Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

April 30–May 7, 1998



After releasing an album to critical raves, are The Interpreters back at square one?

by Neil Gladstone

The Interpreters' buzz was so big they were getting offers to tour Europe even before they had anything released. The hype in Philly was so intense a backlash started.

This time last year The Interpreters were bigger than Jesus. Okay, maybe they weren't that hot, but the three-piece band from Philly was at the top of the buzz bin.

The Interpreters were the subject of a furious bidding war between record labels and the object of hot gossip: whether hanging with David Geffen on his yacht or appearing with supermodels in paparazzi shots. After months of free dinners, free plane rides and first-rate schmoozing, they decided to sign with Freeworld, a new label formed out of the ashes of Zoo Entertainment. Freeworld had Matthew Sweet and Tool on its roster, but the reason the band chose the label was Mike Rich—a former Philadelphian who moved to New York for a career in the music industry. Rich, a junior-level A&R rep at Freeworld, was a person they could trust, who wanted to champion The Interpreters because they were a Philly band and one he believed in. The Interpreters would also be his first signing as an A&R rep, a chance for Rich to make his mark.

Though Freeworld was technically an independent label (distributed by BMG), it gave the trio major-label treatment. Freeworld flew the band to England to record a single with onetime Who producer Shel Talmy, then to L.A. to do a couple of tracks with Hole's Eric Erlandson, and then back accross the Atlantic to record an album with Ron Schaffer in London. The Interpreters' buzz was so big they were getting offers to tour Europe even before they had released anything. The hype in Philly was so intense a backlash started.


Palladino, Gaer and Jakominich
photo: Dominic Episcopo

Their debut album, Back In the U.S.S.A., came out in September and Rolling Stone lauded the collection of '77-style mod-punk tunes with a four-star review. But while critical raves were rolling in, Freeworld was shutting down, says Interpreters bassist/vocalist Herschel Gaer. Higher-ups at Freeworld told Gaer and bandmates Patsy Palladino and Branko Jakominich that the end of the year is the worst time to break a new band because everyone is buying box sets and year-end best-ofs. Everyone agreed to wait until January for the big push.

Meanwhile, the band released a non-album single in England, "Shout," on a different label and shot a video for it. The limited run of 1,500 sold out immediately and MTV Europe started airing the "Shout" video. MTV Europe talked it up to M2 (MTV's new American all-video channel) and the American station put it into rotation even though the song wasn't available in the United States.

The new year came and Freeworld let deadlines lapse. Gaer says the band scheduled out blocks of time to film a video for an album single, but money never came through. According to Gaer and Rich, Freeworld was in the process of being sold and the brass wasn't interested in blowing a lot of cash to develop acts.

"It was like trying to wring a towel for every drop of water I could," says Rich of getting money from Freeworld. He was able to get small amounts to foot the bill for the band to tour the South with another Philly band, The Delta 72, but the big bucks just weren't coming.

Few radio stations were playing U.S.S.A. because Freeworld wasn't sending out records, says Gaer, but the exposure on M2 and positive reviews brought people out to shows.

"It was a nightmare," admits Gaer. "Labels pay millions of dollars and never get [this kind of exposure]."

"People were recognizing me in small town 7-Elevens—it was weird," recalls Gaer. MTV broadcast "Shout" on their alternative show 120 Minutes and their video review program 12 Angry Viewers.

"We beat Bob Dylan [in the ratings]; my mom was pissed about that," jokes the bassist on the phone from Jacksonville, FL, where The Interpreters played a concert set up by M2 to publicize the station.

A little over a month ago, MTV News correspondent Kurt Loder singled out The Interpreters on This Week In Rock as a great band that wasn't getting enough attention.

"We're all big fans in the news department," says Loder on the phone from his New York office. "They write great, super-high-energy songs and they're unusual." Loder's praise, however, couldn't help the situation with Freeworld.

"It was a nightmare," admits Gaer. "Labels pay millions of dollars and never get [this kind of exposure]. Freeworld put nothing into it and all this shit happened.… We could have probably done a better job by ourselves than Freeworld did." Rich says the difficult situation made The Interpreters an even stronger unit.

"If anyone says these guys had an easy time getting to where they are, that's not the case," remarks Rich, who notes that the band continued to tour in support of the album even though the relationship with the label was strained. He stuck around Freeworld to look after the band's interest. When the owners of Freeworld had found a buyer, he knew it was a hopeless situation and left to form CIA Management.

Freeworld was absorbed into the Jive record label and The Interpreters decided the time was right to get out of the contract: "I didn't feel good about us being dicked around on the label and then shoving us somewhere else and seeing what they would do with us," explains Gaer. The Interpreters' frontman had also negotiated the band's contract with Freeworld and argued that several deadlines stipulated in writing hadn't been met.

"Basically we got them on breach of contract," says Gaer. Freeworld released the band and gave them the master tapes for Back in the U.S.S.A.

Former Freeworld artist development representative H.M. Wollman will only say the split was "amicable." Wollman, who still works with the current configuration of the company, adds that he understands The Interpreters' position and wishes them well.

The same time the Interpreters got out of their Freeworld contract, they split with Turner Management—a West Coast-based company—and hired Rich as their new manager. Gaer thought it would be best to have an East Coast manager.

So, is the great Philly hope back to square one?


The bidding war might not be as frenzied as it was a year ago, but it's back on. Rich says he has "paper" (meaning written offers) from three different companies and is confident they'll sign soon.

"Now we have the leverage of a four-star review from Rolling Stone and MTV support," contends Gaer. "Before we were just a band from the sticks who'd made a demo and done some gigs, now we're sort of proven." They've also sold about 8,000 copies of their album.

If all goes well, another company will re-release Back in the U.S.S.A. by summer and shell out the Benjamins for videos, publicity and radio support.

Rich hardly thinks it matters that the record's been released before: "Marcy Playground was on EMI [when it was sold] and was picked up by Capitol—look what they've done."

Just because the band is without a label doesn't mean they've been idle. The trio appears on a track on the new Josh Wink album HereHear (due out in June). They've also been working on new songs, video ideas and a treatment for an Interpreters TV show. Hmm… maybe they should write a rock 'n' roll soap opera. Like they say: write what you know.

The Interpreters will play on Thursday, April 30, at the Pontiac Grille, 304 South St., 925-4053.

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