Interviewing Green River’s Alex Shumway

Posted: November 17, 2011 in Other Key Interviews

I had some great interviews…I had some average ones…and then there was Alex.  I found him at his old Myspace site (remember when there was a social network before Facebook?) and chatted by phone back in October of 2007.  If I could award a Funniest Interview prize, the top 5 would go to Rob Morgan, Leighton Beezer, the late Ben McMillan, Mark Arm, and Alex.  He was, in a word, hysterical.

During his Green River days, he went by “Alex Vincent,” using his father’s middle name in place of his surname.  Why, you might ask?  Well, people typically mispronounced Alex’s last name, sometimes confusing it with “Chumley” from Tennessee Tuxedo.

Some of the interview highlights…  Alex talked about Green River’s reception in Japan (where he went to school after the band broke up).  For some reason, even though most Americans had barely heard of Green River (as opposed to their successors Mudhoney and Pearl Jam), Japan viewed Alex as a rock star.  His description of the reaction, in fluent Japanese, was hilarious.

Green River was arguably the first grunge band, the first band to mix punk rock with metal and what we now call classic rock.  “I was at the first Green River show and they sounded a lot like Mudhoney,” says the Thrown Ups’ Leighton Beezer.  “If you can imagine hearing that in ’84– the way I describe it is being blown to the back of the room.  It was loud.…and these guys were dressed like preppies, you know, with their Oxford shirts and the tails out and their short haircuts, and this was their new shtick.  They had previously been Mr. Epp or Deranged Diction, both sort of fitting into a known genre.  But these were like prep kids sneaking out of school and turning their amplifiers up way too high.  I thought it was hysterical and musically really compelling.  It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.  I went out of there changed.  And so, to me that was really where it all started.”

Alex described a key 1985 Green River show, where the band performed at the notorious CBGB’s, the Manhattan club that launched the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Blondie.  The legend was that Green River took the stage after midnight, playing to a handful of Japanese businessmen:

“I don’t quite remember [the Japanese businessmen,]” says Shumway.  “I do remember some jocks.  It was almost like a bachelor party kind of thing….They came in, ‘Hey, where are you guys from?’  These guys are all dressed up in tuxes.  ‘Oh, we’re from Seattle.’  ‘Alright!  Where’s that?’  ‘Seattle, Washington.’  ‘Oh, like by D.C.?  Around in Virginia?’ ‘No, ALL the way across the country…all the way across the United States.’ “Oh, cool! Ehhh…’”

“The first band was this band called Les Techno.  And the singer looked like an even dorkier version of [Talking Heads’] David Byrne….We were all sittin’ there in the back, and these guys came out, they started up and the bass player’s like clapping his hands in the air going, ‘Les Techno!  Les Techno!  Les Techno!  Les Techno!  Okay, we’re not gonna get going until we hear you all clap your hands and say Les Techno! Les Techno! Les Techno!’  And nobody did shit.”

“The second band got ready to play–set up all their stuff, and we waited for them for about 45 minutes until they eventually figured out that their drummer’s not showing up.  So they took all their stuff down and we eventually set up and I think we played around midnight.”

“And we just ripped the place apart….got paid nothing, but the only people [that] were there to see us I believe were probably the same Japanese businessmen and the staff.  And the staff thought that we were great, so they gave us all the free beer we wanted.  ‘Hey, you guys are great.  Here.  You’re not getting paid shit, but you can have beer.’”

I also asked Alex about Green River’s break-up.  It was around the time of the release of Soundgarden’s “Hunted Down” single, and word had leaked out that Chris Cornell had been taking voice lessons.  Green River’s Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard suggested such training for singer Mark Arm. “Chris Cornell learned how to sing…overnight,” says Gossard.  “He took the magic singing pill.”

“Because Chris Cornell was taking singing lessons,” says Shumway, “and everybody knows how well Chris can sing….Chris Cornell was being taught how to sing.  And so they [said that] Mark should learn how to sing.  There wasn’t really so much pressure put on that, but I know it pissed Mark off to no end.”

It was the fall of 1987, and Green River was about to split.  Dan Trager caught the last band’s Seattle show.  “You could see right away that there was a conflict,” says Trager, “between some of the members [Ament and Gossard] of the band wanting more to–ironically or not–dress up like in a classic Aerosmith style of rock star: you know, with scarves, and bandanas and things like that.  And [Arm had] more of a strident underground anti-rock star posing element going on there.”

“Halloween Day, 1987,” Shumway remembers.  “Mark and I are downstairs in the practice pad waiting to start practice.  Stone, Jeff, and Bruce [Fairweather] walk in: ‘Yeah, well, we’re gonna quit the band.’  Mark’s just, ‘Okay.’  I’m like, ‘Ohhh…life shall not go on.  Whatever shall I do?’  And about three days later, I was like, ‘Aww, fuck it!  Okay, whatever.’”

  1. Alex Shumway says:

    I forgot all about this interview. I’m glad my narcissism got the best of me just so I could come across it.

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