Archive for August, 2014


Apologies for the delay – always something going on around here, always something…

So, recap! Disc 1 CD / Volume 1 LP =

  • Starfish – featuring former members of Olympia stalwarts Treehouse and Helltrout
  • Vampire Lezbos – long running punk outfit with a neat twist of humour and politics
  • Nubbin – it’s poppy, it’s fuzzy – it gets two songs for being so cool
  • Saucer – one of two Bellingham bands on the release, piano, neat twists in time signature
  • Machine – mix 1/4 Nirvana pre-Bleach, a perfect teenhood punk upbringing and tight playing to create a Machine
  • Medelicious – no shame in saying, my favourite song on the release, would have been a pop-punk hit 5 years later
  • Hitting Birth – industrial, tribal, somewhere between Coil and Public Image Limited circa Flowers of Romance
  • Crunchbird – poetic, snarling, calm before angry storm, sonorous deep vocals
  • The Ones – Americana meets garage rock before the former was even invented, lite-energy, friendly
  • Pod – an instrumental three piece creating punk rock mantras to spiral into
  • Thrillhammer – A welcome gift from Portland. Straight-down-the-line scorching alternative rock
  • Yellow Snow – A neat linkage between the alt. rock era to come and the electro-pop that went before
  • Helltrout – Olympia’s ‘other’ heavy rock band in the 1988-1991 era somewhere between grunge and metal

And Disc 2 CD / Volume 2 LP? Well, let us see, let us see…

First out of the gates, and celebrity of sorts, Bundle of Hiss. Kurt Danielson did a huge (and deeply kind) favour by fishing out an unreleased BoH song – Wench. Further favours were done by the omnipresent Mr. Jack Endino who felt there was no need to remix it, it just needed a quick mastering and polish which he was willing to do for free to see the song get out there. I guess it felt right – credit to Stuart Baker of Soul Jazz Records who selected the line-up for this release – that the songs that run closest to ‘grunge’ in either sound or involvement sit right at the centre, the dividing line between the two halves of the compilation (Helltrout closing out Disc 1, BoH kicking off Disc 2.) It’s a charmer too – dark love song? Quest? Clear precursor of the glory that was to follow with Tad? All of these – plus it’s good fun.

A Starfish reprise, a song called Run Around – again, I can’t help it, I loved the Breeders’ Cannonball back when I was 16-17 but had only passing delight in the accompanying album. I think Starfish are far more ‘together’ and extremely similar in sound and style. Second favourite song on the compilation for me – I admit to singing it around the house. The mellow opening is great, gentle, bass-heavy, neat vocal turn before the voice is double-tracked and thumps into the chorus. All sorts of great touches – the first chorus bleeding into the next verse, a kicking solo…And tight at two and a bit minutes.

Thrillhammer reprise – Bleed – ooo…Neat discomfort…Rip-roaring echo of grunge – perhaps a touch poppier…That “just like heaven” chorus refrain sticks in my mind…Then I notice the lines about “…something crawls between your legs and you begin to bleed…” and I suddenly think “wait! Must listen more closely! There’s something happening here…” I love it when songs get me singing along then warp into something different. Remember that song “Stop the Cavalry”? Heck, Christmas song sung by a man in a World War One trench wishing he was home with his family and not facing death in muddy fields…

Chemistry Set were a real web of connections – one of the big early bands in the region were the Young Pioneers which spawned people who later went on into bands like Swallow on Sub Pop, most guys in the band went onto other regulars on the scene and they all lived in band houses frequented by people like Bruce Pavitt and half the ‘soon to be famous’ denizens of Seattle. The song itself made me think of R.E.M. when I first heard it – the jangling guitar like keys in a pocket but I think there’s a lot more warmth, richness, psychedelic influences and a beautifully building outro with new elements arising and falling away to the last fade out.

My Name – intro to ‘Voice of a Generation Gap’ immediately made me think ‘Know Your Enemy’ by Rage Against the Machine – ha! Fun. My Name were a big presence on the North West punk scene, a really quality outfit. This first song by the band has the mellow sparky verses with their upbeat melodies, before the rocking bridge…Then the big chorus asking where the leader of the musical moment is or is going to come (“give me a Jesus of the present-day…”) Eerie in a way. Be careful what you wish for – there’s that further echo of “who will be king and queen of the outcast teens.” The chugging spoken word bridge is a great touch – a walk round a supermarket and life in general all at once, lyrically sophisticated. There’s so many twists and turns to this song – they’re a talented bunch.

The first disc had a neat crowd-pleasing piece (to my mind) in the form of Medelicious’ Beverly. Disc two marks the same stage with a swooning female vocal, breathy, night-time whisper vibes. I think the violin is a wonderful addition to the song – a much under-used instrument in the indie-canon which lends the same inspired emphasis as Nirvana’s addition of a cello to Dumb on the In Utero album. It’s a great instrumental backing – an upbeat chorus on a song that sounds like a goodbye. Makes me feel sleepy – I’d put this on repeat before heading to bed.

