“Everyone’s getting their hair dyed red,” Skippy is saying. “I hear that there’s a big henna movement going on.”
Skippy is one John McFadden, 25 years old, Evanston-born, a record-company rat of long standing, and now the energetic, hustling head of his own outfit, March Records. Buoyed by the Chicago scene buzz, he’s been negotiating with at least three major labels to fund his talent-seeking activities. He’s got a host of new projects, including an upcoming single that’s widely reported to be a side project of Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan (though Skippy won’t confirm). Now he’s just hours away from heading down to Austin for the South by Southwest music festival with his newest signing, a boisterous outfit called Loud Lucy, and figures the thing to do in preparation for five days of schmoozing is make a fashion statement. “All these people who only know me on the phone are going to take one look at my hair and go, ‘Ew, that’s you?'”
March’s first project was a January 1992 compilation, Uncharted; a companion show at Metro sold out. “I think what helped us out was that we were the first CD release of unsigned bands,” Skippy says now. (Uncharted volume three has just been released.) He also hooked up early with a couple of fairly big local acts: Catherine, solidly in the “shoe-gazing” school characterized by My Bloody Valentine-ish guitar washes, and Big Hat, an ear-friendly space-rock outfit marked by the keyboard work of leader Preston Klik and the ululating vocals of Yvonne Bruner. The economics of ultraindie outfits like March are primitive, but Skippy’s gotten by. “Big Hat is the best distributor of their own CDs,” Skippy says, giving a glimpse of how his company works. “I sold them �,�ðð at close to cost, and they sell them for nine or ten bucks at their shows, and boy do they know how to do that. With Catherine, it’s a different story. If I gave them five T-shirts to sell they would just give them away.”
Catherine’s EP Sleepy is March’s single best-selling album, at 5,000 copies, though Big Hat’s done better than that with a couple of albums combined, Inamorata and Selena at My Window. Helped along by production work from Corgan, Catherine’s been picked up by TVT; Big Hat, on the other hand, recently left March and are recording a new set of songs in their search for a new and hopefully bigger label. “Skippy didn’t seem to have the money to do the things he wanted to do,” says Klik.
“Delusions of Candor (Flight of the Eagle)” is the title of the single March is releasing by a group called the Star Children, Corgan’s alleged busman’s holiday. Skippy’s received 3,000 advance orders, but he’s still scrambling to get the cash together to release it. “I have a deal with the CD pressing plant,” he says, “but for [vinyl] singles I have to pay up front.” To alleviate such indignities in the future, he’s been negotiating for months with a variety of labels. He’s vague about the specifics, but his plan is to function as a band finder. “I’m cautiously optimistic at this point; there’s enough people interested that I know that I’m going to get what
I need, termswise,” he says. “Basically, I’m going to be an A and R person; I’ll just have creative control and 100 percent ownership of my label.”
Skippy grew up on the Jersey shore about ten miles south of Bruce Springsteen’s old stomping grounds. He studied a little at NYU and returned to Chicago to go to Columbia in 1988, but dropped out to work a succession of low-level industry jobs, ending up as a “tape listener, basically,” at EMI in New York. “The way they dealt with music was ‘Are they cute?’ ‘Is she a fox?’ ‘Are they hot?'” he says. “I’d heard all these stories, but this was really what they said. I’m like, ‘This blows.'” He came out of the experience with the nickname and some cash. He came back to Chicago, spent the money, and wondered what to do next. “I waited until I had ten cents in my bank account and then thought, ‘Maybe I should start a label.'”
Richard Marx’s new album, Paid Vacation, is slowly moving up the Billboard charts; it’s now in the mid-30s, fueled by the top-ten single “Now and Forever.” The extremely successful MOR popster (his three previous albums all sold between three and six million) grew up on the North Shore, and moved away from Chicago some time ago. But he hasn’t been alienated from home. His last album was called Rush Street, and now his publicist says he’s moving back to town. All of which is to note that Chicago will soon have three albums in the Billboard top 20, including the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream and R & B love man R. Kelly’s platinum 12 Play, which is stuck at number two behind Mariah Carey’s Music Box….Bonnie Raitt’s new album, Longing in Their Hearts, is dedicated first to her parents and second “in loving memory to Isabelle ‘Red’ Cherney.” The late Cherney, who lived in Chicago most of her life, is the mother of Raitt’s recording engineer Ed Cherney and Chicago Tribune photographer Chuck Cherney.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yael Routtenberg.