Consider the Little Rock curse. With the exception of Evanescence, which seems to be ever-spiraling towards self-implosion, no Little Rock group has managed, over the last couple of decades, to break through nationally in any sort of demonstrable or prolonged way. The Gunbunnies, Greg Spradlin, Ashtray Babyhead/the Kicks, Jason Morphew, Go Fast, Ho-Hum — near dozens have flirted with national success, only to get mired in the major-record-label quagmire. All have their own unique horror stories, but perhaps none can rival the Boondogs’.
In 1999, the Little Rock pop-rock act, fronted by husband and wife Jason Weinheimer and Indy Grotto, beat out scores of entrants to win an online battle-of-the-bands on GarageBand.com. The contest netted the band a $250,000 record contract; allowed them to work with former Talking Head Jerry Harrison (who headed up GarageBand Records) and producer Jim Dickinson; and granted the group recording time at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis.
But the label pushed the band to change its sound, and in the end, the Boondogs made, by their own estimation, a quarter-million-dollar coaster. Shortly after they completed the album, GarageBand went kaput, but the Boondogs remained financially entangled with the label until 2002.
Since then, they’ve released albums just about biannually, recording and performing when and how they’ve seen fit. Perhaps more than any other local act, they represent the tendency of national-level talent to live and play in Little Rock without grander ambition.
Just about all of the band’s members are married with children (Weinheimer and Grotto have two kids), which naturally tempers dreams of nationwide touring and all the other accompanying rigors associated with “making it.” In the documentary film “Towncraft,” Grotto, then pregnant with her second child, speaks to her priorities: “My son is more important than the music. I want to leave a legacy for him, so he can look back one day, and say, ‘Those are my parents, and they did something really cool,’ but not at his expense.”
“In our mind, we’ve made it,” Weinheimer said. “We’ve been in a different place where we made this really expensive record and ‘making it’ was a completely different thing. Now it means making a record that we’re proud of, that speaks to us and that people respond to. And that’s it. Yes, I want people to hear it. But I don’t have to do anything stupid to make that happen.”
Earlier this month, the Boondogs released “A Thousand Ships” on Max Recordings, their second with the label and sixth release overall. Much like the group’s previous material, the new record is pop-rock par excellence, a dreamy, often melancholy meditation on love and loss that delights even in its darkest moments.
On Saturday, June 2, they’ll celebrate the release of the album with a concert at Easy Street, 307 W. Seventh (a $10 cover includes a copy of the album). Since kids came along, Boondogs shows have followed a typical trajectory: The full band plays a set, then Indy goes home to relieve the babysitter and the remaining ’Dogs drink and play awesomely sloppy covers of Elvis Costello and T. Bone Burnett. But Weinheimer says this time, they’re planning on biting the bullet with the babysitter. It’ll be a sight to see.