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Jimmy Iovine Is Hot on the Trail of Dead

October 28, 2001|STEVE HOCHMAN

Jimmy Iovine isn't normally one to keep quiet about acts he's working with. From his days as an engineer (John Lennon's "Rock 'n' Roll" sessions with Phil Spector) through his production career (Patti Smith, Tom Petty) to his current role as chairman of Interscope Records, he's one of the most visible figures in the music business.

But he's stayed under the radar with his latest signing, a Texas quartet with the unwieldy though provocative name ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead.

Don't look for that position to change too much with the November release of the band's first Interscope EP and February arrival of a full album. Known in recent years for full-court-press strategies associated with Eminem and Limp Bizkit, Interscope will instead play it fairly low-key with Trail of Dead--a band whose feedback-drenched sound and reputation for kinetic mayhem onstage (fans are occasionally brained by flying guitars) offer plenty of opportunities for media exploitation.

To many in the indie-rock world, the group (which plays Saturday at the Troubadour and next Sunday at the Fold at the Silverlake Lounge) seems poised to fill the void left by the breakup earlier this year of fellow Texas band At the Drive-In. But Interscope representatives haven't even gone yet to such obvious outlets as modern-rock radio leader KROQ-FM (106.7) to promote the group.

"I don't care how long it takes," Iovine says. "We'll sit there and let them do their thing. They have the talent."

That's the attitude that led the band to sign with Interscope. On the surface, you might think the group would have sent Iovine packing in a hail of splintered guitars when he swooped down to Austin in the corporate jet to see a concert by the group after reading a magazine article about it.

"We do come from a tradition of complete distrust for major labels," says guitarist Conrad Keely. The band had rejected previous overtures from major labels, remaining independent since forming in 1987.

The group was impressed with Iovine's enthusiasm, as well as his credentials--Keely had a particular interest in hearing stories of the mid-'70s Lennon experiences.

"And my whole opinion on [major labels] is that times are changing," Keely says. "When I look back on the bands that have changed my life, I can probably count the indie bands on one hand, while there are so many major-label bands.

"You can't say it was all evil. The Sex Pistols, the Clash, U2, the Beatles--bands I associated with being more than just some kind of capitalist ploy to sell units but were really about changing art and people's thinking--were all on major labels."

If anything, the band has been perplexed by how much it's been left to its own devices by Interscope so far. "I started to get worried when they were leaving us alone to make the album," Keely says. "I wanted their input--not from someone at the company I didn't know, but we have respect for Jimmy Iovine's experience as a producer, and Jason McGuire, his assistant, comes from the same kind of background as we do."

What they produced as a result is not drastically different from their previous independent albums. Where last year's "Madonna" was built around themes of pop idol worship (Keely majored in pop culture studies at Washington's Evergreen State College), the upcoming album continues the musical aggression with what Keely terms a reflection "upon the loss of agrarian innocence in a world preoccupied with numbers and record-keeping."

Iovine, though confident the band will eventually be popular, promises he won't obsess about sales numbers. He's just delighted that he was able to get a band he believes has so much going for it.

"When I was at their show the first time, I was just shaking my head that they weren't already signed," he says. "It just got missed, somehow. For me to find them by reading a magazine at Borders is still beyond my comprehension. It was the best magazine I ever bought."

AMOS AMBLING? Tori Amos' "Strange Little Girls" came out just a few weeks ago, but the distinctive singer-songwriter is close to leaving Atlantic Records, which released that album and all her previous work, for a new deal. With her Atlantic contract expiring with "Girls," she is near an agreement with Epic Records.

"We're getting close, but the [new] contract is not finished," says Amos' manager, Arthur Spivak. "Nothing is etched in stone." That would seem to set up a tense situation with Atlantic, which is still charged with promoting "Strange Little Girls," a strange little album in which Amos has created a series of characters to reinvent male-oriented songs from female perspectives.

But Spivak says that everything is going smoothly. "Atlantic is working this album no differently, and there are still thoughts that she could return to the label," he says. "The album's doing well. Atlantic's done a great job of marketing her and there's still a long way to go with this record."

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