A Reivers Diary, by John Croslin

A Reivers Diary: John Croslin shares his thoughts on the recording of ‘Pop Beloved’ . by John Croslin / Introduction by Peter Blackstock. Austin American-Statesman, April 18, 1991 p5(2).:

From “hot new band” to “next big thing” to “major-label artists,” the Reivers’ career during the 1980’s epitomized the step-by step process of a promising young band making its way up the ladder of success in the music business.

In the midst of an alternative music scene that was beginning to attract nationwide attention during the 1980s, the Reivers (than known as Zeitgeist) was the Austin band that seemed most likely to succeed. The group’s debut album on independent label DB Records was a college radio hit, and the melodic accessibility of the group’s material suggested potential for a much wider audience.

But after signing with Capitol Records in 1986 and recording two albums with the label, the band was dropped in September 1989 in the wake of several personnel changes at the label (the band’s A&R representative was dismissed a couple of weeks later). Though both albums received favorable reviews and the Reivers toured frequently to support them, the sales figures never grew significantly.

So what happens when the next rung in the career ladder is suddenly removed from your grasp?
For the Reivers – guitarist/leader John Croslin, singer/guitarist Kim Longacre, drummer Garrett Williams and bassist Cindy Toth – it led them ultimately to decide that they still wanted to play music together, regardless of the circumstances. Their determination to continue comes to fruition this week as they celebrate the release of their fourth album, Pop Beloved, Friday night at the Texas Tavern.

Deciding to make another record meant setting their sights for commercial success lower and returning to DB Records, the label that issued their first album in 1985. It meant working with a smaller budget and giving up the option of hiring an outside producer (Croslin produced the record himself). It meant a return to balancing band schedules with day jobs, at a time when some band members have more demanding family lives than they did in their early days.

Yet, while times are tougher in many ways, “there’s a whol new attitude in the band that I’m very happy about,” Croslin said. “And I’m not exactly sure why it sprang up. But we’re all getting to a point in our lives where we’re not kids anymore, and we realize it. Some of us have kids now.”

Indeed, Croslin seems older and wiser but still optimistic as he speaks about the new record. He realizes a likely sales figure on DB would be a modest 20,000 units, but he’s encouraged by the appearance of “adult alternative” radio stations such as Austin’s KGSR-FM, which he says has helped revive the Reivers’ local following in recent months. He laments the little time he has to spend with his family but remains confident that all the extra hours eventiually will pay off. Most of all, he simply seems pleased with the outcome of the new record, both in his bandmates’ performances and in his own efforts as producer.

The Austin American-Statesman asked Croslin to keep a diary of the band’s experiences in making it’s new album. His account begins shortly after the Reivers were dropped by Capitol and continues through the end of the recording process.


Dec. 15, 1989: We got together the night that I got the phone call (dropping the band) and drank beer. We played our new songs and we played some old stuff, and we decided to do another record.

I am surprised by a couple of things at this point. One, I’m not very upset. Maybe if I hadn’t written any songs I liked for this upcoming album I would be, or maybe I’m just beginning to realize how bad our relationship with Capitol was. Two, Garrett, Cindy and Kim don’t seem to be very upset either.

It would have made sense for us to call it quits on several occasions in our history, this being the most obvious one. But for whatever reason, we stayed together.

I’ve been in a few bands in my life, and I’ve observed many more, and I have never seen a band like this one. It is a thrill for me to play with these people,a nd it is great writing songs for them. It has never been easy for us in the business world or amongst ourselves, but it has always seemed worth the trouble to me.

April 11, 1990: South by Southwest has come and gone. We have learned of a few other independent labels that would be interested, including one that has some money, but of course the one with the money is hesitant to commit.

I have begun to think of myself as the producer of this album, because it looks like we won’t have the budget to hire someone better than me. This is both exciting and horrifying.

It is exciting because I realy want to be a producer. I’ve realized over the years that by far my favorite part of being in a band is being in the studio. I would love to do this for a living someday. It is horrifying because I know my limitations as a producer, and as anyone who has tried it can tell you, producing your own band is not the optimum situation. But for better or worse, it looks like I’m doing it.

May 20, 1990: We are in the middle of pre-production for our album. Recently I’ve become aware of the spirit of this band in a tangible way. I sense a real desire in everyone in the band to do what it takes to make a great record. Everyone seems to be putting aside personal grievances and digging deep to make this album great.
At one point in the writing phase, I began to feel frustrated with the band’s reaction to the songs I was bringing in. They seemed rather cool and unexcited about them. At first I felt that they were right, and that the songs probably weren’t that good. After it goes on for a while, though, I realize that something must be done, because we need some great songs for this record, and if I’m not writing them, someone else needs to.

I ask everyone to write a version of lyrics to some music that I brought in, to perhaps get the creative juices flowing. At the next practice, Garrett hands me this lyric that is amazing. As far as I know, he’s never written lyrics before, but these are great. He just went home and did it. (Some of these lyrics end up in the song It’s All One.)

