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Thursday, August 26, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Club Watch

Willis Maintains Its Vision While In The Belly Of The Whale

Allegations that record company executives eat human flesh are surely apocryphal.

While there is no concrete evidence of literal cannibalism in the recording industry, there are countless figurative examples. Many a young band has been chewed up and either spit out or digested deep into the innards of the pop music industry, coming out sounding like . . . well, not very good.

The trick is to maintain some sort of Jonah-like existence - using the big-money resources while residing in the belly of the beast, yet maintaining your identity, not allowing your artistic vision to be sucked away.

This is the fine line that Willis - an easy-going rock group often compared to the Dave Matthews Band - is attempting to walk. The former Ballard wunderkinder developed quite a club following as teenagers, and were signed by Capitol Records out of Blanchet High School.

Though Willis did use its Capitol connections to get the song "Standing By" on the soundtrack of "Never Been Kissed," it has been more than two years, and still no major record label release.

"We kind of freaked the label out - they kind of saw us turn into a different band," says singer Tim Seely, at 22 quite a bit more learned about the rugged ways of the recording industry, though far from bitter. "It was a long and arduous process trying to convince them we knew what we were doing. . . .

"I think (Capitol) just wanted us to be a straightforward pop band."

Seely says the record label originally wanted Willis to just re-record the band's self-titled, self-produced 1996 album. Seely and company struggled with that idea. "We spent a lot of time trying to make the old songs sound new. Hearing those old songs, a lot of them I wrote before I was 18 - I compare it to getting tattoos when you're young, and then as you get older you realize they suck."

So Willis finally convinced Capitol to scrap that idea and let the Seattle band record new material, in a slightly different musical environment. "I think it's a fuller sound - we used to be really stripped down. This album is a lot more orchestral, with strings and horns."

The singer and his bandmates are finally happy with what they think is a completed album - pending the record company's approval. A release date is months away, at the least.

Meanwhile, Willis is starting to hit the clubs again, playing "Bourgeois Blues," "Bad Day" and other new songs. Willis plays the Crocodile Cafe on Saturday ($8, 10 p.m.).

Bass player Max Perry - who was a year behind Seely, keyboardist John Low and drummer Diarmuid Cullen at Blanchet - turned 21 this week; the Crocodile show will be the first time he can legally hang around before and after his performance.

Willis also plays Bumbershoot on Sept. 3 (5:30 p.m., Rhythm Stage).

-- Alabama rock band Verbena, another Capitol act, plays the Crocodile tonight (10 p.m., $7). Dave Grohl produced Verbena's new "Into the Pink" album. The band's motto: "We choose never to look on the bright side when we can always look on the dark side and never be disappointed."

-- Judith Owen - yet another Capitol artist - sings from her debut album "Creatures of Habit" at the Ballard Firehouse on Sunday (9 p.m., $5). Capitol hopes she's the Welsh Alanis Morissette.

-- GZA/genius - the latest Wu-Tang Clan rapper with a solo album - tosses rhymes and philosophy at RKCNDY tonight (8 p.m., $20 advance).

-- Local side project: Maktub's Reggie Watts plays with Grace at the Baltic Room on Saturday (9 p.m., $5).

-- Olympia indie rockers Enemymine - led by godheadSilo's Mike Kunka - kicks off a club tour tonight at the Breakroom (10 p.m., $6). K Records' Calvin Johnson recorded the Enemymine EP, which features Zak Sally of Low (Sally is not on the tour).

Tom Scanlon can be reached at 206-464-3891 or tscanlon@seattletimes.com.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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