Researching the legend of the Metroland
By John Brodeur
We discovered the curse when we were very young.
We read about it in books, the books our mothers and fathers
warned us never to read. The legend haunted our souls for
years to come, and for its wrath we felt a deep, chilling
And it would come to pass that the Metroland
Cover Curse would take many a band’s life. Some nonbelievers
have disputed the legend’s worth. Others have said they’ve
not only feared for their careers, but their very existence.
Others still wonder why one would even discuss such
Here’s why: In the years since local bands began
receiving regular cover features in Metroland (in the
early 1990s; prior to that, such coverage was sporadic at
best), a number of these bands have met their demise with
suspicious proximity to their cover appearance.
The legend of the Cover Curse began circulating
through area bars and clubs in the late ’90s, as band after
featured band fell to the Metroland ax—or so it would
seem. It’s not quite on par with the Sports Illustrated
curse, but then we’re not dealing with star running backs
here. Still, its very possibility cannot be ignored.
In this hard-hitting exposé, the legend of the
Metroland Cover Curse is examined through the stories
of a handful of local bands once featured on our front page.
Some survive, some do not. It’s up to you, dear reader, to
decide if the curse is, indeed, for real.
The story: Mike Goudreau, a Metroland
staff writer from 1989 to 1997, wrote this hopeful cover piece
on the Figgs, young beacons of the Saratoga Springs power-pop
scene, on Dec. 2, 1993. The article had all the necessary
ingredients (and aftermath; see below) for the Cover Curse:
Seven years into their existence, the Figgs had just signed
with Imago Records, an upstart imprint with major distribution
(BMG—at the time, “one of the six major distributors in the
industry”!), and the band were about to set off on a high-profile
U.S. tour. The article closed with these ominous words from
the band’s then- manager Brad Morrison: “[G]etting signed
can be the worst thing that happens to a band. But I think
that, in the Figgs’ case, it will be the best thing that ever
happened to them.”
What happened next: The Figgs’ Imago debut,
Lo-Fi at Society High, was released in the summer of
1994, but that label soon went bankrupt. Then their Imago
A&R rep brought the band over to behemoth Capitol Records,
where the Figgs would release Banda Macho in 1996—but
they found themselves low on the label’s list of priorities
and soon were again without a label. Miraculously, for all
their label woes, and despite the departure of founding member
Guy Lyons in 1998, the Figgs have soldiered on. Their 10th
album, Follow Jean Through the Sea, is set for release
this month, and they’ll celebrate their 20th anniversary as
a band in 2007.
The story: Called “Albany’s great
indie hope” on our cover on March 14, 1996, Bloom were one
of many local bands to be heralded in these pages for their
hard work and “blue-collar approach” as much as their music.
Goudreau called them “arguably Albany’s best rock band.” German
label ZYX was set to release the band’s second record, Big
Block, and guitarist-vocalist Rich Crist, drummer J.J.
Hogan, and bassist-vocalist Mike Pauley—all three veterans
of various local outfits—seemed poised to break onto the national
(and international) scene.
The aftermath: Pauley hadn’t heard
of the curse before the Bloom cover, perhaps because they
were one of its early victims. “As fate (or maybe the curse)
would have it, our CD was released the day Kurt Cobain was
found dead,” Pauley remembers. “We could have put out Sgt.
Pepper’s and it would have been a tough sell.” Bloom played
on loudly for another year or so until their label deal—and
the band—disintegrated. While there have been some tentative
stabs at a reunion (“I’m sure it’ll happen in the not-too-distant
future”), like Chinese Demo cracy, a rumored third
Bloom LP has yet to materialize.
The story: “Subduing Mara really
wanted to be on the cover,” says Mike Goudreau. When we covered
the Albany-via-Oneonta quartet on May 15, 1997, the group
just released the Glossolalia disc for new label Fear
of Nebraska. And they’d certainly put in the hours requisite
for a cover: Goudreau’s story champions Mara’s “arduous eight
years on the local scene.” (Again with the hard work!) On
second glance, everything about this piece seemed set up for
a letdown: “Signs of a Struggle” was the headline; the deck
begins, “Fans may wonder how Subduing Mara can keep it going
after all these years.”
The aftermath: Turns out they couldn’t—it
only took about a year for this one. Our epitaph, from Rough
Mix, July 2, 1998, read: “After nearly a decade hip-deep in
the local music trenches, the foursome called it curtains
with the departure of drummer Wayne Carrington in May.” It
seems that, with all the talk about hard work and deep trenches,
we might have actually buried them.
To Goudreau’s credit, he did more during his
tenure to bring local music to the front page than any other
scribe—with few exceptions, his were the only music-related
covers that featured regionally based acts. So how does he
feel about ruining so many lives?
“A lot of bands just didn’t pan out the way people
thought they would,” says Goudreau, now a senior writer at
VH1 in New York City. The bands covered during that period
were “all good bands,” he says, but things “just didn’t work
out for any of them.”
Before his departure, Goudreau sacrificed one
more band to the curse.
