The music business can be a cruel route to possible fame and fortune. For every musician or band that succeeds there are hundreds – more likely thousands – of others who crumble under the strain of trying to "make it."
Homeless J have not only survived those trials and tribulations, they have emerged unscathed. And, more impressively, they have done so with no lingering bitterness or anger. After a couple of challenging years of seeing the crazy side of the business world, their love of music and their determination to share that music with an audience remains undeterred.
Formed many years ago, when the three original members were still in high school, homeless J had a lot of ambition and a drive to create something very special. One of those original members, Chad Van Meter, recalls that they were very much under the spell of music.
"We were enthralled by the magic of music," he says. "We paid little attention to pop appeal or general public perception then, and our songs were about six to eight minutes long. When we added a rhythm section – and our original rhythm section were brothers – [our songs] had a whole other sound. They had a tightness to the way they played. So we all kind of went back and forth, and eventually the sounds melded perfectly. We had our arty rock approach, and they had a more organized, succinct pop approach, and it came together pretty easily. We had pop sensibilities, and [our rhythm section] had hard rock sensibilities, so we just started balancing each other out."
Things clicked so quickly, in fact, that the band was soon spotted at an industry showcase in Nashville, where they were signed within a year to a production deal. Within a year of that, they had a contract to release their record, Three Seconds to Gaze, with MCA. Although Van Meter says things were moving very rapidly in the beginning, an unexpected merger left homeless J – and their album – on the outside looking in.
Eventually their production company opted to start their own label, signing homeless J as their first act, with an eye toward releasing Three Seconds to Gaze after all. This time they got right up to the day before their scheduled release when a lawsuit among the label's partners cut off all marketing and promotion money. Although already heading into stores, their debut was left to its own devices, with no added push from a label.
"Nobody's to blame," says Van Meter. "It was just bad timing, horrible luck. Both times we were very close. But the CD did give us some traction, and we just waited until we were free of all of our original contractual obligations."
Instead of folding under the weight of disappointment, homeless J rebounded and released The Squeeze this June, only 13 months after Three Seconds to Gaze had quietly hit the shelves. The title demonstrates evidence of their recent experiences, and the music, while showing a wisdom gained through adversity, continues to show the band's resilience.
"It definitely comes from everything that's happened in the last three or four years," says Van Meter. "We had a musical life and we had a business life, and we were getting squeezed from both sides. Just like a corset squeezes a woman's ribs. But through that we gained a richer sense of songwriting, and the music is still coming."
Now enjoying the independence of recording and promoting themselves, Van Meter admits that it's challenging to balance the different aspects of recording and releasing material without the benefit of experienced professionals.
"It's definitely a catch-22," he says. "On the one hand, labels are by nature in the business of being financially viable, and they do whatever is working and selling. At the same time, the Internet has seen the rise of self-promotion and marketing, but the nature and temperament of an artist is not necessarily going to work that way. We have to be tech-savvy to run and operate a website, and we need to know about marking and self-promotion. So again, we feel the squeeze because we just want to play music."
While their experiences were frustrating, Van Meter feels they helped the band refocus on their original purpose.
"In some ways it's been a real test of what 'are we here for,'" We've really had to ask those questions. And we still want the same things that we started out wanting, and that it's worth it."
The band began recording The Squeeze on January 1 of this year, adding to their sense of new beginnings. Having waited four years for Three Seconds to Gaze to be released, they were anxious to share the music they'd been writing more recently.
"We were ready to move on artistically," Van Meter says.
With The Squeeze coming out in June, homeless J have been busy promoting it, with radio starting to pick up some songs and regional performances picking up momentum with rock audiences. They hope to do for themselves what the big labels weren't able to accomplish in the past.
"I don't know if we have a grand plan," Van Meter says, "but we are trying a big grassroots, independent promotional push. We're a little bit wiser about the promotional game now, and we're focusing on Midwest markets and trying to get together the right kinds of marketing materials. But it's still the music that's most important. That's your real product."
Although their focus will be on The Squeeze, Van Meter says another EP may make its way out in the not-to-distant future, as well.
"We did some recording between Three Seconds to Gaze and The Squeeze," he says. "We're considering releasing some of those tracks. It's would be a fun little project and would be a great chance to perform those songs."
Van Meter says the promotion for The Squeeze is just beginning, but the band continues to write all the time – meaning there will always be a future for homeless J.
"We are always writing. It's part of our discipline and part of keeping healthy.
"I really don't want our story to sound like a sad one, for people to think we're saying 'Oh woe is me,' because we don't feel that way. In the end, the music really makes all of it worthwhile."
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