Archive for the ‘No Seattle: Forgotten Sounds of the North West Grunge Era’ Category

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/the-unlikely-birth-of-no-seattle-forgotten-sounds-of-the-north-west-grunge-era-1986andndash97/Content?oid=21140720

A fun piece from Seattle’s The Stranger – I think I was in a funny mood that morning given some of the stuff I come out with. Essentially just me rambling about the Soul Jazz No Seattle release a bit more in a chirpy way.

Only issue I can raise is that, as far as I’m aware, Soul Jazz weren’t particularly ‘hooked’ by the Nirvana link – it wasn’t something I raised early in the process, they were more into the idea of uncovering the ‘underside’ of a scene. They’re more about scenes and sounds than personalities, soap opera and single super stars. That’s part of their appeal really.

Also a wicked interview with Daniel Riddle – quality fella, quality musician – talking about his various creative endeavours, definitely check him out!

http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2014/12/03/a-brief-interview-with-daniel-riddle-of-hitting-birth-the-best-band-on-no-seattle-comp

http://www.thevinylfactory.com/vinyl-factory-releases/beyond-nirvana-10-essential-under-the-radar-grunge-records-from-the-seattle-era/

This is a piece I was invited to contribute recently by Anton and the kind people of the Vinyl Factory. As I say at the start, it would have been so easy just to list a batch of well known hits but…I think there’s so much music was pouring out of the region and so much that has been glossed over and erased from all but the deepest musicological explorations. These are ten I picked out – there are plenty of others worth a look – with a desire to provide ten contrasting sides of the State of Washington music scene. hope you enjoy and hope my verbal histrionics don’t distract too much from the quality of the releases I’m discussing.

Thanks to the crew at Soul Jazz for passing this request onto me – damn it was fun. Whittling anything down to ten is quite the exercise…

Just a little round-up today of pieces from around Europe…I admit I can’t read half of them!

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This first one is from Sweden – a fair and moderate review but points deducted because in his view the release isn’t ‘grunge enough’, he’s dubious about it not containing, essentially, “the greatest hits of Sub Pop”. It’s a bit of a defining challenge really – what made me interested in doing the release in the first place was to try and show that there was more to the State of Washington / State of Oregon than this single stereotype…But seeing the word grunge in the title makes some people confused why that’s not the be-all-and-end-all of what they get across the two discs. The reduction of entire musical cultures to single shorthand ways of speaking about them – it’s exactly why I thought a release was needed.

In a relatively centralised nation like the U.K., it’s very hard for subcultures to escape notice of the media or to be ignored by the British music industry – even if most of those bands never penetrate the U.S. market. The same is true of other Europe states – massively smaller than the U.S. geographically, massively centralised media and massively centralised music industry infrastructure. The result is that the music media are unused to scenarios in which music escapes their attention. Faced with a release on which they’ve never encountered any of the bands, where they ‘might’ (if they’ve delved deeper) have come across Bundle of Hiss as a footnote to Tad or Mudhoney, it seems to give them uncertainty. They equate the attention given to the grunge bands as an indication that those bands were the best the North West had to offer rather than of an industry machinery momentarily fixating on a particular sound and milking one version of a regional identity while neglecting the greater sum of the diverse music present there. Sheesh, I feel awful second-guessing someone’s review – they’re entitled to say whatever they wish – but…I think the hole in awareness is a fair point. On the other hand, it does say that the songs themselves are likeable, so that’s good.

LOOPreviewNoSeattleSep14

This is a nice one ‘auf Deutsch’ from a Swiss publication called Loop – the guy has definitely delved in and his piece brings out the various debates that are fair to have around the release; to what extent was the ‘Seattle sound’ just ‘the Sub Pop sound’? To what extent is the industry different between U.S. and elsewhere? Were Nirvana unique in many respects and deserving of their meteoric success? Then he focuses on the songs themselves and just comments on what he’s hearing.

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Again, a very mellow cool review from a German publication – same approach, picking out labels, the variety of sounds, the connections between individuals and bands – citing the release as being a bit of a documentary / sampler of the scene.

From France, here’s two pieces, one from Les Inrocks – a pretty major magazine there – and Rock n Folk. I’ve met a guy who worked for both publications actually…Nice to see familiar names.

