Daily Progress


May 1-7 , 2001 issue

by Troy Elliott

It doesn't take much prompting to get Mark Roebuck, Charlie Pastorfield, Rusty Speidel, Tim Anderson add Jim Ralston to get all philosophical and admit feeling something akin to a mission from God when they talk about their band Big Circle, set to debut May 5 at Starr Hill.

As far as they're concerned, Charlottesville's newest oldest band has a hefty to-do List. 1. Expose the area to the work of a brilliant local songwriter who never, ever got his due; 2. Rescue the term "pop music" from the clutches of the Britney Spears of the world and return it to its rightful owners; and 3. Crusade for truth and justice in the name of sanctified old farts playing live music to people who really shouldn't be up this late. Oh yeah, and they need to pick up a loaf of bread and some milk for the kids on the way home from pratice.

"I've felt a sort of mission with other bands, but not like this," says Anderson, who is otherwise known to locals as T.A. "Here we are now with this incredible catalogue of songs that I consider one of the top ones in my lifetime. And here it is that just because of circumstances, timing, and things not working out, what should have been known never was."

Anderson is talking about the songs of Mark Roebuck, whose band The Deal was perhaps The Greatest Charlottesville Band That Never Was. In the 1980s, The Deal was on the verge of becoming Charlottesville's first big nationally known band, only to have everything vaporize in a cloud of missed chances, corporate stumbles, and plain bad luck.

It was Roebuck's songwriting, coupled with the drive of guitarist Haines Fullerton, that made up the foundation of the band. These day, Roebuck and Fullerton are known only to the hardest of hardcore DMB-o-philes, being listed as co-writers of "The Song that Jane Likes" and "#34," respectively.

Thanks to Roebuck's talent and, in a way, The Deal's misfortune, Big Circle now has at its immediate disposal a stash of undiscovered pop songs capable of holding their own against the likes of Alex Chilton, Pete Ham, Chris Stamey and Matthew Sweet. And the collection of musicians mining all this material is something like Charlottesville's answer to the Traveling Wilburys. So pardon them if they speak with a bit of missionary zeal. They may be onto something.

"I'd champion [Roebuck's] cause above my own," says Anderson. "It's like anything that is lost before its time and doesn't get realized. Whether it's a life or a band or whatever, you just go, 'Damn! What can i do to make this right?' And you don't hardly ever get a chance to do that."

Roebuck returns the compliment "I feel, like, blessed he says. It's been a really redemptive experierice for me, being able to retrieve a lot of my past that was just really painful."

Of course, for anyone who didn't happen to be hanging around the Mousetrap, Poe's, C & O or the Mineshaft in their Izod shirts in the 1980s, all this obsessive enthusiasm begs one question: Who the hell were The Deal? And why does the mere mention of the band send some local veteran musicians into a reverent trance?

The reason is this: The Deal was one of the greatest power pop bands ever. Not "ever in Charlottesville'' Not "ever in Virginia." Ever. And one of the biggest reasons they were so good was that Mark Roebuck wrote some of the greatest power pop songs ever.

This sounds almost exactly like an opinion until you hear the music itself -- the meticulous 4-track demos, the disciplined live shows, the melancholy acoustic numbers recorded on portable cassette decks. Listen, and you understand. Sire Records (Talking Heads, Pretenders) founder Seymour Stein understood. Albert Grossman of Bearsville Records (Todd Rundgren, the dBs) understood. Apparently, Jody Stephens and Alex Chilton of Big Star fame got it too.

Arriving at an accurate description of the music is not easy. It's the Association morphing into the Left Banke then merging with Big Star after staging a leveraged buyout of Badfinger.

The Deal sounded like all and none of these at the same time. Roebuck's songs as played by the Deal were pristine, shimmering things, honed to a sometimes eerie level of perfection. Even their low-fi stuff was attentively polished to a gleam. Guided by Voices on Ritalin.

In Charlottesville in the '80s the Deal developed an enthusiastic following of mostly college girls. Admittedly, a band with such a following runs the risk of being called lightweight, and the Deal did suffer some of that criticism, but as Pastorfield points out, you could do a lot worse: a whole lot of girls at a gig guarantees the presence of a whole lot of guys at a gig, which adds up to a whole lot of people. Anderson can tell you about Deal frat-gigs in which the entire floor would be bouncing under the mob moving to "DC 10s,' one of the Deal's true bullets.

