the kind of wisdom you might find in a fortune cookie: "You
will achieve success only when you have stopped seeking it."
And yet that has been the experience of the Great Unknowns, a
band that has managed to spread what it
calls "rock music for the open road" with a decidedly
low-profile approach. Each of the Great Unknowns has been in bands
that followed the rules of self-promotion, hawking enough CDs
and extracting enough email addresses to earn spots on bills with
artists ranging from Primus to the Verve Pipe to the Black
Eyed Peas. But, as their name suggests, the Unknowns came together
to pursue a different agenda, putting less emphasis on getting
a following and more on following their musical passion. Despite
their best efforts to remain anonymous,
they have attracted significant attention -- first, top recognition
on the internet site GarageBand.com, and now a distribution deal
with Daemon Records.
Their debut album Presenting the Great Unknowns, a set of country-tinged
rock songs described by Indigo Girl Amy Ray as "one of the
best things I have heard this year," will be released December
Becky Warren, who fronts the band, wrote or co-wrote all of the
songs on the
album. She hails from the American South, and she's proud of it,
in a low-key
way. Transplanted to Boston, she wrote songs and released an album
with a band called North House, winning second place in a national
battle of the bands
sponsored by the indie music site IUMA.com and webcast at RollingStone.com.
But the album never took off, and North House disintegrated.
Warren continued to write and perform, though, seeking inspiration
on roadtrips to the heartland and in recordings by heroes like
Lucinda Williams and Patty Griffin. She found a like-minded collaborator
in Mike Palmer, a member of power-pop quintet Invisible Downtown.
Drawing on their shared roots in southern rock and affinity for
songs about leaving, the pair began swapping song ideas. They
began performing the material occasionally, backed by North House
alums Andy Eggers on drums and Altay Guvench on bass. The band's
shows were heartfelt and passionate, refreshingly free of pleas
to join mailing lists and visit websites. Once Warren and Palmer
had assembled ten songs they were proud of, the band spent a few
days recording them in a dingy, dormitory-basement studio, with
bassist Guvench handling the recording controls. They were pleased
with the result, and were happy to watch a number of tracks ascend
the Folk/Country charts of GarageBand.com. But no one, least of
all the Unknowns, expected the album to become anything more than
a memento of a their youthful aspirations.
And that would probably have been the end of it, if singer-songwriter
Polenzani (who sings harmony on the last track of Presenting)
hadn't played the record for some friends at her record label.
A week later, guitarist Palmer was astonished to receive a phone
call from Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls saying she wanted to put
out the Great Unknowns record. Ray, the founder and president
of Daemon Records, explains, "It's really excellent songwriting
in the Americana tradition. The band jokingly says they made the
record for their grandmothers, but everyone should check it out."
the official Great Unknowns site