When Grunge Met Psych… (Part 1 of more than 1)

Posted: January 17, 2012 in Seattle-Related Lists

I’ve been mulling over this topic for a couple of days, after someone asked Mark Yarm and I about folk’s influence on grunge.  In short, I stated (and Mark mostly agreed) that I believe folk had a minimal influence on grunge—at least the organic kind that existed in Seattle in the ’80s.  So, it got me thinking about underrated threads that impacted grunge…and psychedelia immediately came to mind.

Before I bring up my wonderful definition of psych, however, I think I’d like to address what the hell grunge was before going any further…and again I’m talking about the actual musical genre that the Northwest created in the ’80s, not the media manipulation of it in the subsequent decade.

I tend to agree with Jack Endino that grunge was really more about an approach to playing than an actual musical “style.”  The genre emphasized spontaneity over technical proficiency, passion over competence, joy for its own sake over political commentary.  Thus if you look at early grunge bands, they all drew from different wellsprings including Iggy, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Joy Division, Gang of Four, Scratch Acid, Big Black, Neil Young, the Sonics, Aerosmith, Beat Happening, Kiss, etc.  So the whole notion that grunge bands worshiped entirely at the punk/metal altar is overly simplistic and often plain inaccurate.

I will make the argument that Soundgarden was likely the only one of those bands that truly represented the punk/metal combo.  Soundgarden represented the aesthetic of urban punk while at the same time displaying the technical ability and style of dirty metal.  As far as the other early grunge bands…

Green River, with Mark Arm and Steve Turner (at least until he quit in 1985), had the punk credentials, and tapped into Black Sabbath in their early days…but I believe that band had more to do with Aerosmith and ’70s riff rock than metal.

Mudhoney, Green River’s successor, had everything to do with punk, garage, and Iggy, but had little in common with metal.

Malfunkshun was more about cartoon metal—read Kiss—and glam than anything seriously heavy, due to Landrew’s presence.

64 Spiders drew from ’60s Mod stylings due to James Burdyshaw’s presence.

TAD…nothing really punk about that band, other than perhaps by association, and their approach drew from postpunk.

Skin Yard came more from prog and postpunk than straight-up punk or metal.  Later, that band became more metallic, especially with their second record, Hallowed Ground.

My Eye—and I haven’t heard a lot from this band, so feel free to correct me—also had little in common with punk.  From what little I’ve sampled, they sound heavy psych, with some metal influence.

The Thrown Ups.  Okay, that’s Flipper…nothing metal about this band.

Bundle of Hiss.  Once that band became a three-piece, I would say yes, BOH effectively combined punk and metal.

The Melvins.  Not sure how I’d describe early Melvins…or I should say early recorded Melvins.  Once that band slowed things down to a crawl, they effectively stopped the runaway freight train that was hardcore.  I’m still undecided about these folks.

Nirvana.  Early Nirvana had little to do with punk, even though they came from the underground.  Further, once Kurt moved to Olympia, Nirvana began to acquire a pop sensibility that you can hear a little on Bleach–coming to fruition on Nevermind.

Love Battery was all about psych given the presence of Ron Rudzitis, whose previous band–Room Nine–drew directly from the Paisley Underground.

Screaming Trees.  Can’t hear much metal in this band.  As it evolved from its early Who-influenced Mod days, the band incorporated more of a psych approach into its music. 

So, given the varied influences on the grunge bands, I thought I’d tackle psych as a singular influence, since that thread weaved its way throughout underground Seattle in the ’80s.  Before we go further, though, I have to play the professor and define psych.  We’ll tackle that one in the next installment (doesn’t that just leave you at the edge of your seat in a Harry Potter Part 7, part 1 kind of way?)

  1. Dan says:

    Cool article!!!!

    Skin Yard’s Hallowed Ground features some great neo-psychedelia influenced songs like “Open Fist”, “Neddle Tree” or the much-heavier “Wither”. Some people, most of them, prefer Fist Sized Chunks LP because it’s heavier. I for one go with Hallowed Ground.

    My Eye’s first cassette(1986?) was really metal. The second one had some dashes of post-punk in it but still you can fell some strong metal roots that belonged to Steve and Kurtiss . Their third featured some “post-punk meet psych-influenced songs” like “Empty Box” or the dreamy version of Velvet Underground – “I’ve been set free”.

    I have all My Eye’s cassette digitized. Let me know if want them. I’ll be really glad to send them to you


    • Stephen Tow says:

      Dan, thanks so much for your comments, and yes, I would love to hear that My Eye stuff. Can you email or will we have to dropbox it? As far as Skin Yard goes, I’m with you on Hallowed Ground. I found Chunks boring, whereas HG brings me in immediately with “Stranger,” the title track, and so on.

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