And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series, HERE for Pt. 2, and HERE for Pt. 3. Pictured above: Sweet Apple. (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.)
BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND
Everything singer/guitarist John Petkovic touches seems to turn to rock, from Death of Samantha to Cobra Verde to his current project Sweet Apple. The latter quartet seems like the culmination of his vision to date, putting postpunk, glitter rock, power pop and old-fashioned hard rock through Petkovic’s own special filter and coming out gold. Sing the Night in Sorrow (Tee Pee), the third LP from Sweet Apple, practically shivers with barely-repressed energy, focusing all of Petkovic’s loves into a potent rush to the rock & roll finish line. The tough “World I’m Gonna Leave You,” epic “Candles in the Sun” and sky-kissing “She Wants to Run” enliven the rock radio of our dreams, while “A Girl and a Gun” – a duet with Rachel Haden – and the album closing “Everybody’s Leaving” reclaim the slow song from power ballad territory beautifully. If Sweet Apple sounds a little more like Cobra Verde than on previous platters, that’s no surprise, given that CV co-axeman Tim Parnin and former DoS/CV slinger Doug Gillard share six-string duties. Not that it matters, as Sing the Night in Sorrow keeps the rock & roll faith as well as any other record Pektovic’s captained – which is to say as well as any contemporary rock record extant.
Boston seems like it should be a town too intellectual and gentile to kick out any jams, but plenty of balls-out rawk has come from that town. The latest addition to the ranks is Justine & the Unclean, a rip-snorting quartet of glam/punk/power pop/garage rockers that never met a six-string hook they didn’t like. Get Unclean (Rum Bar), the band’s debut, keeps the melodies strong and the attitude sneering on cracking tunes like “Love Got Me Into This Mess,” “Worry Stone” and the self-explanatory “I’m in Love With You, Jackass.” Fans of Nikki & the Corvettes and the NY Loose should just line right up.
Further to the west, Stars in the Night (Rum Bar), the second LP from Milwaukee trio Indonesian Junk, plays up the streetwise side of its protopunk/power pop cocktail. “Turn to Stone,” “Nosferatu” and “I Would Never Treat You Like That” streamline the band’s sound down to its essence, with bash-it-out rhythms pushing unvarnished rock licks and Daniel James’ inelegantly wasted sneer. Meanwhile, L.A. gutter rockers Dr. Boogie drop a deuce with new single “She’s So Tuff”/”Peanut Butter Blues” (Spaghttey Town). The A-side’s streetwise glitter rock contrasts nicely with the B’s Stonesy roar, the connecting thread being Chris P.’s angry rasp and the band’s dedication to riff and groove. The East Coast re-represents with New Yorkers Dirty Fences’ third slab Goodbye Love (Greenway), a dizzily catchy collection of rockers, rollers and rompers that crossbreed Midwestern power pop with Lower East Side street rock. If the feverish opener “All You Need is a Number” doesn’t do it for ya, the Christine Halladay duet “One More Step” or the delirious pop tune “Blue Screen” just might.
The legendary status of the Raspberries in the power pop community obscures the fact that the Cleveland band was quite popular during their early 70s heyday, regularly lobbing hit singles into the charts. Regardless of standing in the nebulous cloud of the music industry, the original quartet reunited in the first decade of the new millennium to show the young whippersnappers how it was done during the years when the Beatles, the Kinks and the Who were their only role models. Pop Art Live (Omnivore) captures a fiery gig from 2004 in front of a hometown crowd, all four original members included. Eric Carmen’s voice no longer hits the gloriously throat-shredding heights of the band’s glory days, but that’s no crime – age comes to us all, after all – and it otherwise retains its melodic power. The band backs him as if they couldn’t wait to get back in the saddle, making it clear that this reunion was done as much out of love as any financial incentive. Running enthusiastically through the catalog, the ‘berries reminds us just how many gems they’ve polished – not just the hits (“I Wanna Be With You,” “Overnight Sensation,” “Tonight,” a titanic, show-closing “Go All the Way”), but lesser-known, equally fine cuts like “Makin’ It Easy,” “I Can Remember” and “Nobody Knows.” Add in a couple of songs by Raspberries precursors the Choir and some filler from the Beatles catalog and it’s a power pop party. Plus it’s a double live album like the days of old.
Seattle’s Knast falls on the more psychedelic end of power pop on its debut Reckless Soul (Casual Audio Group Ltd). That mainly means some extra echo and tremolo here and there and some obvious affection for the 80s British psych pop scene, but the focus remains squarely on the songs and hooks. Which works out well for the Knast – whether the band is kicking up dust with “Side Effects” and “Sold Out,” getting sardonic with “Fight or Flight” and “Situation Vacant,” or just being a sparkling pop band on “Here and There” and “Time Out of Mind,” it knows just how to handle a catchy melody with taste and verve. The fellow Pacific Northwesterners of Date Night With Brian add a 90s alt.rock flare to the efficiently composed and performed tunes on its self-titled EP (Top Drawer). Five songs in eleven minutes, not a one less than immediately catchy and appealing.
The garage rocking Juliette Seizure and the Tremor Dolls (who win this month’s “Best Band Name” contest) find that revered sweet spot between Nuggets-powered punk and girl gang pop on Seizure Salad (Off the Hip), the Australian sextet’s second record. The blurry production doesn’t suit the band’s harmonies, but these songs are powered by attitude more than expertise, making the grungy “Stink,” the hooky “Imagination” and the rocking “Take What You Want” more representative than attempts to be like an edgier Shangri-La’s. Nice tip of the hat to Dead Moon with “Be My Fred Cole,” by the way. Detroit-to-L.A.’s intrepid Singles have kept on keepin’ on since the early ‘aughts, refusing to die no matter how many years go between albums. Sweet Tooth (Grimy Goods), the trio’s fourth LP, keeps the faith of prior platters, with stripped down power pop hearkening back to the late 70s glory years of the Plimsouls and their brethren/sistren. Stuffed with hooks and youthful verve, “Voodoo,” “If You Want Me, You Can Have Me” and “Masterpiece” effortlessly bring smiles with every turn of the melodies.
Chattanooga’s Mark “Porkchop” Holder clearly has no time to waste, as he’s already followed up his debut album from earlier in 2017 with Death and the Blues (Alive), picking up right where he left off. Though the former member of Black Diamond Heavies is no amateur, Holder is sort of the anti-cracker blues cracker bluesman – he skips displays of six-string virtuosity typical of Clapton/Vaughan acolytes and just goes for the gut. Whether he’s admonishing haters with the heavy “What’s Wrong With Your Mind,” gets a little frightening with the anthemic “Be Righteous” or just rocks like a motherfucker on “Coffin Lid,” Holder and his backup duo burrow right down to the bone. Speaking of blues grunge, Indiana’s Left Lane Cruiser hit a new high (yes, we see what we did there) with 2015’s Dirty Spliff Blues, and while latest album Claw Machine Wizard (Alive) takes a bit of a step back as the band goes back to being a duo, its raunchy punked-up blues roils unabated. “Lately” boogies, “Burn Em Brew” boils and the title track bashes, powered, as always by guitarist/vocalist Freddy J IV’s filthy slide and backwoods bark.
Five Horse Johnson plows much the same furrow as Cruiser, but if the latter uses a rake and a hoe, the musclebound Toledo quintet prefers a backhoe and occasional dynamite to make the earth move. Jake Leg Boogie (Small Stone), the band’s eighth album, pulls from the heavy rawness of the early years while keeping the songwriting progression of recent albums, making “Ropes and Chains,” “Cryin’ Shame” and “Daddy Was a Gun” masterclasses in powerhouse blues rock. Best of all, “Hard Times” gets political without being preachy – it’s too busy rocking your soul for that. Berlin’s Travelin Jack(pictured above) weave a carpet out of threads sewn from bluesy grit, hard rock stomp and glam, then dirties that rug up with platform boots on its second album Commencing Countdown (Steamhammer/SPV). Guitarist Floy the Fly drives the tracks with riffs that mix in-your-face theaterics and a soulful feel, but it’s vocalist Alia Spaceface who takes center stage with her leathery howl. Hit up the menacing “Fire,” the anthemic “Time” and the blazing “Keep On Running” and get your 70s rockstar air guitarspew on.
Australian James McCann did time in the original lineup of the Drones and its predecessor Gutterville Splendor Six, so you know the dude’s got chops, attitude and credibility to spare. But even if he didn’t, Gotta Lotta Move – Boom! (Off the Hip), his sixth album and second with his backing combo The New Vindictives, would rule. Like his former bands, McCann has a grounding in the blues, but no reverence for its traditions – he’s more interested in feel than form. For the latter the singer/guitarist goes back to his punk rock youth, bashing out blazing bruisers like “Lies Start Here,” “Tar On the Lip” and the blast-tastic title track like a man with nothing to lose and a lot to prove. “Sheena Says” boasts the kind of pop hook you’d expect from a song with a girl’s name followed by “Says,” while “Nick’s Song” drags countrified balladry through the bloodsoaked dust of the scene of a shootout. McCann pays tribute to a couple of vets along the way, co-penning, singing and guitaring “I Can Control Your Mind” with Wet Taxis/Sacred Cowboys/solo slinger Penny Ikinger and covering erstwhile Beasts of Bourbon/Johnnys guitarist/songwriter Spencer P. Jones’ “What is Life in Jail.” The real punk blues indeed. (Toland, you had me at “Australian.” I’m in love, L-U.V. — Oz Ed.)
The roots rocking Flat Duo Jets have often been cited as a big influence on Jack White and his perception of what a rock & roll duo could be. People forget, however, that the North Carolina combo was a trio when it made its full-length vinyl debut. The band’s self-titled first album came out in 1990 on former R.E.M. manager Jefferson Holt’s short-lived label Dog Gone, and was M.I.A. for years. The double disk Wild Wild Love (Daniel 13) rescues that LP from oblivion, adding the Jets’ 1985 cassette-only EP In Stereo and a plethora of outtakes from the original Flat Duo Jets sessions. The addition of bass grounds singer/guitarist Dexter Romweber and drummer Crow a bit, reigning in their wild-eyed Reagan-era rockabilly just enough to make it surge with power, like a tightly-coiled spring. Covers of the usual early rock suspects (Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Wanda Jackson) sidle up to a handful of originals, but the real surprises come in the outtakes. Besides the rockabilly and R&B, Romweber knocks out the jazz standard “Harlem Nocturne,” the ridiculous but challenging “Bumble Bee Boogie” and Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s gypsy jazz classic “Minor Swing.” It’s a reminder that Romweber is not, and has never been, a primitive, but a musician of unheralded skill.
Tom Heyman’s rock & roll creds are impeccable due to his membership in the long-gone, much-missed Go To Blazes. He’s kept more to a rootsy singer/songwriter vibe since then, but Show Business, Baby (Bohemian Neglect), his fourth album, pulls some of his mojo back in. Like a stripped-down Tom Petty, Heyman lets “Show Business,” “All Ears” and “Baby Let Me In” get loose ‘n’ lively like John Fogerty jamming with the 70s Stones. Boston’s Dirty Truckers get more medieval on roots rock’s ass with latest EP Tiger Stripes (Rum Bar). “Human Contact” and “Feedback” sound like they come from a lost mid-period Replacements album. Leader Tom Baker proved his rock & roll bonafides with this year’s Lookout Tower via his other band the Snakes, and Tiger Stripes upholds the same virtues: melody + energy = coooool.
Any punk knows the SoCal milieu in the early 80s was a thriving thrash & roll metropolis equal to the 70s scenes in New York, Detroit and the U.K. Symbol Six didn’t attain the same repute as peers like the Adolescents, Agent Orange and Black Flag, but when the band resurrected itself a few years ago, it was with the same brute strength and righteous rage as it had thirty years prior. Side Four (Jailhouse), the third album by the group since its revival, is simply a powerhouse, from Phil George’s battering drums to Tony Fate’s wall of guitar crunge to Eric Leach’s Alice Cooperesque howl. It helps that the band has a strong batch of songs to which to apply its mojo – “Cold Blood,” “Really Doesn’t Matter” and the cheeky “Megalomaniac” scan as catchy as crunching. Fate’s acoustic instrumental title tune and tape collage “Mellotron” allow quick chances to breath, but otherwise Side Four breathes fire from beginning to end. Eric Leach(pictured above) also has a solo album out; surprisingly, Mercy Me (self-released) eschews blazing punk & roll for tasteful roots rock. Comparable to the 80s roots rock scare, the songs on Mercy Me benefit from Leach’s evident sincerity, no-bullshit attitude and his remarkable voice, which adapts to this music better than you might think.
