Well, folks, it’s time to take another dip into the wonderful world of Albums I Discovered While I Was Working At A Record Store. If you’re a former record store employee (and I strongly suspect that more than a few of you are), then you’re probably in possession of quite a few records which you hold near and dear to your heart, even though the average person would give you a blank look if you mentioned the artist’s name. When you’re toiling in the music retail mines, you’re rarely doing it for money; instead, you’re doing it for the love of music and, invariably, the free in-store play CDs that find their way into the personal collections of the employees when the album in question has run its course…if not before.
The Pleasure Thieves’ Simple Escape is one of those albums for me. They were one of those poor, unfortunate artists who were signed to Hollywood Records in the early ’90s, in the midst of the Disney-owned label’s glory days as The Label Who Held The US Rights To The Early Queen Catalog. It might’ve seemed like a great place to be, since Hollywood was ensured an arseload of sales from the works of Messrs. Mercury, May, Deacon, and Taylor, but as you’ll soon read, it was a place where no-one really knew how to go about breaking new artists. As such, most of the artists signed to Hollywood ended up only sticking around for a short stay…whether they wanted to hang around or not. (One of these days, I’m going to write up another one of my favorite came-quick-and-didn’t-stay-long Hollywood Records artists: Ghost of an American Airman.)
Granted, it’s not entirely a surprise that the Pleasure Thieves couldn’t find success with their sound in 1992. Lead singer Sinjin-William Dolan rather resembles Neil Diamond at times with his husky voice…check out the album-opening “Turn Me On” for proof…and the music’s very synth-heavy. Sadly, neither were attributes that would’ve led any band to success in the early ’90s, when you pretty much had to be flying the flannel to earn yourself rock radio airplay. They did manage to score a little bit of airplay with the album’s lead singer, “My Favorite Drug,” but it wasn’t enough to save them from Hollywood’s purge of virtually all of their artists with names that didn’t start with the letters “Q-U.” But, man, did I love that record, which was evidenced by the fact that more than a few of my mix tapes from the era feature the pop-tastic, horn-driven hook of “Wild Miracle.”
And, yet, for years, it seemed as though the band was a figure of my imagination. I did a posting over at ESDMusic.com in August 2006 where I bemoaned that “the group vanished so far into oblivion that they have no website, no MySpace page, nothing.” Thankfully, that’s changed a little bit since then – they now have both – but there hasn’t been much need to update the band’s site, so you’re probably better off sticking with their MySpace page, run by the band’s keyboard player, Matt Everitt.
Also now easy to find: the group’s bassist, Nick Kozonis, who can be readily found via the aforementioned MySpace page as the man behind The Knickels. I also managed to hunt Nick down via his Facebook page, and when I did so, he was very enthusiastic to grant my request for a brief interview about the life and times of the Pleasure Thieves. I also sent Matt the questions as well, so you’ll see his responses peppered in throughout the piece.
Popdose: So let’s start from the very beginning: how did the band first come together?
Nick Kozonis: If I remember correctly, it was the summer of ’87. I had been buddies with the drummer (Andy) since high school – we were in the high school jazz band together – and, around ’87, I had left a band that the drummer and I were in, and Sinjin, the lead singer, came in as a keyboard player. And then they kinda branched off to kind of do a couple of rehearsals because the keyboard player Sinjin had some ideas, and he goes, “Nick, you may want to come in and listen to this; I think this guy’s got something.” And I said, “Okay,” and we started rehearsing, Sinjin, Andy, and I. And they found Desmond in an ad in the newspaper… (Laughs) You know, “Guitarist looking to play.” Which was kind of funny, ‘cause all of our tastes are so diverse, so different. But then we found Matt, the keyboard player, about six months later. He was a friend of a friend, and we were looking for a keyboard player, and he fit that bill. So it was around the summer of ’87 that all of this came together.
Matt Everitt: I was introduced to Nick and Andy through a mutual friend named Steve James. Steve brought me to see a band called The Secret Service, a trio which included Nick and Andy. I thought they were really good. I was a music student at he time and never dreamed I’d eventually be in a band with those guys. But I end up trying out with them in a recording studio and the decided to keep me on board. Nick and I hit it off right away with our similar sense of humor.
PD: So did you guys just play around for an extended period and then eventually get signed?
