Thursday, September 28, 2006

Lip Lock Rock: The Alice 'N Chainz Story

Nearly every musician has an embarrassing past. It's very rare for anybody to be in a good high school band, and most musicians have been in bands that they would rather not have anybody talk about. Sadly, with the advent of the Internet, your crappy high school band will not get lost in the dustbins of history. Like Pantera, Alice in Chains also had a glam rock past. Prior to his mega successful career as a gloom and doom hard rock/grunge front man, the late Layne “Candy” Staley sang in a Shorewood High School band called Sleze. Sleze eventually morphed into Alice 'N Chainz and recorded a demo before Layne joined up with Jerry Cantrell and his glam band, Diamond Lie, around 1987. Diamond Lie would soon change their name to Alice in Chains, ditch their glam rock image, hook up with Soundgarden’s management, and eventually become one of the first Seattle "Alternative Metal" bands to sign to a major label.

Alice 'N Chainz originally formed sometime in the early eighties with Layne on vocals, Nick Pollock on guitar, Johnny Bacolas on bass, and James Bergstrom on drums. In 1986, they went to the famed London Bridge Studios and recorded their first 3-song demo tape. Produced by Timothy Branom and engineered by former Enemy drummer, Peter Barnes (check them out on Killed By 7" 1-5 or Screaming Fists vol 2), the demo features a guest horn section, took them several months to finish, and cost them around $1600. While it's rarely discussed nowadays in the post-grunge and modern day indie rock age, Seattle actually had a pretty large hard rock/metal scene in the 1980s. Metal Church, Queensryche, TKO, and Rail were the big local bands, and bands like Mistrust, Heir Apparent, Myth, Overlord, and Fifth Angel were supposed to be the Next Big Things. Alice N Chainz should then be placed in this hard rock/metal context and not in the post-punk or grunge one, and obviously, their demo sounds nothing like their later recordings.

After Layne joined Diamond Lie, former guitarist Nick Pollock started My Sister's Machine with ex-members of Mistrust and released a few records, followed by Tanks of Zen and, more recently, Soulbender. Johnny Bacolas and James Bergstrom would go to form Second Coming, who still gig and record regularly.

And according to the demo’s thank you notes, if you are “Blonde, Tan, Tastey [sic], And Tight,” the boyz in the band love you lots.

Oh yeah, “Over the Edge” is not the Wipers’ song.

Alice 'N Chainz - "Lip Lock Rock"
Alice 'N Chainz - "Fat Girls"
Alice 'N Chainz - "Over the Edge"

--MC Tom

Monday, September 25, 2006

Go ahead! Bundle of Hiss

If you’ve seen Decline of the Western Civilization II: The Metal Years, you no doubt remember several scenes featuring the band London. London had slaved away on the Hollywood Strip for years, playing all of the important venues and attracting pretty decent crowds. However, London’s fame (if you could call it that) arose not from their music itself but from the band’s impressive list of alumni: future members of every big hair metal band in the world had tenure in London. London itself, however, never attained much success. In some ways, Bundle of Hiss resembles London: they slaved away for a number of years (1980 to 1988) without releasing a record, and they included two future members of TAD (bassist Kurt Danielson and, briefly, Tad Doyle himself) and a future member of Mudhoney (drummer Dan Peters). However, Bundle of Hiss differed from London in a few of important aspects:

(1) To my knowledge, Bundle of Hiss never introduced a song called “Russian Winter” by attempting to burn a Soviet flag, only to destroy their set’s momentum by failing to get the flag to ignite.

(2) Bundle of Hiss likely never credit carded themselves into massive debt because of a large Aqua Net, smoke bomb, and fish-net stocking budget.

(3) Bundle of Hiss—and this is the most important difference—were awfully good.

I didn’t learn this until recently, when I picked up a used copy of Sessions: 1986-1988, a posthumous collection of most of their demos released by Loveless Records in 2000 or 2001. The CD includes two demos: one from 1986, with original singer and founding member Russ Bartlett, and one from 1987-1988 with guitarist Jamie Lane on vocals. Bundle of Hiss also recorded a third demo (apparently their best), but no copies of the masters exist.

I didn’t post any songs from the first demo. Barlett’s voice is fine, but the band hadn’t found its bearings yet. They lumber through several sludgy and uninteresting attempts at post-punk. The Lane-era songs, however, contain much more power and purpose. I could give or take Lane’s voice (think Andy Wood), but he managed to marshal Peters and Danielson into a formidable rhythm section. Several tracks are great—really great—early era grunge.

It’s a shame that this band was more heard about than actually heard.

