Monday, November 27, 2006

By popular demand: The Freewheelin' Mark Arm

Although hundreds of thousands of Americans opposed Papa Bush’s initial invasion of Iraq in 1991, for the most part, it enjoyed massive popular support—something like 90% of the public sided with the President. I recall attending a protest in downtown Seattle that included thousands and thousands of participants; while walking from Capitol Hill to the Federal Building, several adults yelled at me and flipped me off, even though I was a teenager. Needless to say, the general public had little interest in dissent or even skepticism of any kind.

Slightly more than a month after Hussein tipped the first domino with his invasion of the emirate of Kuwait, Mark Arm headed to Reciprocal Recording to record a cover of Robert “Bob Dylan” Zimmerman’s “Masters of War.” The recording session lasted a day, and Sub Pop had the record on the shelves by the first of November 1990. Two months later, the bombing started.

Although the speed of the recording and release indicate the urgency of the situation, it’s hard to take this single too seriously as a form of protest. I don’t doubt Mark Arm’s sincerity, but the American public felt determined to invade Iraq, and rightly or wrongly (I think wrongly) had rendered all protest quaint and futile. The single seems to acknowledge this situation: although Arm performs the Dylan cover earnestly, the B-side is a shuffling novelty called “My Life with Rickets,” jokingly credited to “M. Arm/B. Diddley” and featuring a “Who Do You Love”-like riff and the refrain “she beats the shit out of me.” Sub Pop released the record under the moniker “The Freewheelin’ Mark Arm,” and the cover ever goes so far as to parody Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan record from the early 60s.

How are the songs themselves? While nobody would place them in the pantheon beside “Touch Me (I’m Sick)” or “You Got It,” they have a semiserious charm of their own, and Arm’s voice shares a distinctive, enjoyable imperfection with Dylan’s voice that suits the cover well. Several people have asked us to post these songs (by several, I mean two), but I think that’s mostly because of their orphan status. They aren’t like to be appended to any Mudhoney records, so until Mark Arm records a proper, bonus-ready solo record, they’re likely not to see the light of day anytime soon.

Incidentally, while all this was happening, the real Bob Dylan was banging out such classics as “She’s My Baby” and “Wilbury Twist” with his “super” group, The Travelling Wilburys. The late 80s and early 90s were not kind to Mr. Dylan.

“Wilbury Twist” . . . I mean, Jesus Christ. . . .

The Freewheelin’ Mark Arm—“Masters of War”
The Freewheelin’ Mark Arm—“My Life with Rickets”


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

64 Spiders: What Life Was Like Before Cat Butt

If you are like me, you talk about Cat Butt as much as possible. While your friends might find it pretty annoying, you know it’s your personal mission to spread the Gospel of the Journey to the Center of Cat Butt EP to all the nonbelievers. While some folks refuse to look past the band name, you know that Cat Butt were Seattle’s closest thing to Austin’s legendary punk band, Poison 13.

You have also been fascinated by Brother James’ earlier band, 64 Spiders, ever since you heard C/Z record’s Another Pyrrhic Victory compilation LP many years ago. 64 Spiders, sadly, weren’t around for very long and did not leave much of a recording legacy. But as luck would have it, they are doing a reunion show at the Funhouse on November 25th.

According to the very detailed Grunnen Rocks webpage, the band formed in 1985 and originally featured David Lee on vocals, James Burdyshaw on guitar, Joe Ross on bass, and Eric Walker on drums. Eric soon opted for a normal non-rock and roll life and was replaced by Scott McCullum (aka Norman Scott) around 1986. Who David Lee was remains a mystery; he was not credited on the records, and James and Joe perform the vocal duties. The band broke up in 1987 after slaving away in the local club scene, and members went on to other projects. Brother James, of course, formed Cat Butt, Yummy, and Sinister Six and currently fronts the Bug Nasties; bassist Joe Ross rejoined the Green Pajamas and also played in Yummy; Scott McCullum played in Skin Yard, Gruntruck, and Capping Day. Scott was also rumored to have almost joined Soundgarden before Matt Cameron (who also played in Skin Yard) accepted the job.

