This story is written with minimal editing by David Fagin. Below is the history of The Rosenbergs…
In The Beginning
The band formed in my apt. in Lyndhurst, NJ. The biggest obstacle I faced in trying to start a band is the need to rely on others, as there are so many flakes out there. Guys who think they have what it takes and who “talk the talk,” but after one seven hour drive in a blizzard to play to an empty room in Buffalo, while the club next door has a line around the corner, run in the other direction.
I must have floated around the NY scene for about 3 or 4 years – needing a new drummer and/or bass player about every 5-6 months. It was quite exhausting always having to go back to the drawing board. I remember one particularly bad night driving home after an awful rehearsal in, like, ‘ 93 when our ego-consumed drummer suggested bringing in a choreographer. I wanted him out, immediately. I knew we were done. But, knowing we had a month of gigs we couldn’t bail on, I couldn’t fire him, or kill him. Knowing that another six months work was about to go down the drain, but that I’d have to wait another month or so until it did, was probably the lowest point for me. And there were many.
When I finally found Evan (Silverman), he was just 18 years old. He wasn’t the best bass player I’d ever seen but the talent was there and his desire to play is what really impressed me. That, and the fact that his mother answered the ad I placed in the Village Voice and begged me to give her son a chance. It was hilarious. I had to meet this kid.
It’s so much easier for musicians nowadays to meet/jam with each other and decide if they fit or not in minutes. Craigslist, Facebook, ReverbNation, MP3’s, Protools, Uploading files, etc., make it so easy. None of this existed back then. Back in the early 90s, we still had to put out newspaper ads and use cassettes which usually only contained half-finished acoustic demos or really bad-sounding live recordings. Evan and I got a drummer and just started showing him piece by piece how the songs went. It was very time-consuming. And, we were awful. We did the usual Bleecker St. bars for years.
Fast forward a few seasons and Evan and I found a couple of decent players and managed to start creating a buzz about the band around the NY music scene. Mostly due to the fact that some of our demos ended up on shows like Dawson’s Creek and Party of Five. After opening for The Church at a club called Tramps, we were courted by Universal. It was at the dinner they took us to, at which, we thought we were going to be signing a deal, that a former golf pro-turned A&R guy, Tom Mackay (Now the big shot at The Voice) gave us the motivation to DIY it.
In one breath, he toasted to making a great record. In the next, he told us he needed us to sell 50k records, first, then get added to 10 or 20 modern rock stations before he could sign us. We were obviously flabbergasted, as, if we could do that, what the heck would we need them for? It was at that dinner that Evan and I we realized major labels were like HMOs. When you need ‘em, they don’t want you, and vice versa. So, while 99 out of 100 bands in the mid ’90s spent all their time and energy pursuing a major label deal, we set about doing every thing the opposite. We booked our own shows/tours and didn’t invite any label reps., we told anyone who would listen that the only way a label is going to want your band, is when you don’t want them. So, we begin doing everything ourselves and made a few connections overseas with a few guys in the early days of the Internet – there were a million band sites back in like ’95/’96 – working at a few new web companies who helped us book a 3 week city tour of the UK on the strength of the Dawson’s Creek popularity. Those shows were some of the most fun we ever had. When we returned to the states, there was a buzz about us thumbing our nose at the biz and sort of doing okay in spite of it. We had just begun to record what would be our debut album at a studio in Jersey City called ‘Big Blue Meenie.’ Our long-time producer, Dan Iannuzzelli, had gotten us a great deal w/ the owners and one of them, an engineer named Joe Mahoney, ended up joining the band as our lead guitarist.
As we began to record the demos for what would become “Mission: You,” Universal had just launched a show called “FarmClub” on USA network in which unsigned acts would play with established artists. It was incredibly cheesy – they reportedly paid the audience $100 each to scream “Farmclub.com!” every five seconds. We were one of the first invited to perform with, I believe, The Counting Crows. When we saw the 26 page, 6 record deal we had to sign in exchange for two minutes of T.V. time, we were shocked. This was a company saying they were ‘partnering’ with artists in the new digital space and now we were being asked to sign a document that would allow them to own everything we would ever do online, and elsewhere. So, I wrote an email to a few of our friends in bands and warned them of this company and their sneaky old-school style practice of business as usual. I believe I ended the email using their slogan against them. “Farmclub.com – Somebody’s gonna get a record deal.” To which, I replied, “Is that a threat?”
