I remember the day in late 2012/early 2013 that I sat on the red couch in the studio at Red Room Recorders and listened to the mixes of the latest Geri X album. They were sublime — the best thing the Bulgarian-born singer/songwriter had recorded to date. The guitars were full, the drums were big. There were strings and layered vocal harmonies. It sounded like a real studio record. Wes, my friend who had produced the sessions, was beaming. He was literally bouncing off the walls as he played each track for me and told me how they had gotten some of the sounds.
I was so proud of her. I met Geri when she was very young. We wrote songs together and I played bass in her band in late 2005/early 2006. She was playing in coffeeshops and bars and lying to everyone about her age. No one knew much about her, but the entire Bay Area was talking about her. Was she Russian? Was she 18? She was neither. But everyone who heard her knew that she had it. We were all attracted to it. We lifted her and rallied around her. She was our girl.
This new record was to be her first release on a major label. I mean, it wasn’t Capitol Records or anything, but it was a big deal. The label had paid for the recording and was offering some tour support. They had already signed a deal with some other friends of ours and they seemed happy. They were on the road a lot, but they enjoyed the constant touring.
Wes told me that the label had asked Geri to demo everything she had. This meant that she was to make crude recordings of all her song ideas and submit them to the label for consideration. She obliged. She even re-recorded most of her older songs and sent them those demos as well.
What we didn’t know at the time was that the label would legally own all the compositions they solicited. Geri had just handed over 90% of her entire catalog.
When the record came out, it was a shock. The label had given the tracks to some British engineer to mix. Gone were the drum tones, gone was the wall of sound. They had even used scratch vocals (sloppy placeholder takes) on some of the verses. Geri refused to support or promote the record. She refused to tour. She was devastated.
I felt horrible. Back in 2003 at the height of my musical career, I had sabotaged the talks with my manager, the future of my band, and negotiations with Grammy-winning producer Gary Katz (Steely Dan). I fucked it up. I threw it away. I never got to take my shot. But this was Geri’s shot and it was taken from her. Those shots only happen once if you’re lucky and the girl we had rallied around and lifted up and believed in had been taken advantage of. I was heartbroken.
Geri is now (seven years later) offering the original mixes of the album to the public for free. Legally, it’s probably the only option. Musically, it’s the act of an artist presenting the work uncorrupted, uncompromised, the way it was intended to sound — and feel.
Listening to these songs this morning took me back to the red couch. Back to a time when I was optimistic — not only for Geri but for the machine that produces and distributes the music we love. I hope that listening to this album gives you as much ecstasy, sorrow, tension and joy as it did on my first listen.
And let it be a reminder to never stop being drawn to the alluring sound of the new, to never stop lifting up the creators in this world and rallying around the artists in your neighborhood.
One day, they (and you) will get their shot. Don’t let anyone stop you from taking it.