Archive for the ‘Seattle-Related Lists’ Category

Screaming Trees

From Ellensburg, across the Cascades from Seattle.  The Trees developed their Mod/Psychedelic sound independent of the Seattle grungemeisters.

The Posies

Originally consisting of Bellinghamers Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, the Posies moved to Seattle in 1988 and immediately made a name for themselves.

The Sonics

From Tacoma, arguably the original garage band and an influence to many in the Northwest and worldwide.

Nirvana

From Aberdeen.  You know the story.

(Half of) The Young Fresh Fellows

Scott McCaughey and Chuck Carroll moved up from the Bay Area with the Fellows concept already created.  The Fellows became a band in 1983, eventually adding Seattleites Jim Sangster and Tad Hutchison. (That’s Hutchison, not Hutchinson.)

Girl Trouble

From Tacoma, Girl Trouble built upon the tradition laid by the Sonics.

The Melvins

Never really a Seattle band, the Melvins hailed from Montesano, then moved to the Bay Area in 1987.

The Mono Men

From Bellingham, continuing in the Northwest garage tradition.

(Three Fourths of) Mudhoney

Steve Turner came from Mercer Island, Mark Arm from Kirkland, and Matt Lukin from Montesano.

Who Else?

So now that I’ve attempted to define organic grunge, I’m going to try to tackle psychedelia.

Psych is arguably the most difficult of rock n roll genres to get one’s head around.  It’s not a “style” like metal or prog; it’s not an “attitude” like punk; it’s not about a “cause” like folk/rock; it’s not about sheer rebellion like hardcore.  In fact, the ultimate destination does not play into psych.  It’s about the journey.

Early San Francisco psych progenitors like the Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, and the Grateful Dead began constructing songs free from the three minute verse-chorus-verse hook-laden format.  Songs would just go…with the audience tagging along for the trip.

Speaking of the “trip,” drugs, of course, played a major role.  (And now, for you kids reading this, please note that this essay does not endorse or encourage the consumption of mind-altering substances…although reading about it may get you high.)  Acid became the drug of choice during the early psych days, and continued to do so throughout the genre’s decades-long existence.  I’ve never done acid, but I know enough people who have to get a feel for the drug’s impact on reality.  Some artists used it to stimulate the muse, and the San Francisco folks (and later the Beatles, of course), took acid for inspiration.

In Seattle, Upchuck and the Fags became one of the early psych enthusiasts…imbibing in something called MDA.  MDA can change the speed at which one perceives his or her environment.  Later, bands would take MDMA (aka Ecstasy) to further alter awareness of their surroundings…in addition to mushrooms and acid.

By the mid-1980s, just as grunge began to form, psych increasingly made its presence felt within Seattle’s underground music scene.  Ron Rudzitis’ Room Nine led the way, heavily drawing from Los Angeles’ Paisley Underground bands like Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate, and the Three O’Clock.  Room Nine and its audience embarked on Ecstacy-fueled excursions together.  “Psych was always there,” Ron recalls, “even in the ‘new music’ we were listening to.  As far as making a conscious decision to be psychedelic, I don’t think there was one.  Maybe subconsciously we longed to be part of the Paisley Underground, or to stick out from the crowd in Seattle.  Maybe it was the drugs around at the time?”

Room Nine’s performances were accompanied by lighting projections from one Michael Laton.  (See “Interviewing Michael Laton” in the Doing the Interviews/Other Key Interviews for more details…some of that will be repeated here along with some new stuff.)  Michael had been an integral part of the San Francisco scene in the ’60s.  “We hooked up with Michael Laton,” says Ron.  “I used to love to hear his stories from ground zero of the original psychedelic era.  Frankly, I’m still impressed as hell with the fact that he’s quoted in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.  Again, ’67-’70 were mythic, and Michael lived it.  If only Seattle could get that kind of attention San Francisco did back then.  Playing with Michael’s light show, the reaction of the audience, and what we were on…just added up to support the psych direction.”

Michael grew up in Southern California, and then moved to San Francisco in the mid ’60s to experience the cultural happenings there.  “Most of the people I befriended [in San Francisco] had grown up in Southern California—we all rushed to San Francisco because that’s where it was happening,” says Michael.  “I went to do graduate work up at the San Francisco State College, along with a bunch of other people.  Of course, at that moment in time, everything was way more interesting than the classroom, so some of us—myself included—we just stopped going to classes, ’cause it just wasn’t important anymore.  I mean, there was just way more interesting stuff going on.

“I was a theater person,” he continues, “and we wanted to put on European theater….Somebody suggested, ‘Well, why don’t you hire these local bands, and you can pay for your theater,’ and we said, ‘Cool.  What a great idea.’  All the bands were the bands, you know—Big Brother & the Holding Company, the Grateful Dead, Country Joe & the Fish—all of that.  Their theater was way more interesting than ours.”

By the late ’70s, Michael found himself in Oregon doing projections for punk rock shows.  “I had put together these visualizations with all the new music, and all these visuals in a kind of—I called them the ‘dark show’ because it was significantly not the Grateful Dead,” he says.

