By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
The 313’s garage scene can be clearly divided into before and after the White Stripes left Sympathy for the Record Industry and signed with V2. After that much-buzzed-about deal, inked in November 2001, Detroit record stores and radio stations started receiving calls from A&R folks on the coasts asking who the hot bands were. Sire Records‘ Seymour Stein -- who signed the Ramones, the Dead Boys and Madonna -- made three trips to the city. He grabbed the Von Bondies and seemed extremely interested in two others: the Sights, a Small Faces--meet--Humble Pie foursome with two excellent albums on the Fall of Rome label, and Saturday Looks Good to Me, an ensemble of seven to 10 people who make bubblegum-by-way-of-Motown sounds. Meanwhile, the Electric Six -- a wildly talented band who have been labeled electroclash for their hilarious rockdisco weirdness -- signed with XL, the same Beggars Banquet subsidiary in the U.K. that houses the White Stripes, Badly Drawn Boy and Peaches.
And yet, despite the accolades and the sold-out shows, most Detroit bands say they’re not much better off now than they were a few years ago. ”What it boils down to is money,“ says Pat Pantano, drummer for the Dirtbombs and the Come Ons. ”No one‘s made any money yet.“
Hoping to better their fortunes, some of the bands that got their start on Sympathy are looking elsewhere for their second releases. What was perhaps the best thing to happen to a Detroit band -- getting on a label with impeccable cred -- has turned into a sore spot, because Long Gone John does not give sales reports to the bands. No one would go on record, but there is grumbling among the bands about getting paid for record sales and about the difficulty in reaching Long Gone John.
Long Gone John was uninterested in addressing squabbles, but mentioned that two Detroit bands owe a him overdue records that he has paid for. He also feels that any band that wants to make money needs to tour relentlessly -- something Detroit bands are not always eager to do. ”The missing element with these bands, or any band, is touring,“ he says, attributing the Von Bondies’ success to their grueling road schedule.
Even bands without labels are feeling the pressure of deciding whether to jump to the next level or stay put. The deals, the calls, the press, the rumors -- ”It‘s crazy,“ says Fred Thomas. Though Seymour Stein took him to dinner and remains in touch, Thomas won’t give him the Saturday Looks Good to Me album that‘s in the can. He’s not ruling out a major-label signing in the future, but this particular record is best handled by an indie, he figures: ”A kid who wants to hear the next Strokes won‘t quite get it.“
”If we thought we were gonna be this big, we would have taken precautions,“ says Maribel Restrepo of the Detroit Cobras, who now may face a legal battle for their name (the ex-drummer claims he owns it). ”The worst effect of this hype is that all of a sudden people are thinking about records selling. No one ever thought about asking for numbers before.“
Things will get hairier before they straighten out, because Detroit has not yet produced a Nirvana, a band as successful commercially as they were critically. So far, the White Stripes have not proved to be that band. So the labels are still hunting.
Hardy doesn’t think Detroit will satisfy the music industry‘s mammoth cravings. ”The thing with Nirvana was, it reached everyone -- not just people who loved music, but everyone I hated in high school, too. But I don’t see morons liking bands like the Sights -- they‘re too smart. I don’t see people doing beer bongs to it.“
Hardy plans to throw a curve ball into the Detroit garage movement with two bands he recently signed: the art-damaged Piranhas and the party-animal Clone Defects. ”These records are going to change people‘s ideas about Detroit music,“ Hardy says. ”People think of Detroit as soul-based garage, but this is psycho punk rock, which was always my idea of Detroit bands -- confrontational, great bands.“
And that’s a good thing, a very Detroit thing. Says Eugene Strobe, ”It‘s important that we confuse the outside.“