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First Chapters

Nevermoure, Don Henley, Nevermoure
Greg Veis
An independent band claiming to be "The Future of Music" citing the Backstreet Boys as an influence?

As the pulsing green and red spotlights behind the stage replaced the yellow buzz of The Brewery’s house lights, Nevermoure burst out of the dressing room in a full sprint, each member’s hair freshly gelled and clothes glamorously mussed. Adam, the band’s charismatic front man, screamed in true cliché rock star fashion, "Hello Raleigh! Is everybody in the house ready to rock tonight?"
Everybody in the house—the bartender, the sound check guy, three friends of the next band on the ticket, two childhood friends of Adam’s, a completely whacked out drunkard gyrating spastically right in front of the stage, and me—clapped about as apathetically as nine people could at a rock show. (Well, the drunkard was trying to clap loudly, but he couldn’t quite muster the necessary coordination and almost stumbled to the ground in the process.) This apparent lack of fan appreciation failed to faze the pop-punk quartet though, as it chugged through its 30-minute set list with astounding vivacity.

Ritchey, the lead guitarist and the anointed "rebel" of the group with his multiple piercings, hair dyes, and general penchant for mayhem, wildly axed atop a speaker, his head merely inches from the club’s low, dingy, and surely asbestos-ridden ceilings. Adam grabbed his mic stand, jumped off stage, and sang in the middle of The Brewery’s dance floor. Shawn, the oldest (at 23) and most talented (barely beating out Ritchey and demolishing Adam and bassist Big Dawg) member of Nevermoure, wailed on his drum set with foam oozing from his mouth and sweat drenching his bare chest.
The crowd may have been exceedingly thin, but as the Blues Brothers would say in their thick Chicago drawls, Nevermoure is "on a mission from gawd." After the set, I asked Adam if he was disappointed with the low turnout, and he replied, "Hey, we play the same in front of six people as we do in front of six thousand [a number they played to once at the Pocono Raceway]. We have to do it to be successful." Besides, as he mentioned before the show, with a dreamy gaze that exhibited his authentic passion for champagne wishes and caviar dreams, "We have fucking huge goals, man. We want to be on lunch boxes, have action figures, the whole damn works."

One month and five days earlier and just a shade over 2,795 miles away in Sacramento, California, Don Henley and other members of the Recording Artists Coalition (RAC) sat under the yellow buzz of the State Capitol’s very own house lights. The crowd in the building on January 23rd was considerably larger than nine people, and there wasn’t even a guitar or a drum set on the premises. Instead, the large number of attendees at "Artists Lobby Day" wanted to get a better understanding of how music industry contracts would be executed in the future.
Legislators, members of the press, and lobbyists jam-packed the Capitol as the RAC argued in favor of the newly proposed Senate Bill 1246 (SB 1246) that would repeal an exception to California Labor Code Section 2855. This special exception, passed in 1987 after an enormous lobbying push by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), stipulates that musicians must produce seven albums for their respective labels or risk legal action. Because of touring, scheduled media events, and the general pomp swirling around each album release, artists average an album every two years, so the seven-album exception essentially keeps them under contract for 14 years. In contrast, other Californians with similar "service jobs"—architects, actors, designers, dancers, among others—can only sign contracts that run for seven years or less.

Proponents of SB 1246 call the status quo "indentured servitude" because as Henley, the president of the RAC, noted, "Recording artists have been singled out as the only group of working people who are not afforded equal protection under California law." Lacking the ability to look for new contracts, and more lucrative ones at that, in a fair amount of time, signed musicians feel as if the major labels control them with an unnecessarily long leash. With the backing of the AFL-CIO, the California Federation of Labor, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the bill now has a wide base of support. As State Senator Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), who penned the proposed bill, said, "We’ve got pipe fitters and building trade laborers and all kinds of unions coming out in support of this battle as a workers’ issue now." In Murray’s estimation, all workers, artists and steelworkers alike, from Malibu to Allentown have a vested interest in seeing the passage of SB 1246.

About a five-hour car drive away from Allentown sits Altoona, Pennsylvania and its famous railroad Curve that has historically differentiated it from all the other roughneck industrial towns in the state. The city that now houses 129,144 people, including at one point, all four members of Nevermoure, was founded in 1849, and in that heyday of locomotive transportation, the Altoona Curve provided a key link between the eastern and western United States. Almost a hundred years later, during World War II, the Curve retained so much importance that, according to one of the city’s websites, the famous stretch of tracks made Altoona "one of the top ten German targets for nuclear warfare."
These days, however, Al Qaeda has most likely left Altoona off its target list. Sadly, so have many entrepreneurs and businesses. The city’s unemployment rate is a full percentage point above the national average, and the per capita personal income of $23,352 is more than $5,000 lower than the average American household’s. The same website noted with painful simplicity, "Now that our city is moving into the future and trains are becoming obsolete we are not growing as much as we used to and our city is less important."

Altoona is a town with a steely ethic though, and economic prosperity or not, this city breeds heroically hard workers who toil every day with few tangible results. Kids who grow up in such an environment typically travel down one of two paths: they either embrace lives of eight-hour work days, two beers, and a good night’s sleep, or they search for any way out of town. Count the four members of Nevermoure among those in the second group. None of their dreams involve the phrases "nine to five" or "high probability of receiving worker’s compensation." "Unparalleled fame" and "boatloads of cash" are more like it.