In 1980, Michael arrived in Seattle, where he began working with a band called Red Masque, a Bauhaus-esque dark post-punk band, and then eventually became Room Nine’s personal lighting man.  He immediately recognized a sharp contrast between San Francisco psych and Seattle’s version.

“In relationship to San Francisco it was…the whole cowboy thing,” Laton says.  “You can look at the clothing that everybody was effecting in the ’60s and into the ’70s, whether you’re looking at Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on the cover of Déjà Vu, where they’re all dressed as gunslingers, the whole Eagles thing, that whole—whatever.

“Up here [in Seattle],” Michael continues, “…it all looked like—and I was a Marvel Comic books reader, so maybe that had something to do with it—but it all had that Valhalla Viking warrior kind of thing.  It was a whole other kind of folklore in everybody’s head.  This was not ‘John Wayne Cowboy.’  This was not ‘Alternative Cowboy.’  This was not ‘Bob Dylan Alternative Folk Hero’ bullshit.  This was not about that.

“The mood up here is really different….It always seemed way more serious to me [than San Francisco.]  And whatever people do for partying in Seattle always struck me as being like having a good time had more to do with making things that I never quite understood go away.  I’m more interested in having a good time.  I don’t think I ever heard anyone talking about ‘Let’s have a good time,’ or ‘Let’s go out, and let’s go to the beach.’  You don’t hear that up here….Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not trying to be glib or silly about it, but it’s very different here.”

Seattle’s psych, whether practiced by Room Nine or others, seemed to exist in black & white and shades of gray rather than San Francisco Technicolor.  Charles Peterson’s famous B&W photos of the period reinforce the contrast.  “You have to remember this was way pre-digital, and therefore black and white [was] a lot more accessible and cheaper,” says Charles.  “And all of my photographic heroes worked primarily in black and white.  Color never really crossed my/our mind until later….It also seemed to fit the subject better.”

Besides Room Nine, a band called the Green Pajamas also practiced the musical genre of psych.  Initially consisting of Jeff Kelly and Joe Ross, the Pajamas self-released a cassette called Summer of Lust in 1984.  Lust has the kind of trippy feel of late-era Beatles, further infecting Seattle.  Psych would later penetrate grungy bands like Skin Yard (listen to “OP4” from Hallowed Ground); Soundgarden (“Flower” from Ultramega OK); and My Eye (“Empty Box”).

By 1988, Screaming Trees invaded Seattle with their own brand of psychedelia, fueled in part by the mod-era Who and guitarist Gary Lee Conner’s use of ear-piercing feedback.  The band continued its psychedelic direction even after it went major label (check out “Butterfly” from Sweet Oblivion).

Finally, Love Battery, Ron Rudzitis’ successor to Room Nine, continued to expand the psych experience.  The band ditched RN’s keyboards in exchange for the dual-guitar attack of Ron and Kevin Whitworth.  Love Battery combined the ethereal nature of psych with grunge’s guitar-driven aggression.

Love Battery’s first LP, 1992’s Dayglo…I would make the argument that this record epitomizes Seattle psych better than any single effort.  In fact, Dayglo may be my favorite Seattle record, period.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from a J.R. Higgins interview with Ron and Love Battery drummer Jason Finn.

“Some of the songs we play, I actually wrote when I was in Room 9,” says Ron.  “But I didn’t feel they were right for Room 9.”

“Not gay enough?” asks Jason.

—J. R. Higgins, Backlash, October 1989.

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?)

I recently read a comment by someone, and I’m paraphrasing, that went something like: “grunge is the most important movement ever in rock n roll.”  So, I thought I’d write my take on the genre as it fits contextually within rock music history.  My hope is not to offend the person who wrote that comment, but I felt a need to write a response.

In the scheme of things, grunge does not represent the ultimate movement within rock n roll.  It does, however, represent the last time rock music mattered on a mass scale.  Grunge was the last sort of unifying force that brought together a generation or so.  It consumed kids in junior high, high school, college, and even folks like me, then in my late twenties.  It was passionate, exciting, and as I said before–unifying.  Most important in rock history, though?  Not even close.

Let’s take a look at the competition:

1) Early Elvis and the initiation of the country/blues hybrid.  This ’50s movement essentially created the genre of rock n roll, although one could make the argument that Jackie Brenston’s 1951 single “Rocket 88” did it three years before Elvis.  Nonetheless, this movement is more important than grunge.

2) Early British invasion.  Beatles, Stones, Yardbirds, etc.  They all brought a British personality to American rock and blues, and tore apart a generation as a result.  Conclusion: more important than grunge.

3) Early garage/pre-punk like Iggy and the Sonics.  These folks essentially represent ground zero for punk rock and all of it’s offshoots (including grunge)…more important than grunge.

4) Psychedelia.  Psych represents arguably the longest running thread throughout rock music and crossed into underground in the ’80s and beyond.  It’s still with us, unlike grunge.  Same conclusion.
 
5) Punk rock.  Duh.  More important than grunge.
 
6) Post-punk.  Here comes my bias.  I can’t hack post-punk…too melancholy and boring for my taste. I’ll give grunge a nod here.
 
