The following are the liner notes from Days of Fear, written by Robert Gordon. © 1995 Unclean America.
If it wasn't for bad luck, Dumptruck would have had no luck at all. I remember in Austin one Saturday, they snuck their van into a bank parking lot so it would be safe, but when they went that afternoon to get it, the garage had closed for the weekend, an iron gate between them and their vehicle. Kevin Salem, who was the guitarist at the time, and Brian Dunton, the bassist and the scrawniest member of the band, went to the police station, Brian working up a pallor as Kevin explained that the poor lad had left his medication in the van and it was of the utmost importance that they retrieve it as expediently as possible. That night in Dallas, they were banned permanently from the venue.
Dumptruck was the first rock band I ever interviewed, so I've always had a soft spot for them. I enjoyed their debut album (which I bought after getting the assignment), liked much of the second one, and really really was impressed by their third, for the country, which was released in September of 1987. The founding partners, Seth Tiven and Kirk Swan, had by then split. Under Tiven's direction, and with a considerably larger budget, Dumptruck went to Wales and, with producer Hugh Jones, cut an album of guitar-oriented pop songs with incredibly depressing lyrics. People noticed. People bought the record. Other record companies noticed the sales numbers, and one large label began negotiating a six-figure contract to purchase the band from their mid-sized label.
Dumptruck was touring with for the country when they heard about the negotiations. Tours never seemed to really go in Dumptruck's favor, though individual gigs could be stunning. Their mid-sized label had promised much for the tour, and delivered little. During a stopover in Los Angeles, Tiven met with them and was informed that a formality in their contract had been overlooked--the label forgot to pick up the band's option--and they wanted Seth's assurance that rectification would be no problem. A wily motherfucker, Tiven knew he couldn't--as he wanted--tell them to fuck off because then he'd surely never see any of the tour money he'd been spending out of his pocket. Rather, he stalled, saying he'd have to consult the band.
In the meantime, Dumptruck's lawyer studied the papers and confirmed that they were indeed free and clear of their record label's ties. The lawyer sent a letter to the big label saying he was glad they were interested in signing the band, and to please pursue such a notion, but do it with him and not the mid-sized label because that label had no rights to the band. El label grande examined the papers, determined the lawyer was correct, and direct talks began. El label punko was not only pissed, they were embarrassed. When one is caught negotiating a deal for which one has no rights, word gets around. When the con is for six figures, word flies first class.
Fucking Dumptruck, the ne'er do wells who barely seemed able to get to their gigs--fucking Dumptruck, who invited you to snap along to lyrics like, "Drifting on an ocean/'til you die"--fucking Dumptruck, the nicotined depressives who were saved from factory work and shooting sprees by their artistic outlet--fucking Dumptruck got sued for five million dollars.
Five million dollars.
El label grande split like monkey shit. The litigation became an electric fence between the band and other labels. Court costs and lawyers fees became the subject of benefit concerts. The suit dragged on for three years and the band tried to stay afloat through constant touring, but unable to release a new album, their audience trickled away. After three years, when the prosecuting label missed their third hearing, the case was finally dismissed. The band was even denied vindicating themselves in court. But they won control of their master tapes and won a judgement for damages in the quarter million dollar range. They've since collected slightly more than one two-hundredth of what they're owed, and were informed by another label that there was a lien on their masters and the band couldn't have them.
Not much was left of Dumptruck. As a trio, they'd been cutting demos in Philadelphia at Studio Red. Finally free to record again, but colder than a nightclub's free meal, they got a spec deal through pal Red at a larger Philly studio. Tiven envisioned an album with less guitars and more outside instruments. Friends dropped by to add their talents, the camaraderie chasing away the bitterness of the forced delay. One guest was the Austin violinist Amy Farris, whose charm convinced Seth to leave Boston's cold winters for Texas warmth. With rough mixes in hand, and Seth's cat in the van, he relocated. The two stopped at my house in Memphis on the way, and while Amy was in the shower, Seth told me they were discussing marriage. That was Friday. Sunday morning, they said their vows and before the ceremony was over, the cat had shit on the floor and the minister stepped in it.
The tapes collected dust for a couple more years, but the music didn't get old. When Unclean Records heard Days of Fear, they decided to put it out. You know that, because you've got it in your hand. You probably didn't understand the delay between albums, but now you do.
Kirk Swan is these days in Los Angeles. He's been gigging with fellow mid-1980's rockers like Steve Wynn and Russ Tolman, but lately he's renewed his solo efforts. Kevin Salem's first solo album, Soma City, came out in the Fall of 1994. Shawn and Brian had been moonlighting with Helium and appear on their first disc, Shawn still plays with them, and Brian has moved to the biz of music, God help him. Sometime bassist Spike Priggen released an album with his own group, the Hello Strangers, and he's in New York still working on his own thing. Former Dumptruck bassist Steve Michener was in Big Dipper and is now believed to be a nurse in San Francisco. A couple years back I ran into former bassist Tom Shad on a New York subway. He gave me a fluorescent business card and said he was playing with Chastity Bono, but when her album came out, he wasn't on it. Seth Tiven got drunk in a bar in Saskatchewan and bet me five bucks he could limbo beneath the waitress station. His insurance covered the hospital fees, and he swears he'll pay me as soon as el label punko pays off his lawyers fees.