Shug are a huge new favourite – they kick-ass. My take on quite a few of the female punk bands of this era is that they utterly out-muscled the blokes again and again – there’s something far more raw about a female voice at screaming razor-edge while still under control. Maybe it’s the same as early Norwegian death metal – it’s the higher pitches that make for nails on blackboard sharpness – most male vocalists can only offer a more grounded and well-earthed growl, a rumble of thunder rather than a lightning flash. The vocals here are awesome – tweaks applied to the end of lines, crystal-clear mumbling on the verses, an awesome range of technique and style on display. Plus it’s a real rock n’ roll lifestyle track – “between the smoking and the drinking and the red hot sun it’s a wonder I haven’t lost my mind…”

Treehouse – again, another real favourite – Debbie Had a Dream. Fragile vocal intro, can’t tell if happy or sad – then the propulsion of the guitars and bass locked in tight for the verses. The chorus spirals beautifully, you’ll hear it, circular patterns diving on down. You could drive to this song – head down and eyes fixed on the road, pedal flat. Plus, hell, ain’t it fun…?

My Name pop up again with “Why I Fight” – for all the roughneck song titles I find the vocal turn actually quite hard rock, y’know what I mean? That call to arms, that emphasis on certain lines “I’m the man for you – and you know it!” It’s a love song moment couched in a manifesto style and a promise that it won’t be easy and that he won’t be perfect and you know it. At 2.45 the song breaks and flies in a solo section that seems to be from a different song but works so well I really don’t mind – y’know how Pantera “Walk” (the best grit-teeth running song ever) pulls that same trick of skill meaning you don’t mind cohesiveness being sacrificed?

Soylent Green are from Tacoma – again, another Nirvana link having accompanied the early iteration of Nirvana on two of the band’s first six gigs. Bruce Purkey, courtesy of his brother, was one of the first recipients of Cobain’s dubbed tapes of January 23, 1998 – Nirvana’s first studio session. It Smiles really had a purpose in my mind – the whole immortality of the North West scene sat not a million miles from DIY, home-recorded, friends playing with friends for the sheer hell of it – there had to be something on here that came directly from that ethos and environment. So here it is, a song recorded in a meat-packing factory in Tacoma by a band who would briefly inhabit the Community World Theater where the couple of dozen local punk kids would go to meet those who shared their tastes amid a sea of indifference. It’s a straight forward clattering punk song and a neat break in another direction. That’s all we really wanted to do on this compilation – bin the carefully packaged, carefully presented Sub Pop universe that substitutes for the true complexity of the local music scene, send ears out in numerous directions for better or worse.

Kill Sybil were one of the bands – alongside Hell Smells (in which Maria Mabra of Shug played) and Tad (in which Kurt Danielson of Bundle of Hiss played) to perform at the benefit for Mia Zapata in 1993. A horrendous incident which, in the tightly knit and very heavily intertwined world of the North West music scene saddened an awfully large percentage of musicians in the region – it’s warming in a way realising this was a musical world small enough that most people knew most other people and had or would play with them at some point. Again, it’s a component of this compilation – the desire to show the same names popping up in different places, to show how many bands from across a region would end up crossing paths. The band itself reminds me of My Blood Valentine, vocally, I can’t hear the words, it’s more about tones, held notes, drifting male and female voices breaking in and falling away – the accompaniment is more a mantra played at volume, a steady repetition like musical wallpaper eliminating background noise and distraction so you can more readily appreciate the shifting elements and the motion of the voice. It probably says something about my twisted eardrums that I think of this as an ambient song…

Calamity Jane…I’ve know this band’s name since I was about 14. They’re famous essentially for being shredded by the Argentine crowd in Buenos Aires on October 30, 1992 when supporting Nirvana. One album, a clutch of singles – all done. A crying shame because there’s something of the Bikini Kill in these guys – the alternate purrs and yelps of the voice, the pummeling instrumentation – the demands for female ownership over female bodies, the endless issue of women only receiving a voice if they conform, conform, conform. They made their point best by being victimised so horrendously on that one and only trip abroad.

Saucer! Hello Bellingham! Chicky Chicky Frown – simple, swift, chanting lyrics, female backing vocals call-and-response to the male vocalist. I love the way the woman’s “yeah,” is mimicked by the guitars pulling a string bend/neck bend to push the note lower to the exact same extent as her voice. It’s a clever touch on a pleasantly throwaway song.

Ending! Attica. I REALLY wanted to get these guys on here – I’m not kidding, I was trying for months. The breakthrough involved actually getting Aaron Burckhard (ex-Nirvana, now-Under Sin) on the phone – poor guy was so kind and patient with me harassing him – and giving me the details for a gentleman called Robb who has been carefully maintaining the band’s only studio recordings. Attica entered Reciprocal Recording just a few weeks after Nirvana concluded Bleach and hammered out an album with Jack Endino only to never release it. It’s my belief that this is the first time an Attica song has appeared on an official release. Makes me think of Motorhead (apologies for skipping the umlaut), makes me think of early Kill ‘Em All era Metallica – I would have hated the metal end of the North West to be blotted out of existence on a release trying to bring all it’s colours back to life… They’re raw, they’re wild, they don’t mind cutting a few finger pads shredding. Fast, death comes ripping… Tear it up.