These dreams of escaping the monotony of industrial town life took Adam Marino to Penn State University, where he studied art and advertising. Flipping through the aisles of CDs (probably looking for either a Garth Brooks or a Poison album) at a record store in State College one day in the spring of 2000, Adam noticed an innocuous note on the store’s wall. Something about starting up a new band. Having consistently played in a group since his fourteenth birthday, but being in between projects at the time, Adam decided to give Mike Ritchey a ring. A couple of successful fraternity parties and some completely generic yet catchy songs later, the duo added Big Dawg (heretofore referred to merely as "Dawg") and Shawn Hocherl to its lineup, and another pop-punk group, optimistically ogling the big time, was formed.

Then came the business of deciding on a name. After reading Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Raven," Ritchey asked Adam how he felt about "Nevermore," as in "Quoth the raven…." Adam liked "Edgar Allan Poe and shit," so Nevermore stuck until the real Nevermore, a wholly creepy thrash band from Seattle that has since dissolved, said that it would make the pop posers weak and weary upon a midnight dreary if Adam and Co. did not execute a name change. Hence the completely awkward "u."
Carrying this new "u" and leaving college life behind, Nevermoure has since released two EPs, toured incessantly, and, most strikingly, become thoroughly convinced that it will soon attain worldwide success. One of the first things that leaps off of its website are the words "The Future of Music," written in gigantic red capital letters. Shawn, who is much more shy than his bandmates, except when he’s talking about the drums, and who has played for marching bands, jazz bands, and death metal bands, calls Nevermoure "the best project I’ve ever been in" because "it’s a pre-packaged thing—we have our own sound, our own equipment, our own sound guy, a huge fan base…. We’ve got fan pages already. It’s absolutely ridiculous."

His excitement in what lies ahead for the band, like that of the three others, is palatable, but the question stands: does their music sound as good as their hype?
"Our stuff is straight radio friendly," Adam said, with the sleazy sincerity of a used car salesman who truly believes in his product. "It sounds like a mix of Fuel and the Backstreet Boys or something. It’s like straight rock ‘n’ roll."
An independent band claiming to be "The Future of Music" citing the Backstreet Boys as an influence?
"I don’t want to say that we don’t have integrity, because we love what we do, but it’s—I don’t want to say that it’s fueled to be accepted—but it’s called popular music because that’s what the mass population of people wanna hear," Adam remarked, stumbling over himself in a conscious effort not to use the words "sell out." Adam realizes that this type of music also puts him in the good graces of the labels too, because as he pointed out, "It’s just like if your boss at work says, ‘I want you to look like this or else you’re gonna be fired, but if you do dress like this you’re gonna get a raise,’ you’re gonna dress how he wants." One gets the feeling at this point that Nevermoure would put on Mickey Mouse suits and sing "It’s a Small World After All" twenty-seven times every day if that meant nabbing a record deal.

Ultimately though, the Disney costumes might go unused, because several high-profile labels—Columbia, Sony, Atlantic, and Maverick—have reportedly contacted Nevermoure about a future signing. Dawg designates the band’s chances of signing with one of these major corporations as "something that could happen in the next year."

A definitive ruling on SB 1246 should also be handed down in the next year. Those in opposition to repealing the exception to California Labor Code Section 2855—most notably the RIAA, independent record labels, and the monolithic Big Five record corporations (Vivendi Universal, Sony Corp., Bertelsmann, EMI, and AOL Time-Warner)—claim that they could never derive a profit if it were not for the exception. They argue, though the proof remains insufficient, that they start to make money only after an artist’s fourth offering. To Mike Copeland, an independent record label owner, the issue of whether or not to bind an artist for seven albums is really quite simple: "We as an industry, it’s risk versus profit. It’s common sense. You take away profit, you take away willingness to risk."
Willingness to risk on independent bands like Nevermoure, that is. In a three-page statement signed by the presidents and top executives of most members of the Big Five, it was expressly declared that these companies "will be unable to invest in as many new artists in the future" if SB 1246 passes. Whether or not the industry’s threat is completely founded remains to be seen, but regardless of the ultimate veracity of its assertions, Robin Hood’s clothes do not fit Henley and the RAC as well as previously believed. Instead of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, Henley merely wants to steal from the rich.

Despite the potential implications that the passage of this bill has on Nevermoure’s future, the band does not worry about such seemingly distant matters.
Nevermoure’s immediate goal (before the lunch boxes and action figures, of course) is simple: the guys just want a consistent paycheck. The band plays four times a week anywhere that it can, travels in a beat up RV that breaks down just about every week (the RV did not make it to the club the night I met them), earns just enough money for gas and occasionally lodging with a shower, and barely gets by on a steady diet of Big Macs and Taco Supremes.
Sure, Nevermoure has some broad conception that the record labels unfairly exploit their artists for as much of their earnings as possible, but at this point in their careers, each member of the band, without a second thought, would be willing to cope with the injustice for a shot at attaining mainstream acceptance and a markedly healthier bank statement. When confronted about the industry’s carnivorous behavior, Adam merely shrugged his shoulders and declared, "It’s unfair, but if you wanna make it, you’re gonna have to do what they say. They get you by the balls, but that’s how you get famous…. I really just don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to be successful with what you wanna do."

In the same one-year time period during which Nevermoure anticipates a nibble from the Big Five, Don Henley will probably parade his entire coalition to the steps of the State Capitol again to preach about how the rights of all musicians are being heartlessly infringed upon. While the music industry sorely needs its failings exposed so that they could potentially be eliminated, or at the very least, improved upon, maybe Henley has taken on a particular fight that many of his voiceless constituents, including four kids from Altoona, want him to sit out.

© Greg Veis Feb 2003
Greg Veis

FOLLOWING DEAN MORIARTY Greg Veis takes to the road

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