Artist Diary with ... DEEP JIMI AND THE ZEP CREAMS - Sep 27, 2010
“Things dragged on until finally our impatience got the better of us, and we demanded to be released from the contract. This was our third big mistake.”
Against all the odds the dreams of four Icelandic 70s rock fanatics in moving to the Big Apple and signing a record deal with a major label were miraculously realised when Deep Jimi and the Zep Creams signed to Warner subsidiary Atco-Eastwest. But as soon as the ‘big wigs’ assumed control of their destiny, the road to rock stardom began to crumble, as the band reveal in this exclusive Artist Diary ...
by Deep Jimi and the Zep Creams
Us boys started playing many moons ago. Ah, those were the days my friend - fifteen, rocking out in my dad's garage. We lined the walls with layers and layers of egg cartons and that foamy bit you get in boxes of apples. We then covered the walls and ceiling in carpet. It meant we could thrash out our stuff all through the night if we wanted - and we did.
Very early on we were set on going to America to make it. Sign with a big record company. We even had a date set. Only problem was we had no idea how we were going to finance something like that. But it's strange how fortune works with you sometimes.
We were heavily into seventies rock at the time and it was probably drummer Júlli who came up with the idea of doing a gig where we play all our favourite music, dress up like the artists and everything. It was Júlli that suggested sticking to only four bands - Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Cream - and to call this mock hippy outfit Deep Jimi and the Zep Creams.
This was a few months before the date we had set to go to America and still no money was in sight or any clever ideas on how to get it.
Anyway, when we came to doing the gig, we thought we'd be the only ones there into it - we were living in a small town in Iceland where even mainstream pop was almost too out there for most people and here we were dressed up like complete freaks, playing music no one was meant to be interested in at all.
But what do you know, they loved it and that summer we ended up playing this set two to three times a week, making us enough money for flights, accommodation and basic needs in America for three months.
When we got there we decided to keep the name Deep Jimi and the Zep Creams. Our old name had been Pandora - how sickening is that?!
“We all slept in one room and did everything else in the other.”We arrived in New York with next to nothing. A few bob in the bank and a tape - that was about it. And yes, I did say tape. Remember this all happened a long time ago.
First we had to find a place to stay. We wanted the cheapest you could get - a studio apartment. Now four guys, bearded and long haired, trying to get a studio together? Err ... don't think so. Oh, did we mention we are in a band? It seemed nobody wanted to house the ‘next best thing’ so we had to stay at a B&B in Queens for the time being, draining our precious money.
But one day trekking up and down the streets of Manhattan, Village Voice under our arm, we stumbled on a sign: ‘Apartments Available’. This was on Waverly right off Broadway, near Washington Square Park. We go in, talk to some manager type guy and no problem! He loved us! Iceland? No problem! We've had Icelanders here before, never any problems with them! Thanks all you guys who went before us.
So we got a place to stay. Expensive, but ours. We all slept in one room - four mattresses on the floor next to each other - and did everything else in the other. With that out of the way we celebrated, the only way we knew how, with booze! We drank a lot in those days. That probably explains the kidney problems we are experiencing today.
”Our first gig was at Kenny's Castaways. We did our thing for three people - the act that was on before us, her guitarist and some guy watching them.”Next thing we did was get a tiny stereo - again keeping within the budget - to be our duplication factory. The one tape we had brought with us was now duplicated on this double tape deck. We then made a list of all the places in town playing live music and trotted down there with a tape.
Normally all four of us would go, never less than two. We’d take the tape to the manager, he'd tell us he was booked for the next four months, we'd then say we were from Iceland and only here for a short while and they'd say they'd have a listen. We'd then go the day after and see if they had. They hadn't. I don't think we were being pushy, just really anxious to play. In the end they'd squeeze us in somewhere.
I don't think the tape was very good but maybe the thought of having four big, bearded guys coming to your office everyday wasn’t the most pleasant of prospects, so why not cut your losses give the guys a gig and get rid of them.
Our first gig was at Kenny's Castaways - a pretty shit place on Bleecker Street. We did our thing for about three people - the act that was on before us, Judy Saiya, her guitarist (the excellent John Surich) and some guy watching them. Oh, let’s not forget the sound man, Joey Green. Little did we know these people were to become the foundation for the Zep Creams operation in New York.
The guy watching John and Judy turned out to be their manager, Peter Ciaccia. He approached us and seemed genuinely interested. We played it pretty cool with him - we weren't going to sign up with any guy who approached us. Hey, this was only our first gig!
”People tended to say we were ready. We were a good live band completely different from everything on the scene at the time, and we were barely twenty, which always helps.”In the end Peter became our manager and even before we had signed anything with him he was bringing people down from record companies to see us.
People tended to say to us that we were ready, whatever that meant exactly. I suppose we had a lot of gig experience and as such were quite a good live band. We also looked great in our seventies get up and were completely different from everything on the scene at the time. And, of course, we were barely twenty, which always helps.