And Pastorfield remembers that at nearly every gig you'd be able to spot, through the haze of offgassed mousse and the clouds of Charly perfume, "25 or 30 guys there who were into it -- they understood that this was incredible music." They weren't there for the girls. They were there for the music.

Pastorfield was one of those people. So were Anderson, Speidel and most of the now 30- and 40-something musicians who are quietly waiting for Charlottesville to wake up from its post-Dave Matthews slumber and see the depth of the talent that never left town.

At the time, the Deal seemed destined for greatness. Obviously, that's not how things turned out. After Stein referred The Deal to Albert Grossman (the same guy who "discovered" Bob Dylan) they were shipped up to Bearsville Studios for a recording session. The band cut an EP's worth of music, but before it could go any further, Warner Brothers Records dropped Bearsville as a subsidiary, and the tapes seemed to drop off the edge of the earth.

Advance money gone, the band spent its own cash to record another EP that Grossman hoped to release through a revived Bearsville Records. In early 1986, on his way to Europe to talk with people over there about rescuing the company, Grossman died of a sudden heart attack, Deal demos literally in hand.

Without a heavyweight benefactor, the tapes languished.

In 1988, the Deal finally managed to get an actual album out by way of a spec deal at Ardent studios in Memphis. Called Brave New World, the collection featured cameos by Jody Stephens and Alex Chilton -- but the product itself was a far cry from the Deal of old. In the studio, an already polished band had been given a high-gloss, synth-heavy lacquer that threatened to obscure the songs that resided somewhere within. Listening to Brave New World now requires a certain amount of focused attention. At times, you have to work to listen through the 1980s-ness to hear the beautiful, brilliant songs underneath.

By the time Brave New World was released, however, the band was already recoiling from its collision with the big-time music industry. Not long after Brave New World, the band broke up. It was inevitable, really. The experience of watching a sure thing crumble before their eyes was too much.

In the fall of 1996, co-founder Haines Fullerton committed suicide. Fullerton's death and the time preceding it is still a painful memory for Roebuck and everyone else. If local musicians stopped talking and thinking about The Deal in the years afterwards, it was at least partly out of shock, and an inability to know what to do or say next. Roebuck engaged in projects only sporadically after that time -- most notably in a rap/punk hybrid called Burning Core, and in Sub Seven, a dark project in which Roebuck's tunefulness managed to shine through the gloom. After Sub Seven released a CD, wild hallucinations from the deep sleep deprivation, Roebuck decided that his playing days were over for good.

But that wasn't his decision to make. Roebuck's writing simply does not disengage itself from the listener's brain, and the relative silence about the Deal after Fullerton's death didn't mean those tunes weren't looping themselves between the ears of the people who had heard the band.

It certainly stuck with Pastorfield, who last year began talking to Speidel about revisiting Roebuck's tunes. Pastorfield convinced Roebuck to sign on, and hooked up with Anderson -- who by that time had turned his basement into something of a repository for every scrap of Deal music he could get his hands on -- and drummer Jim Ralston.

The musicians bring more than just their love of a good pop tune. Pastorfield is the bassist for the stalwart Skip Castro band, who conquered Charlottesville yet again this past New Year's Eve. His own group, The Believers, has been around a while, too, playing rootsy music up and down the East Coast. Speidel's participation in SGGL has a 17-year history in the area. Anderson has fronted the Urgents, Wolves in the Kitchen, the Stoned Wheat Things, the egregiously underappreciated Hanks, as well as Spike Jr. and His Saddle Sores, a band that spit out some dead-on Western swing a couple of years ago. Ralston may be the most currently famous of the group, having been the drummer for the now-defunct Baaba Seth and the now very-much-alive Last Days of May, a spacey Ummagumma-ish band led by Karl Precoda the former guitarist for the Dream Syndicate. And Speidel may be the most closely related to a currently famous person, being a brother-in-law to Mary Chapin Carpenter -- an interesting link to the big-time music business, but kind of hard to work into a resume.

So it would seem Big Circle has just about everything in its favor: a magnificent set of original songs, experienced, capable musicians, and a real sense of purpose. There is only one snag: the combined age of the group exceeds 200.

If you're kind to the more seasoned members, you might average it out and say that every member is about 40 years old. All the guys except Roebuck have kids, and Roebuck has a job that keeps him at work for 15 hours at a stretch. They're all official grownups. The guys in the band understand this all too well, and maintain a good sence of humor about it. Like they have a choice.

Rock and Roll, however, is not amused. As the corporations who manufacture Britney Spears, 'Nsync, and Matchbox 20 will tell you, an average age of 40 does not bode well for unbridled popularity. Mattel hasn't commissioned any Big Circle action figures.