Their only release was a posthumous 500-pressed single on Issaquah’s Regal Select Records (RG-006). Regal Select put out some great garage punk rock records by bands like the Fall Outs, Kings of Rock, and the Night Kings and the 4 Puget Power compilations EPs. We’ll someday do a commemorative post about them. Until that glorious day comes, you’ll have to settle for these songs. The songs “Potty,” “Swat,” and “Rubber Room” were recorded by Jack Endino around 1986/1987 and released in 1989. On the back of the single, they mention a demo tape for sale, but I have never seen or heard it. “There Ain’t” and “Bulemic [sic] Saturday” are more grunge sounding and were included on the 1989 Another Pyrrhic Victory compilation. Jack Endino also engineered these songs at Reciprocal Studios, but the record dates are not listed.

On a personal note, this single has been tacked on a University District record store wall for many years, but the $20 price tag always dissuaded me from buying it. As a record nerd, if there is one thing I hate, it’s when record stores don’t know how to price records. Why they would choose to sit on inventory for an indefinite amount of time with the most likely vain hope that a sucker will eventually come along and overpay for it instead trying to get everything to sell quickly by charging a reasonable price is beyond me. Yes, the single is rare and everything, but $20? You can generally find it on eBay for around $5. Rant Over.

64 Spiders--"There Ain't"
64 Spiders--"Bulemic Saturday"
64 Spiders--"Potty"
64 Spiders--"Swat"
64 Spiders--"Rubber Room"

-- MC Tom

Monday, November 13, 2006

Love Battery's Between the Eyes

A year or two ago, a friend and coworker loaned me several CDs by the British shoegazer band Swervedriver. This was among the incidents that renewed my interest in the music from my youth, because I immediately identified similarities with the “last great, undiscovered, first-generation” Seattle band, Love Battery.

Ron Rudzitis (aka, Ron Nine) formed the band after his previous pop band, Room Nine, folded. Love Battery had several iterations, and they also underwent the cross-pollination common among the great bands from that scene: at various times, the band included Dan Peters (of Mudhoney), Bruce Fairweather (formerly of Green River and Mother Love Bone), Jason Finn (later to join The Presidents of the United States of America), and Jim Tillman (formerly of the U-Men). (Amazingly, Jason Everman never played with them.)
The term “psychedelic” often appears in descriptions of their music—their Wikipedia entry uses that term, for example. I, too, classified their music using this term when first heard them, but the band actually shares little in common with music made during that 60s movement. Persons expecting to hear Nuggets-style jangle like the Cynics or a hard-psych band like Dungen would be in for a rude awakening. Their psychedelic influence appears to have filtered through some of the loopier British pop bands of the early 80s, such as Echo and the Bunnymen or the Teardrop Explodes. Swervedriver likely sipped a little from this same cup.

(This is not to imply that Love Battery actually sound like Echo and the Bunnymen; they don’t. What do they sound like, then? I’ve seen the term “shimmery grunge” used to describe Swervedriver, and that term works with Love Battery as well: the guitars sound grungy, yet they also shimmer.)

Their first release, Between the Eyes, was both a grunge lover’s dream and a record collector’s nightmare: SubPop originally released “Between the Eyes” as a 7” (with “Easter” as the b-side), and over the course of 2 years, it grew into a 10” EP and a full-length LP. The CD version my friend Dave loaned me to extract the mp3s contains seven songs, but the definitive version of Between the Eyes contains ten songs, three of which were culled from their subsequent record’s sessions. I culled my favorite tracks from the EP but am opting not to post the entire record, as it appears to still be available, at least via iTunes.

I recommend ignoring the lyrics. Make sure and visit Love Battery's official home page.

Love Battery--"Between the Eyes"
Love Battery--"Easter"
Love Battery--"Highway of Souls"


Friday, November 03, 2006

1000 Words on Deranged Diction

With the rare punk record craze and recent documentaries like American Hardcore, the once-reviled US hardcore movement is having a slight resurgence. Once lost bands like the Fix and Koro have seen their impossibly rare records reissued, and it seems like rare hardcore compilations are getting released daily. Like the very briefly discussed metal and power pop scenes, Seattle also had a pretty healthy early 80s hardcore scene. Since Seattle did not have anything like a Dischord, SST, Touch and Go, or Alternative Tentacles Records at the time, the movement was far less documented than the DC, Boston, California, and Midwest scenes. Still Seattle had their fair share of loud, fast rules bands. The Accused and their legendary fathers, the Fartz, are probably the most well known Seattle hardcore bands, but bands like Solger, the Rejectors, RPA, the Drills (anybody have info on these guys?), and the Silly Killers also left behind some cool songs.