From then on the trip was largely about us ringing Peter fifteen times a day to see how things were going, seeing who was coming to the gig that evening. We played a lot during that period - I think it was Peter's way of trying to get us off his back. We'd get hammered and then play the gig. That was the order of things until Peter gave us a serious fatherly talk about what we came here to do and are whether we were serious about doing it and if so, “Stop drinking!”
This was after a completely awful gig at a small joint on Broadway called The Pool Bar. I believe the night ended with Júlli mooning the audience - after we'd threatened to beat up the sound man - and with some heavy kicking of pumpkins, what with it being Halloween. I had just met this nun on the street before we played, was heavily turned on by the outfit of course, and convinced her to come and see the best band in the world! That's not what she saw and I didn’t get anywhere with her.
Although we were giggling like schoolgirls when Peter was telling us off we did take his advice and cleaned our act up a bit - we made sure we weren't drunk until after the gig.
Peter ultimately did an excellent job and in the end we signed with then named Atco-Eastwest (now Warner subsidiary East West Records). The A&R at the label was John Mrvos and he and the company head, Sylvia Rhone, had come to see us. First and foremost I think it was our live act that got us signed. We gave it all every time and we also had a nice package in the whole seventies image thing.
While the contracts were being sent back and forth between lawyers, we left for Iceland before the three months were up. Mission accomplished.
”It felt like we’d done our bit and now it was up the big wigs to take over.”But things are rarely that simple. Up to this point we had been pretty much in control of our destiny. It felt like we’d done our bit and now it was up the big wigs to take over. This was our first and probably most crucial mistake.
No one runs your affairs better than you do and no one will look after you. As soon as people get the feeling that you expect them to lead the way and take care of business they get uncomfortable. We should have stayed in charge of our affairs. “Be your own daddy”, like they have Howlin’ Wolf saying in the non too shabby Cadillac Records movie.
Rather than stick with the lawyer we already had, George Stein, who’d done our contract with Peter Ciaccia on the condition that he’d be doing one with the label as well, we allowed the label to all but assign us a new lawyer in Ron Bienstock. Ron seemed like a nice guy and didn’t do a bad job as far as I know but we always felt bad about dropping George and it ultimately seemed like a bad way to start this new venture.
In signing we’d reached a time of waiting - waiting for what seemed like a lifetime for the contracts to get finalised. After that we went into the studio and recorded an album with the infamous producer Kramer. This turned out to be ‘Funky Dinosaur’, an album that pretty much captured what we were doing live.
We probably made our second big mistake here when we all but produced the album ourselves rather than have Kramer get too close to it. But we were barely twenty and felt we knew better than anyone in the world – an attitude that can get you far in many ways but sometimes it’s good to have the pros do what they do best and make sure you are doing what you do best.
Nevertheless, the label seemed happy with the product we’d produced. It was not a radio friendly album but the line of attack was meant to be through playing it out on the road as we were thought to be a pretty rocking live band.
”When it came to coughing up the contracted tour support things started getting a little strange.”First there was an elaborate marketing ploy that the company came up with in releasing a couple of EPs on mock independent labels as they thought the cool crowd would reject us if we went straight from nothing to a major record label. The EPs were called ‘Blowup’ – a live recording at CBGB’s and the second simply ‘Deep Jimi and the Zep Creams’. What the supposed labels were called I can’t even remember anymore – Technicolor was one I think.
When it came to coughing up the contracted tour support things started getting a little strange. It seemed whatever tour was suggested, nothing was ‘right’ according to the label heavyweights. We didn’t understand the reason at the time, but later found out that it was some sort of an in-house upheaval at the company. Our people at the company fell from grace so all their bands were put on ice.
Things dragged on until finally our impatience got the better of us, and we demanded to be released from the contract. This was our third big mistake.
We had another album contracted and an option for five more. We probably should have relaxed a bit and sat out the rough sea. In the end the company was bound to honour their agreement and come up with the tour support. We would have then done the tour and taken things from there.
Perhaps that would have spawned all kinds of different opportunities, especially since we were a live band more than anything. The intention was always to break us through live playing. Had we done this who knows where we might be today.
In a way today we are again faced with the same problem - we just need to get in front of the right audience - but we never gave ourselves the chance. If nothing happened after the tour - as in sales or interest - then we still had another shot with the second album. But this process seems like a lifetime when you’re twenty, and we just wanted instant results.
”We were fed up with each other and craving a rest from it all.”While the settlement was being knocked back and forth we went back to Iceland to recuperate. By this point we were all drained. We were fed up with each other and craving a rest from it all.
Using the compensation we got from the label we tried for about three months to get another deal but by now we were so prog no one dared risk it. We ended up releasing some of the stuff we were playing then on Geimsteinn, the Icelandic indie we have been with since.
At this time morale was low and we ended up going our separate ways for about ten years. We then tentatively got back together and released a self titled album in 2005. Now five years later we have again released a new album Better When We’re Dead. Possibly our best album to date, although they are all fantastic of course!
The future is uncertain for us but we will probably carry on doing what we do as long as we enjoy doing it.
Next week: Independent folk-rock singer-songwriter Rachael Sage features in Making Waves
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