Music Preview: Cherry Monroe feeling 'Beautiful' with Universal debut

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What are the good and the bad of putting together a rock band, releasing a self-titled debut CD on an indie label and getting signed to a major less than a year later?

Cherry Monroe -- from left, Jason Levis, Dave Saltzman, Frankie Bennett, Matt Toka and Ryan Harris -- are promoting the Universal Records release of "The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful" at Mr. Small's Theatre in Millvale tomorrow night."
Click photo for larger image.

Cherry Monroe

With: Never the Nines, Chalk Outline Party, Hang the Radio.

Where: Mr. Small's, Millvale.

When: 7 p.m. Friday.

Tickets: $10; 1-800-594-8499.

Ask pop-rockers Cherry Monroe, who return home to Mr. Small's Friday to celebrate the Universal Records release of "The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful."

After their adventurous initiation into "the big leagues," the band is running on loads of momentum.

"Things are happening at such a fast rate now," says Matt Toka, a Youngstown singer-songwriter backed by a band of four Pittsburghers. "We just want to keep moving forward."

With their new song "Can't Explain" featured on a TV soundtrack and a compilation disc for Nickelodeon, a possible spot on an upcoming MTV reality show, and the pending announcement of their first national tour, Cherry Monroe seems to be headed in the right direction.

As for the album, working with Universal allowed the band to go back to the studio and revisit the songs on their first release with Cleveland-based Rust Records. "Things were so rushed when we first recorded with Rust," says Toka.

The band members earned their recording time with local producer Brian Campbell, who was building his own studio, Big Audio, at the time, by offering to help with the work. Between building and recording, members of Cherry Monroe were putting in 12- to 16-hour days.

"With Universal we went back to the studio, played around with old songs, touched things up." The Universal release includes a new version of their first single, "Satellites," and rerecordings of most of the other songs on the original CD, plus two new tracks, "Passionately" and "If You Go."

"Our schedule is a lot more hectic," says Toka. "But we feel like we need to be working harder. These are the big leagues."

With the big leagues come the perks, of course, including a marketing campaign that far surpasses Cherry Monroe's old methods -- trawling the streets of Oakland decked out in shiny leather shoes and retro-glam attire, passing out fliers and sample CDs.

"Universal has a great media department: Pure Volume," says Toka.

Marketing is one of the biggest challenges for the band, whose sound is a little more pop than rock and a little more rock than pop. The Internet has played a big role in pushing Cherry Monroe forward, hitting that in-between market that radio can sometimes overlook.

But great marketing aside, it all comes down to the shows for Cherry Monroe, as Toka testifies. "It's a whole experience in itself. We try to give a little of everything -- music, glamour, entertainment."

The two-record deal with Universal will give the band more opportunities to do that. As Toka describes a summer show at Jillian's in Boardman, Ohio, he recounts the wonder of walking on stage to a shocking "800 screaming kids," with the help of Universal's efforts.

Getting signed to a big music label comes with a lot of good and sometimes bad: jam-packed schedules, photo shoots, interviews. But big time or small, that will always be the beautiful.

Joyce Mishaan is a freelance writer.


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