A new Format
Indie popsters take matters into their own hands
Within the past year, the members of Arizona’s The Format have found themselves performing in Tokyo, hitting the late-night talk-show circuit and touring the U.S. in support of pop heavy-hitters like Guster and the All-American Rejects.
And all of this came after the band was dropped from its major-label contract.
Armed with a strong sense of persistence and a determined work ethic, the indie/power-pop group is another example of what can be accomplished these days without the help of previously coveted major-label contracts and support.
The Format released its debut full-length Intervention + Lullabies on Elektra in 2003 before the label folded. The band kept afloat in 2005 with the release of 2005’s Snails EP on Elektra’s sister label Atlantic. Soon, after years of getting lost in the major-label shuffle, The Format was dropped in 2005 just as the members were about to enter the studio.
“As soon as we were making decisions about what we wanted to do for the new record, they dropped us,” said vocalist Nate Ruess. “It seemed shady to me from the get-go, but it’s hard to refuse money when people are throwing it at you.”
As a result, they started their own record company, known as the Vanity Label, and began looking to no one other than themselves to call the shots. After the Atlantic debacle, the band took the songs and recorded what would become 2005’s Dog Problems, an album that was to be molded in what Ruess calls a “classic pop” style, drawing influence from The Beatles and The Zombies.
Though the band, which when not touring consists only of Ruess and multi-instrumentalist Sam Means, has a definite ear for the past, the sound is more closely tied to modern styles. With bouncy melodies and heart-on-sleeve lyrics, the tracks on Dog Problems are all unapologetically poppy in the “why am I still humming this a week later” kind of way, and should appeal to anyone who digs on bands like Jimmy Eat World and The Honorary Title.
When Ruess and Means were just a few weeks from releasing Dog Problems, it came to their attention that the album had leaked online. Rather than dealing with the situation with the clumsy, futile methods major labels are known to use, the band simply adjusted and began selling the album online, weeks before its release date. The band also made the album available for free this summer on its Web site for about three weeks.
“I think it worked amazingly,” Ruess said. “I wish CDs were still being bought and artwork was still important, but that’s how things go.”
Ruess and Means even enjoy a working relationship with Sony Distribution to ensure their albums, even without major-label backing, can be found just about anywhere you can still buy CDs these days.
For this particular tour of just a few college dates spread throughout the country, the band is mainly performing acoustic, with only Ruess and Means. There’s a chance Chico may get to see the full lineup, however, Ruess said.
The members of The Format are already hard at work on the follow-up to Dog Problems, which they hope to capitalize on with the fuller sound of their live shows.
“The live band has become such a big part of who we are, and for this album we’re gonna expand and use them a lot more,” Ruess said. “Involving them is going to change the songs quite a bit.”
As a living testament to the old lemons-to-lemonade adage, The Format is just one example of bands and artists slowly coming to grips with the errors of a flawed system and taking matters into their own hands. And with big names like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails recently setting the precedent, others are sure to follow suit.
Somewhere, the heads of the Recording Industry Association of America are tossing and turning in their sleep.