Archive for the ‘Other Key Interviews’ Category

In the summer of 1982, Rosco Louie hosted a standout gig featuring the Fastbacks and the Living.  (See “From the Cutting Room Floor/Narrative/The Living” for  details about the Living.)  “I remember the [Fastbacks] drummer was Duffy McKagan,” says Larry.  “He went to LA later and…he had [a] big arena rock band—brain cramp—you know, Guns N Roses, that’s the band.”  (Duff also played guitar with the Living that night.)

An artist from New York approached Larry about painting the Fastbacks as they performed.  “He was painting them while they were playing,” says Larry, “….And that turned out to be really interesting.  You know, just a real nice element, having this painter—he was a little flamboyant.  He was a lot flamboyant.  He was very, very—not that it matters—gay.  Visually, with the Fastbacks, it was just wonderful.

“I’ll tell you another thing about that night that probably nobody knows,” Larry continues.  “A guy named John Bigley who I just sorta met—you know, he was one of these patrons of Rosco Louie, came up to me—told me about his band, the U-Men….The U-Men—I recognized that [name] as sort of being an element of this absurdist Alfred Jarry play [Ubu Roi], a French absurdist poet that was associated with the surrealists.  I thought, ‘Well that’s pretty sophisticated.’  And then I kinda went to see ’em and all hell broke loose.  Oh man, it was great.  It was just utterly chaotic.  I don’t even know if they performed.  It was just kinda this riot going on.  That totally appealed to me.”

Larry would go on to manage the U-Men over the next few years.  “That Fastbacks/Living show,” says Larry, “was the beginning of a very interesting relationship I had with the U-Men.”

Larry closed Rosco Louie in December of 1982 as he felt it was becoming “just another gallery,” to use his words.  He opened a new art space—called Graven Image—the following fall.  His new gallery was smaller than Rosco Louie, but it came with an entire basement that the U-Men would use as their practice space.  Furthermore, Graven Image would become a key element of a vibrant all-ages music scene happening in Seattle’s Pioneer Square in 1983 and 1984.  Within a square mile of each other, young punk fans could attend shows at the Metropolis, Ground Zero, the Grey Door, as well as Larry’s gallery.

In the fall of 1985, Larry’s U-Men performed at Bumbershoot, Seattle’s annual outdoor music festival.  You may know about this legendary exploding moat show by now, and I won’t repeat it here.  You can find out the about it in the book, as well as this youtube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-sGY7fYGuY.

Around the same time as the Bumbershoot show, producer Chris Hanzsek was recording the seminal Deep Six compilation, the opening salvo for what would become grunge.  Five bands had been chosen for the record: Green River, Malfunkshun, the Melvins, Skin Yard, and Soundgarden.  Given the U-Men’s enormous popularity in underground Seattle, Skin Yard’s Daniel House wanted Larry’s band to be number six.  While the grungy acts contributed two songs apiece to Deep Six, the U-Men would only offer up one—called “They”—as they were set to go on tour.  “[The U-Men] didn’t wanna do it at all,” Larry recalls.  “But Daniel was just insistent.  And they went in and they just did it in one take.

“I remember going in there,” he continues, “and [saying], ‘One take and we gotta go.  I mean, we gotta go.  We’re not being obnoxious, but we gotta be on stage 300 miles away—tonight.’”

So they did it as a favor to Daniel?

“A favor?” Larry responds.  “Yeah.  To shut him up.”

(Chris Hanzsek’s C/Z Records would release Deep Six in January of 1986.)

Following his stint with the U-Men, Larry became director of CoCA (Center on Contemporary Arts.)  In August of 1989, CoCA hosted a show headlined by Mudhoney and Nirvana.  In the book, I state:

Mudhoney went on after Cat Butt to an adoring crowd.  Mark Arm and Co. were on that night and for their finale opened up a box of confectioners’ sugar, placed it in front of a fan, and blew it out into the crowd*.  The sweaty bodies instantly became sticky messes.  The fans loved it, further adding to Mudhoney’s phenomenal live repertoire.  Nirvana had to follow that.

