Monday, October 29, 2007

A spooooooky post for Halloween: Mr. Epp and the Calculations

Although they had a minor underground hit with their “Mohawk Man” single (reaching #1 on Rodney Bingenheimer’s show on KROQ, Rodney on the Rocks), perhaps the most (in-)famous contribution to music from this era made by Mr. Epp and the Calculations derived from a letter Mark McLaughlin (that is, Mark Arm) wrote in 1981 to the zine Desperate Times. He described Mr. Epp as “Pure grunge! Pure noise! Pure shit!” And not long after that, Kurt Cobain died.

I’ll only give a brief history of Mr. Epp and the Calculations, as that ground is well covered elsewhere (here and here). They named themselves after their math teacher at Bellevue Christian High School. While membership changed frequently during their brief existence (1981 to 1984), Mark Arm, Darren Morey, and Jo Smitty formed the core of the band, and Steve Turner played with them toward the end. Any attempt to run through the line-ups of various recordings would be redundant, as that information covered well in the links above.

In the days since they disbanded, most people who have discovered them have done so out of interest in the members’ subsequent projects. The most famous, of course, were Green River and Mudhoney, but Darren Morey later joined Steel Pole Bath Tub, who maintain a considerable cult following to this day. Smitty kept Mr. Epp’s flame alive in the 1990s, issuing the band’s records through his label Box Dog and in conjunction with Turner’s Super-Electro Records.

Some of the bits I’ve read about Mr. Epp refer to them as a hardcore band, which they’re most assuredly not. A friend of mine, who passed on these digital files, told me that he hears Flipper and the Minutemen. While I don’t believe that Mr. Epp sought to imitate either one of these bands (especially since few musicians have the chops necessary to ape the Minutemen), there’s a strange amount of truth in his description. In a way, they defy categorization. It’s easy to forget that so many punk bands from that era also defied easy categorization; the hidebound punks from the early 80s who adhered to specific ethos and appearances, in fact, serve as targets for Mark Arm in the aforementioned “Mohawk Man.”

I may be making this sound more interesting than it is. We’ll be charitable and state that these fellas went on to make better, more interesting, more exciting music later. “Spooky,” which does for goths what “Mohawk Man” did for Exploited-loving, snaggle-toothed rockers, is probably their best song. The rest? I’d download the whole thing only if you’re a completist.

The first five tracks come from Mr. Epp’s first EP Of Course I’m Happy, Why? (Pravda; 1982); “Spooky” comes from the compilation tape The Public Doesn’t Exist (Dog Tapes; 1982). Box Dog and Super Electro released Ridiculing the Apocalypse, which collects everything, in 1996. As far as I know, it’s out of print; it someone knows otherwise, kindly let me know. Their complete discography is well covered here.

The entire cd is on the .zip file here.

Mohawk Man
No Rights
Wild Youth on Money
Red Brigade



Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Vexed: Not Your Typical Seattle Funk-Punk Band!

I’ll be honest with you, sonny: if there is one thing that makes me want to run to the hills, it’s funk-rock. Sure, I can bust a move to some of the early funk-punk bands, like Liquid Liquid, Medium Medium, and ESG, but after hearing way too many Red Hot Chili Pepper imitators and long-hair guitarist dudes who have learned the 7#9 chord (aka the Hendrix chord) and suddenly think they are Eddie Hazel, I generally find it best to avoid the genre.

With that in mind, this week’s spotlight artist is Vexed, who were described as having a “relentless funk/rock/death/groove sound” on the 1988 C/Z compilation record Secretions (CZ006). Honestly, if I wasn’t already familiar with the band, chances are I wouldn’t bother to check them out based on that description, and that would be a shame. While the band did incorporate funky bass lines, and while their guitarist played more than barre chords, I’d say that they had more in common with bands like Victims Family and Nomeansno than Psychefunkapus or Infectious Grooves. There was nothing jokey or “jock friendly” about their music; they were politically oriented and owed more to bands like Gang of Four, Dead Kennedys, and Killing Joke than your typical frat party funk rock band.

Also, unlike your typical funk party band, Vexed were made up of punk rock veterans. Bassist Alfred Butlers played in Death of Marat (with Skin Yard’s Daniel House), and singer/guitarist Milton Garrison played in In Vitro Pope, the Altered (with future Soundgarden bassist Hiro Yamamoto), and the Drills (which featured punk rock poet Patrick McCabe). As far as I can tell, though, none of the bands besides the Drills ever released anything.

