Starting Over with Earl Greyhound

on July 05, 2010, 12:01am

You read about the struggling music business all the time, yet as consumers we’re still being inundated with more music than most of us know what to do with. A paradox indeed, and Brooklyn’s Earl Greyhound finds itself stuck in the middle as a band amongst the many who have recently chosen independence over the conventional big label. Having jumped ship, they’ve been met by warm second wave. Their latest record, Suspicious Package, is a re-birth for the band with a still retro, but much freer sound that gives them a fresh slate to start anew.

It’s been a long road getting to this point, and they’re excited and ready for their newly earned lease on life. Having finished a string of opening gigs for tours with Coheed and Cambria and OK Go, they’re hitting the festival circuit to get loud and continue to show off the excellent new tracks. Before playing their second set at this past edition of Wakarusa I caught up with the band on what they’ve been up to, and how they’re surviving the music industries break down while learning to fly solo.

I’d like to start with the new record Suspicious Package. It feels like it was a long time in the making for you guys. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the writing process and how it came to be.

Matt Whyte: After we put out Soft Targets we toured pretty much non-stop. Lets say a solid year plus, and when we got back from that, that’s when we started to work on new material in a rehearsal space in Manhattan. This record’s different in a lot of ways because there was a lot more collaboration on it than with Soft Targets. We worked probably until April 2008, we demoed a bunch of songs, and then we found the guy we wanted to do it with. Initially we were going to record it in August and then a tour came up so we ended up recording it in December ’08.

It took a year to put out. We were getting off our label, and we had to put it out ourselves. We had to get a new manager, and if you’re going to put something out on your own you have to make sure you have all your ducks in a row.

Was that your choice to leave the label and strike out on your own? How did that end up happening?

Whyte: You know, it was mutual. That guy who started Some Records started a publishing company called Songs Publishing, so he was getting out of the record business. I don’t think there was more they could do for us because of the level we were at.

Kamara Thomas: It kind of revealed itself over the course of making the record that it was better to stay independent. We were at the tail end of when the record business was falling apart, and when we were getting pursued by major labels they were not offering good deals, asking us to see a big chunk of our business to them. Obviously it wasn’t something that was worth it to us to try and skip to another label. We started looking into ways to release it ourselves and get our business together, and to run a business as artists, it just takes time.

So how is it to be on your own? Is it better to be an independent band without a label?

Ricc Sheridan: Well you know what they say, if you want to get something done, do it yourself. You see it, you know what’s going on, and you don’t have to worry about this guy over here, or this guy over here not doing their job, it’s right here in front of you.

Whyte: Exactly. In a lot of people’s eyes it was like, “Where was Earl Greyhound for three years?” But the fact of the matter is, had we jumped over to another one of those labels, there’s a very solid chance, well all the evidence we were given was that labels didn’t know what they wanted to do with us anyways, so we could be stuck in another deal and not had been able to put out the record. It was worth it for us to be patient and make the record ourselves and put it out properly on our own terms. What was three or four years could have been six or eight years had we gone to another deal because we were hasty and wanted to get onto a big label. It just turned out to be the right way to do it.

Sheridan: We’d probably be on the shelf right now.

And it feels better to be on your own like this and do it yourself?

Thomas: Yeah, it feels awesome! I think it’s taken a long time for us as artists to think like business people as well. Business is pretty simple, you know a mutual benefit, an offer you can’t refuse. If there’s a good business deal on the table you’d defiantly consider it, but in the meantime we have our own business under control, building like any entrepreneurial endeavor it takes time, it takes patience and reinvesting resources. It’s been fun to learn about that side of things, and feel empowered in that realm. Who knows what the future holds, but for now we’re independent.

That action and mentality of going independent, do you feel like that permeated onto the record?

