Gene - Biography

Gene's singer, Martin Rossiter, sounds an awful lot like Morrissey. Guitarist Steve Mason obviously takes the heft of his influence from Johnny Marr. That said, it's impossible to imagine a future in which some famous musician sits down with a journalist and confides to him the profound impact that Britpop band Gene has had on his songwriting. There isn't anything that is very profound about Gene, and anyone who likes Gene will probably like The Smiths a lot more. But at the very least, they were admirable, choosing to wear their influences on their sleeves and doing the best with what they had. Rising to near-fame status in the mid-nineties as part of a large crop of new British bands, Gene released four albums in their ten years together. Over time, the band, along with those four albums save for maybe Olympian, will probably become a mere footnote to British rock. However, a footnote is better than nothing, and since their split was so amicable, a Gene reunion is not out of the question; they could resurface with the best album since Strangeways, Here We Come.


Gene began in the late eighties with a more original name, The Go Hole. This incarnation included Steve Mason on guitar and drummer Matt James. The other members of The Go Hole, which soon became Sp!n, didn't go on to form Gene. One member, the group's bassist, almost didn't go on at all, as he was involved in a near-fatal car crash that put him in a coma and left the rest of the band shaken. Sp!n broke up in 1989, and the only two members who still had interest in playing together were Mason and James. Through a mutual friend they acquired a new bassist, Kevin Miles. Mason soon met Martin Rossiter, a native of Wales, at a London club and convinced him to sing for the trio. They officially became Gene in 1993. They set about building a set of songs and rehearsing them, eventually putting on concerts by the end of 1993 which caught the attention of two enthusiastic journalists, Keith Cameron and Roy Wilkinson. The writers enjoyed Gene's music greatly, and their belief in the band was so strong that they founded their own record label, Costermonger, for the sole purpose of releasing a single by them, entitled “For the Dead.” Within the first week of its existence, just about every copy of the 1994 limited-edition release was sold. 


Gene's considerable success with britpop fans also put them at the mercy of the British press, who were often quick to dismiss them as a reincarnation of The Smiths that no one needed. Other critics were more welcoming of the band's sound, and saw “For the Dead” as a promising debut, believing that even better music was to come. In July of 1994, a new single was issued, a song addressed to a cab driver in London called “Be My Light, Be My Guide.” The song reached number one on the independent music charts in the UK, and major labels started to knock on the band's door. They eventually signed with Polydor for distribution everywhere but home, where they would stick with Costermonger. The band's gigs were getting bigger, and by the time they released a third single, “Sleep Well Tonight” in September of 1994, they were in as enviable a position as any of their peers. By 1995, NME had declared them Best New Act at their Brat Awards that year, and Rossiter's witty and unusual behavior in interviews only added to their popularity. The group released one more single, “Haunted by You,” and that song became the first song on their impending debut. As for that debut, it was called Olympian (Polydor)and it came out in the spring of 1995 to mixed reviews. The main problem with Olympian was that it failed to meet the expectations set by all the preceding singles, and it was simply seen as a good record that should have been very good, if not excellent.


The album did debut in the top ten, however. “Haunted by You” and “Olympian” were two excellent singles, the former being more of a poppy jangler, and the latter a haunting ballad. Both singles reached the top 20 on the UK charts. Gene were doing well, but there was almost an overload of British bands trying to get a piece of the cash cow created by Blur and Oasis. The competition was strong. They temporarily bowed out of the fight in 1996, releasing the B-sides collection, To See the Lights, in England and went about quietly recording their second LP. A new single, “Fighting Fit,” turned up in the fall of 1996 and became a top ten hit. With its pounding rhythm and a compelling, energetic performance by Rossiter, the song didn't sound anything like a Smith's tune, as there was too much rock & roll present, and Rossiter's voice had a grittier attack to it. Unfortunately, Drawn to the Deep End (1997 Polydor), the album “Fighting Fit” would later appear on, received mixed reviews for Gene once again. After debuting successfully in the top ten, it began a steady slip down the charts. The band toured in support of the album that year and then kept a low profile for the majority of 1998.


Revelations (Polydor) followed in 1999, and it seemed that, by now, all Gene could hope for was to keep their loyal fanbase. Riding the relative power of single “As Good As it Gets,” the band displayed a more world-weary tone throughout Revelations, as Rossiter had just become a father, rendering him unconcerned with unrequited love songs. The album was more well-received than its predecessor, but there weren't many converts to the Gene camp, and sales were so low that the band was dropped by Polydor later that year. This only prompted them to found their own label, Contra, on which they released a live album, Rising For Sunset: Live at the Troubadour, in 2000. The album wasn't a big hit in any respects, but it's an interesting document nevertheless, as it was recorded at a venue in Los Angeles, and the fans seem genuinely excited to be seeing Gene, a group that never reached the big-time in the US.


In 2002, the band released Libertine (Contra/Artist Direct BMG) and it was a welcome return to form for them. In the eyes of many critics, this album was as good as Olympian, boasting that same Smiths-like jangle, but incorporating more 60's soul and pop, a sound that previous Gene records hinted at. Following the release of Libertine, the group did some touring and the usual promotional work that comes with releasing an album, and in 2004, they had as friendly a break-up as a band can have. The members have gone on to form various other projects.



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