Here it is, registered members : A little archive of some of the first original Sweet Vine demos. Before the publishing contract with Warner-Chappell, before the record deal with Sony/Columbia, before the eventual disintegration of the band mid-tour we came together as friends for these recording sessions . I was still living in Hawaii so we'd book the Pus Cavern for 2 or 3 days at a time (whatever our few $$$ would get us) and cram as many hours as we could into the sessions. Sleep was minimal and there was a LOT of sugar ingested in the form of Skittles. Taco Bell was breakfast, lunch and dinner. Steve King was on drums, Nathan Dale was on guitar, Jason Fluhrer was on bass, and I sang. Various friends sat in on keys for different tracks, including Dave Brockman (of Jackpot fame) and Roger Smith who both did tracks purely out of the goodness of their hearts, with no monetary compensation . Joe Johnston was at the helm, recording and mixing for a lot of it and let me tell you, he wasn't in it for the money.
That said, the Pus was definately a humbler, more deliciously squalid entity at the time. Its walls were covered with countless scrawlings, limericks, band names and phallic representations, much of it profane and obscene. Vocal microphones smelled like Doritos and Pabst Blue Ribbon filtered through a bag of mulch and compost. There were stashes of porn, some of it quite disturbing, especially if it hailed from England or Germany. The bathrooms were three doors down in the warehouse complex that contained the Pus. Sometimes a key was not available and you had to either hold it or get creative. Some of the more emotional moments in some of these vocal performances were probably spurred on by urgent pain in my lower intestine. There were freaky tweaker chicks that floated in and out with various musician/drug dealer boyfriends. It was dark, dank and musty. It was AWESOME.
The earliest stuff was recorded on 8 track 1/4" reel to reel then dumped to CASSETTE! These cassettes are what I transfered to digital in last couple of weeks. You can hear now how the passage of time has affected the integrity of the medium, which only adds to the vintage feel that these recordings have.
Here's an interesting tidbit : A couple of years down the road from these humble sessions, after spending more than $250,000 to record the official Columbia release, the heads at the label actually chose to remix the original "Pus" version of a song called Downside Of Wonder for inclusion on the record rather than use the new version we had done at a cost of about $2200 a day. Downside of Wonder was supposedly the song that got us signed and as flawed as the original recording was, it had a feeling that just could not be recreated in future incarnations. That intangible blend of emotion and soul won out over all the bells and whistles of the new recording. It was truly a testament to the power of the simple emotional connection of a song. It all comes down to the song and the soul.
Anyway, by the late fall of '93 I was living back in Sacramento and working at the River City Brewing company downtown. I was on a mission and I knew it was only a matter of time. I had an incredible amount of innocence and a sense of destiny I was certain we would fulfill. I had absolutely no concept of the "industry" and how it worked. I just knew that these songs would speak for themselves. Looking back now, it's amazing to me that these rough demos got the kind of attention that they did. Labels were still spending a lot of money and our drummer Steve had some connections to the industry from a previous band he had been in called 58 Fury. Through a friend of his named Steve Clausmann (instrumental to the band Tesla's rise in their very early stages) we caught the ear of a label rep named Geoff Bywater who was working at 20th Century FOX in their film and television music department. By the summer of '94, we had met with Geoff a few times. He'd fly into Sac for the day and we'd play him songs. He was fired up about what he was hearing and in July of '94, he flew us to Los Angeles to play for a friend of his, Rick Shoemaker who was a VP for Warner-Chappell, the global music publishing arm of Warner Music Group Corp.
That meeting was like something out of a movie about Buddy Holly or something. "Local kids play song for Record Company Man and sign big record deal on the spot!" We met in our hotel room and played Rick 4 or 5 songs face to face, completely acoustic. Half an hour later we had a publishing deal. That was it. We had never even played a live show at that point. I went home and quit my job that week, not realizing that the actual details of the contract would have to be worked out over the next couple of months before we saw an actual check, which finally came at the end of September like a late birthday present. That was the inspiration for the opening lines of the song Evergreen which were :
"I quit my job on Tuesday, Wednesday morning I felt like sleeping in. Thursday night I got the call to tell me all the trouble that I'm in. I've been hearing promises and thinking that it's time to act on them, but cold feet are dragging, pulling me down without a friend..." Luckily, my rent at the time was ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS for a two bedroom apartment I shared with my cousin Mike who paid $150 for the slightly larger, more secluded back bedroom.
By that fall of '94, we had all quit our jobs and were spending our days woodshedding and putting together the "Sweet Vine Palace" at a warehouse complex near Sunrise and Coloma. It was our rehearsal space, our home and eventually the site of many all night parties and jam sessions. We'd spend 10 or 12 hours a day rehearsing, after waking up at noon. We would jam until 10 or 11pm and then head over to the Old Tavern or The Press Club or The Zebra Club for cheap drinks, pinball and jukebox jams. Rinse, lather, repeat. And a year later, in the summer of '95 we signed a deal with Sony/Columbia and started preparing for fame and fortune. The jam band/roots rock thing was big. Dave Matthews, Blues Traveller, Hootie and the Blowfish (eecchhh!), The Wallflowers, The Counting Crows, The Black Crowes, Phish, Matchbox 20 were all hitting it around that time. We were a self-contained unit and we felt unstoppable, until it all started crumbling from the inside...but that is another story.
These songs were our first sparks of potential. We were working out what we were about as a band and as young men. Try to listen to these roughs with a sense of where popular music was in 1994. Forgive the limitations of of the recording medium and our abilities as young musicians and enjoy the raw soul poured out here. Enjoy.