Unbeknownst to us, my email wound up on a new thing at the time called a “Chat Site.” The site was the Velvet Rope. Within days of someone posting it, we were celebrity Davey and Goliaths – going after the big bad music company, leaders of the new revolution, and slaying the giant that would be Universal music.
Suddenly I went from driving for a copy service in Hackensack to sitting on panels with the likes of The Talking Heads, Run DMC, Bob Ezrin, Fugazi, Krist Novoselic, etc., speaking to a room full of thousands of up and coming artists, as well as established journalists and reporters, all of whom had no idea where this Internet thing was going – and all I knew was that we, the artists, should try and change the game now that the game was changing. I was invited to speak on Capitol Hill on behalf of artists, nationwide, during the C.A.R.P. hearings which were the first of its kind trying to determine what royalties online music services should pay.
All this brought us to the attention of the legendary guitarist, Robert Fripp (King Crimson) with whom we would eventually sign an unprecedented deal allowing us to retain ownership of our masters in exchange for a share of profits across the board. A true partnership, instead of indentured servitude.
Partnership with Napster
Right before we were to release our debut, Mission: You, we got a call from Napster. They loved our attitude and wanted to partner with us and sponsor our tour. They paid for 25,000 extra full-length copies of our album to be packaged with the usual one for the purpose of sharing the music with fans/friends. They also added us to their front page, which, at the time, was as popular as iTunes is now. We got thousands of requests to be added to our email list each day. Since this was way before email management websites like Constant Contact, poor Evan had to sit in the back of the van for hours at time manually adding each name to our list.
When we headed out to start the tour, we found out all our appearances at independent stores across the country were canceled. We were summarily blacklisted by the smaller retail/indie record stores for partnering w/ Napster, as well as being blacklisted on pop radio by Universal for our part in the demise of their label/television show. I remember, Adrian, our manager, offering our promotion guy at McClusky illegal back end points on our record if he would push it harder (a common practice back then – and probably now) and our guy said, “It doesn’t matter what you do or how much money you can offer us. Word on the street is no one’s going to play your record.”
That was a pretty eye-opening moment. Knowing, no matter what, we were toast. Especially since we were the quintessential indie band, so to see indie stores boycotting us while promoting Dave Matthews new single all over the place, even though he was also partnering with Napster, was not a good feeling.
Still, we had a few tricks left up our sleeves, like a tour with Echo and the Bunnymen which culminated in what would have totally put us on the map – a tour with Semisonic – Their song “Closing Time,” had just hit the top of the rock charts and we were added as the opening band. That was, until, at the last minute, we were told we got the boot because some kid named Pete Yorn, whose brother turned out to be Rick Yorn, a huge Hollywood big shot, wanted on. Big brother made the call and that was that.
During the DGM campaign for Mission: You, Adrian, our manager, reached out to his long time friend, Anna Gabriel (Peter’s daughter) about shooting our video, “After All.” We explained we only had a few thousand bucks to do it with but had a pretty big buzz around us and, with their help, could definitely see it getting some legs. Anna was all-in and brought her partner, Adria Petty (Tom’s daughter) in to co-direct. Anna managed to get her legendary dad to loan us his Chelsea brownstone to shoot in. Hanging out for days in Peter Gabriel’s multi-level duplex in Manhattan was quite a thrill.
Knowing we only had a few bucks to shoot the video, Anna and Adria promised their friends in the crew they would do everything in their power to promote the thing once it was done. Thus, the entire crew pretty much agreed to work for chicken scratch. Upon completion, our publicist got word to the Howard Stern Show that our video was directed by the daughters of both Peter Gabriel and Tom Petty, and that we’d like to come on with them and talk about it. Howard loved the idea and said yes on the spot. Anna agreed to appear, as well. Unfortunately, Adria was another story. She didn’t get Howard’s humor at all and thought he was a misogynist. It didn’t help matters that Howard wanted to be able to ask the girls to kiss each other if we came on. He didn’t care whether they did or not, he just wanted to be able to tease them and get some good radio out of it. Adria refused. In spite of promising the crew, made up of her friends, she would do whatever she could to promote the final product, she ultimately sank the entire ship, single handedly. The girls were also offered an interview with Interview Magazine, in which they could have promoted the video. Again, Adria refused. Stating she didn’t want to use her last name to advance her career. “HUH?”
