Monday, October 17, 2011

Dan-O, Tom, and me: The Ipecac Story

There were two fairly distinct camps in the Richmond music scene in the early 90's (it may still be like this, I don't know): the young and the old.  The young ones were - or fancied themselves to be - vibrant, fresh, exciting, and eager to break into new sonic territory.  The old ones played covers of "In A-Gadda Da-Vid-A" against images of swirling pinwheels and put pictures of rhinoceroses farting on their album covers*.
For some reason, the band that us youngsters singled out for derision was called Rocket 69.  Their singer, Dan-O, somehow managed to encapsulate everything that we stood against, yet secretly feared becoming.  I don't think I ever have spoken a word to Dan-O.  For all I know, he volunteered for the homeless while reading bedtime stories to orphans.
Now that I have the "benefit" of being roughly Dan-O's age as it was in 1994, my perception of him has softened.  I'm sure he was once a pubescent kid with a guitar and a dream.  I can only guess by the fact that we thought his band was tacky that his motives were what we considered impure.  Maybe he looked to get into music to make spiritual connections with other people and expand the consciousness of the Godhead, which is nothing more than lines between points (i.e. sentient beings) in a celestial sort of connect the dots - using the medium of sound.  That, or he was just trying to get laid.  Again, I don't know for sure. At this writing, it would appear as though he is still active in the Richmond music scene, and has been to an ally of many of my old friends from there. I'm embarrassed that I judged him so harshly back in the day. In addition to many other things, he had (has?) a record label and was instrumental in producing a compilation CD that had several old Richmond bands on it (including Ipecac even).  One could make a convincing argument that he's brought more to the table over the years than I ever did.
Ipecac's first show was at the Metro in early fall of 1993.  I'd heard that they were a hardcore band, but they didn't really look like one.  The singer was a black guy with glasses that looked kind of like Raj from What's Happening.  The bassist resembled a half-Japanese Erik Estrada and had one of those headless/fretless basses that were all the rage in the... ummm... never.  The guitarist looked kind of like Keanu Reeves with lighter/longer hair and had THE classic rock guitar rig - a Les Paul into a Marshall full stack.  The drummer couldn't have been more than 13 years old.  The singer took the mic: "I know a lot of you are new here, and might feel kind of uncomfortable... well, we're here to try to make you feel just a little bit more uncomfortable."  And they did.  Weird blasts of dissonant noise, nauseous bass slides, hardcore beats that somehow always managed to sound off, and Raj screaming his head off.  To this day, I don't know if I've ever seen a better frontman than A. Thomas Crawley - and I've seen a LOT of frontmen.
That winter, they released a demo tape.  My friends and I probably wore out at least 2 or 3 copies of it.  How can you front on a song title like "A Throne's View of Royalty"?

Bitter Citizen (Part One)
Sugar and Lice
A Throne's View of Royalty

I only missed one Ipecac show that I'm aware of, it was at a small converted sandwich shop on Broad and Laurel Street. They were just one of a handful of bands that you made it a priority to see.  In the spring of 1994, their first 7" came out.  If a better 7" record exists, I am not aware of it.

I'll Be Deemed a Genius
Aversion to Maturity
Self-Detonating Nuclear Family

Summer, 1994.  Like many other punk rockers in the area, I got a job painting the Virginia Commonwealth University dorms.  This was at a time in my life where "barely having to do anything" was a HUGE factor in deciding where to work.  $5.05 an hour to essentially hang out with your friends, talk about music, and sleep in closets.  The bassist of Ipecac worked there too - his name was Nathan, and I was intimidated by him because (a) his band was so great and (b) he seemed to hate everyone.  While at work one day, he told me that Rob, their guitarist, quit to play bass in Avail.  Three thoughts hit me in this order:
1. One of my favorite bands is breaking up.
2. Why the hell would someone take such an enormous step down artistically?  Why would such a big fish swallow such a small fish?  Rob was a guitarist, not a bassist!
3. Wait a minute.  I play guitar.
I don't remember if I asked or was asked, but I became the new guitarist for Ipecac.  It felt like how that kid from Thailand probably felt when he got to sing for Journey.  Nathan showed me how to play the songs in a week or so, and we were ready.  Not long after I joined, we recorded two songs.

