"We used to read these articles in the music press that said Love Tractor had broken up in such-and-such a year," the band's Mark Cline says. "And we were always going, 'We never broke up.' We're just

"We used to read these articles in the music press that said Love Tractor had broken up in such-and-such a year," the band's Mark Cline says. "And we were always going, 'We never broke up.' We're just like Kraftwerk, you know. It takes a long time for that cake to rise."

For those who think the Athens, Ga.-based Love Tractor split up long ago, band members Armistead Wellford, Mike Richmond, and Cline simply took a 10-year break. Now break time is over.

Love Tractor's new album, "The Sky at Night," will be released March 20 by Razor & Tie, and it marks the return of an eccentric but highly musical outfit that rode to success in the '80s on the Athens wave that propelled the likes of R.E.M. and the B-52's to prominence.

"What happened to us at the end of the '80s was that we'd spent so many years on the road, and the prospect of spending more time on the road just flogging a beast we didn't create was daunting," Cline explains. "We'd started as this little weird art band, and all of a sudden we found ourselves with roadies, management, record labels, agencies. People were telling us, 'You can't do this, you can't do that, it won't make any money.' We found ourselves in that situation, when the only thing we liked doing was writing and recording."

Cline, Richmond, and Wellford had arrived at a career impasse. They agreed that they needed to step back from the music business and rediscover the vibe that had inspired them in the first place. But it took a lot longer than they had anticipated.

"We took some time off, maybe six or seven months, and started writing songs again, and they still really sucked," Cline says. "During the '90s, we recorded over three albums' worth of material, and some of it was good. But it wasn't what we wanted to do, and it wasn't where we wanted to go. So, we just kept getting back together in Athens, saying, 'Let's try this again.' And every time it got better, until this last time, when things just clicked. We started writing music that engendered a vision."

What Lyle Preslar, senior VP of marketing at Razor & Tie, will have to overcome is a 12-year gap between "The Sky at Night" and Love Tractor's last recording, "Themes From Venus."

"The most important thing we can do for Love Tractor in the beginning stages is to try to identify the fans out there -- make sure they're aware," Preslar says. "I think that some people who don't even know the band, or who couldn't sing you a Love Tractor song, may find that the band is in their consciousness. They remember them as being part of the Athens scene. Those people are generally receptive to the idea of a new album, too."

"Another thing that we can, and will, do for Love Tractor is to have them perform," Preslar says. "We've been talking with them for several months about putting together a performance schedule which will have them do some sort of high-profile, return-style gigs in places like Atlanta, Athens, Washington, D.C., and New York. We're hoping that this comes together in April."

"We hope," Preslar adds, "that they're seen as a band that was not only part of something historically significant but also as a viable force today."

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