Seattle Musicians Get Punk’d

Posted: October 7, 2011 in Other Key Interviews

As part of the interview process, I had Northwest people walk me through their musical influences…and since we’re dealing mostly with children of the ’60s, many of them grew up with classic rock and metal:

“Someone introduced me to some of the classic Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys type stuff,” Beat Happening’s (and K Records founder) Calvin Johnson remembers.  “….That led me to this interest in early rock n roll–you know, Buddy Holly, and Chuck Berry, and that kind of stuff, Elvis Presley.”

“Ever since I was eleven or twelve, I’ve been buying records and looking at them,” recalls the Fastbacks’ Kurt Bloch, “and wondering about the different record companies…even looking at the records and the different kinds of plastic they were pressed on.  ‘Wow, how come this record sounds this way, and how come this record sounds that way?  How come the grooves on this one look this way?’  We didn’t have too much to do back then.”

“I learned a lot from listening to Beatles records over and over again,” says producer Steve Fisk.  “Learned a lot from listening to one side, and then the other side, even playing it backwards with my finger…. because John Lennon had put hints in there about how he’d killed Paul….This is all the stuff that’s on Abbey Road and The White Album.  At the end of “Here Comes the Sun,” Ringo actually comes on and says ‘I buried Paul,’ but it has more to do with an overdub….It has nothing to do with burying him or anything.  But it’s there.”

“…I think [Pink Floyd’s] Wish You Were Here came out while I was in high school,” says producer Jack Endino.  “At least two Zeppelin albums came out while I was in high school.  Two or three Sabbath records came out while I was in high school.  Most of the best Kiss albums came out while I was in high school.  Basically, all that ’70s so-called heavy metal, that now we just call hard rock, because it wasn’t terribly heavy in retrospect compared with what people call heavy metal now.  Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin were considered heavy metal bands at the time, and now we just call them ’70s hard rock, for the most part, or riff rock.”

Then along came punk rock:

“In reading other people’s history,” says Calvin Johnson, “that was the natural trajectory I think, for a lot of people who got involved in punk rock, is that they felt like, ‘Well, the music now [’70s] is just really boringHow come rock n roll isn’t exciting?’”

“I went to a Rush concert.  I went to Blue Oyster Cult at the [Seattle] Coliseum, and all that.  And for the most part, they fuckin’ bored the shit out of me,” says photographer Charles Peterson.  “….You’re in this big coliseum and somebody’s throwing up in the seat next to you and [the band is] way down there on the stage.  It didn’t speak to me.

“Like I picked up the first Clash album,” Peterson continues, “and there [were] song titles like “White Riot” and “I’m So Bored with the USA,” Peterson says.  “…and I’m just like, ‘Wow, this is great!  This is gonna like piss off my parents.’  My parents listened to fuckin’ Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, you know?  I wanted to be different.”

“Then all of a sudden you had the Sex Pistols, and the Damned, and the Clash,” says Bloch  “….We’re like, ‘Wow…that sounds really great!’” says Bloch.  “A radio station in Seattle that had on Sunday nights, listeners would come in and play records….somebody played “New Rose” by the Damned and “Anarchy in the UK” and “I Wanna Be Me” by the Sex Pistols…and some other punk rock 45s that had just come out.  And I remember listening to the Sex Pistols, just like thinking, ‘Wow, this is the…hardest, [most] annoying, blasting, loud music I have ever heard!  That’s just unbelievable!’”

“When I was about 19,” recalls Chris Pugh of the Young Pioneers and Swallow, “I started my first punk rock band, influenced by the Clash and the Buzzcocks, I would say, mostly.  For me…I liked how simple it was.  I liked that I could play it.  I liked that it was catchy, pop songs….I liked that it was just kind of snotty and rebellious in nature.  So, I liked the whole attitude of it, really, and the sound of it.”

By the late ’70s/early ’80s, though, that initial punk wave became stale, as corporate new wave and disco flooded the airwaves.  Seattle people began to venture toward the next thing, and for some that next thing turned out to be British postpunk including bands like Gang of Four and Joy Division.

“[Post-punk] really blew my mind,” Kurt Danielson of Bundle of Hiss and TAD says. “…When these more refined post-punk records came out–records by punk bands that had sort of evolved a bit or were influenced by a slightly more refined aesthetic….When they came on the scene, it really took that original punk rock primal energy that I first experienced with the Stooges and Hendrix and the Kinks–but veiled, and coming from a different era and a different source.  When I felt this new surge, being filtered through this new aesthetic, it was like a key that fit the lock and opened the door even wider.  So the mansion that was dark was illuminated.  And suddenly, my head was a living theater.”

“I’d never heard Joy Division before until Kurt [Danielson] and Russ [Bartlett of Bundle of Hiss] gave me a tape,” BOH’s Jamie Lane remembers.

“It had that sort of punk attitude,” Lane continues, “but it was really melodic.  It was very sparse, haunted by a simple guitar melody.”

By the mid-’80s, the melancholy postpunk became tiresome, and the locals began paying attention to the vibrant American independent music scene which included a myriad of influential bands like Sonic Youth, the Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Scratch Acid, and the Meat Puppets.

“I’ve seen a lot of rock bands,” says punk graphic artist Art Chantry.  “I mean, the very first rock band I ever saw was Jimi Hendrix.  That’s how far back I go.

“The best rock bands I have ever seen in my life,” Chantry continues, “were those bands that were crisscrossing the country [in the 1980s.]  Every medium to big-size city–not the real big cities, but the medium to big-size cities–all produced at least one great punk band.  And they hopped in vans and crisscrossed and toured on this network.  And it was bands like Big Black and Black Flag and Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth and Live Skull and Husker Du….You saw these amazing bands– by far the best bands I have ever witnessed in my life.  And…nobody was aware of it.  It was just American underground alternative punk [fans that were] aware of it.”

“[Scratch Acid] was the band that kinda introduced me to trying to play heavy,” says guitarist James Burdyshaw  of 64 Spiders and Cat Butt.  “’Cause the U-Men were heavy, but they were also kinda groovy and ’60s, and they had that…beat/jazz kind of sound going on.

“But Scratch Acid,” Burdyshaw continues, “when I first got turned on to them, which was ’85.  I remember [U-Men drummer] Charley Ryan–I was in Fallout Records, and Charley Ryan was in there–and he told me to buy [Scratch Acid’s “Cannibal”].  And so I listened to him.  I just bought it….It was like if the U-Men all the sudden turned into Led Zeppelin, this is what they would sound like, ’cause they had that kind of groovy, Birthday Party sound, but they were playing it like it was [Led Zeppelin’s] Page and Bonham playing it.”

Some of the Seattle folks combined all these influences–classic rock and metal, punk, postpunk, American alternative rock–into this thing that Bruce Pavitt began calling grunge.  But that is a story for another time.

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