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Lessons learned

September 04, 2003|Lina Lecaro | Special to The Times

Record industry casualties and red-tape-swathed deals gone awry may be old news these days, but few bands can claim to actually have been held hostage by a label, much less the one that 'N Sync and Britney Spears call home.

But that's exactly what happened to melodic L.A. rockers the Jealous Sound, a group who learned the hard way that bigger isn't always better.

After gaining attention from a well-received EP on small company Better Looking Records, the quartet, which features ex-members of indie faves Knapsack and Sunday's Best, got signed to Mojo Records -- best known for ska and swing stompers such as the Cherry Poppin' Daddies and Goldfinger -- in February 2001, only to find that the label lost its distribution from Universal just two weeks after the ink was dry.

"Mojo just ceased to exist," recalls vocalist-lyricist Blair Shehan. "It wasn't even like other bands, where you're like, oh wow, we put out this record, it didn't do well and then we got cut."

Bubblegum music magnates Jive records ultimately took over Mojo's catalog, and though they kept some artists -- and promptly dropped others -- they didn't seem to know what to do with the local quartet, a group that's more about well-crafted songs and heartfelt lyrics than trendy threads or a sexy image.

"We were in the 'maybe' stack," Shehan says. "They seemed sort of like, 'Well, we don't want to lose something that might possibly be good.' "

Almost a whole year of limbo later, Jive still hadn't shown much interest, and though the band was enjoying itself as much as possible on tour and garnering more fans while supporting the likes of Death Cab for Cutie and the Get Up Kids, it was still essentially trapped on a label that didn't seem to have any real desire to get its music heard.

The guys eventually demanded to be let go, and with lessons learned and chemistry honed (they were still a relatively new group when they were signed) they returned to Better Looking to release their latest, "Kill Them With Kindness," a potent collection of passionate, hook-heavy tunes showcasing Shehan's airy, brisk vocals, guitarist Pedro Benito's lush, shimmering riffs and bassist John McGinnis's warm rhythms. Drummer Adam Wade (ex-Shudder to Think) joined after the record was completed.

It's an earnest, unfettered sound that could easily appeal to more than the record-collector college crowd and vintage-garbed emo kids that bands of this brethren are usually associated with.

And though Shehan thinks "emo" is just "a silly catchphrase," there's no denying his poignant writing style and catchy choruses fit nicely next to the likes of emotive pioneers Sunny Day Real Estate, a band whose latest incarnation, Fire Theft, has been a Jealous Sound touring partner.

Being on the road with some of the most popular bands of the more sensitive independent rock ilk seems to have been inspiring for Shehan and his bandmates, who've seen firsthand that you can sell out venues and win a loyal following without mainstream money and marketing.

They've also seen the other side of the coin opening in arenas for the Foo Fighters, themselves a gimmick-free rock band with an expressive style that managed to play with the big boys and not get burned.

Shehan says all the bands he's been on the road with have been role models in different ways, and while the members of Jealous Sound seems content and expectation-free at the moment, they aren't soured against the majors -- despite the past. "It was an unpleasant experience," he concedes. "But if we did it again, we'd go into it with a lot more knowledge."


The Jealous Sound

Where: Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood

When: Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $10

Info: (310) 276-6168

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