When Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies released their debut album five years ago, I thought for sure it was going to be a breakthrough.
That record was pure bliss. If you haven’t heard it (and apparently not many of you have), it’s worth seeking out. It’s as good — if not better than — most records that came out in 2009, loaded with heart-wrenching hook-laden folk-rock songs that once heard are impossible to get out of your head.
Despite my growing pessimism about the ever-decomposing music industry, I still believe the only thing that matters is good songwriting — no matter how much music gets thrown into the giant milk barrel we call the internet, the cream will always rise to the top to be discovered by some enterprising record label exec looking to break the Next Big Thing.
And yet, that Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies’ debut album went nowhere. What happened?
Hoshaw said the record’s failure to gain traction outside of Omaha wasn’t for lack of trying. “I did as much as I could to capitalize on that last record, but trying to do the job of a record label by myself was probably unreasonable,” he said over a decaf Americano at a Benson coffee shop.
Hoshaw’s formula to break that first record involved a home-grown college radio campaign, where he personally sat down and called more than 300 radio stations from a promotion list he gleaned off a fellow musician.
“I sent out 120 copies of the CD to radio stations, but when it came time to do follow-up calls, I was burned out,” Hoshaw said. “I hit a threshold with what I could do by myself without going crazy.”
What about touring? Hoshaw said his band went on a two-week East Coast tour, but afterward band members said they couldn’t afford to do more. “They have families and jobs, and it didn’t make sense to lose money on the road,” Hoshaw said. Eventually the “Seven Deadlies” evaporated to just one — guitarist Matt Whipkey.
Now Hoshaw has a chance to try again. He’s celebrating the release of his new Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies album, Funeral Guns, this Friday night at The Waiting Room. The 10-song opus continues along the same path as the debut, with songs destined to be radio-station fodder (if they ever catch a programmer’s ear). Tunes like sinister opening ballad “New Tattoo,” sleek West Coast-rocker “Company” and album-closing magnum opus “It Falls Apart” continue to define Hoshaw as one of the best songwriters to come out of Nebraska.
So what’s he going to do differently this time ‘round? “I want to widen my fan base,” Hoshaw said. In collaboration with Whipkey, Hoshaw has picked Minneapolis, Des Moines/Ames and Kansas City/Lawrence as target markets where he’ll play gigs at least once a month.
Funeral Guns got made thanks to the support of 130 people who funded a Kickstarter online crowd-funding campaign. Hoshaw said he wants to keep that fan base happy and grow it as much as possible because he’ll need to call on them again when it comes time to fund his next record. Call it a grassroots effort rather than the traditional music career path that involves attracting the attention of a record label with hopes of signing a contract.
“Record companies are difficult; the odds are always against you,” Hoshaw said. “On the other hand, every time you go on stage you have a chance to make connections with new fans. It’s not a comfortable living, not like having a record deal where you can say, ‘We’ve made it.’ It’s hard work and constant stress.”
That said, Hoshaw still wouldn’t mind landing a record deal or a booking agent or a promotion company that could take some of the load off his shoulders so he could focus on what he says is his biggest priority: songwriting. He’s already talking about recording his next album this year, and has reached out to producers, including Saddle Creek Records’ veteran Andy LeMaster, whose credits include albums by Bright Eyes, Azure Ray and Now It’s Overhead.
And then there’s Nashville. “I have some friends who are songwriters down there,” Hoshaw said. “I’ve considered moving to Nashville. It would be more as a songwriter than a performer. I would pursue writing songs with other songwriters for other artists. For me, all the business stuff begins with the song — it’s the most important thing to develop, and writing with different people will make that stronger.”
Imagine Hoshaw selling a song like “Funeral Guns” to a hotshot like Blake Shelton. “I would consider it,” he said with a smile. “I would have to look at the contract and decide if it made sense.”
But what would make even more sense is writing songs for other Nebraska musicians. Hoshaw originally wrote the track “Delta King” off the new record for local band The Black Squirrels, while “New Tattoo” was written in collaboration with three other songwriters and album closer “It Falls Apart” was written by former Nebraska songwriter now poet Kyle Harvey.
Hoshaw’s contemplated recording an entire album of covers of songs by local songwriters, and would love for a fellow Omaha songwriter like John Klemmensen to record one of his songs.
“I would love more of that to happen locally the same way Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson played each other’s songs,” Hoshaw said. “I would love to see less fear about sharing art and letting other people interpret it, because in the end, it’s really about performing the best songs.”
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.