by A.J. Wachtel
Shoulda, woulda, coulda doesn’t have the same sad connotations to a rock ’n’ roll band today as it did in 1980. The Internet and YouTube have drastically turned the music scene and business on it’s ear in terms of availability and distribution; and getting signed to a major label isn’t the guarantee of consummation it once was. But back a few decades it was the ONLY way to climb the ladder of success and achieve fulfillment and accomplishment in the national entertainment world. New England, at the time, was a great local pop/metal band with beautiful harmonies that got a brief taste of stardom along with gigging on national tours; and the release of three albums that were available in record stores coast to coast. Their 1979 hit “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya” made number 40 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart; but the band never got the expected fame and fortune that usually followed a group as they chased the industry’s tried and true formula to reach the top. Read what happened and where the group is now below:
NOISE: You were discovered by Kiss manager Bill Aucoin. Care to comment on how it happened?
JIMMY WALDO: A friend of ours at Electra Records introduced us to Bill’s partner, Rick Alaberti. Rick came up to Boston and saw us at a rehearsal, and immediately got Bill up to see us. Bill wanted to sign the band after hearing one song.
NOISE: Paul Stanley (KISS) helped you record and produce your debut album New England along with Mike Stone (Queen/Asia). Looking back, care to share a cool story about Paul and was he a help or a hindrance with his assistance?
HIRSH GARDNER: Paul was cool, we had a great time working with him and Mike Stone. When we were in London mixing the record, we went to some private clubs; Paul didn’t drink but proceeded to buy us champagne all night, at every club.
NOISE: In Boston, throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s, there were a lot of bands that were influenced by Aerosmith who were HUGE at the time. How were you different than the other bands on the scene at the time?
JOHN FANNON: Our influences were a bit different—they were mostly English bands. Super Tramp, ELO, Queen, and of course, The Beatles. We also had broad influences as individual musicians, ranging from jazz, classical, and R&B.
NOISE: You toured supporting Kiss but fell between the cracks of other Aucoin projects. What really happened and why aren’t you international stars today?
GARY SHEA: Bill only had a few bands when we were with him, and we were doing much better than any of them, except KISS of course. We didn’t really fall through the cracks of any Aucoin projects, it was basically lack of support from the record companies. We always did our job and delivered the goods— they just blew it on the sales and marketing.
NOISE: Your label Infinity Records was absorbed by it’s parent company MCA Records in 1980. What did this mean to your band in the big picture and the little picture?
JIMMY WALDO: It should have been a good thing, but management wanted to get us off MCA and on to Electra. It took a long time and really hurt the momentum we had gained from the extensive touring. We had done as well as the top 40 success of our first record.
NOISE: You moved to Elektra Records for your second album Explorer Suite and the album gained almost no notice. Can you explain what happens to a signed group that gets little promotion and support from it’s label and could the same thing happen today to a band?
HIRSH GARDNER: The same thing happens today. Even though the business has changed, the basics are still the same. The label has to promote the product or people have no way of knowing it exists. I’m sure there are hundreds of bands today that are going through the same thing we did.
NOISE: Elektra wanted to release the title song “Explorer Suite” as a single since Queen had their mega-hit “Bohemian Rhapsody.” However, your songs “Living In The Eighties” and “Conversation” got more air play than the intended single did. How did this happen and what did it do to the relationship between your band and your label?
JOHN FANNON: The label wanted to release “Explorer Suite” for the reasons you just mentioned. Those things don’t usually work, and we really had no relationship with anyone at the label. The President of Electra at the time, Joe Smith, didn’t even know we were on the label.
NOISE: Todd Rundgren’s production on your slightly harder rocking third album, Walking Wild, also didn’t improve sales. What happened? Was Todd a good choice to team up with your band in the studio?
GARY SHEA: Todd was a great choice. He helped us make a great record. It’s the same story, there was really no support at all for the band or our music from Electra.
NOISE: You should have released “Don’t Ever Let Me Go” from your third album, but didn’t.
JOHN FANNON: The labels released what ever they wanted. We would voice our opinions, but they never listened. “Don’t Ever Let Me Go” would have been a great single!
NOISE: Each one of you stayed in the music industry all these years. What do each of you do?
HIRSH GARDNER: We all write and produce for other artists, as well as put out our own projects. New England has never stopped working together. We’re help with each other’s projects and currently we’re working on a new New England record. We’re starting to play more shows, too.
NOISE: In 2002, you regrouped. You recorded and released the single “More Than You’ll Ever Know,” a song from Hirsh’s solo album Wasteland For Broken Hearts. Why did you pick this song and why didn’t you release more music?
JIMMY WALDO: When I wrote “More Than You’ll Ever Know,” I had John’s “Explorer Suite” in mind and wanted to use that motif as an idea. I contacted the guys, sent them the files and asked them to lay in some new tracks. As it progressed it a had such a great New England vibe! That was the only song that I had planned on using the guys on… but it was the first time we had officially gotten together since we had disbanded. I believe that from that point forward the bug was planted and we have since done several reunion shows and are about to finish and release some new music. Hopefully we’ll be playing some of it at our Regent Theater show in Arlington on August 15!
NOISE: In recent years you’ve reunited for a few Boston concerts. What’s up with your current regrouping? How many gigs are you playing this time around and do you have any new songs in your current set?
GARY SHEA: This really isn’t a regrouping, we have continued to play together for several years, just not as often as we would like, but, we will be playing some shows this summer in the New England area as well as Europe and Japan. And yes, we will be performing some new songs that will be on the new record.
NOISE: The re-issue label Renaissance Records has released a CD version of your first album and GB Records has released the other two albums on CD plus a live album and an album full of early studio tracks. In 2009, Wounded Bird Records also reissued Explorer Suite and Walking Wild on CD.
JIMMY WALDO: Explorer Suite was just released in England too, on the Rock Candy label, and has been received very well. We will release the other albums there and in Europe, as well as Japan. We are also working on a new album.
NOISE: With your roller coaster history, what do you see as the current top two facts of life for young bands trying to get their music heard today?
NEW ENGLAND: Nothing will ever take the place of a great song. Young bands should concentrate on writing good songs and staying true to their own style. Don’t try to copy or be too heavily influenced by other bands. Stay together as a band and stay focused on your goals. And most importantly, rehearse when you’re not sleeping. [Everyone laughs]