When the head of your record label gives you an ultimatum to either co-write with Los Angeles' current crop of hitmakers or see your career come to a screeching halt, artistic and economic freedoms do

When the head of your record label gives you an ultimatum to either co-write with Los Angeles' current crop of hitmakers or see your career come to a screeching halt, artistic and economic freedoms don't exactly seem too near on the horizon. But in a unique twist of fate, Big Head Todd & the Monsters now have both, roughly two years after facing such an ultimatum from ex-Giant Records boss Larry Jacobson.

After the band's lone songwriter, singer/guitarist Todd Park Mohr, rejected Jacobson's order -- handed down after sales of the two sets that followed "Sister Sweetly," the group's platinum 1993 album, failed to meet Giant's expectations -- the trio was virtually out of public view (except for a handful of shows) for two years.

"They were like, 'We're not gonna pay for your record, and we're not gonna put it out,' basically. They just sat on us," says Mohr.

After the creative stalemate, the band learned that if it wanted to leave Giant, it was going to cost the group a heap of cash. And things were further complicated when the Monsters learned that Giant founder Irving Azoff was trying to sell the label.

Instructed to sit tight, the band eventually saw the label become absorbed by its parent company, Warner Bros., before being closed in April 2001. And in the end, the band was freed of its Giant contract with no strings attached -- clearing it to release its new album "Riviera" on its own Big Records label, through which the Colorado act issued its first two sets, 1989's "Another Mayberry" and 1991's "Midnight Radio." The group's first studio album in five years, "Riviera" is due March 26.

Though he continued to write during Giant's gradual demise -- some of the songs that appear on "Riviera" were written during the act's waiting period and shortly before the album was finished -- Mohr says he found it hard to keep the band's career going without any new songs out. But he says that, strangely, that has emerged as a positive of sorts. "In a way, it's kind of exciting [to return after all this time off], because when you're a new band and starting out, there's just a lot of wonderful energy -- you've been working so long being in a band, and it's just starting to break-and then it seems like, after a while, you lose that energy. And we're kind of in a situation where we're starting over again. It's a lot easier for me to feel like I have something to offer than when there's a ton of hype for stuff that we've been doing for years."

For help in financing the record, Mohr, bassist Rob Squires, and drummer Brian Nevin turned to fan and pro hockey player Shjon Podein. "So, now, if our record doesn't do well, we won't be held up for years and years on a label: We'll just get our thumbs broken," Mohr says with a laugh.





Excerpted from the March 23, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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