Vexed formed around 1984 and made their debut on the 1985 compilation tape Pyrrhic Victory, along with Soundgarden, Skin Yard, and 10 Minute Warning. After that, the band appeared on the promo-only 1986 cassette Bands That Will Make Money, which was put together by former KCMU DJ Faith Henschel and featured Soundgarden, Green River, H-Hour (w/ Tad on drums), Skin Yard, Pure Joy, Fred (w/ Amy Denio), and Portland’s Napalm Beach. Their vinyl debut was on the 1987 Ironwood Records compilation LP Lowlife, where they contributed the song “Sixes and Seven.” That label was based in the Ironwood recording studios, which, I believe, is now Avast.

Next, they contributed the song “I Forget” to the 1988 Secretions compilation LP (CZ006). This LP was masterminded by Vertigo Bus’ Patty Herlevi and also featured songs by various Amy Denio projects, Crypt Kicker 5 (featuring Jack Endino on drums), Weather Theatre, Pure Joy, Coffin Break, Skin Yard, Capping Day, H-Hour, and a few others. Secretions came out around the same time as Sub Pop 200 but is more musically diverse and less “scene defining.”

Vexed’s first noncompilation record was the 1988 Maybe 7” EP, with the songs “Ad Nauseum” b/w “Xians” and “Resistivity of a Highly Viscous Fluid” (CZ008); those songs were also added to the CD version of their first record, The Good Fight (CZ021). The Jack Endino-produced record features a mix of instrumental and vocal tracks and is further proof that there was more to the local scene than just grunge.

Continuing with their compilation-appearing blitz, the band contributed the song “GWYM” to the Teriyaki Asthma Volume 4 7”(CZ0023), which also has Alternative Tentacle recording artists, Alice Donut, Icky Joey (Love Battery and Thrown Ups members), and God’s Acre. For fellow record nerds, please note that Milton’s other band, Yeast, also appeared on the first Teriyaki Asthma EP, along with the record debut of Nirvana, former Chrome member Helios Creed, and Coffin Break. The first five volumes were also compiled on CD in 1991; you can buy it here.

With that, the band broke up, only to reform a few years later with new drummer Buzz Crocker who was on loan from fellow C/Z recording artist, Alcohol Funnycar. This version of the band contributed to the 1994 Three on the Tree 7” EP (CZ075) alongside Chicago’s Wreck (featuring Die Kreuzen bassist Keith Brammer) and Seattle’s Engine Kid (featuring a post-False Liberty and Brotherhood and pre-Sunn 0))) and Southern Record co-honcho Greg Anderson). The 1994 Cathexis LP (CZ072) was the band’s swan song, and the members moved the lonely town of Splitzville.

Jack Endino sums up Vexed and their place in Seattle music best on this fantastic band interview:

"Vexed played some of the best shows I ever saw from a Seattle band, but the grunge crowd kept their distance. Their loss," he said. "Remember, history is written by the victors, so Seattle music history is now 100 percent grunge-centric. The 'other' bands we're speaking of here didn't 'do' much to leave a mark. No national tours, no big record deals."

"Afterwards, the grunge thing, though not yet called that by name until '89 or so, sort of separated itself out," he added. "There were the 'hip' Sub Pop bands and then there was everyone else, which was still a lot of great bands. Eventually, the 'everyone else' became sort of an anti-scene, a self-conscious 'Oh well, guess we're not a grunge band, but who cares' thing. But you had bands as diverse as the Young Fresh Fellows, Coffin Break, Gas Huffer, The Gits, heck, a million other great bands who existed. But for a few years, 'everyone else' was overshadowed by the Sub Pop hype juggernaut, to the extent that Sub Pop and 'grunge' simply became synonymous with 'Seattle' to most people who didn't live here. This actually got pretty annoying to the rather large 'everyone else' crowd, as you can imagine... So there you have the situation with Vexed: two albums, no national touring, no hype. Could apply to any of a zillion bands."

And the songs are also on this .zip file.

