Most of the songs on Kid Million’s brand-new second album, American Tabloid, are critical of voyeurism in American pop culture, where one man’s failures are another man’s entertainment. But the quartet couldn’t resist doing a little expose of their own, opening the disc with a song about Jay Baer, the guy who put out their last record. Baer started the local Fly By Records in 1998 to put out Kid Million’s debut, Heaven Smiles on Every Bastard–one of the better guitar-driven pop records by a Chicago band in the last five years–but folded less than a year later. “Wave bye-bye, blowing us all kisses, turning hits to misses,” front man David Singer spits in “Flew By.” “What a guy, couldn’t buy the lesson that he gave away for free.”
Although Kid Million officially formed in the middle of 1997, the members had been playing together since late 1992 as Fix Your Wagon, and had released one album on the now-defunct Crank label. They’d come to hate their name and decided to change before releasing the next record. It was a gamble, but over the next year they were able to maintain the old band’s fan base and add to it: Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis became an avid supporter, and the Metro frequently offered them plum gigs. “We’re probably the only Chicago band to play with Alanis Morissette and Melt-Banana in the same year,” Singer jokes.
When Heaven Smiles on Every Bastard came out, they toured behind it, playing between 50 and 75 dates in the midwest, south, and east. By the end of the summer, they felt ready to make a new album–but Baer didn’t. “Eventually he called me and said, ‘I’m out of money and I’m moving to California,'” says Singer. “By that point we had already realized that he was a rube, so we just asked for our record back and whatever stock he had left on hand.” Baer told Singer that 3,000 copies had just been manufactured–the first pressing of 2,000 had almost sold out–and that the band was welcome to pick them up from the plant. But Baer hadn’t paid the balance of the manufacturing costs, and it was going to cost several thousand dollars to claim the CDs. They decided to cut their losses and move on.
The band–singer and guitarist Singer, bassist Brendan Phillips, guitarist Tim Riff, and drummer Howard Windmiller–briefly considered rushing into the studio to keep their momentum going, but decided to hold off. “We realized that with the amount of money we were going to spend making the record at somebody else’s place, we could probably get a decent little studio,” says Singer, who’s now 30. “We started investigating what we could get and what we could afford, we gave ourselves a budget, and then we ended up spending a little over two and a half times what our original budget was, getting ridiculously in debt.” The 24-track facility, Audible Recording, was constructed in a warehouse space in Glenview, and the band members split the bill–which came to about $25,000. Last summer Kid Million began working on American Tabloid, and between sessions Singer began recording a solo album at Audible as well–to satisfy a yearning for “that total control aspect of songwriting.”
He finished the solo collection, The Cost of Living, in December. As he was putting on the finishing touches, he and his bandmates decided to start their own label. “If we had our own studio and our own label, then we could control when we make records,” Singer explains. So in January the album was released on The Sweet Science, a collaborative endeavor operated by the members of Kid Million and several other bands they’re friendly with, including the Chinese Stars and Doris. It’s distributed by Carrot Top and Parasol and through the Orchard, an on-line company that purports to give independent artists access to global distribution. According to Singer The Cost of Living has sold more than 4,000 copies and has already turned a profit, some of which has gone toward paying down the credit card debt band members accumulated while building the studio.
By this spring Kid Million had 35 songs recorded to “varying degrees of completion” but was struggling to pare them down and organize them into a coherent album. They called in engineer Mark Schwarz, who had worked with Singer on The Cost of Living, and by July they’d assembled the 14-song album that comes out on Tuesday. Singer’s thematic obsessions draw together impressively varied pop styles, from the Elvis Costello-like melodicism of “A Terrible Noise” to the faux-Latin flourishes of “Cardinal Directions” to the frenetic grind of “Silver Spoons” to the Beatlesque harmonies of “I’m Sorry That My Motor Isn’t On.” “We let the songs themselves dictate the instrumentation,” Singer explains.
For the band’s record-release party on Wednesday at Double Door, percussionist Mike Simons (of Doris) and keyboardist Paul Adelstein (formerly of Fix Your Wagon and now in Doris) will help bring across the intricate loops and textures of the album. The band also hopes to book a full U.S. tour in October. “We’ve had booking agents in the past,” Singer says, “and we end up playing shows that we don’t want to play in places we don’t want to be. Every time we’ve seized more control ourselves we’ve ended up benefiting.”
Swedish reedist Mats Gustafsson is back in Chicago this week, along with seven of his countrymen, to kick off Pipeline 2000, a foreign-exchange program he conceived with local concert promoter and writer John Corbett. Gustafsson, pianist Sten Sandell, drummer Raymond Strid, guitarist David Stackenas, bassist Johann Berthling, drummer Kjell Nordeson, tubaist Per-Ake Holmlander, and reedist Fredrik Ljungkvist will play several shows in town this week with Chicago reedist Ken Vandermark, trombonist Jeb Bishop, bassist Kent Kessler, drummer Hamid Drake, keyboardist Jim Baker, percussionist Michael Zerang, and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, plus Boston-based guitarist Joe Morris. The participants will play in various smaller groups on Friday at the Velvet Lounge and Wednesday at the Empty Bottle (see jazz listings for details), and on Tuesday at the Cultural Center the full 16-piece ensemble will play compositions written especially for the project by Vandermark and Ljungkvist. These pieces will also be recorded during the Swedes’ visit for release on Gustafsson’s Crazy Wisdom label, which is distributed by Universal in Sweden. In October the eight Americans will travel to Sweden for a similar series of concerts.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.