*Cat Butt’s James Burdyshaw disputes this.  He recalls a CoCA organizer heaving the contents at the crowd from the stage without Mudhoney’s participation.

On the day of my book’s production deadline—last July, I think—Mark called me up and mentioned that Brother James was right.  The CoCA organizer happened to be Larry Reid.

Despite Larry’s various art affiliations over the years, he still keeps in touch with the musicians that comprised the legendary U-Men.  “I just produced the first show of the Tom Price Desert Classic, which [features] Tom Price—the guitar player from the U-Men,” Larry mentioned in our 2008 interview.

“[Tom’s] a freakin’ genius,” he continues.  “I’m still really close with both Tom and John.”

No, Larry has not been knighted by the Queen, at least to my knowledge.  Somehow the title seems to work, though.  And I can’t exactly explain why.  (See below, where he’s reading Strangest Tribe at my book launch.  Sir just seems to fit.)

Larry represents much that is—or at least was—Seattle.  His various galleries combined visual art with punk rock and performance art.  Mostly, though, he has that attitude that so symbolizes Seattle.

Quick example.  Occasionally, rich art collectors would patronize Larry’s Rosco Louie art gallery (1978-1982).  Despite the obvious potential financial gain, he wanted no part of their business, and enjoyed finding creative ways to get them to leave.  “We’d crank up the Sex Pistols on the stereo….We’d do everything we could to drive ’em out,” says Larry.  “And if that didn’t work, we’d tell ’em to leave!  (laughs)  Which only—interestingly enough—made ’em want [the artwork] all the more.  One of these rich art collectors would like brag to their friends, ‘Well, he let me buy this.’” (laughs)

Larry opened Rosco Louie in April 1978 with his wife Tracy Rowland.  The gallery became a space for visual and performance art.  Contributing artists included Johanna Went, Gary Panter, Charles Burns, Robert Mapplethorpe, and even Sub Pop mogul Bruce Pavitt.  He also used the space to host local punk rock acts like the Blackouts, the Fastbacks, Student Nurse, and Chinas Comidas.  “I remember that show that [Bruce’s art] was in, though,” says Larry, “’cause [it was a] typical sort of Rosco Louie punk rock thing.  It opened like first week of January 1980 and it was called ‘Famous Artists of the ’80s.’” (laughs)

Larry’s gallery not only connected him with Seattle’s music scene, it also hooked him into the creative community then coalescing around Olympia’s Evergreen State College.  At one point, Larry brought in Evergreener Russ Battaglia as an intern.  Russ would later open a record store and put out a U-Men EP with fellow Evergreen alum Bruce Pavitt.  “Seems to me,” he recalls, “we were in the backroom of my gallery—we were hand coloring the first issue of the Sub/Pop fanzine.” [Note, per a Facebook message, Bruce identified it as Sub/Pop 3, released in the spring of 1981.]

Reid also remembers Olympia legend Calvin Johnson coming down to perform.  Calvin would later form Beat Happening and start the influential K Records.  Calvin’s early incarnations would lead to his vision of the simplistic “infantile rock” K would make famous.  Larry was not a big fan.  “I don’t know what you’d call it,” he says, “other than annoying.

“I did a show,” he continues.  “It was Calvin and a girl named Stella.  And she was beating on a snare drum with a spike-healed shoe.”

The pair asked if they could play between sets of other regularly scheduled bands.  Reid reluctantly agreed.  “I said, fine.  Five minutes,” Larry recalls.  “Well, ten minutes later I was like, ‘Get off.  Stop.’  And she wouldn’t.  So I started pulling plugs.  And that didn’t seem to slow ’em down….And she was just pounding on this snare drum.  And I think eventually I got ’em to stop, but I might’ve had to threaten to kill her.”

The Calvin/Stella experience represents just one example of the almost anything goes nature that was Rosco Louie.  In another instance, Larry hosted Youth Brigade, a Southern California punk band, when a riot broke out in front of the gallery.  “Police/fire officials made me pull the plug on Youth Brigade,” says Larry, “….that was painful, but I was doing that almost literally at the end of a gun.

