Part 5: Art for Sale
Commerce makes things messy
In April 1993, Warner Bros released Porno for Pyros’ self-titled debut, Porno for Pyros. The video for their second single “Pets” played frequently on MTV, helping push the song to number 1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and number 67 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and showing the world what half of Jane’s was up to. The song was catchy and shimmering, with a deceptively simple surface that held surprising depth. “Pets” performed well overseas, too, reaching number 53 on the UK Singles Chart and number 68 on Australia’s ARIA Singles Chart. The following year, Deconstruction began preparing for their own launch.
After they finished recording, Deconstruction shot a video for “LA. Song” at the down-and-out Pink Motel in the San Fernando Valley. Avery co-directed it. American Recordings released Deconstruction on July 12, 1994 and launched “L.A. Song” as the lead single—and the only single.
“Rick Rubin was just kind of like, just put it out,” Avery said in Whores, “but didn’t want to promote it.”
For contrast, Warner Bros heard the massive transformative power of Jane’s album Nothing’s Shocking before the album was even done. “They were looking at it like ‘This is another Jimi Hendrix,” Ronnie told writer Jake Brown, “this is another Led Zeppelin.’” Deconstruction got pushed into the world with a whisper. “I don’t think there was any malicious intent on anybody’s part. I honestly feel like they really just didn’t know what it was or what to do,” Ronnie said.
Compared to many flavor-of-the-month alternative rock bands at the time, like Soul Coughing and Candlebox, Deconstruction received very little marketing support. It wasn’t for lack of demand.
“Well, people were paying attention, like hardcore Jane’s fans,” Navarro said, “but we really did not have any help whatsoever from the record label. Like as far as I know, the record came out and that was it.” He doesn’t remember doing an interview, doesn’t remember doing a photo shoot, doesn’t remember seeing any marketing assets like posters or advertisements. “There certainly was no airplay,” he said. “So, you know, it kind of came out. I’m still not quite sure where, because I don’t know if I ever saw it in a record store. But it came out, and it was really a lackluster release.” Whatever physical marketing assets were floating around American’s office at the time were never shown to him. “You know, I’m sure maybe somewhere in some record store in some part of the country, there might have been something, but I never saw it personally. So I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure. Maybe there were posters stacked up in the corner in a warehouse somewhere that never got put up. I mean, I don’t know, because, like I said, we never did a photo shoot. So there was nothing to put up to tell anybody that oh, this is half of Jane’s Addiction. There was just no capitalizing on any value that we had. Because the record label, American, just legit didn’t believe in it.”
“The retailers were all into it. I’m sure there were posters and flats, because those were the days you would do that for a record, and lots of promo servicing,” Marc Geiger said. “I really can’t remember what the specifics were around it: what was done, not done, how much was spent, how much wasn’t spent, what that manager did at the time, so I’ve got to take the fifth on that one.” As a huge Jane’s fan, of course Geiger wanted this album to be heard by other fans. But this was one campaign out of many campaigns at a busy time nearly 30 years ago, and he couldn’t remember details about why the album wasn’t promoted more than it was. “I would tell you the specifics if I could remember them” Geiger said. “The marketing is not the piece that lives on.”
That’s true. The music endures, but the marketing certainly lives on in musicians’ minds, then the marketing becomes part of the story musicians tell about certain chapters of their lives. Geiger warned against viewing the marketing component entirely through any musicians’ memories. Musicians don’t always know the inner workings of how the business works, and they aren’t always privy to certain high-level conversations, or even want to be. They’re not necessarily marketers, not promoters, not booking agents, managers, album reviewers, publicists, or engineers. They’re artists. And they believe so much in their art that they rarely see it with any cool, objective distance. “So you can’t really ask an artist about marketing their own stuff,” Geiger said. “It’s overly biased, and they’re not a marketer. They’re not sales. They’re not distribution. You don’t want ’em to be. You want ’em to be the artist, right? Frankly, they should go onto the next piece of art.” People in Geiger’s position got used to bands blaming the label when a song didn’t hit big or the press didn’t receive an album as well as they’d hoped. “That’s part of being a record company,” Geiger said. “You’re expected to sell it. And if it doesn’t sell, you failed.” And this band didn’t feel that the label supported their album.
“Look,” Geiger said. “It’s easy to say it didn’t happen. And everything was messy. And it didn’t happen this, it didn’t happen that. Part of life is blaming your label that things aren’t bigger. That’s just part of the standard artist-label relationship. Doesn’t matter who it is or what they are.” Geiger believes that what many artists want is for their label to give them creative autonomy. Not pop artists, since they often want help creating hits—he means artists like these guys. “All we tried to do [at American] is protect the artist and let them put out what they really really wanted to put out and express themselves how they would want to. That speaks to the videos, the cover art, the records. They made the record themselves. We just got out of the way.” They did. Then they dealt with the repercussions.
To be fair to American Recordings, by the time Deconstruction came out, Navarro had been in The Chili Peppers for a year, touring, recording, doing interviews, making his Peppers debut on stage at Woodstock ’94. That particular kind of busy probably makes it hard to notice certain details. Deconstruction had done one small photo shoot, after all. Normally publicists would build a marketing platform around the band—using photos, radio spots, TV appearances, band interviews—their singles, and around their tour schedule: Deconstruction’s playing Cleveland next Friday night! Here’s their newest single, “L.A. Song!” Because Deconstruction was no longer a working band, they couldn’t perform on places like The David Letterman Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, or Lollapalooza’s second stage. They couldn’t do radio spots or MTV interviews to spread the word. The lack of promotion was no one person’s fault.