When we finally got invited to go on Howard Stern with Gene Simmons we thought we were going to be revived. Howard was open to spending the entire morning with me and Gene and just shooting the shit about the constantly-changing music business. Unfortunately, Gene’s nice but stupid-as-the-day-is-long publicist neglected to inform Gary Dell’Abate (Stern’s producer aka Baba Booey) that Gene needed to be out by 9am to do a CNN interview. So, we sat in the green room for about 2 hours doing nothing, figuring we had all day- then, around 8:30, after an entire morning of nothing, Howard heard Gene had to leave in 15 minutes and he he freaked. So, it went from hanging out with the two biggest stars in radio and music for the whole morning to about 10 minutes on air – in which, many jokes were made at my expense! In spite of all that, it was still an awesome experience as Howard was one of my idols and our show made it to the Best of Stern, thanks to Craig Gass, the hilarious Gene Simmons impersonator. Of course, the E! cameras edited me out, completely.
Once the Napster tour tanked (due to all our fans being minors and all the clubs being 21 and over – we literally would see a line of a couple of hundred kids outside each venue but would wind up playing to the bartenders) and once the radio money was bled dry and once our advance ran out, we were out of gas. We were partly to blame, as we each took $1k mo. in living expenses, which, in 6 months, is $25k out of your budget. That was a mistake on our part, but for guys living hand to mouth for the better part of a decade, how could we not try and live off some of the fruits of our labor?
Eventually, we ran out of the entire $250k and then some that our label, DGM, gave us to promote the record (keep in mind, this was the days before home studios so we ran up a 60k plus recording bill and, of course, about $20k in attorneys) and we ended up defaulting on phone bills, credited cards, van repairs, etc. etc. We even lost our rehearsal space thanks to our ‘loyal’ manager, whose job at DGM was created solely by our hard work – and, thanks to us, who now has a very nice career managing Them Crooked Vultures and John Paul Jones and who stabbed us in the back by pulling the few remaining funds out of our account after he agreed to pay our outstanding debts. He even tried to repossess our van, knowing it was our only means of survival. I ended up living on my sister’s couch in her studio apartment. That was a fun time.
The band went through a very difficult time, too. Do we break up? Do we not break up? Do we try and write some new songs? We had no idea what to do. Within a matter of about 3 months, we lost our living expenses, cell phones, booking agent, publicist, business manager, manager, and label.
After a few weeks of feeling sorry for ourselves, we decided to hit the studio and see what would come out — and damn, within a few days, we had some hot tracks that showed themselves as contenders for another album. But, who, in their right mind would sign the band that was persona non grata for speaking out against unfair label practices and supporting artists’ rights? Who would sign the band who, thanks to a lot of black-listing on both the indie and major levels, were now just a foot note?
After about a six month break, we decided to carry on and give it one more shot. Our new manager, Erin, happened to be best friends w/ former Hooters’ guitarist, Eric Bazilian. Bazilian wrote “One of Us” for Joan Osbourne and I was a big fan of the guy, as he reinvented himself a writer/session guy after a flash-in-the-pan career.
Eric loved our demos and agreed to produce the record. I basically moved in w/ him in P.A. and the band came down every few days to record. The lovefest ended pretty quickly, however, as, to our shock, Eric turned out to be manic and, let’s just say, addicted to several controlled substances.
The album that would never be ended up nearly wrecking the band again. Fights broke out over relationships of any and all sizes. Between Evan and Eric’s groupie-turned manager, between Eric and me, etc. etc. To the point where, after weeks and weeks of recording, a paranoid and strung out Bazilian refused to give us the tapes.
It was around that point we got a call from a guy claiming to represent Steve Mahoney, the heir to the Monsanto Chemical fortune. Apparently, Mr. Mahoney, a former drug addict and alcoholic, had been promised by his father, former Monsanto CEO, Dick Mahoney, that he would allow him access to his $50 million inheritance provided Steve clean up.
Almost overnight, apparently, the young-misguided Steven went from a booze and woman-chasing fiend to a born again Christian. Praise the Lord!