“Then,” he adds, “they marched me off to jail. (laughs)  It’s like, I wouldn’t have pulled the plug if I knew I was gonna go to jail [anyway].”

Being Amy Denio

Posted: December 31, 2011 in Other Key Interviews

Who is Amy Denio?

Amy symbolizes the creative openness that was late ’80s Seattle.  While grunge somewhat predominated then, Northwest music crossed all lines and genres including acoustic pop, psychedelia, garage rock, folk/punk, and the avant-garde.  Amy’s music simultaneously encapsulated all and none of those styles.  She created music without boundaries.  A multi-instrumentalist, Amy has sang, played guitar, bass, drums, accordion, clarinet, and saxophone throughout her musical career.

If you ask most musicians about influences, they’ll give you a litany of bands or solo artists.  Amy lists something called “found sounds” as one of her biggest inspirations.  “I love making field recordings,” she says. “…I love going around and trying to find interesting sounds that you might not normally notice.  For example, there are all these drawbridges over various canals and things in Seattle….They’re made of metal, and so cars going over—the wheels actually make the metal kind of sing…so they’re like singing bridges.  Things like that—that’s found sound.”

Amy’s early musical progression did not foretell of her coming explorations, however.  “Started with the Carpenters and went directly to Led Zeppelin,” she says.  “Jimmy Page was absolutely my hero.”  Amy’s world opened up when she worked for college radio in Massachusetts.  Her musical interests began to include jazz, world music, and free improvisation.

In 1985, she moved to Seattle with her band, the Entropics, and soon found a place within the music community.  At the time, the Entropics featured two drummers, one of which was Amy.  “That was what we called a ‘four-legged band,’” she recalls.  “So [both percussionists] played drums and other instruments at the same time.  So we got really good at playing kick-drum/high hat saxophone duets.  I played bass and drums at the same time, and guitar and drums at the same time.”

While the band’s experimental approach brought admiration from many, some audience members inevitably scratched their heads, unable to ascertain exactly what they were listening to.  “I remember this farmer with a weather-lined face,” she says, “coming up to me [and] saying, ‘Y’all are great musicians, but I can’t stand that music that you guys are playing.”  The Entropics lasted until 1987, when Amy formed Tone Dogs…a band that initially consisted of two bass players and a drummer.

Amy’s musical explorations did not place her within grunge’s inner circle.  That being said, Seattle’s pre-Nevermind late ’80s era showcased a plethora of experimental music, some even including such grunge stalwarts as Jack Endino and Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron.  Matt asked Amy to join a side project of his called Couch of Sound, which also featured Chip Doring of the surf-rock inspired Crypt Kicker Five.  “I have to admit I’ve been racking my brains for weeks trying to figure out how to describe Couch’s music without making it sound thoroughly wretched,” Dawn Anderson wrote in the April-May 1988 issue of her fanzine Backlash.  “Let’s see, they’re An Art Band Who Rocks.  But they’re not heavy and sexy; they’re sort of loud and cute.”

“Aww, that’s nice,” Amy responds.  “Thank you, Dawn.  [Laughs.]  Loud and cute…I must’ve just gotten my permanent then.”

Amy got to know many of the grungier musicians as she worked for Yesco/Muzak, along with people like Mark Arm of Mudhoney, Chris Pugh of Swallow, Tad Doyle of TAD, Ron Rudzitis of Room Nine, Grant Eckman of the Walkabouts, and Bruce Pavitt of Sub Pop.  Despite that association, she never found herself drawn into the heavy/sexy musical world.  “[Grunge] just wasn’t interesting to me,” she says. “Everybody was doing it, too.  So, I was like, ‘Well, I think that that niche is taken care of.’” [Laughs]

Amy has continued her unbridled musical exploits to this day, cementing her status as a “musician’s musician.”   As always, her creations continue to defy written description.  “That’s your job,” says Amy.  “I just do the music part.”

 

Dan Trager worked at Sub Pop from 1993 to 2000, eventually ending up in their A&R department.  A Michigan native, Dan embraced the hardcore scene there.  In the summer of 1987, on a whim, Dan and his girlfriend drove cross country and spent a few weeks in Seattle.  Like myself, Dan fell in love with the city immediately.  Seattle in the summer is like very few places on the planet.  The sun shines, the bodies of water sparkle, and the mountains beckon.

