Archive for the ‘Excerpts from the book The Strangest Tribe’ Category

After my reading/signing yesterday at Siren Records, my friend Jeff looked through the Appendix where I list “Little-Known Seattle Records You Should Listen To,” and commented about how some of them might be hard to locate.  So, with that in mind, I thought I’d offer a little assistance (big of me, I know).  No guarantees these leads will work, however.*

(Note: the following numbers correspond to the Appendix.  I am not listing the actual records in fairness to those who bought the book.)

Individual Artists

  1. Try krecs.com.
  2. This one may be tough, but you can try Jack Endino’s site (endino.com.)  He may have some copies available.
  3. I got mine from Jeff Smith aka Jo Smitty.  I’ll contact him and see if he has more on hand.
  4. Try contacting Conrad Uno at info@eggstudios.com.
  5. Last I checked, these songs were up on iTunes.
  6. Try subpop.com.
  7. I believe I got this one off of ebay.
  8. Email Rob Morgan at rob@poplust.com.  And check out poplust.com for more of his stuff.
  9. Tough one…I found this in a used record store in Seattle’s University District.  Try ebay.
  10. Try contacting Conrad Uno at info@eggstudios.com.
  11. Try store.sstsuperstore.com.
  12. Try contacting Conrad Uno at info@eggstudios.com.
  13. Try dadastic.com/chuck_splash.html or iTunes.
  14. Try endino.com.
  15. Ditto.
  16. Try czrecords.com or iTunes.
  17. Try emptyrecords.com.
  18. Try subpop.com or iTunes.
  19. Try subpop.com.
  20. This one’s pretty much available everywhere.

Compilations

  1. I got this one off ebay.
  2. I found this one in a used record store on Capitol Hill in Seattle.  Try ebay.
  3. Try czrecords.com, but you may have to go the ebay route.
  4. Try subpop.com.
  5. Try contacting Conrad Uno at info@eggstudios.com.

* – offer not good in Iowa.  Based on manufacturer’s suggested retail price.  Professional driver on closed course.  Do not attempt at home.  And as always, drink responsibly.

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(Excerpt relates to Sub Pop Records flying British music critic Everett True to Seattle in 1989.)

True turned out to be strong fit for Sub Pop’s aims. A frustrated musician who released a single under his alter ego “The Legend,” True had cut his critical teeth working for the New Musical Express. In 1988 he left NME to work for rival Melody Maker. True had never really been a serious rock fan, but began his affection for Sub Pop bands when the label sent him Green River and Soundgarden EPs, as well as Sub Pop 200. The grittiness and honesty of the recordings immediately appealed to him.

True arrived in Seattle and received deluxe accomodations on [Sub Pop co-owner] Bruce Pavitt’s floor. “My photographer was actually freaked out when he got there,” True recalls, “and found out he was expected to share a mattress with me. He checked into a hotel the next day. Never saw him again.”

Sub Pop’s Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman introduced True to their bands, while filling him with exaggerated tales about TAD and Mudhoney’s “backwoods America” background. True understood that reality had little to do with Sub Pop, but was immediately taken with the phony backstory as part of the Seattle put-on sense of humor. “The humor was massively important,” says True. “It was part of the music. The funniest stand-up comedian I have ever seen in my life is [Mudhoney’s] Mark Arm.”

Meanwhile, back in Seattle, the grunge explosion was greeted at first with bemusement, and then with disgust. As Nirvana and Pearl Jam’s initial success enveloped the city, waves of media–from MTV to the New York Times, Spin, and even People magazine–came to town, attempting to grab their angle on the Seattle sound. “Just to see that sort of culture explosion happen around you was fascinating,” recalls author Gillian Gaar, then with the Rocket. “I mean, I used to talk with Art Chantry a lot about that kind of thing, and other cities’ scenes and that sort of thing–and never thinking that it would happen here. So when it did, it was amazing. And it just seemed to go into this other realm. When people were saying, ‘Oh, it was like when Athens, [Georgia] got famous or Minneapolis got famous.’ But, in those instances, it was pretty much limited to the music. And with Seattle, it was just sort of everything–it was, you know, your whole lifestyle and the flannel shirts, the grungewear. And they had the high-fashion grungewear, which was really funny…and embarrassing.”

As waves and waves of TV crews, music media, and A&R people infiltrated the town, the locals’ bewilderment continued. The media horde would hit any place they could dig up a potential rock star to interview. Typical targets included Sub Pop, C/Z Records, and the Rocket. “One day we had–like some Italian fashion magazine,” recalls Art Chantry, then the Rocket‘s art director. “We had some Japanese TV crew come through. We had the Christian Science Monitor come through, and the New York Times and some other magazine came through. [They] came in with their cameras, barked at the front desk…anybody that was wearing flannel and jeans all the sudden got nailed as a rock star. And they wanted to take the pictures and interview them. You know, I got interviewed. It was by somebody who spoke Italian and I didn’t speak any Italian. They didn’t speak any English. It was ridiculous. We thought it was hilarious. You know, we’d sit there and [say], ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m Nirvana.'”

“Writers would come in from all over the world–all over the world–and wanna do an interview,”adds Kim Warnick of the Fastbacks, then working at Sub Pop. “And like [Sub Pop’s Jon Poneman would say], ‘Well, there’s one right there [pointing toward Warnick]. You can talk to her. She’s in a band.'”

As 1987 dawned, the Deep Six slow/heavy aesthetic began to expand and evolve. Bands that hadn’t previously worked that territory became sonically darker. No band better exemplified this musical shift more than Bundle of Hiss. In 1987, Hiss made a rather abrupt shift from postpunk to grunge.