NK: Yeah, we played around for a good two-and-a-half, three years…which I know is not long… (Laughs) …when we got signed. We were being courted by Atlantic Records, Geffen Records, a lot of labels, and then a producer we were working with…his name was Steve Madaio, he’s a trumpet player who played with the Stones and Stevie Wonder and all that…he heard our stuff and just said, “Hey, you guys have something.” So he was taking us into the studio to do some early recordings, and then he knew Julian Raymond, who was the lead singer of Bang Bang, who were kind of like a Duran Duran band in the mid-‘80s. They had a brief hit called “This Is Love,” I think it was called. If you Google it or YouTube it, you’ll find the video for it. But, anyway, he ended up producing our record. He was with Hollywood Records, so they nabbed us before anyone else.
ME: We were dedicated from the start to rehearse our asses off at least 5 days a week in Andy’s Garage. We played as many shows as we could at The Whiskey, The Roxy, and other places around Hollywood. Back then we had to buy the tickets for our shows and we ended up giving them away to get as many people as we could to show up. We hooked up with Steve Madaio who introduced us to Julian Raymond. After playing around town for three years or so, we finally did a private showcase for Julian and some people from Hollywood Records. They told us that day we’d have a deal if we wanted it.
PD: And they were known predominantly because they had the Queen catalog.
ME: That’s true. They had a handful of new bands like us and they signed Queen as well.
NK: It’s funny you mention that, because Queen was one of my favorite bands, too, and, yes, they had just signed Queen when we were on the label. Queen was not yet out on CD, so they did well with that.
PD: In addition to Julian Raymond, you had the Lord-Alge boys working on your record as well.
NK: Yeah, Jeff was there as well, but Chris Lord-Alge was the big guy. He had been doing it for years; he was a great mixer.
ME: I really think we were fortunate to have them work on our stuff. I especially liked watching Jeff work. It’s been so long, I doubt he’d remember me well but I thought he was a great guy to work with.
PD: So you said the tastes of the band were diverse. How did you guys come to a conclusion as to what the sound of the band would be, given that diversity?
NK: It actually just happened. We weren’t really trying to do anything. I mean, we all liked the modern music at the time, like the Psychedelic Furs and Peter Murphy. Our lead singer was a big fan of Peter Murphy; that’s why he had the lower voice. We all kind of liked those bands in the early ‘80s, so that we all had in common, but I was a big Beatles fan, our drummer liked the Tubes, our guitar player was a huge Rolling Stones fan, and then Sinjin was more into the modern stuff of the time. U2, the Alarm…we kind of all liked those bands, so we did like some of the same stuff, but we were really different when it came to other stuff.
ME: The sound just came out of us. Our separate influences just seemed to work together as a whole. Nick loved the beatles, Des was a Kieth Richards fan, Sinjin liked Peter Murphy and other alternative bands. Andy liked The Police, and we all did, too. We were all interested in U2 as well. I really liked the Simple Minds and The Who.
PD: One of the bios that I read online for the Pleasure Thieves began, “There are some bands who were born in the wrong decade.”
NK: (Laughs) Well, I told you: we loved the early ‘80s stuff, and I think that’s what came through more. We didn’t get signed ‘til ’90, the record didn’t come out ‘til ’92, and that was the heart of the grunge movement, so we were kind of stuck in something that…well, yeah, I think we were just a little too late. With the sound, anyway.
ME: That was a nice compliment. I think the writer was saying our music was still holding up. I think we’d fit right in with the Coldplay crowd actually. With the rise of grunge music we lost momentum with our label. I think radio programmers across the country wanted that sound a little more than s at he time.
PD: So what did you guys do to promote the album? I know there was at least one video, for “Favorite Drug.”
NK: There was the video, made by Sam Bayer. We were actually one of his first projects, though, of course, he went on to be the director for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” He went on to do that, and then he became huge after that.
ME: In retrospect, I think we were really lucky to get him. As Nick said, he went on to do great things.
NK: But we did the one video, and then we just went out. We toured around the United States for a little bit.
ME: We flew to select cities where our music was in rotation on the radio. San Francisco, NYC, Minneapolis to name a few. We had made a Video with “My Favorite Drug.” I wish we could have done more to promote our CD. We did play as much could. Glam Slam and the Palace in Hollywood were my favorite shows near the end.
NK: We were gearing up to go on a bigger tour later, but then we were in negotiations to do a second record, and then Hollywood Records came in and said, “We’re getting rid of the whole catalog. We’re blowing up everybody, and we’re only keeping one producer,” which was our producer, Julian Raymond. So they kept him. And we said, “Okay, we’re going elsewhere, then.” But then Sinjin was offered a solo deal with Hollywood. They were pumping him up as being the reason the Pleasure Thieves were who they were…and then they ended up never doing anything with him. (Laughs) They dropped him about a year after that.
