Sunday, February 04, 2007

Gravel put Anacortes on the Rock & Roll Map

When most hip record store clerks think of the Anacortes music scene, the first name that immediately comes to mind is Microphones/Mt Eerie mastermind, Phil Elvrum. Unfortunately, we don’t know enough about that guy to form an opinion, so instead we like to shout out Bryan Elliott of the late, great Gravel. Gravel recorded two full-lengths on Bellingham, Washington’s, premier record label, Estrus, in the early- to mid-nineties, but they didn’t make much of a dent outside of Skagit and Whatcom County. And that’s a goddamn shame, because they were better than most of the peers and were miles above future Entertainment Weekly-dubbed “garage” bands like the Strokes. Maybe it’s because their sound was murkier than your typical garage rock re-revivalist, or maybe it’s because they chose to stay in a relatively isolated town like Anacortes instead of moving to the big city. At any rate, we like them and their sort of bummed out Mudhoney-like sound. We put them in the same category as Northwest bands like Dead Moon (R.I.P.), the Fall Outs, Girl Trouble, or any of Rob Vasquez’s projects (Nights and Days, Night Kings, Chintz Devils, Right On, etc.), who will forever be cult bands that exist outside of fashion or music trends and are probably more comfortable playing in sparse, ratty taverns than trying to grab that major label brass ring and playing only the coolest of rock clubs.

Unlike a lot of garage rock bands, Gravel didn’t have much of a gimmick. They didn’t dress up like monsters, play as out of tune as possible, record on broken 4-track machines, wear matching bowling shirts, or sing about hot rods. Plus they released a few singles on Olympia’s legendary pajama punk rock label, K records. If you ever want your garage rock record to get ignored by most sleeve-tattooed, greasy haired, matching-jean-jacket-back-patch-wearing, beat-up-classic-car-driving garage punk rock fan (and trust me, you kind of do), put it out on K Records. They won’t buy it. But Gravel weren’t trying to impress you or the Gearhead clique by being fancy or fake badasses; instead, they just wanted to play loud, bare-boned, rainy day rock music and that’s cool enough for us.

Gravel’s history started with the break up of Anacortes’ Pounding Serfs. The Pounding Serfs were one of the earliest K Records bands and featured Bryan Elliott, Dale Robinson, Frank Barcott, and Jon Lunsford. Frank and Jon later bailed, and the band mutated into Gravel with the addition of bassist Dale Robinson and drummer Bobby Vaux. Beat Happening’s Bret Lunsford (also known as the nonsinging dude of the band) released Gravel’s debut, the Bucket of Blood EP, on his Knw-Yr-Own records in 1990. K Records then released the “Yesterday” single as part of the International Pop Underground Series, and Estrus released the “As for Tomorrow” single, both in 1992. Estrus also put out their debut full-length, the Break-A-Bone LP, in 1992 and the No Stone Unturned LP in 1993. Recorded by Conrad Uno at Egg Studios, Break-A-Bone features 3 rerecorded songs from the Bucket of Blood EP, and according to the Trouser Press Record Guide, “is a remarkable debut, nine gloomy, glorious songs that suggest nothing so much as Crazy Horse fronted by an animated Mark Lanegan.” The idea of an animated Mark Lanegan paints a strange picture, but I think the writer is complimenting Bryan’s voice.

Their follow up record, No Stone Unturned, was also recorded by Conrad Uno and is a bit louder and tighter than its predecessor. Knw-Yr-Own also released the “Pissing in a River” (Patti Smith cover) single in 1993, and the band did some touring and broke up by the mid 90s.

Bryan and Bobby now play in Burl, whose name is probably a tribute to former Anacortes resident, Burl Ives, but we like to think that they named themselves after Killdozer’s hauntingly beautiful Burl EP (um, which is also a tribute to Burl Ives). Bryan, Bobby, and ex-Pounding Serfer Frank also gig under the name The Bryan Elliott Band, who opened for the reformed Mono Men last year.

While you are at it, check out Phil Elvrum’s Gravel tribute at the 2003 What the Heck Fest here.

Gravel - "Bucket of Blood"
Gravel - "As for Tomorrow"
Gravel - "Over the Edge"

Gravel - "Erase"
Gravel - "Hang Me"
Gravel - "Pissing in a River"

-- MC Tom


mr ed said...

gravel was one cool band !!! saw them many times in bellingham

mr ed said...

i remember hearing some story about somebone from capitol records wanting to see gravel play a show on a tuesday night . somethiung about getting signed. aparently gravel played the show but no one from capitol showed up

Anonymous said...

Its all weak. All day. Its Skagit Valley "Rock?"

Anonymous said...

As bad as they were twenty years ago on the Rock of the San Juans.

aka Jamie Ruff said...

hey...Im the kid with the glasses!
made my day to see that! I moved to NY in my teens and I've been trying to follow Bryan and his bands for years.
Is that photo a cd cover or a single cover? I'd love to have a copy! Any info would be awesome.

F.Y.I. Bryan was a drummer back then.....zepplen rules!

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