Does the name Steve Isaacs sound familiar? Well, if you watched MTV back in 1992-1994, you might remember him as one of its VJs. He had shoulder-length black hair and hosted the afternoon show, Hangin' With MTV. He was a fan and friend of grunge bands like Pearl Jam (they even gave him a platinum award for their debut album, Ten), but he wasn't a stereotypical grunge fan. Always cool and laid-back, but not too laid-back, Isaacs was one of my favorite VJs back in the days when MTV catered to my demographic.
The interesting part of why I bring up Isaacs now is not because of his new band, The Panic Channel (which happens to feature three ex-members of Jane's Addiction who are not named Perry Farrell), but because of his previous band, Skycycle.
The name Skycycle may not ring any bells, but I distinctly remember their debut record on MCA Records, Ones and Zeros, back in '98. What's odd is that despite a number of promo copies being sent out (with full artwork and everything), the album was never commercially released. KTCU received a copy and put the opening track, "Figure 8," into medium/heavy rotation. Liking its airy opening guitar riff (ala, Smashing Pumpkins' "Set the Ray to Jerry") and the ensuing crashing chorus, I pulled out the liner notes. To my surprise, there was Isaacs, the VJ from many moons before, fronting a band that was pretty good.
Ones and Zeros is a pretty solid spacey rock record that should have seen the light of day in record stores. You can find used copies for cheap on the Internet or in a local used CD store. Isaacs has a couple of tracks available for free download on his blog and one of them is the sublime, "Figure 8." Thankfully not available is the band's rather dodgy take of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows."
Other than Sense Field's unreleased Warner Bros. record, Under the Radar, I can't think of other times when a label pressed up full review copies of albums that never saw the light of day. If a label is willing to spend all that time setting up a release date, getting interviews and features lined up, setting up tourdates and all that, why pull the plug that late in the game?
I don't know the full story, but I wouldn't be surprised if the infamous Seagram's major label takeover in '98/'99 was a big reason. Almost every major label was affected, laying off thousands of employees and dropping hundreds of bands in the process. Essentially the writing on the wall was that major labels only wanted to work with guaranteed blockbuster artists and didn't have time for bands that developed an audience over a few years. The upside was that a number of indie labels gained these orphaned bands and in turn, helped the bands find a smaller, but still large, audience. The hilarious thing about the new major label approach following this was that some very embarrassing bellyflop albums, like Mariah Carey's Glitter, ensued. Sometimes watching people put so much faith into soft ground and lose their shirt in the process is really funny.
As for Isaacs, I'm glad to see he's still kicking around. I fondly remember him, along with John Norris, to be the kind of cool music geek that wasn't a socially inept nerd. He talked about up-and-coming bands with reverence and sincerity for the music, not just the ephemeral party elements that come with popular music. Case in point, he talked about seeing White Zombie perform (pre-La Sexorcisto and Beavis & Butt-head) and mentioned how J. Yuenger lit his guitar on fire and passed it around the crowd. That was cool to hear as a young and impressionable teenager. Now when I think about it, what was really cool was that Isaacs wasn't being smug or cynical about this kind of stuff. The only other VJ that I could remember being this cool was Matt Pinfield, who deserves a whole other post. You probably won't believe where that guy is now . . .