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Do You Believe?

Researching the legend of the Metroland Cover Curse

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 fear.

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 a thing.

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 Figgs

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.

Bloom

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.

Subduing Mara

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.

Lughead

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 certain writer?

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.

Super 400

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 Staziaks

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.

Dryer

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.)

Blotto

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.”

2002

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.”

knotworking

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 Mathematicians

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 own risk.

jbrodeur@metroland.net




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