-- MC Tom

Monday, October 15, 2007

Some updates

We added several links to other blogs on the sidebar. The two that I’ve been checking the most religiously lately are 10 Things Zine and Thee Head Vein. 10 Things is assembled by Dan Halligan, who used to write a punk rock zine in Seattle called Ten Things Jesus Wants You to Know. He updates the blog quite frequently—daily, from the looks of things—with most posts documenting long-gone, obscure punk bands. It’s great stuff. We anxiously await Dan’s coverage of The Recordbreakers! Thee Head Vein is devoted to old school garage rock and the stuff that it has influenced. Although the writer doesn’t focus on any particular region, there’s a fair amount of cross-over with some of the bands we discuss. It’s a great blog with tons of fantastic music.

On the post about Here Ain’t the Sonics, ex-Mono Man Mort left a message with a link to an interview he did on the radio (specifically, Pooner Clark's Locals Only show on KISM) that covers his entire career, starting with his surprisingly excellent high school band (The MPs) and going through The Dehumanizers, Game for Vultures, the Mono Men, and . . . Mort’s an interesting guy and mainstay of the local scene. Give it a listen while you’re at work.

Finally—and this is the coolest news of all—we learned a while back that Green River will be reuniting for a Sub Pop birthday bash next summer! (Actually, we heard about this through the grapevine a while back but have sat on the news, awaiting confirmation.) I can’t express how awesome I think this will be. Mark Arm and Steve Turner played at least one mini-reunion with Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard while touring with Pearl Jam (see the samples below), but this will be, from what I understand, the complete band.

The two tracks come from a one-off reunion at a Pearl Jam show in Las Vegas (November 30th,1993), albeit a reunion without Alex Vincent, who will be part of the upcoming reunion. Enjoy!

Swallow My Pride
Ain't Nothing to Do

Monday, October 08, 2007

Lamestain Answers the Age-Old Question "Who the Fuck Were My Eye?"

If you were sitting on my lap right now, you would probably notice that I am wearing a Columbo-style yellow raincoat and sporting a massive smile, because I have just solved the mystery of long-lost Seattle grunge pioneers, My Eye. The mystery of My Eye’s origin and demise was so mysterious that most people didn't even know that the mystery existed. Since I fancy myself as a semi-professional sleuth, a Philip Marlowe for the grunge era, if you will, I decided to take the job and uncover the truth about My Eye. What I found was both eye-opening and shocking! Or, at least, it was interesting to me. While the band didn’t last very long and didn’t leave much of a recorded history, they did feature members from several prominent bands, and most of them are still performing music regularly.

Now with the job accepted, I donned my deerstalker hat, lit up my bubble pipe, and started looking for clues. The first and most obvious pointers come from the band's appearance on the 1989 C/Z Another Pyrrhic Victory: The Only Compilation of Dead Seattle God Bands LP (CZ012). Perusing the back sleeve with a magnifying glass, I learned that band members were vocalist Steven Van Liew, guitarist Kurtiss (spelled Curtis) Lofstrom, bassist Max Godsil, and drummer Duffy Drew. The record also offers the below information:

“Not much is known about this short-lived band. They were rumored to have lived in the underground Seattle only to come out at night to prey on young teenage girls. Previous single on C/Z is out of print.”

Perhaps sensing that a future detective might someday want to unlock My Eye’s secrets, the record’s clues are purposely misleading. Their single was out of print by 1989, but several investigations into Underground Seattle provided no evidence that the band ever resided there, and there is no proven link between the band and any missing teenage girls. While those bits have proved to be false, the band did contribute the songs "Harder Trust" and "Gets that Way" to the 3000-pressed and Jack Endino-engineered LP. The record also featured unreleased songs by Green River, 64 Spiders, Malfunksun, and H-Hour and never made it to compact disc.

Trying to prove that there was a correlation between My Eye, the Another Pyrrhic Victory LP, and the 1985 Pyrrhic Victory: A Goal Attained At Too Great a Cost cassette tape was also a dead end. The Daniel House-released tape featured early songs by Soundgarden, Skin Yard, Vexed (featuring Milton Garrison from the Drills – stay tuned for an exclusive Lamestain Drills feature!), Feedback (featuring Daniel House and Matt Cameron), the fantastic 10 Minute Warning, and many others, but no My Eye. While it was fruitful to learn about the tape, it did not help me with the My Eye investigation.

