An Interview with James Preston and Mike Baker
Interview by Matt Crosslin | Photo courtesy of James Preston
SLIDE (L to R): Mike Baker, James Preston, Sam Mitchell
It’s an all too common story in the music industry: band creates underground buzz, band gets signed, band puts out an album, label folds or drops band, and band disappears (s much as people complain about the dreaded “sophomore album,” most bands should be celebrating the fact that they even made it that far). Sincerely Paul was one such band. Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Dormant for over a decade, the buzz for Sincerely Paul recently re-ignited (due mainly to a small number of websites) into a full blown re-issue and even the resurrection of a related band under the name of SLIDE. How does SLIDE relate to Sincerely Paul? What can we expect in the future? Read on as James Preston and Mike Baker answer our questions….
For those that might be unfamiliar with Sincerely Paul, could you give us a brief run down of the history of the band – how it started, what the musical influences were, etc?
Sincerely Paul was formed in 1988 by three high school friends and one acquaintance. These core members began looking for a lead singer. At the time, I (James), was working as a teacher’s aide with the bass player’s mother. She mentioned to me that her son’s band was looking for a singer. I sent them a demo tape, and was asked to join. Mike Baker came along a little bit later and began playing drums with us. The band began performing at churches, and within our 1st year, we were asked to play at the 1988 Cornerstone Festival in Illinois. After the festival, a lot of doors began to open for us. We began to play and opened for L.S.U., Undercover, The Choir, The Altar Boys etc…. We played at other Christian festivals including Creation Fest in 1992, Six Flags Atlanta Fest in 1993, Knott’s Berry Farm Jubilation Nights, as well as major Hollywood Clubs including The Troubadour, The Whiskey, and The Roxy. We also opened for new wave faves “A Flock of Seagulls”. Sincerely Paul played lots of shows. We loved playing live, and we played so many places….. honestly, its hard to remember some of the venues. Influences? That’s a hard question because each of us had our own favorites that we drew creative juices from. It is impossible to be an artist and not carry some of that influence into the creative process of writing, performing and recording. Although we made an effort to remain unique and original I would say that a good part of instrumental stuff on Grieve was heavily influenced by Pink Floyd, The Cure and Psychedelic Furs.
How did Sincerely Paul get signed to Blonde Vinyl? What was that experience like?
During the first part of 1991 we were engaged in talks with several record companies trying to find a home for our music. We had found ourselves being booked often with Mike Knott’s Band “Lifesavers Underground,” and got to know Mike through these live shows. I believe Mike approached us personally and asked us to be a part of Blonde Vinyl and we accepted. So, Sincerely Paul was signed to Blonde Vinyl Records in 1991.
We felt Blonde Vinyl allowed the band to express itself artistically with minimal restrictions. In short, Blonde Vinyl allowed us to maintain our sound and message without any drastic changes. The experience working with Mike Knott and Blonde Vinyl was great. Mike was very supportive of our direction and goals. We were excited to have Gene Eugene work with us on the project as well (Gene mixed some tracks on Grieve). We actually signed the recording contract with Mike Knott over dinner at a restaurant (near the Blonde Vinyl Office) in Orange County, CA. Since both of us (Mike and James) live in O.C., we pass that restaurant from time to time, and often reflect back at that time with gratitude.
Many Blonde Vinyl bands were considered “controversial” for pushing the boundaries. Was there any controversy surrounding Sincerely Paul?
Sincerely Paul was no stranger to controversy. There is a story James shares inside the bio of the upcoming re-issue of the Grieve CD where one church literally stopped one of our shows and escorted us out of their building. The biggest controversy we had at the time was our lyrical message and dark appearance. Industry folks and many magazine reviewers thought since we came from Orange County, CA that we should all be rich, happy and shallow. Some even labeled us as ‘posers.’ We were really misunderstood. The sad thing is that none of those who judged us this way knew anything about our collective pasts or that James was training to be a licensed psychotherapist. Maybe we were drawing from a well deeper than a collective admiration for our favorite bands. Maybe we had real life experiences that allowed us to express a way for people to move from a painful past to a future of hope? Most of our listeners loved what we did, but the majority of the Christian Music Machine didn’t “get it,” didn’t want to “get it,” and hence steered clear of us out of their own fears of something different. The lyrics and the message of Grieve challenges the listener to remove masks, confront falsities about themselves, and makes them deal with difficult, taboo issues head on. We knew that concept frightened a lot of decision makers in the Christian industry who were used to signing bands who perpetuated the “shiny happy perfect Christian” mold. Even though we were considered a ‘dark’ and ‘brooding’ band by many our message was never one of despair – it is about real people, living real life in real time. Our message was always filled with hope, renewal and recovery – one just had to dig deep to mine the diamond buried in black coal.
What happened to the band after releasing Grieve?
