Gregory Coates’ Dumb Love – Part 2

After electrifying the Wilmore 9 Festival last Saturday, Dumb Love will return to Long Beach on Saturday, August 17 for an acoustic set as part of Summer And Music’s Busker Fest.

In Part 1 of my interview with Dumb Love co-founder and bassist Greg Coates, he spoke about his early life in Michigan, his move to California and becoming ensconced in the Long Beach music scene.

When we last left him, he’d just moved into an empty warehouse that eventually became known as The Space. He’d been playing regularly in numerous local bands, and aspirations were high for record deals with Mickey’s Big Mouth and Twelvehourmary. Still, even as the infrastructure for The Space was being developed, his studio session work was steadily increasing, and calls started coming in with offers to play with various solo acts and bands.

“I got a call from a label head-hunter–someone who typically finds members to complete bands they are courting–asking me how my bands were doing. I had to be honest. Even though I was neck deep in this adult musician paradise, I really felt like I had bottomed out, especially after choosing to not pursue the Cornell connection and personal management. I knew I had much more to accomplish.

“He told me about this epic singer/songwriter who was holed up in Buckeye Cherry Studios above the Hollywood Athletic Club. He had mad label interest from Sony, MCA (r.i.p., the first of many to come…), and a producer who had dedicated his studio to recording a masterpiece of a record. I agreed to meet with him and audition his situation as much as he was auditioning me. He was this vibrant, enegetic guy named Bernardo, affectionately known as Bird.”

Bird had parted with his previous band because they’d demanded equal shares in the publishing of his songs, which he had written on his own.

“Publishing is a musician’s lifeblood. If you don’t have any, you probably won’t survive unless you are a side-person or multi-instrumentalist who can morph into any musical situation, avoid the drug, alcohol and drama problems, and keep gigging until you die poor and lonely.”

In playing with Bird, Coates discovered that, although his guitar playing was just adequate, “he had melodies gushing out of him, and I immediately saw the potential. The drummer seemed to have a bit of a ‘habit’ that would’ve proven problematic so I knew, if this was to be my ticket to ‘success,’ I needed to bring the drummer.”

Coates tapped Delta Nove drummer Mike Miley, who he’d played with as part of Dave “Potroast” Hathaway’s band. With a bit of rock star training, he was ready.

“Now came the hard part: I had to tell Mickey, first, since we were in the middle of a deal with Sony/Epic, that I was starting a new project that might take me out of the scene immediately and for an unknown amount of time. He totally understood and gave me his blessing, knowing full well what it meant.”

In Part 1, Coates spoke about Twelvehourmary’s trip to New York to audition, unsuccessfully, for major lable consideration, a trip that he’d chosen over an opportunity to audition for Soundgarden front man, Chris Cornell.

“12HM was playing another show at The Que Sera, and I was trying desperately to juggle the Bird situation with the other fifteen bands I was playing with. And that was it. I kinda snapped. I realized, at that second, if I didn’t do something now I might not ever get to ‘where I belong.’

“I remember telling J.R. [aka JAR] at the bar, ‘enjoy the show because it’s my last.’ He looked a bit shocked, and it got around the crowded room pretty quickly, finally making it’s way to my band members who, understandably, looked a bit riled. But we got up on stage and we threw down the most ferocious set I think we ever played. There was even a point where I thought, ‘now this band could get the deal we couldn’t land before.’

“I felt bad but, after we fell short in NYC, I was really let down, not by my band or the music that I loved so much, but by the standard we were measured by. ‘There just isn’t any star power except you, and you’re the bass player.’ The words, though nice to hear, are crushing when you love the music and the people making it with you. I grew weary of hearing it, but I kept hearing it from industry and fans alike. I had to go, now.

“I still feel badly about how I handled that, but I think it’s what separated me from my peers at the time. You must understand the urgency of rock n roll, the moment that you are on stage, when it’s time to tap in to the well of greatness with no doubt whatsoever about what you are there to do, and that is to make people feel it! Subconsciously, that’s why I threw a ‘grenade’ in the room: To announce that all of this could end in a moment and you’d better make it count, now.

“I had a moment on stage at The Blue Cafe, packed to the gills, where I remember the first note, and the last note, I played with 12HM that night. At the end of the set, Brett looked at me and was like ‘What the fuck was that?’ Apparently, due to exhaustion and copious amounts of Stoli in pint glasses, I pulled a ‘Full Morrison’ and left people dazed with, from what I was told by audience members, some on-stage shamanistic whirling dervish fever-pitched excursions into the great beyond, while playing flawlessly. Yeah. That is what I’m talking about.”

While Coates’ departure from Twelvehourmary and Mickey’s Big Mouth left his band mates “seriously bummed,” he launched into a phase of rigorous work with Bird and Miley. They were rehearsing, writing, and recording every day, with Peter McCabe as producer and engineer.

“We’re tracking and recording and MCA A&R executive Jeremy Hammond comes by, and we blow his mind with sounds reminiscent of The Who meets Nirvana and a whole mish mash of classic and modern rock elements. I’m in a power trio, where I”m really playing and living up to my potential within rock song structure.”

The studio process was not progressing at the pace Bird expected, and he grew weary of the pull the Long Beach scene had on Coates, who was still trying to play shows with his friends when time allowed. Eventually, they left McCabe and started playing shows in Hollywood, where their fan base grew, and drew the attention of producers, studio execs, and celebrities.