Another noteworthy band was Deranged Diction. Mostly remembered as the launching pad for Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament, the band also featured Green River and Mother Love Bone guitarist Bruce Fairweather and, once they moved to Seattle, future Swallow singer/guitarist Rod Moody. Their music was fast and pissed off but still less monotonous than your typical hardcore band. They would occasionally break the 90-second song rule and would sneak in the quick guitar solo (and even a bass solo for one song), which would probably annoy the hardcore punk purist.

Originally formed in Missoula, Montana in 1982, the group comprised skateboarding college students and was one of the few original bands in the area. Along with Jeff and Bruce, the band also featured former Renobs singer Tom Kipp and drummer Sergio Avenia. The band performed original material as well as Flipper, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, and Dead Kennedys covers during their live sets. In 1983, the band released a limited edition half studio/half live tape called No Art, No Cowboys, No Rules. The band also contributed a song to the 1983 Mystic Record’s We Got Power compilation LP and the 1984 Bad Compilation Tapes’ Eat Me cassette. Kipp then left the band when they decided to move to Seattle. Tim Healy filled in for vocals during last few Montana shows, and Rod Moody joined the band once they arrived in Seattle. The band eventually broke up in mid-1984, when Jeff and Bruce left for Green River.

Outside of an August 1993 Goldmine article about Pearl Jam’s family tree, Deranged Diction isn’t that well documented. Luckily, I tracked Rod down, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the band.

When were you in the band?


Why did the band relocate to Seattle?

I joined the band after they moved, so I'm guessing that Missoula was boring and they were looking to find a more active scene.

What did you think of Seattle's hardcore/punk scene at the time?

It was fine. Lots of fast, loud bands with lots of attitude and little substance. Of course, I'm old now, so I can say that. I was pretty removed from the punk "community" for the most part. Just went to shows, played shows, then jumped on the bus back home to my safety zone in West Seattle. Back then I thought it was pretty amazing though. Once things shifted into metal territory, I lost interest--temporarily at least.

Did the band tour at all?

No, just played Vancouver BC and Tacoma, once each.

Who did you share bills with?

Husker Du, Butthole Surfers, Stalag 13, Boot Boys, Rejectors, Accused, Circle 7, Mr. Epp, Silly Killers, Malfunkshun, Aerobic Death, LockJaw, Spluii Numa, He-Sluts, March of Crimes, Extreme Hate, DSML, and probably a few more.

Mark Arm once said that Diction went from being "one of the fastest bands around to one of the slowest and weirdest." How did that happen, and are there any recordings from this era?

I think he was exaggerating, because apart from a couple of slower songs (one dirge and a couple midtempo tunes) we kept things pretty fast throughout. But, yeah we were leaning toward the direction that early Green River eventually nailed. Jeff was moving away from his early influences like DC hardcore and was immersing himself in Bad Company and Kiss records. I started bringing my songs into the band, some of which were a bit more midtempo punk, and I started playing guitar with them, which crunched up the sound a bit. No recordings from this time apart from a couple of cheapo rehearsal tapes.

Did Tim Healy, Tom Kipp, or Sergio Avenia end up in any other bands?

Don't know about Healy or Kipp...never knew them. I do know Kipp is living in Seattle -- here's a link.

Sergio moved to New York over 10 years ago and began playing jazz with many excellent musicians and drove a taxi in Manhattan. He later moved back to Seattle. Andy from Swallow was playing jazz with him recently, and he tells me Serg is focused on piano now instead of drums.

Why did the band break up?

This is a bit hazy.... Jeff claimed in an interview that he didn't think the rest of the band was taking it seriously. I honestly can't remember what led to the breakup. I just recall us not practicing for a while, and then discovering we were no longer a band. I seem to remember someone else telling me that Jeff was jamming with Mark, and I was like "oh, really?"

Where you any bands in between Diction & Swallow?

Yeah, I was in a bar band playing covers. Mostly tasteful covers, at least.

Any reissue plans?

I've heard rumors, but I'll believe it when I see it.

The below songs originally appeared on the 11 song No Art, No Cowboys, and No Rules tape and were later included on the BCT Eat Me compilation tape.

Borderless Countries Tapes, Schizophrenic Records, and Enterruption (now based out of the very cool Electric Heavyland record store in Wallingford) also reissued the Eat Me and I’m Buck Naked tapes as the Hardcore Amerika–the Reagan Years CD a few years ago. It might be out of print, but you can go here and see if there are any reissue plans.

Mad Props to Rod for answering my questions and go check out the reformed Swallow (we’ll get to them shortly) and his new band, Twink the Wonderkid.

Kill or Be Killed
So Bad
Not Fair

-- MC Tom