BY SHANE HARRISON
Athens’ Flagpole magazine is reporting that Ross Shapiro, of longtime Athens band the Glands, has died. Read their report here.
The Glands never acheived the fame and widespread recognition of some of Athens’ interrnational superstars, but the band was beloved by critics and Athens music fans. The Glands were a low-key presence on the music scene, with live appearances few and far between. The band wasn’t exactly prolific when it came to album releases, either, with just two studio albums to their credit, 1998’s “Double Thriller” and 2000’s “The Glands.”
In 2000, upon the release of that second album, we spent the afternoon with the band. Here’s the story, originally published Nov. 3, 2000:
The latest hot band out of Athens is just getting used to the buzz.
The Glands, five unassuming Classic City neighbors getting a lot of notice for their self-titled album, have sent reviewers digging through the rock archives for analogies. With a distinctive sound that filters a zillion disparate pop styles into something that feels new yet familiar, the band has been compared to everyone from the Beatles to ’90s indie-pop oddballs Guided by Voices. Everyone seems to hear something different in their music. The musicians — who range in age from 27 to 37 — seem unfazed by the myriad comparisons.
Drummer Joe Rowe stands in the shady front yard of the ranch-style house shared by bandmates RossShapiro and Andy Baker, thumbing through Rolling Stone for the three-star review of his band’s latest album. “I haven’t seen it yet, ” he says, before reading it quietly while waiting for his fellow Glands to arrive for a photo shoot. Parked on the grass is a white van with a small trailer attached, testament to the quintet’s recent five-week jaunt across the country.
The RS review throws a comparison to Neil Young into the already crowded mix of artists invoked in descriptions of the band’s sound.
“Neil Young has kind of a whiny voice, and people say that about Ross, ” Rowe says later, of main songwriter and vocalist Shapiro. The band is sprawled in the earth-toned, warmly lit “sitting room” in Baker and Shapiro’s house right next to the living room, dominated by a drum set just inside the front door. (A recording console is tucked into the “dining room.”)
“I’m starting to take it as a compliment, ” says the charismatic Shapiro, laughing.
“I’ve heard the Kinks mentioned a few times and I never thought of that, ” Rowe says.
“Somebody told me we sound like the Cars, ” bassist and co-producer Baker adds. Everybody looks puzzled at that one.
Since the early 1980s and the rise of R.E.M., Athens has been a magnet for musicians.
Shapiro, the only band member originally from Georgia, came from Atlanta. The others were drawn to Athens from such places as South Carolina and New Jersey, specifically to play music.
Baker, who also records other local bands, came here 11 years ago, by way of Illinois. “We couldn’t play original music in clubs up there, ” he says. “I came here to play music, and then I started a studio, which is what I wanted to do.”
Even though it hasn’t produced a superstar act since R.E.M., Athens’ tight-knit music scene is still going strong with nationally recognized bands such as melodic art-rockers Elf Power and the world music-infused Macha. “Our friends are all in bands for the most part, ” Rowe says.
Shapiro continues, half-joking, “Everybody who’s lived here for longer than five years at one point has played a live show with somebody whether they play an instrument or not.”
Rowe and Shapiro met while working at the Gyro Wrap in Athens before deciding to get together and do some recording in 1996.
Eventually, some of what they recorded, along with guest musicians, became the Glands’ first album, “Double Thriller.” Released independently, the album soon came to the attention of Bar/None Records, which took it on.
That would lead to someone at Capricorn Records hearing the record, and signing the band late in 1999.
“One of the guys that worked there liked ‘Double Thriller, ‘ so we gave him a tape of some other stuff we were working on, ” Shapiro says.
“Double Thriller” got the band noticed in the alternative press.
The Boston Phoenix’s Jonathan Perry’s reaction was typical: “This is one of those discs that comes out of nowhere, grabs you where you live, and makes you wonder where this band have been hiding their stash all these years.”
As with this year’s follow-up, reviewers were playing ”name that influence” while concluding that it all came together beautifully.
Since releasing the second album in August, the quintet has played everywhere from Minneapolis to El Paso and New York to Los Angeles.
With all that nationwide exposure, Rolling Stone isn’t the only national outlet that’s taken notice of the Glands. Spin gave the album a 9 out of 10, calling it “an indie-rock masterpiece.”
Though there is a clutch of people in cities all over the country who’ve seen theGlands’ live show, you won’t find many in Atlanta. It hasn’t always gone well in Georgia’s capital.
“We’ve played probably about six times there, and we’ve had about one and a half good experiences, ” Shapiro says, citing skimpy crowds and lackluster response.
“And that’s been over a few years now, so we rarely play Atlanta, really, ” Rowe adds. “We would barely play out anywhere until just recently.”
Still, they like to play live, and rehearsals are certainly conveniently close for all the band members. They all live within a short distance of Shapiro and Baker’s house, where, in addition to rehearsing, they sometimes record.
The scruffy band members are a perfect fit for a town that seems to value musicianship over image. But if they hit the jackpot tomorrow, would they leave Athens?
“I would, ” Shapiro says quickly, then laughs before giving the question more thoughtful consideration. “Really, though, I love it here, because I’ve been here so long and it’s such a small town that you know everybody and your resources are so great.”
The five Glands head off to rehearse on the other side of the house, several of them stopping briefly at the refrigerator along the way, looking more like the guys next door than a band that made what is quite possibly the best rock album to come out of Georgia this