New York pop band the Rosenbergs have drawn loads of press for battling allegedly unfair major label contracts, for signing with prog-rocker Robert Fripp's experimental Discipline Global Mobile record company and for teaming up with Napster.
Lost in the shuffle is the fact that, oh yeah, they actually make music, too.
Singer/guitarist David Fagin said he doesn't mind that the Rosenbergs have garnered more attention for their business principles than for their album Mission: You, in stores Tuesday.
"It's completely left behind when we take the stage," he said recently from a tour stop in Lawrence, Kansas. "What we say on panels, and [when we] get all political — business is business. But when we're on the stage, you won't hear Midnight Oil or U2 political rally cries. All you'll hear is girl-screws-boy-over pop songs."
Misson: You is chock full of 'em, from the bop-bop, na-na sing-a-long "Sucking on a Plum" (RealAudio excerpt) to the dreamy guitar and vibraphone on "Secret" (RealAudio excerpt). Then there's the put-down "Paper and Plastic" (RealAudio excerpt).
"My sister's ex-boyfriend at the time was dating this real plastic girl — totally fake, silicone, the whole nine yards," he said "She was having a real rough time with that."
That's pretty much how Fagin himself feels about the traditional music industry: it's contrived, manufactured pop, and it's awfully hard to compete against.
These days, as the music industry makes headlines by waging war against the Napster online music-sharing service, it's hard not to dwell on the Rosenbergs' quest to chart new ground for artists.
It started a year ago, when the then-unsigned group turned down a chance to appear on the "Farmclub.com" television show because the appearance would have given Universal Music a lengthy exclusive option to sign the band. Publicity over the flap eventually caused the show to drop the signing clause.
Then in the fall, the Rosenbergs became an unlikely addition to Fripp's Discipline Global Mobile, a new label whose roster includes art-rock old folks such as King Crimson, Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones and Yes drummer Bill Bruford.
"It tends to be that people who've gone through the industry come out the other end and realize they'd like to do it differently," said DGM co-founder David Singleton from his office in Salisbury, England. "It tends to be the people at that end of their career who look at it [that way]. Increasingly I think younger musicians are looking at it differently."
Earlier this month, the Rosenbergs announced they're teaming up with Napster, who will not only sponsor an upcoming tour but will also pay for a second copy of Mission: You to be included with the first 10,000 copies sold. Singleton hopes fans will give away the duplicate and win converts for the band.
It's all a part of the band's unorthodox approach to forging a long-term career. Rosenbergs bassist Evan Silverman (who once worked for sonicnet.com) said the band's decision to give away MP3 copies of the song "Paper and Plastic" through Napster resulted in 15,000 unique visitors to Rosenbergs Web site (www.therosenbergs.com) in just the first five days.
The band's relationship with DGM is also highly unusual, structured more like a management deal than a record contact. In it, the Rosenbergs maintain the rights to all their recordings, while DGM pays for cutting the album and receives 20 percent of all the band's earnings — including sales from T-shirts, concert tickets, song licensing and publishing.
Fagin doesn't believe the Rosenbergs will upend the music industry infrastructure overnight.
"We're not naive enough to think the big bully on the block is just gonna go away," he said. "But right now, the stone we have in our little slingshot isn't big enough to slay Goliath by ourselves. Maybe what we can do is get him to play on his side of the block and we'll play on ours."
"My ultimate goal is when I'm 70 years old, I don't want to look back say, 'If only I did this,' or 'If I only I did that,'" Silverman added. "I try to live everything with no regrets. If this fails, when I'm 70 years old, I can say I gave it my best shot, and we did accomplish certain things. That's really all you can ask for."