(photo: Allison Young)
The four gaunt shadows shimmied down from the 3rd floor bedroom on a string of knotted bed-sheets, arched frames balancing knapsacks as the house burned down. They jumped off onto the concrete slab where they’d been found, knobby knees revealed by tears to the fresh spring air. They dusted the soot off of their rescued cargo: The Morning Maid EP and walked back into the smoke curtained streets of Detroit.
Not that the burning house accurately depicts Island records, no – but it does feel like the Satin Peaches may have escaped (not just their label home, but something else) just in time. More specifically the metaphorical flames are gobbling up a system, or, er…uh, the system, (and not one label) – a crumbling order, an out of touch industry – who seem to be losing more and more bands to more modest, independent outlets to have their music heard. The Von Bondies just snubbed Sire for the humble MajorDomo and now the Satin Peaches have struck out on their own (with SleekSpeek) – and are finally, *sigh*, finally…able to release their EP, Morning Maid, to the world.
But any aim to portray the label dispute in any dramatic manner would be admittedly over-reaching (sorry, too late for this blog) – no, they were more like 4 scraggly Rapunzels. “I think what major labels do is,” said singer/guitarist George Morris, “when they don’t want to do anything with you, they just stop talking to you. And, they don’t care about you anymore, so they just sweep you under the rug. ‘Cuz it doesn’t hurt them at all to still own your record and not put it out…”
The torched system that these four lads (with Morris, bassist Aaron Nelson, guitarist Ryan Wiese and drummer Jeremy Smith) sidestepped, is the same pornographic cad who would instill starry eyed delusions into any young, forgivably naïve artists, petting their doe-eyed heads with one hand and locking them into golden shackles with the other. As did happen, almost perfunctorily, with the Satin Peaches in 2006, starting when the quartet of high school friends who’d just tipped over into college got accosted for demos, judged on the strength of their myspace songs, by an independent label owner from Europe. They were contacted by said label-owner later in the year after he’d wound up as an A&R rep for Island – he checks em out at a show in Detroit and…the whirldwind begins.
“Once one label gets a hold of you, every label starts talking to you,” recalls Morris, now only 22 but speaking in a tone that feels wrung with a bit of healthy, focused cynicism. His mid-high voice sulks on the subject of labels, “We finally settled on Island and it was great for the first couple months, we went on tours and they suck your dick and they take you out for a nice dinner…” but it soars with enthusiasm when we talk about Morning Maid actually coming out… “I’m really happy...because it means we can start doing other things and completely do it our way and I think since then we've been really motivated...”
Their shooting star story was captured nicely by a 2006 Real Detroit cover – with the band, a fresh faced pack of pop-rock upstarts, sitting on a tarmac with a jet waiting for take off, with the headline “…Back To School?” Instead of college, the band toured Europe and the UK and went out to New York to record with Owen Morris (engineer of Oasis-fame). They were sufficiently swept up…And, understandably so: the quartet’s melody-focused indie-punk with spacey-guitars and tone emphasis (just barely harkening to new-wave dream-pop) and visceral fuzzy hooks (tasting like a refreshing contempo-reach-back to 60’s rock), was in high demand through 05 and 06. The Peaches songs, if at that point still rough and written/sung from still developing talents, fit nicely along side the rising tide of new indie/literate college rock like sound/style reference points The Strokes and Broken Social Scene or the ubiquitous Radiohead.
“It was amazing,” Morris’ voice flares, recalling the chance to tour Europe at 19-years-old, still caught up in the spectacle of ‘being signed.’ “I keep looking back on it…as a band, I don’t think we were ready at all.” He recalls sessions with 2 six-week sessions with Owen Morris in upstate New York… “The first week or so we would record and then the next 5 weeks we would just…pretty much party, and self-loath the whole time…and it got to the point where it wasn't even fun anymore, it was just a mad house. But, you just had to keep going. It was a good lesson on how not to do a record; that was the first time we’d ever been in a real studio or anything like that…We went to L.A. and finished it with Dave Sardy. We actually got shit done and it felt good…”
These sessions combined to make Morning Maid, but, ludicrous as it sounds, the band couldn’t quite communicate with their label – which seemed indifferent towards releasing it – so both the band and the EP hung in limbo. Fittingly, the song they’d been planning to release as a single may sum it all up, “Still Sour,” (a fine ditty of danceable beats under chrunchy storming guitars, flickering into shoulder shaking surf-toned hooks under and Morris’ crackly (Bejar-meets-Bowie) coo. “Stiiiiil soooour” his voice burns…then quickly shrugs in a melodic downturn “…I don’t care.”
Morris said that the band learned a lot over the nearly-20-month haul of releasing Maid. Though some promises of a release were made, nothing materialized. “As a band we learned how to play and learned the business a little more and definitely became closer throughout it.”
The band wasn’t dropped, they essentially quit. They wanted their record back. They just wanted to get it out. Morris suspects the band may have quickly grown into something the label hadn’t expected. “We got signed on some really old demos and then we went in the studio and recorded [the Maid tracks]...I don't think they really understood ‘em…”
"I just want to get [Maid] out there for people to start talking about it. It’s strange, we kinda had slightly established ourselves a little bit before we got signed and then we got signed and we pretty much left [Detroit] for 2 years. We played a few shows in Detroit but we were mostly concentrating on the U.K. and things like that…And then that fell through so when we came back it was almost like a fresh start, and that was exciting.”
The band has been playing a slew of shows since last September. “It took us about a month or two to rethink what we were gonna do. We were so used to relying on other people for everything and then we got back and didn’t have it…so there was a month there where we were really like, ‘whoa, what the hell are we gonna do?’ And, then we realized that, now we can really do whatever the hell we want..”
Hence, they’re releasing Maid on fledgling Sleek Speek – a still experimental, yet ambitious project spearheaded by Jesse Shepherd-Bates (former Peach member and leader of JSB Squad) along with fellow young singer/songwriter Mick Bassett (who leads The Marthas). They’ve formed a triumvirate, Shepherd-Bates, Morris and Bassett, three collaborating talents overseeing an online-based label…with a heavy Detroit focus. A label that, as Morris admirably and mystically puts it, “will become whatever it needs to be…” in time.
For now, after seeing the world, the boys are back in town. A tour may come in the summer, but for now, Morris said he and the band will just “…see what comes…”
Upcoming shows: CD Release – The Blind Pig – 3 / 27 with Lightning Love and Mick Bassett & the Marthas
4 / 17 at PJ’s Lager House