Miami singer/songwriter Arlan Feiles says he's made an album he believes in -- one that accurately represents the tough and gritty new sound of the former Natural Causes frontman. Problem is, his label doesn't want it.
More than a year after he inked a deal with Island Records, Feiles fears he's about to be dropped by the company. They've refused to release the album he turned in about four months ago -- a thirteen-song collection of Feiles originals produced by soul music veteran Tom Dowd (Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge) that was to be titled Troubled Monkey and released in June.
John Vlautin, Island's vice president of media relations in New York City, will neither confirm nor deny Feiles's suspicions that he's going to be bounced from the label. "Officially, the word is that his album is on hold," Vlautin explains. "There is no release date for it, but it's still on our to-be-scheduled list. Beyond that I really can't say any more."
(An offhand remark made by one of the label's PR reps lends credence to Feiles's complaint that Island execs don't care much about him: "Arlan?," said the female flack somewhat quizzically when asked who was handling publicity for Feiles. "God, I don't know. Is anyone working him now?")
"I wasn't happy with the attention I was getting -- or wasn't getting," Feiles grumbles. "You start to get a hint that things are turning bad when people don't call you back or when money doesn't come in when you think it should. It's obvious that they have no intention of going forward with the record."
Why? Feiles hasn't a clue. "I don't know what they wanted," he states, equally bemused and frustrated. "I know they were quick to sign me and they knew that I'm an individual artist who's not going to fit into some kind of basic mainstream structure. If they didn't know that about me, you'd think they wouldn't have signed me. I mean, you sign a deal and you expect that everybody knows who you are and what you do. In retrospect it wasn't like that at all. Not one person from the label even came to see me play after they signed me, except for Joe."
"Joe" would be Joe Galdo, an in-house producer and A&R rep for Island who lives in Miami and has been Feiles's main -- if not only -- supporter at the label. Like Feiles, Galdo is baffled by Island's lack of interest: "I was told by [Island president] Chris Blackwell that people at the company aren't getting behind the record. I have no idea why. Why do some people like brunettes and some people like blondes? People at the label just aren't feeling it. The promotion people who work the press and radio just aren't behind it."
This isn't the first time Feiles has had a record deal dangled in front of him, only to have it snatched away. Both Atlantic and Epic had courted Natural Causes, who recorded a demo for the former and a live-in-the-studio album for the latter. Both labels, however, passed on the group, which broke up near the end of 1994. Although Island currently owns the master tapes to Troubled Monkey, Galdo is hoping to move Feiles to Mercury Records, which, like Island, is owned by the huge PolyGram company.
"If an artist on one label gets a thumbs-down but there's another label under the PolyGram umbrella that's interested, we can take the artist to them," Galdo explains, adding that if the Mercury deal works out, the label could purchase the Troubled Monkey tapes from Island and release the album. If that doesn't happen, Galdo will keep shopping the tapes. Feiles, meanwhile, is eager to leave town for more hospitable geographic digs and a contract with a label that cares.
"Basically, the record business is fucked," Feiles claims. "It's just how they work these days. They sign a lot of acts and they're going to push a couple and let the others fall to the side. I'm not one of those priority artists. I don't think there are any big number-one hits on my album, but it's definitely radio-friendly. I'm not embarrassed by it. I guess I'm just not the average everyday rock and roll player: I'm not an alternative cat or a punk-rock guy or a hippy; I'm not bluesy enough or not poppy enough or whatever. It's like I'm not enough of anything for anybody."
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Before he formed the rock en espa¤ol group El Duende, and before he wrote songs about Achilles and bird men for the bands Halo and Picasso Trigger, Oscar Herrera was a makeup-wearing dandy who fronted the Sleep of Reason, Miami's early-Eighties entry into the poufy world of the New Romantics. During its four years together, the quintet performed and toured locally and nationally, releasing one eponymously titled EP in 1984 before calling it quits a year later.
That EP, as well as some unreleased studio material and a live show recorded at a 1985 concert in Cocoa Beach, has been compiled on A Logical End, a Sleep of Reason retrospective issued on Relic, a division of the Chicago-based Projekt label (home of gloom merchants such as Attrition and Thanatos). The lengthy, thirteen-track set recalls a genre of Euro-crazed American rock popular back then: tinny guitars smeared in echo, mechanical dance beats, and icy, detached voices delivering icy, detached lyrics such as "Throngs by the thousands step down through the stairs/Only to find that the shelter's melted there!" (from "Shelters Are Melting," a local hit off the group's EP).
"We were the oddballs in Miami," admits Herrera, 34, of the Reason, whose fashion sense was defined by black clothing, black eyeliner, and lots and lots of mousse and hair spray. "At the time people here thought you should sound like where you're from, but we were drawing from Bauhaus, David Bowie, Joy Division, U2. Our music was very European and had lots of Russian and Latin and Arabic influences. Musically, I was always drawn to more theatrical type stuff, things that were really over-the-top. And we were heavily made up, while everyone else was dressed like Charlie Pickett or punk rockers. Everyone called us Swiss Family Robinson because we wore so many layers of clothing."
The Sleep of Reason disbanded in 1985, owing to both the standard conflicts of personality and Herrera's decision to put his music career on hold when his wife became pregnant. "Musically and popularity-wise, the band was doing well," he remembers. "Internally, though, things weren't going so well. Our guitarist [Kevin Janosky] wanted to move in a more pop direction, but I wanted to keep it all artsy. I still like some of those songs very much. The songs from the EP, especially, are some of the best things I've ever done.