If Tales From the Megaplex (Saustex) is any indication, Count Vaseline (Stefan Murphy to his mom) sees no difference between 60s garage rock, 70s New Yawk proto punk and rockabilly. The former Dubliner/current Atlantean simply bangs out his rock ditties, most of less than two minutes long, without a jot of regard for genre, sensibility or public opinion. Plenty of wit and personality, though, from the dry shade of “Hail Hail John Cale” (“Lou Reed died wishing he could be John Cale”), the wishful thinking of “Texas Band” and the cheeky mystery of “What’s Your Name, Where Are You From, What Are You On?” (“I’m on ecstasy and I really want to tell you some jokes”). At eight songs in less than fifteen minutes, it’s a very efficient use of one’s rock & roll time. Pittsburgh’s Carsickness took the eclectic, late 70s punk model of the Clash and pushed into artier directions. 1979-1982 (Get Hip) shows off the quintet’s singleminded focus, mixing fractured rhythms, free jazz histrionics and pure punk power together for a knee-twisting blast of spasmodic fury. The raging “Plastic Beauty” and the seething “Bleeding” demonstrate that “rock” need not compromise for “art.”
Joey Skidmore is one of those rock & roll true believers who’s been knockin’ around the leather jackets/blue jeans underground for years. So many, in fact, that the Missouri rocker compiled a two-disk anthology covering his 37 (!) years of service. Mostly produced by the venerable Lou Whitney, may he rest in peace, Rollin’ With the Punches: The Best of Joey Skidmore (self-released) ranges from exuberant roots rock to raging power rock, all of it united by Skidmore’s rich baritone, love of guitars and enthusiastic songwriting. Divided into a “best of” disk and a “worst of” (i.e. rarities, EP tracks and unreleased stuff from the vaults), Rollin’ With the Punches never flags in its pursuit of a rockin’ good time. Skidmore may be an unknown quantity to many people, but with Nikki Sudden, Eric Ambel and members of Jason & the Scorchers, the Skeletons, the Morells and even Black Oak Arkansas making appearances and a covers pallet that runs the gamut from Chuck Berry to Blue Oyster Cult, you know he’s got the goods.
And speaking of faith-keepers, one of Finland’s greatest musical exports has also decided the time is right for a career-wide retrospective, as Michael Monroe, ex-Hanoi Rocks, rounds up nearly thirty tracks from his life outside of Hanoi for the simply titled The Best (Spinefarm). He divides the disks into the times between stints with Hanoi, with the first disk covering the mid-80s to the early ‘aughts, and the second disk hitting his recent years since Hanoi’s second shutdown in 2009. Though the first disk shows the influence of the time period in which a lot of it was recorded, Monroe’s rock & roll vision – a wickedly hooky blend of glam rock, punk and heartland rock refined in New York, L.A. and London, as well as his home country – stays consistent throughout. Disk two cuts like “Goin’ Down With the Ship,” “The Ballad of the Lower East Side” and “Trick of the Wrist” sound superior to these ears – there’s nothing like the buzz of a late career renaissance, when an artist has both reignited enthusiasm and savvy experience on his side. But that’s not to deny the powerhouses on disk one, including “Where’s the Fire John,” “Life Gets You Dirty” and the immortal classic “Dead, Jail or Rock N Roll.” Hell, the inclusion of four songs from Monroe’s sadly short-lived early 90s act Demolition 23, whose lone album is a bear to find, nearly make this a must-have on their own. Essential.
Check out selected audio and video from the records discussed above:
“If you want to be part of MY world, I’ll accept you with open arms”: We say farewell to the late Northwest punk/garage legend and lifelong champion of the DIY aesthetic. (Above photo by Michael Passman exclusively for BLURT.)
BY FRED MILLS
When the final chapter is writ, one of my greatest regrets will be having never seen Fred Cole perform live. Sure, I have all the records—from the Clackamas, Oregon, rocker’s ‘60s garage outfits The Weeds and Lollipop Shoppe, through his legendary two-decade run fronting Dead Moon, to Pierced Arrows, which ran from 2007 to 2016, at which point his increasingly poor health dictated that he finally call it quits.
In rock ‘n’ roll, of course, we never say “never,” always holding out hope for another encore, just one more song. With Cole’s passing this week at the age of 69, that hope is permanently dashed. (Go elsewhere on the BLURT site to read our Cole obituary; he’d recently experienced a serious scare involving bleeding in his liver, and According to Willamette Week, despite treatment had remained “still very ill.”) Cole’s passing was announced at the Facebook pages for Dead Moon and Pierced Arrows:
I’m so sorry to have to let you know that Fred lost his battle with cancer & passed away peacefully in his sleep last night, Nov 9, 2017. Thanks you one & all for all the years & memories we all shared together, for being friends first & business partners second, so proud to be a part of your lives.
Fred had that quality of being “immortal” and I believe his songs & recordings will make it so. We can always hear his voice & his passion there and remember it like it was only yesterday & will go on forever. I love you all, Toody
“The last train is leaving
Can’t you read the signals in my eyes
And I’m standing on the platform
Waiting for the ones I’ve left behind”
Losing our musical heroes has become increasingly, depressingly, commonplace, and each of us deal with it in different ways—pulling out the albums, of course, or attending a candlelight vigil at a relevant shrine, or even organizing a tribute concert where other musicians can also work through their grief. In one sense, then, I’m luckier than many fans, because as a music journalist since the late ‘70s I’ve sometimes had the privilege of interviewing the deceased, and as a result, those earlier one-on-ones take on a deeper and richer resonance for me—and additional salve for the grief, a way to pull close to the artist one last time.
What follows, then, is a pair of interviews I conducted with Fred Cole, along with his wife and longtime bass-playing musical foil in both Dead Moon and Pierced Arrows, Toody Cole. The first conversation with the couple, conducted by phone for Harp magazine, to Oregon in July of 2006, was on the occasion of the impending release of a two-CD anthology from Sub Pop, Echoes of the Past, that essayed the trio’s recorded career to date, most of which the Coles had released (in lathe-cut mono, no less) on their own Tombstone label. Concurrent with Echoes was the DVD release of a documentary on the band, Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story, so for the story I also talked to Jason Summers and Kate Fix of Magic Umbrella Films, both of whom proved invaluable resources.
One quote that sticks out in my memory from that ’06 interview was from Toody Cole, who spoke of her husband in terms both peer-admiring and industry-defiant: “Fred was going to be great at whatever he did. He’s also the kind of guy that you don’t tell him he can’t do something. If you do – he’s so there. He’s a great inspiration.”
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Dead Moon was on its last legs. A few months after the release of the CD and the film, in December, Fred Cole posted an announcement on the Sub Pop website, writing, “After 20 yrs, Dead Moon is retiring. It has been a journey we will always treasure and feel that a worldwide family has emerged in its place. Dead Moon became much bigger than the band itself, it became a DYI underground hopeful for a lot of people. The candle is still burning!” So that was that. Although it soon became clear that Fred and Toody remained very much a personal and musical unit, because while drummer Andrew Loomis was now out of the picture (sadly, in 2016 he would pass away, from lung cancer), by May of the following year the Coles were back in business as Pierced Arrows, tapping Kelly Haliburton for kit duties. By 2008 there was a Tombstone-issued Pierced Arrows album, with more records to come.
Then in early 2010 I’m on the phone again, this time for Stomp and Stammer zine, with Fred and Toody, getting the state-of-Pierced-Arrows broken down for me. That feature, along with the prior one for Harp, appears below—both stories in, you guessed it, director’s cut/expanded form, as I was able to locate my original interview transcripts. What was once around 3500 words is now nearly 9000.
To any Fred Cole devotees out there—and particularly to Toody Cole, if she ever comes across this appreciation—this one’s for you.
And for me, too.
In 1990, a package with an Oregon return address arrived in the mail: Dead Moon’s third album on Tombstone, Defiance. Included was a hand-written note on brown stationery from Fred Cole, thanking me for the reviews I’d written of his band’s previous records. I still have the LP and, of course, the note. Years later, as our 2006 interview was winding down, Fred mentioned that he’d always remembered those early reviews because of our shared first name, and how nice it was to finally connect directly over the phone.
Then he thanked me profusely for being one of the writers who had stuck with the band over the years. I’ll never forget how he put it to me, simply but sincerely:
“Fred, thank you for digging the scene after all this time, and for being into Dead Moon, for this many years.”
R.I.P., Fred Cole. May the angels of Heaven all sing in mono.
DEAD MOON: The Whole Story (Originally from Harp magazine, Sept./Oct. 2006, here expanded with previously unpublished quotes.)
Author F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives,” but had he been around in ’87 he might’ve revised that oft-quoted statement. Because that’s when the first stirrings of Dead Moon were heard—and the second stirrings of Fred Cole. Slithering outta the Portland, Ore., garage/punk underground to chart a purposeful trajectory into the Amerindie scene’s consciousness, Dead Moon – singer/guitarist Cole, his wife Toody on bass and vocals, drummer Andrew Loomis – has been in the national and international spotlight ever since.
Jason Summers, of Magic Umbrella Films, which did the 2004 documentary Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story, first heard the band around ’91 and summarizes the band’s sonic appeal thusly: “That was back when Nirvana was starting to get big and Dead Moon just sounded nothing like what was becoming college alternative pop — kinda creepy, more rootsy, and somehow having a vein that went way back in history. No matter what style they play, it’s got their signature style. It could be a country song or a ballad or a screaming punk song, but it’s always got some kind of cobwebs on it.”
“We don’t care anymore!” cackles Cole, from his home in Clackamas, near Portland, when I ask him what motivates him year after year, but you sense his flippancy’s a self-deprecating ruse. For Cole, he of the leather-lunged, Arthur Lee-meets-Roky Erickson howl, serial killer riffs and outside-of-society lyrics, and a staunch DIY lifer, these past two decades must have been a hugely gratifying second act.
Addressing the rabid core of fans that snap up Dead Moon’s independently-released records and pack punk rock clubs whenever the band tours, Cole adds, “Come see us live again, soon. Come and see a fat old fuck play some real rock ‘n’ roll!”
He laughs again, this time proudly. Yeah, he cares. A lot.
Despite his contemporary project’s tenure and popularity, Fred Cole’s first time around in the music biz was in no way an inauspicious one. Born in Tacoma in 1948, as a teen Cole wound up in Las Vegas where he worked with several bands – among them, the otherwise all-black R&B band Deep Soul Cole and Top 40 covers outfit The Lords – before notching some regional success in 1965 as the lead singer for the more garage-leaning The Weeds. The following year saw the band relocate to Portland – to evade the Vietnam draft, they’d headed off for Canada, only to have their van break down en route – and they began gigging regularly up and down the West Coast, sharing bills with the likes of Big Brother & the Holding Company, Seeds, Chocolate Watchband, Buffalo Springfield, Love and the Doors.
The Weeds subsequently changed their name to the more teen-palatable Lollipop Shoppe and, signing with UNI Records, released an album (1968’s Just Colour) and scored a hit single (“You Must Be A Witch,” which would become an oft-covered staple of the garage/psych genre ripe for rediscovery during the Nuggets milieu). By ’69, though, the band had run its course.
Cole continued to make music in Portland, but meanwhile, he was also enjoying the domestic life. When the Weeds first landed in Portland in ’66, he’d caught the eye of Kathleen “Toody” Connor, a young, dark-haired beauty fresh out of Catholic high school, and intrigued by “this tall, skinny lead singer in the hottest band in town.” Love at first sight?
“Oh God, yeah,” gushes Toody. “Well, it was attraction at first sight. You gotta understand, I was a sweet Catholic girl, and he had a notorious reputation. So it was an oil and water thing. I totally expected him to be the biggest egocentric airhead from hell. But once we actually got together and talked, which we did a lot of, it was like, ‘Oh my God, you’re nothing like I imagined you would be…’ Once you actually get to know somebody…”
“I just wanted to do the ‘please don’t’ with her!” interjects Fred, referring to a certain carnal Dead Moon lyric of his from the song “Poor Born.” “But no, she just knocked my socks off. And she was so arrogant and just thought, ‘Oh God…’ and wouldn’t let me touch her. So every night either before or after a gig she and I would go up to the park and talk and eat red liquorish – I was on a band budget, making about 80 cents a day to eat, and saving up our money to record, so I’d buy a big package of Red Vines, and that’s basically what happened for two months. Everybody would say, ‘Fred – pffftt, forget about it, there’s no way this is gonna work out.’ Her parents thought she was a lesbian because she didn’t hang out with guys. I remember when her dad finally met me, and I stuck my head in his car window and all he saw was all my hair, and his eyes got real wide, like on the Little Rascals.”
Fred and Toody married on June 14, 1967, a little fact they had to hide from Fred’s image- and career-conscious bandmates. Says Fred, “People would’ve freaked. In ’67, if you’re the lead singer in a band and you’re married, you can forget about it!”