Begun in 1980 in Stanwood, Washington, Hiss first gigged in Seattle that year, playing in early punk-friendly venues like WREX and Baby O’s. The band delved into postpunk due to the influences of vocalist Russ Bartlett and bassist Kurt Danielson. By 1984, Bundle of Hiss included guitarist Jamie Lane and drummer Dan Peters and sounded like a speeded-up version of Joy Division. “Like Joy Division on crystal meth,” Lane clarifies.

In 1987, Bartlett left the band, Lane took over lead vocals and Bundle of Hiss became a three-piece. Around the same time, Lane ventured into the Central to catch a Meat Puppets concert. One of the first things he noticed was the Puppets’ combination of Les Paul guitar and Marshall amplifier, creating a deep, sludgy sound. “I went from playing a Fender guitar and amp to a Les Paul and a Marshall,” says Lane. “So that completely changed our sound. We decided we wanted to be heavy and sexy. We wanted to be like Led Zeppelin. We wanted that vibe of rock, but we wanted to add the sludginess to it.”

At the time, Hiss—like many of their Seattle brethren—had been listening to a lot of Big Black and Scratch Acid. Those influences, plus Lane’s Meat Puppets concert experience, helped changed Bundle of Hiss from a postpunk group into a grunge band. “Russ, in fact, had been a bit resistant to this heavy stuff,” says Danielson. “And so, now that he was out, it was sort of a shifting–like a tectonic shift–towards this heavier stuff instantly. You can hear it in the recordings….You could tell the difference between the songs where Jamie is singing and where Russ is singing. The whole aesthetic is different. That’s where the postpunk sort of permutates into the more blues-inflected hard rock-influenced [sound.]

“The band changed–and began to really soak up the heavier aesthetic that was coming,” Danielson continues, “that we could feel coming like a locomotive, a black locomotive, or maybe a black sailboat with red sails, over the water, over the horizon.”

This generation possessed a confidence that perhaps previous ones lacked. It wasn’t a straight confidence, however. Rather, this generation’s hubris was born of the previous’ frustrations. Many of these kids grew up watching some of the more popular local bands leave town, only to disintegrate.  They knew the major record labels weren’t coming up from Los Angeles to check them out. They saw a once vibrant all-ages scene die out, and they cut their musical teeth playing shows at house parties. This generation felt it had little technical prowess and no national exposure, so why not make music for its own sake? In effect, this confidence emanated from a kind of inferiority complex-driven naïveté, resulting in a pervasive “we have nothing to lose” attitude. “The general feeling was that we were all too cruddy—that if anyone was really interested in our bands, they would come sign us up,” remembers Rusty Willoughby of Pure Joy (discussed later in this chapter), “And everyone was pretty naïve. So our feeling was that, ‘Ah, you know, we kinda suck, and we’re not good enough to make records,’ but it was a blast playing music.”

These folks also represented Generation X, post-Baby Boomers who did not necessarily see the United States as the “land of opportunity.” They came of age during Reagan’s America, when the term “yuppie” described energetic and enterprising young college-educated professionals basking in the glow of the new materialism.

These Gen Xers consciously rejected Reagan and consumerism, at a time when local software behemoth Microsoft was just beginning to expand, laying the basis for the coming ’90s dot-com boom. Many of them were college-educated, but instead of taking the professional job and venturing toward an upwardly mobile career path, they started bands without any prospect of commercial success. Since they had little money, they moved into group houses on Capitol Hill and in the U-District. “And a lot of us, I think, that were in the music scene [thought] ‘Hey, you only get to go through this life once,’” says Laura Weller-Vanderpool, later in the harmonic ballad-oriented Capping Day. “‘Let’s not focus so much on the career thing. Let’s just get in a van and go on the road and play music and see what happens.’ If we’re all living in a crappy little house in the University District or whatever, and just barely getting by, it didn’t really matter. Because, it was more important that we were doing something that mattered. And I think we were all really afraid of just steppin’ on that escalator to kind of a boring, secure future.”

(In 1988, TAD became the second band on the fledgling Sub Pop label*, after Mudhoney.  Given the rough-looking appearances of singer/guitarist Tad Doyle and bassist Kurt Danielson [who at the time lived in the neighborhood adjoining the University of Washington called the U-District], Sub Pop’s Bruce Pavitt decided to create a phony back-story about the band.)

While Mudhoney would offer long-hair inspired silliness, TAD would scare people.  Doyle’s sheer girth, combined with Danielson’s menacing sneer, gave Pavitt an idea.  TAD would be sold as a group of backwoods miscreants, just waiting to invade your homes and murder your children.  These misanthropes could not be reasoned with, for they had not evolved much beyond Cro-Magnon man.

Danielson didn’t fit the pre-Homo sapiens mold [nor did Doyle, for that matter].  He had studied English with a creative writing concentration at U-Dub and had a gift for writing as well as an extensive vocabulary.  Danielson loved to play up the joke, however, as exemplified by the following exchange with Dawn Anderson in Backlash.

“We’re obviously all healthy young men; we never have any trouble finding something to eat,” Danielson told Anderson, “and it’s not because we earn enough money to buy food, we just happen to be skillful hunters.  We heat our homes with wood.  I live in a log cabin myself.”

“Uh huh. Where?” Anderson asked.

“The U-District,” responded Danielson.

* – for you jaded scenesters and grunge people, I do know that Sub Pop put out EPs by Soundgarden and Green River the previous year.  By 1988, however, Green River had broken up and Soundgarden was moving toward a major label.

(In the early ’70s, John Foster arrived at Evergreen State College’s KAOS radio station.  Foster’s eclectic musical tastes led him to envision a radio station unbounded by format.)

“When you put Black Sabbath next to Abba,” says Foster, “that would be called a train wreck. That’s the kind of stuff I love. I love train wreck radio.”