Dan took it all in, including (the University of Washington’s) KCMU’s eclectic format and support of local acts.  He also caught one of the last Green River shows.  At that point, the band was on its last legs, as guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament were moving toward the mainstream, while singer Mark Arm embraced his punk and pre-punk garage roots.  “You could see…that there was a conflict,” he says, “between some of the members of the band [Gossard and Ament] wanting more to—ironically or not—dress up 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 anti-rock star posing element going on there.

“There was definitely like,” he continues, “‘Okay, those guys really love Aerosmith and those guys don’t.’”

Dan went home to Michigan, but returned to Seattle for good the following summer.  1988 was a great time to be in Seattle.  The local music scene had reached a creative peak, but hadn’t yet totally sold out to the mainstream.  Green River had split into two bastard children by that point: Gossard and Ament had formed Mother Love Bone—a band primed for stardom, while Arm started the super-punk Mudhoney.  In ’88, Soundgarden was also receiving a lot of major label attention.  Dan hung with the Mudhoney crowd.  “I was definitely more interested in the Mudhoney side,” he recalls.  “I remember…talking to some friends in Detroit, and they were really excited about Soundgarden.  And I was like, ‘Yeah, they’re fun and great, and I recognize and appreciate them.’  But Mudhoney played a lot more and just resonated a lot more with [me.]

“Mudhoney played all the time,” Dan continues.  “I could walk down the street and see them in a dive bar–sometimes several nights a week.”

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.’”

So many great Seattle bands came from Popllama: the Young Fresh Fellows, the Squirrels, the Presidents of the United States of America, Red Dress, the Posies, the Fastbacks, and on and on.  Conrad Uno’s label never got Sub Pop’s notoriety, but in retrospect, he probably put out the better product.

Uno (that’s what everyone seems to call him, even close friends…so I’ll pretend I’m a close friend) is kind of an ex-hippie, with a more cynical northwest twist.  He is a unique character within the Seattle music scene.  That’s funny, because this music scene consists almost entirely of unique characters.  Uno essentially represents the ultimate in Seattle characters in a lot of ways, and of course I had to talk to him.

Easier said than done of course.  Uno is a reluctant interview, because he believes they are a “waste of time.”  It’s not that he’s a curmudgeon, that’s just his honest assessment.  So, I would have to work for this one.

I emailed him several times, with only lukewarm responses.  Finally, I suggested we get together for an off-the-record lunch during my planned August 2007 trip.  He agreed.  We met at a great sandwich place called Nana’s, near his house.  We ate and chatted for about two hours–two of the funniest hours I have ever experienced.  One of my favorites was a story about his first band, Uncle Cookie, that played a gig at a “friendly” venue called “Whitey’s Good Time Tavern.”  You can see an account of that in the “Offbeat Seattle Music Stories” section. (“Certainly one of my favorite stories that I make up,” he says.)

Since we had such a nice time, Uno agreed to a formal interview at a later date—possibly by phone.

Our phone interview never panned out, so I suggested we do an in-person at Nana’s during my next trip to Seattle, in July 2008.  He agreed.  (See why it took me five years to write this thing?)

We again chatted for almost two hours, but I got to record this one.  We started out with the usual background stuff, and I asked him his age: “57,” he says, “though for the whole last year, I thought I was 58.”

After Uno’s Uncle Cookie days, he began to do sound for shows around town, including Red Dress, a band that combined elements of R&B with Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, with an approach like the Band—overlaid with bizarre storylines.  “I ended up doing sound for this great band named Red Dress, still my favorite band of all time,” says Uno.

The record label came later, in conjunction with some of the early Young Fresh Fellows recordings.  “The name came up at Scott McCaughey’s birthday party,” Uno recalls.  “Somebody said it in the basement…we were upstairs throwing popcorn or something.  And somebody came up and said, ‘Hey, [the Fellows’ Chuck] Carroll said this word—Popllama.’”

