Introducing… The Redwalls – Words: Will Simpson
Dropped by a major and now on a label funded by students, clashes with Mr Mister… And they thought making it big would be easy…
Unusual career trajectories number 385. This month sees the UK release of Universal Blues, the debut album by Chicago rockers The Redwalls, a full five years after it first came out in the States. Meanwhile, the band’s third album, which they recorded in 2006, is due to finally see the light of day here ‘some time’ in 2009.
You can blame this confusing state of affairs on The Redwalls’ five years spent in the corporate rock machine, a stint that seems to have been a humbling experience for a band who went straight from high school to a deal with Capitol Records. “When we started out we thought we were going to make it huge,” bassist Justin Baren recalls. “We just assumed that that was the natural progression.”
“We didn’t have a lot of worldly experience when we made that first record. We were drunk all the fuckin’ time and doing all this crazy shit. But you can’t play a good show when you’re shit-faced. We’ve grown up a bit since then.”
Universal Blues sizzles with youthful naivety, right down to its good-natured steals from Dylan and, more unexpectedly, Hamburg-era Beatles. “They were a really fuckin’ good rock’n’roll band,” Baren insists of the formative Fab Four. “I remember Lemmy saying that the Stones were pussies and that The Beatles were the best rock’n’roll band. In the early days they were playing really loud and fuckin’ fast for over three hours every night.”
Capitol released a second Redwalls album before dropping the band last year. “It wasn’t a personal thing, I gotta say,” Baren explains. “They were letting people go for a whole year before that, so for anyone who wasn’t Coldplay there was this impending sense of doom.” Before booting them into touch, however, Capitol allowed The Redwalls to cut their third, self-titled album. That record found a home at Mad Dragon, a label funded by students from Drexel University (it’s on Fargo in Europe).
“I know it sounds strange,” Baren says. “But it’s backed by Ryko distribution, which is pretty much all we needed. We really wanted to be self-sufficient and not have to worry about anybody having control over our career.”
Finally free of corporate shackles, things are now finally looking up for the band. But what would Baren say to The Redwalls of 2003? “Go back to school,” he laughs. “No. Just that it takes a lot longer. There are a lot of ups and downs. But I really wouldn’t change anything. Being in a rock band is still the best fuckin’ job in the world.”
Universal Blues is out now on Fargo records.
The Redwalls were thwarted from using their original name The Pages by, of all people, 80s AOR band Mr. Mister (remember Broken Wings?)
“Capitol signed us, and then it transpired that Mr Mister had put out an early record of theirs on Capitol under the name The Pages,” Baren explains. “But it wasn’t a record that was still in circulation, that anybody knows about; it wasn’t The Rolling Stones No.2 or anything like that! It was Mr. Mister, which is a footnote to begin with.”
Cue a frantic search for a new moniker. “In the end we chose The Redwalls because if you stay in a red room for too long you’re supposed to go crazy. I don’t know, it doesn’t mean anything really. I just try and block that whole time off.”
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