Which of course begs the second big question: Is this something for grown men to be doing with their free time? And what on earth do they hope to accomplish anyway? Shouldn't they home in a novelty apron, grilling bratwurst?

"I do this because I'm an addict," says Pastorfield. "When I was 12 or 13, I asked my dad for a guitar, and he said absolutely not, and told me if I wanted it I'd have to save my own money. I thought that was just terrible, and the intense pain that that caused, the sort of longing I had to get a guitar and play it, that's what started it for me. And now, it's not about being a rock star. It's an excercise for your brain.

Anderson may sound a little more philosophical, but his explanation has that same junkie ring. "For me, it boils down to moments" he says, "whether they're in front of 5,000 people or just two people sitting around, or you have a moment yourself -- a creative moment that's coherent and cool and grabs your attention. That's what keeps me coming back."

Anderson admits however, that it's a definite plus in experience these Moments when there are other people around feeling the same thing. And if you make a few bucks while you search for these Moments, so much the better. So feeding this addiction means getting gigs, which depends on two things that have been in short imply in Charlottesville of late: places to play, and people who are interested in hearing what you're playing.

Obviously, the 1980s rise in the drinking age from 18 to 21 was a blight on local clubs and all the bands that depended on them. "For a long time, [the music some in Charlottesville] died," says Speidel "When the drinking age changed, within five years the music in this town was D-E-A-D. There was nothing. There was no place to play. Most of the clubs closed -- the Mineshaft was the harbinger, The West Virginian, C&O Downstairs all these great clubs closed down, because they didn't have any audience anymore. Then with the whole '80's thing, the early '90s thing, it was all about dance music and videos. The live music compopnent of people's musical experience disappeared for awhile. There weren't a lot of bands around that were live performers like there were in the 70's, so that the whole impact of the music business on the psyche of those who buy records had changed a lot."

But there's another factor at work here, and the guys in Big Circle know it. It has to do with that average age thing. Anderson can sum it up in one nauseatingly quintessential wad. He describes a UVA gig the Hanks landed in the late '90s and how the band ripped through its usual set of smart covers, all to a college crowd reaction that was way, way below lukewarm.

During a conversation at the set break, one of the event's organizers explained to Anderson that the people there "were really hoping for Dave Matthews but couldn't get him." The Hanks did a perfunctory second set and left as quickly as they could. There were, as you might guess, no Moments that day.

"That pretty much sums up the '90's for me and music," says Anderson. "Rock gets real mean to you when you get older."

Yet they keep coming back for more. And now, ladies and gentlemen, here they are again -- five guys who should be home, staining the deck, but instead insist on assembling a power pop band. And, what with that whole sense-of-purpose ethic, they don't even get to dismiss their get togethers as simply an excuse to drink beer and high-five each other after playing the intro to "Back in Black." They have an agenda now. Too much has changed.

From the first time they got together, members of Big Circle knew they would not be a Deal tribute band. Instead, they hoped to take Roebuck's songs and reinterpret them by way of a more ragged, from-the-gut sound -- a lucky thing, because it's the kind of sound that more or less comes as a standard equipment when Pastorfield and Anderson get involved with a project. And so far the sound of Big Circle is a thing of loose chunky beauty. The rehearsal tapes reveal a sound that's somewhere between XTC and Tom Petty, Freedy Johnston and Wilco. What it doesn't sound like is the Deal of old.

Which is cool with Roebuck. "My [songwriting] approach is so primitive," he says. "I just knock the chords out and the melody and I'm wide open to where it goes from there. I love the fact that any song you can take in a million directions."

The new way of dealing with Roebuck's songs is, in the minds of the band members, both a statement about the quality of Roebuck's skills as a writer, and the focus and maturity of the musicians.

"The atmosphere here is not too different from Baaba Seth," says Ralston. "It's a group of people who are really trying to figure out how to best serve the tunes. There's a real democratic feel here, and everyone feels comfortable giving and taking objective criticisms of each other's parts."

And at least for Spiedel the project is not only about working up a bunch of songs that deserve to be heard, but also about encouraging people and venues to recognize the fact that rock and roll is deluding itself if it thinks its the exclusive property of the young.

Much like your mom wearing a tube top and nose rings, it does not become rock music to pretend it's a fresh, new, and fetchingly shocking thing. "We're talking about an art movement with a 50-year tradition here -- tut-tutting about "those crazy kids and their wild rock and roll music' went out with Shake-a-puddin.'