7) Hardcore.  Hardcore became the basis for the flourishing ’80s alternative rock era, but the genre was limiting musically and basically existed during Reagan’s first term.  Advantage: grunge.
 
8) ’80s alternative rock…and that includes the rich array of underground bands that helped create scenes all over the country…Sonic Youth, Big Black, Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, the Wipers, Mission of Burma, the U-Men, Husker Du, the Replacements, Tex & the Horseheads, Rain Parade, etc. etc. etc.  Hands down more important than grunge.
 
So, grunge makes the top 8 in my un-biased view.  Feel free to bash me…but only in a republican frontrunner kind of way.
 
 

In reverse order for extra-dramatic effect…

12) Seeing Empire Vista at Tritone in Philly.

It’s always fun seeing a Seattle musician play my hometown.  Empire Vista included one Leighton Beezer, formerly of Seattle’s Thrown Ups–the seminal grunge ensemble.

11) Reading/signing at Siren Records, Doylestown, PA.

Siren is the quintessential local independent record store, and I appreciated the opportunity to present there.

10) Hiking Washington’s Monte Cristo peaks with producer Chris Hanzsek.

Chris, an avid hiker and cycler, whips poor Easterners like myself into shape.  We went on a pretty tame 10-miler back in July and got to see an abandoned mining town.  After we marched upward for another mile or so past the town, Chris asked me if I wanted to continue.  My response: “I’m good.”

9) Seeing Built to Spill at Seattle’s Moore Theater.

Concert experiences have been different lately.  For this one, I showed up during the warm-up act, and parked myself at the edge of the stage.  Loud as hell, but I enjoyed the amazing interplay between the guitar players.  Fortunately, I brought ear plugs.

8) Hanging with Rob Morgan at his house in Ballard, Seattle.

Enjoyed seeing Rob’s memorabilia and amazing paintings, all the while listening to Alice Cooper.

7) Seeing the Baseball Project at North Star in Philly.

Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, R.E.M., etc.) has this side project where they write songs about the national past time.  For this show, the band included R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, who at one point announced he was going to play a song about the Atlanta Braves.  We booed him heartily.  Welcome to Philadelphia, Mike.

6) Seeing Love Battery at the Mix in Georgetown, Seattle.

Saw them briefly at Geezerfest back in 2007, so it was great to catch a (near) full set this time.  I always enjoy watching and hearing two guitar players, like LB’s Kevin Whitworth and Ron Rudzitis, feed off each other unbounded by the typical lead/rhythm model.

5) Reading for history students at West Chester University.

I enjoyed all of my readings and signings last year, but this one was especially fun.  WCU professor Charles Hardy put this event together, and about 25 of his students showed.  For about an hour, they asked me questions about my transition from history student to author, as well as researching, getting published, and the Seattle music scene.

4) Seeing the Fastbacks reunion show in West Seattle.

The Fastbacks are Seattle’s Ramones.  They called it a day back in 2002, after a career spanning nearly a quarter century.  Other than opening for Pearl Jam on their 1995 and ’96 tours, though, the band achieved little notoriety.  I wrote a chapter addendum on the Fastbacks, and I lamented never having experiencing the band live.  This one was worth the wait.  (Bonus: a band called the Cops followed and their “Don’t Take It Personal Dave” is still in my head.)

3) Book launch party at the Feedback Lounge, West Seattle.

Great experience all around…met a lot of super people, sold some books…but the highlight was watching the Tom Price Desert Classic perform.  I had never seen the former U-Men guitarist play before, so this was a real treat.

2) Elliott Bay book panel, Capitol Hill, Seattle.

Four panelists (Jack Endino, Leighton Beezer, Rob Morgan, Tom Price), plus an audience of about 40 people = two hours of laughter.  Rob stole the show with stories about his old U-District punk days.

1) 2012 Strangest Tribe calendar put together by my wife.

This birthday gift meant more to me than anything, as she included wonderful photos symbolizing the journey that was this book.

1) United States

2) Canada

3) United Kingdom

4) Netherlands

5) Italy

6) Romania

7) Germany

8) Brazil

9) Argentina

10) Chile

11) Australia

12) Indonesia

13) India

14) Japan

15) New Zealand

16) Israel

17) Philippines

18) Colombia

19) Peru

20) South Africa

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Blog Category

   
1)      15 Underrated Seattle Music People Seattle-Related Lists
2)      About the Book and Author (Separate page)
3)      Interviewing Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard Doing The Interviews/Other Key Interviews
4)      My 25 Fave Songs By Seattle Artists Seattle-Related Lists
5)      Seattle Book Panel Update Book Launch Events/Seattle/Seattle Events
6)      Seattle’s Scenesters Speak Reviews of The Strangest Tribe/From Scenesters
7)      More Underrated Seattle Music People Seattle-Related Lists
8)      Interviewing the Squirrels’ Rob Morgan Doing the Interviews/Interviewing the Elliott Bay Panelists
9)      Green River Individual Pics (from ’08 Reunion) My Seattle-Related Concert Experiences
10)   Interviewing Mudhoney’s Mark Arm

Doing The Interviews/Other Key Interviews