The story: Lughead put local music
on the map, for a time: In 1994, their single, “Whatever Makes
You Happy,” was one of the most-requested songs at taste-making
alternative-rock station WEQX. The band, fronted by gravel-voiced
singer Nick Ferrandino, won a national music showcase, hobnobbed
with Everclear, and became one of the most-popular original
bands in Capital Region memory. When Goudreau sat down with
them for his July 24, 1997, article, their debut disc had
just been reissued through national label Ignition, and that
single was back on the airwaves. But there was trouble in
paradise: They’d just replaced founding bassist and co-songwriter
Ken Weis, and there was friction with their old label.
The aftermath: Former Bloom bassist
Mike Pauley was Weis’ replacement. “Ken had moved to New York,
and . . . the rest of the band thought that would work against
them,” he says. He claims that he’d still not heard of the
Cover Curse, and that the band’s demise a year or so later
was entirely natural. “I felt we were running out of steam,
so I decided to leave. . . . They could have carried on without
me, but chose not to.”
Was it the fault of the curse? Or, perhaps, a
Goudreau says the concept of a cover curse hadn’t
occurred to him prior to our conversation, but when met with
the hard facts, he becomes penitent—or, a bit sarcastic. “I
feel like I’ve personally messed with the lives of many bands,
despite my best intentions. . . . I want to apologize to everyone
for that. I did a lot of damage, and I’m not proud of it.”
The curse only grew stronger after he left.
The story: Rock trio Super 400 caught
the local-music scene off-guard with a sound—and a look—that
seemed to be time-warped from sometime around August 1970.
(“Retro-active,” read the July 2, 1998, headline.) John Rodat
chronicled the band’s whirlwind first two years as a band,
from being signed to a deal with local imprint Cacophone within
their first eight months, to getting called up to the majors
(Island)—all in 1,000 words!
The aftermath: Like the Figgs before
them, they hooked up with manager Brad Morrison, released
their major-label debut, and got the shaft before things got
off the ground. As singer-guitarist Kenny Hohman put it in
2004, “They [Island] fired everyone that was involved with
signing us.” But also like the Figgs, this band got out alive:
They celebrated their 10th anniversary this year, and their
latest CD, Live ’05, shows why they continue to be
one of the area’s most celebrated live acts.
The story: Singer-guitarist John
Powhida played stints in various bands for years, but really
began honing his if-Daryl Hall-and-Prince-had-a-baby thing
under the Staziaks moniker in 1993. Over time, the group reworked
themselves from a rough-around-the-edges three-piece to a
tough-sounding soul-rock quartet. J. Eric Smith’s fun, engaging
piece on the group (“Pop Survival Instructions,” Sept. 2,
1999) captured a band at the height of their creative energies.
“That was a good time for the Staziaks,” remembers Powhida.
The aftermath: Powhida laughs out loud
at the very mention of the Cover Curse. “It was absolutely
a dream of mine, as an Albany rocker, to be on the cover of
Metroland.” But he recognized the blessing—and the
curse. He continues, “I knew that I had reached a certain
pinnacle. I saw [the cover] as a completion of the Albany
thing, and tried my best to avoid [the curse]. I moved to
Boston about six months later,” thus ending the band’s run.
Not a bad move: Powhida has enjoyed much success in his adopted
hometown as frontman for the Rudds, including multiple Boston
Music Awards nominations.
The story: “Loud, Proud and Sarcastic”
was the cover headline for this Aug. 3, 2000, piece on the
Saratoga-based indie-pop trio Dryer. The group were a mainstay
on the area club scene at this point, having released a gazillion
7-inch singles on various tiny labels (including their own),
plus two full-lengths for local label Paint Chip Records.
At press time, they were experiencing the now-familiar circumstances
required for a Metroland cover: They were about to
release a new album on a fledgling label, and . . .
The aftermath: Actually, Dryer just
went about business as usual. Everything in Static
was released the following spring, and Dryer toured extensively
through 2001 in the same low-profile, bare-bones way they’d
been doing for the last eight years. By the time they returned
home, says frontman Bob Carlton, “People wanted to do other
things.” Dryer quietly disbanded in the spring of 2002, but
Carlton, who now fronts the Sixfifteens, says he doesn’t blame
Metroland for his band’s demise. “I wouldn’t say there’s
a cover curse,” he concludes, “but the Best Band curse . .
.” (The Sixfifteens were named Best Band in our annual Best
of the Capital Region issue in July 2004. They’re currently
in the studio working on new material.)
The story: Perhaps the Capital
Region’s most famous pop-music export, Blotto produced their
bread-and-butter output in the early 1980s—in fact, their
video for “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” was one of the few videos
in rotation in the early days of MTV. The band split in 1984,
but on Sept. 21, 2000, we profiled a band who had come and
gone and come again; a bunch of guys who had lived through
their heyday and continued to perform together simply because
they felt like it. Plus, they didn’t want to put those clever
nicknames to bed quite yet.
