Sometime around midnight on March 9th, a dream of rock stardom imagined by a wide-eyed group of Raleigh musicians eight years ago will finally die. Because when the lights go up at the city’s Lincoln Theatre at the end of yet another energetic and wholehearted performance by Far Too Jones, the popular rockers will reluctantly, yet almost inevitably, call it a day.
The band announced the decision to split in January, citing the fact that they had realistically reached the end of the road after months of concerted effort to secure a new major label-recording contract. Since then, they have begun a farewell tour as a gesture of thanks to their loyal North Carolina fanbase, and for Far Too Jones front-man Chris Spruill, the band’s final gig will understandably be a night of mixed emotions.
“I’m really looking forward to the show,” he says. “We’ve got people coming in from all over to see it, even from as far away as the UK, Australia and other parts of North America and the amount of emails we’ve had since we announced the split saying how much our fans have appreciated what we’ve done over the years really humbles us.”
“People have asked us if we will be recording the final show to release at a later date, but everyone’s thoughts in the band right now are that we’re done and if it’s going to be over let it be over so we can move on” he says before adding, “I hope people don’t think that’s too selfish.”
That’s an accusation that could never be pointed at Chris and his bandmates Dave Dicke (guitar), Scott MacConnell (drums), Allan Callahan (bass), and new recruit Kyle Garris (guitar), so dedicated, hardworking and committed have they been since they got together “far too jonesing” for gigs in 1994. Indeed, a cursory glance at the band’s well-documented history as part of the burgeoning south-east rock scene tells the story of how in the music business a band doesn’t always get what it deserves.
Disney subsidiary Mammoth Records signed the quintet in 1998 after the band’s Plastic Hero EP, and Crawling Out From Under album on indie label Deep South Records had caused a real stir amongst radio stations like G105 and discerning local record buyers. The ink was barely dry on their contract before the band was whisked off to LA to record its major label debut Picture Postcard Walls with acclaimed producer Gavin MacKillop.
After encouraging reactions to their brand of rootsy, undeniably melodic rock, the band embarked on a year of non-stop nationwide touring supporting the likes of Matchbox Twenty, Seven Mary Three and Train before heading back into the studio with Howard Benson to record their sophomore disc Shame and Her Sister in 2000.
Just when Far Too Jones were ready to take the next step with an exciting, fresh-sounding album that built and expanded on the base Picture Postcard Walls provided, Mammoth Records unexpectedly underwent the kind of restructuring typical of the music industry. Mammoth’s main HQ was closed down, important band allies lost their jobs and the guys were left with no option but to use all the resources they had as a newly independent band to plug the finished record (that Disney still owned) and hope another label would pick up and release what was undoubtedly Far Too Jones’ best work to date.
Chris picks up the story. “Several times along the way we felt we were getting close to getting picked up, but for various reasons none of the deals ever came to fruition,” he admits. “We’d been through that scenario so many times; of getting close and getting closer but without any end result, and we kinda felt that was the way it was always going to be.”
But hope springs eternal, and successful late December 2001 shows with Train and Athenaeum together with ongoing discussions with a number of interested labels made it seem like luck would finally give the quintet the platform to achieve their goal.
“Yeah, we were in conversation with a couple of labels which were kind of the last options we had on the table at that time and when those deals fell through, we decided to go ahead and announce the split. It’s something we’d been considering for a while, after all, there’s only so many times you can have a meeting with a record label rep who tells you how much he loves the record and the band, but can’t commit anything on paper.
“We reached a point where we felt there was too much history, too much baggage. I mean, we’ve been doing this now for eight years and we felt if we wanted to continue in the industry, the best thing to do was start again.”
The financial constraints of trying to secure a deal, touring and independently promoting a record to radio were obviously a major factor in Far Too Jones’ decision to quit, but it seems the emotional pressure of a seemingly endless cycle of raised hopes and disappointments also took it’s toll.
Chris concedes, “Frustration is the perfect word for it. We slowly came to realise through our contacts and attorneys that the attitude in the industry seemed to be ‘you guys have been doing this for a while and haven’t broken through yet, so there’s obviously something somewhere people aren’t getting’. And you know what, maybe they were right.”
Despite the distinct tone of disappointment and air of resignation in Spruill’s voice when describing the demise of the band he worked so hard to keep going over the past eighteen months, he remains positive and ever philosophical.
“I’ve always understood this business,” he says emphatically. “It’s like what Gavin MacKillop said one night during the recording of Picture Postcard Walls; he told us if there was a formula to it, everybody would be a rock star. There’s no reason why some bands make it and some bands don’t - it’s always been that way and probably always will.”
He adds, “I wouldn’t say I’m bitter about the circumstances that have surrounded Far Too Jones over the last few years, although I would say I’m disappointed after spending the time and effort we did to get so close to making our dreams come true. To see that fall apart is a downer, but I’m a person of faith and just try to keep my head straight and faith strong and just move ahead.”
His personal disappointments aside, it’s fair to say Far Too Jones have come closer than most bands come to “making it”, and Chris acknowledges plenty of ups have accompanied the downs.
“Absolutely. If you’d told me when I first picked up a guitar I’d get to make records with producers like Gavin and Howard, I wouldn’t have believed you. We were fortunate to work with talent like that, guys who helped take the band in a different direction when we really wanted to and weren’t sure how.”
It seems something of a relief for Chris to have finally decided on the band’s future, but even though the responsibility and pressure of trying to get a deal is over, he reminisces freely about the pleasure he has received from being a part of it all.
“I’ll miss the touring and the shows most”, he says. “We built up an incredibly loyal fanbase and some nights a lot of the crowd are people we have begun to recognise from shows over the years, and who know the words to every song. It’s pretty amazing and makes you think we achieved something, so we’ll be playing plenty of our older material on March 9th because of that. It’s fun for us, as we’ll have to learn those songs again!”
As well as looking forward to the final show, Chris is also anticipating a new career within music post Far Too Jones, although he’s not entirely clear what form it will take.
“At this point I’m leaning more to getting involved with another project or band rather than anything solo. It could possibly involve other members of Far Too Jones, I don’t know yet. I’m writing a lot of songs and I’m really pleased with them but right now I’m taking a cautious attitude.”
Even though Far Too Jones will be blasting out crowd favourites such as “Best Of Me”, “As Good As You”, “Nervous”, “Trip Through You” and “Close To You” for their final live airing at the Lincoln Theatre, it’s clear the collective talents of Far Too Jones won’t be wasted in the long term.
Chris concludes, “Yeah, we love playing music. I’ll always write songs and at the very least I’ll be sitting in some smoky bar somewhere playing an acoustic guitar! I’ll definitely be doing something it’s just a matter of to what extent.”
With determination and commitment like that, who knows, that familiar dream five guys from Raleigh had eight years ago may well be reborn sometime after Far Too Jones pack up their instruments for the very last time.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/far-too-jones/