by Steve Stav, for Rock Paper Scissors, Seattle, 2001.
To tell the truth, in the music business, every silver lining has a dark cloud lurking nearby – and the difference between a band succeeding and folding up their tent and going home comes down to how they weather the storm.
In 1998, Seattle’s Second Coming got the industry’s attention with their sludgy-yet-bombastic brand of hard rock – a revved-up, intense echo of this town almost ten years before. A bidding war ensued, and before Travis Bracht (vocals, guitar), James Bergstrom (drums), Dudley Taft (guitar) and Yanni "Johnny" Bacolas (bass) knew it, they were signed to one of the most prestigious labels in the world – Capitol Records.
Their self-titled major-label debut garnered critical acclaim and won over thousands of listeners; Second Coming had a slot on the "X Games" tour, the V.A.S.T. tour, the ’99 Marilyn Manson tour, and even had a song ("Unknown Rider") on the Sixth Sense soundtrack. Then, nothing. No one has heard a peep out of the band for awhile – rumor had it that the band was caught up in litigation with Capitol, and that their follow-up CD was on indefinite hold.
Perhaps emboldened by last month’s local shows with Queensryche (whose guitarist/producer, Kelly Gray, co-produced the Second Coming disc) and a wild solo gig at the Catwalk, Bracht and Bacolas decided earlier this week – in an often-heated, often-hilarious, obscenity-laced torrent of words – to spill the beans. In the following interview, they reveal the details of their battle with Capitol, of their as-yet-untitled forthcoming album (again co-produced by Gray), and of the "amicable" departure of Taft, well-known in Seattle for his previous involvement in Sweetwater.
SS: Actually, I didn’t know anything about Second Coming before today – I had heard the name tossed around a few times when I was writing for the Rocket, but that’s about it…
Bracht: At least you’re not blowin’ smoke, dude – "You guys are fucking great!" - it’s nice not to hear that, for a change.
SS: Anyway, I made a few calls, and everyone I talked to asked me what the hell happened to you guys. So, what the hell happened? Did Capitol do a number on your band, or what?
Bracht: Well, it’s the big "surprise, surprise’ story that you hear all the time – the changing of the guard. We got picked up by Capitol, by Gary Gersh, who was their President at the time. He had come out over a Passover weekend for our CD release party, and then they fought their asses off against Columbia to sign us.
We went with them because we liked Gary – we liked his style, he had a good track record, he had a really good team with him. He was a really well-trusted guy, one of the most down-to-earth guys in the business – we found that out after meeting a bunch of ‘em.
Anyway, after about six months after we got signed – we got a really good deal – there was a mutual split between him and Seagram’s(?), who I believe still owns Capitol. Once Gary left the office, his people followed him, so to speak – so it was definitely a changing of the guard. Out with the good, in with the bad was basically our situation – you get these replacements who haven’t heard of your band, and who couldn’t care less about you. We slipped through the cracks…all I know is that we toured for two years, busting our ass…
Bacolas: We were playing six nights a week.
Bracht: We upheld our part of the bargain, and Capitol dropped the ball. A new President came in – Roy Lott – and basically flushed us down the toilet. (Note: EMI executive Lott was filling in as interim Capitol President; Andy Slater is now Capitol’s President/CEO.)
SS: When did Capitol finally pull the plug?
Bacolas: They really didn’t pull the plug…
Bracht: We pulled the plug on them. I’m not going to get into the details, but they breached our contract…the bottom line is that we came out with clothes on our backs. We walked away with some money…
Bacolas: We settled with them.
Bracht: We came out on top. We got the right to our music back…everything in the building (Capitol’s offices in L.A.) with the name ‘Second Coming’ on it went back to us.
SS: Well, that’s good.
Bracht: Yeah, I don’t feel like this was a failure at all – I feel very fortunate. This shit happens all the time. We’ve seen the good side of the business, and the shitty side of the business, and we’re smarter now. We’re pickin’ up the ball and running with it again. It took a long time, because all of that legal shit – all of that red tape, is fuckin’ sick. ‘Forget about being a musician for the next two years’ is what we should have told ourselves in the beginning.