Signing a deal with the guy whose father is best friends w/ Dick Cheney and whose company is responsible for poisoning the better part of the entire country with their additives and pesticides, is no easy decision.
Steve, it turned out, was a rocker, himself. Well, not exactly. He wrote a bunch of country-western rap songs and hired the best musicians in St. Louis to back him up. But, that wasn’t enough. Steve wanted his own label but he needed credibility. In walk The Rosenbergs. Fresh off taking on the entire “old-school” music business, Steve said his goal was to create an indie label vibe with major label money. Who could say no to that? Sure, his dad was the Darth Vader of food products but Steve wasn’t, right? Or, so we thought.
As we had no one else knocking down our door, and it was a chance to make another record, we agreed to negotiate a deal with Steve’s new label, ‘Force MP.’
During negotiations, things between Evan and me got bad. We always argued but now it was at the point where we would be asked to leave public parks, as we were scaring the children. Eventually, Evan “lawyered up” against us and we had to part ways.
In the middle of all this, we get an email from producer Keith Cleversly (Hum, Flaming Lips), who said he would love to produce our next album out of his studio in Chicago. We told him we’d love to work with him, but our deal was still not signed and we had no bass player. In true ‘artist’ fashion, Keith told us to come out, anyway. “Don’t worry about it. It will happen. Let’s make music!”
Fast forward six weeks into a blistery Chicago winter and the deal still isn’t signed and Keith has taken to pounding on my door each morning (we stayed at his house as we had nowhere else to go) demanding that today be the day we sign and he get paid. “I’m out thirty-thousand dollars, God damnit!”, our all-about-the-music producer would shout every chance he got.
What started out as a great collaboration of art turned into a nightmare of epic proportions. Not only were Keith and I fighting about money every two seconds, but the little record he was recording was sounding like stir-fried shit. I couldn’t believe how bad the tracks were sounding. Drums sounded like wet paper plates, guitars so mid-rangey and boomy they sounded like the bass and the bass (laid down by some session guy who played on Destiny’s Child but had no idea what a rock song was) was so mushy and stagnant it sounded like the musical equivalent of a windshield full of dead mosquitoes. Literally, the worst-sounding thing I’ve ever heard.
I remember sitting in Cleversly’s living room in Chicago asking God what I did to deserve this? “All I wanted to do was make a record,” I’d say to no one in particular, “And, instead, I’ve got prolonged contract stalemates, a band at their wits end, no money, a broken down van, and a producer who spends more time on his homegrown pot business than he does on our record.” One day, we couldn’t find Keith anywhere. We looked all over the house and it turned out he was hiding underneath his covers. He was having a nervous breakdown.
It got to the point where I just removed myself from the mixing sessions, as once Keith recovered from his episode, he was just looking to go in any direction that wasn’t mine. So, I sat in his living room while the band mixed the record, scratching up all his blank CDs. It was my big revenge for fucking up my album.
At the same time, Steve, our trusty label head, informed us booked us to perform at SXSW and that he rented out a club called The Iron Cactus for the record launch. Furthermore, that he was renting a flatbed truck, on which, we were to lip sync to the album – with the contestants of the Miss Austin Beauty Pageant behind us – as we drove through the streets of downtown Austin. This, was not something the band wanted to do, especially, since the album was not only unfinished, but in a state of total disarray.
The label (Steve) didn’t care, and, when the day came, they wheeled out the truck – complete with a dozen beauty contestants and two giant speakers blasting The Rosenbergs’ latest and greatest unfinished, unmixed, ungodly horror of an album to the entire SXSW community. The Rosenbergs were nowhere in sight.
In spite of that mess, we ended up playing to packed house at The Iron Cactus and even Slash complemented us afterwards, buying us a round of Johnny Walker Blue. The record was another story.
Obviously, the deal was eventually signed and the record – surprise – came out like shit. We ended up fighting w/ Force MP to not release it and to let us, at least, re-record some of it. After weeks of arguing, they sent us files to our new bass player, Joshua’s, house. Josh had a studio in Cleveland and we worked – sans payment or support – for two straight months, trying to undo as much as we could from the Cleversly sessions. Unfortunately, he was contracted to be the producer of record even though we managed to scrape away 80% of his influence. The drums, however, could only be eq’d again, as the label refused to let us redo them.
