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Part 7, 2010-2014
When the Badlees resumed performing live in 2009, they used additional players on stage, including Breaking Benjamin guitarist Aaron Fink, former Lemongeli front man Dustin Drevitch, and virtuoso violinist Nyke Van Wyk. Near the end of 2011, Chris Fetchko returned as the Badlees’ manager and he spearheaded the release of an 18-song compilation called See Me As a Picture, The Best So Far 1990-2012 in April 2012. The first and only “greatest hits” package put out by the group, this 18-song collection includes tracks from every previous Badlees’ studio album, along with two new original tracks. The release of this elaborately packaged album was the first of many phases in a longer plan for rolling out the group’s next studio album.
In December 2012, Fetchko launched a custom crowd-funding campaign which offered perks for donations, ranging from exclusive articles and new audio samples to private band concerts and executive producer credits on the forthcoming album. The campaign was a success and the group began recording early in 2013 for a release planned for later in the year. Also, in that Spring of 2013, The Badlees got back on the “big” stage when they opened a string of shows for Bob Seger at arenas in State College and Reading. The band had opened previously for Seger in 1996 and the legendary performer had remembered the band when launching this more recent tour.
The group played several shows with differing lineups, due to Palladino’s remote location and the type of show venue. In one show in July 2013, the group played a distinctive and unusual set at The Brigg’s Farm Blues Festival that previewed some of the material on the forthcoming album. In preparation of the new album’s upcoming release, the group played a few important shows in Harrisburg, PA. They played a unique rooftop concert on October 3rd before playing at the prestigious Whitaker Center the next night to coincide with the official release of the album.
Epiphones and Empty Rooms, was released in October 2013 and features two distinct discs with the first featuring vocals by Palladino and the second featuring vocals by Alexander. This album is also the first to feature Drevitch and Van Wyk as permanent members of the band. This album differs from the rest of the Badlees collection on several fronts. Not only is the group’s first and only double-length album, but it also showcases The Badlees fully embracing the “two states” of their group. Beyond featuring separate lead singers on each disc, each was also mixed and mastered through different methods and with different equipment, making the package more like two simultaneous album releases than a traditional double album.
Even though tracks on both discs were composed and produced by Alexander and recorded at Saturation Acres, the contrast between the discs is striking. Read Modern Rock Review’s extensive review of this album, including separate looks at Side A and Side B.
On the surface, the album’s release and reception seemed to be another great success. However, this album and its segregated sections acted as a catalyst for some internal friction over the musical promotion and presentation moving forward. In early 2014, there were minor negotiations with a few labels, one of which was interested in a re-release of Alexander’s second disc from Epiphones and Empty Rooms. The group had tried creative ways to satisfy everyone’s ambitions while accommodating commitments, but it soon unraveled internally.
On March 27, 2014, Bret Alexander announced that he was leaving the Badlees, followed by a similar announcement the next day by Paul Smith. The pair went on to form a new group called Gentleman East, obviously named after Alexander’s 2004 solo album, and (as of 10/10/14) they are in the process of recording new material. Alexander later explained his decision by saying;
Sometimes the individuals lose themselves in the process of trying to keep the family together. And then nobody wins.”
A later joint statement by Palladino and Simasek stated;
The Badlees have always been greater than the sum of its parts, and therefore, after these shows are done, we will not be performing or recording as ‘The Badlees’ for the foreseeable future. We want to honor the legacy of ‘The Badlees’ and we feel that this is the best way to do that. All of us will still continue to make music outside of the band.”
The band decided to honor their scheduled shows through 2014, albeit with differing lineups, through the final scheduled show on October 10, 2014, at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe, PA. Some of these shows featured special guests, including Jeff Feletenberger, who performed for the first time in a decade with the band he founded.
Unlike previous periods when the band took extended breaks without any public pronouncements, this breakup appears more substantive and (possibly) permanent. If so, the band has had an incredible run and has done it all musically, even if it seems they never got the widespread recognition they deserve. But as Alexander said in 2010, “In the end, making music and getting people to hear it – that’s all that matters.” On this front, The Badlees have been a rousing success.