The aftermath: The band endured the
passing of founding member Cheese Blotto (Keith Stephenson)
in October 1999; a year later, they had regrouped, and were
releasing an odds-and-ends CD. They still get together for
the occasional Blotto gig—as Sarge Blotto (aka Greg Haymes,
former Metroland scribe and current Times Union
music writer) said at the close of that article, “These guys
are my best friends. It’s just getting together with some
friends and goofing around.”
The story: In 2002, Metroland
featured six music acts on its cover, five of which were bands:
Kinderhook-based pop-punk outfit F-Timmi (Feb. 28); Howe Glassman-led
alt- country group Coal Palace Kings (May 9); emo-poppers
Count the Stars (June 6); freak-flag-flying dub-metal trio
Small Axe (Sept. 12); and heavy-metal act China White (Oct.
2), who enjoyed a 20-year retrospective in their article.
The aftermath: You know you saw this
coming. F-Timmi went on to release two CDs locally before
officially calling it quits this year; Count the Stars released
their Victory Records debut months after their cover
appearance, only to split around the turn of 2004; Small Axe
haven’t made a peep since November 2005; and China White,
the poor dears, fell silent almost as soon as their issue
hit the streets. A banner year for the Cover Curse.
But former Coal Palace Kings leader Howe Glassman
doesn’t buy into the legend. “Seeing as CPK ‘broke up’ almost
three years after the cover, I don’t really put too much stock
in it,” he says. “I believe he who fucks nuns will later join
the church, I believe that the Republican party rigged the
last two presidential elections, . . . I believe my wife is
the hottest and my kids are the brightest, and I believe that
Omar Minaya is a freakin’ genius. What I don’t believe in
is the Metroland cover curse.”
The story: Singer-songwriter Ed
Gorch moved to Albany in early 2001, bringing with him a bushel
of dark folk ditties. Good timing: By the early zilches, the
Capital Region music scene had gone through some changes—alternative
country (or Americana, or roots rock, what have you) had become
the flavor of the day, and knotworking quickly became a very
popular band. A plethora of local musicians (including yours
truly) passed through the knotworking ranks over the next
few years; the lineup that appeared on our July 3, 2003, cover
didn’t even include a drummer.
The aftermath: Guitarist Mike Hotter
says he became aware of the Cover Curse when “the original
lineup of one of my favorite local bands, Small Axe, broke
up shortly after their cover story. I was a bit leery about
being on the cover after that.”
Gorch, on the other hand, was not only aware
of the curse, but feared it. “I believed in the curse,” he
says. “I believe in curses in general. Boston sucks.” Gorch,
who moved to Brooklyn in November 2004, says knotworking were
already “falling apart” at the time of the interview. “I remember
sitting there at the time of the interview . . .. and things
were being said like ‘This is a collective effort’ and ..
. . ‘knotworking is really a band now,’ and I knew that was
all bullshit. . . . It was never really a band, and it’s not
at this point in time either.” The band stopped playing officially
in February 2005 when, Gorch says, he “looked around during
a gig and decided that [he] was not having fun.” While the
knotworking moniker is still employed from time to time, Gorch
is working on a second solo record—and, he claims, he’s “trying
to finish one more knotworking album.”
The story: A novelty act in concept
only, geek-poppers Mathematicians earned the rare local-music
concept cover on July 15, 2004: The bespectacled trio, thanks
to some skillful Photoshop work, were pictured tucked inside
the pocket of some unnamed giant’s lab-coat pocket. It was
also the rare feature on a relatively new band—at the time,
the Mathematicians had been on the regional radar for less
than a year. We thought this was the perfect time to capture
them, the buzz still fresh, their shtick not-yet-expired,
a band on their way up.
The aftermath: So far, so good for the
Mathematicians. They’ve released a second album (Level
Two), and in March 2006, the band embarked on a national
tour that included a showcase at the venerable South by Southwest
festival. They’ve also just unveiled a great new video for
the song “Weapons of Math Instruction,” which can be viewed
on their Web site, www.mathe maticians.net.
The Clay People
The story: We’d profiled Dan Neet’s
ongoing project a few times by the time they made their way
to the front page. By June 3, 1999, the band had already experienced
several rebirths—they’d become a brutal five-piece rock outfit,
a far cry from the industrial duo they started out as. We
credited them for their survival instinct: They’d already
fallen victim to a huge corporate merger that left them label-less
after one self-titled release for a Mercury Records subsidiary.
Fast-forward six years and they returned to our cover—for
last year’s Local Music issue (Nov. 3, 2005), no less. The
Clay People were, again, born again: They had split in 2001,
but had again re-formed, slightly altered, for a series of
shows and a new record.
The aftermath: Who knows? Perhaps the
Clay People have beaten the curse. They are, after all, the
only band (so far) to have been covered, killed off, resurrected,
then covered again. The jury’s still out on this one, though—the
band’s long-promised new album has yet to see the light of
day, although a January 2007 release has been announced.
So there you have it—well, there you have something,
anyway. Sure, many bands have survived their cover appearance,
but many others have not. Is it just the fickle finger of
fate that has doomed so many of these acts, or is it something
more sinister? Only time will tell. Bands: Proceed at your