The Cole-Connor union (which recently celebrated its 39th anniversary and to date has resulted in three children and seven grandkids) would yield more than just marital bliss. In 1976, on the heels of several underappreciated bands — notably hard rock quartet Zipper, which released an eponymous LP in ’74 on Cole’s fledgling Whizeagle label – Cole, inspired by the Ramones, Sex Pistols and the rest of the punk explosion, put together hi-octane trio the Rats. The band lasted until 1983 and issued three albums on Whizeagle, a Spinal Tap-esque drummer scenario ultimately deep-sixing the popular outfit’s aspirations. But with Toody tapped by Fred for bass chores in the Rats, one of indiedom’s most enduring musical partnerships was forged.
“I always had a thing about getting up on stage and always thought it would be drama or something like that, but it never worked out,” says Toody. “So Fred did me one of the biggest favors anybody can do: ‘Hey, get your ass up there, I know it’s gonna make you crazy, but…’ It took me a lot of years to get comfortable. But I just love it! So he picked the right time, and started me with something pretty basic. He hadn’t played that much guitar at that point himself. He just kinda wanted a bunch of amateurs to get up there, hammer away, and see what happens. Luckily for me he pressured me into it.”
What happened, of course, would be Dead Moon.
After the Rats’ demise Fred briefly indulged a Country & Western fetish with cowpunk trio Western Front, but his garage roots soon beckoned. One night in ’87, while on vacation and driving across the desert, Fred gazed up at a crimson-hued moon and suggested Red Moon as a good moniker for the back-to-basics combo they’d recently been brainstorming. Toody countered with Dead Moon, and the name stuck. Fred remembered a talented Portland drummer, Andrew Loomis, late of a Plimsouls-like new wave combo called the Boy Wonders, then working at local punk club Satyricon, and an audition was arranged.
“Now that was love at first sight,” recalls Toody. “Andrew had been coming to see us when we had the Rats and we didn’t even realize he was a big fan of ours. Instant chemistry. And we’d had so much trouble in the Rats trying to keep a drummer, so we thought, hey, we’ve got something that works, and Fred had been through breakups with the Weeds/Lollipop Shoppe, so when you’ve waited for 25 years to get it back again, you ain’t gonna let it go again the second time. It’s like falling in love, getting married, and then realizing that it’s a working relationship; sometimes things fuck up, but you don’t just say hey, hit the door jack.”
Now, even at their most vibrant, local music scenes can be pitiless towards new bands, even those fronted by a more or less known quantity such as Fred Cole. And Dead Moon definitely paid their dues early on, playing mostly cover tunes and taking gigs at any regional dive that would have them. Remembers Toody, “We played in this one place and came on after the local amateur comics finished doing their spiels – oh my God, it was unbelievable! But in a lot of ways it made us who we are. It was a very humbling experience, and to this day we appreciate it when people show up.”
But with the release, in 1988, of their first couple of 45s, “Don’t Burn the Fires” b/w “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Parchment [sic] Farm” b/w “Hey Joe,” and debut album In The Graveyard, both on the Coles’ second homegrown label, Tombstone, the Dead Moon snowball began rolling. Wildly enthusiastic national reviews ensued for this “music too tough to die” (as the Tombstone motto defiantly proclaimed) – primarily from the fanzine sector, where yours truly, writing for The Bob, drooled over Dead Moon’s “incendiary rumble” and “feral yowlps” of “primitive garage-rock fuggit-all.” Ahem.
Hype-laden wordsmithery aside, reviewers consistently hailed the group’s primitive yet incendiary sound and took due note of the band’s steadfast avoidance of effects such as reverb and echo, not to mention their preference for recording in monophonic. For his birthday one year, Toody bought Fred a vintage mono lathe, reportedly the same one the Kingsmen had used years earlier to cut “Louie, Louie”; to the notoriously frugal Fred, saving money by cutting his own record masters was a no-brainer. This turned out to be a telling aesthetic/practicality factoid not lost upon other reviewers, including Spin’s Byron Coley and the influential editor of Britain’s Bucketful of Brains, Jon Storey. Second and third albums Unknown Passage (1989) and Defiance (1990) followed in short order, each to similar underground press raves.
The aforementioned snowball turned into an avalanche upon Dead Moon’s inaugural overseas trek, which came at the instigation of Hans Kesteloo, owner of Germany’s Music Maniac label. Kesteloo, a die-hard garage freak a Fred Cole fan, had met Greg Sage of the Wipers while on tour in Europe; Sage, who knew the Coles from their Rats days and also frequented their Portland instrument store, Tombstone Music, agreed to put Kesteloo in touch with Dead Moon. Kesteloo subsequently licensed some Dead Moon tracks for a pair of Music Maniac compilations, and when the band landed in Europe in 1990, Fred, Toody and Andrew were treated like conquering heroes. (The Music Maniac alliance for Tombstone’s European market continues to this day.)
Fred, devoted to the one guitar/one amp school of touring, still marvels at the reception they got. “Our tour manager over there had toured with all the biggest bands – he had been doing the Lemonheads, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed. He showed up at the airport with this huge fucking van and 14 guitar stands in the back. ‘Dude, I only bring one guitar…’ The van was probably 3 times bigger than what we needed for the little bit of gear we carry!”
Toody notes, of the European market, “They accepted us like gangbusters over there! Same with a lot of different bands, like the Gories, that would go over and the Europeans just loved.” Dead Moon would return to Europe time after time in the years to follow; nowadays both Coles will eagerly single out certain cities where they have the equivalent of an extended family they look forward to seeing on each overseas trek. Meanwhile, having a loyal European fanbase allows them to return home with a profit, which partly explains why U.S. Dead Moon tours, while not necessarily rare, are neither as frequent nor as extensive.
“I always look forward to touring, especially Europe,” says Toody. “You know what hard work it’s going to be, what it’s going to take out of you, and it’s not like those early years when it’s so fresh and new that everything’s a surprise and you’re riding so high on emotion. We used to have this rep for playing three hour shows! But there’s another quality you gain from experience, so you try to give every audience the best you’re capable of every night because you realize that this many people are willing to pay the ticket price to see you.”
Such loyalty to their fans mirrors the loyalty that Fred, Toody and Loomis demonstrate towards one another; long ago it was decided that the Dead Moon brand would be retired if for any reason one of the three couldn’t continue. Fans observe this devotion each night when the band undertakes a pre-performance ritual. With just a candle jammed into a Jack Daniels bottle for illumination, the trio gathers at Loomis’ drum kit, leans in to one another, and firmly clasps hands.
“Fred’s very much into ritual and superstitious stuff, repeating things over and over again. He still laughs how as a kid he’d keep going back and touching the top of the door jamb 20 times just to make sure he had a good day that day,” explains Toody. “So we do The Handshake. It’s like, all is forgiven, whatever happened yesterday is in the rearview mirror and does not matter, let’s just go forward. The Handshake is a way to touch bases and let us all know that we love each other.”
Back home, in between tours, the Coles devote their energies to running their record label, operating a maze of other income-generating businesses (Tombstone Music, their instrument shop; Tombstone General Store, a convenience-type mart; and several nearby rental properties), and of course recording Dead Moon records. In mono, natch.
“Basically,” recalls Toody, “we started Tombstone for ourselves just like we did with Whizeagle Records. Then it became almost like a mentoring thing. Locals would ask us how they could get a 45 out, get gigs and all that, so we pressed up local bands, doing it on the cheap, and we got our street creds, so to speak. Then we had bands from all over wanted to have records out on Tombstone. But we haven’t done anything for quite awhile because we’ve been so busy. But we still have people asking all the time. Fred will have a continual lifelong affair with vinyl. He wants someone to listen not to the first song on a CD, but to listen to the whole first side of the record and want to turn it over to see what happens next.”
And the whole Fred Cole-Tombstone Records mono thing? This throwback touch was partly due to Fred’s steadily mounting hearing loss over the years, but it was also borne out of serendipity, explains Toody.
“That just happens to be the lathe he has, an old ’54 model lathe and that’s all it does. And hey, we all grew up with mono, and for him it’s like, ‘I’m deaf anyway, so all I’ve got to do is put two signals in one direction and, bam, they’re there.’ He hates effects, obviously, and there’s the old thing about stereo panning and all this other stuff. He figures, ‘I’m a vocalist, I write these songs, I’m not a guitar god.’ It all goes back to that old crunch of Bob Dylan: keep it simple, and let the songs speak for themselves. If the songs are good, it doesn’t really matter.
“So there’s no frills: you either love it or hate it. For a lot of people, mono is irritating as hell, and for the other half, hey, they love it, so it’s great. You hear all that reverb and compression on records from the ‘80s, and that’s his biggest beef. The reason we sing live and on records with completely dry vocals, no reverb, is so you don’t have to compensate for that. Just let your voice do what it’s supposed to do. He’s a pure naturalist, he really is. To him, effects are cheating. When it gets so homogenized, anybody can sound good. But how can you tell what they really sound like?”
In September Sub Pop, which along with other indie tastemakers such as Sympathy, Empty and Australia’s Dog Meat has occasionally played patron over the years to Dead Moon’s ever-growing back catalog, issues the two-CD Dead Moon career overview Echoes of the Past. Personally compiled by the Coles, it provides a compelling series of snapshots, stretching back to In the Graveyard and running up through 2001’s Trash & Burn – the most recent release is ’04 studio album Dead Ahead – and with a full Sub Pop roll-out slated for the set, it should also boost Dead Moon’s domestic profile considerably.
“The Dead Moon-Sub Pop northwest connection seemed important and valid,” agrees Toody. “And in a way it’s been a godsend that Sub Pop wanted to do this, because, you know, we think everything’s gonna last forever, but once Fred sent back and started messing with these old tapes – whew, you forget how old tapes start disintegrating after awhile. He was going crazy, having to keep re-cleaning the tape heads in order to go back and get what he wanted. He’s like the absent minded professor, so half the tapes he ever had were recordings in boxes, sometimes labeled with what songs and in what order, sometimes with nothing written on there. So a lot of it was disorganization on our part. And as I said, with the Sub Pop thing now, it’s great to know that in a way all of this is going to be saved if those tapes are at some point completely unusable. And thank god we have the technology to salvage them.
“We didn’t do any true remixing, but there was a lot of balancing and computer programming to try to even out tones, bring out the bass or drums on certain tracks. I mean, our tapes are – cough – sorrily lacking anyway! Between the different eras, and where we were recording and how we were recording it — and because Fred’s deaf as a post, treble frequencies are lost, so when we are recording he tends to mix the treble up really hot so what he hears sounds right to him. We got our copies a few weeks ago and I’m really impressed. Fred and one of his old bandmates worked on it here, and also Sub Pop went in and tweaked it out again, so they really did a nice job ‘given the quality of workmanship’! [laughs] So in a way the stuff sounds dated – as it should! We did this 15 or 20 years ago.”
“Lo-fi and DIY,” says Fred, firmly, a note of satisfaction in his voice.
Favorite Dead Moon records or songs?
“Oh God,” sighs Toody. Even getting the Sub Pop thing together was tough. Same thing going back and putting together a song list for this upcoming European tour. I love the fact that at different points we don’t listen to our own material that often that it impresses me like crazy all over again. But if I had to pick all over again: What we did on Unknown Passage, between “54-40” and “My Escape,” which happens to be one of my favorite songs. And Defiance, I’m especially proud of “Trash & Burn.” At different points it gets really difficult to pick a favorite.
“Trust me, Fred’s biggest fear, growing up in the ‘60s, there was X amount of bands that had one or two songs and you went out and spent your hard earned money to buy this album and you love this one song so you’re hoping the whole album is awesome – but usually it’s that one song and a lot of filler. So that’s been one of his biggest fears as an avid music fan. Just remembering that. And it was a bonus bonanza when the whole album was great.”
I ask the Coles if they encountered any surprises while sifting through their tape archives, or did they find themselves cringing at any of the old stuff…
“A lot of stuff we hadn’t heard in a long time,” admits Toody, “so honestly, the hardest part was having to pick out what would fit on two discs, and we left out a lot of stuff we wished could go on there. We left off [the first 45] because they were cover songs. And our cover songs, we’ve always kind of done them from memory – ‘Oh yeah, I think it goes like this…’ – and we always get it wrong, which is great, so it’s never a true cover song. It becomes a Dead Moon song. As an added bonus, Fred got the title wrong – it was “Parchman Farm,” not “parchment”! But hey, that’s our style! Our version of “Play With Fire,” which I sang, we left a whole verse out – ‘Whatever, it’s our song!’ [laughs] AC/DC’s “Long Way To The Top,” we got that whole rhythm wrong too, so it’s our song and the way we do it.
“And yes, sometimes I do [cringe] personally, to this day. But hey, that’s one of the unique things about us, and that’s why we say we’re ‘entertainers.’ We’re not ‘musicians’; we learned how to be adequate on our instruments with a certain flair and style, and the chemistry just happens to be magical. Name just about anybody and they can play rings around us. But that’s kinda cool. Part of having that constant struggle where it’s not one of these unbelievable natural born talents – you have to work at it, and that kind comes through. And I think people love the fact that it doesn’t look too easy when we do it.”