So…Summary of Disc 2 / LP Volume 2:

  • Bundle of Hiss ‘Wench’
  • Starfish ‘Run Around’
  • Thrillhammer ‘Bleed’
  • Chemistry Set ‘Fields’
  • My Name ‘Voice of a Generation Gap’
  • Small Stars ‘It’s Getting Late’
  • Shug ‘AM FM’
  • Treehouse ‘Debbie Had a Dream’
  • My Name ‘Why I Fight’
  • Soylent Green ‘It Smiles’
  • Kill Sybil ‘Best’
  • Calamity Jane ‘Magdalena’
  • Saucer ‘Chicky Chicky Frown’
  • Attica ‘The System’

A simple hope that you’ll find something to enjoy and that it’ll help you appreciate the sounds swirling around Kurt Cobain and the Nirvana boys during their most productive years. Go see the Nirvana Live Guide and look at who was accompanying them in State of Washington over the years.


OK, I had nothing to do with this image. It’s important to say that because I think it’s a gorgeous photo – sorry my photo of the art doesn’t do it justice. I’m used to parodies of the Nirvana ‘Nevermind’ cover art…But this is beautiful in its own right and the choice has other levels – the crystal blue eyes, the baby blonde hair, the artist has picked a dead ringer for Cobain as a boy. Why does it matter to me? Well, it’s precisely why I thought Soul Jazz were a good label to speak to – they actually really think about what they’re doing and even this image from inside the CD case has been considered and chosen specifically. Plus, the release is a real snapshot of the musics and bands surrounding Kurt Cobain during the time he spent playing in the State of Washington before fame took him off elsewhere primarily playing LA and Europe (because that’s where the business people and the music media live – primarily – so that’s where every band has to end up eventually…)

So! Track listing – sorry for the delay – plus I’ve only had time to add my personal thoughts on the first disc – I’ll deal with disc two in a day or so (apologies! Give me time!):

CD 1 –
Starfish ‘This Town’
This kinda exemplifies the influence of the North West for me – it’s a band that transplanted itself to Texas (not uncommon actually, Maria Mabra of Shug – also on this release – also moved there with friends) once the corporate influx had started wiping out old Seattle – but remained composed primarily of State of Washington natives. Ronna and Jason had been in Treehouse and Helltrout respectively (among other outfits), both a presence on the Olympia scene and toward the rock end of the spectrum – neither was going to get picked up by K Records even if K were happy to support them live. I think it’s a great start not just because of the song title harking to that sense of Seattle as a title that’s become a substitute for a whole diverse range of sounds and musical outposts in the North-west, but also because I think it’s a great track. It reminds me of the Breeders and also shows what an influence Nevermind had across that decade – it was OK for underground bands to sound polished, sound good. The support of King Coffey’s label (he of Butthole Surfers fame) plus Bob Mould on production is a good demonstration of the intertwining of the NW and other alumni of what had emerged from the underground decade of the Eighties.
Vampire Lezbos ‘Stop Killing the Seals’
Vampire Lezbos played on March 19, 1988 at the Community World Theater in Tacoma – the night Nirvana first performed under their now immortalised name. It shows a lot about the company Nirvana were keeping – punk with twists and thrills, I love the vibe of the intro prior to the pedals to the metal verses, the way the song deviates so completely from the earlier punk template but still stays true to certain elements of it. It seemed important to have a political element on the record given how significant it would become to the guys from Nirvana later on in life plus given it was so crucial to the underground throughout the Eighties – it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the bands who made it big wanted to talk about gender, equality, the Gulf War, environmentalism given that willingness to comment was woven into the music scene a decade earlier. Oh, plus, I liked that it was a song that had a point but kept it kinda fun – it’s serious and makes me smile all at once.

