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All Music Guide:
One of the best bands with the worst luck, New Jersey's the Wrens were establishing themselves as one of the catchiest and most thoughtful indie rock groups of the '90s when label problems prevented them from releasing another album for seven years. The group -- guitarist/vocalist Charles Bissell, guitarist Greg Whelan, bassist/vocalist Kevin Whelan, and drummer Jerry MacDonnell -- formed in the late '80s and went through several names before settling on Low. Unaware of the slowcore band already named Low, in 1993 the group recorded a 7" under this name; when they heard about the other Low, they changed their name to the Wrens. They had sent a copy of the 7" to Grass/Dutch East India, where they were signed to the label almost immediately after the A&R people heard it.
In 1994, the Wrens released their debut album, Silver, which mixed the dream pop of bands like My Bloody Valentine and Chapterhouse with the quirky indie rock for which they would become better known. The album received generally good reviews, and the Wrens got even better ones for their second album, 1996's Secaucus. Meanwhile, Grass/Dutch East India was bought by Alan Melzter, who wanted to take the label in a more hit-oriented direction. Melzter wanted the Wrens to sign a million-dollar contract and tailor their music to make it more radio-friendly. The group balked, and they were dropped from the label. Interestingly, Grass eventually became Wind-Up Records, home to the multi-million-selling Creed.
The band soldiered on, keeping their day jobs and recording and releasing their music when they could; in 1997 they issued the Abbott 1135 EP for Ten 23, the label of the A&R contact that had signed them to Grass in the first place. While several labels courted the Wrens, none of them fit the band. For a moment the Wrens were going to be part of Drive Thru's roster and even appeared on a 1999 sampler for the label, but the plans fell through. As the millennium turned, the group continued to record consistently -- a situation that was facilitated by having all the bandmembers except MacDonnell, who moved out in 1996, live in the same house and use the dining room as their studio. By 2002, the Wrens had readied their third album, Meadowlands, and had found a home for it: Absolutely Kosher, which was run by the band's longtime friend Cory Brown. The album was finally released the next summer to nearly universal critical acclaim.
The Wrens are an alternative rock band from New Jersey. The group consists of Charles Bissell (guitar/vocals), brothers Greg Whelan (guitar) and Kevin Whelan (bass/vocals), and Jerry MacDonald (drums). They have released three albums so far, although a combination of problems with their former record label and having to fit in writing and recording with the daily pressures of home life and full-time jobs means that only one album has been released since 1996. The band have gained a reputation for their intense live shows - following a gig at the University of London Union in London in March 2006, The Guardian declared that "on this form the Wrens are surely one of the best live bands in the world".
Brothers Greg and Kevin Whelan formed their band in the late '80s, recruiting former high school colleague Charles Bissell in 1989 as a guitarist for a proposed gig supporting The Fixx, which in the end was cancelled. Jerry MacDonald replaced the band's original drummer in 1990 and the quartet moved into a house together in the town of Secaucus, New Jersey to concentrate on their music career. After a number of name changes the group settled on the name Low, and in 1993 they recorded a 7" single with the same name which they sent out to various record companies - one of them, Grass Records, signed the band almost immediately on hearing the record. However, on learning that there was already a slowcore group named Low, the band changed their name to the Wrens.
By 1996, The Wrens had released two full-length albums, Silver (1994) and Secaucus (1996). Both arrived to critical acclaim and gained a following of fans. In the summer of 1995 Grass Records was bought out by businessman Alan Meltzer, who wanted to refocus the label on scoring more mainstream popularity and hit songs. During their 1996 tour for Secaucus the band was offered a new long-term contract for over a million dollars, on condition that in the future they tailor their songs to a more radio-friendly sound. Fearing loss of independence and a watering down of their music, the band refused to sign the contract. As a result, they were not offered another record deal and all production and promotion of their previous two albums was stopped. Meltzer changed Grass Records' name to Wind-Up Records, eventually scoring the mainstream success he sought with groups such as Creed and Evanescence. The Wrens battled for years afterwards to try and regain the rights to the albums in order to make them available again - in 2006 Wind-Up finally relented and re-released Silver and Secaucus on November 14 of that year, although the label retained the rights to the records.
Following the termination of their contract with Grass Records, a six-track EP, "Abbott 1135", was released in 1997 on Ten23 Records (the label run by the people who had originally signed The Wrens to Grass Records). The same year a cassette titled Overnight Success was circulated, featuring early demo versions of songs that would appear on their third album, although to date this cassette has never been officially released. Despite spending more than a year in discussions with various major labels, notably Interscope Records, in order to secure a record contract, none of the talks resulted in a deal. With no contract and their financial lifeline cut off, the members of the Wrens were forced to take full-time jobs while they began work on their third album in 1999. By this point drummer MacDonald was married with a young family and had moved out, but the other three members were still living together in the same house in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where MacDonald would join them to record new material when he was able to. The problems with the record labels are usually cited as the reason for the slow progress on the album, although in a 2004 interview Charles Bissell conceded that a far bigger problem had been the combination of exhaustion, writer's block and lack of confidence in the new material which caused them to extensively re-write or scrap many songs.
It took four years before the record, titled The Meadowlands, was finally completed in early 2003. The Wrens had received an offer a few years previously to release the album on Drive-Thru Records, but decided instead to sign to Absolutely Kosher Records, run by their friend Cory Brown. The album was more varied than their first two records, containing longer and more downbeat songs than their previous records (a fact noted by several critics), dealing with the problems they had experienced with record labels and the concerns of a more grown-up band, such as family life and jobs. The album received overwhelmingly positive reviews from the music press, in publications such as AllMusic, Pitchfork and praise from critic Robert Christgau. The album was described by The New York Times as a "nearly universally acclaimed disc of bright literate pop". It took a further two years before the album was released in Europe on the LO-MAX Records label, to similarly rave reviews.
Despite the critical success of The Meadowlands, the band were unable to start work quickly on a follow-up album due to financial and personal constraints: Bissell had left his job in advertising to earn his living as a guitar teacher but the other three members remain in full-time employment (the Whelan brothers work for a multinational pharmaceutical company in New York City and MacDonald works in the sales division of a financial services company in Philadelphia), and the band no longer had a single house where the members could demo ideas and record songs, as both Bissell and Greg Whelan had got married and moved out. In 2006, The Wrens recorded a cover of the song "They'll Need A Crane" for the tribute album Hello Radio: The Songs of They Might Be Giants. The band also contributed a new song, "Crescent", to Dear New Orleans, a 2010 benefit album released to raise funds and mark the fifth anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
The Wrens are in the process of completing their fourth album, tentatively scheduled for release in spring 2013.