Greensburg's The Juliana Theory breaks
out with Epic debut
7 February 2003
The Winter of 'Love'
Date: February 7, 2003 Publication: Post-Gazette Author: Ed Masley
You'd think by now Brett Detar would have gotten used to the amazing speed with which exciting things can happen for his band, The Juliana Theory.
Signed to Tooth and Nail within 11 months of bringing four Latrobe High graduates together to rehearse in Detar's Greensburg home, The Juliana Theory hadn't even played a show in Pittsburgh by the time it cut its introduction to the indie world beyond Westmoreland County, 1999's "Understand This is a Dream."
But even that, it seems, left Detar unprepared for just how quickly things can move when you're the featured item on the menu at a major-label feeding frenzy -- a frenzy that ended, in this case, with The Juliana Theory signed to Epic Records, where its labelmates would now include Celine Dion and J-Lo.
"For whatever reason," Detar says, "at some point in time, the summer before last ... somehow, I guess we became a hot commodity. But major labels starting calling. And then, more and more of them started calling and coming out to see us at shows and hanging out, and it just kind of snowballed into this pretty big thing where we were meeting multiple people every night. It was kind of crazy."
Not that Epic was crazy for signing a band that, as the label's press releases trumpet, had sold more than 150,000 copies of its Tooth and Nail releases.
And while Tooth and Nail came knocking at a time when the band's idea of a tour was playing Greensburg, Derry and Latrobe, by Detar's count, no fewer than 90 percent of the sales that got The Juliana Theory signed to Epic came from touring.
As we speak, in fact, the band members are headed back to Pittsburgh on a mostly sold-out U.S. tour with co-headliners Something Corporate, having hit the streets on Tuesday with their first release on Epic, "Love."
They'll also be playing a number of smaller, unplugged shows along the way, including a Rosebud performance at 3 on Sunday afternoon.
Despite the massive sound of "Love," the songs sound just as good to Detar in an unplugged setting.
"If I can say this without sounding like I'm bragging or anything, I think a good song sounds good stripped down to the basics," Detar says. "I mean, I guess there are certain exceptions. But if you have a well-written song, it should sound good with a couple acoustic guitars and whatever -- not as many big loud things."
A HEAD FOR PRODUCTION
They signed to Epic, Detar says, because the people at Epic are not only cooler but they "understand the band more."
This is also how they found themselves recording with producer Jerry Harrison, a former Talking Head who was chosen because of his "passion" for the band.
"He was more excited," Detar says, "about working with us than anybody else that we were talking to at the time, and he just seemed, for that reason alone, to be a good choice because we never felt that we really needed that much help in the production area. It was more about finding somebody that we felt was really into the band, really into what we do and was really supportive of us and seemed to believe in us already."
His first choice was actually Butch Vig, the producer of Nirvana's "Nevermind," but Vig was too busy recording and touring with Garbage. And they talked to Bob Rock's "people," but, as Detar says, "He was busy with that Metallica record they've been working on for the last 28 years or whatever."
That left Harrison, who spent the week before recording hanging with the band in Greensburg.
"We just went over arrangements and worked out some things, and he got to know us a little bit better," Detar says. "He hung out in some of the places that we hang out in the Greensburg area and got to meet a bunch of family members and stuff like that. So that was kind of cool because he had more of an understanding of where the band was from and what we're about."
The Talking Heads fans in their families loved it, but to Detar and his bandmates (lead guitarist Josh Fielder, bassist Chad Alan, guitarist Josh Kosker and drummer Josh Walters), Harrison was best appreciated as a guy in town to make a Juliana Theory record.
"It's weird because nobody in the band was a Talking Heads fan," Detar says. "I mean, we definitely appreciate everything they did and all, but it's just something that for whatever reason none of us have ever gotten into."
Detar got into what Harrison did for the record, though.
"I think he made me more of a singer, more of a vocalist," he says. "He helped me to be more emotional in my singing."
After finishing "Love," in fact, he went back and re-listened to their second album, 2000's "Emotion Is Dead," and found the album title all too fitting.
"I think I sang like somebody programmed the words and melodies into a drum machine," he says. "It seems very mechanical, like a computer. And the way I recorded the vocals on that record was completely different than the way we recorded the vocals on this record. I think this way, it lent itself way more to getting real human performances out of the songs."
On the previous records, he would sing a song until he thought a take was good enough to work with, then go back and punch in every word or phrase that needed work. After singing a word 40 times in a row, he says, you don't even know what it means anymore. It's just a sound. What Harrison had him do on "Love" was sing multiple takes of every song. And then, they went back in and made composites of the best performances of each line.
