End of the Road, End of the Rods

They got hassled by the FBI. Todd Rundgren drank all their Foster's. And now they're breaking up. After teetering on the edge of big-time success for over a decade, 12 Rods remember what it's like to be a popular Twin Cities band--and what it's like to pa

We played SXSW right after we got signed. We were a really high-maintenance band because we had a mechanical bass player and our own monitors. Anyway, our gear was sabotaged, we think, by [another band]. We had strings missing off our guitars, one of Ev's keyboards was damaged and wasn't turning on. We had 10 minutes to set up and play in front of everybody. We were this big hyped thing and we played terribly. It was our worst show ever, and it was the most crucial show we ever played. [The other band's singer] was a dick and I couldn't figure out what his deal was. He probably used one of our strings as a tourniquet backstage. The demise of 12 Rods had everything to do with [that band]. Cocks.

From that point on it was hopeless. V2 nearly lost all interest in us. When the second record came out, they took all our money and threw it into some radio thing to get it on KROQ [106.7 FM], basically fucking payola. And that failed. We had a big-time manager.

Bill Shaw: He broke Living Colour!

Are we famous yet? The beleaguered gentlemen of 12 Rods (L to R): George Marich, Jake Hansen, Ryan Olcott, Ev Olcott, and Bill Shaw
David Fick
Are we famous yet? The beleaguered gentlemen of 12 Rods (L to R): George Marich, Jake Hansen, Ryan Olcott, Ev Olcott, and Bill Shaw

Ryan Olcott: And Soul Coughing and Ween. We were a very low priority on his list. All of our connections for college-level promotion were out of the question because they knew we'd been shopped to the mainstream. Once they find that out and they know you're trying to go back to them, they won't pay attention to you.

CP: How did you meet Bill Shaw?

Ryan Olcott: We managed to swing an endorsement for the Spectacle Shop. And Bill was friends with the son of the owner.

Shaw: My friend said, "My dad's looking for jingles. Why don't you do something?" So I did the radio commercial and the on-hold message. Christopher called the Spectacle Shop, got put on hold, and said, "What's that?" [Someone at the Spectacle Shop] said, "Oh, that's Bill. He plays bass." So I auditioned, and then I was rocking out, playing "I Wish You Were a Girl." I didn't know the song, but Christopher just said, "It's like this: boom bah boom boom bah." I had my foot up on his bass drum and he was like, "Don't...no. Not the foot."

I actually saw the Rods about a year before that at the Fine Line. I was watching this show and all of a sudden everybody turned around and the Rods were playing in the back of the Fine Line. I said, "This is the greatest band I have ever seen and I will play bass with them."

Ryan Olcott: That was the day before the V2 signing. Then we wasted like five months trying to get our studio together to record Split Personalities. V2 was getting pissed off at us because we were taking a long time. We weren't really getting along with Christopher, so it was hard to practice. I knew the day we signed that we were doomed.

We got the record done and there were mixed reviews. That was in '98. We couldn't get a lot of the shows we wanted because we weren't a college band. Christopher had already convinced everyone we were a mainstream band, ready to play stadiums, when in fact we couldn't even play a fucking rehearsal. We took a trip to New York and our manager took me aside and said, "If you want to save your career, you'd better write your fucking single now." So I went back to Minneapolis and I was totally inspired and I made the demos for Separation Anxieties. I delivered them to V2 and they were all really stoked: "This is great. You delivered. You have 5 singles on this."

We couldn't record by ourselves--we'd never have been able to settle on anything. We needed a mediator, a producer. So we sent out the demos, and a lot of [producers] responded but the first one was Todd Rundgren. I took that as a sign.

Meanwhile, everyone in Minneapolis hated us because we were getting a little bit of success and I don't know if they thought we paid our dues. I think when we entered the music business, people had this preconceived idea that we were this asshole band. We were coy and subtle and it didn't really translate. And Christopher turned people off, he turned us off. We were misrepresented for years because of that.

So we were recording with Todd Rundgren in Hawaii. We didn't get along with Christopher and he actually left early. He was only there for three weeks. We stayed for six. We all thought Todd was under-performing. He was the last person to show up at each session and the first one to leave. He didn't care. He was just there to press record, read magazines, and drink Foster's. It was disheartening.

Shaw: Our standards seemed so much higher than his. We didn't need him as much as he needed something to do.

Ryan Olcott: He needed to pay the mortgage on his nine properties.

Shaw: On his polo field. One take and he'd just say, "All right, that's good." And we'd say, "You can't be serious. Even in the early days of crappy demos I wouldn't take that."

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