“I hate it.” Wes Kidd has spent nearly a year in limbo. He’s been sitting on a record he’s proud of. The album is Triple Fast Action’s swaggery and punchy Broadcaster. In it Kidd’s guileless lyrics and snappy hooks and the quartet’s versatile and powerful attack marry to create a worthy postpunk successor to the meld of hard rock and pop that marked the greatest records by Cheap Trick. So why isn’t it out? It was essentially finished last March, but mixing hassles delayed things for months. Then Capitol got hung up on the release of some archival material from an entirely different Fab Four. The record was pushed back to March of this year, and then to the first week of April. Is Triple Fast Action getting the big Capitol brush-off?
“Absolutely not,” says Capitol veep Phil Costello. Costello, head of the giant label’s promotions department, saw the band in Chicago two Novembers ago. “I freaked when I saw them,” he says. He brought a tape to big cheese Gary Gersh, the onetime Geffen A and R exec who’d recently taken over the Capitol presidency. Gersh signed the band personally. “If you push back a record’s release date, it doesn’t mean that you’re trying to bury it,” Costello says. “It means that you care about it. Otherwise you wouldn’t move it; you’d just let it get run over. The record is a huge priority here.”
Words like that from an American record exec and $3.99 will get you a Smoking Popes cutout at any record store. Kidd knows that. Still, he and his band like Costello–“He’s the main reason we signed to Capitol”–and Gersh as well. And it must be said that the president and promotions chief are two of the best friends a band can have at a label.
One of the things that successful bands from Chicago have done over the last few years is raise standards on the local scene. It’s possible that Broadcaster’s conceptual sophistication is an outgrowth of that challenge. It begins with “Aerosmith,” Kidd’s wan alternakid hymn, and ends with a thunderous ten-minute epic called “Superstar.” “Aerosmith” is just Kidd and a guitar. The singer wails a Domesday Book list of cultural possessions, some dear, some loathsome–MTV, a mike, a bike. “I don’t want some,” he sings. “I want it all.” It nicely sets off the rest of the record, which contains catchy, radio-friendly hard pop–“Revved Up,” “Anna (Get Your Gun)”–and all sorts of leavening agents, like the bit of lulling Memphis soul that is “Paris” and the Cheap Trick homage “Bird Again.”
Like Billy Corgan and Material Issue’s Jim Ellison, Kidd and Triple Fast drummer Brian St. Clair grew up in the western suburbs on the usual musical diet: heavy metal, hard rock, punk. And Cheap Trick. “I waited for seven hours to see them at ChicagoFest,” Kidd says of the Rockford band’s famous Navy Pier performance in 1981. “My umbrella is in a video of the show. It was the first time I ever saw a joint. The guy behind me offered us some, but I was too scared to try it.” As a teen he networked with other punks in nearby cities. While still in high school he and St. Clair released an ambitious punk-rock single with a band called Political Justice?, marked by the head-over-heels vocals of Spud Boy. A few years later, Kidd was asked to join Rights of the Accused, the quintessential Chicago teen punk band. But his parents said no. “So for a year I told them I was going to go study at Denny’s and drove into the city to practice.”
He left the band in 1993, feeling that its unrepentant punk rock was a bit out of time. Sticking tight with St. Clair, who’d eventually joined ROTA as well, Kidd chanced starting his own band playing his own songs. The pair hooked up with Kevin Tihista and Ronnie Schneider, from a local band called Wood. By the time they started playing out, the Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, and Liz Phair had A and R reps from both coasts trying to find Chicago on their maps. “It was a really good time to be in a band all of a sudden,” Kidd marvels. Courted by quite a few labels, they did their best to make a smart decision. The group’s biggest concern: expectations. “We’d hear talk about bands we considered a success,” Kidd says. “At one label someone let slip they considered a failure a band that sold 250,000 albums. They expected a million.”
Ultimately, the band went with Capitol and made the record in New York with producer Don Fleming, though two of its most charming tracks–“Revved Up” and the sweet “Sally Tree”–were recorded by Brad Wood at Idful. The first single will be “Revved Up,” the manic, propulsive song Kidd first released locally on Limited Potential. The band will play the South by Southwest festival in March and also do dates with Everclear and Radiohead, both recent Capitol success stories. The band’s Chicago record-release show has yet to be scheduled.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yael Routenberg.