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Varied secretions

The Glands morph into a real band

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Like many of his peers, the Glands' Ross Shapiro started his artistic career as a painter. "I was a part of the Apparatus Group in Athens," the Atlanta native says of his early days in Athens. "A lot of my paintings were morphic." The painter and budding musician applied this same idea when he began to record music in a wide range of styles in a home studio in Athens in the early '90s. Back then, Shapiro and drummer Joe Rowe worked at the same restaurant with Peter Fancher, formerly of the band Club GaGa, who operated the recording studio, Elixir, in his home. The three would visit the studio and, just for kicks, make up songs. Soon, other friends would join in and the recording events took on the life of social gatherings. And when the studio moved to downtown Athens, Fancher recalls, "a lot of stragglers would come down from the bars and we'd let 'em fill up tracks."

Without a game plan or organized band pressure, Shapiro's various musical interests were allowed to run wild. His canvas became blank tape and his music morphed from idea to idea. It wasn't long before Shapiro wanted to exhibit his new art. "I thought, 'I'm gonna make my own CD, just to have something in the closet to give to my nephews one day,'" he says.

As the recordings took shape, Shapiro and Rowe realized they needed a name to call themselves and, with a little free association, arrived at the Glands. "I always liked the Nerves, so we just picked another body part. It was easy to remember," Shapiro says.

The resulting sessions produced the 1997 album Double Thriller. Shapiro sent copies to various labels and New Jersey indie label Bar/None liked the mixture of glam, punk and low-fi drunken rockers enough to re-release it nationally the following year. The move from late-night jamming to national recording act was a giant step, but, in typical Shapiro fashion, the easy-going musician took it all in stride and with good humor. "I was amazed that anyone would put it out at all, especially on a national level," he says.

Hearing the Glands, though, the appeal is clear. They borrow the best of the past while making it seem refreshingly new; the group's current bio calls them the type of band for which rock critic descriptions such as "Steven Bishop meets Blackfoot" are actually appropriate. "We are just a little bit of everything," says Shapiro. "I think in many ways we represent what radio used to be. I don't think it's such a great time for commercial radio right now. So we look back a lot."

With the addition of multi-instrumentalist and Love Tractor sideman Doug Stanley, the Glands suddenly made the transition from informal studio project to actual band, capable of live performance. Wasting no time on local bar gigs, the group's second show ever was a gig at SXSW, the Austin music conference. "The other guys in the band had played in lots of bands before, but to me it was really exciting. We played at the Bar/None showcase and the place got packed as our set went on."

Meanwhile, Shapiro and friends continued recording in marathon sessions and came up with another album, which Bar/None declined to release. "It was a little rough around the edges, kind of a harder direction for us, I guess," Shapiro says. "It may have been a little more rock 'n' roll than they expected."

The Glands kept their day jobs while they continued writing music and, eventually, along came Atlanta-based Capricorn Records. Revitalized from its glory days in the '70s, when it released Southern rock bands such as the Allman Brothers and the Dixie Dregs, the label had been in search of new regional bands and had already signed Athens acts Hayride, Jack Logan, Vic Chesnutt and Jucifer. Label reps kept their eye on the Glands for a while and finally signed them last year.

The Glands' just-released self-titled Capricorn debut, while rooted in '90s alternative, has one foot solidly planted in '70s AOR rock -- the Kinks, the Velvet Underground and even touches of mid-'70s Bob Dylan. Varied in textues and vocal approach, though, the album manages to remain cohesive overall in its lighthearted, slightly jaded world view. "I wanted it to be a kind of roller-coaster ride of moods," Shapiro says.

Both the label and the band, it seems, have gone through a good bit of morphing over the years, something Shapiro hopes will make them a good fit. In fact, Shapiro likens the Glands' role at today's Capricorn to one of the old label's more eclectic, over-the-top acts.

"Somebody's gotta take the White Witch role at [today's] Capricorn," he says. "So I hope that's us."

The Glands perform at the Caledonia Lounge in Athens, Fri., August 11.

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