Grey Eye Glances:
singing for a song

An interview by Tom Knapp,
July 1999

Seagrams, the beverages giant, probably wasn't considering the impact buying Polygram International would have on one Philadelphia-area band. But Grey Eye Glances, signed with Mercury/Polygram Records, saw Mercury dissolve into a "maze of corporate divisions" called The Universal Music Group.

So the band -- known for its lush and evocative lyrics, crisp instrumentals and tight vocal harmonies -- began severing its ties to the ruins of Mercury. As members revealed in their online newsletter, "We had a good relationship with Mercury but feel this new mega-label environment is not the best place for GEG music. We are currently speaking with other labels. Labels that will be more interested in and supportive of our concerns; national touring, radio airplay, distribution, and most importantly, artistic control of our music."

The problem is, the infant Universal Music Group retains rights to GEG albums Eventide and Painted Pictures and all the songs they contain. "This means that these albums will no longer be available, and Universal will prevent us from distributing or re-recording any of our songs from these two records," the newsletter explained. "For example, this past spring we recorded many of our most popular songs for a live album. Sad to say, we can't release this album unless we are able to re-acquire the rights to our songs from The Universal Music Group."

That leads to the big concern: money. The band has been negotiating with UMG to purchase back its music at a "somewhat manageable figure," but music -- even when it's your own -- doesn't sell cheaply.

"It's overwhelming," said GEG bassist Eric O'Dell. "We're basically starving artists with no way to buy them back." The deal with UMG, he said, will require a six-digit pay-out -- a low number by industry standards but still beyond the means of the band.

So they hit upon a plan: Turn to the fans for their assistance. So Grey Eye Glances has released a limited edition catalogue of band specials at debt-busting rates. The response, despite the high cost of the specialty items, has been tremendous, O'Dell said. "We got a lot of response, and a lot of feedback," he said. "We got five figures in the first day."

The special catalogue, released through the band's regular and online mailing lists, includes several "souvenir" items as well as a few collections of unreleased GEG material. For instance, a $50 contribution to the cause buys the donor an album of songs written since Painted Pictures and never released, including studio versions of "Big Red Boat," "Even," "Moonlight" and others. For $75, donors get an album of unreleased material from the band's pre-Mercury days, including "Calm Through the Thunder," "Pirate Song," "The Last Time" (a.k.a. "The Banjo Song"), the acoustic version of "Let it Go" and others. Both albums are signed, dated and numbered by the band, and a $100 donation buys them both.

Other donations include $60 for two GEG t-shirts; $250 for both CDs, two t-shirts and a special live double CD "complete with restarts, glitches, and all the joking and fun that normally accompanies a GEG show" from their spring concert recordings; $500 for all of the live and studio CDs and shirts, plus advance copies of all future GEG albums; and $1,000 for all the CDs, shirts and advances, plus a lifetime pass for two to GEG shows. Oh, and any donation of $49.99 or less gets an autographed band photo. All can be ordered by calling the band toll-free at 877-916-5862.

The band was fortunate enough to have 7,000 fans on a GEG mailing list. About 2,000 of them are on an online list, O'Dell noted, so contacting them with offers and updates was fairly easy.

"If we can make this work, we're in really great shape," he said. "We got national exposure with Mercury. ... We would have sole custody of our work and the master recordings. We already have three independent albums; it would be really easy just to add two more to the catalogue." A much-anticipated live album is already in the can, he added. "It just needs a little love and remixing" before it's ready for release.

In the meantime, O'Dell and his bandmates -- currently consisting of lead singer/guitarist Jennifer Nobel, singer/keyboardist Dwayne Keith, guitarist Brett Kull and drummer Paul Ramsey -- are putting all their energy and resources into touring and hitting the open market for another label interested in signing them.

"You always hope for the best," O'Dell said. "We thought we'd be on Mercury forever. ... It's like getting married. You don't go into it thinking this is going to be my first wife."

However, there were rifts in the relationship even before the Seagrams buyout. "We weren't happy anyway," O'Dell admitted. "Pictures didn't get much promotion from Mercury. We didn't think it would be that way. So now we're just keeping moving. We're working like dogs, recording a lot of new stuff. ... It's kind of an odd time."

The silver lining, he added, is GEG's "really loyal fan base."

"People from all over the world are supporting us," he said. "We got a guy from the Netherlands calling to give us money. It's kinda neat, and it fuels our fire."

[ by Tom Knapp ]