The next day and a half was filled by David laying on his back staring at the ceiling. Aezra offered to pay for a motel for Dave to stay until he found a new place, but instead of accepting the offer, Dave slept in the studio and asked if Aezra would pay for a visit to a hypnotist (Yes, a hypnotist, suggested to him the band’s attorney, Brad Rosen). Long story short, the floor of the studio was cold, but the hypnotherapy worked. After his appt at the end of vocal day 2, Dave came in to vocal day 3, renewed. Vocals for all 15 tracks were finished in the next 6 days.
During vocals tracking, a film crew, headed by award winning producer and director, Fabio Jafet came in to prepare an EPK (Electronic Press Kit). Filming ended early due to some confrontations that will be mentioned later, but Fabio, a real pro, was able to produce a great EPK w/ the time & budget he was given and footage available. Check it out:
Now, on to “extra curricular” sounds. The band wanted a segue between each song to lead into the next track, and add some strings and additional percussion. Unfortunately, the album was behind schedule. The label demanded the masters in 2 days. So, the band scrapped their plans and went straight into mixing. The next 32 hours were spent agonizing over the tracks, and without any automation, efforts seemed futile. Nevertheless, Bob and the guys mixed the entire album, including segues in just enough time to deliver the album by the end of the next work day. (You see, Aezra held final payment until all the masters were received and Bob’s studio rent and other bills were passed due.) Truth be told, Bob Hoag certainly performed a mini-miracle to get 15 songs and 6 segues in a presentable condition. So, the exchange of reels, DATs and CDRs was made for a check and a promise that each track would be remixed as many times as required by Aezra. Unfortunately, after the 32-hour marathon mixes were dispersed throughout the company, it was decided in less than that amount of time that the mixes were so bad that Aezra would not give Bob Hoag another chance to remix them (for free, mind you). And so the battle of mixes began…
Now the story about the mixes is so long and obnoxious that we should skip it entirely. You must know that Aezra promised to select from a list of Producers/Engineers that Before Braille would submit to remix the album. Aezra ignored the short list (that pretty much said Bob Hoag, Ken Andrews, Bob Hoag, Mark Trombino, and Bob Hoag) and went ahead with mixing in a facility in Miami without the presence of the band. The Miami mixes were such a disaster (missing guitar, vocal and other parts, and EQ’d awfully, etc.) Aezra agreed to allow Bob and Dave to go to Miami, but not at the same time (huh?!). Bob went for 2 days and mixed 3 songs. Dave went for 2 days and oversaw 3 other mixes. The mixes improved, but still were not ideal. (Note: the guys in Miami were really nice and capable, but their claim to fame was mastering on BeeGee’s albums, it just wasn’t going to work!)
When mixing concluded, Before Braille was livid (test mixes would still exist today if they were not destroyed). As a peace offering to the band, Aezra agreed to allow Jason Livermore (The Blasting Room) to master the record @ his studio Ft. Collins, CO, and sent Bob Hoag to assist in the track order and segue composition. At this time, Bob swapped out all of Aezra’s Miami mixes with the original mixes from Flying Blanket (the 32-hr session). Jason did an incredible mastering job and sent the final tracks to Aezra for approval. The next day Dave Jensen received a call from the President of Aezra wholeheartedly accepting the same recordings he had refused 3 months prior.
While Before Braille waited for mixes to be done in secret??, they rehearsed daily and thought of *album titles.
*Album titles that were considered…
Trade Honor For Canker Sores
The Sunset Alliance
Tired of Not Being Away From Here
(This list will grow as this post is edited.)
It was now that Aezra gave the band per diems to allow them a great luxury to quit their day jobs and focus on their performance of the album. But, that luxury did not come without a price. Aezra insisted they employ Madonna’s ex-manager (Yes, THAT Madonna) to help the band with their sound and performance. After a fiery debate, the band reluctantly allowed the “expert” into their rehearsal space to appease the label under the guise that she was an independent party and a possible go-between for the band. (Later we learned that the expert was an Aezra representative and new head of A&R.) Though a month of tour preparation was scheduled, she fled in week 1.
This essentially ended the relationship between Aezra and Before Braille. (For the 2nd time. There was a first, but that is an even longer story.) A month or so later, without any interaction with Aezra, David Ellefson (bass player of Megadeth) appeared at a Before Braille show @ Modified in Phoenix. He introduced himself and his new management business. Long story short, David was/is a great guy and repaired the relationship w/ Aezra enough that they put Before Braille back on their release schedule.
After a very successful run at college radio (listed as the album of the week by R&R, and receiving the most adds to college radio stations then any other band in the country, and being in the CMJ top 40, and playing a capacity show at CMJ Music Festival) Before Braille was primed for their release of The Rumor on September 10, 2002. Unfortunately, Aezra lost its distribution arrangement with BMG the week the album was released. And because the *EP sent to college radio, that garnered all the buzz, was not made available for sale (against the vehement advice/pleas throughout the summer by Dave)–the BMG distribution was not utilized while it was available–the album was dead on arrival.
*The EP (Twenty Four Minus Eighteen, Arrive Alive, After Arguments, and Goodnight Quiet Noise) that was offered as a D-Pro, “demo-promotional,” let people listen to a band on the radio, but not buy the band’s music. In other words, it’s a questionable promo model that does not relate to indie rock bands or fans, as it may be better suited for mega-pop stars, and certainly does not consider worst-case-scenarios, or any scenarios other than mega-stardom, which is totally unrealistic for a new, relatively unknown, moderately-experienced indie-rock band.
Overall, Before Braille and Aezra Records could never see eye-to-eye, as it was impossible to do so when heads were looking in opposite directions. Aezra was full of ex-major-label folks looking to start their own label and trying to force major notes in a minor scale. The result was chaos and discord without resolution. For us, The Rumor provided the resolution we pursued. 10 years later we invite you to (re)discover the album, now that you know ‘the rest of the story.’
A parting story…
On day 3 of the A&R/expert visit, an argument broke out between Before Braille & Aezra’s A&R representative, and caused the expert to depart. That led to a phone call between Before Braille and Aezra where the label president said, “I will end you. Your band and album will be shelved to never see the light of day. Before Braille will be a rumor.”
And now we finally had our album title.
Sunset Alliance acquired the rights to The Rumor in 2004.