Posts Tagged With: Billboard magazine

Ryan Adams, Lemonheads, Juliana Hatfield, Mammoth Records: It all connects up

Writing and publishing “Losering” has been kind of like my own personal version of “This Is Your Life,” because it ties together so many threads from over the years. And revisiting my back pages via Ryan continues to yield up further examples of the Fundamental Interconnectedness Of All Things. Or maybe there really is only six degrees of separation between everyone on earth.

So when I moved to North Carolina in 1991, there were a handful of local labels in Chapel Hill. Most of them were glorified DIY operations started by bands to put out records by themselves and their friends. With one notable exception (more on that later), most of them didn’t last much longer than a few years.

But one Chapel Hill label that stood out back then was Mammoth Records. Where most denizens of the town’s indie-rock community talked a good game about keeping The Man at arm’s length, Mammoth clearly had the big time in mind. The label would do things like buy ads in the trade magazine Billboard, which was expensive and made little financial sense — but made a lot of sense in terms of brand-building.

In the early 1990s, Mammoth’s biggest act was the Blake Babies, a Boston guitar-pop trio fronted by rising “alternababe” star Juliana Hatfield. Mammoth founder Jay Faires would leverage having Hatfield on his roster into a distribution deal with the major label Atlantic Records (later going on to a career in film and television; curiously, his wikipedia entry makes no mention of Mammoth). Hatfield had a solid run as a solo act, but her career never took off commercially.

Back before she went solo, however, Hatfield also played bass in the early-’90s version of the Blake Babies’ Boston neighbors the Lemonheads, who earned a couple of gold records during the grunge era before dissolving in the late ’90s. Frontman Evan Dando revived the Lemonheads name again in 2005, with occasionally decent results. And now a proper Lemonheads reunion is underway with Dando, Hatfield and co-founder Ben Deily.

That leaves the group in need of a drummer, which brings us back to our friend Ryan Adams. Ryan took to Twitter last week to announce that he’s producing as well as playing drums on the new Lemonheads album, promising that it will be a return “to the punker sounds.”

One presumes this will be harder than the sharp pop of 1992’s “It’s a Shame About Ray” (still a favorite of mine from that era), or the song he did with Hatfield in 2008. But Ryan should be just the drummer for that. Back in 1991, the year I arrived in North Carolina, teenage Ryan was playing drums in a Jacksonville hardcore band called Blank Label. The group’s three-song single stands as Ryan’s first commercially released recording.

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Ben Folds Five: Chapel Hill, represent!

I think one reason I was able to write this book so quickly was that I’d already been writing chunks of it for 20 years, kind of. Not specifically for “Losering,” of course. But Ryan emerged from the Triangle music scene, which I’ve been covering for the newspaper since the early 1990s.

That gave me a front-row seat to watch a lot of very cool things from close range, like the improbable rise of Ben Folds Five. The trio emerged in the mid-1990s as a genuine oddity, a three-piece pop band with piano as centerpiece instrument. I wrote a bunch of stories and reviews about them for the N&O, as well as a short feature for Billboard magazine when their debut album Ben Folds Five came out in 1995.

Like everyone else, I had no idea just how huge they were going to be back then. But danged if they didn’t go and get enormous in 1997-98, with a platinum album and the first “Saturday Night Live” appearance in local-music history. Somewhere in there, Folds also found time to contribute piano overdubs to Whiskeytown’s never-released 1998 album Forever Valentine.

Ben Folds Five ended abruptly in 2000, citing burnout as the reason for disbanding. But the trio of Ben Folds, Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge is back together, with their first new studio album of this century. You’ll find details of that, and also a 2008 story previewing a one-off reunion show they played that year in Chapel Hill, here.

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