“We were too busy being the underdog Midwestern raging partying guys, and it killed us,” recalls Blake Smith (pictured right, seated), the charming-as-ever frontman of the alt-rock band Fig Dish, whom I met last week over coffee. “We just weren’t very good at playing the game, and we drank a lot back in those days.” Not very good might be an understatement. Back in the early ‘90s, when virtually every alt rock band from Chicago was securing a record deal—Smashing Pumpkins, Veruca Salt, Liz Phair, Urge Overkill, Local H, Triple Fast Action—the rebellious, Replacements-idolizing Fig Dish blew their first big chance at a signing when they opted to play an entire set of Neil Diamond covers at an A&R showcase at the now-defunct Avalon nightclub.
“Frankly, we played some shows that we should have been put in jail for,” laughs Smith, who’s now the music marketer for Hard Rock Hotel and Casinos.
Fig Dish didn’t land themselves in the slammer but got their get-out-of-jail card instead by eventually signing with the illustrious PolyGram Records in 1995. The band released two albums before they crashed and burned and were cut from the label in 1997. This week, the folkloric Chicago outfit re-releases their debut, That’s What Love Songs Often Do, an album which has been out of print for years and has never surfaced online.
The re-release is well-timed with the band’s anticipated reunion. “We always figured we’d revisit the band somewhere down the road,” Smith asserts, noting that a sold-out quasi-reunion show at Schubas in 2006 failed to launch the idea. It’s only now that the singer, who took a break from music after the 2009 disbanding of his most recent project Prairie Cartel, feels recovered and ready to return to his formative group. “We’re looking to put out a 7-inch and book some shows around town this summer.”
And already the attention is back on the band’s second coming. “When we sent out the press release, we started getting all these calls for radio interviews from DJs who had their first interview with Fig Dish, and Daytrotter asked us to do a session, which I find hilarious,” says Smith. “I don’t think anything big will happen but I do hope people revisit the music.”
Are there any regrets? “Nah,” says Smith. “We had such a good time. Ask anyone that ever played with us, we were a lot of fun, maybe too much fun.”
Selena Fragassi is a contributing music critic for Chicago.
Photograph: Courtesy of Fig Dish