Just two years after their first album, Home, sold more than a million copies, Cincinnati rockers Blessid Union of Souls found themselves homeless -- and nearly helpless -- when their label, EMI Records, closed its doors in 1997.
"We were doing a promotional tour in Louisiana when the word came," bassist Tony Clark recalled. "Our gear was impounded. Our bus driver didn't know what to do with us. It felt like we had just fallen off the face of the earth, that no one cared about us."
Luck has never been entirely on the side of the earnest, emotional rock band whose first album featured the hit ballad "I Believe" -- and that may explain why bandmembers said they're only warily optimistic about prospects for their third album, Walking Off the Buzz. It came out April 27 and finally crept onto the Billboard 200 albums chart this week at #187.
The band pursues a more raw, a more guitar- and bass-heavy sound than it did on previous records, "to reflect more of what we sound like when we play live," keyboardist C.P. Roth said. The opening track, "The Last Day," rings in the album with loud guitars and an overall feel reminiscent of Soul Asylum's gritty folk-rock and Third Eye Blind's radio-friendly pop-rock.
But that's not what Capitol Records, which picked up Blessid Union's contract after EMI folded, wanted out of the band. The group's self-titled second album had been out only five weeks when EMI went under and Blessid Union -- Clark, Roth, lead singer Eliot Sloan, guitarist Jeff Pence and drummer Eddie Hedges -- clashed with Capitol over promotion of the album and over plans for the next one.
"We had so much rocking material, but [Capitol] was constantly trying to get us back into doing very romantic songs, like 'I Believe,' " Roth said. "In Capitol's defense, we were a bit ornery at the time -- and they were dealing with promoting [an] album that was more of a vision of a guy at EMI."
So the band packed its bags yet again.
"[Capitol] gave us an option to do a third album," Roth said, "but we just wanted to make a fresh start in the business."
That fresh start landed Blessid Union at Push Records, which released Walking Off the Buzz in conjunction with V2 Records. The album includes a cover of the Beatles' "Revolution," which bandmembers said was the result of repeatedly listening to the Fab Four's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles (better known as "The White Album") while working in the studio.
"Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me)" (RealAudio excerpt), the first single, is a catchy pop song with a litany of celebrity names, including that of movie idol Leonardo DiCaprio. It's about the pitfalls of being famous, though it has nothing to do with having your label go belly-up on you.
Sloan, who co-wrote the single with Pence and a songwriter who goes by the single name Emosia, said in a statement that female fans would constantly "ask me to say hi to Leonardo, figuring I just knew him. I got tired of having to explain that every performer doesn't know every other performer."
Blessid Union haven't completely abandoned the love ballads that first caught the public's attention. To the slow strains of "Standing at the Edge of the Earth" (RealAudio excerpt), Sloan sings of waiting for a love to return. If the song sounds cinematic, that was by design: It was originally slated to be part of the "Armageddon" soundtrack. But in another bit of bad luck, the filmmakers opted instead for Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," which became one of 1998's biggest pop hits.
Getting their song passed over in favor of Aerosmith's was disappointing, said Roth, who wrote "Standing at the Edge" with Pence, Hedges and Emosia (all the bandmembers compose). But he said he realized the odds were in Aerosmith's favor, especially since singer Steven Tyler's daughter Liv starred in the movie. Still, Roth said, "My hat is completely off to Steven Tyler because his performance of that song really brings it home."
Blessid Union of Souls are on tour in the U.S. with a summer-long itinerary that includes several radio-station-sponsored shows.
"We're very fortunate with our fans," Clark said. "They totally support us, and if it weren't for them calling into radio [stations] and asking to hear our songs, we wouldn't be here today."
Chad Mallett, 20, of Jennings, La., who runs the Blues Virtue Blessid Union of Souls homepage, wrote in an e-mail that one of Blessid's strengths is that Sloan isn't afraid to sing sad songs and lyrics about relationships. "It really picks me up when I am down," Mallet said.