“We ended up striking a deal–the first of many–with Tom Hank’s Playtone Records. We recorded all kinds of stuff with different producers, some of which were very reputable and successful. It felt like I had arrived, even though I was still working at World Of Strings to keep the money flowing.

“We were able to talk Mr. Hank’s lackeys into getting us a house in Van Nuys. At this point, Bird is a quartet, having added a second guitarist named Adam, who gave up a sure shot at The Foo Fighters to give Bird the necessary guitar support needed to bring his studio work to life. Miley and I thought Bird could handle the guitar chores on his own, but he didn’t want to have to work that hard, a common trait amongst musicians, it seems. That was a definite hint at the band’s future.”

Bird was known to sport white feathered wings while performing, an affectation that some found chariming, and others found problematic.

“Playtone wanted Bird to ditch the wings. Sometimes in the story of a band or artist, there’s that one thing that keeps them from realizing their ultimate potential. This was it in Bird’s case. Playtone’s idea of cutting off our rock balls and turning us into The Eagles plummetted to the ground. Adam was fired by Bird for dubious reasons I won’t get into, and I lost a really good friend for no good reason. Playtone left us, and we started getting a whole new flood of interest.

{loadposition latestlife}”We got a big manager, a big lawyer, and got busy. After many showcases and shows, we were doing a private showcase at The Whisky A Go-Go for Dreamworks and Goldie – Michael Goldstone – with the activity heating up around us yet again. An upstart label, Immergent Records out of Santa Monica, starts sniffing around and sends their most nurturing ‘good guy’ A&R dude to hover over our every move.

“I was seeing a direct route to KROQ, and a huge deal with a label that has more money than all of the sky daddies, who desperately needs to break a band with their ginormous [sic] film profits, who liked the wings and saw the vision of us as a ‘super group.’ I was out-voted, which would prove to be a recurring theme.

“Idealists don’t like their delusions crushed, and reality is often much more stark than our desires. I didn’t believe the start-up could offer the things we needed to take Bird to where we needed to be, though they were really great people with a ton of experience and a full coffer of Fleetwood Mac and Royal Air Force cash. But this business is about relationships, more than just cash, more than just talent. It’s structured just like society. The top stays at the top, and anyone who’s not in gets left or, more likely forced, out.

“So, disgruntled as I was with our big lawyer, gone because of ‘our’ decision to go with ‘our’ heart instead of ‘our’ brain, I negotiated our deal with the CEO and got us ready to make this record we had already made before. We got to work with Brendan O’Brien’s right hand man, Nick DiDia, and Fleetwood Mac producer Richard Dashut who really encouraged my input into the band. We became great friends.

“I had the label buy me a new upright bass–thank you Mario Barmosca of Bourbon Jones infamy–and I felt somewhat vindicated and valued. We set up at A&M Studio D–now Henson Studios–and went crazy there, recording live using 5.1 [theatrical surround sound] technology, which Immergent was at the forefront of at the time. They also filmed the entire process for what was the very first simultaneous CD/DVD release of a new rock band. We went to Brendan’s studio in Atlanta, called Southern Tracks, to overdub and mix. There were some really, truly, great moments but I was filled with doubt.”

In addition to Coates’ concerns about signing with a new label, the album was released on the same day as Radiohead’s Kid A and Tool’s Lateralus. Tough competition for a fledgling band. Still, the CD and DVD were widely praised by critics.

“We toured like mad men, playing the Warped Tour, and with Veruca Salt, The Cult, Monster Magnet, Stabbing Westward, and all kinds of bands, but nothing that would get us in front of the crowd that Dreamworks and KROQ would’ve gotten for us. We were amazing, cathartic, a true classic power trio, but with the refinement of three trained musicians who sounded like five up there.

“Every performance has always been the same for me. The way I see it, if it’s ten or twenty thousand, I still play exactly the same. For me, the audience just happens to be there, because I’d be playing anyway.”

After the spate of touring, the band was sharing a penthouse apartment at the Cooper Arms. Leo Rossi, one of Immergent’s key people, lived in San Pedro and was part of the burgeoning cultural renaissance on 6th Street. He introduced the singer to Michael and Sally Rich, owners of Karma Studios.

“Bird went into this studio and cut a second album. It was more morose and adult, almost folk or country-tinged, minus the shitkicker mentality. We kick-started a whole movement of Long Beach and OC bands recording there, including Jay Buchanan, who almost ended up in Bird, at least for a minute. The record never saw the light of day.

“I was restless and needed to be more of a contributing force in a band. Bird was intimidated by my skill level so, instead of letting me teach him, he shut me down. His loss. He also suffered from what would later be coined as ‘sniper in the head’ syndrome, which is a fancy term for fear of failure, something I was growing very sick of.

“I did everything right. I put $35,000 of my advance back into the band to keep us on the road. Miley paid off his student loans, which was very smart on his part. Bird? Well, he came from money, so he spent it like a kid, and I hope he enjoyed it.

“My last show with Bird almost sent me and Miley off the stage. Bird lost it in front of Dreamworks, who were there to pick us up and dust us off. Not after that show. Sniper, in the head.”

Once again, Coates was faced with the reality of a dream project turning into a nightmare. Because of a ‘key man’ clause in the band’s contract with Immergent, Greg’s departure ended that deal.

“I was drunk, sad and disillusioned. I contemplated quitting music altogether. If this band couldn’t happen, who blew everyone’s minds and all these other bands asses off every stage, then what the Hell was the point?”

In Part 3, Greg gets a call to audition with Nick Lucero, drummer from Queens of the Stone Age.

Read Part 1 of Greg’s interview.

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