Nubbin ‘Windyyyy’
Nubbin were present at the Gulf War demo in January 1991, the night Nirvana bid farewell to playing the Evergreen State College – George Smith had already been a member of Dangermouse, another band Nirvana encountered in their early 1987 gigs in Olympia. This is where I feel Nirvana were circa the Blew EP – a combination of pop and rock, plenty of fuzz keeping things bouncing along.
Saucer ‘Jail Ain’t Stopping Us’
I had such a surprise when I put the CD on my stereo and realised that the MP3 file I’d been listening to had lost that entire second guitar track – the one that sounds like a piano (note: it might actually be a piano…) Saucer, of course, played Nirvana’s secret show in Bellingham in late 1992 – post Nirvana’s fall out of the media’s grace – and are representative of what was an isolated but fertile scene to the north of Seattle. It’s kinda what I wanted to show when I suggested the release to Soul Jazz, that there was plenty going on across this incredibly large state that had nothing to do with Seattle. Sound-wise, the souring guitars on the choruses, the breakdown three minutes in allowing the bass to rumble – I love it – the incorporation of layered vocalists to provide a depth…It’s pop…It’s still punk…Nirvana weren’t alone in heading toward this arena.
Machine ‘Blind Man’s Holiday’
For most of it’s first year Nirvana was a Tacoma band – it’s where they played, it’s who they were surrounded by. Machine have the same roar Nirvana were toying with on Bleach with grittier vocals more in line with the punk layers from down in LA like Epitaph, Alternative Tentacles and so forth. This is the kind of company Nirvana were keeping when they weren’t being dispatched on Mudhoney and Tad tours for Sub Pop from 1989 on. It’s also the band who set up Nirvana’s farewell to Tacoma in January 1990 at a venue called Legends…
Medelicious ‘Beverly’
I’m OK if you wanna criticise my taste – but I love this song. I love the chugging guitar, this’d be a hit in the hands of a modern skate-punk outfit because it’s got that exact vibe of the stripped down verse, then the all-in chorus. Some people would call it the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ dynamic or the Pixies dynamic…I think its more akin to bands like Green Day or later outfits – and that’s not an insult. The simplicity of the lyrics, the love song theme as well as the psychedelic touches from the two minute mark appeal hugely. Is it teenager? Sure. Is that wrong? Nope. It’s simply damn good fun and I think it’s well positioned near the mid-mark of the record.
Hitting Birth ‘Same 18’
Hitting Birth are awesome. The leader has a charming tendency to criticise how his band sounded in studio claiming they couldn’t quite capture their live vibe…But this is a stellar track. It reminds me of the kinds of industrial sounds COIL were playing with at this point (and Coil are pretty well royalty in my musical universe). The siren sounds, the drums calling all to the night ceremony, the calls and shrieks in the background all add to the ambiance – I can’t tell if it’s darkness or flaring light. Play this in a darkened room and hear those saw blades tearing down the work bench toward the trapped hero of the piece…It’s cinematic and definitely studio music. Hitting Birth shared the New Year’s Eve show in 1990 in Portland – it felt right to have Portland here. It’s one of the three towns Nirvana played the most, it’s an incubator for so much music but has never suffered quite the same corporate ‘strip-mining’ of the music scene that Seattle endured. Also Hitting Birth’s musical collective vibe was something shared with bands like Distorted Pony and Crash Worship – bands Nirvana played with in their first year…I can’t help but wonder what impact seeing massed outfits with a theatrical awareness had on Nirvana’s developing live show – they’re half the whirlwind they became known as until late in 1989.
Nubbin ‘Wonderama’
Nubbin are so listenable. This is a more muscular track than Windyyy – a lot more rock touches here. John Goodmanson handled production on both songs – a man famous for giving Nirvana their first radio play on KAOS in 1987 having been part of Dangermouse – this guy got everywhere in the years to come, another one of the crucial producers of the North West who doesn’t get too much mention. The vocal tones make me think new wave – that neat held note as well as the underrated funkiness of the chorus line. Timo Ellis is an incredibly prolific musician with dozens of albums available on his Soundcloud – it’s an honour doing some tiny thing to draw attention to some small part of his work.
Crunchbird ‘Woodstock Unvisited’
Love the voice – the intoned words on the verses blend into the instruments, it’s that sense of listening to a genuine stated via poetry then via music. Cobain likewise was underrated for how much of his music commences as poetic phrases or entire verses on paper – he was a writer not a live improvisor. I thought Woodstock Unvisited was a great reference – the festival that marks the high point of the hippy era, became the ‘kill a hippy’ slogan of the punk era and it’s legacy marks the end of the great era of alternative rock when Woodstock 1999 became such a complete fleapit of macho scumbags, sexism, outright criminality and rape. There’s a glorious piece called Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation? ( which recounts that final event and how it became such a betrayal of the openness, inclusivity and positive politics of the North-West’s early Nineties era. Crunchbird is a fair example of a band taking personal pains, disgust with much of the day-to-day and turning it into a positive sonic experience – the reference to the event book ending hippy AND alternative rock hooked me completely. Crunchbird himself is still a practising musician today (among many other angles) and, again, I think it was time for a compilation that celebrated those who continued creating, stayed focused on art for art’s sake rather than a compilation measured by how many media column inches and how many albums were sold to mainstream fratboys and their parents who liked their rebellion to stick with subjugating women and breaking stuff.
