Two Nashville-based acts emerge with albums on Disney imprint
By Noel Murray
NOVEMBER 8, 1999: Success in the music industry has always been a combination of hard work, connections, talent, and luck. So how's this for a tale of serendipity:
Rob Seidenberg, an A&R man for the Disney-owned Hollywood Records (and known around the office as the man who signed Fastball) met John Mark Painter of Nashville's Fleming & John a few years ago, when Painter did orchestrations for mutual friend Ben Folds on the Hollywood anthology Lounge-A-Palooza. The two remained in touch and developed enough of a friendship that Painter felt comfortable sending Seidenberg a demo of Rich Creamy Paint, a band fronted by his nephew Rich Painter. Seidenberg was impressed and flew to Nashville for the NEA Extravaganza to hear Rich Creamy Paint play live, even though he'd already decided to sign them.
While in Nashville for the show, the head of Hollywood's Latin music division, Cameron Randle, encouraged Seidenberg to see the band Big Kenny, whose frontman Kenny Alphin is a pal of Randle's. Seidenberg was knocked out and decided to sign Big Kenny as well. Now the city of Nashville is in the unusual position of having two upstart pop-rock bands stepping out with the muscle of the Walt Disney corporation pushing hard behind them.
First to the plate is Rich Creamy Paint, whose self-titled debut was released in mid-September. The band consists of Florida expatriate Rich Painter and several of his Belmont College classmates, all of whom are taking the semester off to go on their first real tour--high schools, colleges, clubs, and even a gig opening for a reunited Men at Work in Lancaster, Pa. Painter says that the Belmont administration has "been real supportive" of the musical sabbatical, adding, "It's cool with them for us to come back anytime."
Though RCP tours as a band, the record was recorded by Rich and his uncle John almost completely alone, during the younger Painter's freshman year of college. Rich Painter is 19 years old and has been making and taping his music (with the help of his dad's recording equipment) since he was a preteen. Rich says that the songs on the album are "not totally recent.... Some were written three or four years ago. I made an album for a girl. We broke up, and I made it for her, to try to get back together."
The ploy didn't play. "We were tryin' to be too old for what we were," Painter shrugs. Still, the results of young heartbreak live on as the songs "Telephone Number," "Fallen Star," and "Happy Days"--only the last of which has been substantially revised from its earlier incarnation.
Rich Painter says that he and Uncle John work by each "throwin' out ideas," and there is certainly evidence of the elder Painter's influence on RCP's eponymous debut. Fringing Rich's bash-and-pop approach are some of the trappings of Fleming and John's more baroque leanings--literal bells and whistles, as well as the occasional string section. More important, uncle helps nephew keep the guitars punchy and clean, which really adds to the impact of energized anthems like "You're a '10' " and "A.D.D."--two tunes that nicely balance Rich's blend of tender verses and brash, "nyaah, nyaah" choruses. It all comes together especially well on "You Make Me Laugh," a sweet paean to friendship that features a fist-pumping riff, gentle cooing, and the killer chorus, "I'm your Chris Farley/And you're my David Spade."
Big Kenny's debut album Live a Little also has a Big Rock sound, most of which was achieved by the bandleader alone. Crunchy guitars abound, as do Queen-like choral harmonies, orchestral strings, dance hall piano, whizzing machinery effects, varied percussion, and filtered vocals that sound like they were intercepted from an old radio broadcast. The results are decidedly theatrical, like some weird, cacophonous cabaret. It's unsure what Hollywood Records will choose as the first single--perhaps the largely straightforward "Trip," a charming love song with a pleasing guitar sheen and a conventionally lovely "la-la" chorus. If the label is bold, they'll go for "Cheater's Lament," a standout track that present's Big Kenny's operatic leanings with commendable gusto.
In his generous drawl, Kenny Alphin gushes that "I love to hear stuff in production. I think it can be big and still mean something." Pressed for influences, Alphin allows, "I love Queen, Meat Loaf. But I don't really know their music. We didn't own records when I was growing up."
Alphin came to Nashville five years ago from the farmlands of Culpepper, Va. Big Kenny has been playing out heavily for the past two years. When the band got to the point where it was consistently "packing out the Exit/In," Alphin decided to make a record. Despite the complicated-sounding arrangements and production on Live a Little, Alphin says that he and coproducer Gary Burnette tracked the record in three days and completed all the recording and mixing in two weeks. "At the time, I didn't have a record deal," Alphin says, by way of explaining the speed and thrift of the recording. "I thought I'd try to market it myself."
Instead, a fateful NEA slot, a favor to a friend, and the pursuit of another Nashville act intervened. Rob Seidenberg describes his enthusiasm for Big Kenny: "The moment I walked into the Exit/In, I thought, this is different. It's not four guys in jeans and T-shirts staring at the floor."
Hollywood Records is playing up that angle in its marketing of Big Kenny, describing the band as "Rock 'n' roll as it's supposed to be...exuberant...infectious... optimistic." The label spoofs rackjobbers by encouraging retailers to "File Under: Romantic Surrealism." When asked what that means, Alphin says, "I look at things a little bit different. I'm a firm believer in love. I think it can move mountains. I have no angst in my music."
But even with his bosses buzzing, Seidenberg says Hollywood is holding Big Kenny's record until early 2000. "We thought about putting it out in the fall," he says, "but there's no room this season. It's a very crowded world. You have to step back from your excitement and realize that nobody is really waiting for the Big Kenny album."
Alphin has no problem with the delay. "It is so great!" he exclaims, simply excited to have someone putting his record out. "We just weren't ready. We're not ready."
Hollywood is taking a slightly different approach to Rich Creamy Paint. Rob Seidenberg says that the RCP record went to market quick so that the band could build slowly. "Rich Creamy Paint is going to start off quieter," he says, "to get the experience." Seidenberg believes that signing RCP is "in the tradition of supporting an artist as he develops." He explains, "Not only is this a really strong album, but I want to know what happens when he's 22."
When told of Seidenberg's hunch, Rich Painter goes quiet momentarily before saying, "Everything I've done is a work in progress. I'm learning every day. My music is getting more mature, more emotional." He sighs, "Hopefully, Rob's right."
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