On top of that, Charlottesville could be ground zero for a wider music scene. When it comes to digging up the resources it would take to broaden live music and live music audiences in Charlottesville, the town's sitting on an Arctic National Wildlife Refuge-type reserve of talent. The guys in Big Circle are just the beginning: members of late great bands like Johnny Sportcoat and the Casuals, Wolves in the Kitchen, The Kokomotions, The Sitting Ducks, Hammond Eggs, and Captain Tunes are still around and still playing from time to time, albeit in limited ways -- private parties, mostly, and the occasional Fridays After Five gig.

Speidel thinks that things may be looking up, thanks to Starr Hills willingness to acknowledge the existence of a post-college (and then some) audience. "You know there are musicians in this town who have been in this town for years; who are now saying, 'It's time to get back out there,"' he says. "There seems to be an interest in the people who live here to hear stuff that's worth the shit."

But then maybe it's all just wishful thinking. Maybe the under-30 crowd has zero interest in musicians outside their demographic. Maybe the over-30 crowd is too tired in make it to a show. Maybe the members of Big Circle are just experiencing one last rush of youthfull exuberance, wherein everything you do seems so important. Maybe the music Big Circle is so devoted to will land flat as a pancake on floor of Starr Hill, giving the band's name a whole new meaning.

Or maybe not. The guys in Big circle aren't really dwelling on what ifs. (The other tendency of people with missions is not developing contingencies should Plan A fall through.)

Right now, Roebuck, Pastorfield, Spiedel, Anderson, and Ralston are busy polishing the set, and feeling the occasional chill when harmonies lock in on "Marianne," or when they nail the chorus on "Sister Redemption," a Fullerton song that eclipses "I Am the Cosmos" for pure ache. And they're hoping for one more Moment.



