Interviewing metal writer and fan Jeff Gilbert

Posted: December 21, 2011 in Other Key Interviews

I’ve met Jeff twice, once at the Fastbacks reunion in West Seattle back in July; and again at my book launch at his bar in October.  Jeff owns the Feedback Lounge in West Seattle.  It’s a great place, filled with a ton of rock memorabilia.  Go there, have a beer, and force Jeff to give you a tour (you can’t miss him…he’s the long-haired dude who looks totally rock n roll.)  They serve a local beer called “Lowman Brau,” a brand that exclaims, “Made in West Seattle for West Seattle.”  I bought a Lowman Brau t-shirt that says on the back, “It’s a West Seattle thing.  You wouldn’t understand.”

I chatted with Jeff about the book this past February…my last interview.  Five minutes into the conversation (and I told him this), I thought, ‘Why didn’t I interview this guy three years ago?’  Jeff provided a valuable and unique perspective on Seattle’s metal scene.  A national perception exists whereby grunge ruled Seattle back in the day.  To a certain extent, grunge did predominate in the latter ’80s, but only within the urban confines.  Metal ruled the region as a whole, and had done so for decades.

My book views things from the city outward.  The suburbs, especially Seattle’s Eastside, were seen from the urban center as undesirable consumerist havens populated by tacky spandex hair metal bands.  This perception is reinforced by the many hard rock and metal shows occurring at Bellevue’s (an Eastside town) Lake Hills Roller Rink, a place where pretty boys could show off for their spandex girlfriends.  “Metal stuff [first] started happening over here on the Westside.  It wasn’t the Eastside at all,” Jeff says.

“In fact, those [Eastside] shows—we used to joke about it,” Jeff continues.  “The real metal fans—and hard rock fans—they’d go, ‘It’s supposed to be thrashin’, not fashion.’”

The tougher Westside acts like Metal Church and Mace would avoid Lake Hills, and so the urban punks only saw a skewed version of the metal scene.  Some of the punks would venture over to Bellevue and leave unimpressed except for perhaps admiring the talent of the bands (the metal kids could, almost without exception, outplay their punk cousins.)  Once in a while, the suburban kids would come into the city, and have a similar derisive reaction.  They’d go to urban venues like the Gorilla Gardens and mock the punkers’ lack of technical proficiency.

The city’s clubs were typically in such a state of disrepair that the Eastside kids would usually prefer to stay in their cleaned-up suburban venues.  Jeff remembers venturing down to Astor Park, then a popular urban club.  “And the bathrooms would always get clogged up,” he recalls, “you know, the toilets….were never maintained. And so, literally you’d be walking in a stream of toilet water heading down into the main room.”

For Jeff and his West Seattle brethren, the city/suburban ice cracked dramatically with Soundgarden.  “I remember the metal guys—my crowd—started hearing rumblings about this Soundgarden,” says Jeff.  “Well, nobody liked the name….but people kept talking about ’em….You almost didn’t have a choice but to go see them.

“You’d go [into the city] to see Soundgarden.  Were they punk?  Nope.  Were they metal?  Nope.  Were they alternative?  Maybe.  But they were all of the above and then one more—that X factor.

“Kim [Thayil], he brought that monster punk/metal guitar—equal parts Black Flag/Black Sabbath.  And all the sudden, it made sense.  Everything just made sense after Soundgarden.”

As Jeff and his metal brethren attended Soundgarden and Accused shows, they noticed they didn’t seem all that different from the punk people.  “We looked around,” he recalls, “[and thought], ‘We’re all part of the same tribe.’”

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