By Dan Kimpel


It is a well-known adage that success depends on being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. For Henry Curl, lead singer of Jonah, a Portland, Oregon-based band, a fortuitous visit to the TAXI Road Rally was a direct conduit to a powerhouse manager, a noted producer and a new CD, Trust Everyone Before They Break Your Heart.

It almost didn't happen. After Curl signed up for his Road Rally mentoring session with Chris Long and read Long's bio, he feared he'd made a wrong choice. "It said he had signed Kyuss and all of this hard rock stuff, I thought, 'That doesn't sound like someone who is going to mentor me in the right direction,' Curl recalls. " I went back to try to get a new mentor, someone who worked with Brit pop. When I looked up, this big guy was standing there and he said, 'You don't want to be mentored by me?' What's your problem, man? I love Brit pop.'" Curl played Long songs from the band's indie CD and the veteran manager got it immediately. "It sounded amazing," Long recalls. "Henry was very nervous. This was one of his first 'industry moments.' I don't think he thought his music would be well received."

The TAXI connection continued when Long agreed to manage the band, originally with a partner, top-shelf music attorney Alan Mintz (now at Starbucks/Hear Music.) Putting together a list of A&R contacts for a showcase in Hollywood, Long contacted producer/A&R executive, Marshall Altman. "Marshall was the A&R guy who was always changing jobs: Hollywood, Capitol and Columbia," says Long. "I was a former Indie label A&R guy who was doing other stuff. But Marshall was more into the major label scene. But we both hooked back up when we were doing A&R at TAXI. "

While Altman's credits as a producer, A&R executive and songwriter are extensive, and include co-writes and production with Marc Broussard, he believes that his six month stint doing A&R at TAXI helped him hone his instincts. "It made me listen to songs, not just to the surface, but also to the song as a whole, to find out its strengths and weaknesses, and how to make it better. That's my job, to take an artist's vision to its furthest place."

When Jonah came to Los Angeles to showcase, Altman, stuck in torrential rain, missed their set. But when he finally arrived, the band returned to the stage expressly for him, he recalls. "Obviously, playing a showcase is the most awkward thing you can do as a band. And to have one extremely late, wet A&R person in the audience doesn't make things any better. It was a terrific showcase and they were a great band."



That said, Altman didn't feel the band was at the point where he could take them to Columbia Records. "Three and a half or four years later Chris called me and said, 'We have some new demos from Jonah. We'd love to have you produce.' And I was on a plane, going somewhere to check out a band for Columbia, and I was listening to demos on my I-pod. I thought the songs were fantastic. It's about artist development and artists being able to grow. The band coming down and showcasing in Hollywood and not getting a deal? That would break the spirit of a lot of bands. I think Jonah took it as a challenge, and to some extent that the next record they made was going to be a definition point." To engineer the Jonah project, Altman enlisted the talents of Joe Zook, who had been behind the board for Modest Mouse, Remy Zero and Counting Crows.

Since Altman is a songwriter himself, his understanding of the dynamics of songs extends far beyond their technical components. Henry Curl recalls that in one of their first meetings Altman grabbed a guitar and began playing the band's songs back to them. "That's something I always do," Altman states. "When I'm making a record I try to empathize with the material and what the band is trying to say. My job is to help the band define that. The great thing about Jonah was that they had a direction already. It makes my job easier when the band knows who they are and where they're headed. Then I can take the songs to the next level. "

Although the melodies to Jonah's songs remained largely unaltered, Altman did suggest some chord changes. "A melody is a melody on its own," Altman declares. "It's up to me to make sure the chords serve the melody as best they can, whether that's creating tension, or a release or something static. This all leads toward making the song stronger. It's a fine tuning thing — to keep a broad eye on the song to make sure that every change is serving it better." Compromise between band and producer was also a key element. "There were things that I was attached to and things they were attached to," recalls the producer. "But the band rose to every challenge."

Altman believes that a record is essentially made in pre-production. "You get to bond and pull the songs apart. We made a lot of arrangement changes: Shorter intros, tighter choruses, discovering ways to make the arrangements work and therefore make the songs better." Henry Curl avows that it was an intensive week of work to prep the band for their recording. "We tried tons of versions of songs. Marshall was very animated in what he wanted and we were open to anything. A couple of tunes he had a heavy hand rearranging. For example, he had us write a stronger bridge to 'Lights Out' to connect the verses."

Listen to the 'Lights Out' demo by Jonah:

  Listen to 'Lights Out' by Jonah:

Jonah's song, "A Patient Man," although strong melodically and lyrically, didn't have the right build or climactic points, Curl recalls, "We got that through Marshall, developing a really good live sound with more peaks and valleys."

Listen to the 'A Patient Man' demo by Jonah:

  Listen to 'A Patient Man' by Jonah:

Working with the band's drummer Jake Endicott, Altman instructed him to play a certain type of fill on one song, Curl relates. "There is a fill in "Intermission is Over," and he was very specific. 'I don't want a Pat and Debbie Boone drum fill.' He had Jake do a collapsing fill between the first chorus and the second verse. It almost sounds like a mistake, but it's very cool in the context of the song."

Listen to the segment between the first chorus and second verse of 'Intermission Is Over' by Jonah:


Altman reveals the checklist of attributes that convinced him to produce Jonah. "Henry's voice really communicates on a rock star level. They've done the work, they step up to any challenge and they have a great live show. But it all comes down to the songs and the sound of the band. There's magic. It's easy to know when something's right, when you doubt something it means it's wrong. I've never doubted Jonah."

Curl notes that when the band was coming up, critiques from TAXI's screeners were valuable tools in strengthening their songs. " If you choose to work with the critiques and not fight them, to have another pair of ears — professional ears at that — is very important. That alone makes it worth it."

Jonah's bass player, Matt Rogers, recalls the band's initial impression of TAXI. "You hear about all of these online "A&R" companies. We've always been skeptical that they're taking the money and not doing a whole lot. But we have friends who have gotten placements on television shows through TAXI, and we could see the results. TAXI is in Los Angeles, right in the heart of everything. If a company is in Duluth, Minnesota you wonder how they make any connections."

The supportive camaraderie at TAXI's headquarters, Altman believes, was another bonus. "Chris Long and I really built up a friendship when we were both working at TAXI. That's one of the great things about it, aside from being a real resource for artists and songwriters, what the hell else are A&R people going to do when they're between gigs? I think it's great that TAXI brings the expertise of real industry insiders directly to its members, no matter where they live." Long, who also manages another TAXI success story, platinum artists Crossfade, was one of the earliest additions to TAXI's A&R team. He avows that the A&R staff was united in their support for Jonah. "I know what I like when I hear it, but having other sets of talented ears around was really beneficial. All of the screeners were rooting for them. "

And although Henry Curl had attended other music business conventions, he noted a marked difference at the TAXI Road Rally. "I'd done SXSW, but I thought the info was every bit as valuable at TAXI's event. It was more personal; you could really connect and get a lot of information, and it's free to members. Meeting Chris Long, and meeting Marshall through Chris, changed our entire careers. And at the center of all these connecting points that have done so much to shape our career is TAXI. It's really been a great catalyst for us."

For more information about Jonah, visit www.jonahtheband.com.

For more information about Marshall Altman, visit www.myspace.com/marshallaltman.











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