“We’re not an all-star band,” interjects Fred.
Agreeing, Toddy adds, “And that’s why we’re amazed that we have so many musicians that are fans. At any point at least 30-50% of people out in front of us at shows are musicians. And we are what you see – this is the real deal meal.”
Fred: “And you better not expect a guitar solo that lasts more than two or three bars, either!”
Both musicians are quick to point out that the gig’s the thing and always has been. Toody, elaborating, recalls wrapping up a particularly memorable, extended 2004 tour.
“And when we got back, I had tendonitis in my left wrist. So we took 9 or 10 months off and didn’t play at all. I was in a brace and basically let it heal. So we played a local gig here, rehearsed once, a fly by the seat of your pants thing. And we got up onstage and we basically fell in love with it all over again. Because at certain points, when you’ve done this many shows, when you know you need to stop is when you get to the point of, ‘Oh my God, this is becoming a job and I’d rather be doing anything else tonight…’
“So this show in Portland, we worried if anybody would remember us and show up, but the house packed out, and my mom, who’s 84, came to the show with my three brothers, and we honestly just had one of those magic nights.
“There’s been other shows like that. Shows at Vera, in Groningen, our second hometown, for example – shows where you feel not just the electricity in the audience but when that electricity and chemistry happens to be working between all three of you. It’s like basketball players being in this zone where they make 15 three pointers in the same game. And you know you can’t do that every night. But when you do, oh my God, there’s not a better high than that. And certain cities just work their magic with us too.”
One of the more intriguing recent twists in the Dead Moon saga is Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story, the feature-length documentary from Magic Umbrella Films, aka North Carolina’s Jason Summers and Kate Fix. The pair initially got the idea to make a film about Dead Moon while working in the film and television industry in New York in the late ‘90s. Fix, who’d attended college in Portland, was already a big fan of Dead Moon and a friend of drummer Loomis; Summers was exposed to the band’s records as a deejay at UNC-Chapel Hill’s WXYC-FM but had never seen Dead Moon live until one night in ’98 when he and Fix spotted a flyer announcing the first-ever NYC Dead Moon gig. After the show, which Summers says “completely blew me away – even Jon Spencer was there in the front row, going nuts,” they invited the band back to their apartment and subsequently kept in touch.
“We’d get these long letters from them on Tombstone letterhead stationery,” recalls Summers, “which seemed to speak volumes about them even before we started broaching the subject [of the film]. We figured if they were that way with us then they must be really genuine.
Fix agrees, saying, “They have such sharp, sharp memories for everything, especially for the number of people they’ve encountered over the years. People are so excited to talk to them and you’re just amazed they can remember meeting someone once for just five minutes.”
Fascinated by both the band’s music and by the musicians as people, Summers and Fix eventually broached the idea of a documentary to Fred; already impressed by some of the Super-8 live video the pair shot of Dead Moon in New York, he agreed, much to their surprise – and delight.
Explains Summers, “We’d become more and more intrigued. Their music had gotten us. But it was the other parts of their lives that really got us. They were so quirky, so eccentric, so many projects going on all the time that it seemed like to them the music was kind of like a derelict hobby. I tend to think that musicians who don’t think of themselves as superstars, there’s something more there to that, about having a lifestyle where you can take all the things you love and build a working life.” Summers mentions the 1969 Robert Elfstrom documentary on Johnny Cash, The Man, His World, His Music, as a “brilliant piece of cinema verite” that influenced him as he and Fix were editing their film.
Indeed, Unknown Passage, while loaded with riveting concert footage, is equally weighted with intimate interviews (including Loomis and the Coles’ three children) and segments showing the Coles going about their daily activities at home and at their businesses, essentially painting a portrait of a couple at peace with the lifestyle they’ve carved out for themselves. A wealth of archival material outlines Fred Cole’s lengthy musical resume – there’s a priceless live clip of the Rats appearing on a Portland cable access TV program in the late ‘70s – while glowing Cole testimonials from the likes of Music Maniac’s Kesteloo, the Kingsmen’s Mike Mitchell and Mudhoney’s Steve Turner add additional context.
One intimate scene has Fred Cole displaying the Dead Moon album masters and casually tossing them around, not heeding the potential for damaging them. Summers says that’s his favorite part of the movie. “It reminds me of William Blake or something etching his little copper plates. Fred looks like Ben Franklin in his dirty robe with his bi-focals on, going through tape after tape after tape, getting these ancient machines working.”
Summers recalls their initial filming sessions of the band as being a literal trial by concert-trail fire. Fred, shortly after giving his blessing to the project, called the filmmakers up and asked them if they wanted to join them, 11th-hour style, on a European tour. The next thing they knew, Summers and Fix were getting off a plane in Amsterdam. “We’re in the parking lot going to get into the rental van,” says Summers, laughing at the memory, “and Fred got us in headlocks and made everybody get into a huddle. He says, ‘All right, if anybody fucks with you, you’re not with us – you’re in Dead Moon now. Do you understand? You’re IN the band!’ Then we broke the huddle and went into our first play – in the van, and go!”
“We tried to stay quiet and out of the way while rolling,” observes Fix. “In fact, our presences made it more fun for them. We felt like we were the honored guests, being shown around Europe, being introduced to all their many friends they’ve made while touring over there.”
Adds Toody Cole, “It worked out great – we loved the film. And we became really good friends with Jason and Kate, too.”
The self-financed film took approximately four years, from inception to final editing, to complete; in 2004 it was screened extensively at film festivals (a pair of memorable screenings in Australia and New Zealand featured live performances from Dead Moon!) and reviews were unanimous in their praise. Fix suggests that ultimately their budget restrictions worked in their favor. “It was just the two of us, no audio person, a real basic run-and-gun setup. But if we’d had a huge crew I think we would have sacrificed a great deal just in terms of the whole feeling and spirit of the project – and the intimacy we were able to achieve with the three of them.”
Hopefully timed to come out close to the Sub Pop anthology is a DVD of the film, most likely as a joint Magic Umbrella/Tombstone release (see: www.MagicUmbrella.com or www.DeadMoonUSA.com). Unknown Passage is not the first documentary treatment of Dead Moon; in 1995 Dutch fan Wilko Bello made the 50-minute You’ll Love Them All the Same, included on a CD-ROM with ’97 album Hard Wired in Ljubljana. But with a wealth of DVD extras, from songs to archival goodies to interview outtakes and ephemera (one priceless segment captures a snooty tour manager for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club kicking Dead Moon off the stage and a subsequent screaming match between him and Loomis), it will undoubtedly stand as definitive.
Prominent in the film whenever the Magic Umbrella lenses zero in on Fred Cole is a Dead Moon tattoo, the trademark band logo depicting a deathly, grinning skull protruding from a crescent moon. Not just any tattoo – it’s on his right cheek, a highly visible symbol of the man’s devotion to his band and to his craft.
This will probably preclude the man’s ever taking a job as a Wal-Mart greeter when his senior citizenship beckons, but predictably, both Fred and Toody have no intention of entering their twilight years quietly (although Fred, in a not-unwise concession to the drumbeat of age, recently got fitted for a new, high-tech pair of hearing aids).
The tattoo’s also physical testimony to Fred Cole’s bloody-mindedness as an individual. Ironically, despite the band’s seemingly tireless work ethic and massive musical output (at last count, roughly 13 studio and live albums and 14 singles and EPs), Dead Moon has been its own worst enemy in terms of any huge commercial break-throughs it might have achieved. Fred Cole still stubbornly insists on recording in mono, of course, with the digitizing of a Dead Moon vinyl releases barely an afterthought; and after all these years, Dead Moon remains a self-produced project. (With luck, the Sub Pop release should go a fair ways towards raising the band’s profile.)
Plus, he’s notorious for shrugging off – or outright running from – any overtures the mainstream might cast in his direction. Toody notes that Fred “kinda gets into this deer-in-headlights mode when shit gets intense.”
Pausing for a moment, she then relates an incident in the early ‘90s when the band, on tour in Europe, found themselves courted by Britain’s influential weekly Melody Maker. At the time, anything from the American northwest was blowing up and the paper wanted to send over a reporter and a photographer for a cover story – but at Dead Moon’s label’s expense.
“So Hans [owner of Music Maniac] runs it by me and says it would be a great career move: ‘All we have to do is fly this Everett True and his photographer over here to Europe, put them up in a hotel, and they’ll come and interview you and it’s just going to make you guys.’ Fred was like, ‘Oh, this just so smacks of payola. Ah, no. No, we’re not going to do it that way. If they think we’re such hot shit, fine. They can come over here [on their own] and I’ll talk to them.’
“You know, Fred has been so disillusioned by the music business in general and how it works, he just thinks, ‘If I’m worth the story, I’m worth the story.’ This is important to him: ‘I just want to know I did it on my own.’”
Hearing his wife say that, Fred thinks about it for a moment, then softly agrees.
“That’s right. I mean, hey, we grew up in the ‘60s and found out how the world works then. So, okay, I refuse to be part of it. I’m not gonna go there.
“But if you want to be part of my world — cool. I’ll accept you with open arms.”
PIERCED ARROWS: “Not Just Righteous, But Right” (From Stomp and Stammer zine, March 2010)
The letter is still here, tucked inside the jacket of a Dead Moon LP, on brown Tombstone Music stationary and bearing a July 1990 postmark. It’s a handwritten note from Dead Moon guitarist Fred Cole that begins, “Dear Fred, thanks for the reviews. You’re one of the core of people who started the ball rolling…”
Only hubris would allow me to think that I really had anything to do with Dead Moon’s rise from unruly Oregon punk/garage trio to international prominence as one of the fiercest, most uncompromising underground bands of the last two decades; by the time Cole formed the band in ’87, he already had enough experience under his belt to know exactly what he wanted to do and how to do it. Just the same, helping get the word out about the band was something I and a number of my fanzine-scribbling peers approached with a missionary-like zeal, and it was gratifying to know that Cole appreciated the effort
In fact, although I never met him or his wife and bandmate Toody face to face (Dead Moon tours rarely seemed to be routed through wherever I happened to be living), we corresponded quite a bit, so when we convened via telephone in the summer of 2006 for Harp magazine dissection of their career to date, the occasion being the impending release of Sub Pop’s two-CD Dead Moon anthology Echoes of the Past, the interview took more the form of a conversation among old friends than a journalist grilling two musicians.
And then the band promptly broke up.
Cut to 2010: “You know, it wasn’t your fault…” Toody Cole lets her words trail off, then chuckles loudly into the phone.
I’d half-jokingly suggested that perhaps I’d placed a curse on the band by publishing the 2006 article; the laughter dies down, and she explains that after doing Dead Moon for two decades, “We kind of got trapped in a box, especially for Fred and his songwriting, and everybody wanted to hear the same 20-30 songs over and over again. But he’s one of these people who’s like, ‘It’s whatever I’m doing now, and not what I did then or when.’”
What the Coles are doing now is the Pierced Arrows, which they put together in surprisingly short order following the demise of Dead Moon. According to Toody (who, due to Fred’s deafness, handles the bulk of interview duties, fielding the questions and turning to Fred for clarification as needed), her husband had actually been thinking about closing the book on Dead Moon for some time; the band played its final gig in Groningen on Nov. 26, 2006. “And I pretty much had to talk him into coming back after that break anyway,” she continues, “because he was done at that point. Originally we were going to wait six months to a year, but it turned out to be about three or four [months] instead — just long enough to realize how much we missed it!”
Outwardly at least, the Pierced Arrows bear such a close resemblance to Dead Moon that some fans may have wondered why even bother with the name change and potentially squander the group’s momentum. Like Dead Moon, the Arrows are a three-piece, with Kelly Haliburton (ex-Murder Disco X) taking DM drummer Andrew Loomis’ place behind the kit; Fred Cole still spews his manifesto-like punk anthems in an unhinged, Arthur Lee-like howl while unleashing furious bursts of serrated riffs; Toody Cole still wields her precision basslines and shares occasional vocal duties with Fred; and just as Dead Moon did, before each gig the trio convenes onstage in a tight semi-circle whose physical closeness signifies both a musical and personal camaraderie.
Yet as Toody told me in 2006, in an unintentional foreshadowing what was to come, “We decided a long time ago that if any one of us three is not replaceable, then that will be the end of Dead Moon. Maybe something else will come up down the line, but it will be a different name.”
Hence, with drummer Andrew Loomis leaving the Dead Moon fold, the Pierced Arrows. The Coles knew Halliburton from his turning up at Dead Moon shows (his father had also played in a band with Fred in the ‘70s), so when they got the itch to resume playing, Fred invited him over for some informal rehearsals. Things clicked, and the Arrows played their first gig in May of 2007 with Poison Idea in Portland on the anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens. “We’d only been rehearsing for about 4-6 weeks,” says Toody, “and we only had about a half hour’s worth of material. But it was just phenomenal, really over the top. We’d figured we’d have to start up the ladder again like we had done in Dead Moon, but that gig went so well things just took off from there.”
