Ahead Of The Storm: Seattle’s Enduring Walkabouts (Part 2)

Posted: July 1, 2012 in The Walkabouts

As Seattle’s underground music scene began to take flight in the latter ’80s, the Walkabouts rose with it, playing frequent gigs, even self-releasing a cassette called 22 Disasters in 1985.  By 1987, however, the whole notion of playing music for its own end seemed tired.  So the band decided to record a full length album before calling it a career.  That became See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens, released on Conrad Uno’s Popllama label in 1988.  “We simply handed Conrad Uno a cassette—I think it was a cassette of the mixes—we just decided to document the songs we had been doing that first three years and then get out of the business.  And then he came back at us and said, ‘You know, with a little bit of re-arranging, I believe you’ve made an album.’  And we’re like, ‘Really?’”

That first record did not yet define the Walkabouts’ collective sound, though, as the band continued to find its voice.  “When we started,” says Chris, “I think we were really envious of these bands that could only play one way.  Because, in a way, it was cool, because they had a sound.  They went on stage.  They played thirty minutes, and you were enthralled.  You were like, ‘Wow!  That really sounded like something.’  We’d play thirty minutes, and it would be like a sampler record.”

“I think I know what [Chris] means,” Carla adds.  “Like Mudhoney just gets up there and they can just march straightforward.  And we’re kinda like, ‘Okay, now.  We’re gonna leap over here and do this song that’ll confuse you.  And now we’re gonna leap over here and try to pull this off.’  But I guess that’s just the only way that we kept it interesting for ourselves.”

Fortunately, the Walkabouts decided to stick it out, and by the turn of the decade the chocolate/peanut butter combination began to coalesce.  To use Chris’ words, the band began to “sound like something.”  The fusion of folk, punk rock, Americana, and whatever else becomes evident with the release of the band’s next two records: Cataract and Rag and Bone, released by Sub Pop in 1989 and 1990.  Take a listen to “Hell’s Soup Kitchen” and “Whereabouts Unknown” from Cataract and “The Anvil Song” and “Medicine Hat” from Rag and Bone, to get an idea. (See link to “Medicine Hat” below.)


When you listen to these records, something else becomes apparent that differentiates this band from its contemporary peers.  While late ’80s Seattle featured unbridled creativity, lyrical sensibilities, song craft, and varied instrumentation were often not heavily emphasized.  Exceptions did exist: Capping Day, the Posies, and the Young Fresh Fellows come to mind, at least in terms of songwriting prowess and emphasis on lyrics.  The Walkabouts, though, took all of that and added more to the palette.  In addition to the typical guitar, bass, drums, and occasional keyboard, you’ll find violin, cello, trombone, harmonica, and mountain dulcimer on these albums.  “We had such expansive breadth of what we were listening to,” says Carla, “I mean from, probably, third grade on….We grew up with ELO, you know…for us to hear cellos and violins with rock—it didn’t seem [like] anything new.”

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