Once Grieve was released, Sincerely Paul began to play more live shows within the Club Circuit in Hollywood, CA. As a band, we found we were more accepted playing bars and clubs in Hollywood, than we were at churches and youth group rallies. In a lot of ways, the secular audience we attracted were more responsive to us…. maybe they could better relate to our message and style of music? In addition, other big venues like Creation Fest and Atlanta Fest welcomed us to play in front of larger audiences. Our listener and fan base grew once Grieve was released because people outside of California were now able to commercially have access to our CD in stores. We also began to play live outside California as well, hitting some southern and east coast locations.
How did SLIDE come about? What is the story of SLIDE? Is there any difference between SLIDE in the 90’s and SLIDE in 2009 (as far as musical direction, goals, etc)? How would you compare and contrast Sincerely Paul with SLIDE?
SLIDE came about immediately after Sincerely Paul broke up in 1993. Mike Baker and I along with our new member, Sam Mitchell, began writing music together. SLIDE was approached by R.E.X. records to provide a single for their compilation CD. The single, “The Black and the Blue” was released commercially and received a lot of positive feedback, and from that, we were offered a recording deal with R.E.X.. There really is no deep back story to SLIDE. Mike, Sam, and I wanted to make music, because we love writing music. We love the experience of being in a band and working as a team collaborative effort. We wanted the music to be different from what we did in Sincerely Paul. More upbeat, not as dark… more danceable, but still maintaining a band atmosphere where live instrumentation meets electronic technology. The only difference between the SLIDE of the 90’s and the SLIDE of today is the way we write music. As you probably know, the internet has changed how bands write music. We no longer are confined to a sound proof garage (where all band members squeeze in together) to write music. The only thing Slide will have in common with Sincerely Paul is band members James and Mike. The sound we are going for will not resemble Sincerely Paul, and thus, this is not a sequel to Sincerely Paul. After all these years, we are fortunate to have all 3 original members of SLIDE (from the 90’s) working together again. We are also fortunate to have sound engineer Brian Webster on board with us again. He recorded, produced and engineered many of Sincerely Paul’s tracks and live show. He even recorded and engineered the 1993 version of “The Black and the Blue.” Even still, we don’t consider this a reunion, because SLIDE never commercially released a full length LP, and SLIDE was so short-lived. So it’s kind of a unique situation we are in, presenting ourselves at this time in our lives. Our goals for SLIDE are to write some really good music, have fun with the writing process, and hopefully grow our listener base through the World Wide Web. In comparison to Sincerely Paul, we would probably say we hope our lyrical content will continue to stir emotions and cause our listeners to think.
A little over a decade and half later, and Grieve is getting re-issued. How did that come about?
The re-issue of Grieve came about because of the internet and fans of Sincerely Paul who have been in contact with us for the past couple of years thru email. The re-issue would have never happened without the help of blogs that were set up by listeners who remembered our music and emails that we continually receive from listeners who remember us. Also, the re-issue would never have occurred without the help of Mike Knott. I (James) contacted Mike Knott and asked him to sell me the publishing rights to Grieve. Mike Knott agreed, and I met with him to finalize a deal for me to obtain the rights to own Grieve. We are thankful Mike did this for us. We are hoping the re-issue of Grieve will help bridge past Sincerely Paul listeners to SLIDE so they can experience some new music from us.
What can you tell us about the re-issue of Grieve?
The Sincerely Paul re-release of Grieve will be issued as a 2-Disc Definitive Edition. The official release date is Tuesday, May 5, 2009. The first 300 copies sold will be considered limited editions and will include a special numbered insert signed by original Sincerely Paul band members James Preston and Mike Baker. Digitally enhanced for 2009, Grieve has been given a complete makeover. The 2-Disc edition will include new art work, an insightful bio/essay, new pics, and 11 unreleased tracks. The CD can be purchased at www.slidemusicgroup.com.
What future plans do you have with SLIDE?
For the immediate future, SLIDE plans on releasing a full length CD and digital downloads by 2010. We love to play live and interact with our listeners, so we hope we get the opportunity to play live again soon. Keep checking our website www.SlideMusicGroup.com and www.myspace.com/slide for details.
Some people say the music industry is in bad shape. Do you agree? Why, or why not?
It would appear the music industry is in bad shape monetarily speaking (and in some ways creatively speaking as well). It’s definitely not the mega money maker it used to be. We don’t think there is one single reason for this….maybe it’s because of the way people are obtaining and listening music these days (i.e.: internet/digital downloads, iPods, etc.)? Maybe it’s the way music and bands have been marketed? Things really had become formulaic and commercialized. Thank God new venues like XM/Sirius satellite radio and websites to download new music are available as an alternative to commercial channels! We will say this – sometimes something old has to die before something new can be conceived and born. The death of the “formula” has given rise to a new breed of creativity which would have never been heard or even given a chance to blossom through traditional channels.
What advice would you have for bands such as Sincerely Paul that want to come back and re-release old material, or maybe even record new material? What advice would you have for new bands that are just now getting started?