The Ones ‘Talk to Me’
Terry-Lee Hale was primarily an acoustic guitarist in a city dominated by amped up rock bands, I first heard his name via Sub Pop 200 and asked if he’d be willing to contribute to this release. He went one better and came back with a track from a band involving Seattle-uber-producer Jack Endino who was busy indulging his own country-inflected garage rock vibes alongside his (now) more famous outlets of Skin Yard and production work. Terry-Lee’s musical endeavours also ended with him heading to Europe where he found greater openness to his guitar-work and to rock music in general. Jack Endino meanwhile just continued being a totally nice guy and lending punch and intelligence to every band to come out of the alt. rock scene. Add one of their pre-Seattle becomes Famous pieces, showing that there was already a lot more going on, including Americana, long before Cobain and Novoselic teamed up with Lanegan and Pickerel from Screaming Trees to do the Jury sessions was a pleasure. Again, like Hitting Birth, there was a desire behind this compilation to show a breadth of musical styles alongside the geographic diversity and the easy-coexistence of male and female bands in a city that has become a bit stereotyped for being ‘big men with guitars and long hair and VOLUME’.
Pod ‘123’
Ryan von Bargen was a regular presence on the scene, played a while in Fitz of Depression, in amidst which he spent time with this instrumental rock trio who liked to tear down house parties in the North West. Again, it’s that combination of linkages – a band actually started at a party featuring Helltrout? The entire North-west music scene seems to have centred on band houses, house parties, a core of musicians/producers/designers/label owners who all knew each other, often had lived together and who started band after band with one another. It’s another background element that inspired me to propose this record – showing a small snapshot of these twisted connections as one individual or another pops up in multiple places in numerous guises. The music scene of the North-West wasn’t about a single record label capturing the zeitgeist and selling itself to British music magazines – it was about all these creative people building their own environment from the ground up.
Thrillhammer ‘Alice’s Palace’
Nirvana encountered Thrillhammer, then in the guise of Grind, on one of their early visits through Portland at the inauguration of their first U.S. tour. The band are a presence there as Nirvana enter the wider musical world beyond the North-West and there again in December 1990 in Portland as Nirvana leaves the North West and starts playing more profitable environments under their new major label masters. The rhythm under the verses on this one hooks me – then the lightness of the choruses “so here we are, drunk on stars…” There are numerous neat images in here, the mild slur on the verses, the submerging of the words into the instrumental backing delights me. The instrumental sway appeals.
Yellow Snow ‘Take Me for a Ride’
Yellow Snow have a theme song – the Yellow Snow Theme – that I simply adore. I’ve heard three versions now, two of them are tight one/two minute rips introducing the band with this great intro line which sounds like its being spoken through a high school tannoy announcement system, the other is a full eight minute long instrumental jam with everything and the kitchen sink involved – makes me smile every time. The treated echoing vocals on this one, the keyboards, the Eighties sound – it’s a neat glance back to the era and to new wave and also to a band that just did their own thing and still got on stage at the Community World Theater alongside the hardcore punkers. It may not have sparked a wave of imitation, a new wave in music, but that’s what I admire most on here – bands just doing their own thing and somewhere in amid the various sounds something truly original will ensnare the world. Heck, if one looked back and everything sounded just like Kurt Cobain or just like Jimi Hendrix would either artist matter at all? It was this world in which musicians were actively encouraged to get up on stage and just do their thing with fear in the belly and excitement too.
Helltrout ‘Precious Hyde’
Ending on a heavy note; Helltrout pretty well take over from Nirvana as the go-to-rock outfit in the Olympia area concluding not long before Cobain departed Olympia forever. I’ve been shocked how little music featuring Dave Foster, Nirvana’s third drummer, is out there in the world – the guy has some real weight to his playing, i’m not surprised Kurt n’ co. acquire another ‘Dave’ later in their band’s life, they want that solidness. It’s a rip-roaring track and about as grunge as this record gets I think. It just shows that it was a relative matter of luck whether a band ended up on Sub Pop and became relatively big, or whether they stayed away and become one of the lost bands of the North-West. By 1990 Sub Pop was near bankrupt, was starting to spread itself a bit thin and hook in underground ‘stars’ from across the U.S., wasn’t so Seattle-focused as it had been, wasn’t as local as it had been – a band coming of age after 1990 had a lower chance of getting a deal with Sub Pop and after the deal with Universal the label was no longer ‘local music for local people.’ Ah well! That’s success!


