When The Wallflowers’ struck gold – and multi-platinum – with their sophomore record Bringing Down The Horse in the latter half of the 90’s, it might be hard to believe that the band were free agents just a few years prior.
Fronted by Jakob Dylan, the band released its self-titled debut effort in 1992, a time when the grunge movement had a stranglehold on radio and video outlets throughout the world.
Although it would be short-sighted to insinuate that non-grunge acts were being completely shut out from the charts at that time – R.E.M.’s album Automatic For The People and the debut effort from hip-hop act Arrested Development topped the charts that year as well – The Wallflowers time had simply not yet arrived.
Looking back at the time and circumstances surrounding The Wallflowers’ debut, Dylan still feels a sense of pride from the in-roads the band made with their debut.
“I genuinely wasn’t that disappointed with sales of our first record. I think any disappointment felt was from people who felt the band was going to sell millions just based on my name alone,” Dylan says, inadvertently referring to his famous parentage.
He says the group’s dismissal from their first recording contract had more to do with a rotating cast of record company executives than the label’s dissatisfaction with the 40,000-plus copies the album sold.
“As is often the case in this business, the people that championed the band and brought us to the label ended up being removed from their positions while we were out on the road supporting the record. When you have these major personnel overhauls at record labels, the new staff often wants to start with a completely clean slate, and not responsible for someone they had no part in signing, and so they clear the decks.”
Instead of wallowing in a sea of self-pity over having lost their recording contract, Dylan says he and the band opted to choose a path of optimism and focus on its long-term growth instead.
“Although there’s a lot of ambition and potential, most bands aren’t always that great when they start out. The same business model doesn’t exist today, but back in the 80’s and 90’s, record companies nurtured bands and helped them to grow and build towards becoming something substantial down the road. I got to make a record and go on tour when I was 21 years old; it was tough to feel as though we had been hard done by.”
The Wallflowers wouldn’t be label-less for long, eventually signing with a new label, Interscope, for the release of Bringing Down The Horse, which they made with acclaimed producer T-Bone Burnett. Released in May 1996, the album’s first single, “6th Avenue Heartache,” fared respectfully well at radio, while the eye-catching video made waves at MTV.
Even if that song proved been the only success the album garnered, it still would have eclipsed anything from the group’s debut by a mile. Bigger things were in store, however. Released in late 1996, the second single from the record, “One Headlight,” ended up blowing the band up in ways they couldn’t have envisioned even two years prior.
By the time the group wrapped up promotional efforts behind the album in 1998, Bringing Down The Horse had sold more than four million copies in the U.S., in addition to more than 600,000 copies in Canada. Add in a pair of Grammy Awards and yet another hit single courtesy of the group’s cover of David Bowie’s song “Heroes” for the Godzilla soundtrack and you’ve got a dizzying couple of years to reflect upon.
“We were just excited at the prospect of making another record and ensuring that album was as good as it could be,” Dylan says, referring to the time surrounding their breakthrough album. “Even being in the thick of things, everything seemed to happen in increments over a period of three years. The record started to gain traction, but nothing around us changed too much. We were the same bunch of guys on the same bus that whole time.”
The Wallflowers’ success didn’t end there. Breach, the group’s third full-length effort released in 2000 was certified for Gold sales in both Canada and the U.S. Even though subsequent releases including 2002’s Red Letter Days and Rebel, Sweetheart (2005) saw the group’s mainstream returns diminish slightly, the group still managed to maintain a fiercely dedicated following.
When The Wallflowers completed touring behind Rebel, Sweetheart, Dylan says the group was, for lack of a better term, burned out. They unanimously decided to take a hiatus from the band to focus on other projects.
“Maybe it wasn’t the most practical time to decide to step away from the group, but it was something we had to do,” he says.
The group’s hiatus lasted the better part of six years during which time Dylan released two acclaimed solo efforts – 2008’s Seeing Things and 2010’s Women and Country.
“Until I released my solo records, all I had done was write songs for the Wallflowers while the other guys in the band were using downtime from the band to pursue other projects. I was looking to wear a different hat for a little while and try something else.”
The Wallflowers reconvened for 2012’s Glad All Over, the group’s first record in approximately seven years. Led by the infectious single “Reboot The Mission,” the album was generally well received. Dylan says, however, that many of the group’s previous issues bubbled to the surface, a friction that would eventually leave Dylan as the only Wallflower still standing.
“People change over time, but some people either couldn’t change for the better or didn’t necessarily want to return to the band, so we are very much back to where we started in terms of The Wallflowers being my band. I haven’t decided what the future holds in terms of the band name, but I’m out playing shows because I truly like playing these songs and people still want to hear them,” Dylan says.
What: The Wallflowers
When: Tuesday Aug. 23, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
Tickets start at $49.99 plus taxes and service charges. Advance tickets are available at the Casino Gift Shop, by phone 1-866-943-8849 and online at www.casinonb.ca