Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Rest of The Story

We left off as Tom Sarig was sitting in his car at 1am listening to Guilty on the radio and telling the band that he was going to send us a contract the following week. A few days pass and TVT sends a first draft contract to the guys in St. Louis. Kurt, being clever and industrious, goes to the local library to get on this thing called "The Internet" and searches for an entertainment attorney. His search leads him to call an office in Los Angeles. I won't name him but the lawyer had a roster of some very marquee names. Kurt makes the phone call and leaves a message for the guy telling the receptionist that we had been sent a contract. The lawyer calls back the same day and Kurt fills him in on what is taking place. So now it is mid-February of 1995 and we now have a lawyer. As some of you know, lawyers and managers were and still are instrumental in getting bands record deals. This particular lawyer has connections at a few other labels and now the real fun begins.

In the meantime, our new friends at KPNT suggest that we release Guilty as a single while the single is riding the top of their playlist. Kurt, Matt and Doug decide that is a great idea so Kurt creates some artwork and they proceed to get 500 copies made. "Inside" was the B-Side of the cassette for you trivia freaks out there. Doug takes them around town to the local St. Louis record stores (remember those?) to sell the cassette singles on consignment. The first 500 sells out in 3 days so we get another 500 copies that sell out in one more week. The punch line is that we never got paid from the record stores. I suppose piracy existed then as well.   

Cut to...As Tom Sarig was getting ready to come visit the band in St. Louis for the aforementioned meeting, a manager by the name of Gloria Butler was in the TVT office in New York doing some business there for another band that she was managing that was signed to the label. She and Tom were finishing up some business and moved their conversation into the usual "what are you doing this weekend?" thing. Tom mentions that he is going to St. Louis to talk to a band called Gravity Kills. As Gloria tells it, she would not have given it a second thought if Tom would of said he was going to Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta or anywhere else for that matter but at the time she had a home in St. Louis so now she was curious about what was going on with the band. Ah, Mrs. Butler...

Gloria Butler is bold to say the least. We met her for the first time in March of 1995 having lunch with her at a trendy Mexican place in Clayton, Missouri. We knew that she was the wife of Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler but other than that I knew nothing. I must say that she and I did not really hit it off at our first meeting. I will admit that I was more than hesitant to get involved with her and in hindsight it stems from what at that time was a general mistrust of record business types. Maybe it was because I felt that we had gotten to where we had gotten in a very short time and I thought she was being opportunistic. Gloria had won Doug over very quickly and he was really campaigning for us to take her on as our manager. I remember the band having very heated debates over this and for the first time, there was division amongst the members of the band. Matt actually took a meeting with a very big LA management company while on a business trip associated with his day job at the time. When he came back with his report, he did not get a warm and fuzzy feeling so we felt they were not an option. After that, the entire band took a meeting in St. Louis with another guy from LA. We liked him alright and he said all the right things. His brother was managing a national band that we really liked as well and this guy wanted to use us to get his own imprint through Capitol Records but...At the meeting with him, we excused ourselves and walked into a hallway in a building that was in front of Doug's house where the meeting was being held. This is when and where that we decided to hire Gloria Butler as Gravity Kills' manager. I think what finally swayed us to hire her was that she lived in St. Louis and also, SHE WAS TO THE POINT AND WAS DIRECT. At our first meeting, mind you that she is courting the band, she actually told me that I would look much younger if I would fucking shave my face. You gotta love the honesty.

Meanwhile....The lawyer in Los Angeles, now armed with a radio and retail story as well as music, starts hitting his buddies at the labels he has relationships with. He had never worked with TVT before so the lawyer was infinitely more keen on hooking us up with any major label where he had existing allies. At this point I am flying up to St. Louis about every other week to work on music with the guys. Now, instead of me just flying up to write and record, our lawyer starts scheduling meetings with record company guys in St. Louis to coincide with the recording sessions. We have visits from 3 other labels. The usual dinner and talking stuff out thing. There was one guy that the band went to see The Bottlerockets with. He was heading up a new imprint through Atlantic Records. Interestingly he ended up signing them and not us. It was getting into April by now and 2 labels had dropped out of the race for Gravity Kills and it had come down to TVT and one other label under the Warner umbrella. We are still with the LA lawyer but are getting a bit jumpy about the situation because with every offer TVT makes, we are getting a counter offer from the other label and we know that our lawyer wants us with the "Warner" label. To muddy the water even more for us, our lawyer tells us that Gloria Butler has gotten herself involved in negotiations without the consent of the band which of course freaks us out. With all of this going on, we finally meet Mrs. Butler. I know the timeline of this article is all fucked up but there was so much happening at the same time. Please excuse the chronological mess and try to keep up.

