by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Here’s another Throwback Thursday from the Lazy-i vault. From 10 years ago, to be exact. The first two paragraphs are the blog intro, followed by the column, which also was printed in The Reader. Seems like only yesterday. Lean back and enjoy this music history lesson…
Lazy-i: The Faint headed to American? – March 22, 2006
Let me take a moment to reiterate my policy regarding rumors — I don’t print ’em. Now, a certain promoter in town does not agree with this assessment — he calls me a “gossip columnist,” which is fine since he doesn’t know what I’m calling him behind his back (just kidding). Look, I hear more than my share of rumors on any given night at the bar, club or venue, but I don’t publish any of them unless I get some sort of official verification about their truthfulness. At which case, it ain’t a rumor no more. To a large part, I depend on people passing me information, and they do so with confidence that 1) I’m not going to reveal my sources unless they want to be revealed, and 2) I’m not going to print anything until someone is willing to verify the information “on the record.” Consider it my own, personal Woodward & Bernstein clause. So when I heard rumors about The Faint leaving Saddle Creek five or six weeks ago, I sat on the story because no one would comment “on the record.” Meanwhile, everyone short of the late Mayor Ed Zorinsky let me know all about it “on the down low.”
Why has this rumor become so pervasive? I think because there’s a tremendous amount of concern as to what it could mean to Saddle Creek and the Omaha music scene if it becomes a reality. The Faint, Cursive and Bright Eyes are the holy triumvirate that has made the label what it is today. There was a similar level of concern a few years ago when rumors began circulating that Cursive was breaking up (a deep throat fed me that tidbit weeks before it become public as well). Different bitter factions may snipe endlessly about how much they don’t like the label or its bands, but at the end of the conversation, they always punctuate it with a statement like, “regardless, I admire what they’ve accomplished, it’s been good for the Omaha music scene as a whole.” Everyone wants Saddle Creek to succeed — there’s nothing but upside to their continued prosperity. So when word of a breakup or defection gets hung on the grapevine, brows furrow and anxiety ensues that perhaps a turnaround in Omaha’s good fortune may be in the offing. If this becomes a reality and contracts are indeed signed, I see downside for some, upside for others and hope in the fact that The Faint are investing a lot of time and money in facilities right here in river city. The band is putting down roots even though they could live anywhere in the country that they wish.
Column 69 — Not for The Faint of Heart
Is one of Saddle Creek’s biggest bands flying the coop?
Omaha is a very small town. And once a rumor gets traction — any traction — there’s no slowing it down. We are a species of gossips and information whores, constantly on the look-out for hot scoop (or poop, in some cases). Information isn’t power in Omaha, information is the new smack that forces those locked in the music scene to stumble around for their next fix.
There was plenty of smack on the streets last weekend in the form of a rumor that The Faint, one of the holy triad of Saddle Creek Records’ bands, is leaving their home-town label for greener pastures. Specifically pastures fed and watered by hip-hop guru and professional turn-around artist Rick Rubin.
I could not grab a beer at any bar without someone leaning in and whispering, “I’ve got a lu-lu. But you didn’t hear it from me,” then saying that The Faint are not only sniffing around, but have already signed a deal with American Recordings and are flying Rubin to Omaha in a silver dart to begin recording sessions post haste at The Faint’s swank new rehearsal space.
It wasn’t exactly fresh news. I had heard about it five weeks ago, maybe more. A well-connected deep throat sent me an e-mail with a single sentence: “The Faint are leaving Saddle Creek.” It sounded like shit to me. The band has been solid all around with the label from day one; no one’s held up the Saddle Creek banner higher. Whenever it came press time, the Baechle brothers were always first in line with a faithful quote. “Why would we leave when we got it so good here? You think we’re stupid?”
But my source had never been wrong. Never. Every bit of info no matter how lame-brained always proved solid. Even when I thought it was pure cockamamie, asking around always came up diamonds. But this seemed too big.
I immediately asked Creek about the rumor, but got zilch back on the record. Weeks went by with nothing new from the grapevine. Deep Throat was swollen shut. Then out of the blue a week ago, I got another tip from a different source. Same story. More details. This time Rick Rubin was mentioned by name along with his record label, American Recordings, home of Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond and Slayer. By last weekend it was all over the streets; it was just a matter of time until I’d read it in the World-Herald, until it was old news.
Calls and e-mail to a member of The Faint went unreturned. No surprise there. So I tried Saddle Creek again, figuring label executives Robb Nansel and Jason Kulbel would be too busy schmoozing at South by Southwest to reply. Lo and behold, Nansel clarified the rumor. “They have not signed anything with American,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Not sure if they will. They are still talking to them, but that is all at this point.”
Nansel went on to write that Rubin has indeed expressed interest in working on the band’s new record, “but I don’t know that he ever expressed doing that in Omaha, let alone at their space.”
What’s in it for Saddle Creek? One story had it that negotiations were under way to compensate the label for its years of support, promotion, and all the other benefits. Apparently not.
“We are not negotiating any compensation with the band,” Nansel wrote. “We have briefly discussed different ways we could/could not be involved with their future records (assuming they don’t end up on Saddle Creek). (We) have not come to any agreement on whether we would be involved at all or not.”
None of this can be a complete surprise to Nansel or anyone at the label. It’s only a matter of time until one of their biggest acts leaves the nest. There are limits to the meaning of the word “loyalty” in the rock and roll business, especially when millions of dollars are at stake. The Faint have had offers before, but always turned them down. Something else must be driving this new level of interest beyond cash.
So, if it’s all true, why isn’t Nansel pissed? “The possibility of a band leaving has always been there,” he wrote. “The bands will ultimately make a well-informed decision about what is in their best interest. We will support their decision regardless of what it is, and hope that all parties are satisfied at the end of the day. Certainly (we) would not be pissed.”
But what would it mean if The Faint does leave the label? How would it financially impact Saddle Creek, especially during a time when so much of the label’s money is tied up in a new, untried venture — the Slowdown entertainment complex slated to begin construction this week just a couple blocks west of The Qwest Center? Nansel didn’t say. Maybe it’s too early to speculate. After all, Elvis hasn’t left the building… yet. — Lazy-i March 22, 2006
* * *
Well, for whatever reason, The Faint didn’t go to American Recordings or work with Rick Ruben on their next record, but they did leave Saddle Creek. Their next album, 2008’s Fasciinatiion, was released on their own blank.wav label.
Some point to the The Faint’s departure from Saddle Creek as the beginning of the record label’s decline. Fact is, no one expected The Faint, Bright Eyes or Cursive to stay on a small label like Saddle Creek forever. All signs pointed to The Big Three eventually flying to the majors. In the end, only The Faint stepped out on the label. Bright Eyes stayed with Saddle Creek (though Conor Oberst struck out on his own), while Cursive never left the nest. And all three continue living happily ever after.
As for Saddle Creek, the label had a great year in 2015, and with new records by The Thermals and new addition Big Thief on the way, things continue looking up…
* * *
Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2016 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.