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Band Plays Its Australian Wild Card : Exude Hopes to Go Over Big Down Under

May 15, 1988|MIKE BOEHM

When he went to have his fortune told a year ago, Frank Rogala, struggling rock singer, saw the fall of the Tarot cards and heard the psychic's strange prediction.

"She said, 'I see a lot of success for you, but first you'll have to go across the ocean. I see mountains. I see lakes.' "

It was an intriguing thought, but Rogala didn't feel the need to rush off and make sure his passport was in order. He and his Orange County-based techno-pop band, Exude, already had seen enough of the music business's sobering realities to resist any flights of fancy.

Rather than put their faith in a prophecy about foreign lands, the four members of Exude methodically set about building grass-roots support by sending their self-financed records to college radio stations in the United States.

Rogala couldn't help but think back on his visit to the Gypsy as he and the rest of Exude gathered recently for an interview at his home in Anaheim.

On Monday, capping a series of events so unlikely that it verges on the bizarre, Exude will release a single and a video--in Australia. If all goes according to plan, Rogala soon will cross the ocean to make a round of promotional appearances in Sydney. Success for Exude is hardly guaranteed, but if it does come, it will make for one of the most improbable and delightful show-biz fairy-tales in a long time.

If so, the role of good genie will belong to a 23-year-old music industry novice named Kent Pickering. He came across Exude by pure chance while shopping for novelty records in a Sydney import shop.

Without having seen Exude and without having met any of its members, Pickering made the curious decision to stake the success of his fledgling Australian record company on this virtually unknown act that no label in the United States cared to sign.

Moreover, Exude members say the deal that Pickering made to market their music in Australia was exceedingly generous--a windfall for a band that, in nearly a decade of trying, had known little else but debt.

Before Kent Pickering called from Australia in November, Exude had seen sudden strokes of good luck, but each one had ended in a letdown. Frank Rogala and his younger brother Vince started the band in 1978 in their hometown of Mackinaw City, Mich.--a north country hamlet of 800 citizens where, according to Vince, "the ice freezes 5 inches thick in the winter."

In 1980, while visiting relatives in Los Angeles, Frank saw a newspaper ad soliciting tapes from unsigned rock bands. The production company that had placed the ad was impressed by Exude's brand of synthesizer-based techno pop, which blends elements of progressive rock finesse with a heavy, R&B-inflected dance beat.

In Exude's first big break, the producers brought the Rogala brothers to Los Angeles to make a record. In the band's first big letdown, the production company went out of business before the album was finished.

The Rogala brothers and Robin Canada, the Newport Beach keyboard player they had recruited into the band, kept Exude going and began work on a new record. Early in 1984, during a break in recording, Frank Rogala whipped up a Cyndi Lauper parody called "Boys Just Want to Have Sex."

Frank Rogala sent a tape to KROQ-FM, which jumped on the song and helped it become a novelty hit. He estimates that "Boys Just Want to Have Sex," released on an EP that also included a remake of "Chattanooga Choo Choo," sold 200,000 copies. But to get the rights to release the parody, he said, Exude first had to agree to a high royalty demanded by the publishers of the original Lauper song. By the time Exude finished paying off the publisher's share, Rogala said, the band was left with $2,000 profit--and an unwanted reputation as a novelty act.

In 1986, Exude was ready to reverse that impression with its first album, "Play With the Boys." The album avoided parody and showed an ability to weave such serious issues as sexual responsibility and drug abuse into clever, danceable songs.

The music featured Frank Rogala's breathily theatrical singing in settings that sometimes echoed bands such as the Cars and Roxy Music.

Exude was counting on Greenworld, a Torrance-based record distributorship, to get "Play With the Boys" to radio stations and record stores. Instead, Greenworld went out of business and Exude's albums sat in a warehouse, frozen assets in a prolonged bankruptcy proceeding.

For Exude, stymied by another bad break, it was a time to reconsider whether the music business was worth the aggravation.

"Somehow we all saw it through and decided we were going to stay," Canada said. In light of past letdowns, Exude decided to take a do-it-yourself approach, recording as funds allowed, approaching the American labels with each new release and trying to cultivate a following on college radio. The theory, Vince Rogala said, is that "some guy who's a college programmer now may be working for a record company two years from now. We're getting our stuff out there."

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