TAL BACHMAN: He's So High On Being Heard
BY MELINDA NEWMAN
By his own account, Tal Bachman says the list of label executives who passed on him reads like "a who's who of the music industry. I got turned down by dozens of dozens of dozens of people. My dad wouldn't show me the rejection letters. I don't think he thought I could handle it...every major label, every sub-vanity label. But that's OK. I bear them all goodwill. They're not on any revenge list," he says, slyly adding, "Of course, I'm totally lying right now."
If success is the best revenge, then Bachman has definitely achieved payback. At this writing, Bachman's self-titled album was in its 18th week on Billboard's Heatseekers Album Chart. The first single, "She's So High," hit a height of No. 14 on the Hot 100. And, even though the song has nothing to do with drugs, the Columbia Records artist was smart enough to know how a provocative title can get people talking. "I was aware that the title would be intriguing," he says. "I thought people would look at it on a chart and think, 'What is this?' There are some song titles that are so boring you think, 'I don't even want to listen to this,' but, with titles like 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' 'Good Vibrations' or 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,' you're immediately predisposed to be curious about the song."
The title has little to do with the song's success at Nashua, N.H., hot AC outlet WHOB, where it reached No. 1. Says PD Jack Baldwin, "For us, it's more about the lyrics. The song connects with women, and it connects with men about the unattainable woman and what happens when she finally says 'Hi.' Tal just writes great songs."
PDs also have high expectations for Bachman's next single, "If You Sleep," which goes to radio in mid-November, but for Bachman, regardless of its impact at radio, the song has special meaning in his life. "I had gotten passed on by a lot of people and I was like, 'I gotta write another song. That's no good. I gotta write another one.' And 'If You Sleep' popped out really quickly. It was the song that more than anything at the time toppled over the first domino in my getting a record deal. And I felt like it was a real song. I'd had trouble writing serious songs before, but I wrote this one to kind of explain vaguely about someone passing away and the response to the passing."
In addition to radio airplay, Bachman's career has received a boost from TV exposure, as well. "She's So High" appeared on "Dawson's Creek," and was used to plug Jennifer Love Hewitt's "Party Of Five" spinoff, "The Time Of Your Life." Additionally, album track "Darker Side Of Blue" was used in promos for "NYPD Blue."
While some artists may worry about their material being associated with a TV show, Bachman says the experience was a great one for him. "I wasn't worried about it," he says. "Nobody knows who I am. I'm totally anonymous. I wrote all these songs; I want people to hear them. It's sheer instinct: 'write song, have song heard.' Like Tarzan. I'm very in touch with my primal self. But, of course, even I have limits. I don't want to have a player-piano version of my song selling maxipads. But I don't want to take it to the point of a religion either. I want my tunes to be heard. They're pop songs."
Making pop songs that are instantly accessible, and unabashedly tuneful was Bachman's goal when he linked with producer Bob Rock, even though when he went into the studio, such material was hardly in style. "I felt like I didn't hear a lot on the radio that I felt spoke to me musically. A lot of it just seemed to be attitude first; if you didn't happen to share that attitude, it seemed like there wasn't a lot left to relate to," he says. "When I first met with Bob Rock, I said, 'I have all these ideas for songs, and I'm kind of sick of hearing music that sounds defensive and almost consciously unmusical. Let's forget about the critics and the cynics, and we'll see how it goes.' You can imagine how happy I am about how it's been received."
While Bachman's melodic, lush, pop songs owe more to ELO and Queen than the guitar-throbbing rock that made his father, BTO's Randy Bachman, so famous, Bachman says he's learned plenty from his dad in terms of never forgetting who's to thank for his career. "I was in Boston, and this guy came up and said he has everything my father's ever done-BTO, the Guess Who, Iron Horse, Ax, his solo album that sold like 200 copies. I was relaying this to my dad, and I gave this guy's card to him and said it would make this guy's life if he called him. My dad said, 'Of course, you always have time for fans.' He said you do one of these signings and someone comes up with 25 of these albums, and there's some guy next to him with a napkin, and my dad says, of course, he's going to sign for the guy with the 25 albums."
While he's mighty short of recording 25 albums, Bachman says he's already on the receiving end of fans' adulation. "I'm really flattered that people like 'She's So High,' but there's still part of me that's almost embarrassed that people come up to me and say they like it," says Bachman, adding with a chuckle, "The record company tells me, as your sense of entitlement grows, you'll get over that."