When former Arista-crat Clive Davis took over the Gadjits‘ label, RCA, last November, heads were destined to roll. Unfortunately, among the decapitated were the Gadjits’ champions, and the well-traveled Phillips brothers (singer Brandon, bassist Zach and drummer Adam) decided to seek their fourth label in as many years rather than have a new handler mismanage their affairs.
The last time the Gadjits negotiated a mutual split from a label was in 2000, before the garage-punk resurgence reaffirmed the record industry’s faith in ranting, raving rhythmic assaults. The Gadjits were attempting to start a rock-and-soul revolution, and Epitaph kingpin Brett Gurewitz wanted no part of the insurrection.
But the Gadjits believed in that sonic conversion. The group, which had added guitarist Mike Alexander and keyboardist Ehren Starks, recorded 2002’s Today Is My Day in the Phillips’ basement, selling a Waverunner that Brandon had won at the Pitch Music Awards to cover production costs. The album’s titular proclamation didn’t come to pass, but a number of listeners heard promise. RCA signed the Gadjits without requiring the group to change its look or sound. “Finally,” Brandon says he thought at the time, “somebody gets it.”
But those same special somebodies ended up getting something else — the ax — just weeks before the scheduled release of the Gadjits’ EP Our Time To. This timing might prove fortuitous, though. Instead of having its album languish without promotion, the Gadjits will have a professionally produced recording, made in a sparkling studio, to peddle to small, passionate labels.
And the record shouldn’t be a tough sell. On Our Time To, the Gadjits become a live wire connecting the stage-scorching spark of the early Who with the mystic glow of the Black Crowes. Its anchor track, “Black Guitar,” marks the arrival of a new Gadjits specialty — the radio-ready anthem, complete with verses that scale rocky cliffs and a chorus that hang-glides off the edge.
There’s good reason to believe that the Gadjits can ride its raw-nerve riffs to redemption, despite grim headlines about the music industry’s impending death. Not that such proclamations are false. RCA might have done the group a favor by having it walk the plank of a sinking ship.
“It shouldn’t be scary for any band that’s not signed,” Adam says. “The scariest thing would be if you’re locked into a long deal with one of these majors who throw their money around and don’t know what they’re doing.”
The main moral for any act that might be courting major-label attention (Anything But Joey, we’re looking at you): Plan your escape route. The Gadjits carefully plotted out its contract with the band’s lawyer. Now, if all goes well, the Gadjits will keep Our Time To while retaining possession of such RCA souvenirs as a box full of back catalog (“unedited Wu-Tang Clan,” Adam raves) and tickets to June’s ZZ Top show.
Fear not for the area’s latest high-profile musical free agent — the band is enjoying the single life. The Gadjits attended the label/artist orgy South by Southwest last month and came home dateless but not discouraged.
“Last year, we were there for six hours,” Adam recalls. “It was right in the middle of when things started happening with RCA, so it was pretty exciting, but we just played and left. This time, we were there for three days and saw as many bands as possible. It was mostly about having fun.”
Everything’s about fun now that the Gadjits’ members are taking a temporary vacation from the business end of music. As dramatized in countless how-to-get-your-groove-back films, the group is planning overseas travel (a European tour, which would be its first), concentrating on its art (Adam reports that the band is “pumping out new material” — though not “Industry Is Punks”-style former-label diss tracks) and remaining cautiously optimistic about what will take place when the nights start feeling lonely without a label to lean on.
“We’ve got our fingers crossed,” Adam says, before adding this downer of a disclaimer: “We’re waiting for something stupid to pop up and wreck our plans again.”
At this, he laughs — knowing that’s all he can do. It would be an understatement to say the band’s luck runs hot and cold; it’s more like an inviting hot tub that, as soon as you jump in, becomes a just-flushed toilet. All the Gadjits’ members can do is shake themselves dry and continue their search for an untarnished oasis.