PD: So how did you guys feel about that, when Hollywood pulled that stunt?
NK: Well, we didn’t like it at all! Yeah, Sinjin was very much, “Hey, we do things for the band,” and that was great, because we were all like that, too. But when it came to his first opportunity to really show that, he decided to take the solo deal! Which, he told me later, was kinda out of fear, like, “Wow, what if we don’t get something somewhere else? I need to have something!” So he took that, and then they ended up kind of throwing him to the side, more probably as a write-off than anything else. We had a brief reunion in ’99, where we all got back together and did a new demo of three or four songs, and we did one show in Los Angeles, but it just didn’t click after that to stay together, so we said goodbye.
ME: I was really disappointed when Sinjin left us to work on his own. I thought at he time we could have tried to get another record deal. I guess there were other problems with Nick and Andy wanting to move on. I decided to forget the the music business and find another career. Without the Thieves I was feeling pretty lost.
PD: So what are your favorite songs from the album? Or, if it’s easier, which songs really still hold up for you when you hear them now?
NK: Well, I like “Blue Flowers.” I always have. The fast version. I love “Without A Sound.” I think that’s the title of it, isn’t it? (Laughs) I haven’t listened to it in awhile, but “Without a Sound” was one of my favorite songs. And, of course, “My Favorite Drug,” I really liked that song. I think that was one of Sinjin’s best lyrics.
ME: “Into The Arms Of Love,” “My Favorite Drug” “Turn Me On” were my favorites. I still like to mess with them on the piano. I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for “Blue Flowers” as the other guys. I wanted to be harder…more like The Who.
PD: So was Sinjin the predominant lyricist for the band?
NK: Yeah, he was the sole lyric writer. One of us would have some musical ideas, like I might have a riff or something, and we would start playing off of that and turn it into a song. Or Desmond might have a few chords, and we’d start playing with that. So that’s how most of the music and songs were born, and then Sinjin just later would start singing to them, once we had some sort of structure, and he’d write the lyrics down.
PD: I remember the first time I heard the album, thinking that he actually reminded me of Neil Diamond a little bit.
NK: It’s funny you say that, because in the early time when we were being courted by a couple of labels, one guy said, “Boy, this sounds like a young Neil Diamond.” So, yeah, we’ve heard that. (Laughs)
ME: Yep. He got that a lot.
PD: So how did you guys end up on the soundtrack for “Arachnophobia”?
NK: Just through Hollywood Records. I think it was a Disney movie, was it not? And Hollywood Records was doing the soundtrack. That’s how. Through that connection. Julian, our producer, said, “Hey, we want to do a song,” and they gave us a list of songs, and we said, “Ah, we’ll do ‘Boris the Spider,’ ‘cause we’re Who fans.” So we did that song, but it’s funny, because it was not in the movie because of John Entwistle. They wanted it in the movie, but John Entwistle wanted more money, and Disney said, “We’re not going to give you the money,” so he said, “Well, then you can’t put it in the actual movie. But it can be on the soundtrack.”
PD: Did you ever hear back from Entwistle about whether he liked your version of the song or not?
NK: (Laughs) Actually, one night, we ran into him in a club in L.A., and I walked up to him and I said, “John, hey, man, we did ‘Boris the Spider,’ we remade it on the ‘Arachnophobia’ soundtrack.” He said, “Oh, yeah. Your singer sang it wrong.” And I said, “Oh, really?” He goes, “He should’ve gone…” And then he started singing it for me! He was plastered. But I said, “Okay!” (Laughs) So we kind of left him alone after that.
ME: I mentioned the song to him, but he could really care less about it. Said he didn’t like our version. As a big Who fan, I was crushed.
PD: Do you have any particular anecdotes from the recording sessions for the album?
ME: For me, recording was fun, but it was also enormous pressure since I hadn’t mastered my keyboards yet. I struggled to keep up with the talent in the band. We did get to meet Louis Conte, the famous percussionist. He played on “Pictures of Madness.”
PD: Had you guys ever really been in a studio for an extended period of time at that point?
NK: Oh, yeah, we had done other recordings. Not that structure, where we were preparing for a record…
PD: Well, I know you had done a single prior to signing to Hollywood.