Indeed they did. Since that first show the band has toured regularly and scored great press coverage. Yours truly, reviewing debut LP (on Cole’s long-running Tombstone label), enthused thusly:
The Coles are as garage-shock defiant and hell-bent for leather as ever. Yeah, they sound a lot like Dead Moon — Fred Cole’s unhinged, Arthur Lee-like vocals and keep-it-simple chord structures ensure that — with the main break from the past being a shift away from Dead Moon’s signature lo-fi/mono aesthetic by recording in a real studio with a producer. Improved sonics aside, Straight To the Heart is aimed directly at faithful D.M. fans, notably the grinding, malevolent anti-war screed “Guns Of Thunder,” punk thrasher “Walking Wounded” (featuring a nice Fred-Toody vocal duet), a thunderous romp through Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” and a bluesy slab of alienation (one of Fred’s favorite song topics) rock called “C-U.” Welcome back, Mr. and Mrs. Cole.
For their second album, the just-issued Descending Shadows, Pierced Arrows inked a deal with über-tastemaker Vice Records. Wisely, the Coles and Haliburton don’t fuck with their established formula too much, either; in a mere 11 tracks, the band plows forth with such feral viscosity and velocity that you’re left clutching your chest when the record’s done.
In classic Fred Cole form, the album opens with a manifesto-like anthem, “This Is the Day,” a churning slab of sinewy guitars and rhythm section thud that finds the singer bemoaning all the ugliness he’s seen — and spawned — in the past and trying to find the inner strength to rise above from this point onward: “If only I could change the way I’ve become through all these years/ I wouldn’t be watching you holding back your tears.” The creepy, noirish “Buried Alive” comes next, Fred chronicling a modern-life-is-suffocating-me viewpoint via a science-gone-terribly-wrong metaphor. That’s followed a few tracks later by the even more horrific “Paranoia” that utilizes metronomic bass, abrasive, serrated swipes of guitar, and appropriately unhinged lyric images of “creaking floors,” “evil in the night” and “the sound of blades just before they carve.” And “On the Move” finds the Coles, against a thick backdrop of dark riffage, swapping vocal lines about an impending apocalypse (literal, mental or perhaps both) that’s propelling the two protagonists to flee ahead of the coming storm.
Fred Cole has been compared in the past to Love’s Arthur Lee, and sometimes to Roky Erickson as well, but on this album he sounds uncannily like a cross between late vocal greats Bon Scott and Alex Harvey, moaning and gurgling and blustering and spitting into the mic as if through clenched teeth while reeling from a significant flesh wound. Animalistic, by any measure.
Too, like a radically minimalist AC/DC, the band locks into some of the most primal grooves imaginable, Toody and Halliburton adopting a no-frills approach that’s propulsive yet steady, and this economy of motion additionally frees Fred to unleash a heady mixture of steel-lined riffs alongside psychedelic sound effects. There’s even an unexpected foray into British punk territory, “Zip My Lip,” that has Toody adopting a Johnny Rotten-like sneer as Fred deploys proto-metal buzzsaw licks to great effect.
The net result is a set of tunes simultaneously spilling forth on a chaotic veneer of sonics while remaining powerfully and purposefully focused.
In its time, Dead Moon became a Northwest institution, based out of Clackamas, Oregon, and amassing a core rabid fanbase that extended to pockets all across the U.S. and, in particular, Europe. From 1987-2006 the band issued 15 albums (plus the Sub Pop compilation), many of them on their own Tombstone label — official motto for their lo-fi aesthetic: “music too tough to die” — and pressed in glorious mono courtesy Fred’s vintage mono lathe.
Fred’s musical roots, likewise, extended to an earlier era: as a member of Las Vegas teenbeat combo the Weeds and later the Portland-based Lollipop Shoppe, he’d enjoyed some chart success in the ‘60s, notably with the latter’s hit single “You Must Be a Witch.” By 1976 he was fronting a hi-octane punk combo called The Rats, the first in what would a succession of bands featuring Toody (whom he married in ’67) on bass. Dead Moon was the charm, however, and while the band never sold records by the truckload it still built up a huge stockpile of indie cred during its tenure, with fellow NW bands like the Wipers, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam singing the group’s praises. Pearl Jam has frequently covered Dead Moon songs in concert, while singer Eddie Vedder recently composed an endorsement of the Coles for Spinner.com that reads, in part, “In a day and age when authenticity is harder to come by than an honest Republican, legends Fred and Toody Cole deliver on every record and at every show… [They] epitomize the true potential and pure meaning of straight-no-chaser rock ‘n’ roll. Not just righteous, but right.”
Toody and Fred had offered a telling anecdote when I interviewed them in 2006 that illustrates the authenticity and purity Vedder’s suggesting. They were touring Europe at a point in the early ‘90s which coincided with the overseas press going ga-ga for anything remotely Sub Pop-related or Northwest-based. Melody Maker wanted to come over and do a cover story on the band — but on the record label’s dime. Fred, smelling payola, flatly refused, saying, “If they think we’re such hot shit, fine. They can come over here [on their own] and I’ll talk to them.” As Toody explained, “Fred wanted to know that he did it on his own.”
Remembering that part of our earlier conversation now, I can’t help but wondering how on earth Pierced Arrows wound up on Vice, hipster haven to such acts as Chromeo, the Raveonettes, King Khan & the Shrines and, most notoriously, the Black Lips. For 2008’s Straight to the Heart, the Coles self-released, but for the followup, the decision was made to shop for a label. The timing was apt, as around the same time the Arrows toured with the Black Lips.
“That’s how we ended up dealing with Vice,” explains Toody. “We were thinking about asking around, and Sub Pop’s docket was completely full, so we said, well, let’s give Vice a shot and see what happens. We sat down with them to talk about licensing Descending Shadows and they had ideas about promotion, etcetera, so we told them we’d be willing to do that within reason. It’s something we need to do on our part to support all the work they’ve put in, and so far it’s been a really great experience.” She adds that they’re scheduled to do a split single with the Black Lips and that Vice will be flying the band out in April to record it in a New York studio.
Working with a high profile record label isn’t the only thing the Coles are doing differently this time around. Whereas most Dead Moon records were self-recorded and -produced, for both Pierced Arrows albums they’ve opted to record in professional Portland facilities (Straight to the Heart was even done digitally). The yield thus far has been a far more expansive sound and boasting greater clarity than the signature Dead Moon lo-fi aesthetic — although true to habit, Fred Cole still cuts the vinyl masters with his mono lathe.
Of the decision to work with outside producers, Toody says, “I think we’ve gotten more comfortable in the studio, and also at this point Fred’s [hearing] has gotten so bad that he realized that he can’t record and self-mix anymore; he can’t hear the frequencies anymore. Still, we’re working with first, second or third takes, so it’s also a bit of the same-old, same-old. It was a lot easier this time around and less intimidating than it used to be. And very relaxing from the fact that Fred wasn’t rattled trying to figure out, ‘Okay, which room should we use…’ and trying to roll tape and keep headphones on and play at the same time, stopping the take – it just got too ridiculous.”
Truth be told, the Pierced Arrows, though perhaps demonstrating more complexity in their arrangements than Dead Moon did (Toody also has a greater singing role in the new band), still ooze a primal ferocity that’s instantly identifiable. One detects echoes of everyone from AC/DC to the Sex Pistols to classic NW garageshock, but there’s no question you’re getting Fred Cole & Co. within the first few seconds of hearing a Pierced Arrows song. The net result is a powerfully delivered and purposefully focused sonic collision that’s as thrilling as ever.
“One of the nice things about having this new band is that you’re not so tied down to the regimen of what you’re ‘expected’ to do,” says Toody. “With Dead Moon, everything was always like, ‘It’s just this way. Don’t deviate. Nothing different.’ You know? With the Pierced Arrows, though, Fred is happy as a clam because it’s the natural direction he was leaning in anyway, but for whatever reason Dead Moon couldn’t pull it off.
“We have a whole new energy — a whole new jazz.”
I can dig it, Toody. Just don’t break up before I get to see you play this time. Cool?
Reviews of Assholes (by Peter Vack), The Babysitter (by McG), and The Florida Project (by Sean Baker). Spoiler Alert: for Hollywood, one out of three ain’t bad. And no, we don’t mean the above photo….
BY DANIEL MATTI / BLURT FILM EDITOR
(Go HERE to view the Blurt Movie Thoughts master page.)
4 out of 5 stars
From one of the grossest movies to come out of SXSW—and the first ever winner of the Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award—it’s time for Peter Vack’s new film to hit your small screen, it’s ASSHOLES!!
From the warped mind of Vack, it is a story about love, poppers, and fascination of the brown hole. No, literally. This is exactly what this movie is about and you should definitely watch it, if you know that’s your thing. Well, at least one of those things might tickle your fancy.
The romantic tale of Adah (Betsey Brown) and Aaron (Jack Dunphy) as the relapse from sobriety to falling into, well, each other’s assholes and drugs. From blending the likes of Wes Anderson’s style to mumble core pioneers such as the Duplass brothers, Peter Vack has definitely made a name for himself in a crowd of niche underground absurd indie movies. His streak continues here, from Adah and Aaron running around the downtown streets of New York, causing mayhem as they run into a candid crowd as they indulge in poppers and public sex, to the scene where they summon the a shit demon “Mephistopheles,” or “Mephi” for short, played by Eileen Deetz who you might not know was the face of Pazuzu in The Exorcist.
So if you’re into far out gross mumble core movies I highly recommend this movie. If you are the complete opposite I heard Blade Runner 2049 is still in theaters. (Thanks for that, Matti. Gonna go see BR2049 again as soon as I finish posting this. Hey, when’s a new Stan Brakhage retrospective duet?—Niche Ed.)
2.5 out of 5 stars
McG’s comedic horror film “The Babysitter” hit Netflix a couple weeks ago and I finally got around to watching it since I was in the horror film mood and I was awaiting the season 2 drop of Stranger Things (which you could imagine is as amazing as the first one).
If you’re not familiar with McG’s movies, he is essentially a mini version of Michael Bay. Lots of explosions, silly and predictable yet fun story lines, and babes. Pretty much “Chad’s” favorite movie director.
The Babysitter is as mind-numbing as it sounds. Twelve-year-old Cole Johnson (played by Judah Lewis) is a bullied middle school student whose parents still thinks he needs a babysitter and is curious to find out what happens downstairs after he gets tucked into bed by his babysitter, Bee (played by Samara Weaving, pictured above). This plays off of the old story that once you go to bed, the babysitter invites her boyfriend over to get some late night action while there is no parental supervision (gasp!)
.Once Cole goes to bed, he decides to sneak downstairs to find out that the babysitter has invited some guests over to play a simple game of spin the bottle mixed in with truth or dare. There the game turns to a Satanic sacrifice upon one of the goofy, less fortunate “friends”.
As Cole starts to figure out ways to escape the house and from the clutches of each one of the Bee’s friends in ways that mimic Home Alone traps, it ends up being a not terrible movie because you have already seen this movie a dozen times before. Just with different antagonists and another kind of zero to hero character. So I really wouldn’t recommend this movie—or really wouldn’t not recommend this movie. Just hope that you have something else to watch before passing out on the couch.
The Florida Project
4 out of 5 stars
From the mind of Sean Baker comes his newest film “The Florida Project” where again he tackles humanity, family, friendship—and just being an overall great storyteller. Using art direction and costume design that remind of you of any Wes Anderson movie, Sean relays the story of The Magic Castle Motel in Kissimmee, Florida, right around the corner from Walt Disney Resort.
From the perspective of young Moonee (played by the amazingly talented Brooklynn Prince), her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite), Jack the manager of the motel (Willem Dafoe), and Moonee’s gang of friends who stay and visit, the movie gives you the lighthearted laughs you want in a comedy but also the “pull on your heart-strings” of a drama. From the misadventures that Moonee and her friends take you on, like burning down a house, to Jack trying to be the father-figure to Moonee and boss of a motel of unemployed and struggling families, this has potential Oscar nominations written all over it.
This is what the world looked like before WordPress, punks. And it was a more vibrant, exuberantly tactile world, too. Our resident fanzine expert Tim “Dagger” Hinely weighs in.
BY TIM “DAGGER” HINELY
Print is still alive and well and here’s some rags to prove it! (See Part 6 of this series elsewhere on the Blurt site.) Fall is here, which means that the baseball season is slowly coming to its conclusion, so with that in mind….