Bundle of Hiss--"White"
Bundle of Hiss--"Drown"
Bundle of Hiss--"Rables"


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Three Year Old Could Do That: The U-Men Destroy Seattle

Ah, the U-Men. If you speak to any long time Seattle show goers, chances are they will tell you that the U-Men were Seattle’s best live band during the 1980s. They existed in the time after punk’s initial explosion and before grunge or alternative music’s pop chart domination, so their story is rarely told by boring Rock Historians. Often credited as a grunge forerunner, the U-Men were actually much more than just that. Their sound was much broader than the typical grunge band’s and musically they owed more to post-punk bands like the Birthday Party than they did to hard rock bands like Black Sabbath or Zeppelin. Their music also had a definite art edge to it, yet they still followed in the Northwest garage band tradition.

Known for their insane live shows (the most notorious show was when they were banned from Bumbershoot for setting a moat under the stage on fire), the U-Men were also one of the first Seattle bands to tour. However, for people like me who didn’t learn about them until Gas Huffer, the band also left behind a great vinyl legacy.

Singer John Bigley, guitarist Tom Price, drummer Charlie Ryan, and bassist Robin Buchan formed the band in 1981. Robin soon ditched the band and was replaced by Jim Tillman just in time for their self-titled debut EP on Bombshelter Records (run by Bruce Pavitt and Russ Battaglia) in 1984. A 2nd EP for Gerald Cosley’s pre-Matador record label, Homestead, soon followed in 1985. The U-Men were also featured on C/Z record’s Deep Six compilation in 1985, along with Green River and the recording debuts of Soundgarden, the Melvins, Malfunkshun, and Skin Yard. Further records include the 1987 “Solid Action” 45 and 1988’s Step on a Bug–The Red Toad Speaks LP, which were both released on Fallout Record’s label, Black Label. Former bassist, Tom Hazelmeyer, also included the U-Men’s cover of the Wheels’ “Bad Little Woman” for the first Dope-Guns’N-Fucking in the Streets 45 and released the posthumous “Freezebomb” 45 in 1988.

During a brief U-Men hiatus, Tom and Charlie also played in David Duet’s (a short-time singer in Girl Trouble) band, Cat Butt. This is the line up that recorded the song, “Big Cigar” on the Sub Pop 200 compilation. Tom and Charlie soon rejoined the U-Men, and Cat Butt went on to greater things on Sub Pop.

After the U-Men called it quits in 1988, Tom Price played in the Kings of Rock (who have since reformed), Gas Huffer, the Monkeywrench, and the Del Lagunas (Gas Huffer’s instrumental alter-egos). Charlie Ryan later played in the Crows, Bottle of Smoke (with David Duet), and the Right On (with Night and Days/Night Kings member Rob Vasquez). John Bigley also sang for the Crows and currently owns the Capital Club and Barca Lounge in Seattle. Bassists Jim Tillman later played in Love Battery, and Tom Hazelmeyer left town and formed the Halo of Flies. Another bassist, Tony “Tone Deaf” Ransom, supposedly moved to Alaska.

All these songs are included on the Chuckie Boy Records retrospective. You can buy it here.

U-Men - Shoot 'Em Down
U-Men - Bad Little Woman
U-Men - Solid Action

--Mr. Tom

Monday, September 18, 2006

Historia de la Musica Tad, vol. I

I had bought a drum machine and a Fender Jazzmaster guitar and started playing songs by myself and a drum machine. I had a Fender Champ amplifier that I played the guitar through an old Sun Beta Bass amplifier that I would put the drum machine through. I slowly taught myself how to play guitar and had many friends who were great guitarists gave me tips along the way. I quickly put together a few songs and in my mind I could hear the finished product. In June of 1987 I took my 1986 tax return refund of about $500.00 and bought time in a small 8 track studio (Reciprocal Studios) in Seattle’s Fremont/Ballard neighborhood with a friend named Jack Endino--Tad's MySpace page

Below, I noted an early TAD single that had eluded me because of the record store’s collector-level price tag; this was another. (SubPop’s Fuck Me I’m Rich compilation included the two songs, but alas, that is now out of print, and we sincerely doubt that SubPop will reissue it.) We later found a copy on vinyl. But at one time, in one region, this single was very much in demand.

