The irony is not lost on former Uncle Green drummer Peter McDade. “Leave it to us to have an album saved by technology that didn’t exist when we recorded it,” says McDade. Last week in just 36 hours, the long-disbanded Atlanta rock quartet’s fans came together via the fundraising website kickstarter.com to raise the necessary $4,000 to finance the mixing, mastering and distribution of the act’s last recording “Rycopa.” The band originally sent out word via the Uncle Green Facebook fan page. Thanks to those efforts, “Rycopa” will finally be released this fall to fans a full 14 years after its creation. An Uncle Green reunion gig/”Rycopa” album release party is also being planned in Atlanta.
“My reaction has pretty much been complete glee!” singer-songwriter -guitarist Matt Brown says from his home in New Jersey. “To know that this album is finally going to be finished 14 years later and that fans financed the effort is completely amazing. It was always our goal to get this album out there and now we can finally accomplish that.”
Fans got to choose various pledge levels, from a $12 pledge that will net you a copy of the finished two-disc set, up to the $125 level where Brown or his singer-songwriter-guitarist bandmate Jeff Jensen will personally Skype you and perform your favorite Uncle Green song or, if you prefer, an in-person lunch date with McDade in Atlanta. The top-tier $250 level donation entitles donors to a “producer emeritus” credit on the final album. As of Monday morning, fans had pledged $4,712 to the effort. Brown and McDade say the original $4,000 listed budget was essentially seed money for the project and all additional money raised by the August 13 deadline will defray the additional costs of the project.
Brown, Jensen, McDade and bassist Bill Decker first formed Uncle Green as teenagers in 1980, growing up in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. The band relocated to a mutually shared house in Stone Mountain (ala the Beatles in “Help!”) and worked at a Memorial Drive Burger King together for six years in order to finance their music career. But by night, Uncle Green quickly became a critically acclaimed favorite on the Atlanta music scene, routinely gigging at The Point, The Cotton Club, Masquerade and Variety Playhouse, along with countless tours across the country.
After two self-financed albums, 1987’s “Get it Together” and 1988’s “15 Dryden,” the band was signed to Danny Beard’s iconic DB Recs label. Working with producer Brendan O’Brien (who would go on to produce Pearl Jam‘s “Ten” album), Uncle Green released “You” in 1989 and “What an Experiment His Head Was” in 1991. With O’Brien’s more rock-oriented production, the quartet’s noisy guitars, slinky bass and bombastic drums were pushed to the forefront. O’Brien also twisted the knobs on the band’s 1992 Atlantic Records debut “Book of Bad Thoughts” and after a label and name change, 1995’s “Vulture” as 3 Lb. Thrill for Sony.
In 1997, the band constructed a home studio and began work on the 32 tracks that would become “Rycopa.” After making six albums with studio time ticking away on the band’s or a record label’s nickel, the foursome wrote and recorded day and night for months at their own pace.
“It was really the first time where we were creating as we went,” Brown recalls. “I would get up and work on a guitar part and maybe Bill would wander in and start playing keyboards. It was all created very organically. We were shooting for the adventurousness of The Beach Boys‘ ‘Pet Sounds,’ album, something as eclectic as the Beatles‘ ‘White Album’ and as intimate as Liz Phair‘s ‘Exile in Guyville.’ We had pretty lofty goals but we were really pleased with the end result.”
“Rycopa,” brimming with rock guitars, elements of punk , 70s funk, country and stripped down piano and acoustic guitar-based ballads, is the most stylistically diverse album the band ever made.
In short, “Rycopa” is a shimmering pop masterpiece.
Sony, however, did not share the band’s enthusiasm and declined to release the weighty project. “After making six albums that didn’t really sell all that much, it was perfectly logical to us to record a 32 -song, two disc follow up,” cracks McDade. “What we lacked in marketing skill, we made up for in chutzpah.” After the band and O’Brien’s 57 Records disbanded, the location of the “Rycopa” master tapes became a mystery. When former manager Russell Carter got involved, the tapes were finally located in a Sony warehouse in the northeast this year.
When McDade recently got the rescued two-inch analog tapes to producer Rob Gal‘s Atlanta studios recently, he held his breath as the tapes were slapped on a deck for the first time in this century. The 14-year-old tapes still played. Thanks to modern technology, the masters and a back up have now been placed on a hard drive where McDade and Decker will work with Gal on final mixes here, emailing options to Brown in New Jersey and Jensen in Washington D.C. This fall, the quartet will reunite here to oversee the final mix of the project prior to mastering.
Brown hints that “Rycopa” may not be the band’s final album either. “We were talking recently about how we would love to be 23 again and be a young band today with all of this technology that allows you to produce and distribute music directly to fans without a record label. I’d like to think that maybe ‘Rycopa’ isn’t the end. Maybe we have something else to contribute creatively together. We’ll have to wait and see. I’m just thrilled that after all this time, ‘Rycopa’ will finally be out there in the world for the people who want to hear it.”