No Seattle

Did I get round to mentioning this? Over the past year and a half I’ve been fascinated by all the band names on the Nirvana Live Guide – who are these people? What happened to them? What were these bands like? Where are they now? The usual questions that arise around historical disappearances. The answer is that an amazing number of them are still out there today, creating, playing, performing…

…People were kind enough to send me music – I kept thinking “wow, how did no one notice this at the time?” It’s a curious experience in a way, walking among the bands who were playing alongside Nirvana back in their early days. That’s what this is really – these are the sounds that surrounded Kurt Cobain, far less grunge, far more variety and far more places that weren’t Seattle. I remember a piece somewhere, paraphrased it said that “Thurston Moore, J Mascis and Mike Watt have used their power in the indie rock world to resurrect their teenage favourites from the dead,” referring to the return of Iggy and the Stooges. I don’t have any power…But it’s been really nice to discover that sometimes there just needs to be a good case for something and people open to hearing it and using their energies to make it real.


So. I wrote to Soul Jazz Records and pitched the idea of a compilation highlighting the bands from the North-West across roughly a decade, who didn’t get much attention, who didn’t play grunge, who had far more women in than the average Sub Pop band, who didn’t get record deals with majors and who didn’t become media darlings who could be sold to mainstream audiences and mainstream tastes. It was just a case of making the picture of North West American music more complex, more interesting than just this single vision that was sold by Sub Pop to the music media (very successfully.) Stuart, the boss at Soul Jazz, came back saying ‘show me the music…’ The various bands I’d been speaking to were willing to entrust me with a couple of MP3 files, or to just drop an album to me and say “pick what you like” and eventually it was pared down to two songs each to burn onto discs and walk up to the Sounds of the Universe record store in Central London (Soul Jazz’s headquarters) to pop through the door for Stuart to have a look. He had a listen, he agreed it was worth pursuing – we agreed it was going to happen and he did me the honour of permitting me to write the inlay booklet.


I’d gone to Soul Jazz because they take retrospectives and archive releases so wonderfully seriously. While a lot of labels just chuck out samplers and compilations with a sense that they’re just picking at random and slopping stuff onto discs, Soul Jazz have always adopted this approach where there’s a detailed inlay booklet providing context for the music, where there’s an introduction to either the songs or the bands inside the booklet, where there’s just a lot more detail surrounding the music and lending it proper weight. It helps so much to understand a bit more of where the music, the bands, the people are coming from – the story is important to the music.

Anyways, on we go and here we are – the release is due out on September 8th worldwide. Should Nirvana fans care? Well, I’d never insist anyone has to do anything – no way. But there’s a definite linkage, take a look at this chart:


Hope it’s not too much of a dog to read. But it’s an attempt to link the bands on No Seattle to Nirvana’s performances in State of Washington and across the stateline in Portland, Oregon. 1987 – 2 of the 10 bands Nirvana plays with that year are on the record, plus Aaron Burckhard – Nirvana’s first drummer – appears on what I believe is the first music ever released officially by his band Attica. 1988, another deluge of bands who played with Nirvana including Dave Foster’s post-Nirvana outfit Helltrout. Members of Mudhoney, Skin Yard, Tad, Fitz of Depression appear in Bundle of Hiss, The Ones and POD respectively. Some of the late era bands Nirvana appeared alongside at the Mia Zapata benefit are present as well as members going on into bands like Starfish and Small Stars. It’s an attempt to reach into the constantly shifting line-ups and combinations of the North-West’s remarkably fluid and active music scene and show some of what was bubbling away beneath the superstar surface and outside of contractual arrangements with Sub Pop who deserve huge credit for what they did but who also set in place the prevailing vision of what that whole era of Washington music was about. Basically it’s hard to think about that era without thinking it’s SEATTLE, all male, hard rock with a punk edge. Answer? Rubbish. There was a ton of other stuff going on – here’s 110 minutes of it to take a stroll through.

As a final neat point, Kurt Danielson and his comrades in Bundle of Hiss were kind enough to supply their last remaining unreleased demo – the song Wench made it onto the release. Neat. At this point a definite pause to show respect to Soul Jazz; Stuart, Steve, Angela have worked like dogs in what I can’t imagine is an easy time to be a small indie label. From their office in Central London they’ve created a label that turns heads, that brings eyes back to forgotten times and lost stories – it’s one heck of a bit of work, a real labour of love. Thank you for seeing something worth hearing among the people I’ve befriended in State of Washington and Portland.

I’ll admit totally that receiving the first pressing of the CD yesterday in the post was a genuine thrill. And I’ll confess that yes, this is about me indulging another angle of my Nirvana fixation and trying to make something of it that more people might share. It’s also definitely spawned from a personal desire to thank people who have been kind to me this past year. I felt each band on there deserved more attention – Stuart and the crew at Soul Jazz chose the final line-up and running order and I’m delighted to see it come to something that other people might get a look at. I’m definitely committing the sin of pride holding this in my hand – the vinyl arrives in a couple of weeks – and frankly, heck with you if you don’t like it. Damn I’m proud! And delighted too! HELL YES!


Hope you enjoy it.


Well, that’s my five minutes of fame all used up – nice! It was fun while it lasted, time to retire. Here’s the MP3 of me breathing heavily down the phone, using the present-tense rather than the past-tense when mentioning Kurt Cobain, giggling…

It was fun. I was genuinely surprised when this nice email arrived asking me if I was game to come on and discuss the interview clip…also fascinating seeing how reports slip around on the web these days – same piece in numerous locations within bare hours of first posting.

…Oh…And part way down the page, you see that gray tab? Click it if you’ve ever been curious to hear my actual voice. I really do sound like that – Studio Brussel kindly asked me if I’d like to come on air and discuss the interview with them. They’d forgotten they possessed it until I emailed a couple weeks back inquiring if they still had it.