No Seattle – Les Inrocks – Oct 14

No Seattle – Rock n Folk – oct 14

I rather like what “Les Inrocks” says, it comes out with a comment about how one of the beautiful things is the booklet and seeing the musicians themselves speak of their “misspent youth”! Neat. It quotes Abe Brennan of My Name and his comment that “when I was a boy we had to walk five miles in the snow just to see a shitty punk band. Those were the days!” Stephane responds “et c’est beau.” Bien…Tres bien…

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This final piece is a little hard to read without zooming (sorry!) and comes from Tageszeitung Junge Welt – a German left wing newspaper who gave it a full half page and picture, how nice of them! The title basically translates as “Raw Pearls” and the sub-title is something like “Listen to the Forgotten”. It goes on to say stuff about the mash-up of genres that took place in the North West, the diversity of music on the discs, the reconciling of this small number of global superstars versus the many who just kept on playing to this day…A nice read.

Oh – that earlier piece from Les Inrocks isn’t the only place where someone is quoted. German site Laut chooses to go with the words of Jaime Robert Johnson –

http://www.laut.de/Various-Artists/Alben/No-Seattle:-Forgotten-Sounds-Of-The-North-West-Grunge-Era-94553

What I quoted from him was an honest statement about how the traditional path to fame wasn’t something that most kids in the North West would ever be accepted within. That it was up to people to do it themselves “the kids themselves built that scene…Music made by the kids – for the kids is so important you can’t leave it to professionals.”

http://www.hhv-mag.com/de/review/6926/various-artists-no-seattle

HHV also found time for this and dwells on the unpredictability of the results – the variety of approaches found. They highlight Shug for just being awesome, Hitting Birth for playing ‘tribal industrial’, Small Stars for being tentatively Sonic Youth-esque (intriguing…hadn’t thought of that…)

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Gosh, this bloke has already found the vinyl – I still need to see them but I admit it I’m starting to become one of those people who strokes vinyl album sleeves and says how pretty they are…

Wanted to do a quick round-up of reviews I’ve seen of the “No Seattle” release – I’m making such a fatal newbie error by actually reading the reviews, I guess my fragile lil’ soul will be crushed the first time I see one saying “this is worthless” but for now I’m pretty chuffed seeing that there’s pretty clear good feeling about the bands and songs on this release. Kudos bands! Whoop!

One cause of satisfaction is how different reviews state completely different favourites! I mean, personally, the two songs I sing around the house are Starfish “Run Around” and Medelicious “Beverly” but other tunes play in my head – I love Yellow Snow too…Looking through what’s below, however, there’s such a diversity of taste – people pulling out completely different preferences. Definitely a cause for satisfaction that a compilation should accommodate such divergent interests and preferences.

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I found this one on Norman Records’ site – the one below is the official Irish Times review:

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/music/various-no-seattle-1.1925716

What consistency! 8 out of 10 and 4 out of 5! Heh! Lovely…But look at it – Helltrout, Vampire Lezbos and Bundle of Hiss on one – Kill Sybil, Crunchbird and The Ones on the other.

The guys at Nirvana Italia kindly chipped in their own review here (thanks Raffaele and Stefano!) and they like Starfish, Nubbin, Thrillhammer, Chemistry Set! Sheesh! Everyone loves different things – The Wire magazine preferred Hitting Birth’s Coil-esque piece:
http://www.nirvanaitalia.it/forum/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=2487&posts=3
There’s also this at the Alternative Grunge Crew site: http://www.alternative-grunge-crew.com/no-seattle.html

I admit I’ve no idea what this piece on This Is Underground says…But I’ve always loved the photo of Soylent Green in the meat locker in Tacoma.
http://www.thisisunderground.com/noticias/actualidad/soul-jazz-records-explora-grunge-ignorado-en-no-seattle

Was pleased to see my copy of the Wire drop through the door with a nice big back cover advert – looks good at that scale:

The Wire

No Seattle_Advert

Have I said this already somewhere? Over the past two years as I’ve paid out my evenings in endless Nirvana working – the 50 hour working week followed by 20-30 Nirvana hours – I’ve found myself asking daily whether all this work is an exploitation of something I love or a celebration? Have I stayed on the right side of the line, behaved with integrity, fairness, honesty, decency? I’m fully aware that ultimately others decide that – it’s why I’m so pleased in one sense when people call me out on something, challenge me, argue against me – if people didn’t do so I fear becoming immune to reality, unable to even consider that I might be screwing up. Of course it’s pretty crucial in life that one put away the questions ultimately and make a leap into action – without justifying amorality or a refusal to recognise the moral consequence of a choice.

Given that awkward combination I’d have to say I adore the artwork Soul Jazz have chosen for the “No Seattle” compilation. Why? Well, genuinely, I had nothing whatsoever to do with it so it came as a surprise to me – it’s intelligent, nuanced, affectionate, funny, vicious…What a combination – complexity writ large as the packaging to a compilation that I’ve said all along is about restoring a bit of complexity to the overly simplistic picture that claims all the late Eighties-early Nineties in State of Washington was about is Grunge. Each image introduces something new.