7 & 7 is… (#3) This cool zine is the size of a 45 record (and even includes a flexi) is done by the folks who run the terrific label Hidden Volume label out of Baltimore (think sort of an updated version of Estrus Records, at least in the graphics dept). Plus it’s named after a Love song so of course it’s good, man! This ish has interviews with The Improbables (done by some wanker named Hinely) and Louie Louie plus some most excellent graphics and reviews. Do me a favor, inundate Scott with orders so he continues with this one. www.hiddenvolume.com
The Big Takeover (#80) As I stated last time, if editor Jack Rabid hits issue one hundred I wanna be there for that party. Every June and December one of these drops into my mail box (thanks Jack!) . This time around it’s Chrissie Hynde of The Pretender (on da’ cover) plus other heavyweights like Tommy Stinson, part two of the Lush interview, Tobin Sprout, The Black Watch, Sleaford Mods, Grandaddy and more and lots of more including short takes and a boatload (or truckload if you prefer) of reviews. Also, as I stated last time, you need to subscribe. www.bigtakeover.com
Bored Out (#1) Ok, not really a zine, more like a book (it’s bound) but zine-ish enough as editor Ryan Leach has put together one hell of a lineup here including totally in-depth interviews with Kid Congo Powers, In the Red Record’s Larry Hardy, The Bats’ Robert Scott, Jeffrey Evans formerly of the Gibson Bros, Ross Johnson, The Blasters’ Dave Alvin, The Real Kids’ John Felice and plenty more. I’m about halfway through and totally fascinated. This one’s a keeper, order now. www.spacecaserecords.com
Dynamite Hemorrhage (#4) So for this issue, his 4th since coming back from the dead (so to speak…editor Jay Hinman used to do the great Superdope in the 90’s) Mr. Hinman decided to go all half-sized on us (just like the early issues of Superdope) but it still looks way sharp. In this ish he has an interview with The Kiwi Animal as well as a terrific piece on Happy Squid Records, plus he updates his old piece of 45 45’s that moved heaven and earth to expand it to 100 45’s. In addition, plenty of reviews all wrapped up in a nice little package that only Hinman can put together. www.dynamitehemorrhage.com Vulcher (#3) Yes! The Vulcher crew are on a real roll here and yes, they’re already working on issue #4. The crew is Eddie Flowers, Kelsey Simpson and “Sonic” Sam Murphy and a long list of contributors (including yours truly) and they really delve deep and deliver here. It has the feel of an old school mag and this time around are bits ‘n pieces on Eric Dolphy, Obnox, early 45s by Jim Dickinson, Uncle Meat, The Embryonics, Big Boy Pete, a piece on the late, great David Peel, my piece on two great Aussie garage rock comps and really too much more. Well worth every penny. Write Eddie at email@example.com or Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org
The author is the editor of BLURT and has been rumored to be among those who won’t back down.
BY FRED MILLS
A little over a week ago I started to think I needed to get off social media. It was purely an act of self-preservation, and it wasn’t an altogether alien urge to ditch my “socials,” as people (primarily marketing folks and public relations flacks, but work with me here) like to say, Facebook chief among them. Like most of you, I’ve dropped out from time to time for a day or two in the past, in some instances purely by chance due to the work load at my full-time day job. (By way of full disclosure: I am the editor of a monthly print magazine here in North Carolina—not referring to BLURT, incidentally, which at the moment is online-only, but we hope to revive the print version soon. Editing BLURT content and posting it to the site is something I do to help keep our brand active and, by my way of thinking, also to give our writers and photographers an easy—if not overly reliable, on a day-to-day basis—outlet for their stuff, a place where they can park their words and their pictures and hopefully have a better chance of being seen by peers, musicians, and random music biz folks rather than simply slapping it up on their personal blog. No one here gets paid, in other words. We do it ‘cos we love spreading the word and giving love to the artists we love. And, er, to keep us in those free records we love, too.)
This hiatus from social media was different, though. It came on the heels of a particularly grueling several days, starting the morning after the Las Vegas shooting, through the heartbreaking news of Tom Petty’s sudden passing, and well into the ensuing emotional onslaught wrought by both events, of which Facebook became a nonstop outlet for those emotions.
Indeed, Las Vegas hit me with the same kind of confusion, fear, disbelief, and, ultimately, black grief that I felt in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Yes, I know the body count difference puts the two events into completely different leagues, but, hey, try using mathematics-based logic on one’s body stressors and you’ll quickly understand that equivalencies aren’t necessarily absolutes. And, much like 9/11, you couldn’t get away from the nonstop news reports and online outpouring of grief. Sixteen years ago, four days after 9/11, my wife, 8-month-old son, and I desperately needed to depressurize, so we drove four hours west to the North Carolina mountains, rented a cabin out in the sticks, and spent a long weekend hiking in the woods, cooking on a grill, entertaining an innocent young child who was otherwise oblivious to anything but his toys and snacks, and listening to Americana radio. We came back home in a far more receptive frame of mind, knowing full well that we would re-entering a world that had changed and would never look quite the same again.
With Petty, well… I’ve already penned a rather lengthy story about what my relationship with him has been and what he means to me. Spoiler alert: He’s among my Top 5 all-time favorite artists, and he’s been an emotional presence in both my life and my wife’s since he debuted in 1976. Losing him hit me as hard as losing Joe Strummer before him, and before Strummer, Keith Moon. We can go into all this in more detail over beers some warm summer evening, okay?
The 2017 week, however, was also different from the 2001 week, in that I couldn’t take off for the mountains—well, technically, I live in the mountains, so let’s just say that I couldn’t take off for the beach, or the desert, or the New Orleans whorehouses, either—because I have that full-time job I mentioned above; my wife has a full-time job herself (combined, we put in 100-110 hours per week, easily); and my little son is a little older now, a junior in high school with advanced placement class commitments.
What I could do, however, was remove myself from as many of my primary stress sources as possible: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn (just kidding – I haven’t updated my profile on that failing platform in several years! SAD!)… pfffft. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News…. zappppp. (Well, kinda; on the family iPad we have quite a few news apps, among them CNN, AP, local and regional newspapers, and aggregators like Flipboard, and it’s remarkably easy to let one’s finger to drift across the screen while deciding between Netflix, Hulu, or Vudu, and open up one of those news apps. But I’m proud to report that I didn’t obsessively refresh, and I quite consciously limited myself because I was also wanting to free up time to read a few books I had already partially begun.)
I even did my best to steer clear of the urge to watch the late night comedy (read: political) shows and, instead, look for comfort food such as nature and music documentaries, reruns of Frazier, the latest season of Gotham, and the re-boot of Will & Grace. Just last night my son talked me into starting to watch the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation series again, which feels pretty goddam perfect for the times we find ourselves in. With any luck, by the time we complete this lengthy binge, we’ll find ourselves in markedly different times. And for some reason I also found myself engaged in a selection of YouTube mini-binges: Fela Kuti, my old friends in the bands Dreams So Real and the Sidewinders, Rachel Sweet, and others. (Yes, I did just type “Rachel Sweet.” Should I also type “Rex Smith & Rachel Sweet”?) You’d be amazed at just how much mainstream news media you can NOT watch when you put your mind to it.
In this context, Facebook was an interesting case study in solitude, solipsism, and self-righteousness. Everyone’s experienced, at some point or another, a FB friend announcing he or she was planning on taking a break from the platform. These social media “vacations” are typically voluntary—maybe something happened in their lives that requires their extended attention, like a death in the family, and they get off the media knowing full well that upon their return they will be greeted with scores of so-very-sorrys and wish-you-wells that had been posted in the announcement’s comments section (can we all agree that the toothless, bordering-on-banal, phrase “sending thoughts and prayers” should be permanently retired? put some actual thought into your condolences, people!); and that they will dutifully express gratitude for all the support that was expressed. Occasionally, the virtual departures from FB appear to be voluntary, but in fact they are probably done at the strong urging of a fellow professional and prompted by some bad behavior—say, you were caught texting a photo of your private parts to an underage kid, so you’re being told that maybe you should lay off the pro-Weinstein FB rants and lay low for awhile; or you innocently posted some remarks that turned out to be nakedly anti-Semitic then made things worse defending yourself following the social media shitstorm, so your P.R. person suggests now might be a good time to take that sweat lodge sabbatical you’ve been talking about for ages (can we all agree that making one final FB post about your “needing to do some much-needed reflection and healing” is probably not a smart move either?).
Taking a cue from my old friend Peter Holsapple who, a day or two earlier, had announced he needed a short break from FB, I bailed. Mindful of the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that would no doubt ensue if I simply disappeared from my digital community like a Second Life avatar soaring towards the heavens just prior to logging off, I made the usual bye-bye-to-Facebook announcement at my FB page . Facebook, I had come to realize, is the Empathy Box that sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick warned us of in his classic book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It tricks us into thinking we are having a collective/communal experience every time we react to some tragedy, some offense, some heartwarming story, some quirky/funny/cool “thing.”
Trust me, all those digital murmurs of compassion or screams of outrage—which I am as guilty as the next person of typing onto my computer screen—along with all those “likes” and laughing/weeping emojis that we register throughout the day, amount to anything but a communal experience. In your social media cocoon, in your groupthink cyber-node, you are deceiving yourself. Sorry to break this to you, millennials, but you might turn out to be replicants (the vote’s still out), and if that’s the case, your brave new off-world experiences are rapidly coming to a conclusion. You want communal? See my below note about talking with a neighbor of mine face to face one recent afternoon.
I’m proud to say that as I ditched Facebook, I said nothing about healing, although as you may note below about “redirecting my energy,” though absolutely descriptively accurate, did come somewhat close to new age mumbo-jumbo. At least I didn’t work “sustainable” into the dialogue. Still, I promise that there were no deaths or tragedies in the family, no wiener photos or sex scandals, no anti-Semitic comments or excursions into misogyny, no bullshit I’d been needing to own up to for far too long. I was just burned out and bummed out in the wake of the worst week I could remember in over a decade, and I realized I had been and around in my gerbil wheel of ugly/tragic/hypnotic national news while accomplishing next to nothing at work or at home. Laying I bed one morning at 4AM, thrashing and adjusting and readjusting my pillow, I had even thought I was about to have a panic attack.
From my Facebook post:
“I’ve decided I agree with Holsapple – time for a break. From the general social media white noise, onslaught of listicles, etc., to the obvious political overkill and partisan baitmongering, to the “no, I have the biggest grievance here” attitudes, to the blatant p.r. pitches at what is a personal, and not a business, page that I get, FB exhausts me even when I am, myself, indulging in my own form of blatant behavior in order to get that one final “like” affirmation. I need to redirect my energy. Plus, there’s that fall veggie garden and kitchen rehab we have going on here at Mills University. See y’all next semester…”
And, damn, it felt good when I hit that “post” button. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine. But thanks for asking.
But Fred, you are also asking, what the fuck did you actually do while you’ve been off social media, restricting your news diet, etc.? I fucking banked a good bit of extra time in order to do other “stuff,” for starters.
A report this past March at Adweek, citing a study by Mediakix, indicated that the average amount of time spent per day on Facebook is about 35 minutes, and I can assure you it’s probably more on weekends or days off. In fact, 35 minutes seems way too low, based on what I’ve observed among quite a few of my FB “friends,” who seem to make 10, 15, 20, or more posts to their pages each day, then diligently reply to the comments while also making comments of their own on other friends’ timelines. So I’m going to up that 35-minute estimate to a still-conservative 45… hell, let’s just call it an hour per day, which means that I saved 8 FREAKIN’ HOURS over the course of the past 8 days simply by not dicking around on Facebook—8 hours is a COMPLETE WORK DAY if you have a regular job, or if you are a freelance worker and know how to organize your work day and discipline yourself.
Now, I can’t exactly wave my magic Make America Great Again wand and turn those hours into wages—maybe I should move to Kentucky and get a job in the coal mines since Trump and Scott Pruitt are definitely bringing those jobs and those wages back from a galaxy far, far away—but I reckon I could use the extra time to hustle up some outside writing gigs. Or maybe load all those shitty promotional CDs I get in the mail up for sale on Discogs, Amazon, or eBay—hell, I’ll even settle for averaging the local hourly minimum wage in online sales. I’m not greedy.
At any rate, if we are talking transforming all that digital time I accrued into real-world quality time, I think we have a winner, Bob. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing this past week that I either was not doing the week prior to that, or at least was doing in considerably smaller quantities:
Finished what seemed like The Never Ending Landscaping Project in our back yard, something we’d begun months back with the intention of wrapping it up by Fall. (Mission now accomplished.)
Burned a shitload of leaves and yard debris in the fire pit, which was semi-linked to TNELP but, since it was in a different part of the yard, something I considered a standalone project.
Got the last of my Fall vegetables planted in our two box gardens, and yes, I know that by the first and second weeks of October, one’s garden should have been planted, at very least, a month earlier. 6-8 weeks earlier if possible. So how much time did YOU put into your Fall garden, bub, in between trying to pay your rent and keep yourself I cigarettes and beer?
