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Think rock bands are like democracies, with each bandmember having an equal say about where to tour, creative decisions and whom to hire? Think again. Today’s lesson in intra-band politics comes from Third Eye Blind, which hit it big in the ’90s with chart-topping songs like “Semi-Charmed Life,” “Jumper” and “How’s It Going to Be.”
On Monday, a California jury awarded $447,329 to ex-guitarist Anthony Fredianelli, minus $9,256 for making personal charges on the band’s credit card. The ruling is small solace for Fredianelli, who was frozen out of the band in 2009 after playing with them full-time for nine years. In his lawsuit filed in 2011, Fredianelli aimed for much more.
Our legal history of Third Eye Blind begins in 2000.
That was the year bandmembers voted to fire guitarist Kevin Cadogan, according to court documents. At the time, frontman Stephan Jenkins asked Fredianelli if he would consider touring with the band as a utility musician. Fredianelli was involved with Third Eye Blind at its start in 1993, but was initially passed over for Cadogan (who, after being fired, also sued the band). Fredianelli thus got his second shot.
As lead guitarist, Fredianelli earned $1,750 per week with a $1,000 retainer for weeks when there was no work. But he allegedly was promised greater rewards ahead. According to a deposition he gave in his lawsuit, the other bandmembers told him that he would have to “pay [his] dues” during a two-year “probationary period,” and then he would officially be a full-fledged member and co-owner of the band.
Eventually, a dispute erupted as to the nature of the purported agreement.
In early 2003, the Cadogan litigation had been resolved, and Fredianelli said he was told that his shares were being worked out. Eric Godtland, the band’s then-manager, walked him through the dynamics of the band’s pass-through corporations, and how the bandmembers were both employees and owners. After becoming a full-fledged member of the band, Fredianelli stopped receiving a weekly retainer and began getting 25 percent of touring revenue, as per an interim agreement.
But Fredianelli discovered that the band was far from a “democracy,” as he’d testify. Jenkins, the leader, had firm control of final decisions. At his deposition, Fredianelli said, “[Jenkins] made an analogy as if he would be the United States and we would be smaller countries and he would — if he wanted to ask for advice, he would ask.”
That didn’t seem to be a problem until 2008.
By then, Jenkins was said to have all but abandoned the band, with Fredianelli stepping up to be a leader, creating the band’s social media pages and communicating with the band’s fanbase. Bassist Arion Salazar had left the band, meaning that the remaining three bandmembers were each sharing a third of touring revenue equally.
In 2008, Jenkins replaced Godtland as band manager and reduced Fredianelli’s share back to 25 percent. Fredianelli said he was fine with it, so long as it would be the only change and his income wouldn’t dip below the $292,000 he earned in 2007.
That year, Jenkins allegedly demanded his fellow bandmates sue Godtland. If they didn’t agree, Fredianelli said that Jenkins threatened to “pursue other projects, leaving the band without a lead singer and mak[ing] it impossible for 3eb to deliver the new album Jenkins had been promising [bandmembers] and Third Eye Blind fans for years.”
So the band went ahead with the lawsuit against their former manager, and during the proceedings, Fredianelli gave a deposition that he had never seen Godtland’s management contract and that he had effectively no control over the band. Several months later, Fredianelli contacted Godtland and apologized to him and expressed a desire to make changes to his deposition.
Jenkins was allegedly angry at Fredianelli for doing this, and afterwards, the guitarist was frozen out of the band.
Unfortunately for Fredianelli in his subsequent lawsuit, a judge rejected much of the plaintiff’s breach-of-contract and partnership theories. The judge didn’t find admissible evidence about the consent of bandmembers to enter into an agreement where Fredianelli would be co-owner of the band. And as to the oral promise that he’d be a co-owner after two years paying his dues, the judge says it was subject to the statute of frauds, requiring a written agreement. The judge further added that Godtland did not have authority to bind the band to an unsigned agreement that Fredianelli wished to uphold. And that Fredianelli couldn’t claim partnership because he was effectively shut out of the band’s decision-making process by Jenkins.
The only point that Fredianelli moved the judge on was his allegation that the band had failed to pay a full share of net touring income. That’s the charge that went before a jury earlier this month.
Fredianelli won. The jury appeared to be sympathetic to the guitarist’s plight. During deliberations, the jury’s foreperson asked the judge whether they could consider awarding royalties, too. Since the judge had already ruled it out, the jury was told no.
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