One can’t really say that blues-rock trio The Paladins‘ 1996 album Million Mile Club is a misunderstood record; for the long-running band, it was merely a document of their hot and heavy live show. But it was a very misunderstood record when it was released, appearing on the venerable 4AD, a label with a very well-defined audience and certain expectations. It made zero sense to both fans and label employees; why was this band releasing this record on this label? Had the label’s eccentric founder Ivo Watts-Russell finally gone off the deep end?
The answer was simpler than that. During a lengthy time of mental distress and depression, Ivo had relocated to Los Angeles. He discovered the band one night, and enjoyed them simply because he didn’t have to listen to them in the context of his label, or signing them. It was merely a band he could appreciate for the sake of enjoying a live night out. That one performance helped to convert him into a fan, and he became friendly with the trio. As a result, he came to the conclusion that he wanted to share the band’s compelling and enjoyable live show with the rest of the world. Thus, Million Mile Club.
Indeed, if you weren’t aware of the context, it was a shocking release. Then again, 4AD had never been a conventional label, and the same impetus Ivo had for releasing this record was the same impulse that lead him to sign Throwing Muses when he didn’t sign American bands. The Paladins were established; Ivo had no intention of turning them into the next Pixies or Cocteau Twins. Instead, this one-off record was a gift that the music world failed to appreciate. In Martin Aston’s Facing The Other Way: The Story of 4AD, Ivo declared his reasoning for the release. “I just wanted to capture this moment in time, just out of the pure love of doing it, and I thought it could help the band. Not because it was on 4AD, but that they didn’t have any other outlet at the time. And it didn’t cost much to do.”
Sadly, in a career with many “beginning of the end” scenarios between Ivo and 4AD, his label’s confusion and indifference to the record can really be attributed to the end of a wonderful relationship. Facing The Other Way described a scenario with label manager Robin Hurley that showed Ivo’s frustrations with the album’s reception:
They were an odd signing, [Hurley] concurs. I asked Ivo, what do we do with this? He got angry, and said, ‘Tell everyone to fucking work it, I’ve signed them.’ A lot of the London office thought that was it for Ivo.
Sadly, the greater point was missed. Indeed, Million Mile Club is a fantastic collection of live performances, with guitarist Dave Gonzalez having guitar chops on a par with Stevie Ray Vaughan. He is also an excellent vocalist, while the work of drummer Brian Fahey and bass player Jeff Donavan adds fuel to his already red-hot scorching guitar licks. Songs like “Keep Lovin’ Me” and “Follow Your Heart” are quick bursts of potent blues, while “One Step” and “Big Mary’s Heart” are epic jams that highlight Gonzalez’ superb blues playing and singing.
If there is a lesson to the Million Mile Club saga, it’s that sometimes people can misunderstand your intentions, especially if they’ve already created levels of expectations for whatever it is you do. For a guy going through self-doubt and uncertainty about his future as a label owner, it must have been extremely liberating to find a band that meant a lot to him that he didn’t instantly have to think about signing. Enjoying music for music’s sake, with no expectations or no emotional commitments can be extremely liberating. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that others will necessarily see what you see or hear what you hear.