I can't help but wonder how many spins a day the new record will get on the Current, and what the conversion rate is to cold hard cash at local gigs.
By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
By Natalie Gallagher
By Erik Thompson
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By Loren Green
On his band's 2009 single "Loaded," Ciaran Daly claimed he was "still keeping track of disappointments," and it's fair to say he's had a few. The Idle Hands have been a going concern for nearly a decade now—several lifetimes for a band—yet still find themselves fighting to break through. The band has enjoyed some recognition in Minneapolis, but Daly's ambitions have always stretched well beyond the city limits. In fact, back when many of his peers were angling for local bookings and press, Daly's anglophilic Idle Hands were self-financing tours of California in the hopes of landing a major-label deal.
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Daly very nearly achieved that goal when an early demo of "Loaded" caught the ear of Mark Needham in 2006. The famed engineer was riding high off the recent success of the Killers' Hot Fuss, and to Daly's surprise, agreed to record several tracks on spec, meaning that he would receive a cut of the proceeds if the band subsequently signed a record contract. The Idle Hands became a hot property almost overnight—even before anyone in the industry had heard a note from the sessions. "We were trying to stop the heads of A&R from showing up at the studio because it wasn't done," Daly recalls. "Everyone was getting excited because we had been blessed by this big name."
Once the tracks were complete and circulated, they did not disappoint the expectant A&R community. According to Daly, Needham's recording of "Loaded" generated the most chatter. Yet major-label scouts were eager to see how the band would translate live, and unfortunately for Daly, onstage is where his dreams unraveled. "We had only just gotten the band together, and we had to get a new drummer and guitar player on very short notice. We had packed shows at the Double Door in Chicago opening for Elbow, and a bunch of [industry] people came and saw us play. We just sucked and weren't ready for that sort of attention."
The band wound up self-releasing their debut LP, The Hearts We Broke on the Way to the Show. Rather than complete the album with Needham, the Idle Hands chose to record the remaining tracks with Tony Lash (Elliott Smith, the Dandy Warhols). The band, in fact, had little to no contact with Needham following the spec work in 2006, which is why they were surprised to learn of a Needham-produced mall-punk version of "Loaded" around the time they were promoting their album. The cover was credited to a southern California band by the name of the x86. According to Roger Gisborne, the band's former manager at iV Artist Management, Needham "thought ['Loaded'] was a smash" and was eager to record a version with the x86. Though the x86 version was never officially released, Daly filed a complaint against Needham alleging copyright infringement. The matter was eventually settled out of court, and while Daly cannot comment on the specific terms, he does unequivocally state that he has "all the rights to that recording."
Looking back on his involvement with Needham, Daly admits mixed feelings. While "Loaded" was featured on several radio stations in the U.S. and U.K. and earned heavy rotation on the Current, he worries that the song might have given people the wrong impression of the Idle Hands. "There are elements of the track I'm happy with," he explains. "But there's a difference between taking a bubblegum song like 'Loaded' and wrapping it in barbed wire and taking the song and wrapping it in sparkle and ponies. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but you see what I'm getting at. Needham's great at what he does, but I don't think he's right for a band like us."
Daly hopes his next release, the Life Is Beautiful EP, will correct any lingering misconceptions and set a new course. Beautiful is strikingly unadorned, purposefully devoid of the radio-slick sheen that characterized the Needham tracks on the debut. The approach lends songs like "Uptown Burning," which references the closing of the beloved Uptown Bar, a gritty realism that underscores rather than masks Daly's despondence. Maybe disappointments are inevitable, but clearly, Daly would rather live his down than wish them away.
THE IDLE HANDS play an EP-release show with We Became Actors and BNLX on SATURDAY, MARCH 5, at NICK AND EDDIE; 612.486.5800
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