They Like Ike
Ike Reilly says he wasn't surprised when Republic Records dropped him last year--he was shocked when the label signed him in the first place. "It wasn't a very good fit," the Libertyville singer-songwriter admits. Republic, a Universal subsidiary, is home to such cookie-cutter alt-rock and nu-metal acts as the Bloodhound Gang, Godsmack, and 3 Doors Down. "We weren't easy for them to market. We're not a boy band, I'm not a chick singer, and we're not Limp Bizkit." Reilly's 2001 debut album, Salesmen and Racists--a terrific collection of brainy and bilious tales of losers and schemers--has sold just 8,200 copies. When Republic decided not to release a follow-up, Reilly was left with little more than a stack of great reviews and a CD-R full of unreleased tunes.
He kept touring, though, and sent copies of the new stuff to radio stations along his route. The move paid off--late last year Drive 105, an ambitious commercial station in Minneapolis, started playing one of the demo tracks, "I Don't Want What You Got Goin' On." In January and February the song was in medium rotation, getting more than 20 plays per week. "I thought that was really cool, because I knew for a fact that no one had paid them to play it," says Reilly.
In the rigidly formatted, consultant-driven world of mainstream radio it's all but impossible for an unsigned artist to get airplay, let alone make it into regular rotation. But Reilly has a special relationship with Minneapolis and with the ABC-owned Drive 105 in particular. "Put a Little Love in It," the second and final single from Reilly's debut, had been a local audience favorite, and DJ Shelley Miller says Reilly is "like the station's mascot." The overwhelming listener demand for "I Don't Want What You Got Goin' On" took Reilly by surprise and led him to quickly assemble and release Cars & Girls & Drinks & Songs, a five-song EP that he says has sold nearly 2,000 copies, mostly in the Twin Cities; his last three club dates up there have all sold out.
Reilly says he's not bitter about his experience with Republic. In fact, he says, if it weren't for the record deal, he'd never have assembled his working band--drummer Dave Cottini, bassist Tommy O'Donnell, guitarist Phil Karnatz, and pianist-guitarist Ed Tinley. (Tinley also produced many of Reilly's new recordings in the Chicago studio they own together, Diamond City.) Now he makes a living by playing out, and his success in Minneapolis has made him even more determined to put out a new album on his own this summer. "It's been really cool for record stores to call us and say 'Hey, do you have any records?'" he says. "It's been liberating." He's also been picked up by Tom Atencio, who's managed No Doubt and Jane's Addiction. Reilly performs Friday night at Double Door; his former bandmates, ragtag Irish rockers the Muck Brothers, open. He'll also be appearing at Gunther Murphy's every Wednesday in April.
Life After Popehood
As of March 25 there will be one more tribute album in the world. This one will feature the songs of local pop-punk faves the Smoking Popes, and it's called, imaginatively enough, Tribute. The quartet's mix of buzz-saw guitars and solid melodies has left its mark on plenty of bands, from the Florida band Seville to the decidedly harder-rocking Alkaline Trio, so it's not surprising that the group would be the focus of such a project. What's unusual, though, is that Tribute was conceived and put together by Mike Felumlee. He's the owner of Double Zero Records. He's also the former drummer for the Smoking Popes.
"I wanted to do a compilation of some kind, but I didn't want to just do a compilation of previously released songs," says Felumlee. "I've met several younger bands that have said the Popes had influenced them, so I thought [a tribute] would be more interesting." Three of the 13 tracks are by Smoking Popes alumni: there are solo tunes by Felumlee and latter-day second guitarist Tom Daily and a song from the band Duvall, which features founding Popes Josh and Eli Caterer. Many of the other contributors have released or will release music on Double Zero, including Notaword, the Red Hot Valentines, and Blue Shade Witness, whose EP is due in April.
Felumlee started Double Zero in late 1998, primarily to release Popes-related music; he's put out a collection of the band's early material (now out of print) as well as a live recording of their final gig at Metro in November 1998. Until recently, though, time spent on the road often kept him from doing as much work on the label as he wanted. From December 1999 through June 2001 he played in the Alkaline Trio, appearing on their breakthrough album, From Here to Infirmary. But Felumlee has a wife, a kid, and a mortgage, and the band's relentless schedule was too much. "I don't mind touring, but I don't want to live on the road," he says. In the fall of 2001 he got a call from Josh Caterer, asking him to join Duvall; Felumlee stuck with it for a year, but the work just wasn't paying his bills. Last fall he took his first full-time job, working in the credit-card-fraud department for Bank One in Elgin.
In the summer of 2002 Felumlee signed a manufacturing and distribution deal with Denver's Suburban Home Records. The label sells its stuff through Caroline, one of the oldest and most successful indie distributors in the U.S., which makes Double Zero's music far more readily available than before. Suburban Home also fronts the label's manufacturing expenses, which has allowed Double Zero to put out a bunch of new discs, including a split EP by Felumlee and Alkaline Trio bassist Dan Andriano. On March 25, in addition to Tribute, the label will release the Popes' final studio album, The Party's Over, a collection of pop standards and country covers recorded in 1998 for Capitol Records, which declined to release it. This spring Double Zero will also release Felumlee's second solo album, a set of straightforward pop songs.
In related news, Duvall will put out a three-song EP on the Asian Man label later this month; the band is currently hammering out the details of a multialbum deal with the Seattle Christian imprint Tooth & Nail. Felumlee, Duvall, and Blue Shade Witness will all perform during the Chicago International Pop Overthrow festival in April.
The excellent Austin indie-rock outfit Spoon recently signed with longtime Wilco manager Tony Margherita.
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Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marty Perez.