ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MARCH 7, 1991
By Steve Newton
Getting signed to a major label is usually the first big goal of a rock band—that’s what all the monetary investment and tireless rehearsals are for. And some bands luck out, snagging a record contract in no time and going on their merry rockin’ way.
Others—like Seattle’s Screaming Trees—take the rougher road, the independent route. During the last five years, the band has released four LPs and three EPs on various small labels such as Velvetone, SST, Homestead, and Sub-Pop. Only recently did the band win a deal with the heavyweight Epic Records (Living Colour, the Vaughan Brothers) and see its first major-label release with Uncle Anesthesia.
But guitarist Gary Lee Conner says his band—which plays the Commodore on Friday (March 8) with the Doughboys, Nirvana, and the Wongs—wasn’t actively seeking a major-label deal early in its career, for the simple reason that groups like his had nowhere to go for one.
“A major-label deal might have been at the back of our minds,” says Conner, “but at the time there weren’t very many alternative bands at all on any labels—maybe Husker Du and Soul Asylum, but it always seemed like they were having trouble. It’s only been like the last year when there’s been like this explosion of alternative bands getting signed to major labels. And I think it’s mainly just ’cause of the alternative radio thing.”
The switch to a major label after seven indie releases has not made for any drastic changes in the way the Screaming Trees go about their business, but it has made the struggle for popularity a little easier.
“Musically nothing’s different,” says Conner, “but it’s cool to have a company actually doing a lot of promotion for you. That was always one of our problems with SST—they never promoted us other than putting the record out. And at times that was even a difficulty.”
The recent explosion of heavy Seattle guitar bands getting signed to big labels is not due to anything particularly special about the city itself, according to Conner. “The main thing just has been the fact that there’s so many actual records coming out of Seattle. There’s tons of small record labels in Seattle—I keep going down to Sub-Pop and seeing records that are coming out of Seattle and I’ve never even heard of the bands. It’s just like an explosion of vinyl.”
Musically, the Screaming Trees deliver songs that are much more tuneful and accessible than most of their local grunge-rock brethren. And since getting the deal that brought their sound to a wider audience, the band has been winning acclaim in mainstream publications like Billboard, Spin, and Guitar World. In a recent Guitar Player article Conner’s six-string ruckus is described as “trash with panache”.
“Wow. Trash with panache?” says Conner. “I’ve heard the word panache before. I’m not quite sure what it means, but it sounds kinda cool.”