"It was way more natural that way," he says, "and easier to get a performance that felt and sounded more cohesive."
The tortured scream you hear on "In Conversation," by the way, was taken from an early demo.
As Detar says, "When I was demoing the song in my house, that was the first scream I did. And I said, 'That sounds awesome! I'm not gonna beat that in the studio.' And I never did it again. We just took it straight off my demo and dumped it to the real song, which I did with a few vocal parts on the record."
The overall sound of the record is bigger, heavier and more radio-friendly than the almost New Wave-flavored "Emotion Is Dead." But that, in turn, was a striking departure from the first one.
"Maybe we kind of strive for it," says Detar of the tendency to sound completely different every time they make a record. "But I think we just write and whatever starts to happen happens. We just let the songs dictate what they're gonna be."
And the fans, he says, are cool with that.
"I would say that most of them have come to expect that at this point," Detar says. "I know there are a few who say, 'I wish you still sounded like the first record' or whatever. That's natural and I expect it, but for our true, real fans who buy every record and always come to see us, I think they love the fact that they can and should expect something different each time we make a record."
As for Epic's expectations, Detar says, "To be honest, they totally left us alone and let us do our thing, which was really important to us and something that we were really happy about."
That willingness to let them make the record they wanted to make made it that much easier to move on to a major label.
Looking back on Tooth and Nail, Detar says, "I don't miss anything from those days. Nothing. I mean, there are a couple friends that work there, but that's about it, I guess." Unless, of course, you count the times when he finds himself missing the feeling of being a major player on the roster.
"I think sometimes we get the feeling that we're lost in a sea of artists," Detar says, "and we're a small fish in a big sea. But hopefully, if we just keep doing what we're doing -- working hard and touring and playing and writing good songs -- I think our time will come and hopefully we'll get a little bigger."
NO 'LOVE' FOR CREED
Airplay shouldn't be a problem with a lead-off single as right for the Modern Rock moment as "Do You Believe Me."
And if that kicks in, it won't much matter what the writer who gave them a two-out-of-five-star review in Rolling Stone a week before the album hit the streets had to say about the band.
In 50 words or less, he blasted "Love" as "An emo-punk version of a Creed album, complete with dark, near-metal riffage, thrashy screeching, big-ass choruses and tenaciously serious poetry about 'suffer[ing] a heart attack under the weight of the world.' "
Detar says it doesn't bother him and then proceeds to talk at length about exactly how little he cares about what critics have to say.
"I expected as much, to be honest," he says, "because we've never been a band to receive much favorable press as far as reviews are concerned. So when you set your sights on knowing that it's gonna be bad, you just don't care. I just got a good laugh out of it, to be honest. Plus, the thing with Rolling Stone and those magazines -- Alternative Press, etc. -- is they'll bash a band or an artist in a review and then three months later, they'll be on the cover because ultimately, those magazines care about making money more than anything else. You know, they don't give Creed good reviews but they've been on the cover. You look at Alternative Press. You think they actually like Insane Clown Posse? Or whatever? They've been on the cover how many times? It's all a big joke.
"If you're paid to criticize records, then that's what you're gonna do. And I say to all those people, go out and do something better. If you have a problem with our record, go and make a better one and I'll review your record."
Still, he says, "It's something that we really don't pay much attention to at this point and we really don't care. A friend of mine called me up and read it to me over the phone and I just started laughing. I thought it was really funny. But it's cool. We're in Rolling Stone. Whatever."
For the record, though, the Creed comparison would really get to Detar if he wasn't so amused.
"None of us are fans at all," he says. "We're fans of the original, which would be Pearl Jam. Now, there's the 800 bands that have the wish-we-sounded-like-Eddie-Vedder lead singer, and Creed falls into that category. I mean, if we sold half as many records as Creed, I don't think anybody would be sad. But that's definitely not what we're into. It's just that we write hooks and we write big choruses and there's big production on the record, so I guess if you like big hooks and big production and you don't have a 'the' at the beginning of your name and a one-syllable name afterwards, you're Creed. Or whatever. I don't know. I haven't really thought about it. But I'm not really worried about it either. We do what we do and there are a lot of people who appreciate it. And there are a lot of people who don't. And a lot of people who never will, and we're not really concerned with those people. We just make the music that we make and we have a good time doing it."
There is, it's pointed out, a "the" at the beginning of the band's name.
"We do have a 'the,' " says Detar, with a laugh. "But Juliana Theory is a lot longer than, like, Vines or Hives or Strokes or something like that."
And while those critics' darlings have already fallen off the charts, The Juliana Theory's chart run is only beginning with an album just radio-friendly enough to become the first platinum record out of the area since Rusted Root's first album on a major a decade ago.