Sheridan: There’s a certain calm on that record to me. I’ve listened to it over a hundred times, easily. Listening to it I feel like it’s another foundation, we’re starting to build another castle here, and you can see it growing from the ground up. There’s like a calm there, and at the end of the record you say, “Okay, we have the foundation, we have the base, now we can build.”

When it comes to the tour, how has it been being on the road with the new record?

Thomas: Awesome

Sheridan: Blessed, for sure.

Whyte: We just did a two month tour with OK Go, which was kind of interesting. It was just on the heels of a week with Coheed and Cambria, which was a week before we put out the record, but we’re selling it at shows. What was interesting was, obviously those are two totally different bands, but when we got with OK Go our managers had strongly suggested that we sell our CDs at that pay-what-you-want price according to that Radiohead model.  We started doing that at the tail end of they OK Go tour and it was amazing. We doubled and tripled the numbers, and I’d say ninety percent of people pay ten dollars, which I think is the commonly excepted value of CDs.

Sheridan: It’s trust, you know?  It’s like you’re giving your trust to them and they’re giving it to you. Which is what it’s all about and why we’re there in the first place. We’re out there for them, and they’re there for us.

So you can trust the consumer then?

Whyte: We don’t really have a choice now do we.

Thomas: People do place a value on music, and when you get into an honest conversation about it, I mean, I’m that consumer too on the other end. When we speak honestly to each other, we all know we’re trying to work out here and make a living. But there’s no point in sending someone home without music because they can’t pay your price for it, when really, a music fan is a music fan, and you want people to listen to your music. You do have to just trust that you’ll get taken care of in the end. There was one show where someone gave us a hundred dollars for a CD, so the people that can give more, they give more.

Is that the better model then for bands to go by? Is it better for you guys as independent artists?

Whyte: I think the model, and especially most the bands that play festivals like this like a lot of the jam bands, set a precedent, a really positive open dialogue with their fan base with bootlegs, and making it much more of an open thing. When I was a kid, right on the tickets from Ticketmaster would say, “No cams, no recorders.” There’s not a hope in hell now if they tried to do that. It’s that whole idea of there being that wall between the audience and the band and that level of mystique. For better or worse, that’s not there anymore. I think bands need to embrace that and use it to their advantage.

So bands should be allowed to bootleg and pass on tapes again?

Whyte: I don’t think they control it though.

Thomas: We can bitch about it, but I just don’t see any purpose in withholding my music from anyone. And it all comes back around, understanding that someone who wants to listen to my music will eventually be willing to pay for it if I start that dialogue with them. I want the music to mean something to them, and then the buy/sell relationship doesn’t have to be so cynical. It can be a really genuine authentic relationship. That’s why I buy music; I want to support this artist. Like, I’ll buy Dolly Parton CDs until the day I die. I don’t care that she’s a bazillionaire with Dollywood. I love her, I’ll buy her music and give her my ten dollars.

Sheridan: It’ll be there. You’ll see a cassette over there at a gas station, or a vinyl record in a flea market. It’ll be there and you’ll pick it up.

Back to the shows: From coming off being an opener on tour to playing festivals, how is it being in this kind of scene for you?

Sheridan: I love it, I love being out here with all of these people. And you know I got to be honest, there was a time when I was dreading that we were going to come back and do another one of these things, but it’s like a it’s a whole ‘nother thing now to me. I’d love to play any place I can, anywhere we can. This is beautiful man, everyone’s peaceful, colors are everywhere, food, nature, and great music.

You guys have played a lot of these festivals, any stick out to you?

Thomas: Voodoo was really good. Mountain Jam was pretty rad. I love how America is filling up with this small, large, medium festivals. They’ve all got their own vibe, you know? I’ve been to all these random ones, like, “My friends are throwing a festival!” It’s like a big family reunion, all of them.

Sheridan: Mountain Jam, dude. It was a really good experience. It was raining really hard, and I think it stopped just when we were coming out. It stopped when we got on stage, the sun came out, and we rocked. Then as soon as we got off stage, it started raining again.

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