1980s pop music 1980s rock music 60s rock music 70s music 70s rock band 70s rock music 80s music 80s rock band 80s rock music 90s rock music alex chilton all music guide alternative indie alternative indie music rock alternative rock band alternative rock bands alternative rock music american pop music amplifier amplifier magazine amplifier magazines amplifiers ardent studio ardent studios arista record arista records atlantic record atlantic records audio cd cover background music badfinger barenaked ladies bearsville bearsville studio bearsville studios big circle big star big star lyric big star tab big star video billboard music bmg music service brian wilson britpop burning core buy cd buy cds capitol record cd cd burning cd case cd copy cd cover cd creator cd key cd label cd maker cd music cd now cd now com cd player cd receiver cd recorder cd ripper cd store cd stores cd to mp3 cd universe cda to mp3 cds census record cheap trick cherry twister chris bell cinnamon square classic rock band classic rock music columbia record connells connells flower convert mp3 convert mp3 to wav convert wma to mp3 copy cd cotton mather crowded house dave matthews dave matthews album dave matthews balbum dave matthews band dave matthews bbass tab dave matthews bbootlegs dave matthews bbusted stuff dave matthews bbusted stuff lyric dave matthews bchord dave matthews bcom dave matthews bconcert dave matthews bconcert ticket dave matthews bcover art dave matthews bcrash dave matthews bdiscography dave matthews bdownloads dave matthews beveryday dave matthews bguitar tab dave matthews bicon dave matthews bio dave matthews biography dave matthews blillywhite session dave matthews blogo dave matthews blyric dave matthews bmp3 dave matthews bofficial site dave matthews bootlegs dave matthews bphoto dave matthews bpic dave matthews bpicture dave matthews bquote dave matthews bscreen saver dave matthews bset list dave matthews bsetlist dave matthews bsetlists dave matthews bsong dave matthews btab dave matthews btablature dave matthews bticket dave matthews btour dave matthews btour date dave matthews busted stuff dave matthews bvideo dave matthews bweb site dave matthews bwhere are you going dave matthews concert dave matthews concert ticket dave matthews cover art dave matthews cover band dave matthews discography dave matthews guitar dave matthews guitar tab dave matthews lillywhite session dave matthews lyric dave matthews lyric where are you going dave matthews lyrics dave matthews mp3 dave matthews photo dave matthews pic dave matthews picture dave matthews quote dave matthews set list dave matthews setlist dave matthews song dave matthews song lyric dave matthews tab dave matthews tablature dave matthews ticket dave matthews tim reynolds dave matthews tour dave matthews tour date dave matthews video dave matthews where are you going dave matthews where are you going lyric direct cd dmb downloadable music downloading music drive thru record dwight twilley easy cd edit mp3 elvis costello empire record entertainment mp3 entertainment music epic record ez cd creator fools face fountains wayne free cd free download mp3 free download music free downloadable music free mp3 free mp3 converter free mp3 download free mp3 download site free mp3 file free mp3 music free mp3 music donwloads free mp3 music download free mp3 music downloads free mp3 player free mp3 site free mp3 song free mp3 to wav converter free music free music download free pop music free pop music downloads free rock music free rock music downloads fufkin gigolo aunts gin blossom gin blossom lyric gin blossom mp3 gin blossom tab goodbye september guided by voices guitar music haines fullerton hard rock band hear music history pop music history rock music history rock roll music hollies hugh patton independent record label indie indie artist alternative rock indie band indie fest indie label indie lyric indie magazine indie media indie mp3 indie music indie music label indie music magazine indie music review pop indie network indie news indie pop indie pop live indie radio indie record indie record company indie record label indie rock indie rock magazine indie rock mp3 indie rock music indie rock tab indie style international pop overthrow internet music ipo jellyfish linus hollywood listen to music listen to pop music listen to rock music live rock band local rock band lyric dave matthews lyric dave matthews band lyric pop music lyric to pop music mark roebuck marshall crenshaw matthews sweet mca record mp3 mp3 album mp3 burner mp3 cd mp3 cd burner mp3 cd maker mp3 cd player mp3 converter mp3 decoder mp3 download mp3 download program mp3 download site mp3 downloader mp3 encoder mp3 file mp3 file sharing mp3 finder mp3 free mp3 free download mp3 free music rock n roll mp3 gratis mp3 juke box mp3 maker mp3 midi mp3 mixer mp3 music mp3 music download mp3 music downloads mp3 player mp3 player download mp3 player review mp3 recorder mp3 rip mp3 ripper mp3 search mp3 search engine mp3 search tool mp3 share mp3 sharing mp3 site mp3 software mp3 song mp3 song download mp3 to cd mp3 to wav mp3 to wav converter msn music much music music music artist music book music box music cd music chart music chat music city music club music download music download site music downloading music festival music file music free download music lyric music lyric rock pop music maker music match music match juke box music mp3 music mp3 download music news music note music online music player music pop music review music rock music sample music search music sharing music site music store music to download music video musica mp3 my music myracle brah new music new pop music new rock band new rock music nick lowe not lame notlame online music pezband picture rock band plimsouls pop guitar music pop music pop music artist pop music chart pop music download pop music downloads pop music group pop music history pop music lyric pop music lyric search pop music online pop music portal pop music star pop music tab pop music video pop rock music pop sheet music portable mp3 player power pop powerpop progressive rock music punk rock band ratt rock band record record album record albums record companies record company record contract record contracts record deal record deals record label record labels record sale record sales record store record stores records rem rem album rem band rem discography rem electronic rem everybody hurt rem guitar tab rem inc rem koolhaas rem koolhas rem koolhass rem koolhaus rem losing my religion rem losing my religion lyric rem lyric rem mp3 rem music rem official rem sleep rem song rem song lyric rem tab rhino record rock b70s rock band rock bands rock blist rock blogo rock bpic rock bpicture rock bratt rock btool rock btour date rock bweb site rock bwho rock music rock music archive rock music artist rock music bsite rock music cd rock music chart rock music concert rock music download rock music downloads rock music history rock music links rock music lyric rock music magazine rock music message boards rock music online rock music review rock music site rock music sound clip rock music tab rock music tablature rock music video rock music wallpaper rock music wavs rock music web site rock n roll band rock n roll music rock pop music rock roll band rock roll bands rock roll music rosenbergs rundgren todd search mp3 sony record sony records sparklefest speeding lisa splitsville squeeze sub seven teenage fanclub the beach boys the beatles the byrds the connells the dB s the dave matthews band the deal the deal band the gin blossom the history pop music the history rock music the kinks the knack the posies the producers the raspberries the replacements the rock music the romantics the shazam the shoes the smithereens the song that jane likes the who rock band the wondermints the zombies todd rundgren todd rundgren connection todd rundgren discography todd rundgren hideaway todd rundgren lyric todd rundgren mp3 todd rundgren tab todd rundgren tour date todd rundgren utopia top rock band top rock bands top rock music tower record tower records tribe heaven underground rock band unsigned indie artist velvet crush vinyl record vinyl records virgin record virgin records virtual cd vital records wav to mp3 web music wheezer wilco yahoo music