A Frequency To Change My Mind

The granite buildings of Omaha were glowing orange in the sunset. Smitty, Mike, Jason and I were racing to The Sokol Underground for my opening set.

“I’ve never seen so many radio towers,” I said.

“Broadcasting so little,” Jason said.

The Nadas spend plenty of time transversing the highways and byways of Middle America. It’s no wonder, then, that their bus is equipped with XM Radio. Why? ‘Cuz broadcast is a corrupt, wheezing beast. As Jason sings on the title track from the band’s forthcoming LP, “Listen Through The Static,” radio is “bought and paid for every hour on the hour.”

Reference the recent FCC investigation into the age-old practice of payola. Wanna’ get your song on the radio? How much you got? An anonymous label employee complained about the cost of a few spins in an intercepted e-mail to a higher-up: “Two weeks ago, it cost us over $4,000 to get Franz on WKSE.”

Fortunately, the time and technology has never been better for grass roots distribution. With a few emails, a few links, and a little elbow grease, a guy like me, or a band like The Nadas, can get our music heard from Anchorage to Amsterdam. And thanks to Internerd, we can sneak in the back door of the major download services. Or, if you’re The Nadas, the front door.

Jason, Mike and I were sitting at Hi-Life on the Upper West a few months ago. The guys had flown out to play some shows in the Northeast. I’m not sure the tour was going quite as they’d hoped. Mike was on his third whiskey. We were talking about “Static,” and puzzling out ways for a coupla’ guys to get their music out there. “Dudes,” I said, “Put a cover on iTunes. Worked for me.”

My Uncle Bill suggested years and years ago that I record cover songs. Now, you gotta’ know the guy: super-savvy, super-corporate, super-cool guy. He played drums in high school, so he gets what I’m doing and always encourages me. Still, I was resistant. I’d always performed covers in my live sets as a way to demonstrate my influences: REM, Pixies, Kim Wilde. Still, I don’t want to cheese out.

It wasn’t until recording a countrified version of “Here Comes Your Man” for “Crash Site” that I really embraced the idea. And it wasn’t until my music popped up on iTunes that I could see the value of the idea. People were looking for “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and finding me. then the dug in, and found, ‘Heck, this guy’s all right.’ You’ll find Pixies, Phil Collins, and John Denver covers there now. Within the next few months, live versions of REM, Wilco, and George Harrison will be available on iTunes. And I cover Matthew Sweet and The Nadas themselves on my forthcoming CD, “Heartland.”

The Nadas “Listen Through The Static” EP hit iTunes today. It’s a four song, acoustic collection of tunes from the new record: the title track, “The Worst Place I’ve Been,” “Templeton Rye,” and “Lullaby.” They played it for me and told me the back story on all the tunes en route to Kansas City (including pouring me a shot of the rye). It’s recorded it in Jon’s basement specifically for iTunes. Apparently they couldn’t quite rally around which cover song to record. Doesn’t really matter. It’s perfect as is.

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