This interview went missing in the station’s archives. A huge thank you to Manu, Eva and Sam for taking the time to locate it – really appreciated.

I remember a friend handing me Sweet 75, Krist Novoselic’s post-Nirvana project back sometime late in my time at school. I also remember not thinking much of it –with age I begin to wonder whether I may have overlooked some essential quality within the album…So, given Novoselic’s post-Nirvana releases are so cheap on eBay I did some digging and decided it was time to revisit Sweet 75, the No WTO Combo and Eyes Adrift. What do Novoselic’s post-1994 releases demonstrate about Kurt Cobain’s chief lieutenant and are they worth time and energy in and of themselves?

Starting with Sweet 75, OK, it vanished without a trace at the time despite ongoing work right through into 2000 – curious to think of it as a five year project when Nirvana itself barely lasted seven. Of course it doesn’t seem to have been a band with great ambition behind it – a significant contrast to Nirvana’s 60-90 gigs a year heyday and regular recording and release schedule. That’s often the problem with something so casual – as a one-off, as a document of a specific moment in time, they can often be effective. But the idea that this album is a testament to efforts between 1995 and 1997 – the same length of time it took for Nirvana to go from Mrs Butterworth to the January 1988 sessions, through Love Buzz and all the way to Bleach…Of course, Wikipedia states that he met Yva Las Vegas at one of his birthdays – which would mean either the association began around May 1994 (which seems a bit swift and sudden perhaps?) or didn’t begin until May 1995…Oh well. What of the album?

This is going to come as a controversial statement, but the Sweet 75 album stands as a real testament regarding Krist’s hidden talent as a guitarist. Trying to focus down simply on his guitar-playing, it’s remarkable how adaptable he is. On Cantos de Pilon he contributes a beautifully finger-picked Spanish guitar backing. On Ode to Dolly, Dogs and Japan Trees you’ll hear a jazzy guitar vibe similar to Cobain’s Black & White Blues home demo. Lay Me Down, Six Years and Nothing all plumb the Americana vein. La Vida meanwhile is bloody crooner-jazz music more befitting Michael Buble…I admire that last piece of open-mindedness while still not wanting it on my stereo. The rest of the album has a firmer alt-rock feel but always with other touches emerging like Bite My Hand’s South American breakdown. He’s certainly a more traditional guitar player than Cobain – the moments of overdriven fuzz on the record are used sparingly while little here feels wildly out of control – he has a clear grip of technique and such a wide awareness of styles and techniques which he deploys with real precision. The song Six Years moves through several different feels and vibes in a relatively brisk four minutes.

The only slight issue one could point to is that across the album there’s a relatively limited tempo to all the songs. It’s like comparing top form Lil Wayne mixtapes to the walking pace approach on The Carter IV where he could barely break out of ‘talking speed’ for more than a song or two. The same affliction is present on Sweet 75 – it’s an album of half a dozen dominant styles, divided again by the diversions taken within each individual song, but all taken at the pace one might reserve for practising an instrument. Accuracy rules over heart n’ soul. Praising the openness to neat instrumental touches – like the really well placed mellotron interventions on Fetch, or the accordion on Oral Health – is genuine, the compositional talent on display is very clear but, again, it feels constructed in it’s precision while simultaneously lacking a unifying feel.

On Game’s The RED Album there’s a horrendous mid-album R n’ B segment which seems cynically planned to permit sales to the dominant music market and to open it up to the female demographic. It totally ruins the momentum of the overall album, destroys the flow – not to mention that the songs are appalling crap. There’s absolutely no sense of anything so strategically planned out (and strategically flawed) on the Sweet 75 album – it feels far more spontaneous, it is what it is…The problem being that there’s not much sense of a plan at all. Nevermind clearly has a plan – Cobain quite clearly is mapping out the flow of the LP and does so for quite a long time prior to the album’s finalisation. That album is also a very focused object – there’s no huge deviation into completely disparate territory and yet, simultaneously, it certainly doesn’t belabour a single sound nor outstay it’s welcome. The Sweet 75 album is of comparable length but flies off in so many directions there’s no flow or development to it – there’s no movement, no reason why a song should be in one place or another and as a listening experience it’s really audible. While the Game’s effort wants to be a gangsta rap revival AND a chart-bothering R n’ B EP all on the same overlong album, the Sweet 75 album doesn’t seem to have any determined identity, it simply flits between guises to the detriment of some good touches, good moments and details. It’s wrong to read too much into a single release but if it said anything about Novoselic it would be that he has an incredible amount of under-exposed and under-rated musical talent that went to waste in the dictatorship that was Nirvana – however, it suggests he functions better with a leader, with someone saying what will fly and what must die.