We are getting into April now. Tom and TVT decide to fly the band to New York City in order to get us in their offices and make us love the label. This is my first time ever to New York City. We flew in on a Sunday and I remember being overwhelmed by the size and intensity of it all. Their office was at the Corner of Lafayette and 4th street and they put us up in a Holiday Inn that was reasonably close to them. I remember walking into their office for the first time. TVT's offices were everything that I had hoped it was. The decor was very urban industrial and there was no corporate vibe about it at all. Tom takes us around and introduces us to the various departments and then we go to have a meeting with Steve Gottlieb. I remember sitting there basically shitting my pants. Kurt seemed to be the only one of us that was remotely capable of having a conversation and answering his questions. That part of the trip was extremely blurry for me. I do remember Gloria and Tom telling me later that Steve questioned my charisma and potential to be a front man for the band. I think I proved otherwise but that's beside the point. That evening, the band meets Tom for drinks at a bar in Alphabet City. The place had that neighborhood bar feel to it and we all sat around the table on picnic benches. I drank Bass and drank a lot of it. We had a great time and Tom was getting exactly what he wanted out of our trip. We were bonding. At the end of the evening, Tom hales a cab for us. As we jump in, we all turn to say our final goodbyes and Tom has completely vanished into the night. All four of us looked frantically in every direction but he was not to be seen. We swore he was a vampire and the episode fed our excitement about Tom and TVT.  We were fucking hooked and even though none of us articulated this at the time, all of us new that TVT would be our label. After we all got back home, Tom individually sent us all a pre-release of the KMFDM CD "Nihil" with a personal note attached that simply said, "Jeff, Do the right thing. Tommy." Tom, you had me at hello. Meanwhile, while we are in the city, Gloria sets up a meeting with a New York based entertainment attorney by the name of Michael Guido. Gloria knows we have have lost faith in the lawyer that we had been working with in LA and probably realizes an opportunity to have us set up camp with someone she has worked with before. He had negotiated with TVT in the past and when we have lunch with him, talks to us as a music guy and not a lawyer. Our most interesting conversation at the meeting was debating the virtues of smoking pot over the 3 martini power lunch. We empower him a week later to start negotiating on the band's behalf.

May of 1995 rolls in. I am starting to get very nervous because we are still bouncing between label offers and I start feeling as if everyone will start getting cold feet and pull the deals away from us. We were finishing material but it seemed that we had lost momentum. Gloria put's me at ease telling me, "It's not a matter of if but a matter of when." About the third week of May, I am at home and the phone rings.I hear "Jeff, this is Gloria. We have come to terms with TVT on a deal! We are happening!" I remember throwing my fist up in the air and scraping it on a door jam. There is still a scar on my middle finger of my left hand from where my hand hit the wood frame. Gravity Kills will officially be on TVT Records.

The band continues to work on new material and in June of 1995, TVT approaches John Fryer to engineer the record as we are being scheduled to finish everything up at The Battery Studios in New York starting in August. The crazy thing is that at the time, John is living in Dallas as well so I meet him for dinner at Cafe` Brazil in Deep Ellum. John had a very dry wit about him and in my mind was extremely British. The situation was intimidating for me since he had worked on records like Depeche Mode "Speak and Spell and of course, Nine Inch Nails "Pretty Hate Machine." He wore the smile of contempt on his face the entire meeting. In my mind he must have been thinking, "What a bloody wanker" or something to that effect because he seemed to be laughing at me the entire meeting. I had the BLT. Funny sometimes the things you remember. The meeting went horribly. I didn't really like John and I am sure that he didn't like me. I didn't really give a flying fuck about liking him so we get the label to commit to his services.

Meanwhile, I still have my day job. At that job one day I get a call from Steve at TVT. It's not everyday that the head of a record label and the media proclaimed arch nemesis of Trent Reznor calls you at the office. He tells me about this soundtrack project that the label had picked up from Columbia Records for the movie Mortal Kombat. He and the label were scrambling for songs to put on the soundtrack album and he thought it would be a great idea for us to be on it. My immediate thought that I verbalized to Steve was, "Won't that be a fucking Kiddie movie?" Steve replied with, "No, not really and it will really give your publishing a boost." Steve Gottlieb was a very likable person. There was always something about him that made you sympathetic to him. Maybe it was the pony tail or the fact that he never seemed to wear socks (about a year later he brings some wraps for us to eat to a photo shoot and we all intentionally drove him mad with comments like "Wow Steve, these burritos are awesome.") Moving on, he persuades us to approve a track being on the Mortal Kombat soundtrack album. In hindsight I am certainly happy about that. Who knew at the time that it would sell over a million copies, be the number one movie upon it's release and the way many of you heard Gravity Kills for the first time. Good call Steve.

I want you all to remember at this point that the band has yet to play a live show. We have not officially signed with either TVT Records or Gloria Butler in a management deal. But with that said, we are still chugging along.

