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by Jim Bessman
Printed February 8, 1997
NEW YORK- Not to suggest that they are in any way bookish, but there is a certain literary quality about Grey Eye Glances. Namely, their name, which is taken from Edgar Allan Poe, also, their primary means of exposure to date, which has been touring bookstores.
The Maple Shade, N.J., trio, whose Parachute/Mercury Records debut album, "Eventide," emerges Feb. 11, came to the label after getting established via heavy touring of Borders bookstores throughout the Northeast. In fact, pianist/vocalist Dwayne Keith, who joined forces with lead singer/12string guitarist Jennifer Nobel and bassist/vocalist Eric O'Dell in Philadelphia three years ago, worked at two Borders outlets prior to commencing pre-production on "Eventide" a year ago.
"I started in the espresso bar as a coffee person and worked my way to special orders and corporate accounts, and ended up as CRC, or community relations coordinator," says Keith, who worked at Borders' Marlton, N.J., store for three years before moving over to the chain's Chestnut Hill location in Philadelphia.
The group was then called Sojourn-and had self-released two albums as such-but had to surrender the name to another Sojourn with an earlier claim. The new tag derives from a favorite Edgar Allan Poe poem, Keith notes, explaining that "grey eye glances " from Poe's "To One In Paradise," is a metaphor for "dreams."
"We thought of calling ourselves 'Borders,' " Keith adds, "but it would probably have been a pain in the neck!"
Perhaps, but the bookstore chain has always been wholly supportive of Grey Eye Glances, and thanks to Keith's CRC position-which involved booking bands and author events at the store-he was perfectly situated to help bring the group's music to has become the 126-store Borders Books & Music web.
What is now Grey Eye Glances formed as Sojourn in 1991, though Keith and O'Dell had met 12 years earlier playing street hockey, and Keith and Nobel had toured Europe in 1985 as part of the American Music Abroad choir. "There wasn't music in the Borders world at the time," says Keith, "but we had the band together and decided to set up and play on a Friday night [at the Marlton outlet] and went over so well that we played twice a month for two years-and then at all the Borders stores in the area."
But these weren't ordinary half hour music in-store sets. Rather, Sojourn played full, two-hour shows in the stores' coffee bars, and while the pay was minimal (and sometimes in the form of gift certificates), the group managed to sell nearly 9,000 copies combined of its two self released CDs, "Songs Of Leaving" and "Further On . . ."
The strong grass-roots sales base was duly noted by Tom Vickers, Parachute/Mercury's senior director of A&R (U.S.). Vickers had seen the group several times in Philadelphia and had been struck by their sound.
"It was very distinctive," says Vickers. "It had elements of Celtic music, folk, and an ethereal quality that was unlike anything I'd heard. And to top it off, you had a great singer in Jennifer Nobel and the group's extremely strong songwriting. But when Dwayne mentioned how they had built a huge fan base through playing at various Borders stores in Philadelphia and the south New Jersey area, I thought it was too good to be true.
"Then I saw them perform at Borders and draw over 200 fans, and I knew I was on to a band that had both a distinctive sound and a distinctive way of selling themselves."
"Eventide," which was produced in Nashville by Glenn Rosenstein and engineered by Steve Boyer (Peter Gabriel's "So"), is something of a "compilation of everything we've written to this point," notes Keith, and includes new recordings of three songs from "Further On . . ." mixed in with fresh material. The newer tunes, he adds, are mostly group co-writes; Keith was the primary songwriter early on.
The new album also features instrumental buttressing from Grey Eye Glances' usual backup support team: guitarists Brett Kull and Bill Belcher, keyboardist John Avarese, and drummer Paul Ramsey. (These accompanists have performed live with the group in the past and will tour with it in the future.)
"It's really well-produced," says Bruce Warren, music director at noncommercial triple-A station-WXPN Philadelphia, about "Eventide." He notes the group's "progressive sound in the way of October Project [whose debut album was produced by Rosenstein and Renaissance," together with their pop-tunesmithing prowess.
"Mercury had a little showcase at the Tin Angel-a wonderful acoustic music club here-and it was amazing just watching," continues Warren, whose station supported the preceding Sojourn releases. "Everyone knew the words to every song, and the band put on a great show and wowed all of us."
Mercury product manager (U.S.) Meg Ritschel also notes Grey Eye Glances' "strong foundation," which, in addition to a fan base linked by the group's mailing list and an active World Wide Web site, includes manager Bill Eib of O Management and agent Adam Kornfeld of QBQ. "So besides having music that's highly developed and stylized and to the point where they're ready to put out a major-label album, they're very well organized," she says.
Mercury has serviced a promotional CD of the "Eventide" track "Halfway Back" to triple-A stations, and Ritschel reports good early feedback nationally, with "great crossover potential" to modern rock thanks to its perceived appeal to a younger college demo-as evidenced by forthcoming exposure via Spin's syndicated radio program. Early press response further indicates younger-than-expected "alternative demographic" interest, adds Ritschel.
A postcard mailing to Grey Eye Glances fan-club list and Parachute's mailing list is now going out, tagged with one-stop mail-order information. But touring will likely be Mercury's main promotional thrust, starting at- where else?-Borders.
"Having that localized retail support is tremendous," says Ritschel, who is looking to set up listening posts and tie in radio during an extensive Borders tour that will start in the Northeast and expand nationally in the spring. "We want to get people out to see them because they're so charming live, and their music is very intimate," she adds. "And when they play Borders, merchandise sales go up."
Confirmation here comes from Sean Hickey, music manager at the Borders Books & Music store in Bryn Mawr, Pa., who says, "There's never a problem selling their stuff-no matter what they call themselves. We've sold hundreds and hundreds of their first CDs; if you play them in-store, people stop and listen and come up to find what it is and buy it."
The same thing happens when they play live, he adds, which the group has done several times at Hickey's store.
For his part, loyal ex-employee Keith is more than happy to return to the Borders circuit.
"We've turned down big offers from Barnes & Noble-which is a great chain, too-but Borders got us going early in," he says. "We're not looking to make a career playing in bookstores, but we've done over 200 now and in a lot of suburban places, Borders is like the cultural center. As much as we want to move on to Shea Stadium, we're still at a point where we enjoy selling 75 CDs a night."



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