Although these tracks should be credited to Tad the person and not TAD the band, a listen will make it clear that Mr. Doyle had pretty clear musical intentions before recruiting Kurt Danielson, Gary Thorstensen, and Steve Weide to flesh them out. It’s a template for later TAD songs: a steely, almost tribal rhythm section provides the song’s foundation, and a layer of feedback seethes throughout. “Ritual Device” (which a friend considers Tad’s best song) is the quicker of the two, whereas “Daisy” sounds like shin-deep mud, if mud had a sound. Both rock, of course: the former kicks you repeatedly in the chest, and the later pummels you with a tire iron.

TAD lacked Nirvana’s pop sensibility and Soundgarden’s arena rock power and looks, so their failure to achieve anything beyond a respectable level of cult status surprised nobody. However, TAD’s best songs were incredible, and Doyle had personality and humor to spare. Sub Pop created a hell of a myth around the guy by emphasizing that he came from Idaho, dressed like a lumberjack, and had once worked as a butcher. In truth, he studied percussion and was smart as a tack. A long essay remains to be written about TAD’s sense of humor, but I don’t have the time to write it. Suffice to say that the band couldn’t have worked without both sides of his personality.

The nascent Sub Pop released “Ritual Device” in August 1988. Its catalog number is SP19. (For all intents and purposes, the catalog numbers for Sub Pop begin at SP10, so this was the label’s ninth release.) Both were included on Fuck Me I'm Rich, and "Daisy" was also later released on the "Wood Goblins" ep.

Tad--"Ritual Device"


Friday, September 15, 2006

"How come you having 'lamestain'? What it is, 'lamestain'?"

By 1992, the "Seattle scene" had exploded like a banana in a microwave. The intrepid reporters of the New York Times decided to embed themselves in the scene, to learn how it is that the grunge kids talk. So they phoned SubPop Records and talked to one Megan Jasper, asking her to pass on the secret grunge lexicon to the kids.

Thing is, there was no grunge lexicon. So practical joker Jasper asked the Times to simply give her some terms, and she'd translate them into grunge.

Here's what the Times printed:

bloated, big bag of blotation - drunk
bound-and-hagged - staying home on Friday or Saturday night
cob nobbler - loser
dish - desirable guy
fuzz - heavy wool sweaters
harsh realm - bummer
kickers - heavy boots
lamestain - uncool person
plats - platform shoes
rock on - a happy goodbye
score - great
swingin' on the flippety-flop - hanging out
tom-tom club - uncool outsiders
wack slacks - old ripped jeans

Left, the cruel, petulant prankster Megan Jasper. Top right, the victims of this heinous action.

We actually remember reading this grunge lexicon in Newsweek, who reprinted it not long after the Times piece. It was pretty clear to everyone that somebody had pulled the Times's leg. The Baffler first called public attention to the prank.

Wikipedia has a pretty decent article about "Lexicon of Grunge: Breaking the Code." Jasper tells the story herself in the movie Hype!

If you haven't already figured it out, we actually are a couple of lamestains.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Suuuuuuub Pop, Rock City

Three weeks ago, I was hunting around The Hype Machine for the first time, punching random bands into their search engine. I entered "TAD," and to my pleasure and surprise, some blogger had posted mp3s for TAD's split single with Pussy Galore. This took me aback. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, this single would taunt me from the back wall/glass cases at the Cellophane Squares in the U-District and Bellingham.

The surprise was so great that I spilled coffee on my flanel and dropped a heroin needle on my Chuck Taylors.

Coincidentally, my brother (who will also post here) and I had been talking about this very 7" a couple of months earlier. He had gone on a grunge tear at the local record stores, snapping up all of the formerly overpriced grunge records he could find, now that the genre was at a popular nadir. Between those records, the ones we already had, and the stuff that I've unearthed on the Web, we had accumulated a pretty decent collection of records that few people felt they had a use for anymore.

And what better repository of useless records and information than the internet? Thus, the blog.

What will we dump--er, add here? Well, Pearl Jam never did anything for either of us, and they're already pretty well represented on the internet. So there will be none of that. There will also be no Mad Season, no Candlebox, and no Alice in Chains (unless we can figure out a means of digitizing their glam metal demo tape).
Did I say no Mad Season? No Mad Season. We'll basically limit ourselves to rare-ish stuff by the bigger artists and unheard or forgotten (sometimes justly) stuff from lesser-known artists. We also don't want to limit ourselves to grunge, either. However, most of the bands we want to focus on could conceivably share bills with one another.

We both lead busy lives, so we'll likely update lamestain only once a week. The songs will add will be dictated by what vinyl we're able to digitize. We also probably won't give away complete LPs that are still in print.

So, without further ado . . .

"Okay, could we get our dollar back, Bruce?"

Soundgarden: "Sub Pop Rock City" (from the Sub Pop 200 compilation)