Sellout Stories: Norman Brannon (Texas Is the Reason)
Hello and welcome to REPLY ALT, the only/greatest newsletter about music in the world. Welp, SELLOUT has been out for a week and the response has been so overwhelming. Every morning I wake up to dozens and dozens and dozens of nice messages from you all. Apologies if I haven’t gotten to all of them but I really appreciate the support! I’ve done approximately 9,000 interviews about the book recently if you want to read/listen to any of em. There have been a few new ones I’m probly forgetting. I was interviewed by Mark Hoppus, which kinda blows my mind. He asked me to settle the debate: The Blue Album vs. Pinkerton. Naturally, I panicked and asked him to settle MY debate: Dookie vs. The Blue Album. He chose wisely. (Dookie.)
Aaaaaanyway. I mentioned the other day that I was starting an interview series called Sellout Stories, where I expand the major-label tales of people in the book. (My first guest was Chris from Anti-Flag.) Since Texas Is the Reason’s Norman Brannon makes an appearance in the chapter on Jimmy Eat World, talking about how great Clarity is, I figured he should be the second guest and woooo boy what a story his band had!
This conversation ended up being so much deeper than I’d expected. We talked a lot about putting mental health first, the added difficulty of being a closeted gay man in the face of rock stardom, and lots of other heavy topics. Also, haircuts. This was a really special chat and I hope you like it.
You can listen above or on Spotify, Apple, etc. If you want the short text version, below is the section about Norman that appears in my new photo zine, MAJOR LABEL DEBUT, which you can pick up in my online store.
Oh, and if you’re in the NY area, come to Vitus this Saturday! I’ll be in conversation with Geoff Rickly. Non-ticketed. Just show up. I’ll have books for sale. Happy to sign em. Also, the first 20 people who buy a book there will get a FREE photo zine. The first 10 people to buy multiple copies will get a FREE tote bag.
SELLOUT is a book about bands releasing their major label debut albums, so technically Texas Is the Reason was ineligible for inclusion. But as far as major-label signings go, the New York band might take the award for all-time closest near miss.
The band had people interested in them from their very first show in 1994, says guitarist Norman Brannon. They played six songs in his Manhattan living room for their group of friends, who happened to be members of bands like Youth of Today and Sick of It All, as well as people who ran or worked for record labels. So, there were eyes on them from day one, and they had the chance to go major very early.
“At that time in New York City, there were only two streams,” says Brannon. “You were either going to be an indie band or you were going to be a major band. Quicksand, Into Another, Orange 9mm, Sick of It All, CIV, they were all on major labels. So it wasn’t foreign to us because those people were all our friends and they didn’t seem to be having a difficult or miserable time on a major label. I wasn’t super anti-major, but it didn’t feel right.”
Wanting more time to figure out what their band was about, Texas Is the Reason shooed away major label A&Rs by locking in a deal with indie Revelation Records for two full-lengths and an EP. “‘That way, all the major labels will leave us alone.’ That’s what we thought,” he says. “But that did not happen. As soon as we signed, they actually got more aggressive. It got crazy.”
Major labels pursued the band even harder after their debut EP sold an impressive 30,000 copies for Revelation. The band’s profile kept growing as more and more A&R reps took them out to lunch, bought them groceries, and gave them free CDs. The members started to fall under the major-label spell and finally conceded: Maybe we really are that good. Further bolstering their confidence were the price tags being thrown around. “The highest offer we received was $3.5 million for three albums,” Brannon says. “$500,000 was a non-recoupable signing bonus. They were literally gonna give us half a million just to sign us.”
The band whittled the long list of interested suitors down and ultimately agreed to ink a deal with Capitol for $2.3 million. Their lawyer drafted up the paperwork while the band was on tour with the Promise Ring. As soon as they returned home, it’d be ready for signing and they'd be cut a check that day. But the nearer the signing drew, the more Brannon felt like backing out.
“I was having a really difficult time in life. I’ve struggled with clinical depression for as long as I can remember, and had suicidal ideation before puberty. 1996 was a particularly difficult year for my depression. I believe it was neurological and situational. The situational aspects were the pressures of being in the band and feeling the weight of people depending on me and feeling uncomfortable with the amount of responsibility I had. On top of that, I was hitting this place in my life where I was starting to realize that I needed to be an out gay man. This was at a time when Jason from the Promise Ring was coming out and he was attacked mercilessly on the Jade Tree message board, so I knew there was risk. So now I’m about to sign a major record deal and if I do that, will I have to stay in the closet?”
When he expressed to the rest of the members that he wanted to break up the band, some shared his sentiment while others thought he was out of his mind. They called it quits in 1997 and it caused a rift between them which took some years to mend.
When asked if he regrets his decision all these years later, Brannon says no. “Had I signed that contract, I’m not kidding, I would be dead. 100 percent, I cannot stress that enough. ...So how could I possibly regret it?”