Now we get into early August of 1995. TVT thinks it would be a great idea for John Fryer to fly into St. Louis for us to finish as much up with the record as we can before we take everything to New York to re-cut some things and mix the record. John gets in and Doug and he hit it off pretty well. On the Thursday of that week, TVT makes another phone call to us regarding a movie. This time, New Line Cinema is putting the finishing touches on a David Fincher film called Seven. They were using a remix of "Closer" by NIN in the opening credit sequence but were afraid Trent would not give permission to use it since TVT was going to be releasing the soundtrack CD. They told us they would overnight the opening credit sequence for us to score another piece of music to go on top of it. We receive a video version of it on Thursday and they need us to send something back to them on Monday. Doug and John start working on the score but then get the idea that we should build a song from the elements that they are using. We literally work around the clock on Friday and Saturday so we can have both the score and the full track done for mixing on Sunday. The track we end up with was called "Hold" which is the last song on the first Gravity Kills CD and the score over the opening credit sequence became "Forward" on the first CD that many of you that have heard on the record and have heard as the intro to our live show. Kurt or Doug, maybe both, have a VHS copy of the opening credit sequence to the film using our score. If we can ever dig a copy up, I will post it on youtube. Well, after all of this we get the material back to New Line and basically they come back with a "Thanks, but Trent has ok'd us using the "Closer" remix." You can imagine our disappointment but they did go on to ask us if we had another track for them to use in the film. We submit "Guilty" and it is excepted by New Line to be used in the movie as well as it being placed on the soundtrack album. The actual mix of "Guilty" on the Seven soundtrack is actually different from the original KPNT Pointessential version and the version that most of you know from our debut. I love the fact that our band will forever be associated with such a great film (Matt and Kurt actually go to the movie premier in New York by drawing the short straws- another story entirely.)

Cut to late September of 1995. It is about one year after we originally wrote and recorded "Guilty." We have a lawyer, a manager that we have not officially signed with and a record label that has paid for us to finish a record, and have songs going on 2 major motion picture soundtracks but still have not played our first live show. We are still in New York and we have 9 songs plus the forward to the CD done. Time is running out at the studio and we only have 4 days left before we are scheduled to have the CD mastered. Tom, our A&R guy at TVT, tells us that we need one more song because "TVT is not going to release a CD with 9 songs and an intro." We are challenged to yet another episode of round the clock writing and recording. Doug is working with John on mixing so Kurt comes up with a progression for the final song. Matt and Kurt play it for me on bass and guitar and send me into another room to come up with a melody and lyrics. In the next three days, we write, record, produce and mix the final track for the CD which is "Here." "Here I am for all to see, everything torn out of me. Too late to drown in all my doubt. Much too late to sort things out." I hit the nail on the head for exactly what I and all the guys were going through at the time. We made the mastering deadline. I can remember sitting in Dean and DeLuca at The Paramount Hotel on 46th Street after Doug and John got back from the mastering session. We all just kinda stared at the copy of the mastered version they brought to Matt, Kurt and I. In one year from starting out as a band together we had done all of this shit and managed to complete a full length CD that was to be released on TVT records (who we had yet to officially ink a deal with.)

The band goes on to play it's first live show to a sold out room at The Other World in St. Louis on November 2, 1995 and I sign our record deal unceremoniously sitting at Doug's kitchen table the Thursday before Thanksgiving in 1995 while basically sitting in my underwear (seems that was foreshadowing since I ended up performing in my underwear or less many times over the course of my career.)

I know you must be thinking, "Jeff is fucking crazy and made all of this shit up." I couldn't make this shit up. It's too crazy not to be real. I look back at it and become exhausted simply thinking about the series of circumstances and happenstances that created this unbelievable story. After posting the first part on January 12, many or you reached out to me and told me your story of connection to the band. Those are the real stories. Those are the stories that really matter in the grand scheme of the universe. My story, Gravity Kills story, really started when your connection and your story about the band began. Hopefully, there will be another "behind the music" tale to tell in the next chapter of the Gravity Kills.

4 comments:

  1. "really started when your connection and your story about the band began" a Deep Ellum show for ten cans of food for those in need is where we began. It could not been long after this, because I had just left the service and got back from Germany. This story is great and I look forward to learning more. - Und Tschuss!

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  2. Jeff -
    Don't forget the Smoothies-Milkshakes too w/ those Wraps-Burritos! Funny Kurt and were just laughing about that the other day when making smoothies!
    Also, currently cleaning out the basement.....so I am sure some of those VHS tapes will show up :)
    BB

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  3. What a great story. Thanks for taking the time to write it up Jeff. Looking forward to hearing some more. I love your blog.

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  4. Jeff I love this story!! I was so proud to be there with you guys! You have brought things back that were deep in my memory and this was a very enjoyable read! Come visit in nyc whenever you want! Tommy Sarig

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