Helped my wife get our kitchen ready for a partial renovation. I don’t do demo on floors and walls, or install flooring and drywall, but I still understand that I’m expected to pull my weight in the prep work when there’s a family project such as this. (Memo to wife: please stop laughing.)
Started cleaning up the garage in anticipation of finally clearing out my storage unit where, for 100 bucks a month, I pay for the privilege of not being able to thumb through my collection of vinyl, CDs, books, and music magazines whenever I might get the urge to do so.
Alphabetized the vinyl records I actually do have at the house because, duh, that’s what a record collector does when he has some spare time.
Wrote 15 record reviews for BLURT and 3 for another outlet, most of which you lucky readers will be able to view on the site very shortly. That may not seem like a lot compared to the output of a lot of music writers, but don’t forget, I also have a 50-55 hour-per-week job as an editor at a print publication, so sitting at the computer during every free moment I have at home isn’t necessarily the most attractive proposition.
Went to the YMCA to shoot basketball with my son on three evenings, feeling both physically out of shape and needing to subject myself to the ritual humiliation of a 16-year-old smoking his old dad on the court in everything but free throws. (Very pleased to report an 80% percentage on those.)
Went to see Blade Runner 2049. Okay, I would have done that anyway.
Scheduled a long overdue colonoscopy. Okay, I might have done that anyway.
Started to make a list of random stuff I would have posted to Facebook if I had been on during the week. You know, all the crap you think is clever and profound and poignant while you’re in the moment—the same crap you roll your eyes at when you spot someone else trying to be clever and profound and poignant. I figured I could save it to post on FB whenever I decided to get back on FB, and we’d all have one nice communal empathetic chuckle—how meta of him!
Ditched my list of random stuff I would have posted to Facebook if I had been on during the week, because, duh.
Cooked a full breakfast several mornings for that same 16-year-old mentioned above, rather than just throwing some Eggos in the toaster. I don’t necessarily attribute this to having extra time; it’s not like I was getting up on a schoolday earlier than usual. But for some reason, I was feeling more productive than usual. When you feel good about yourself, you behave differently.
Finished reading Blood Done Sign My Name by celebrated N.C. author Timothy B. Tyson—I’d previously been kinda futzing along with it, reading a half chapter this morning and a half chapter the next evening before grabbing the iPad each time to scour all my news apps, because, Trump—and started reading a bio about Steph Curry and a novel by my friend Michael Goldberg. Regarding BDSMN, a stunning memoir about growing up white as the son of a liberal minister in the segregated South of the ‘60s, my own kid had urged me to pick it up after he’d finished it for a class assignment, telling me he thought Tyson’s experiences seemed a lot like what he knew of my upbringing. He was right; Tyson is my new favorite author; and I’m pleased to say that when I tracked down Tyson’s email and wrote him to tell him so, he actually wrote back in less than a half hour, and we continue to exchange nots. (In the Facebook capsule-blurb era, who even has time for crafting a decent email anymore—emails now on the verge of become the digital dinosaur equivalents of old-school formal letters between correspondents. I’m finding myself trying to write friends and acquaintances notes with a bit more meat on their digital bones than “got your info—thanks!” or “let’s catch up soon!”)
And perhaps most revealingly: Spent a couple of hours commiserating with my next door neighbor regarding the Las Vegas massacre. In the past year living in our neighborhood, we’ve never been in each other’s house, but we sometimes chat over the back yard fence while going about our respective outdoors routines, and as I mentioned, I have been out there doing a good deal of work. This time, though, I was stopped in my tracks in mid conversation when he disclosed that the company he works for, a sound and audio company, was handling the Jason Aldean show that horrific night in Vegas. Only one of his employees was hurt, just a small ricochet injury, but the psychological injuries others experienced were potentially profound, and he’d already met with some of them, offering them grief counseling, extended time off, etc., if they needed anything to help cope with the aftermath. (Here’s a local media interview with one of his employees who describes in vivid detail what it was like to be on the mixing stage, under fire, and trying to take cover and get out of there.) A couple of times while my neighbor recounted all this, he became visibly emotional, as did both of us when we subsequently found ourselves talking about losing Tom Petty—he was a big fan himself. It was a sobering couple of hours, to say the least.
The point here should be obvious. There wasn’t anything I did during those “extra 8 hours” I picked up thanks to jettisoning social media from my life and trimming back my news consumption that I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) have been doing anyway.
But as regards that backyard convo with my neighbor, I’m not so sure. We all like to think that we readily sympathize and eagerly empathize (oops—somebody call Philip K. Dick) with one another on Facebook when something momentous has happened that affected them enough to post about it. But you sure can’t see that haunted, troubled look on someone’s face, or hear that sudden, spontaneous catch in someone’s throat, when someone is posting to Facebook.
In an op-ed essay titled “Finding Grace Around the Kitchen Table” (online it’s “How to Find Common Ground”) that was published September 30 in the New York Times, conservative pundit and talk-show host Erick-Woods Erickson wrote about how a life-threatening incident and its aftermath forced him to look inward and try to figure out what he would want his kids to know about him that they might not automatically know if he were suddenly no longer with them. (This is something every parent, particularly if you’re a writer, ponders and even agonizes about at some point. So we start writing all that stuff down for posterity. Yes, I have. Thanks for asking.)
In the essay, Erickson also ruminates both obliquely and directly about some of the things I’ve been discussing here. The following 3-paragraph passage in particular stands out:
“As we have moved more of our lives onto the internet, we have stopped living in actual communities. Instead we have created virtual communities where everyone thinks the same. We do not have to worry about the homeless man under the bridge because he is no longer part of our community. He is someone else’s problem. But that simply is not true.
“Even as the internet provides us great advances, it also segments us. We have social-media tribes and our self-esteem is based on likes and retweets. We have hundreds of television channels and even more video choices online where Hollywood no longer has to worry about broad appeal. There is a channel for everyone, and everyone in the tribe will get the inside jokes. Social-media interactions have replaced the value of character.
“The truth, though, is that our Facebook friends are probably not going to water our flowers while we are on vacation and our Twitter followers will not bring us a meal if we are sick. But the actual human being next door might do both if we meet him.”
The value of character: To my Facebook friends who might opt to read all the way to the end of my own essay here once they have spotted me back online and noticed the link to this essay that I’ve graciously posted on my FB page: If you need your flowers watered, your mail gathered, your lighting scheme cycled, even your cats’ litter boxes scooped while you go on vacation, if I happen to be in the same town, just let me know, and I’ll do it. If you get sick and need somebody to go pick up some food for you because you feel too shitty to cook, or come walk your dog because you’re too worn out to deal with that hyperactive mutt, or take you to the doctor because you might feel worse at the end of the visit than at the start, I’ll do that too. Let me know. No strings attached.
Just don’t reach out to me on Facebook or try to message me. I might not be on FB. And I disabled Messenger months ago. Phone me, text me, email me, in that order.
Better yet, if you see my car in the driveway, just walk out to the back yard fence and holler in the direction of my back door. That, it turns out, is one of the oldest forms of social media in the world. And it doesn’t require cellphone service or a WiFi connection.
Reviews of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (by Luc Besson), A Ghost Story (by David Lowery), and Kuso (by Steve Ellison, aka Flying Lotus).
BY DANIEL MATTI / BLURT FILM EDITOR
(Go HERE to view the Blurt Movie Thoughts master page.)
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Directed by Luc Besson
(3.5 out of 5 stars)
Luc Besson is not a common household name. For most hardcore action movie fans he is something of a staple name when it comes to the genre. Directing such movies as Le Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional, and The Fifth Element. Also on his resume is a long list of writing credits including the hits Taken, District B13, and The Transporter series.
Valerian and City of a Thousand Planets is Luc’s newest film to hit the screens. Based off the late comic book series “Valerian and Laureline”, Valerian is now France’s most expensive movie ever made. Essentially letting Luc make his dream project. A dream project that is stunning but has its flaws.
While watching the movie myself I was nothing but pleased with the visual effects that were on par with Avatar (c’mon, Avatar had some beautiful visual effects) and a story line that was fun and comic book like (unlike Avatar). The dialogue was a little campy at times, but it seemed to be meant to be that way. The ongoing struggle between main characters Valerian (played by Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (played by Cara Delavigne) was the ‘ biggest weakness. The two characters were not a 100% match made in heaven or space, for that matter.
Overall, the film is a fun summer popcorn flick that will definitely please some of the audience, but not all who are looking for the year’s perfect film.
A Ghost Story
Directed by David Lowery
(3 out of 5 stars)
The newest movie by David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara is an exploration of love, death, and the afterlife.
A brutal car accident that leaves “C,” played by Affleck, dead. “M” is played by Mara, and both will have to find their ways of dealing with death and the afterlife.
Most of the film plays around with the thoughts of an afterlife and that if when we die and were to become a ghost (with a sheet over us—yeah, like in Peanuts), we will wait for whoever fulfills our life most. “M” quickly leaves the house that she and “C” once shared, showing that “moving on” is sometimes difficult but also necessary at times. As “M” leaves, “C” is left there waiting for her as more tenants move into the house that they once shared.
This movie is full of turns that will keep you here ‘til the end and will leave you with your own thoughts and expressions on death—but will also leave you scratching your head at times.
The biggest flaw in the movie is the scene near the middle of the movie, where a group of friends throw a party and a partygoer goes philosophical and tries to sum up death and the afterlife while cracking jokes. For the most part it comes off as the guy at a party who, when he opens his mouth, you immediately go to the other room to avoid him at all costs.
The imagery of the entire film is really what holds it together, but other than that I would say this one is a rental after you knock back a few cold ones.
Directed by Steve Ellison (Flying Lotus)
(4 out of 5 stars)
Steve! Steve! Steve!
Recently the film Kuso by Steve Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, aka Captain Murphy, gave hardcore fans a real shock and awe for their money. With a cast that is full of Steve’s friends (including Hannibal Buress, David Firth, Anders Holm, Regan Farquhar aka Busdriver, and the one and only George Clinton) the film will have you saying what the fuck out loud more than just a couple times.
Clocking in a little over 90 minutes, Kuso is nonstop something. Something that is hard to stomach, visually that is. Something that is amazingly pleasing to the ears.
With the help of other musicians, the film is scored perfectly. Alongside the visuals that are hard to digest with your eyes, your ears are tested to keep the fuck up. Mr. Oizo, Aphex Twin, Busdriver, Akira Yamaoka, and Flying Lotus himself all lend their diverse taste in electronic music to the film—that I have to say, is one of the best and most disgusting films of the year. It’s easily of the most disgusting films I’ve ever seen, on par with films like Salo, or 120 days of Sodom, or A Serbian Film.
Horror geeks and fans of electronic music will find this movie to be a hit. Everyone else, grab a barf bag and prepare for your eyes to have “Kuso” rubbed in them.
Daniel Matti is a 29 year old movie/music enthusiast who drinks too much whiskey and tries to watch movies on a daily basis. Contact him via email: dmrorschach (at) gmail.com
As far as I know Boston’s Moving Targets, led by main songwriter Kenny Chambers, had only cut a handful of songs before recording their massive debut, Burning in Water (Taang Records, 1986). Though they’d been bouncing around in one form or another since the early ‘80s—they emerged from the ashes of a band called Smash Pattern—the only recorded output they had was a few songs on the Conflict Records compilation Bands That Could Be God. I have to say, I was completely blown away the first time I heard Burning in Water. At the time, I was moving away from hardcore and listening to more mid-tempo, melodic stuff, and this record just hit that sweet spot. The band got a lot of comparisons to Husker Du, which I do hear as an influence, but I like Burning in Water more than any Husker Du record, which is saying something as I love Husker Du.
It was tough to only pick out one song, but I decided to ask Kenny Chambers about the soaring and powerful “Faith.” Kenny was more than happy to hit me back and tell me about the origins of the song and the recording of it. The band: Chambers on guitar and vocals, Pat Leonard on bass, Pat Brady on drums.
What was the initial inspiration for the song? “Faith” was born during my time in the band Smash Pattern (Chuck Freeman on drums) in 1984. I’m sure there was some Mission of Burma influence coupled with a case of Old Milwaukee that we consumed at every practice. When the ‘targets came together again 1985 we started playing it.
Did it take long to finish writing it? The song took a short while to put together. I wrote it whole then added a couple more parts on the following couple of weeks.
Any idea how your long time fans feel about it (i.e.: would it be considered a “fan favorite” or anything?) I think any fan of the band likes that tune.
Was it a staple of your live sets even years later?
The Moving Targets had “Faith” on most set lists from 1985 to 2007. I don’t think that we ever got tired of playing it.
Is there anything about the song you’d change?
I wouldn’t change anything about it. The band played it well and Lou Giordano did a fine job of recording it and coaxing a good performance out of us.