No Seattle

So. I felt uncomfortable when I first saw the front cover – and that’s a true compliment given I’m rarely moved by album art. The cover brought me face-to-face with my dilemma; when is doing honour to a memory taking advantage of it? The cover is, of course, a parody of the long-since clichéd and over-used “Nevermind” cover. But no…It’s more. It’s a raspberry being blown underwater by a puffy cheeked youngster. For a start it’s funny – it’s said in many a book that people underrated how funny grunge was, how funny the bands involved were and how much fun and humour there was in that scene. The photo foregrounds that more casual fun right there on the cover. Nice to see some irreverence rather than the po-faced and funereal weight that period often comes attached to (mea culpa, I’m as guilty as anyone on that score.) Of course, look closer and you’ll see sweet young thing ain’t sweet no more – touch of stubble maybe? Acne perhaps? Freckles for sure… Awww, the smooth-skinned lil’ blonde is long long gone…Time has moved on and we’re looking back at something warts n’ all. Idea shown in an image – I’m the inferior in trying to tell you about something that a single picture captured so well.

That raspberry fits the image for the whole release – “Forgotten Sounds of the North West Grunge Era” – raspberry blown at the whole damned cultural baggage wrapped around it, an expelling of the near-religious veneration of a long dead man of just 27 years of age, moving on, moving on, celebrating what else was there – a pool party, something entertaining. Going deeper under the surface – finding what else lies there. In the case of the Pacific North West – a ton of really good bands like Thrillhammer, Shug, Machine or Kill Sybil. It’s appropriate and using an image that has been cheapened by magazines and media with not even the slightly respect for the North West music scene…It’s nice to bring it on home to people who deserve it.

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The back cover contains a visible camera lens – a mouth swallowing the image. Yeah, I’m thinking too much maybe but there’s a reason that image is there; someone at Soul Jazz decided that what we were trying to escape was the over-sold banner of “grunge” so chose an image that suggests it was less a musical reality and far more a well-marketed convenience, a media lens not a god-honest-truth we were receiving undiluted and uncontrolled. The black surround blots out everything except what the photographer has chosen to focus on – now tell me that’s not the entire tale of North West guitar music in its media heyday? The reality eaten by an open mouth devouring all – the selective truth that was stuck in front of the camera and snapped until it drowned. Again, “No Seattle” was a release Stuart and Steve at Soul Jazz spoke of as trying to capture what else was going on, drawing in the lost and forgotten – that back image sums up “No Seattle” not in the central picture but in the black surround – it’s that blackness we’re looking to see what bands were there, what fun songs and tunes to be discovered.

The couple on the back cover though, again, another contrast with the original underwater picture anyone who knows anything about Nineties music can conjure inside their head in a heart-beat – go on, you know the one, baby – fish hook – dollar – dick. Here, it’s suddenly clear that far from repeating Spencer Elden’s immortalised penis, his foregrounded and clear masculinity, we’re looking at a girl. More so, far from 1991’s innocent and exposed nakedness, this child covers up, protected with goggles, hair net – there’s no innocence now, Seattle-Grunge is it even possible to mention the words without ending up hooked to the cavalcade of sales and marketing that spewed out during those years? Again, I’m brought back to my own self-criticism; I am fully aware that acknowledging the legacy and exposure Nirvana has given to an entire scene makes it easy for kneejerk accusations of taking advantage to be made. They’re unavoidable. Well, I’ve got my swimwear on, ear plugs-and-goggles, I’m ready to hear those who want to call bullshit. And I’m ready to defend too; there are twenty-three bands here who were kicking out a joyous noise to the heavens back when I was a pre-teen soaking up my Transformers the Movie Official Soundtrack – that’s what this release is celebrating, a fertile and lost web of creativity from which certain individuals were snatched and well done to them!

The thumbs up intrigued me…Again, I think it’s a wise choice. Even on the surface detail – it’s a positive, warm and celebratory gesture rekindling the happiness of the North West scene where all these friends and colleagues mingled, partied, played, collaborated. The release at least catches a sliver of that – I think it’s possible to link near every band on the release and usually not just through the Nirvana lens acknowledged in the middle. The big thumbs up carried a darker thought for me – again, a reason why I’m impressed with the art – in that I think it clearly said shows neither participant in the photo unaware of the moment in the way the baby was in 1991. Let’s face it, the underground sold up two decades back, we’re all here in 2014, some twenty-three years later and there isn’t much more than a pretence of resistance to the dollar on a fish-hook. The mainstream music culture reverted to type and now doesn’t care about questions of integrity so long as everyone claims they’re having a good time, shouts about a party over and over to numbness – the point of the cover of “Nevermind” wasn’t that the baby was going to refuse the dollar, it was just how deep was that hook going to go when the baby caught hold? The two figures bend their knees in submission to something that’s pretty inevitable – we live in a culture with money as the medium of exchange and we all need a bit of it to live and to create. The compromise, the bent knee, is not something resisted, it’s just something where we choice how low we bow, what for and when. The child grew up so self-aware; thumb raised in acknowledgement that we should worry, it’s a choice and she knows what she’s doing. Again, kudos Soul Jazz for making me think about the artwork so well – and heck, I darn hope the release sells because I think they do great work which deserves supporting and I think the bands deserve a day in the sun too! I reckon it’s worth more than a few dollars.

