Inside D.C. entertainment

Edsel will reissue its albums to prove it existed

September 19, 2011 - 10:49 AM
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Edsel. From left, Geoff Sanoff, Steve Raskin, Sohrab Habibion, Nick Pellicciotto.

The members of Edsel, a D.C.-based indie rock band in the '90s, are reissuing their records. Usually bands take steps like this because they hated the original mastering of their albums, or they want to add bonus material from the recording sessions, or they think they can make their fans buy their music all over again.

Edsel had a different problem: As far as the Internet was concerned, the band barely existed. Its name isn’t exactly Google-friendly, and the band’s knack for choosing record labels that later evaporated means that curious D.C. indie scholars can find only three songs on iTunes and Spotify.

This chafed a little, says former member Sohrab Habibion. He’s on the phone from New York, where he writes music for commercials, does graphic design, and plays guitar in the band Obits, whose other members were in bands that enjoy a robust digital presence. Edsel, he says, “existed before the Internet and cell phones and everything people use now to listen to music and communicate about music.”

Jon Solomon, who attended many indie-rock shows in the '90s, offered to reissue the albums digitally on his Comedy Minus One label. The first two reissues, Everlasting Belt Co.(1993) and Detroit Folly (1994), will be released tomorrow. Geoff Sanoff, Edsel’s former bassist, suggested they come up with some way to entice Joe Lambert, a mastering engineer whose credits include Red Headed Stranger, Live at Budokan, and Surfing With the Alien, to remaster the records first.

But: “True to the spirit of Edsel,” Habibion says, “there was never any money.” He and Sanoff, who works as a recording engineer in New York, bartered some of their services with Lambert, and soon all that was left to do was figure out who legally owned the recordings. No one, Habibion says, could find any of their contracts -- perhaps not that big of a deal since neither Grass nor Merkin nor Relativity, the labels that released Edsel's records, seem to be going concerns.

“It’s been long enough that we sort of figured it reverted back to us,” he says. “Geoff wrote a very convincing letter saying we have not received accounting or mechanical royalties, it has been X period of time, and if we don’t hear back from you, we’ll assume the masters belong to us. And nobody responded!”

Habibion says the band decided not to mess with the sequencing of the albums, employing Lambert’s “black art” to “enhance the sound without making it sound fabricated.” That’s despite a nagging suspicion that Everlasting Belt Co., in particular, is overstuffed. The temptation to fill up all a CD’s available space then, he says, was a novelty that “took over the thoughtfulness of the listening experience.”

I’ve spent the morning listening to that record and for what it's worth, except for "The Good Celeste," a stark reminder of the pitfalls of the shoegazer influence that was so strong in D.C. in the early '90s, and "Stane," which was probably more fun to make than it is to listen to, I don’t think the generous tracklisting is as big a problem as Habibion does. (And just in case you think I’m some disinterested party capable of an honest review, I’ve known Habibion and the other Edsel people for years; my old band played with Edsel at least three times and is mentioned twice in one of Habibion’s posts about the reissues.)

Habibion says it’s unlikely the band will reunite -- they’re all busy and scattered. Guitarist and singer Steve Raskin makes music in the D.C. acts Thunderball and Fort Knox Five, drummer Nick Pellicciotto is a technical writer in Austin, John Dugan, who took over on drums after Pellicciotto left, is a senior editor at Time Out Chicago.

“I don’t know that the 40-year-old-guys version of that band is going to do anything to help its history,” Habibion says. “Got a barbecue? We’ll play that. If there’s a kiddie pool and some veggie bacon I’m there.”

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