The next clue came from their lone 1987 “Empty Box” b/w “So Much Going On” single on C/Z (CZ005). This clue initially threw me off, because the band sounds like post-punkers gone grunge. This assumption ultimately turned out to be wrong. While the songs are gloomy and dark, the band members did not come from the post-punk or Goth scene. Instead, they came out of Seattle’s largely written-out-of-the-history-book hard rock scene. Most notably, Steve and Kurtiss played in early metal titans Overlord, who you can learn more about here. Steve also sang in Shadow, which featured future Rockfords guitarist Mike McCready and later members of Goodness. Duff Drew played in the glam rock band the Trids, which featured feature Zipgun/RC5 singer Rob Clarke, and shared the stage with Culprit, Shadow, and Overlord.

Next, I needed the final answer to the riddle - what happened to the band members? Following My Eye’s split up, a little birdie told me that Steve then sang in Bible Stud and currently plays in the One and Only True Messiah. I was also reliably informed that Max and Duff joined up with ex-Thrown Up John Leighton Beezer, formed Stomach Pump, and released a record on Penultimate records. This has been verified with exhaustive research. Duff has also since played in Toothpaste 2000 and Manray. Kurtiss did some time in Portland’s Crack City Rockers and his current musical whereabouts are unknown.

"So Much Going On"
"Gets That Way"

And the .zip file is here.

-- MC Tom, Private Dick for Hire

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Fastbacks are always right

My introduction to The Fastbacks happened in high school, when I went to see Beat Happening at the OK Hotel with my friends Amy and Khaela. Mecca Normal played the first slot on the bill, and I must admit that we found them a bit abrasive; none of us had heard anything quite like them and were too wet behind the ears to appreciate them. When we mentioned this to Khaela’s cousin, Bret Lunsford, he responded that we might find The Fastbacks more immediately appealing.

The Fastbacks were one of the longest-running bands from the Northwest: they formed just after the first wave of punk (in 1979) and lasted through the hardcore, hair metal, and grunge eras. But they disbanded in 2001, 22 years after their start, so if you didn’t get a chance to see them, you missed something awfully special. They completely knocked our socks off that night. I had never witnessed anything quite as spastic and invigorating as Kurt Bloch jumping around on the stage like a hyperactive child with a bellyful of sugar, somehow never missing a note. Kim Warnick and Lulu Gargiulo played with equal enthusiasm but fewer gymnastics, substituting energy where other bands might prefer precision.

I saw the band four or five times after that, both as openers and headliners, and I can’t recall a single time when they weren’t the best band of the night. They played each show as if it was their very first. I also saw Bloch several times with The Young Fresh Fellows (who we’ll write about eventually) and The Minus 5; he appears to be that excited all of the time.

That excitement and exuberance, however, doesn’t extend to the lyrics, which are usually quite melancholy. In fact, the sharp, sunny melodies create a fantastic counterpoint to the generally glum, lonely subject matter. Whatever you say about The Fastbacks, they weren’t the cool kids growing up, but they also never indulged themselves in the embarrassing, narcissistic emoting of today’s emo and punk bands. The most commonly made comparison, in terms of music, is The Buzzcocks, but The Fastbacks also carried the torch for the more arena-friendly power pop bands of the 70s, like Sweet (whose “Set Me Free” was a staple of their sets) and Cheap Trick. And people may roast me for this, but here it is anyway: I prefer The Fastbacks to The Buzzcocks. Always have.

These tracks all date from their earlier records and singles, some of which Sub Pop later collected on the compilation The Question is NO. Starting in 1992, they recorded mainly with Sub Pop; the earlier labels included No Threes (Bloch’s label), Pop Llama, and Lucky. We’ll eventually get to the Sub Pop records, which are really when the band peaked, as much as I love the older material.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the band’s history with drummers, so here it is: they had a lot of drummers.

Early single tracks:

“Someone Else’s Room” (1981)
“It Came to Me in a Dream” (1986)

From Fastbacks . . . and His Orchestra! (1987)

“Wrong, Wrong, Wrong”
K Street

From Very, Very Powerful Motor (1990)

“Better than Before”
“Everything That I Don’t Need”

From Bike Toy Clock Gift (live in1988)

“Only at Night”
“In America

The songs are also on the .zip file here.