Tell me a little about the recording of it – where and when, how long did it take, any watershed moments or glaring problems, etc.? Recording the Burning in Water album was kind of a blur. We were so excited and it went so quickly (all of the basic tracks in a day and a half) that I personally don’t remember recording most of the songs. I know it sounded great in the studio with Lou and Carl Plaster and we were happy with everything. The only problem with recording was trying to adapt to a cleaner amp sound. Lou pushed the cleaner sound and I was used to total distortion. In hindsight, Lou was right on the money. The record sounds sharp.
How do you feel about it now? I still think it holds up today.
Why listen to shitty-sounding streaming music on Spotify for free when you can pay for the privilege and have something to show for it?
BY FRED MILLS
This week, as June turned into July, in between the Health Care Follies revue, bleeding facelifts, and a preview of looming voter fraud/suppression tussles, we still received some happy #vinylporn news, that the Sony Music record pressing plant in Japan was getting its turbines cleaned up and dusted off in anticipation of cranking out the wax once again. Most of the media coverage, though welcome, was pretty matter of fact and superficial, to be honest, with reports simply pulling out a few lazy statistics about the contemporary “vinyl resurgence” (I officially proclaim that term to be a cliche now – if something has been “resurging” for more than 5 years, I think it’s officially an “ongoing trend”) and quoting some random hipster journalist. (Yes, NPR, I am available for comment. Call me.)
However,Britain’s The Guardian did a pretty decent job with their report “Records come round again: Sony to open vinyl factory in Japan” – check it out HERE – and also dig the photo of a Japanese pressing of Let It Be, since that is literally the only genuinely relevant, context-wise, photo I’ve spotted in all the Sony Japan coverage.
The one thing that all the reports overlooked, or at least could have mentioned as an intriguing and relevant sidelight, is that back in the day, Japanese pressings were considered the gold standard by many, if not most, collectors. After a certain point you could certainly get audiophile reissue pressings from Mobile Fidelity and a couple other Stateside labels catering to a niche market (typically jazz and classical), but Japanese releases still had a certain allure and cachet, both for their reissues and new releases – and, sometimes, for their exclusive nature.
For example, there was the stunning live-in-Japan Miles Davis release Agharta, and Santana’s classic live rec Moonflower, both of which I put considerable energy into tracking down. They weren’t cheap, either. A lot of folks probably forget that Cheap Trick’s Budokan album gained traction initially as a white-hot import-only release – that was the only way you could hear it. I would venture to say that folks prized Japanese pressings for their heavy-weight/virgin vinyl provenance (something that US labels abandoned early on – RCA and Dynaflex pressings, I’m lookin’ at YOU for making all that possible long before the oil shortage affected the record industry), the ongoing use of heavy-stock tip-on sleeves and poly-lined inner sleeves (ditto), and not-essential-but-still-cool extras like outer OBI strips and liner notes or lyrics not included in other countries’ pressings. Gee – it’s almost like in 2017, labels that really care about releasing a quality product with classic touches like 180gm and/or colored vinyl pressings and thick-stock gatefold sleeves, are taking their cues from the heyday of Japanese vinyl… you could even propose that Japan, often a pioneer in technological trends back in the day, pioneered the art of… wait for it… #vinylporn.
As long as we are on the #vinylporn topic, I noticed this week that Atomic Disc in Oregon is having a sale on pressing records. I have no idea what the going rate is at other plants or what a “good rate” might be, but currently, 300 copies of an LP on black vinyl will cost you $1750, which comes out to only about $6 a platter. The price is only $3.20 per copy if you get 1000 copies. (Yeah, do that math quickly, and then think about that $29.98 list price major label LP you bought last week.) A download card included will cost an extra $100, and if you want colored wax (of course you do) it will be $2149.
As you might imagine, my punk band Bo Oswald & the Biohazard Boys and I plan to press our debut, Binky The Troll – a Rock Opera, on splatter vinyl. That bumps the cost of 300 copies up to $2689, but hey, we care about YOU, our fans, so no price is too great… see ya in the record bins.
For a music journalist, there’s no better feeling than finding out your initial instincts were correct. Meet one of Idaho’s best bands.
BY FRED MILLS
Musically speaking, Idaho tends to ping the national radar only occasionally; for the indie-rock milieu, Josh Ritter and Doug Martsch (Built to Spill) are probably the best-known Idaho native sons. Yet the state does in fact have a thriving music scene, with plenty of bars and breweries on hand to play host. You can count Boise’s Like A Rocket among the extant talent, championing regional breweries and arriving soon with their third full-length, High John The Conqueror.
The trio— guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Bobby “Speedy” Gray, bassist Andy Cenarrusa, drummer Max Klymenko—powers straight outta the gate with raucous, roots-rock raveup “Ain’t It All A Work Song” (it’s below, and also at their Bandcamp page for purchase as first single from the album), sending a sonic statement from the get-go they are here to kick up some dust and kick some ass. Sinewy yet deeply melodic Americana is the name of the game, from the twangy, Georgia Satellites-esque “Follow Me Down (to the party by the river)” and slide guit-powered stomper “The Devil of T.V. Paul’s” to the straight-up country rock of “Tuxedo and Anna Leigh” and lovely, Latin-infused cowboy ballad “Magdalena.”
There’s also the album’s psychological centerpiece, “Dark Blood.” Following the stage-setting, 30-second title track, a rippling acoustic guitar instrumental, this rumbling, brooding blues unfolds as a fatalistic tale of mortal sin and retribution: the former, at the hands of Gray’s haunted protagonist; the latter, courtesy album namesake High John, a living, breathing hellhound on the singer’s trail. Classic blues imagery abounds—roosters that are crowing, muddy waters that keep flowing, slaves on the block, “Tarrytown,” ropes dangling from trees—as Gray, voice framed amid a steadily rising chorus of snarling psychedelic guitars and tense martial percussion, realizes his time is near (“Brother, dear brother, take my fine young wife/ ‘cos I got a meeting comin’ with High John’s knife”). It’s a masterful performance, part Steve Earle, part “Sympathy”-era Stones, part Robert Johnson, all Like A Rocket.
As a band, this is a fluid, flexible beast, shifting easily between multiple styles while maintaining a taut, focused core. (A perfect example of this style-shifting is “Cry Baby Cry” which, with its low, echoey, shantylike vibe, initially suggests classic cosmic twang; but as the tune progresses, it ascends and turns anthemic, a marriage of gospel-inspired vocals and power pop guitars.) With songwriter Gray as their not-so-secret weapon—he seems to have absorbed a lifetime’s worth of influences yet instinctively knows when to put them on display and when to deploy them subtly, and nuanced—the three men also demonstrate a collective gift for arrangements that allows them to transcend the physical limits of a “mere” trio.
Ultimately, with High John The Conqueror, Like A Rocket is—pardon the painfully obvious cliché—clearly poised to take off.
Full disclosure: For yours truly, there’s a bit of a personal connection here. During the mid/late ‘80s, in my capacity as music editor for a Charlotte, NC, alt-weekly, I covered Gray’s early band, Helpless Dancer, on multiple occasions, and I instinctively gravitated to their glammy, hard-edged brand of power pop. (I still own a 45 they released during that time.) Their fan base was broad, and devoted. By that point Gray was already a scene veteran with serious chops he’d honed as a teenager touring as part of a gospel group, and after Helpless Dancer he wasted no time in forming a terrific post-punk group dubbed The Dollmakers. After I moved to the Southwest, however, I lost tabs on him, so to not only discover his current outfit now, many years later, but also learn that he made a similar move westward, also in need of a change of scenery, not long after I did makes for an oddly satisfying bit of synchronicity.
See, I’ve always felt that time and distance shouldn’t diminish memories or undermine old loyalties. Support the home team, so to speak. Here in 2017, I frequently encounter favorite musicians from back in the day who are still making stellar art, and in a weird way, having that type of insider knowledge about their backgrounds seems to subtly enhance my appreciation of their current efforts. It’s not necessarily a matter of comparing one incarnation to another one, but rather of having something relevant in common, and I’d reckon anyone can identify with that.
To all the rest of you, there’s plenty about Like A Rocket that, if you have an appreciation for honest, well-wrought, immensely tuneful American rock ‘n’ roll, you’ll be able to identify with. Crank up the stereo (you can get a quick taste at the aforementioned Bandcamp page, including a five-song EP, Raucous, comprising additional material cut during the album sessions) and make up for lost time—just like I’m doing now.
Fred Mills is the editor of BLURT magazine and Blurtonline.com
Ed note: We continue our series devoted to tunes that hold special places in our hearts and in our collective experience as devotees to and lovers of timeless indie rock. To kick the series off, we asked Eric Matthews, of both solo and Cardinal fame, to talk about his classic number “Fanfare,” from his 1995 Sub Pop hit It’s Heavy in Here.Next wasBill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom pulling back the curtain on one of his early gems: “Taillights Fade,” from 1992’sLet Me Come Over, cut with fellow bandmembers Chris Colbourn (bass) and Tom Maginnis (drums). After that we dipped way back to 1970 for the proto-power pop of Crabby Appleton’s “Go Back,” penned by frontman Michael Fennelly. Now Prof. Hinely dials the wayback machine to 2000, as John Conley talks about his band the California Oranges and their pop gem “John Hughes.”
BY TIM HINELY
You’d think that being two hours east of San Francisco that Sacramento would be a veritable wasteland of musical talent. Ah…but you’d be wrong. Oddly enough for the capitol city of the Golden State (with a population of under 500,000) this hamlet has produced some of the best indie rock music out there. From Tiger Trap to Rocketship to Baby Grand to Arts & Leisure to too many others (you’ll see ‘em below). Well, a big part of that fabric is the music of the crew of John Conley and his sister Katie, the Levine Brothers (Ross and his brother Matt) and Verna Brock (who was also in Rocketship for a time as well as doing her solo project under the name of Beanpole). They’ve been spread out amongst bands like Holiday Flyer, Desario and Soft Science, but there was one band that all of them had passed through at one point: California Oranges.
For their self-titled debut from 2000 (On Darla Records) the band was a trio of John, Verna and Ross. For later albums both Katie and Matt came aboard to make the band a 5-piece, but this particular song, “John Hughes” was from the previously mentioned debut.
For those of us used to the (mostly) very soft sounds of Holiday Flyer, “John Hughes” came popping out of the speakers like an M-80 stuffed inside a high school locker. A joyous blast of unbridled melody. The song is all about a guy trying to get the courage to ask a girl out, which, as we males know, in those high school years were the mostly nerve-racking, anxiety-inducing experience (personally I had to know 100% that the girl liked me before I would even ask her out and even then I’d be ready to have a heart attack while other guys in school, those with no fear at all of rejection, would walk up to any girl an ask them out, usually getting shot down and laugh about it).
“John Hughes” is one of my favorite songs by the California Oranges and I was curious about its origins. I shot some questions over to John Conley and he was more than happy to give me some answers.
BLURT: What was the initial inspiration for the song?
CONLEY: Well, I guess John Hughes and his films. As I teenager I could really identify with the characters. I must have been re-watching at the time. I was also really into Kevin Smith (he is referenced is the song) and his films reminded of the Hughes.
Did it take long to finish writing it?
If I remember correctly, it came together pretty quick.
I think it was one of the last songs I wrote for the first album.
I had the main guitar riff and the melody and first verse.
I remember showing the song to Verna and Ross, and they both really liked it.
I think we knew at that point it would start the album.
Any idea how your long time fans feel about it (i.e.: would it be considered a “fan favorite” or anything?)
I’m pretty sure it was one of our most popular songs. I was going to be featured in a documentary about John Hughes. Ross Levine and I were interview for the movie and the band rerecorded the song to be included on the soundtrack. We were told we made it through the 3rd or 4th cut of the film. During the editing process of the movie John Hughes passed away and the music portion of the movie was shortened.
Was it a staple of your live sets ever years later?
It stayed in the live set up through the 3rd album.
Is there anything about the song you’d change?
No, I think it’s a good snapshot of where I was as a songwriter at the time.
I wanted to do something very different from Holiday Flyer. I feel we mostly succeed. When the band started playing live, one comparisons we got was Belle and Sebastian meets Ramones.
I always liked that.
Tell me a little about the recording of it – where and when, how long did it take, any watershed moments or glaring problems, etc.?
I think the recording came out cool. We wrote and recorded that album very quickly. Verna (Brock) and I each had 5 song ideas. We rehearsed with Ross (Levine) 3 or 4 times and recorded and mixed the record in the evenings or a week. JH is my favorite song on that album. I do have some problems with the production on that album as a whole, but “John Hughes” came out great. We also recorded a cover of Vanilla Blue by Naked Raygun during that session that is one of my favorite recordings California Orange did.
How do you feel about it now? I still really like this song. It’s so different from what I’m doing now in Desario, but I’m proud of this period in my music career.
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