In many ways, Cindy Toth is the secret ingredient of the Reivers. What she does musically is hard to pin down. She plays notes that I never would have thought of. She’s fun to watch in practice because when we start working on a song, I hear some rumblings over there in her corner, and she’ll stand very still, and occasionally something resembling a bass note will emerge. Sometimes I make the mistake of asking of asking her what in the world she is doing, to which she replies, “I don’t know yet.” But always if it’s a good song she comes up with something that makes it sound like Reivers song. I have no idea how she gets there.

Until this record, however I would never have called her approach tenacious or aggressive. Now I look over in her corner and see a determination I haven’t seen. I hear from mutual friends how excited she is about this record. She makes suggestions about arrangements, which she hasn’t done before.
I hope that when this is done, you can hear these sorts of things on the record.

June19, 1990: It is my 28th birthday today and I’m not in the studio, and I thought I’d write about some of the production ideas I’ve had. This is going back a few weeks, because as of now, we are actually well into the recording.

I’ve decided we should make a very “dry” record for several reasons. First, what I mean by “dry” is without much of any reverb and without a lot of big “rock” arrangements (like seven vocal parts and 12 guitars on each song).

On reason for deciding that this should be the approach is the budget, which is small. Second, I feel the songs are strong and that they don’t need a lot of dressing. Third, many of the records I have been listening to lately were done in the ’70s, and this was the approach to many of them.

This will be a challenge to me, because everything I’ve produced so far I’ve gone out of my way to make big.

July 31, 1990: We’re moving along now. We’re well into overdubbing. Arduous is the word I would use to describe the experience so far. Some of the contributing factors are heat, work and children. We all have similar commitments, and they often seem to conflict. I would like to give you a typical week’s schedule:
Sunday: Go to work noon to 6 p.m., come home, eat, go to the studio. Record from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., go home and try to sleep with the song we worked on last blaring in my head.

Monday: I sleep till noon. My wife Mary, who has taken care of the kids all day Sunday, gets up and takes them to day care, and then goes to work from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. After she gets off, she goes and picks them up and takes care of them for the rest of the evening. I get up and eat lunch and go to work from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Tuesday: The kids wake me between 8 and 10 a.m. We clean house, play, go to the park, etc. Mary gets home at about 3 p.m. One of us cooks dinner, and I go to the studio at 6:30. I try not to stay too late because I have to work the next morning. I usually leave at around 2 a.m.

Wednesday: I work 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., go home, shove some food in my face, and go to the studio from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Thursday: I’m usually pretty ragged out by the time Thursday comes. I have the kids again, and I try to come up with activities for them that require a minimum of effort on my part. This is probably as much of a drag for them as it is for me, but they don’t complain about their void of a father. Perhaps they don’t realize this, and years from now they will begin to resent it. I probably would.
I always take a nap on Thursday, when Mary gets home. Then I get up and go to the studio. This is the hardest day to get anything done in the studio. We stop at about 3 a.m.

Friday: I sleep late. Mary takes the kids to day care. If it’s not too hot, I run before work at 2 p.m.

Saturday: I work early and get off at 4 p.m. Mary takes care of the kids. When I get home we do something “family” because this is the only time all week that we’re all together.

Another of the 17 or 18 weeks it will take until we’re finished recording is over. Everyone else in the band has a similar schedule. Garrett goes to school full time. Kim works full time and raises a son, and Cindy works full time, too. It isn’t easy, and sometimes the strain shows more than others. We just take the bad days as best we can and enjoy the good ones, and know that each day we’re a little closer to being done. And, by the way, so far it’s sounding pretty damn good.

January 29, 1991: It’s all done. The album is called Pop Beloved after a character in a Bob and Ray sketch. All in all, it was the easiest Reivers record to make. I know that some of the descriptions I have given haven’t sounded easy, but this is the first album we’ve made that didn’t have any serious stops or setbacks.

Another reason it was easier is that we didn’t have anything to lose. On End Of The Day, we had a lot to lose, and we lost it. Since we finished it, we’ve been playing well live – the best we’ve ever played, in fact – and I think we are all enjoying a job well done. The performances of Garrett, kim and Cindy are the best they’ve done,a nd I’m very proud of that.

I suppose I should recount a nightmare I went through before I got to where I was proud of the record.

I went to Jackson, Miss., to mix. I stayed in a Days Inn a few miles from the studio and mixe din eight days, working 14 hours a day. I thought it was going well. When we finished, we made some cassettes of the mixes. I didn’t know until a month later, but those cassettes weren’t made right.

When I got home, I played the mixes and was petrified. It sounded horrible. I thought I had just put $5,000 down the drain. I couldn’t sleep. I avoided talking to anyone about it. How could I have screwed up so bad? Where was my head?

Then, after a month of non-stop worry, I rented a DAT machine to listen to the digital mixes to trya nd figure out if there was anything I could do to save them. Well, I was very relieved, to say the least, because I found out that it was the cassettes that were screwed up and not the mixes. They sounded great. I was so happy that I listened to them at a very high volume for about 10 hours. I danced with my daughters and bubbled happy phrases to my wife. They looked at me like I was out of my mind and asked if I could please turn it down a little. I really really hate cassettes. Really.