ANNUAL MANUAL- Two-way: Red Light takes the fork with Parachute, S.O.B.
Two years after they burst onto the Charlottesville music scene, both Parachute and Sons Of Bill are both on their way toward achieving dreams of making a living from the craft they love. In each case, some of the success is due to Red Light Management, the Charlottesville company owned by Coran Capshaw to manage Dave Matthews Band, whose client list now includes everyone from country superstar Tim McGraw to legendary jam band Phish. Capshaw signed both Parachute [then Sparky's Flaw] and Sons Of Bill in 2007, with the hopes of taking both young groups to new heights.
However, with Parachute's debut CD Losing Sleep hitting high on the Billboard Top 200 album chart in its first week in stores and Sons Of Bill's sophomore album One Town Away ready to hit record shelves nationwide on Tuesday, June 23, it's become clear that one size does not fit all in the House of Capshaw. Indeed, when it comes to navigating these two local bands to succcess, Red Light has— with apologies to Yogi Berra— taken the fork in the road.
In the case of Parachute, when the band signed with Red Light in 2007, the appeal as a radio-friendly, MTV-ready group in the vein of pop rockers like Maroon 5, Snow Patrol, and the Fray was immediately evident to several record companies. Even before Parachute became a client, Red Light exec Bruce Flohr told the Hook in the 2007 "Under the Radar and Dreaming" issue, "I'm getting phone calls from people from record companies asking me what I know about them, and we don't even work with them yet."
By the end of the year, band manager Chris Sampson had inked a deal for them with Mercury Records-Island/Def Jam, part of Universal Music Group.
"When we told [Mecury-Island/DefJam] that graduating from college was a priority for the band and that they had to do that first, they understood," says Sampson. "Right then, we knew they were right for us."
According to Parachute frontman Will Anderson, the Universal subsidiary stayed true to its word and didn't pressure the group into churning out an album before it was ready
"We had time to make the record, and we had time to grow our fanbase," says Anderson. "By the time we put out the album, we already had strong word-of-mouth."
Part of the buzz came from a partnership with Nivea skin care products to use the band's songs "She Is Love" and "Under Control" in a television ad campaign, just as Nivea had helped propel Welsh R&B singer Duffy, says Sampson.
The television exposure helped Losing Sleep shoot to #1 on the iTunes Music Chart a week before general release, driving the album to #39 on the Billboard albums chart before it was put on a bricks-and-mortar store shelf.
Sons Of Bill has no illusions of achieving such stellar sales numbers when its album One Town Away goes nationwide next week, but according to lead singer and rhythm guitarist James Wilson, that's the idea.
"We don't fit into categories neatly," says Wilson. "You're not going to see us on MTV, but you're not going to see us on CMT either."
Where the band does fit, according to S.O.B. manager Kim Kaechle, is in a small, sweaty club with a couple hundred new friends.
"Our meat is road sales," says Kaechle. "Of all the bands I've worked with, on average if they play for 1,000 people, you might sell 120 copies of the CD. When Sons Of Bill plays for 300 people, they sell 100. I've never seen anything like it."
So seeking to allow her clients to keep control of the making and selling of their music as well as the proceeds from selling the CDs at the show, Kaechle reached out not to a record label, but a Nashville-based company called Thirty Tigers.
"I'm sure they wouldn't call themselves this, but they're sort of like a ‘diet label,'" explains Kaechle. "They do the nuts and bolts of what a label does like distribution, publicity, film and television licensing, but allow the band to retain the rights to the recordings in exchange for a small percentage of the sales."
While most up-and-coming bands would love to have a major label promotion apparatus without having to forego a major label cut of the profits, Sons Of Bill was in the rare position of already having already finished One Town Away. According to Wilson, this was less a product of design than of luck.
"We really wanted to work with Jim Scott," says Wilson. "He produced Tom Petty's Wildflowers album, and he'd worked with a lot of our other favorites like Wilco and Johnny Cash, and we just felt like he could get the sound we were going for."
So the band sent a rough demo off to Scott in the fall of 2008, hoping to hear back. To say the least, Scott liked what he heard.
"He told us that he had about a month before he was going to Chicago to mix the new Wilco record, and could we come out to California," recalls Wilson. "A week later, we were on a plane."
Within a week, the band had laid down all 12 tracks for One Town Away, and by the end of 2008, they had a readymade product.
"We had the mixing done, we had the artwork, everything," says Kaechle. "So a lot of the things a major label does we already had done."
Time will tell how high Sons Of Bill's slow climb will take the group, but earlier this month, the group got a promising sign when they impressed many industry heavy hitters at the Bonnaroo Music Festival– the annual Tennessee outdoor concert fest of which Capshaw is a partial owner.
"They were on one of the smaller stages in the early part of the day," says Kaechle, "but they got a great response from fans and all the music industry people who were there. Speaking for myself, they melted my face off."
According to Sampson, Sons Of Bill's track to the big time might seem divergent from the one he's taken with Parachute, but that they're both indicative of the same management principle.
"You have to surround the band with a team who believes in them," says Sampson. "If you're at a major label and nobody in that building cares about you, it's not going to work."