Thorn born from col gambit

Band's starry lineup reminiscent of '70s supergroups

Third Eye Blind portrayed the Kinks in Sunday night’s “American Dreams,” the latest in a series of cameos in which current stars play rockers of the early ’60s. Columbia Records, though, is banking on the unknown buskers who appeared in the episode singing the Beach Boys’ “Warmth of the Sun.”

The trio is called the Thorns, which will mean little to listeners until the May 20 release of the group’s album, but it comprises three singer-songwriters with established solo careers: Matthew Sweet, Pete Drooge and Shawn Mullins. Could it mark the beginning of the return of that ’60s-’70s phenomenon the supergroup?

“Having had the album turn out well and seeing how much fun they had making the record, it has given us thoughts about other pairings that might work,” said Columbia Records president Will Botwin, noting promotion of the disc began in March. “It will have an influence at other (labels) depending on how successful it is commercially.”

To prepare for the Thorns’ first flight, the trio did acoustic gigs –“simplicity at its best” said Botwin — in hotel rooms for invited guests in L.A. and New York, at the NARM convention in Orlando, Fla., and the SXSW fest in Austin, and finally at a few radio shows in cities such as Denver and Portland, Ore.

Contempo breakthrough

Their first single, “I Can’t Remember,” is getting airplay on VH1 and the song made it into the bank of early ’60s tunes on Sunday’s “American Dreams.” It’s the first time a non-period tune from a signed act has made it onto the Universal-produced show, which attracted 9.1 million viewers Sunday.

“We had to get the Thorns record in the right people’s hands,” says Greg Latterman, prexy of Chi-based Aware Records, the joint-operation label with Columbia that last year broke John Mayer and, prior to that, the rock band Train. The Thorns are signed to Aware Records, which expanded its traditionally less-than-six-figure budgets to bring in producer Brendan O’Brien (Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising”), drummer Jim Keltner and keyboardist Roy Bittan of the E Street Band.

Sweet, unsigned as a solo act despite having made a couple of albums in the early 1990s that sold nearly 1 million each, said, “All of us were surprised by the results. It was an oddball thing that just seemed to work.”

The act is a throwback to classic Southern California harmony groups: CSN, the Byrds, etc. “They’re torchbearers of a style,” Botwin said, “and we hope it opens doors for college-age crowds who haven’t heard this style (by a contempo band).”

Tour is key

Latterman said development of the Thorns will be no different than that of his rookie acts. “It’s 100% built around touring. Every time they play a city, even if its just one person who embraces the band, you’ll break the band.” The Jayhawks, whose “Blue” is covered on the disc, will tour with the Thorns this summer.

“This is like Mayer in that it’s not about radio. Radio will catch up. In John Mayer’s case, he was (performing to) 2,000-3,000 people per show before getting (songs) added at radio.”

The Thorns will perform May 20 and 21 at the Troubadour. Universal’s Hip-O will release the “American Dreams” soundtrack, which includes the originals and cover versions recorded for the show, today.

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