Whether you’re a Fugazian rabid opponent or a beneficiary like Green Day and Brand New, the question of ‘major label or nah’ is one wrestled with by just about every artist with any semblance of popularity. 10 Years is no exception.
Like many bands, 10 Years battled an “identity crisis” early in its career. A lucrative deal with Universal Music Group in 2005 brought radio play, financial backing and popularity, but slowly turned sour as outside input hindered the band’s creative process. Looking back, the group is thankful for what Universal did, but are glad to be divorced from the musical big wigs.
A hard/prog-metal outfit based in Knoxville, Tennessee, 10 Years first became well-known in 2005 with the single “Wasteland” off of their major label debut, The Autumn Effect. The track became their first (and only) song to chart on the Billboard Top 100, peaking at no. 94, and reached no. 1 on both the US Modern Rock Tracks and US Alternative charts. The band’s next two albums with Universal — Division (2008) and Feeding the Wolves (2010) — each cracked Billboard’s top 20.
Success had begun and didn’t seem to be fading. Tour attendance had grown and sales were at their peak. Eight of nine singles charted on US Mainstream; tours with Korn, Disturbed and Deftones boosted exposure. But even as 10 Years grew, change was looming.
Much of Feeding the Wolves’ lyrics alluded to the persistent call to produce music for fans and revenue – to satiate a hunger – rather than create something the artist was proud of. Songs from the record are still performed, but the band felt its record company was taking its music in a direction contrary the members’ wants.
“You can listen to (Feeding the Wolves) and hear the commercialism in it,” frontman and primary songwriter Jesse Hasek says. “There was some success from it, and there’s some good songs on it, but as a whole (Universal was) just trying to make just about every song three-and-a-half minutes long and everything targeted towards radio.”
Two years later, 10 Years had peacefully parted ways with Universal and started their own indie label, Palehorse Records. Two albums have been released since to moderate success. 2012’s Minus the Machine peaked at 26th on Billboard and 2015’s From Birth to Burial reached a meager 40th spot, the lowest peak since The Autumn Effect a decade previous.
Despite sinking sales and chart performance, Hasek says that touring is just as strong as it has been in the past. The band just headlined an acoustic tour with Finger Eleven.
With plans to record a new album over the winter, Birth to Burial’s follow-up could be released as early as Spring 2017. The album will still be recorded under Palehorse, but is planned to be distributed and partially funded by a major label. “We’ve kind of refined it in a meld between the two,” Hasek said, “where you can still have the accessibility of deep pockets when you need them for exposure, but still have the freedom of indie.”
The sounds of Minus the Machine and Birth to Burial have each been more reminiscent of concept albums. Each song flows into the next, with a distinct feel connecting the pieces as a whole. Machine incorporated more electronics, while Burial carried a harder, grungier tone.
Hasek mentioned his “hippie” upbringing on the likes of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd as influences. He cites Floyd as an influence in crafting 10 Years albums into coherent, connected works, rather than just compilations of individual songs.
Barring his preference for full albums, Hasek has acquiesced to the reality of streaming/online music and the benefits of social media. He listens to Spotify, has a Deftones Pandora station and sees streaming as a good way to discover new music. He’s recently got into the alt-rock band O’Brother and loved the new Radiohead album, A Moon Shaped Pool.
“There’s so many other outlets and avenues where you see bands that have huge success that have nothing to do with radio,” he says. “There’s that tightrope you have to walk of the social media side of things and the Internet side of things and the radio side … We’re just trying to find our balance with all of it.”
In spite of “radio rock,” the likes of Justin Bieber and catchy ringtones, Hasek wants to create music that people can connect with, something that will stick with a listener, rather than something that will fall off the charts faster than it flew up them.
“You get more stability and more loyalty out of, I think, more substance, the deep music that affects people in a different way,” he says. “You meet a complete stranger with a band tattoo on them and they give you a story about how it’s changed their life. To me, that’s crazy successful.”
Photos by Evan Guest.