Sound travels juliana theory's music
flows from indie to major label

2 October 2003

Date: October 2, 2003 Publication: Albany Times Union (Albany, NY) Author: ROD HARMON

Juliana Theory built a loyal fan base as an underground alternative band whose first two albums, "Understand this is a Dream" and "Emotion is Dead," sold a combined 100,000 copies and made them a darling of college radio.

Then they signed with Epic Records, and the cries of "sellout" could immediately be heard echoing across the horizon.

Lead vocalist Brett Detar doesn't pay much attention to that. People said the same thing about R.E.M. when it signed with Warner Brothers in 1988, and with Nirvana when it went to DGC in 1991.

"There is a fine line between art and commerce that everybody is always trying to juggle," said Detar, who leads the band Wednesday night into Saratoga Winners in Latham. "Honestly, if I wanted to make a ton of money, I would have chosen a different career. I have a 21-year-old brother who owns an Internet company, and he's making a mint.

"There's definitely a lot of people that want us to be their little secret. But we need to make a living, or we can't continue to do this."

"Love," Juliana Theory's first album for Epic Records, was released in February. The benefits of having the monetary backing from a major label are immediately apparent in the sound quality, which is leaps and bounds over the band's recordings for the independent label Tooth and Nail.

The songs are more concise, the arrangements are more complex, and the piece has a cohesiveness so tight, some have erroneously assumed it was a concept album.

"We wrote better bridges for this record," Detar said. "As simple as that sounds, I think that was always one of our weaknesses. We don't purposefully set out to do stuff completely different, we just kind of let the music take itself where it wants to. There are definitely elements on the record that are new to us, but at the same time, we didn't totally abandon our sound."

"That sound" combines melodic hooks with loud guitars, and would be called heavy metal if it were released in 1975. But because it's 2003, and modern metal is typified by guttural vocals and guitars tuned down to D, Juliana Theory has been lumped into the emo category instead.

It's a label the band has resisted ever since its formation five years ago in southwest Pennsylvania, to little avail. Even their record company bio calls them "indie/emo rockers."

"The term seems to classify so many bands and artists, it's almost incohesive and incoherent as alternative," Detar said. "You look at alternative, and it's just so broad. It's PJ Harvey, and it's Weezer, and it's Green Day. We just want to write the music we want to write, and people are going to call it whatever they want, because they always want to fit you into a tidy little category. We've realized it's a necessary evil of doing what we do."

Making the leap from indie darlings to mainstream rock stars hasn't come without a price. Relentless touring earlier this year wore down Detar, and the band was forced to cancel several dates because he was too ill to perform.

"I had tonsillitis and strep throat and the flu and lead poisoning," he said. "Stuff just started piling on top of itself. I was still singing and playing shows, but I got so bad that I just couldn't even be on the bus anymore, and had to go home. It took me about six weeks to completely recover."

Juliana Theory has already begun to write songs for its fourth full-length album, which Detar says should have a more raw, live-in-the-studio sound than "Love." The finished product most likely won't be released until next year.

"A lot of the stuff is faster and a bit more stripped down at this point," Detar said. "It's hard to say how it will sound, because who knows what else we'll write. We just try to grow with each release and try to do things we haven't done in the past."

THEORY IN PRACTICE
THE JULIANA THEORY
With Hopesfall, Celebrity and Copeland
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Saratoga Winners, Route 9, Latham
Tickets: $12 in advance; $14 at the door
Info: 783-1010

 

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