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Goin' Her Own Way

Jonatha Brooke steps out on her own label

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There aren't very many things worse for a recording artist than hearing in the middle of your tour that your major label has decided not to renew your contract.

Jonatha Brooke got her shot in the gut when MCA informed her in the middle of her 1999 10 Wings tour that she would not have the support of the major label on her next album. While some may have plummeted in the face of such a blow, Brooke took it in stride.

"I think it was a great humbler. And it forced me to really go deep and figure out where my priorities were and what kind of an artist I am," Brooke said in a recent interview with the Indy. "I found these great resources inside of myself. It sounds so tacky but I found this great reserve of passion and creativity and desire to keep doing this. No matter how I had to proceed, this is what I do and this is what I most love in the world."

Her new perspective fueled her with the ambition to create her own label, Bad Dog Records, and in 1999 she released her Bad Dog debut Live, a compilation of recent performances of previously released songs from her days with MCA and her first band, The Story. She proved herself musically on the road, pushing herself in new directions with funkier renditions of old favorites, playing without the luxuries of studio enhancements.

Though Live proved to be a successful venture, the idea of a new studio album without the support of a major label seemed daunting for Brooke until she found someone else standing by ready to help her, heavyweight producer and master mixer Bob Clearmountain.

"He mixed [10] Wings, and just brought it to this amazing level," commented Brooke. "It was just a really great vote of confidence from someone of his stature to say, 'I'm right here. Let's do it. Let's not worry about money; let's just make a record.' There's the irony -- you sort of just let everything go and the universe hands you Bob Clearmountain."

Without the pressures and restrictions of a major label breathing down her neck, a refreshing, more relaxed Jonatha Brooke appears on her second Bad Dog release, Steady Pull. She maintains her high vocal standards doing some duets on the album with Spearhead's Michael Franti and Crowded House's Neil Finn. Her lyrics are smart and ironic as ever, and her eclectic tunings and chord progressions make her rise above the less experienced of today's music industry.

From the get-up-and-dance groove of "How Deep Is Your Love?" to the gentle waltz of "Your House," Brooke explores the gamut of musical expression. Even though it's a studio album, she managed to capture the intimacy of a live performance in setting down her guitar and vocal tracks together as if she were on stage in front of a mike. "Luckily, I'm not someone to just agonize and die over every single note," said Brooke. "Bob actually helped with that, too, in getting live performances and live vocal takes the first or second take. A lot of those songs are just that."

For the first time in her career, Brooke stepped into the producer's seat with Steady Pull, deciding not to enlist the help of her former producer Alain Mallet. "Alain is an amazing, amazing producer," said Brooke. "But I guess I kind of needed to prove to myself that I had the musical ideas that would, at least for this record, most enhance what I was trying to do. I just felt that it needed that sort of change, that sort of organic sound -- something a little less produced and a little more raw."

Although she gives a lot of credit to Clearmountain for helping push her in the direction she envisioned for Steady Pull, Brooke was more than ready to do the legwork that makes an album successful. Brooke displayed the maturity of her 37 years by being patient in Steady Pull's release. Completed in August 2000, the album didn't hit the shelves until February 2001, after she and her manager, Patrick Rains, designed a marketing strategy similar to a major label's. She did a solo tour through the Border's stores across the nation earlier in the year while promoting a limited edition version of Steady Pull. Her Web site, jonathabrooke.com, is full of photos and personal stories about her songs and the making of the new album. And she even shot video footage for a DVD version of the album, which you can download off her Web site and will be available in stores in August.

But the fun really starts this summer. Brooke kicks off her big tour with band in tow this month and she seems more excited than ever. The last two times she's come through Colorado Springs, she played solo shows without the added energy of a band. "Now is the time to come because this band is rocking my world," said Brooke. "The energy with three more guys behind you is phenomenal. And they're not caught up in the proving of themselves every night. They're just about what serves the song and whatever serves the music. I've never been happier with a bunch of guys on the road."

In the face of a music industry saturated with three-chord rock stars, synchronized-dancing boy bands and 19-year-old girls showing off their navels and promoting cola, Brooke's chances of hitting the limelight are slim, but she seems to like where she fits into the scene. "I'd like to think there's room for all of us," comments Brooke. "I'm just so glad I'm older. It's such a relief to be in a different place not worrying about piercing my belly button or what color my hair is going to be this week. I think there's such an audience out there for more substantial music. It's just getting to them and letting them know that we're not underestimating them and that help is on the way."

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