NK: Where was that listed? Because there was a little blurb on that thing that I saw, that one write-up.
PD: The AllMusic.com bio refers to a 1988 single called “Chasing the Runaway.”
NK: No, that was not us. I saw that, and I see it every time, because I think people just cut and paste from that website, but that’s a mistake. I don’t know where that came from.
ME: That was misinformation spread around the internet. There was another unsigned band after us called Pleasure Thieves, from Utah. I don’t think they knew about us.
NK: But in Europe, we did release a green vinyl single of “Favorite Drug,” and on the B-side was “It’s Too Late.” You know, the song by Jim Carroll. “It’s too late / To fall in love with Sharon Tate.” We did a version of that, and you can find it on the back of that single. That’s the only other remake we ever did, as far as any famous tunes.
PD: You mentioned touring a few minutes ago. How did that go down? Were you headlining, or were you serving as an opening act?
NK: We kind of did our own solo tour. Some of the shows, they did stick us with other bands, but for the most part, it was our shows.
PD: Do you remember any of the other bands you played with?
NK: Ugh. That was a while ago. I can’t! (Laughs)
PD: I didn’t know if maybe you got stuck on any of those radio station festival deals or not.
NK: No, we were kind of lucky, actually. See, Hollywood Records was a Disney-owned company, they were new at the time, and they hadn’t broken any new bands. We flew everywhere. We didn’t’ have to get into a bus and endure all of that kind of stuff, which was cool. At the time, we didn’t realize how great we had it. They were throwing money around. They let us use real strings for that record. None of that is keyboards, other than the obvious stuff. All of that orchestration you hear is real, so we were very lucky.
PD: And a fanboy thing I’ve waited years to bitch about: who picked the font for the CD booklet? Because that is a fucking bitch to read. (Laughs)
NK: (Laughs) Who chose the font? That’s funny. What was it?
PD: Well, it’s a lovely Old English font, but it’s so small that you have to almost impossible to read the lyrics without concentrating really, really hard.
ME: Good point. Ha! But it seemed to capture our vibe pretty good.
NK: We liked the look of it, but I don’t think we anticipated how it was going to look when it finally came out.
ME: I wish it had been 12-inch vinyl. That would have been cool. I didn’t get too involved in the CD cover design. I think we just went along with the option from a design at Hollywood Records. I did like it though. I still have the promo poster in a frame.
PD: If it had been in an album, it would’ve looked fantastic…
NK: Exactly. We didn’t see it in the size of the CD booklet until after it was printed, and by then, it was too late. As a new band, we didn’t really have to luxury to re-choose, to go back and say, “Wait, let’s do this instead!” We agreed to it, though. It was designed by one of the art ladies at the label. But I agree, it’s kind of hard to read the lyrics at that size!
PD: Do you guys keep in touch in any capacity?
NK: Well, yeah, me and the drummer. We’re good friends, we’ve been in many bands together over the years. Like I said, we’ve been friends since high school. He’s not in my current band – he loves a lot of other diverse stuff – but he probably will at some point. I do plan on hitting it live with the Knickels; it’s just a matter of getting all of the members together. And Matt, the keyboard player, I do keep in touch with. He’s actually the one who put together the MySpace page for the Pleasure Thieves.
ME: I keep in touch with Des and Nick. I didn’t have much in common with the rest. So when the band ended, I didn’t make any effort to keep in touch. I had the feeling they didn’t want to include me in any more music adventures. So I moved on.
PD: Is Sinjin still floating around out there? I know he posted on the Yahoo message board that was created for the Pleasure Thieves.
ME: I saw that and I was inspired to make the page on MySpace for anyone who cared about the band. Turns out there’s a few people still out there who are curious about what happened.
NK: Yeah, Sinjin did post on there. What had happened was…if you read that brief bio that was online, it mentioned something about the Phillipines…
PD: Something about “Blue Flowers” becoming a hit over there in 2002, right?
NK: Yeah, and I actually had called Hollywood Records back then…I think it was four or five years ago…and had them investigate that, and they couldn’t come up with anything solid, but it appears that two DJs did get hold of the single and kind of make it this little cult hit out there, because I’d gotten in touch with a few people on MySpace that were fans of “Blue Flowers” because of that.
ME: Our music was passed around in clubs by some diehard fans in the Phillipines. One of them I contacted on MySpace. She explained how they would take CD to clubs and Radio stations and request it.
PD: So how has the internet served the legacy of the Pleasure Thieves?