I think it means something that the child is accompanied by an adult by the way – this is all the music people made in their wild youth and now they mostly have kids of their own, people to care for. That’s no disgrace, it’s a glory – everyone gets a few second lives, a few repeats and new beginnings. And it doesn’t have to be a conflict, sometimes it’s a pleasure. That’s a happy photo on the back of two people safe n’ happy. Must be a lot of people these same bands inspired in the past to copy their “hell yeah!” thumbs up and just play, make some noise! Do something! The adults on this release can look back with pride on their own youth and simultaneously have a few art babies copying their gestures too.

Baby

The image on the CD and inside the back cover took my breath away. The light, shade, turquoise water, crystal eyes and blonde hair – it’s a simply beautiful photo. No qualifications for once, no deeper thought – it’s just beautiful. In amid the thoughtfulness, the knowingness, the sarcasm and parody there’s something of beauty. Darn straight! It’s called the music – and here it is as an image. For all the observation, the looking at the outside all I’d say is it’s about overcoming doubt and qualification and opening this up to see what’s on the inside – and I see beauty in the music on this release. I’m so glad they chose to use such a variety of participants for this release. The child is near androgynous beauty – no gender, I think a girl which would be another neat lil’ kicker in that it’s concealed on the back to some degree and exposed inside. I think there was a sore gender imbalance in what the mainstream bought from Seattle and the North West. For a scene that contained so many kick-ass girls and female-fronted bands and female participants it’s a tragedy record companies only bought the boys with the lank hair…There wasn’t a quota to the release, no ‘gender bar’, but I was satisfied with the way the end line-up shared a lot more space boy-friends, girl-friends, just FRIENDS! Everyone in together – good. Now that is a far more truthful picture than was ever drawn.

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Then again, there’s one last trick isn’t there? Oh the horror, the horror…Could they have chosen a child that looked any more like a young Kurt Cobain? So, returning to the daily question I shared at the start of this night time composed ramble…I think work inspired by the love of music that Nirvana gifted to me so many years ago, I tend to come back to a few lines of a song. I like the lines for not denying compromise, failure, the need to constantly and repeatedly re-examine and re-judge oneself but for clenching teeth and finding the courage to go forward though I wince at the accusatory last line unless aiming it at myself. Minor Threat “In My Eyes” is one heck of a call-to-arms:

“You tell me that nothing matters / You’re just fucking scared…You tell me that I make no difference / Well at least I’m fucking trying / What the fuck have you done?”

http://music.thedigitalfix.com/content/id/20676/beyond-grunge-the-history-of-the-north-west-underground.html

An immediate thank you to Mr. Douglas Baptie for arranging me the opportunity to ramble a bit for the Digital Fix – a rather snazzy, funky, fresh n’ cool blog and culture site of far greater sophistication and professionalism than anything I do here!

It’s a bit of a rant – being fair – but essentially what I’m trying to say is that grunge was one part only of a very strong community of guitar-based sounds and styles in the U.S. North West and that it’s nice to give a touch of credit to the wider circle of participants.

There have been local compilations and celebrations – like http://www.spokanarchy.com/ for example, or “North of Nowhere: Nineteen Bands from Bellingham” plus some of the output of K Records – but never an attempt to survey the region across that core decade from mid-Eighties to mid-Nineties and to present a proper retrospective of what was happening outside what Sub Pop was selling and the majors were buying.

I do wish Sub Pop would collate a couple of good compilations consisting of material from the Sub Pop Singles Club plus the wider range of stuff that they released on singles and EPs and LPs back in their first spell of glory – there’s so much there…

http://blogs.seattletimes.com/soundposts/2014/09/02/no-seattle-highlights-lesser-known-nw-rock-acts-record-preview/

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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.

Baby

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? (http://www.avclub.com/article/part-10-1999-by-the-time-we-got-to-woodstock-99-52164) 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!

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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!

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Hope you enjoy it.

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