Now was this an entirely good thing? I vacillate on the matter. During their heyday, I considered Hammerbox to be among the cream of the crop as far as local bands went. I played their self-titled debut on C/Z Records (1991) a ton on my home stereo toward the end of high school and start of college. I saw them several times in small clubs and theaters and enjoyed them every time. A&R reps were apparently as common as mosquitoes, and a major label snapped up Hammerbox almost immediately. But the band’s sophomore album and major label debut, Numb (1993; A&M Records), let me down deeply upon first hearing it. At the time, it sounded polished to the point of blindness, and Akre’s voice was mixed above everything else. I already knew the songs from live shows, where they sounded much more exciting. (In retrospect, I hadn’t been fair. I’ve revisited Numb lately, and it’s a much better record that I thought initially. The rest of the band—Harris Thurmond on guitar, James Atkins on bass, and Dave Bosch on drums—make the meatiest contributions to the record, but I still think Akre’s yarling vocals get a little too much emphasis. But that’s a discussion for another day.)
“Size of the World”
We’re posting their first single: “Kept House”/“After All” (Big Flaming Ego Records). I’m not positive which year this was released but I suspect it preceded the debut by a year, so let’s say 1990. It’s a good single, and the band liked “Kept House” enough to put it on their debut. The B-side captures Hammerbox still learning their strengths but also falling into the same trap that ensnared many bands from that era. What was the trap, you ask? Funk. Yes, in 1990, too many of us thought that it was wise and fun to funk-ify our rock. Geez, what in the world were we thinking?
(It would be fun to write a Hall of Shame post that recounts the misguided forays by Northwest bands into funk.)
Revisiting the band, it’s now much clearer which part of the grunge spectrum they occupied: somewhere between the genuine article (think Nirvana’s “Sliver” single) and the stuff made by more commercial bands—that is, somewhere between grunge and “grunge.” Thus, I can identify where A&M found potential, but I can also identify the limits of their mainstream appeal. A&M clearly lost interest in the band sometime between inking a deal and releasing a record, because Numb received no promotion.
Although the band attracted a pretty large local following—enough to merit a spot in Hype!—they didn’t last long. After A&M dropped them in 1994, Hammerbox broke up. Carrie Akre has probably kept the highest profile of the former band members, but her follow-up project, Goodness, never interested me in the slightest, and we haven’t followed any the members’ subsequent projects, although the songs from Thurmond’s myspace page, linked earlier, aren’t bad at all. The band played a reunion gig at the EMP in 2004; YouTube clips are here and here, although I don’t care for these particular songs.
Both are on the .zip file here.