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How Glassjaw Led Their Fans On A Treasure Hunt From Kent To New York

Ben Patashnik
Ben Patashnik 29 April 2011 at 17.01

They’d planned the release of new EP ‘Our Color Green’ for years, and the reclusive hardcore band showed all you need to take over the world is great ideas and better music - but how did they do it?

On New Year’s Day Glassjaw released ‘Our Color Green (The Singles)’. That in itself is worth some attention seeing as they last released new music back in 2002, but the way they slipped back into action proves they’re still one of the most innovative and interesting bands on the planet. Via a perfectly-judged campaign that had been planned months (and quite possibly years) in advance they led their fans on a treasure hunt from Kent to New York, and did it with an imagination and creativity that is all too rare today. The world is clogged with new bands who claim the internet is the greatest tool they’ve ever had at their disposal for taking over the world, so why have none of them done it quite so cleverly as four old hardcore dudes from Long Island?

In 2011 it’s a weary truism that any band can write and release music. It takes a very special band, however, to write music good enough to keep people interested after almost a decade of silence and to release it in such a way that captures the attention of thousands of fans worldwide; to do all that without a manager, lawyer, press representative, record label or marketing budget is practically unheard of. This whole scheme was dreamt up and enacted by the four of them: Glassjaw even packaged the seven-inches themselves. Granted, the fact guitarist Justin Beck owns MerchDirect, a company specialising in, well, band merch, means they had a headstart in terms of manufacturing infrastructure, but what makes the whole scheme so fascinating is how far away from a Big Marketing Plan it all seemed.

On the surface, January 01’s release of the five-track EP was the culmination of a mysterious release strategy whereby one strictly-limited seven-inch of each track was put up unannounced for sale on Glassjaw.com each month and promptly sold out in minutes. High-quality downloads were subsequently made available via the band’s website before the songs were collected in one handy package and put on Amazon and iTunes on New Year’s Day. The band rarely speak publicly, which pisses off practically an entire internet’s-worth of people who want explanations. Five songs in nine years, half of which have been knocking around in some form or another for well over a decade? Isn’t that a kick in the teeth for all the fans who’ve been waiting for a follow-up to ‘Worship And Tribute’?

Consider this: Glassjaw have never, ever released a bad song. True, they haven’t released many songs at all, but the cast-iron quality of ‘Our Color Green’ blows accusations of laziness completely out of the water. Could they have released these songs any earlier? Possibly – but if it took this long to create music this good then fuck it, it was worth the wait. If ‘Chinese Democracy’ took as long as it did but turned out to be as phenomenal a piece of work as ‘Appetite…’ then would it have been worth the wait?

Justin Beck wrote part of ‘You Think You’re (John Fucking Lennon)’ almost 15 years ago but has sat on it until now. In a time when the weakest brainfarts can be wafted across the globe milliseconds after the original idea has slid out of the frontal lobe of any mouthbreather with a guitar there’s something refreshing about holding ideas back for maximum impact. It’s the reason you were given your Christmas presents wrapped instead of your mum handing you a book and saying ‘Here’s a fucking book, now read it’. Anticipation counts for a lot.

Retrospectively, the whole thing was wonderfully simple. The road to ‘Our Color Green’ was publicly opened on July 07 when postcards with a ‘gj’ logo die-cut were sent to fans on Glassjaw’s mailing list with no explanation and no return address. On that day too, all merch from their online store was packaged with a plastic logo tag, again with no explanation. On August 08 Glassjaw headlined Hevy Festival at Port Lympne Animal Farm in Kent and, completely unannounced, were selling 500 copies of ‘All Good Junkies Go To Heaven’ as a seven-inch both in person at the festival and via their website; all copies sold out rapidly and fans immediately speculated online that this was a one-off to tee up a full album. What’s more, the singles had a logo-shaped hole where the spindle should go, which could only be filled by the die-cut ‘gj ’that had been sent out in July. Two weeks later, on August 22 a video of ‘You Think You’re (John Fucking Lennon)’ appeared online and Glassjaw.com started selling digital downloads of ‘All Good Junkies…’.

On September 09 the seven-inch of ‘Jesus Glue’ was put up for sale online and the band played a surprise set at The Vibe Lounge in Long Island; two weeks later on September 23 a video of ‘All Good Junkies…’ and a download of ‘Jesus Glue’ surfaced. By now, the system had been cracked: July 07 is 7/7, August 08 is 8/8, September 09 is 9/9 and so on. And so when, on October 10 – 10/10, of course – the band put a seven-inch of ‘Natural Born Farmer’ up for sale and played a show in Hoboken that evening the website crashed as fans flooded the servers. As before, two weeks later a video of ‘Stars’ and a download of ‘…Farmer’ were put online but even though it had become clear when shit was going down, no one expected the genius move the band pulled next.

On November 11 a flyer appeared from Mario’s Pizzeria in Seaford, NY, offering The Glassjaw – a seven-inch personal pizza for $11.11 at 1.11pm. Alongside the pie and the single of ‘Stars’ the first 88 – because Glassjaw frontman Daryl Palumbo has a minor obsession with the number 8 – purchasers received a special invitation to turn up that evening at the MerchDirect headquarters at 11.11pm. They were then relieved of all their possessions and given a video camera before the band played one take of another unreleased song, ‘Black Nurse’; the band then reclaimed the cameras in order to edit the footage together for another new, as-yet unavailable video. As ever, two weeks later the digital version of ‘Stars’ and a video for ‘Jesus Glue’ debuted at Glassjaw.com.

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December 12 brought the physical release of ‘You Think You’re (John Fucking Lennon)’ and that evening Glassjaw played the Knitting Factory in New York. And when, on January 01 they released the collected singles via iTunes and Amazon, they hit 13 on the worldwide Amazon chart and 63 on iTunes. And excitingly, their show at the Best Buy Theater that night in NYC included four completely new songs.

Glassjaw’s greatest achievement with this whole game was to make each event feel like an endgame in itself, with no real conclusion in sight. Even when they released ‘Our Color Green’ they immediately aired yet more new music, so what happens next is anyone’s guess, even though the band doubtless have their timeline mapped out. And considering four of the five songs on ‘Our Color Green’ had already been made available well in advance the fact they hit those chart positions shows their masterstroke was to build up buzz by sticking to their plan in order to drip-feed music to their most dedicated fans and then go large by releasing something significant on an attention-grabbing date. In retrospect this release wasn't so much planned as sculpted, and should serve as a throw-down to every new band around who think Glassjaw have lost their edge.

See you on February 02.

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