As most people may not be familiar with the bands I play in, I’ll give you a brief history. The Bronx is an American rock/punk/hardcore band formed in 2002 in Los Angeles, California. We’re currently working on our fourth full-length record.
In 2008 we started a mariachi band called Mariachi El Bronx, which has recently toured with the likes of Foo Fighters and Dave Matthews Band and have two eponymous full-length releases.
People often ask me how the Bronx came to sign a major-label deal so early in our career, get dropped, and somehow manage to remain a functional, full-time band over the past decade. Here it is, raw and uncut.
The members of the Bronx had all been in a number of fledgling bands and had worked at various independent record labels in the late ’90s and early 2000s. We put together a rough three-song demo and gave it to a very select few people in the industry who we’d known and trusted. Knowing full well how the A&R community in the music industry functions, we decided to take advantage of how ridiculous it was and have some fun with them. By no means did we think we were actually going to end up with multiple major-label record deals on the table after our first show.
We shrouded our band in mystery. Made a cheap website featuring Polaroid pictures of us with our faces scratched out. Assumed ridiculous fake names. Made some T-shirts that we’d give to friends in bands. But we had this three-song demo that was actually pretty good for a bunch of knuckleheads who had no idea what we were doing.
Now, if you’ve never dealt with the A&R community, there’s this phenomenon where everyone wants to be “that dude” who signs the next hottest band. You know that older dork in the back of the room at young bands’ shows, wearing their T-shirt that says “These guys are the next Nirvana”? That’s an A&R guy.
So our friends in the industry created some chatter among the A&R folks based mostly on a fabricated myth that we were the hottest new thing on the L.A. scene. Keep in mind that we hadn’t even played a show at this point.
Much to our surprise, the ruse created quite a stir, and we started receiving emails from a number of major labels. We’d respond with emails that were translated into Morse code, which, if you actually took the time to decode, had absolutely nothing to do with our band.
When dealing with the music business on a corporate level, it’s important to remember that the majority of the people you deal with care less about the artistic process and personal connection you have to your music and more about covering their own asses and keeping their jobs. This is why you have so many bands that are just a homogenized version of something that came before them that proved profitable for the label. Every once in a while, though, you’ll get a dude who takes a chance on something. More often than not it’s to try and co-opt a little street cred, though. One kind of frightening side note: You’d be surprised how many of them are failed musicians.
Before I continue, let me say that by no means was the Bronx a joke to us. We just thought we’d have some fun with these suckers that were taking themselves way too seriously, and we somehow ended up with a record deal.
So we play our first show to a half-full room of kids there to see the next band and uptight middle-aged record execs. The show went well. Within the next few days we had multiple major-label record deals on the table. We played the game, got flown to New York, were wined and dined, and it was an absolute blast. The band decided on a label based on people we liked who seemed genuinely passionate about our band. This was a mistake I’ll get into later.
Now, we knew our band wasn’t going to sell a million records. Our music isn’t that easily digestible. So we told the label to keep their hands off us for a few years so we could develop as a band and hopefully create a following organically that will be loyal and stick with us rather than having a single sent to radio and being forced down people’s throats. This is what I credit to our longevity to.
So we recorded enough songs to piece together a full-length record. Started our own imprint label so that we had an entity with which to own the record and license it to different smaller labels around the world. Got lucky and landed some really good tours. Toured our asses of for a few years. Then it came time to make our major-label debut. That’s a whole other long and involved story in and of itself, but in the end we came out with a record that we were very proud of and extremely excited about, as was the label.
So we had all our ducks in a row: Release date. A single ready to be worked to radio. A video. Everything was just about to be put into motion, when just what we’d been warned might happen, happened—the staff at the label completely changed. None of this new regime had been investing the time in our band like the staff had when we signed to the label, so we were quickly brushed aside for the label to focus on bands that it deemed more commercially viable.
But we kept doing what we do. Thankfully, our record didn’t get shelved, so it came out and was very well received on an underground level, and we toured relentlessly on it.
After that debacle, the label started dropping most of the bands from its rock roster. Bands who were selling far more records than us. So we saw it coming. For some reason they held on to us for a while, and we took full advantage. We told the label we needed money to start demoing songs for our third record. They started shelling it out. We’d buy some recording gear, record a few demos, send the songs to them, and ask for more money to record more songs. Things went on like this for a while, and before long we had our own fully functional studio. This is a huge contributing factor to us still remaining a band, as we’re now able to make our own records for next to nothing.
So now we’re back to where we started. Which is hands down the best place to be. Making our own records. Owning the masters. Licensing them to different labels that are specific to each territory. And get this, we actually see money from record sales now!
Disclaimer: All slander in the above post is tongue-in-cheek and should be taken with a grain of salt, as we did meet some wonderful people in our misadventures in the business of music. Extra special thanks to Tama drums, Meinl cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, and Evans drumheads.
For more on Jorma Vik and the Bronx go to thebronxxx.com. Photo by Ashley Maile.