Published Feb 01, 2000"It's been a crazy year," Promise Ring guitarist, and apparent master of understatement, Jason Gnewikow says of the past 12 months of his band's career. But crazy barely begins to describe what the Promise Ring has been through since the release of their brilliant third full length disc, Very Emergency. Scary, tragic, frustrating and disarming may better put things in perspective.
After Very Emergency came out, the band was riding the high of having made a career-defining album, basking in the glow of media accolades and being invited to open a three-week leg of Bad Religion's most recent North American tour. (It's no coincidence they have a song called "Things Just Getting Good.") But just as it looked like they were ready to bring their brand of sometimes sombre, sometimes up-tempo post punk, emo pop to the masses, things went very bad. On the eve of their European tour last summer, singer Davey vonBohlen was stricken with mysterious illness that turned out to be a benign brain tumour.
"It was a very scary time for us," Gnewikow recalls. "The weird thing is it had been affecting the band for a long time. He had been having really bad headaches. He just sort of started getting them at some point and it was going on for about a year and a half. It was starting to put a lot of strain on the band. Touring was totally miserable for him, he would get really bad headaches every time we played and it just became not fun to do. We were supposed to leave for Europe and an hour before we were supposed to leave I got a call saying Davey was really sick. The hardest thing about it all was that nobody knew what it was. It got to the point where we were wondering where it was going because no doctors could tell him what it was. When we actually got the news it was a mixed thing. It was obviously really bad news but the prognosis was good so everyone thought we could finally put the whole thing behind us."
After a successful operation to remove the offending mass, there were complications from the surgery that kept the band sidelined even longer. When vonBohlen was finally well enough to tour again, they headed out for what would be a dream gig for many bands, opening for Bad Religion.
But the reality was quite different for the Promise Ring. "A waste of time" and "stupid" are how Gnewikow describes the experience. "Horror stories about bands opening for them are pretty common knowledge," he says. "We know people who have done it before and said they were totally miserable but that's probably true of any opening band, people are there to see the big band and they don't really care about seeing other bands.
"It was harsh. It would have been better if nobody cared and nobody paid attention but we had some pretty rough shows. At first it was pretty amusing but after a while we were like, 'ya, we know we suck, sorry, we'll get off stage.'"
After that somewhat demoralising experience, the band headed home to Wisconsin where they went back into the studio to record demos for a new release. The problem now became, who was going to release the record.
Very Emergency was their last contractual obligation to Jade Tree, their home since the beginning back in 1996. It was time to move on. "We're not really with anybody now," Gnewikow admits during a mid-March interview, but rumours closer to press time have them signing with Epitaph and potentially with its boutique subsidiary Anti.
But whatever label it is, one thing is for sure it won't be a major. "The conclusion we came to was that whole game is getting worse," he says. "Major labels just seem to want the hit and this new record is not pop hits." It will likely be darker, more introspective and not as pop-chart friendly as some of the material from their previous releases. It may be a whole new Promise Ring we hear in the future, and who can blame them? "This year has been so crazy I think everyone is feeling like we want to get back in and change everything and make a new and different record."