Neon Bible

by 39 Steps

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    Most of Neon Bible was recorded in the spring/summer of 1987. A few months earlier we’d recorded many of these songs with Chris Stein of Blondie fame playing the role of producer. In fact, we’d recorded a full album with Stein but once we made the mistake of signing with Polygram, which effectively ended our career as a band, most of those tracks wound up with the label, who dropped us within three months of signing us for “being uncooperative”, never releasing any of the 39 Steps material they now owned.
    Nevertheless, at the time we were only too happy to be free of those assholes at Polygram, who I personally never felt good about in the first place. Chrysalis, EMI. Columbia, and Island Records were all falling over themselves to sign us up, offering big bucks [by our modest standards] while confidently assuring us we were soon gonna be bigger than the Beatles.
    Needless to say, we were pretty stoked. Finally, after years [actually, make that one full decade] of perpetual rejection and with most of us literally starving so we could try and play music full-time, we were going to get our shot at the big time.
    Of course, that would have been too easy, and with 39 Steps, just like it had been a decade earlier when we called ourselves the 222s, nothing ever came easy.
    We were soon to learn that Polygram weren’t prepared to let us out of our contract. Even though they had no intention of ever releasing any 39 Steps material we had to wait a full 18 months before we could be free of them. And just to make matters worse, once they learned all these other labels wanted to sign us up they started threatening them with legal action just for negotiating with us. Apparently you’re not allowed to do that while still on contract to another record label. Yeah, it came as news to me too.
    Forward to 1989. 18 months. That’s a long fuckin’ time for a band to sit around doing nothing except the occasional tour as fuckin’ Meatloaf’s support act [yup, Meatloaf, you heard right], but it’s an eternity in the actual music business. And consistent with 39 Steps luck, by the time we were finally free to sign with a big label again we’d become yesterday’s news, with the only label still even remotely interested in us being Chrysalis – and for a lot less money.
    It took another four long months for our New York lawyer, a guy named Chris Whent, to hash out a deal with Chrysalis. As much as I liked Whent personally, he was something of an idealist with a real hate on for the major labels, thoroughly disgusted by the way they routinely ripped off their artists. He was determined that 39 Steps get a fair deal out of Chrysalis, even if we had very little bargaining power by that point. Whent was a fairly cool guy by lawyer standards, he took care of the Velvet Underground’s affairs and represented John Cale, so he was deemed A-Ok in my book, but his idealism was getting in the way of 39 Steps ever making a follow-up album to Slip into the Crowd, which had originally come out a full three years earlier on our managers indie label before eventually being picked up by RCA.
    Finally, after all the waiting, in June 1990 I got the call from our manager telling me that while we hadn’t secured a great deal with Chrysalis, at least we now had a deal.
    I suppose I should mention here that throughout this entire time 39 Steps would have signed with ANY decent indie label that wanted us, but none did, and it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying on our part either. We just didn’t fit in with the times, the glorious 1980s, perhaps the worst decade for rock’n’roll to yet. The general consensus for 39 Steps among music biz types was that we were either going to make it really big or not at all. I suppose I don’t need to tell you how it played out, huh?
    Yet even this Chrysalis record was not to be. The same week our contract with them had finally been settled, the two owners of the label fired their entire A&R staff. Worse, we soon found out that one of these guys, I think his name was Chris Ellis or something lame like that[Get it? Chrys Ellis], absolutely detested our band while the other owner was simply indifferent to us. Once again we were dropped from a record label without anything ever being released, this time even before the ink on our contract had dried.
    Nevertheless, we stayed together as a band, primarily because none of us knew what else to do with our lives. We felt like we’d come so close. We felt we had genuine HITS in our repertoire, that we could turn the world on to what we considered real rock’n’roll again, but nobody in the record industry, I mean nobody, wanted anything to do with us.
    In a last ditch effort to save our band in late 1990 we collectively moved our sorry asses down to NYC, ideally to be closer to our management team, but by that point even they had lost interest in us, moving on to other, considerably more successful groups than 39 Steps could ever hope to be. That one really hurt but at the same time I understood their position. Perhaps I cared about saving the world through rock and roll, but to the business guys it was all just business. That came as no big surprise to me. And in all honesty, we were responsible for a lot of our misfortune, not always being the most, um, professional of bands. Like a zillion others before us, the usual suspects, drugs, egos, and a lot of bad habits had been added to our repertoire over that depressing two year stint of doing nothing.
    After a few months all cooped up in a 600 square foot East Village shithole together, playing CB’s, opening for the Dictators at the Palladium, and doing the same circuit as every other NY band without a hope in hell of ever breaking out of Alphabet City played, the band broke up and most of us went back home to Montreal to lick our wounds, thoroughly defeated and in my case, at least, profoundly depressed.
    The only reason why Neon Bible ever saw the light of day – albeit only in 1993, long after the group had disbanded - is because Joan Jett had become a friend/fan of ours. Joan was well aware of our situation and what we/I had been put through by the music industry. Sometimes it seemed like she was even more pissed off about 39 Steps situation than I was – which is really saying something. Back in ’86 we’d gotten a FACTOR grant from the Canadian government to make the album we recorded with Chris Stein, the only condition being that the final result come out as a proper album, lest we be obliged to pay back the full amount of the grant, some 25 thousand dollars.
    By 1993 the Feds had been chasing our manager looking for their money for over three years, and were starting to send bailiffs around to retrieve whatever they could from him. There was one way out of it for him though, all he needed to do was just see that a fuckin’ 39 Steps record came out and the government would be happy and leave him alone. So we got a hold of Joan, who had her own label, Blackheart, and asked if she’d put Neon Bible out for us. Without a second’s hesitation, Joan, bless her heart, agreed to do it, and in the fall of 93, six years after the shit had been recorded and three years since we’d split up, Neon Bible was finally released to the world with absolutely zero promotion and, to nobody’s surprise, promptly ignored by the great unwashed.
    So there’s the story. And it’s a shame because in hindsight it really is a pretty good little record. For years I couldn’t listen to it because it only reminded me of struggle and some really, really bad times. But now, in 2013, I’m okay with it again. Hey, I’m enough okay with it that I’m making it available on Bandcamp, right? So I hope you dig it, and sure, if you’d like to pay more than the asking price for it, well, I’m certainly not going to stop you. And finally, thanks for even being on this Bandcamp page of ours in the first place. It’s pretty flattering to know that a few people here and there are discovering this record all these years later. Believe me, it’s very much appreciated.
    Chris Barry
    Montreal, Dec 2013
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released November 29, 2013

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39 Steps Montreal, Québec

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