3 LB. THRILL/UNCLE GREEN
Uncle Green aka 3 Lb. Thrill, recent reunion
photo by John Boyston
by Peter Crigler
Georgia's Uncle Green formed in 1980 and played a load of shows around the south before finally coming out on the indie stage in 1987 on the small DB label with Get It Together. Over the next five years, they released three more records, accumulating more fans with each new record. In 1992, they inked a deal with Atlantic Records and released Book of Bad Thoughts the same year. Despite good critical attention, the album tanked and the band realized it was time to change some things. Drummer Peter McDade talked to me about Atlantic in 2012: "They dropped us after we did demos for a second Atlantic record. There's more to the story, but it's much like other stories: personnel at the label shifts, sales are disappointing, everyone's worried about sinking more money into a band that didn't get much traction round one, blah blah."
They ended up changing their name to 3 lb. Thrill and signed with mega-producer Brendan O'Brien's label 57, which was distributed by Sony. In 1995 they released Vulture and finally started having some success. The single "Diana," which told a tale of child molestation became a minor hit on alternative radio and the band finally believed their time had arrived.
In 1997, 3 Lb. Thrill went into a studio with a friend to begin work on the follow-up, their seventh record and a double album, Rycopa. They had intended the new record to be as experimental and strange as anything they had ever done. When they turned in the thirty-two track, two-CD set to Epic executives, the execs looked at each other and scratched their heads the entire time. They were completely taken aback by how strange the record was and so they decided to ask the band if they could come up with a few more songs that were more commercially viable. The band did what they were told and upon turning in the new songs to the label, they were informed that the label was going to shelve the record. After the record was recorded and turned into the label, 57 Records was shut down and Sony dropped all its artists, including 3 lb. Thrill, and Rycopa ended up being shelved. Not long afterwards, the group disbanded.
Peter talked about what the band was trying to accomplish there: "Then we went off and made this ambitious, sprawling record that the label was a bit confused by. The time spent recording is something I treasure, so much that I don't even blame the label people for not getting it." The band actually tried to fix the album. As Peter explains, "we did some more demos, trying to write the single the label thought we needed." The band ended up getting dropped and disbanded sometime in 1998. Frontman Matt Brown then moved on to EMI where he recorded a solo album, Morning After Medicine Show that was due to be released in 1999 but ended up being shelved as well.
Then in the summer of 2011, an interesting thing happened. The band members decided they wanted to try and get the rights back. Through contact with their former manager, they were able to obtain the master tapes to Rycopa, which were located in a Sony warehouse in New York. Then they put up a request to their fans on kickstarter.com to raise money for the mixing and mastering of the tapes. Within thirty-six hours, they'd raised the necessary amount and shortly thereafter, began work on reconstructing the album. Matt Brown talked about their luck in a newspaper interview- "To know that this album is finally going to be finished 14 years later and fans financed the effort is completely amazing. It was always our goal to get this album out there and now we can finally accomplish that." In an interesting side note, the band also got the masters for Morning After Medicine Show and released it in limited quantities as a reward for those fans who contributed a significant amount. Rycopa was released late in 2011 and the band reunited in February of 2012 to play the release party; no matter the name, people will continue to recognize what they've done for Georgia rock.
And man what a crazy record Rycopa is. While 3 Lb. Thrill's unique sound is all over the record, it's been distorted and screwed up. The majority of the record sounds like definitive 3 Lb. Thrill: classic songwriting, Southern playing with just a hint of weirdness. The band decided with this record that they were going to make their defining recorded statement. They also decided to do whatever it took to achieve that goal. For instance, the intro of "Pretty Good Lie" begins with a tinkling piano and continues with some keyboards throughout the song and frontman Matt Brown delivering an impassioned vocal delivery that carries the song. "Karen Dine" comes off like a single that could've gotten some airplay. To me, it has all the classic earmarks of something heard on alternative rock radio in 1997: heavy vocals, acoustic backing and heavy harmony. The melancholy feel of several tracks is ironic considering the route this record took to getting released.
Other songs like "Feel Like Buddha" are on the experimental side but they work within the context of the two discs. You have to admire a band for sticking to their principles and doing whatever the fuck they wanted without thinking of any objections or critiques they might encounter. One of the most enduring songs is the piano-led ballad "Nebkheperure," which sounds like its ready for one of today's adult contemporary belters to give it a shot. Then the very next song is the slow rocker "Dymaxion;" it's just another way for the band to blow people's minds and show that they were capable of doing anything they wanted.
Then you get to the really spacey tracks like "Super Kitty Uh Huh" and "It's A Red, Red, Red, Red, Redneck World" and you to start to wonder what was really going on in the house where Rycopa was recorded. Then another piano ballad "Sunshine Life" sounds like a band trying to appease the record label by writing something that could've been played on the radio but I'll be damned if the song doesn't work on its own merit. One of my favorites is "True Punk Life," because the music and the vocals blend so well together even with its dated reference to the original "US Magazine." What a marvel it must have been to see them play these songs live! One close listen to the record and you can continue to hear the band's Beatles influence in songs like "Little India" and "Sunrise Lullaby." Then on other songs, the band took as many of their influences and threw them together in one song just to see what they'd come up with.
Throughout the album, Matt Brown's vocals keep strong and give the album a very dynamic feel, particularly on certain tracks like "Soulmating," where he spends most of the song emoting the song's feelings, in a good way. His voice keeps the energy of the album up the whole time, even on the down-tempo tracks like "The Star Room." One of the strangest tracks is "Claire and Alison Watching Over Me," just because of how it sounds with a lot of effects and keyboards. I would believe that hearing songs like this may have convinced the execs at Sony that maybe this record wasn't ready to be unleashed on the world. But in 2012, it seems to have caught up to the times, and the world seems ready to hear something strange and different to counteract all the crap that's currently on the radio.
Closing out the album with several slower songs including "Medicine Show," the band clearly had a master plan behind this album but they just had to wait several years to unleash it on the world. Well, Bill Decker, Jeff Jensen, Matt Brown and Peter McDade, you should be extremely pleased that you got this damn thing out and you should also be pleased that you released a pleasant and strange album with enough diversity to distract someone from buying a Katy Perry record. If someone is looking for an album to break through the monotony of their everyday listening experience, then this is it. There's hardly a clunker on the album in my opinion, and that's a rare thing you rarely hear about alternative rock double albums. BRAVO, GENTLEMEN!
Uncle Green/3 Lb. Thrill reunion album cover
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