ME: I posted our Video on YouTube and made the MySpace page. Other than that, there’s not much is out there.
NK: It’s surprised me with how many people remember our band, you know? They’re finding me, I’m finding them, just by Googling first, and then you see it’s on someone’s Favorites list. And then I’m, like, “Hey, where did you first hear of the Pleasure Thieves?” And I’ve gotten stories like, “Oh, my mom wouldn’t let me go to your show in Minnesota!?” It’s cool!
PD: Lastly, to anyone who’s never heard the Pleasure Thieves prior to this, how would you describe them?
ME: I think we were a little bit of Simple Minds, U2, INXS, Stones and Peter Murphy all in one.
NK: Let’s see…y’know, with the music that’s come out in the last five years, like the Killers and bands like that, we’ve been getting people saying, “Wow, this stuff could be released now!” And I’m, like, “You’re right.” It’s just that there’s no opportunity to get the band back together. We’re all spread out, and Sinjin’s not even playing music anymore. He’s married and has a couple of children. We tried it once before. He called me a couple of years ago to try and do something, and we said we might, but we never got it together. So all I can say is that if you like the current music scene, bands like the Killers, go listen to the Pleasure Thieves. I’m very proud of that record. I thought it went well. Some reviews said that it was overproduced. I remember one time that we went into the studio while the mixer was there, and we took all of the orchestration out on a particular song and just left the guitars and let it roar like that. And it was so good! But the producer came in and growled, “What are you doing?” And we’re, like, “Don’t you love this? This is great! This is harder-edged!” And he goes, “No, no, we’re not doing that!” So we were, like, “Oh, all right…”
PD: So how much different was the band’s live sound, then?
NK: It was a little different, because we were much harder live, much more rocky. Our guitar player, Desmond, was really a great guitar player, just edgy. So our shows were much harder and weren’t as polished as the record. They moved fine, but it’s just louder and edgier, for sure.
ME: I agree with Nick on that one. There was more energy live.
PD: What was the centerpiece of the live show?
PD: Like, the song where you consistently felt, like, “This is where it all comes together?”
ME: We generally played our whole CD every show. I can’t remember if one song stuck out more or not. The shows would just build more energy until they ended with an encore. We used to do a Stones tune at the end. Can’t go wrong with that.
NK: “Blue Flowers,” I think. Everyone always seemed to love that song. That’s the one I wanted to have released first, but “My Favorite Drug” was released first, instead. And that was cool. That song hit the radio, and it moved up a little bit in the charts. When we got to Minnesota, it was like we were stars! They took us to the record stores, we signed records and posters, we did radio interviews. We played at Glam Slam, Prince’s club, and that was a huge show. It was great! Driving in the van, we heard our song on the radio, and when we got to the hotel, it was on the radio in the bar, and then it was on the jukebox, too. And we were, like, “Wow, okay!”
PD: So was that trip when you most felt like a rock star in your career?
NK: Oh, yeah. It was fun! And they treated us well. It’s just that Hollywood Records had never broken a band, and they were still feeling out some of the things they needed to do. And I think that’s why they suddenly decided, “Let’s just scrap everything and start over.” But then Julian ended up producing Fastball, and that became a huge hit for him. That’s what catapulted him as a producer. He ended up at Capitol after that, and now he’s at his own label.
PD: In closing, I should probably give a little love to your current work. Nick, you’re with The Knickels. How did that group get together?
NK: The Knickels is me and my buddy who I’ve known since we were eight years old. He’s a lyric writer, and we have been writing songs all the time, all through the Thieves years…ever since we were 12, I think. (Laughs) I’ve had many incarnations of the solo stuff, but I never went out and did it live. I did some acoustic shows right after the Thieves broke up, but the Knickels is more of a project that I’m working on. The guitar player, Joe Palmeri, who’s from New York, is a good friend and has been for years. He does all of the electric guitar work on those songs. It’s like one of those projects where it’s not a full band yet, but I just like the name. (Laughs) It’s a take-off of The Knack. They’re one of my favorite bands of all time.
PD: As I mentioned to you by E-mail, if you get a proper band together, you should try to get involved with International Pop Overthrow.
NK: Yeah, I’ll look into that!
PD: And, Matt, how about you?
ME: I play and write music for fun and make TV ads now for a living.
My band days are over. I di have an interesting experience making a song on Myspace with a guy in Scotland who I have never met, which you can hear at my music page on MySpace.