For his thirty-fifth birthday, Uno’s wife Emily decided to surprise him with a live llama—in their house.  “The friggin’ thing just came in and walked right up to me,” he says, “…and kneeled down in front of me—closer than you and I [and it] just was chewin’ in my face.

 “And then all the sudden all my friends started coming out of the back bedroom.”

Uno would house Popllama in his homegrown Egg Studios.  “The name egg just came out of all the egg cartons on the walls,” he says.  “My friend Ernie worked at Red Robin, got me stacks of empty egg squares—just for diffusion of sound.  It didn’t stop anything from going out, but it kept it a little bit more manageable inside.”

The studio began to consume more of Uno’s time.  He even recorded some of the Sub Pop bands like Mudhoney and Love Battery.  Soon, he would have to quit his day job and focus entirely on music.  “It [got to] a certain point,” he recalls, “where too many people wanted to record and I didn’t have time to mow any more lawns for little old ladies.”

Where to start.  I think Dawn may be the most talented music writer I’ve come across…and that goes beyond Seattle.  She’s conversational, funny, self-effacing, and informative.  She also provided one of the biggest connections between 1980s Seattle punk and suburban metal scenes.  Oh yeah, and she used to be married to Jack Endino.

During her career in Seattle, Dawn wrote for the Rocket, and started three fanzines: Backfire (1980s); Backlash, and Backfire (early 2000s).  “Can you think of any other names with the word back in it?” she jokes.

I interviewed Dawn by phone back in May of 2007 (and met her in July of 2011 at the Fastbacks reunion show.)  As we chatted, I learned how she pretty much crossed all the mini-scenes within early ’80s Seattle.  She liked the hardcore people, she enjoyed the noise bands (Mr. Epp, Limp Richerds), she loved the U-Men (who doesn’t?).  That was okay, but she also liked the new-wavy bands of that era like the Heats and the Cowboys…bands that weren’t cool enough for the punk people.

She also was one of the few punks who liked Kiss, and explored that passion when she began Backfire in 1983, openly combining her love for punk with mainstream metal and hard rock.

Seattle’s Eastside suburbs are separated from the city by Lake Washington.  For years, the ‘burbs had a metal scene that dwarfed the urban punk community.  While the metal music often eminated from West Seattle, the wealthy Eastside had a venue for bands to play…the Lake Hills Roller Rink.  Most of the urban punks had little time for Lake Hills, as much of the metal kids there sported the then stereotypical “big hair and spandex” look.  Dawn, however, ventured over anyway.  “Some of them were pretty damn good musicians,” she recalls, “But…at the time, it didn’t seem like very many of them were being very bold about originality.  A lot of ’em went up there and played Judas Priest covers and Black Sabbath covers and shit.”

In early 1986, Dawn’s punk/metal passion was vindicated with the release of the seminal compilation Deep Six, grunge’s opening document (although no one used that word, yet.)  The comp featured Green River, Malfunkshun, the Melvins, Skin Yard, Soundgarden, and the U-Men.  Dawn provided an overwhelmingly positive review of the record in the Rocket.  “There was this group of bands–and the Deep Six bands were some of them–that just took anything from everything they liked at all, and just threw it together and threw it in a blender,” Dawn says, “with absolutely no thought to whether it was cool or not.  And it really got some people’s heads spinning….It was just fucking great watching snobs squirm like that.”

“One of the points of her review of the Deep Six record was, ‘We need a name for this.  This is not like anything that’s come before out of Seattle,'” recalls Jack Endino.  “‘It’s not exactly metal.  It’s not exactly punk.  It’s something much sludgier and weirder’ ….So she didn’t coin the g word really, but she saw the need for it.”

Given the heavily male nature of the ’80s Seattle grunge scene, I asked Dawn about her place in it.  “There were always plenty of women in the audience,” says Dawn, “as well as women booking the shows, playing the songs on their college radio programs and of course, writing about the bands and starting their own magazines.  Green River even had a bunch of cute girls in mini-skirts at all their shows and you know it’s not because those guys looked like supermodels.  That’s one thing I’ve always been proud of when it comes to Seattle: the women aren’t afraid to rock–especially the smart ones.”