A Power Greater Than Themselves

This is when Buchanan could become mega, but first they get to turn their lives over to the music industry

"I wrote the last track, 'On Me,' when I was 16," Jay says. "'If You Leave' I wrote when I was 17, and now I'm 28. It's almost like another person wrote those. I've had to rework things and switch lines so they stay current, and I can't handle playing or singing if it's not something I can identify with or feel. The crowd knows when you're faking it, and I have faked it before. I've been in that complacent, blasé state of mind, where you're apathetic and complacent—'Here I go, doing my thing again'—and you're not feeling the energy. I went through a stage like that about a year ago, and boy, that was murder."

* * *

What Jay went through was a divorce. Coupled with the frustrations of having the band's debut album in limbo, wondering if it would ever come out, made him take stock of who he was, who he wanted to be and the way he was treating people.

"I really got past the whole postured-rock-star-ego thing, which some had accused me of. But I just realized I really didn't want to be doing that. You wind up just losing track of who you are completely. At the end of it all, I'm just not comfortable treating people shitty."

Being nice helps, Jay's discovered, but he's not above talking smack about people who deserve it. When he was being courted by several major record labels and performing special showcases, he was very blunt when he needed to be.

"There was a big major-label do-si-do going on, and we really got burned out by that," says Jay. "There were these record people who would show up an hour and a half late for private showcases, all sorts of sleaziness and bullshit. People who wanted to mold us into something we're not—'We love you guys, but how do we market you? You're so different!'

"There was this one guy we almost signed with. He hung out with us and talked to us all the time on the phone. And this wasn't long ago, either, maybe 2000. So, last summer, the band was in New York, and we ran into him in the club we were playing. We went up to him and said, 'Hey!'—and he looked at me and didn't have any idea who I was. It was very telling, like someone who you had an affair with once and who instantly forgets you."

Jay's frustration with the industry may have actually helped him score his Ultimatum deal. When he met with an A&R rep from the label, he first proceeded to let loose an angry spew for a good half-hour.

"I was just going, 'Fuck labels, fuck everybody, we don't need them! We'll record our record ourselves!' And the next day, we got a call from him saying that he was really into us, and they wound up picking up the ball. I went to their office, and right away, I saw this big picture of Joni Mitchell on their wall—a good sign. And once we got to talking, they gave us the impression they were really about letting the artists do what they want without outside interference. I got to meet the president of the label, and I could call him up right now and get him on the phone right now if I wanted. And I know not everyone can do that at other labels."

Still, nothing is guaranteed, no matter how much the label people may love Buchanan. Like so many debut albums by so many new bands, All Understood could easily vanish into a plastic netherworld of used-CD bins in sad little record shops. But this is still a promising time for Buchanan: something might happen. The San Francisco radio set went fabulously—"We were told their program director usually only sticks around for half a song, but he stayed for all four of ours!" drummer Powell says. "Then we went outside to smoke, and there was this guy with a suit sitting there, and he told us everyone was practically shitting their pants over us."

Ummm . . . in a good way?

"Yeah, in a good way. But it's just a matter of lighting sparks and taking things one step at a time," Powell continues. "Like Maroon 5—we ran into [guitarist] James [Valentine, who had previously been in OC band Square] in New York. Maroon 5 are platinum now, and James told us it took a year's worth of van touring, thinking it was never going to happen, and then all of sudden: sparks! And then they're in a bus, and he's buying a laptop and pinching himself every morning."

"This is the first time we've really had stuff out of our control," says bassist Todd Sanders. "For so long, we existed with having everything in our control, and we've prospered, and now we're at a spot where our future isn't entirely up to us anymore."

"We know how to handle our shit," Jay says. "But when we leave it up to other people, it's scary."

* * *

It's Tuesday, Feb. 24, and we've wandered into the Costa Mesa Best Buy to pick up the new Buchanan album. Where Buchanan should be, we find only Buckcherry, so we hunt down a yellow-shirted employee who can hopefully help us out. The shiny-faced clerk is friendly as he punches some keys into his computer. "Uhhh . . . no, doesn't look like we got any copies. It says it came out today, though. Don't know what to tell you."

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