By Peter Lindblad
There was a time when Brad Smith and Blind Melon had their pick of major record-label suitors. Hardly any of them are even in business anymore, and Smith has accepted the fact that the ones who are probably aren’t interested in courting Abandon Jalopy, the solo project he’s been carefully and quietly cultivating since the tragic death of charismatic Melon front man Shannon Hoon.
So, Smith has taken matters into his own hands. And that means all matters. As DIY as it gets, Abandon Jalopy released the deeply personal and highly accessible sophomore effort Death and Joy – the first AJ album, the earthy blend of psychedelia and folk-rock that was Mercy, came out in 2002 – on February 14, and Smith has been handling all the little details that a label would, including distribution.
That may soon change, as Death and Joy could be coming to a record store near you.
“Right now I’m just trying to arrange for some physical distribution,” revealed Smith. “I’ve gotten a bigger response from this record than I thought I would, to tell you the truth. So I have this friend who is kind of advising me; he’s not really managing me, but he’s a manager who I can bounce stuff off of. And we’re of the mind at this point that we should go for some physical distribution. It’s on iTunes. You can buy it from my web site. But there’s a company called … actually, there’s a few of them. There’s like Super D and Fontana, and Alliance. And we’re working on a distribution deal as we speak, actually, which is really great for me, because I can put out a few thousand pieces, and it’ll get into stores, so people can find it right next to the Blind Melon stuff.”
Not to mention that such an arrangement would free up Smith to do what he’s best at, and that is, making music. At the moment, when somebody buys the record off his web site, it’s Smith who takes care of all aspects related to supply chain management.
“I go out to the garage. I pack up my orders and go to the post office and mail them out,” said Smith. “And I was fine with that, but it’s getting a little out of hand. So I figured I’d bring somebody in and partner with a company, something like that. But right now, I’m a one-main show. I’m an independent artist doing it the way … well, really the only way it makes sense anymore, which is to build your own following as well as you can. The days of a record company coming in and financing your whole situation are kind of long gone, at least for me anyway.”
As for promotion, Smith’s frequent and targeted use of social media has paid off. “I’m on the social media sites every day, and to tell you the truth, that’s how I got this record as far as I have,” explains Smith. “I’ve already, basically recouped … I paid for the record myself. I’m completely independent. I don’t have a record deal. I don’t have a manager. I’m literally doing everything myself.”
Well, not quite everything – on hand to assist Smith, who took on vocal and bass duties for the album, were Blind Melon guitarists Christopher Thorn and Rogers Stevens and drummer Jimmy Paxson (who mans the kit for Stevie Nicks), as well as guitarist Kevin Haaland and a surprise vocalist, Hoon’s daughter Nico Blue, who sings on “Love Has a Way” (We’ll have more on Nico’s contributions later). A warm, engaging classic rock record flooded with pop sunshine and brimming with bittersweet, likeable melodies, Death and Joy is an eclectic treat that has an immediacy its predecessor didn’t. And while the vibe is relaxed and even celebratory at times, behind the weak smiling façade is a bit of ennui and some tough realizations, like those of “Black Cloud.”
“‘Black Cloud’ is basically about getting to a point in your life where you don’t really have a choice anymore,” said Smith. “Your parents, when you grow up … you can do anything you want to do. You have this blank canvas, but I’ve been in bands and writing songs for so long, I mean, I don’t really want to do anything else. And I kind of came to that realization that I didn’t want to do anything else, and that’s not necessarily good for you. Rock and roll killed one of my best friends in a strange way, through drug addiction and not giving him a break or a reprieve from just the craziness that is rock and roll. And when Blind Melon got back together, with Travis (Warren, who left and has since returned to Blind Melon), that was just laced with heartache and hard times, and ‘Black Cloud’ is one of those things where you’ve got to take the good with the band, and I kind of summed it up … I can’t remember if it’s the first verse or the second verse. It’s when I say, ‘I’ve got a crater outside my mind, but I don’t want to change.’ Basically, things aren’t exactly right in my head, but I really don’t want to do anything else, so I just have to take the good with the bad.”
Expect more news on touring and possible future Abandon Jalopy recordings in good time, and we’ll have plenty more on the new record and Smith’s days in Blind Melon coming soon.