In The Dark:
We toured with O.M.D. in March of '82.
We played the West Coast in cities like San Diego,
L.A., Tucson, Tempe, S.F., Seattle, and Vancouver. I forget where else.
Jon and Seth were with us then. It was a great tour. Big venues with
great sound systems. Dressing rooms with vegetable platters and "imported"
beer. A nice change from Dirk Dirksen's
wisecracks at the Mabuhay and the other little shitholes we were accustomed
to. We all felt like we had hit the jackpot. I was upset that we were
not allowed to show our films but it was fun anyway. My brother came
along to roadie for us. Mike Rosen, who had engineered our "Digital
Stimulation" album took the trip with us too and did our sound.
Mike had done our sound on previous tours to the East Coast and the
Southwest. He was the party animal in our group. We'd usually pick him
up on the way out of town at some house out in the suburbs where there
had been a wild all night party after the show. He had a beard that
we were always trying to get him to cut off. There weren't many beards
in the scene then. I remember picking him up on the outskirts of town
one morning and he was pretty much clean shaven...whoever (it seems
there were several people involved) had done it had missed a few spots.
He crawled in the van and we all started laughing. He was a happy, if
ugly wreck. I don't want to get him in any more trouble so I'll leave
it at that. Andy and Paul of O.M.D. were very nice. They had tons of
equipment... synthesizers, mellotrons, pianos, on and on. It was fun
to check it out.
The Units and 415 Records dissolve their relationship:
In June of '82 , six months after the "Animals"
album was recorded and one month before itís release date we finally
agreed on a contract that included Bill Nelson's label getting it in
England. We were about to sign when Howie came up with a new 30 page
contract in which he wanted half our publishing plus control for seven
years with no advance. Even though the total recording costs were only
$30,000, including producer fees, album jacket design, etc., we would
have to sell 150,000 records before we would start getting 12 cents
per album sold.
There was no point.
CBS was buying 415 and we knew they would bury us
for 7 years. Nobody from CBS ever spoke to us. We'd be better off putting
out the album ourselves and promoting it. It's funny because a year
later CBS signed us directly through Epic Records in a deal that was
substantially better for us. Of course we didn't know that would happen
at the time, and as we left 415 the future looked grim.
Everybody in S.F. seemed to think we had made a big
mistake. Our first contract with 415 was four pages long. I typed out
the original and Howie added to it. It was a one year deal. When the
term of the contract was up and we all seemed pleased at how it worked
out, we proceeded recording the new album on the faith that we could
agree on a contract again. The album "Digital Stimulation"
cost a total of $4,139. That included the cover art that Rachel designed.
We paid the first $1500., and Howie paid us back after he recouped his
$2,639. We never saw a dime after that. Apparently the millions of dollars
it generated went into promotion. We didn't complain at the time. We
weren't in it for the money and Howie was good at what he did.
The album got a lot of press and air play across the
country. 415 Records was San Francisco's first independent record label
catering to punk. 415 had put out some singles by the Nuns and the Mutants
but the Units "Digital Stimulation" was the first alternative
album 415 put out (Unless you consider SVT with members from Jefferson
Airplane and Hot Tuna alternative).
Howie knew the value of a nickel like few do. He was
a wizard at independent promotion. He knew the independent and college
radio scene like no one else in S.F. at the time. Except for the young
boys Howie picked up at the Greyhound Bus Station, and promotion, he
really had no life. When he wasn't at the bus station or the Mab you
could go over to his apartment and give him shit.
Rachel and I had been friends with Howie for quite
a while before he put out "Digital Stimulation". He was a
fixture on the scene. We bumped into him constantly. Prior to the "Digital
Stimulation" album we put out with Howie, we put out an E.P. and
a single ourselves. Howie was very helpful in giving us free advice
and long lists of names and addresses throughout the country in the
vibrant independent scene... record stores, college radio stations,
newspapers, magazines, reviewers, scene makers. We took his advice and
sent out hundreds of records and it paid off. It was a lot of work,
so I appreciated it when Howie asked us to be on his label. I knew what
Because we had such a history of partnership and trust
and with Howie it made it all the more shocking when he tried to stick
it to us. I felt like he really fucked Bill too. Bill had cost him nothing.
Bill flew over from England at his own expense and slept on our couch
in our little one bedroom apartment the entire time we recorded the
album. It was basically a labor of love. In exchange for producing Bill
was going to get to put our record out in England.
The engineer at the Automatt where we recorded was
Howie's lackey, and was constantly giving Bill a hard time. Bill would
mix the sound and then when Billís back was turned this guy would change
the settings. It was an ugly scene.
The record never came out and Bill never received
a dime. We couldn't get a gig on the West Coast. We couldn't use the
recordings we had spent half a year on. Seth and Jon quit. It was a
very bad day!
...In a nutshell, Rachel's
brother Joel Webber, the ace East Coast independent promotion man, who
went on to create the N.Y. Music Seminar, became our manager and saved
our asses. "The Right Man" became a top ten dance hit, the
"Girl Like You" video went up to medium rotation on MTV, we
got signed to Epic/CBS, and recorded in England with Bill Nelson producing.
We spent a month living and recording at Rockfield Studios, and shared
meals and living quarters with, of all people, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin,
who was also living there at the time.