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BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

Fags' full-length debut finally sees light of day

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Over an exasperating two-plus years, The Fags signed a major-label record deal, completed their full-length debut album only to have it shelved indefinitely amid corporate reshuffling, and were quietly dropped by the company. But that doesn’t mean the Detroit trio came away with nothing from the experience.

They will always have the humorous memory of their initial meeting with legendary Sire Records executive Seymour Stein, which singer/guitarist John Speck vividly recalls.

“We sat down to lunch with Seymour, and I was really stoked to meet him. And the whole time he had this huge glob of olive oil on his pink shirt and was totally oblivious to it,” Speck said, chuckling heartily, on the phone from his Detroit area home. “Sometimes [drummer] Jimmy [Paluzzi] will still say, ‘Maybe we should send him a shirt or something.'”

As for the deal The Fags eventually struck with Stein and Sire, Speck said, “I didn’t have any expectations other than a free lunch.”

Speck’s expectations are even more tempered now, with the CD, Light ‘Em Up, finally set for proper release Oct. 31 on Dallas-based indie label Idol Records. (The disc has been available on iTunes since July.) There is a good reason for that. Aside from the perks of major-label backing, the disc will be without another important marketing resource: the band itself.

As Speck tells it, The Fags “ran out of steam” between the time they signed their record deal in spring 2004 and their discovery this past summer that they had been let go by Sire, which is part of the Time Warner conglomerate. Without major-label tour financing — and with Paluzzi busy with real estate ventures and bassist Tim Patalan committed to producing other artists — The Fags gradually disbanded. They will play a record-release show Nov. 11 at Small’s in Hamtramck, Mich., as a favor to old friend and Idol Records founder Erv Karwelis. (Idol also released The Fags’ self-titled EP in 2002.)
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“I have mixed feelings about it,” Speck said about Light ‘Em Up‘s release. “I was at the point where I didn’t give a [darn] if didn’t come out. We got [yanked] around by our label. We found out we were dropped by the label when we got an e-mail from someone asking, ‘Why aren’t you listed on the Sire web site anymore?’

“It’s typical of people who aren’t in bands that work in the music business. . . . Our manager manages two bands in the Warner system, and they couldn’t even get a straight answer from anyone. I don’t know that they had a whole lot of motivation to put it out.”

Light ‘Em Up certainly is worthy of an audience, even if it is too late for The Fags to benefit much from its release. It is packed with indelible harmonies and punk energy, straddling the line between skinny-tie era tunefulness and heavy guitar rock.

Principal songwriter Speck — whose voice at times recalls that of Cheap Trick‘s Robin Zander, only a tinge rougher — delivers verses steeped in vulnerability, and when he sings “I drank too much, what else is new?” it’s not just a throwaway line. In a booze-fueled encounter some years ago, he punched a record company exec who had just scouted his then-band’s performance.

As agonizing as The Fags’ ordeal was with Sire, at least it didn’t end in fisticuffs. Speck and his bandmates had been around the business too long to pin their hopes on their major-label deal lasting too long, anyway.

“We went into it with the assumption that we wouldn’t get a chance to make another (record),” Speck said, “so (we said), ‘Let’s make it a good one. It’ll stand on its own.’ ”

— By George Henn