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Sounding Board by Patrick Fineran

MUSIC

ur little neck of the woods is drawing attention in the music industry with three national label signings in the past several weeks.

AAA radio sweetheart and Mequon resident Willy Porter signed onto Private Music in September. Milwaukee's own Gufs, they of the hip, beautiful and oh-so-young audiences, inked a contract with Atlantic Records two weeks ago. Closer to home was the national signing of Feet of Clay to Megalithic Records earlier this summer. The local pop trio that records in Wind Point is made up of Racine resident Ralph Bruner on guitar and vocals, Noel Crowder on bass and vocals, and drummer Steve Comeau.

Last spring, after being nominated for three WAMI awards (Pop Artist, CD and Best New Artist) a Megalithic Records staffer heard the band's self-released CD and fell in love with its simple, straight-ahead sound. So too has George's owner, David Popoff, who will host a CD release party for the band Saturday.

Feet of Clay has quite a network built up to help move the band's debut. Milwaukee-based Megalithic Records has an international distribution deal with Sony subsidiary RED /Relativity, which should help get the product out quickly. The top radio consulting firm around has signed on to help get the CD on the airwaves. Last is the two-year management deal with One Fifteen West.

With One Fifteen, Feet of Clay is represented by British mastermind John Lay, one of the most savvy people in the business. Lay used to handle Squeeze and Robyn Hitchcock among others and is known for bringing bands to the big dance. He says Feet of Clay is the only band he ever signed without hearing it live first.

"They are great songwriters and all are accomplished players," he says. "They are a quality, class act and an undeniably good pop band."

Feet of Clay is tight off the stage as well. Says Bruner, "It's like a Cub Scout den when we get together. I think that may be because we have no other social life."

The three hooked up through an ad agency that Comeau still works for. When he needed musicians for spots like Miller Lite, Kohl's Department stores, Nike and Reebok, he called Bruner and Crowder. Did the diversity of work with an ad agency help the band? Crowder thinks the work doesn't translate that well but has made them more professional.

Bruner agrees: "With the diversity and our own studio, we know how to record and put together a good product. It saves the label a ton of money. As far as great experience, though, our old wedding band was more valuable (than the ad agency). It was more diverse and the money was great."

Added Crowder, laughing, "At the ad agency, we're encouraged and TOLD to rip off other people. It's a great outlet."

With influences "from Bach to rock, anything with a melody," Feet of Clay is a pop band in the best sense of the word. The writing is melody-driven with a sound that brings to mind the Beatles as well as Lay's other bands Squeeze, Hitchcock, Love Nut and Greenberry Woods. Crowder and Bruner's writing is crisp and economical with harmonies that hijack the heart. Lyrically, Feet of Clay is open and honest to the point of possibly having an irony deficiency.

When Lay passed around the disc in England he got a surprising reaction. "Everyone who listened to it said, "Oh no, there's the John Lay sound again."' he chuckled. "I thought, am I stereotyping myself with having only bands that put out 3-minute, radio-ready songs? My what a horrible problem to have."

With success just around the corner, Feet of Clay is typically self-effacing. Band members quickly credit their management and record label. "We were looking for a manager for about a year. In our wildest dreams, we never thought we'd hook up with someone the caliber of John Lay," says Crowder.

"We have never been very good at self-promotion. Everything that we've achieved before John was by sheer coincidence," added Comeau.

As for signing with Megalithic, Feet of Clay couldn't be happier. "We can talk to the head of A&R or the label president and it's a priority for them to create a buzz about us. You don't get that at a major," Crowder says.

Lay's take on Megalithic is "they are emotionally, professionally and morally behind the band."

Bruner likes the fact that being with Megalithic gives the band a chance to get out of debt and start replacing some of their equipment. "Up to now," he says, "we've been improvising our pop filters with nylons and muffler clamps."

As for the future, Feet of Clay is taking it one step at a time. Comeau says the next CD is almost completely written with recording starting anytime.

As for big-time sponsorship deals, Feet of Clay is looking at various options. "Love Nut has a shoe deal of all things," says Crowder.

The CD Release Party will be held at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at George's Tavern, 1201 N. Main St.

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