Re: Jim DeRogatis’s Hitsville of May 17.
In 1988 I opened the Love Loft in a then young Wicker Park. I donated my stage to Around the Coyote so my friends could sell their art without giving half of their money to an art dealer. This is where Wesley had his first art show in Chicago. He was 29 years old. He quickly became my dearest and most inspirational friend. I moved Wesley out of his horrific life in the south-side housing projects and into the Love Loft. I allowed Wesley to separate from his corrupt and abusive father by becoming his SSI payee. I threatened hospitals with litigation when they revoked my signed release forms and refused to release Wesley from the mental ward. State aid meant Wesley’s hospital bills were guaranteed paid.
I let Wesley sing with my band, and recorded it. These recordings surfaced on Spyral Tap, Alternative Tentacles, and our Spooky Disharmonious Conflict Hellride CD. I then built Ghetto Love Recording. I found a partner in my friend Kevin Fugiel. We undercut our competition by more than a half, charging $150 for a 10 to 14 hour day. Never charging for setup (an uncommon practice) because we wanted to ensure great recordings. In 13 months we recorded 50 bands, 8 CDs, 10 seven inches, 15,000 total releases bearing the Ghetto Love stamp. Sitting on so much unreleased Chicago music, Spencer Young and I started Urban Legends Records with 8 bands and $1,000. Four split singles, at $750 apiece. Each band contributed $250, the label matched it, and the three parties split 333 records evenly. Ultimately, the records cost $1,000 each, so Urban Legends doubled its investment, and the label was born. Currently Urban Legends splits profits evenly with its artists, and the Wesley Willis Fiasco splits profits equally between its five members.
The Wesley Willis Fiasco rejected two offers from American Recordings and released our debut on Urban Legends. This was quickly followed by Buddha Knievil, Trailer Hitch this month, and Squirm this summer.
Then things got tough. Wesley licensed two solo records for $5,000 each (a ridiculously modest sum) to American Recordings against my advice. Their first press release is a reprint of an LA Times article which stated: “When he performed solo, a good portion of the audience laughed derisively and booed. But at the Dragonfly, in the context of the band the Wesley Willis Fiasco, his four musicians provided a surprisingly solid setting for Willis’ spewings, and their words of encouragement and good-natured jibes helped keep him focused on what is obviously a positive outlet for his energies.” Their second piece of press was entitled “Schizophrenic” and had a photo of Wesley grimacing painfully sitting in front of a toy truck. This differs radically from the story American’s Heidi Robinson told Jim DeRogatis.
Unbelievably, the Fiasco landed an interview with Tabitha Soren of MTV at South by Southwest. We’re met at the club by American A&R man Dino Paredes, who has instructed Tabitha to do an exclusive interview with Wesley to promote his solo album on American Recordings. Out comes the cellular phone, but I have no one to call.
With the help of our friends in Sublime, we play a High Times benefit in New York City. We land an interview and photo shoot with Entertainment Weekly. We arrive at the photo shoot, which the photographer informs us is now a Wesley shoot and interview to promote his upcoming release on American Recordings. Out comes the cellular phone, and this time I have someone to call. Our publicist, the Mitch Schneider Organization. With Bad Religion, Tom Petty, and Alanis Morissette’s four Grammys under his belt, he’s one of the most powerful publicists in the music business. After speaking with her boss, the photographer returns, apologizes about the mix-up, and rebuilds the set to shoot the Wesley Willis Fiasco.
According to Jim DeRogatis’s article we’re buying expensive publicists, and in effect buying our success. Instead we’re fighting mad. We’re a young label without a publicity department, so we’ve hired one, along with a distributor, a publisher, a radio promotions firm, and a booking agent. Epitaph, an independent label, scared the music industry by selling nine million Offspring records. That’s not supposed to happen. We’re a new band that recorded at a new studio and released its debut on a new label. We’re not supposed to be successful. Major labels control the music industry. They control MTV, commercial radio, record stores, and the press. Our success will give us power in the music industry, and at five dollars a record we’ll be dangerously rich.
When DeRogatis wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times, he named the Wesley Willis Fiasco as the highlight of last year’s Chicago Independent Label Festival. Now that he’s a senior editor at Rolling Stone, the most powerful magazine in the music industry, he’s telling a different story. I’m starting to realize what this all means.
Urban Legends Records