Bacolas: They had us in a legal vacuum for about two years. $30,000-plus in attorney fees later…
Bracht: I went into this thing without a lick of legal knowledge – I didn’t even know what a paralegal was. I’m fuckin’ Perry Mason now, I could go in and get O.J. off. (This elicits about 30 seconds of hysterical laughter from Bacolas and I SS). You really learn a lot…we finally settled this thing with Capitol, and we’ve been cleanin’ house. It’s like baseball or any other sport – if your players aren’t performing, you get rid of ‘em and find some players who can. It’s the same thing…after the Series, whoever wasn’t a contender has to look at their staff and make changes. We’re building all over again, and we’ve done it before. Just like Lou Piniella – he had the knowledge, he just needed the tools. We’re in the same kind of position – it’s just a matter of time before we get our fuckin’ Ichiro.
Bacolas: (chuckling) That would be in the form of a (label) president.
SS: I read an article on how you blew away Jon Crosby on the V.A.S.T. tour. How did you get that weird gig?
Bracht: This was when things were starting to change. You could feel the repercussions from the West Coast all the way to the East Coast, where we were trapped. We went from playing gigs with bands that it made sense to play with to headlining for some fuckin’ local bands in Toledo on a Sunday night. Then there was the V.A.S.T. thing…
SS: Do you have your second album in the can?
Bacolas: Half of it. Half of it has been recorded and mixed, the other half is in pre-production.
SS: Is Dudley Taft on the first half?
Bracht: No, absolutely not. Dudley’s not on any of it.
SS: When did you start recording?
Bacolas: We started recording in May. We were in pre-production before that; prior to that, we were dealing with a new guitar player, on top of all this legal bullshit.
SS: Initially, you paid for your first record’s production. Are you paying for the second CD as well?
Bacolas: That’s correct. This is all coming out of our pockets.
Bracht: The only difference now is that we don’t have to play in a cover band at night to pay for it. (The members of Second Coming once moonlighted as a cover band called FTA — Funding The Album — to pay for the disc that would later be reissued by Capitol)
SS: Tell me about your new guitarist, Eric Snyder.
Bracht: Eric’s a stud. I can’t say enough about the guy. Eric’s more my kind of guitar player than Dudley is. Dudley wasn’t in the game for the Super Bowl…he was set, financially, and he wasn’t hungry like we were. Unfortunately, we didn’t find this out until the very end, when I had my hands around his fuckin’ neck.
SS: How did you recruit Snyder?
Bacolas: I came across a demo, by chance, of a local band that Eric was in. I played it for Travis one afternoon, and didn’t tell him who it was, because I knew Travis used to know him. He listened to the song and said, ‘Great song, killer guitarist – who is it?’ I told him, and Travis remembered him. We called Eric the same day. The rest is history.
Bracht: Yanni was getting threats over the phone from Eric’s old band…
Bacolas: They were pissed.
Bracht: Eric’s style is great – less is more. And he’s as hungry as we are.
SS: Where is your headquarters now?
Bracht: Our office and rehearsal space is in the basement of James’ parents’ house. The band’s been jamming down there forever, even before I came around.
Bacolas: It’s a comfortable environment – we have a pool, a sound-proofed room, an office – it’s nice.
Bracht: It’s huge. After we got signed, we thought of going somewhere else, but this place is free, it’s old-school, and we like it.
SS: How is the new album going to sound, compared to your last one?
Bracht: A lot harder.
Bacolas: A lot heavier. The guitars are really brought up in the mix.
SS: Second Coming made such a big impression on the industry – and you’ve said that you made some friends in the business. Is one of these ‘friends’ going to help you get this next record out?
Bacolas: We have a lot of contacts at various labels. A lot of labels have inquired as to what’s going on…we’ve been silent until we had the music where we wanted it. We’re getting ready to shop the band now…there’s still a lot of people around – here and elsewhere – who believe in us.
Bracht: And that’s really cool. Getting props from your hometown is the ultimate compliment. When we first started, we thought the town was pretty jaded – there was a lot of alternative bands – a lot of ‘Harvey Dangers’. We didn’t fit that mold, the ‘107.7’ crowd…we were kind of shuffled over to the KISW crowd, and that was kind of fading out.
Seattle was a tough town after the grunge thing went down, but now it’s very culturally diverse. We played a lot of great towns while we were on the road for so long, but we kept thinking, ‘There’s no place like home.’ Now that we’re making a comeback, it’s so good to know that we still have fans here.
Originally published in Rock Paper Scissors, Seattle, Sept. 2001.
copyright 1997-2011, Steve Stav