Once Steve heard the difference between what Cleversly did and what we were doing, we managed to get him to agree to fly us to St. Louis to remix the entire thing. Of course, even though he owned the studio, and it was his band on his label, he still gave us a two-week deadline to finish it, just like a major.
On a scale of 1-10, 1 being what Cleversly had, I would say we ended up with a 400. But, if 1-10 is what the album could have sounded like compared to what it actually does, it’s a 6. We polished a turd. Most of our fans love the album, and that’s awesome. I realize I’m our toughest critic.
When the record finally came out, some cool shit started to happen. We were the first band to be offered a week-long stint on Carson Daly, I became a regular on Dennis Miller Live on CNBC, we did some interesting shows w/ Live and Michelle Branch, etc. But, the weirdest one was easily the Playboy Mansion.
Playboy was releasing their first ever video game and asked us to be characters in the game. Uh, duh! For the game’s launch, Hef was throwing a huge bash and they asked us to perform at the Mansion. Uh, duh! Turns out, good ole’ Steve, who once frolicked with nine or ten women at a time, was now a ‘good Christian’ and believed all things sexual were pornographic. He refused to let us play. We threatened to break up the band. He backed down. But he was pissed.
Add the Playboy fiasco to the fact that Steve hired the same publicist for his band as we did for ours – Susan Blond – and the fact that nothing was happening for him, and that he was an egomaniac, and suddenly, instead of being happy his little band was starting to make waves and sell some records, he got jealous.
Within a few months of the release of Department Store Girl, Force MP label head, Steve Mahoney, jealous and bitter about his band’s failures, fired everyone on staff, except a few to work his band’s record, and dropped The Rosenbergs like a bad habit.
To give you an idea of how nuts this guy was, he would drop $100k on his band’s video, scrap it, and re-shoot for another $100k, but, when we begged for $5k to shoot one video of our own, he refused.
After that, we tried our best to keep going, but, as you know, with no funding, no radio, and band members who now resided in three different states, it was just too much. The band never actually ‘broke up.’ We just stopped playing.
Epilogue: Where are the band members now?
After a stint on an ashram in Vermont, Evan is living and working in San Antonio, Tx.
Josh, our bass player, is living in Austin working on his own stuff.
Last I heard Andrew, our drummer, is somewhere in Boston eating vegan.
The best thing to come out of the Chicago nightmare was our guitar player Joe, met his now wife, Wendy. They have two awesome kids and live in South Jersey.
What happened to you?
I released a solo album in ’08, which unfortunately, went nowhere, in part, thanks to my ex. manager who embezzled over $20k of money that was meant for radio payola and instead, put it in his own pocket. And he is still screwing NYC artists over as we speak, in spite of several outstanding lawsuits against him. Read about “Clove Deevis” here. Speaking of payola, I remember having a conversation with Todd Pettengill – at the time, one half of Scott and Todd in the Morning on WPLJ, New York’s biggest morning radio show. I remember him telling me how much he loved my solo record and how he “wished” he could play it, but, if he did, he would get his head chopped off by the labels who ‘buy’ their air time from them. Can’t compete with that.
In 2010, CBS used “Birds of a Feather” as the theme to the now defunct sitcom, Accidentally on Purpose.
I now play in The Counterfeiters – the best 80s/90s party rock band in the NY/NJ area, and probably the world, and blog for The Huffington Post.
It’s not that I “don’t want” to do original music anymore, I love playing originals and I’ve got a ton of songs. It’s that I’m so out of touch with the scene these days, (I honestly haven’t even heard of 90% of the bands playing Irving Plaza on any given day) that, to make another record would be a huge undertaking. And, honestly, I’m having the best time ever playing with The Counterfeiters. We play to packed houses every night, the audiences love us, and I get to do a combination of karaoke and shtick, which is perfect for me, as I grew up with a mother who sang in the Catskills. As it turns out, the cover band biz is just as ruthless, if not more so, than the original scene. But, that’s a whole ‘nother story.
After the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, I composed a song that got Starbucks to reprint the CD’s for their 8,000 plus stores, nationwide, and to add it to their playlist. The song, “Boston Strong” became the unofficial theme to the 2014 Boston Marathon. The song was co-produced by my friend, Jaime Hazan, a 911 first responder, and one of the spokespersons for Jon Stewart’s 9/11 Bill.