The Independent Artist Spotlight is a behind-the-scenes look at what life is like for musicians who are building a career without the support of a record label. In this five-part series, you will learn about the pros and cons of being an independent artist directly from the bands themselves.
PART 1: Interview with Jeff Cerzosie of The Infinite Staircase.
The band started to gain commercial recognition in 2012 with their song “The Pride” – a collaboration with Zakk Wylde, Morgan Rose (Sevendust), Kevin Martin (Candlebox) and John “JD” Deservio (Black Label Society).
You’ve had a lengthy career as an independent band, dating back to the early 2000’s, long before social media allowed bands to connect with fans. How did you build a fanbase in the early days?
We did what every other band out there did, and still does. We played shows. It didn’t matter if it was a friend’s birthday party, a charity show at a VVA Hall, or the local dive bar. We played anything and everything, anywhere and everywhere. We promoted, made mailing lists, printed flyers and just networked our asses off. We were always the band getting other bands shows, trying to meet as many people as possible and just growing our network. If someone wanted us to learn a bunch of religious songs and play acoustically at their Bat Mitzvah, we did it!
The list of bands that you’ve toured and collaborated with would be impressive for any developing artist with label support, much less one without any help. How have you managed to achieve this on your own?
Luck! (LOL) No, we’ve been extremely fortunate and very blessed in our career.
The ball really got rolling for us though in 2005 when we were putting together a charity concert for Multiple Sclerosis. I was trying to get a headliner for the show, and I was always a huge Candlebox fan, as well as a fan of Kevin Martin (singer). At the time, he was fronting a band called The Hiwatts. I heard that he personally ran his own MySpace Page, so I reached out to him to see if he would be interested in headlining the concert. My first email went unanswered. Around two weeks later, I decided to email him again. This time he got back to me and said that if we can get them to New York, they would play the show.
We got sponsors and endorsements, so we were able to fly the band to New York. Thanks to them, we raised almost $10,000! Kevin and the band were just amazing and we ended up becoming really good friends. The following year when Candlebox reunited, Kevin gave us the opportunity to open for them in New Jersey. He was the one to first let us get our foot in the door. We were hungry enough to really just kick the door down, working our asses off, playing shows, networking, etc.
I’ve spent YEARS of my life on the Internet – reading, researching, emailing, etc., always needing to know everything that’s going on in every facet of the music industry at all times. Luckily for me, while I was doing all of that, my brother was writing amazing songs (LOL).
Has it been a conscious decision to remain an independent band? If so, why did you choose not to go the label route?
To be perfectly honest, we never got an offer. We’ve had meetings, entered contests and have definitely been considered by various people in the industry associated with all different levels of labels or similar entertainment companies, but we either never got the offer we were looking for or didn’t get it period.
At this point in time, we really don’t even need one per se’. I mean, if someone wants to put us on the road with Guns N’ Roses or Metallica or another major artist, then hey, we’re all ears! But now, we’re so invested, and I don’t just mean financially, although that is obviously a big part of our investment. We’re also invested in other ways: our time, emotions, lives, etc.
Any deal would have to be pretty amazing for us to take it at this point. Right now, we work with a good friend of ours, Dave Tedder, at Vanity Music Group. We put out “The Pride” through Vanity and he’s got a great thing going over there. So we work with him on some things, but it’s not exclusive. We work together when we want, and how we want and it’s great! Dave and I are always on the same page and it’s the easiest thing in the world to work with him.
We’re in a position now where we own EVERYTHING of ours. I mean, it’s not like owning everything is a goldmine or anything…at least not right now. But why would we GIVE a big label our master recordings when we can license them? Like I said, we’re at a point where we’ve done so much on our own, that it would really have to be a great offer for us to NOT do everything ourselves anymore.
Funding is always an issue for developing artists. How do you fund recording, touring, merchandising, etc.?
Well, this is always an issue, even for us. But we’ve been extremely fortunate with friends and family who support us and believe in us so much that when we’re backed in a corner, someone always has our back.
My brother and I will be debt for the rest of our lives (LOL), but we won’t have any regrets about following our dreams and our instincts. Here’s the thing, and for anyone with stars in their eyes reading this, if I haven’t crushed your dreams yet, please don’t continue reading…
This is a business. At the end of the day, that’s the bottom line. When you’re a kid you want to believe in the “rock and roll dream” and the “rock and roll lifestyle” – and that’s fine and dandy, as long as you have a clear cut understanding that it is still a business. And the sooner you recognize and come to terms with that, the better off you will be.
