Plenty of “American Idol” finalists have independently released albums or singles before rolling the dice on the show for a shot at a big-time recording contract. In April, an Ohio radio station even started playing Crystal Bowersox’s “Holy Toledo,” a song that was never released on an album. But never in the history of the program (as far as MTV News can tell) has a top-three finisher had a brand-new single offered to radio in the final weeks of competition.
On Friday — the day Lee DeWyze returned home to Chicago for a parade, a concert and a visit to Wrigley Field to sing the national anthem and throw out the first pitch at a Cubs game — his former label, Wuli Records, delivered “Princess (Reprise)” to two hometown stations. On Wednesday afternoon, music engineer Doug McBride was at Chicago’s Gravity Studios putting the finishing touches on the song, which he’d first laid ears on less than 24 hours earlier.
“These guys [Lee DeWyze bandmembers and Wuli partners guitarist Louis Svitek and drummer Ryan McGuire] essentially produced this song,” he said, cueing up the tune on the small studio’s booming system. “It’s not really a remix of the album song; it’s a completely different production and recording. And basically, I just kind of helped them finish it.” He said the song, which appears in a much more sedate version on the Wuli-released Slumberland, shows a different side of DeWyze, with a crunchier rock arrangement, big drums and a heavier, alt-rock vibe.
The tune starts out with DeWyze’s raggedy, soulful voice over a gently strummed acoustic guitar, which is quickly joined by crashing drums and a thick wall of electric guitars that mixes the sensitivity of John Mayer with the stomp of Nickelback. The result is much more aggressive than the style of songs DeWyze has performed on “Idol,” especially in the middle section, which features a squealing electric-guitar solo.
Though Wuli’s founders sent copies of the song on Wednesday night to both the alt-rock station WKQX 102.1 (Q101) and the more classic-rock outlet WLUP 97.9 FM (The Loop), Kyle Guderian, operations manager for the Chicago sister stations, said Monday (May 17) that only WLUP has played it so far.
“We put it on the air Thursday on the Loop and spun it a few times on Thursday and Friday,” he said, noting that it did not get any weekend play but was supposed to pop up again during the Monday drive-time hours. “We’re still evaluating it to see if it will be a permanent add.” While the song didn’t fit the format for Q101, the station honored DeWyze’s request to be interviewed on Friday on the outlet he said he listened to all the time growing up. DeWyze was in town for his home visit, which his many supporters were excited about, as the low-key singer steams toward a possible showdown in the finals with Crystal Bowersox or Casey James.
While the Loop only has about a dozen new songs in rotation at any give time, Guderian said the response has been positive so far for “Princess (Reprise),” and he’s psyched to have the exclusive. “There’s lots of local hometown support for him, so it’s natural to have people exited to hear it and applauding the Loop’s effort to support him,” he said. “For a straight-ahead rock song, it fits the bill.”
Slumberland, released quietly in January when DeWyze was already on the show, was the second of a planned trio of Wuli albums under the singer’s contract with the label. Svitek and McGuire let their bandmate out of his contract, though, so he could compete on the show, but McGuire said the wheels were already in motion to release the follow-up to 2007′s So I’m Told, so that plan went ahead.
McGuire said he and Svitek were inspired to work with the one vocal take they had from DeWyze of the alternate version of the song because they were eager to try to get some of Lee’s music on local radio stations to support the hometown finalist. What they came up with was an unused track from the Slumberland sessions that they added new music to and beefed up in order to get play on commercial radio in the lead-up to the May 26 “Idol” finale.
Though sales of Slumberland were sluggish to tiny at first, McGuire said they’ve picked up considerably since, and he’s hoping the new single — or, best-case scenario, a win by Lee — will boost them even more. “He’s done pretty well,” McGuire said cagily, his eyes hidden underneath a baseball cap pulled low over his face. He noted that Walmart had just made a sizable order and that other major national retailers are getting onboard, in addition to iTunes. Though he didn’t have hard figures to share, he said even without DeWyze available to promote the disc — which he can’t do while on “Idol” — the word of mouth is definitely getting out. “Walmart is a huge chain, and they gook a big chunk, a big whopper order,” he said of the disc, which was recorded in his backyard studio in the Oak Park section of the city.
McGuire — who, along with ex-Ministry member Svitek, backed up DeWyze for five years and played on both records — couldn’t resist razzing his former frontman, chuckling about how Lee had insisted on having the Slumberland cases printed on recycled hemp paper with plant-based dyes, a process that tacked an extra six weeks onto the manufacturing process. But now that orders are picking up, McGuire said he’s been forced to revert back to good-old plastic jewel cases to comply with some of the major chains. “It’s plastic from now on,” he laughed. “Sorry, Lee.”
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