Eleventh Dream Day Gives Atlantic a Second Chance

Eleventh Dream Day’s new album, El Moodio, will be released next March on Atlantic. That’s surprising news, given the band’s history with the label. After its first two records, Beet and Lived to Tell, it looked like the band was going to leave Atlantic, and like Atlantic didn’t much care. But then circumstances changed.

Back in 1989, the R-&-B-indie-grown-to-major had decided to get serious about the new sounds from America’s pop underground. Chicago’s Eleventh Dream Day, a hard-rocking outfit in the tradition of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse fueled by dueling lead guitars, was one of the first signings, along with Boston’s pop alternative Lemonheads and retrokitsch punkers Redd Kross, from LA. The three bands were the foundation of a new alternative-music section, headed by rising corporate star Peter Koepke. The department had its own talent searchers and PR and marketing reps, as a way of signaling to the press and industry that Atlantic was serious about new music.

But sources say that the top echelons of the label didn’t understand the future of alternative music and never really backed up the department. After Eleventh Dream Day’s second album didn’t sell well (despite some very good reviews, notably from Greil Marcus in Artforum), corporate interest in the group waned. Redd Kross left the label, and the Lemonheads simply didn’t record. It didn’t help that label reps were rumored to have dismissed beloved Minneapolis rockers Soul Asylum (now on Columbia and moving up the charts) and–perhaps apocryphally–passed on Nirvana. (“It won’t sell,” an A and R man is supposed to have said.)

When Koepke left for London records last year, the alternative department collapsed. “It set the company back five years,” charges one person on the scene. Eleventh Dream Day was left on a label much different from the one they’d signed to with such fanfare two years before. As is typical, the band also found it owed the company money for recording costs; album sales hadn’t recouped the company’s advance to the band.

“We were planning on leaving,” admits Janet Beveridge Bean, Eleventh Dream Day’s drummer and, sometime singer and songwriter. “Between our first and second records things had changed: the same people weren’t there. We were just a band in the alternative department that no one had heard of.”

So why’s the band still on the label, and happy? Bean says it’s mostly due to new Atlantic prez Danny Goldberg, the former head of Gold Mountain management and an outspoken anticensorship crusader. “He found out that we were leaving and talked us into staying. He sounded wonderful and he had a lot of good ideas. He gave us some concessions and changed a few other things. We’ll have to see, but we think it’s all worked out.”

Bean wouldn’t divulge what those concessions were, but Hitsville hears that they included eliminating the band’s debt, an unusual move. The songs I’ve heard from El Moodio are very hard and very melodic, most notably “Making Like a Rug,” which harnesses Bean’s soaring twang to cacophonous guitar work and probably the rawest drum track the band has yet done, and “After This Time Is Gone,” which rocks with almost Springsteenian clarity. There’s also the requisite guitar workouts on “The Raft,” courtesy of guitarists Rick Rizzo (Bean’s husband) and new member Wink O’Bannon.

The name of the record comes from Bean’s and bassist Doug McCombs’s mocking name for the guitarists, both of whom, apparently, are prone to pouting. O’Bannon, an old friend of the group (Bean grew up with him in Kentucky), replaced longtime Rizzo guitar foil Baird Figi and has now shown himself to be a more than adequate replacement on record as well as onstage. Figi left because he hated touring; O’Bannon doesn’t (yet), so the band will be out next year to support the record.

More on Ice-T

While Jam Productions is committed to going on with a show by Ice-T’s Body Count at the Vic Monday night, fans in some other cities won’t have a chance to see the group. Last week Metropol, in the strip district of downtown Pittsburgh, put the kibosh on a show that had been scheduled for Tuesday, December 22. The reason? “The club was indirectly informed that they would have a problem if the show was played,” says Jack Tumpson, of Next Big Thing Productions. “The club owner made a decision, based on his relations with the police rank and file, which is good, not to play the show, for the sake of his future relationships in the town.” Tumpson notes that the hardcore band played the club uneventfully in February–“He preached love, stay in school, and don’t do drugs: that’s his message”–but that was before the Rodney King verdict and the subsequent riots, and before the nation’s police caught on to the group’s song “Cop Killer. ”

Next Big Thing tried to move the show, but some club owners balked and clubs that didn’t were the wrong size. “We support the Metropol’s owner,” says Tumpson. “We do 50 to 100 shows with him a year, and we understand his concerns. But we’re disappointed that this artist, who I personally feel is an important artist, isn’t playing here. I think he speaks from a culture that needs to be understood a little bit more.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Bentham.