I could have been married and had my own house by now, but instead I went on tour, recorded albums, made merchandise, etc. I invested in my business. And unfortunately, the music business doesn’t always pay off. If it does, it takes a long time for most of us.
If you’re serious about doing this for the long haul then you have to be willing to make sacrifices and put every ounce of your soul into it. But be prepared for disappointment.
I remember, years ago my brother and I went to this panel discussion with representatives from all different record labels, and one of the speakers said “95% of this industry is disappointment,” and that’s the truth. Don’t get me wrong, I love what we do and am extremely proud of all that we’ve accomplished. But it has not been an easy road. Ok, you can put the violin down now (LOL).
Speaking of funding, you guys had a chance to cash in on your song “The Pride” but instead chose to donate 100% of the proceeds to those affected by Super Storm Sandy. What inspired you to donate all of the proceeds instead of just a portion like many people do?
(LOL) You’re not the first person to ask us this! Seriously though, the idea of donating “a portion” never really crossed our minds. It was never about trying to make money for ourselves. The storm literally hit in our backyard. The day after the storm I was driving through Staten Island, trying to get to my girlfriend’s house and the devastation and destruction that I saw along the way was absolutely surreal. I felt like I was living in a movie. Donating 100% of the proceeds was just the right thing to do. We wanted people to know that this was completely organic and real. Nobody involved with the song got paid. Everyone had personal ties to the East Coast, and everyone knew someone who was personally affected by the storm. That’s a lot of what made the outcome so special and I think people knew that when they heard the song, watched the video or even just looked at the photos from the recording sessions.
“The Pride” has increased your exposure to hard rock music fans. What are you doing to leverage this exposure through social media?
Well, we’re doing the best that we can! I mean, I actually sit at my computer and SEARCH for anyone who even mentions the slightest bit about our band or a song of ours or anything like that on Facebook, Twitter, message boards, etc., and I try to personally engage and interact with them. We want people to know how much we care, how much we take pride in our work and how much we appreciate every single ounce of support that we get. There have been many nights where I pulled all-nighters because I was just having conversations with fans, be it casual, diehard, new or old. We want people to feel like they are part of something, because they are.
We also try not to spam too much. You know all of those phony automated messages you get from bands? Fuck that! If you get a message from The Infinite Staircase, it’s FROM The Infinite Staircase. But if it’s from my brother, I apologize in advance (LOL).
Tell us about the band’s plans for the future…
We JUST released our new single and follow-up to “The Pride” called “The Things We’ve Done”. It features more guest appearances: Sevendust’s Lajon Witherspoon & Morgan Rose, Savatage/Trans-Siberian Orchestra guitar virtuoso Chris Caffery, and Cycle Of Pain keyboardist Troy Cromwell. The song is now on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby, etc. It will continue to expand to all other digital retailers over the coming days and weeks. In addition, it will be going to radio any day now and we’re working on both a lyric video as well as an official music video.
This will all lead to the release of our new EP entitled “No Amends,” which will come out some time this fall. We’ve got some more great collaborations on this album in addition to the ones mentioned above: Clint Lowery (Sevendust, Call Me No One), John “JD” DeServio (Black Label Society, Cycle Of Pain), Sean “Memphis” Hennesy (Candlebox, The Gracious Few) and of course, Morgan Rose who plays drums, sings backing vocals and produced the entire EP.
In addition to that, we’re hoping to release our covers EP that we recorded with JD DeServio by the end of this year. We’d like to record a few more songs and maybe around the holidays, we’ll able to give a little something extra to our fans this year.
Other than that, we’re hoping to get back on the road. But that’s a very tricky thing. We’re working on some things, but nothing is official just yet.
And me, I’m working on writing some books, but we’ll talk about that another time…
What advice would you give to other hard rock artists who want to remain independent?
Make sure you have a thick skin, a strong will and a true love for what you’re doing. Don’t have any delusions of grandeur and you might make it out alive (LOL).
Seriously though, you have to be willing to put in the work that’s required and prepare yourself for numerous nervous breakdowns (LOL). And as cheesy and cliche’ as it sounds, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was “it doesn’t hurt to ask”. If you have the right attitude, treat people with respect and present yourself the right way, you’d be surprised how far you can get just by asking.
Remember, “We Sold Our Soul for Rock N’ Roll” is not just a Black Sabbath album.
I wish you all the best and hopefully we’ll see you on the road.