Head Todd enters the big time
Campus Press, February 22, 1993
By Matt Anderson, Campus Press Staff Writer
An old adage about breaking into show business advises young hopefuls not to chase Hollywood, but to let Hollywood do the chasing.
In the case of Big Head Todd and the Monsters, that strategy has paid off big-time with the release Tuesday of their album "Sister Sweetly" on Giant Records.
After setting up their own gigs, running their own tours, and releasing their own albums, the trio caught the attention of Chuck Morris, a Denver talent agent. After 10 months of negotiating, they signed a deal.
The ball started rolling quickly from then on. The band next found itself opening for Jefferson Starship at the China Club in Aspen where Irving Azoff, president of Giant Records, could hear them play.
"It was great. We signed with Chuck and a month later the head of a record company, who's basically the first person we played a showcase for, heard a 40-minute set and he said, 'We want to sign you guys,'" said bassist Rob Squires.
"We really haven't had a single snare yet," said Todd Mohr, lead vocalist. This is the biggest surprise he's found during the whole experience.
Giant Records is an ideal place for the group, as Mohr, 27, tells it.
"Irving very much wanted to break a rock band and they didn't really have anything else happening," he said. "It's kind of like all of their marbles are in this sack and they have to make it work."
Making it work includes considerable support from the label to make sure the band gets recognized. Azoff worked the group on to the roster for a performance during one of Don Henley's Walden Woods benefit concerts and they were received by an enthusiastic sell-out crowd at the Roxy Theater in Hollywood, playing to a mixed crowd of fans and record label executives.
Every indication is that the label will be promoting the album heavily, but there is nothing to be taken for granted, Mohr said.
"You're living in the real world and you have to deliver," Mohr said, "especially on your first album."
While the band does have creative control, Mohr said the group still has to play by Giant's rules - for now. If the album does well enough, Mohr hopes the group can gain credibility to do things its own way from there on out.
As for that first Giant album, "It's going to be a little shocking to some people who know us just because it's different," said drummer Brian Nevin, 26.
The biggest difference is the degree of polish put into the album, which was produced by David Z, whose dance/funk background includes working with such artists as Prince, Fine Young Cannibals, and BoDeans.
"There are a lot of things on the album, sounds and grooves, and approaches to the music that we would probably do differently if we worked with someone else or on our own," Nevin said.
"This album is as produced as we get," the drummer said. In stark contrast, the group's last album, "Midnight Radio" on its own Big Records label, featured no overdubs or remixes, and was recorded live in such exotic locales as the band's basement, a radio station in St. Cloud, Minn., and the Boulder Theater.
The new album features material previously played in concerts but never recorded and a few new songs written for the album "in the same vein of what we've always done," Nevin said.
That vein incorporates each member's own influences, emphasizing such roots-oriented styles as folk, blues, country, and soul with some straight-ahead rock'n'roll thrown in.
The group got its start as a blues band at Columbine High School in Littleton before regrouping in its current form at CU in 1986.
"The bars wouldn't hire us back then, so it took a year or two of playing parties before we finally got a Tuesday night at McCabe's and we were able to pack the bar just because everybody had been going to all these parties," Squires said.
"We always felt all along if we made enough noise eventually somebody from one of the coasts would get a clue and come out and take a look at us," Squires said. "It did pay off, it just took longer that way."
With a nationwide concert tour in the works and a possible stint through Europe, the group is simply enjoying the experience as the best that it gets, Nevin said.
They are handling all the attention with their trademark aplomb and all three have no plans on moving to California, preferring to keep the laid-back lifestyle of Colorado and to leave the Hollywood rat race to their agent.
"I would like to go into seclusion," Mohr said. "My life is really simple. I just play guitar and write songs. Nothing changes for me, as far as the circumstances of my life."
"We never really thought we would do much with this. We were going to college and I was the only one studying music," Nevin said. "None of us thought about being professional musicians."
Nevin was working toward a double degree in music and business before leaving school to work with the band full time.
"I only added music to my major because the business school was kind of boring.
"The music school was wonderful because it kicked my ass. You've go to perform. Whether you're good or not, you're the one that's got to stay up there in front of half the school and play."
Squires, 27, agrees that you have got to do what makes you happy. "Life's too short to have a job where you don't like it. Too many people do that.
"When I got out of college I was a banker for six or eight months and I hated every day of it," Squires said.
As for the group's name, all three are shocked that Giant never mentioned the possibility of changing it.
Mohr gives credit for the name to such blues artists as Clean Head Vincent and Fat Head Newman.
"In a moment of frivolity, somehow Big Head Todd came up and we couldn't think of another name.
"It's hilarious that any band could get signed to a major label and get released with the name Big Head Todd and the Monsters," Mohr said.