Monday, February 11, 2008

Fill the Hammerbox

Perhaps the worst thing that can be said about Hammerbox is that they recognized the star-making possibilities inherent in a major label contract and that they were perhaps overeager to move their band onto a bigger stage. Most of the bands from that era (save Soundgarden) lacked a traditional, extroverted frontman. Hammerbox’s Carrie Akre, on the other hand, aimed to own the stage: she danced wildly, and she sang as if her throat had been coated in brass.

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.

Kept House
After All

Both are on the .zip file here.

--Wm

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Carrie just recently released her third solo record, and there was a lot of praise. You can contact her label at info@lovelessrecords.com to check it out.

AtothemfT said...

Funny you should mention the F-word (funk) in this. I went to the University of Oregon in Eugene, where Harris is from. Just before he moved to Seattle he played in a funky rock band called Rubberhead that my old band, Fireclown, used to play with. I don't think they ever recorded anything.

AT

Brushback said...

Dunno why I've never stumbled onto your blog before now (perhaps it was the hiatus?), but your blog is awesome. Great stuff!

Anonymous said...

Do you take requests...
How about that Best Kissers EP with Carrie.
I had it...Got stolen.
Remember it being pretty good.
Thanx.........................

Richard Barrett said...

My love affair with Hammerbox started Labor Day Weekend of 1991, when I wandered into their Bumbershoot show not knowing anything about them while my parents went to hear Tony Bennett. I was just about to start my sophomore year of high school.

I was lucky enough to see them three times before they broke up; not bad for being underage. They did another Bumbershoot show the following year, and then they also did a show at the Moore Theater with Imij, Sweaty Nipples (I think) and I can't remember who else. Carrie and Shannon from Imij did a duet together that was awesome, but I couldn't tell you what the song was. I had hoped to go to their EndFest show, but my parents put the kibosh on that, having already let me go to Lollapalooza that summer and being quite freaked out by even the indirect experience of the whole event.

Let's be honest; like probably every guy who ever saw them during this period, I developed a massive crush on Carrie Akre. Yes, she was ten years older than me and dating the band's photographer. So what?

My junior year, I tried setting up an interview with them for my high school paper to time with the release of Numb; I actually had a decent amount of success getting in touch with Harris Thurmond and setting up an interview time, but then, since I didn't yet drive, the photographer who did drive had no idea where she was going, and it was in the days before MapQuest anyway, I managed to get totally lost going to the location. I called Harris to beg for another chance, but he stopped returning my phone calls. Ah well.

I actually bought Numb on vinyl the night the my friendly neighborhood record store called me and said, "I have it, and I close in ten minutes."

I was convinced that When 3 is 2, if marketed correctly, could be the next "Smells Like Teen Spirit"; alas, Numb's release seemed to answer the question, "What if somebody put out an album and nobody cared?" In comparing "Hammerbox" with "Numb," it not hard to see, er, hear, what happened; the first word that comes leaping to mind about Numb if one listens to the two albums in order is "over-freaking-produced." Comparing the two versions of "When 3 is 2" is extremely instructive on this point; the earlier version is raw and explosive, and the later recording isn't exactly raw -- more like overcooked. It's still a great song, but the re-do sounds like some A&R guy heard it live, saw that it was a popular number, and totally misunderstood what made it work.

When Hammerbox broke up, I can't say I was exactly surprised, since they went from being the Next Big Thing to Didn't Quite Happen, but I was mystified when Exactly. The. Same. Thing, right down to the overproduced major label debut, happened to Goodness a few years later. I'm still wondering if Carrie Akre, clearly an incredibly talented woman, can possibly catch a break. Probably a bit late now to become the sensation she should have been, unfortunately.

I was lucky enough to get to know Carrie a bit ~1998-1999, and ultimately apologize for blowing the high school interview (not that she remembered it), and got the chance to ask all of the (appropriate) questions I'd wanted to ask her since high school. Turned out that, up close and personal, she really was as cool as she had always seemed from afar.

When Hammerbox announced their short-lived reunion a few years ago, it made me want to cry, particularly since I didn't live in Seattle anymore and wouldn't be able to catch it. Hearing the Kufala disc of the EMP show, I'm not convinced I missed all that much, unfortunately -- it was magic that was going to be really difficult to recapture given how much everybody had moved on, and while it sounded on the recording like everybody had fun, it was the folks who used to be Hammerbox playing Hammerbox songs, not a Hammerbox show. Oh well.

The self-titled C/Z debut is still probably my favorite album, taken as a whole, by a Seattle band. It's a snapshot of something that had a heck of a lot of potential.

Richard

Lamestain HQ said...

Richard--thanks for the excellent comments. I also attended that Moore show. I'm almost positive that Gas Huffer headlined the night, although I may be mixing that up with some other show at the Moore. What I remember about Sweaty Nipples' set is that the drummer sang one song in a really annoying falsetto with his dick out half the time.

I also remember hanging out the lobby during the set by some really boring English pop band. Their name escapes me, but I recall that the local stations promoted that band more than any of the others.

Richard said...

Gas Huffer isn't ringing a bell for that show -- could be, but Hammerbox definitely headlined. Certainly the Sweaty Nipples stuff certainly brings back some memories perhaps best left under the rock where they've been stowed for a decade and a half.

Okay, you forced me to pull out my old high school scrapbook where I've got the ticket stub from that show (surrounded by my Rush, Cocteau Twins, Joe Satriani, Lollapalooza '92, and Posies ticket stubs, as well as several movie ticket stubs like The Player, Glengarry Glen Ross, Terminator II, etc. just 'cause I'm big dorky like that). It says:

"Monqui Presents: Hammerbox / Girl Trouble + Guests, The Moore Theatre, Fri Mar 13, 1992 8:00pm." Nearly sixteen years ago to the day. Dang.

So, it was Girl Trouble, not Gas Huffer, and Hammerbox definitely headlined. The order was, I'm pretty sure, Imij, Sweaty Nipples, Girl Trouble, and Hammerbox. I can scan it and upload it if you want, just as another visual reference for the site.

I remember only lasting in the mosh pit through Imij. My calf got stomped big time in there, and I got out to recover. I tried to go back in for Hammerbox, but they had long closed it off by that point. Sigh.

Richard

Lamestain HQ said...

Richard,

My brother pointed out that I was conflating the Moore show with "9 X 90 II," a nine-band show at the Paramount sponsored by the then-new KNDD. Gas Huffer and Hammerbox both played that bill, along with a ton of other bands that I barely remember. The English ponces played at the Paramount show.

It would be interesting to hear Imij again. I didn't care for them at the time and wonder if my mind would change. I recall that they were noisy as hell.

Richard said...

9 x 90 II? That wasn't their first New Years' show, was it? I seem to recall KNDD giving some Hammerbox songs airtime in support of that show.

Oh, KNDD -- I remember when they were young and arrogant enough to play pretty much anything, doing whatever they could to defy format. Marco Collins exulted over working at a station where he could say "Butthole Surfers" on the air; you were just as likely to hear REM and Ministry songs played in succession as you were to hear '80s stuff like New Order and Peter Schilling, and they even dipped into classic rock here, as I recall. Heady times.

Wow, this is bringing back memories. Maybe you could do a posting on the war over the Teen Dance Ordinance?

Richard

Richard said...

New clip from KSTW about Carrie Akre:

http://kstw.com/underground/Underground.Carie.Akre.2.699414.html

Anonymous said...

Invalid link :(

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