Do-it-yourself success for the Radio Gods

August 29, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Some people believe that quality will out and that good music will eventually find its audience -- but Primitive Radio Gods leader Chris O'Connor isn't one of them.

"There's no such thing as just desserts in the art world," he says. "Just because you do something that's legitimate or good, there's certainly no guarantee in the art world that it's ever going to be seen or heard by anybody else."

So how does he square that belief with the success Primitive Radio Gods has seen with its debut album, "Rocket"? Simple. "I would have to say that it's incredibly lucky," he says, over the phone from a tour stop in Boston. "I was the recipient of vast amounts of luck on this whole situation."

Boy, was he. From 1988 to 1990, O'Connor was a member of the I-Rails, a Santa Barbara-based band that fell apart after failing to land a recording contract. In '91, O'Connor -- finding himself with a set of songs but no band to record them, cut "Rocket" on his own in a friend's garage studio for $1,000. He then gave up music altogether, moving to San Diego to work as an air traffic controller.

Three years later, O'Connor took a stab at selling "Rocket" himself, but the less-than-ecstatic response he got from college radio pushed him out of the business yet again. So when he came across a forgotten box of CDs while housecleaning last year, he figured, what the heck, and mailed them blindly to an assortment of labels and publishers.

Bingo. A British publisher liked the song "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand" and played it for someone at Sony U.K. Within weeks, Primitive Radio Gods had a deal and, a few months later, had a single on the charts in Britain.

O'Connor admits to feeling vindicated by the deal, but nonetheless approached his "big break" with a certain trepidation. "I had to make a decision," he says. "I couldn't do both my job and [Primitive Radio Gods], but just to have the record come out seemed a pretty shaky proposition for a career. The majority of records that come out fail miserably, and then you're back on the street.

"So I was actually a little leery about taking it on full time. But at the same time, I realized, 'Hey, that's what I always wanted to do.' Luckily, I had enough money saved in my savings to where I figured I could live a year without working, so when the single came out in England in April, I decided, 'The heck with it.'"

O'Connor is touring with two of his I-Rails buddies, drummer Tim Lauterio and bassist Jeff Sparks, but the situation still seems vaguely unreal to the group. "We had a lot of close calls with deals," says O'Connor of the I-Rails. "We'd been involved with the industry for years, and it was nothing but disappointment after disappointment.

"So I didn't call Tim and Jeff until I'd actually signed this contract. And I think they were still, like, 'Yeah, when the record comes out I'll believe it.' Just waiting for something bad to happen. So there certainly wasn't any unbridled excitement or anything.

"Plus, everybody had to work right up until the moment we left on tour. So I don't think anybody really started loosening up and having fun with it until we actually went out on tour."

Pub Date: 8/29/96

Primitive Radio Gods

When: Tonight at 8

Where: University of Maryland, Maryland Hall

Tickets: Free, but tickets required for admission

Call: (301) 314-8340 for information

Sundial: To hear excerpts from Primitive Radio Gods' new release, "Rocket," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the code 6122. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

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