We would say make sure you go thru the proper legal channels to make sure you have the rights to release your work. Use the internet, sharpen your internet skills, make the internet your best friend. Write and perform live anywhere and everywhere (no matter how many people show up to your show), and be accessible to your listener base. It is also important to remember that not all bands were made for re-uniting to make new material. Sometimes you need to move forward with new ideas. Make sure your doing it because your first love is music, and because you love the art of creating music. If you’re main goal is making a living or making big money than you might be better off getting a degree in accounting!
Many bands are now re-recording old albums for all kinds of reasons. If you weren’t able to get the rights to re-issue Grieve, would that have been a consideration? What is your opinion on re-recording old albums?
No, we would not even have considered it. If another entity (i.e.: record company) bought Grieve, there is little we could have done about it. I don’t believe we would have had a whole lot of say with the re-issue if someone else owned it. Which is why we are glad to have the rights, because James and I really felt like we did justice to the re-release. We wanted to make sure it was done correctly. The new art work design and the sound re-mastering were very important pieces to both of us. After the discs were re-mastered, we would meet, go to Star Bucks, sip coffee, and listen to it from a listener’s perspective in our cars. We really wanted to make sure people could hear the difference. And I think our listeners will be quite pleased with Brian Webster’s re-mastering work. He did an excellent job. We were blown away on how he treated the project because musically, one can hear sounds and separations of the music you could not hear before.
Our opinion on re-recording old albums is we think its fine to do it once, but get it right the first time. Multiple re-issues of the same album seems a little greedy to us. We really don’t agree with the current sales tactic trend that seems to triple dip into consumers’ pockets every few years to get them to buy the pretty much the same album with an occasional tweak here and there.
What are some of your favorite memories from being in Sincerely Paul? You wanted your lyrics to get people to think, to remove masks, etc. Do you have any stories about how they did just that?
Some of our favorite memories of Sincerely Paul were doing live shows… especially the big festivals (Creation Fest and Cornerstone) and playing the major Hollywood Clubs (the Whiskey, the Roxy, the Troubadour). We have always been a “people person” band, and loved meeting fans and listeners after the shows. We had a rigorous rehearsal schedule, practicing at least 3 nights a week, staying up past midnight, and having to get up the next morning to go to our regular jobs. We have a joke about the correlation between weekly rehearsals and live shows. “For every 50 hours of practice and rehearsals, you may get one really good live show that stands apart from the others”. The point being that it’s a lot of hard work to practice on a regular basis, and you may have some live shows that don’t live up to expectations.
The lyrics…..they still are a big topic for discussion to this day. Moreover, some of the emails we received from listeners who tracked us down thru the internet were people who wanted to share their personal stories with us. This occurred frequently when the band was together – as people used to snail mail us their stories to our P.O. Box. One story recently came from a married couple who told us Grieve saved their marriage from crumbling into divorce. Another story came from an individual stating she literally broke down after hearing Grieve saying the lyrics helped her deal with repressed child hood abuse issues. Still, another came from an out of state D.J. that use to play our songs on his radio station. He wrote to tell us that the lyrics finally got him to seek out help for severe depression and problems with addictions. Those are just a few of many stories we have received. We must admit, it still amazes us to this day to hear stories like this from our listeners. It does appear, in some ways, Grieve was a source of healing, or rather, the beginning of healing, for some of our listeners.
How do you feel about the music industry’s (CCM or mainstream) attitudes towards expressing faith in music? What are your personal feelings about that?
Wow, that’s a powerful question. And let me preface first that between 1994 to roughly 2008, we really have not followed what has happened in the CCM circles. And we say that with all honesty. Revisiting Sincerely Paul after all these years reminds us of that 1960’s Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith — you know, his character played a book worm that loved to read, and suddenly, there was this explosion that took place, and he walked up from the basement to the outside dwellings only to find a nuclear bomb had gone off and destroyed nearly everything in sight. It kind of feels that way, because here we are returning to some of our musical roots, and we have found that a lot of stuff in the Christian market has changed…. mostly due to technology, how people obtain music, the fall of many record companies, and with time comes the normal aging process…. bands get older, new younger bands come into fruition…. so yeah, things appear to have really changed or are just non-existent anymore. In our opinion, expressing faith in music is a personal decision. If that’s what you want to sing about great, if not, that’s fine also. But we have never been big fans on how the Christian market tries to separate itself from the secular market. Believe us when we say, from a business perspective, THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. Sorry if that sounds harsh, and people may not want to hear it, but that was what our experience was like…in fact, we found people in the secular industry to be more honest and forthcoming in their approach… In the beginning stages of the band, Sincerely Paul’s biggest mistake was trying to fit into the Christian mold. We were rejected by the Christian Music Machine when we did not submit to a lot of the rules and regulations. That is, until Blonde Vinyl Records came along. Bottom line, be a musician first, and if faith is part of your message, great. But don’t let your faith pigeon hole you into musically expressing yourself to just one specific audience.