What more can I say? At its core Sweet 75 has a suite of really excellent alt. rock songs with Take Another Step and Red Dress being tracks I’ll happily listen to again – there’s something that reminds me of Babes in Toyland about the vocal delivery which is eminently listenable. Around those songs, however, are so many diversions it’s impossible to love it all. I’ve spoken to two journalists who say that after Cobain’s death they had to move away from working on rock music because Kurt, for them, had exposed all the gross consequences and endings of the clichés of rock n’ roll. I would understand Novoselic wanting to play something a world away from Nirvana – which he does here – but at some point this album needed someone to decide what it was, it doesn’t have that. Foo Fighters got it right; a punk rock/pop rock band – set the controls, go. It doesn’t mean I always loved them but it was clear what was being delivered. Sweet 75 is three EPs in 14 tracks – I still don’t know who they are.

Eyes Adrift is a firm correction of almost all those question marks. It further expands my appreciation of Novoselic as a musician too – Krist sings! And he does a good job of it too! His voice is surprisingly similar to Curt Kirkwood’s, maybe his voice is just something he had to grow into because it’s a world away from his 1987 take on Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves. I’m immediately fond of his gentle approach on Inquiring Minds – it’s a great lil’ song! And, this time around, Curt clearly provides the leadership and the focus lacking from Sweet 75 – the album has a defined identity, a solid core, a unity that lends coherence. But wait…Agh. OK, I like the Meat Puppets, I like Meat Puppets II, I like Up on the Sun…But the problem is there’s only so much southern hospitality rock I can take. The focused identity of the Eyes Adrift album is that particularly gentle country rock vibe Meat Puppets ended up with – it’s ultimately a Meat Puppets album with one Krist replacing one Cris, when what would be a neater thing would be a Nirvana-ish album with one Curt replacing the other Kurt. Instead it just feels a bit…Gentle, a bulbous summer warmth that never boils into sweaty motion or dries to frazzled crispness. It also shows Krist, on the Dottie Dawn & Julie Jewel track, again proving quite keen on the Leadbelly guitar influence a few decades too late. But maybe it’s just me. Middle-of-the-Road indie is as irksome as MOR rock always was.

Which brings me to the No WTO Combo – phew, Gods, it’s nice to hear some raw guitar and an impassioned vocalist at last! On Full Metal Jackoff Jello Biafra’s delivery recalls Johnny Rotten’s style on Pretty Vacant – a good sound to emulate. Again, there’s a clear leader here – the first fifteen minutes are Jello hyping the cowd, there’s a Dead Kennedys’ song, there’s a song from his 1989 collaboration with D.O.A., there’s two new songs he’s written. But what the hell, it means there’s a sound being aimed for and it works well. Plus it’s a focused recording – a single night, a specific point in time, a quality line-up including Kim Thayil who kills on guitar. When defending Sweet 75 or Eyes Adrift I can understand people saying that they’re unpretentious records, that they’re the sound of musicians enjoying themselves…Except I think the No WTO live show sounds a lot less pretentious, a lot more like musicians enjoying themselves – the albums are not people just cutting an album for the hell of it, they’ve made an album because they want to release some music and have formulated it as such. No WTO Combo is about highlighting a cause, getting attention, putting the word out there…But it kicks ass in a way the other two don’t. There’s a real feeling of being sat bobbing head up-and-down on the corner of a stage in a club so full everyone has an elbow in there gut one way or another – the production is somehow so clear and yet it also that slight mist over everything that makes it live – you can hear Jello breathe…Momentum matters, Jello spending a minute or two ranting doesn’t break the intensity at all thanks to his practised delivery, it just lends outrage in between the bursts of straight-forward punk.

I’m definitely aware that what I’m feeling is my preference for rock over indie – my assessment has to be judged on those terms, that I’m arguing from the perspective of someone who ‘feels’ the rough-edged punk guitar but feels no affinity for quite a lot of country-influenced music (there are exceptions! The Broken Family Band, early Meat Puppets, Herd of Turtles!) The drift toward stripped down acoustic music seems to be a simple part of the life progression of the average noisenik or ex-alt. rocker, even Thurston Moore has ended up there (thank God for Chelsea Lights Moving and Twilight) while Michael Gira has really owned it (thank God for the Swans revival but also for Gira being able to make even the most lite song sound menacing.) Being aware of it, that eventually turning down the volume is all anyone seems to be able to do doesn’t make me a vast supporter of it. The directness of the No WTO Combo, the absence of any attempt to create an album makes for a far stronger connection with the artists while Sweet 75 and Eyes Adrift…They don’t speak with me, I don’t feel someone communicating to anyone outside of the circle of players. Ah well.

Again, the inlay booklet presents Krist on articulate form – he wears his intelligence lightly, it’s been impossible for years to ever mistake the guy for a fool. He writes well, speaks well, makes points effectively and with a clear depth of knowledge and awareness. Again, reading the liner notes of the No WTO Combo gave me a further appreciation for Krist Novoselic. Really glad I spent the £6-7 it took to get hold of the three records even if they reminded me of what was lost when the stakes got too high. The result is that zone of comfort, of lack of consequence to music – when it’s just something nice to do rather than something one has to do, the millionaire rock star syndrome or just the aftermath of the horror?