On instinct, the members of I Mother Earth knew they found the right frontman when they met and heard Newfoundland native Brian Byrne. Now, their sixth sense still intact, they know his live debut at Summersault '98 will be killer.
"He's crazy. He's insane. He's going to be awesome," predicts I Mother Earth guitarist Jag Tanna. "Without ever having been on stage with him, I feel great just standing in rehearsal. He rehearses the way he's going to be onstage. He puts a lot into it, all the time. He's not a slacker, that's for sure."
To warm up for the four-date Summersault tour -- which begins next Sunday, at Molson Park, in Barrie, Ont. and continues on to Quebec City (29), St. John's (3) and Moncton (6) -- this week, I Mother Earth is playing some secret gigs in undisclosed locations.
"We're just busting to play," says Tanna of his bandmates, brother drummer Christian Tanna, bassist Bruce Gordon and Byrne. "We've been writing for a while now and we dealt with so much crap the past year that we just want to go and explode onstage. I think it's going to be awesome."
Their confidence is reinforced by the events of the past month -- a new manager, Steve Herman, and new record deal, with PolyGram Canada's Mercury division.
Allan Reid, senior VP of A&R at PolyGram, first entered into discussions with I Mother Earth when its then-manager, Bob Luhtala, phoned to let him know that the multi-platinum band wouldn't be resigning with EMI Music Canada. But a replacement for Edwin (who left to pursue a solo career) had still not been found, so no offer was tabled.
When Byrne got the coveted gig, Reid heard the demos the band was producing at Jag's home studio and negotiations began. "Brian's great," Reid says. "He's a very powerful vocalist. He's got a raspiness to his vocals. He can sing hard; he can sing soft. The music hasn't necessarily changed; it's still I Mother Earth."
The deal came to a standstill when news of the Universal buy-out of PolyGram came down and left execs at both companies wondering who would be left after the merger, said to be decided by the new year. "That obviously gave the guys a lot of concern of who's going to be where," says Reid. "It got to the point where we felt like we were stagnating."
That changed three weeks ago, when I Mother Earth acquired new management, Steve Herman, who has worked with the band as both agent and promoter, and now runs his own concert promotion business, Core Audience, which is putting on Summersault.
"When Steve Herman came in, they (IME) wanted to make a record; they wanted to get going," recounts Reid. "'Well, let's go do it,' and hopefully the powers that be that run Universal see these guys as being good players and they'll all still be there. Not to sound over confident, but we all feel good about it."
"Companies go through change," explains Herman of why they went ahead with the deal without waiting to see the aftermath of merger. "We felt pretty confident with Allan, and we felt really confident with the company as a whole, and we also felt really confident that both PolyGram and Universal have really good staff and it would be a good home. We felt we'd be in good shape in either scenario."
Jag feels the same way. "No matter what company you go to, something is bound to go down while you're there," he says with a knowing chuckle. "Everything happened at perfect times for us. We could watch the Universal thing from the sidelines, meanwhile taking care of our own personal business, and then, when it all came together for us, it was like a united front, and we went for it and we feel great about it.
"They will eventually be a stronger company," Jag adds. "Both companies will make one ultimate company, so we're glad be a part of that."
I Mother Earth has been writing and demoing non-stop at Jag's home studio and will road-test some of the new material at Summersault. "We're playing some songs that I don't even think are finished yet," says Jag. "I'll try and finish them before we actually hit the stage," he laughs.
But the band won't be abandoning the material it cut with Edwin on its two hit albums, Dig and Scenery & Fish. "We're playing pretty much half and half. Those other songs are really important to us," says Jag.
As soon as I Mother Earth finish Summersault, the plan is to find a producer and cut the new album sometime in the fall. It will be released in the second quarter of 1999.