The Ditcher

We played a couple of shows with both Rob and I on guitar to ease me into the position, then our first show sans Rob was at the Floodzone opening for Avail in September of 1994.  Opening for Avail was kind of the brass ring for Richmond bands.  It was noble of them to have given us that show, but I couldn't help feeling like it was kind of consolation for ruining the band.  I was good, but I wasn't good enough to be in Ipecac.

That autumn, Nathan and I lived in the same apartment building, so we'd often get together to write songs for Ipecac's full-length album.  The material had promise, but we didn't get a lot of opportunities to flesh it out because our drummer (Tommy Anthony) lived in Northern Virginia and Tom lived in Charlottesville.  Tommy ran with the hardcore kids, and after a certain altercation involving a bike lock, he couldn't make it to a few of the shows (don't worry, he's fine).  We recruited Erik Josephson from the band Crackhead to fill in.  Erik was like Dale Crover, minus about 50 pounds.  One of the greatest drummers I've ever known.  Possibly my favorite moment on stage was an Ipecac show with Erik on drums at the legendary Beehive in Washington, DC.  The song "Aversion to Maturity" begins with a two-count drum fill, and the band enters.  Somehow, Erik broke BOTH of his drumsticks on this fill, so when Nathan and I laid into the song, there were no drums.  We both looked back at Erik, mouth wide in horror, holding two splintered nubs where there were once drumsticks.

While in the process of mapping out our first full-length record and beginning to book our first tour, I got The Phone Call.  No, nobody died (this time).  Tom left a message on my answering machine saying that he was quitting the band because he noticed that his ears were ringing when he was at home in Waynesboro.  Ipecac was finished.

Our last two shows were on December 30 at the Metro in Richmond, and at a place I want to call the Dick House somewhere in North Carolina on New Years Eve.  Per my suggestion, we played the first chord to "A Throne's View of Royalty" 95 times to ring in the New Year.
On the day of the 30th, we had our last rehearsal in the basement of our drummer's Crackhouse.  Luckily, our friend Trevor Thomas was there with his 4-track:


Nathan and I started a surf band (?!) called the Freshomatics with our friend Marty.  Nathan also started a band named Lilac that played a kind of Britpop that nobody seemed to care about.  I think Tommy might have briefly been in another band before disappearing from my radar forever.  Rob's tenure in Avail was relatively brief, and he ended up moving back to Northern Virginia.  Years later he sent me a CD of some kind of mellow pop music he was working on.

Supposedly, Tom briefly sang in a metal band in Waynesboro in 1995, but I don't even know if they got further than playing a house party.  He really did quit playing music forever (as far as I know).  To this day, I don't fully understand.  If you could throw three-pointers from the half-court line with your eyes closed, wouldn't you want to?  He always insisted that he didn't want to be Dan-O.  But, what's the alternative?  Is it better to haul a bunch of gear to empty nightclubs and play in front of six people than it is to... do nothing?  We always hated and looked down at people that worked 40 hours a week, came home to their wives and kids, and played out every other weekend.  Would we have rather they just stayed inside and watched TV?  There's really no way to win with the age issue in rock and roll.  You can pack stadiums or clear out Holes in the Wall - if you're old and still rocking, it's seen as being kind of sad. I'm sure that the elder Richmond rockers probably didn't care what we thought about them.

I can't write about Ipecac without going into how amazing Tom's lyrics were - especially on that 7".  He explained to me that the first song was about early childhood and being indoctrinated into the public education system.

Filled up with in-sequential trivia, I'll cough it up eventually. I'll spit it out selectively and then I'll be deemed a genius.

The next song, "Aversion to Maturity" is about adolescence.

They all marvel at my ability to cower
Was it the altitude that caused the short-lived goal to sour?
My tension thickens - no, I'm not in the mood to bicker.
I'm feeling sick as vitals quicken - I'm easy picken's.
It's very possible that I could have cleared the chasm -
My yellow belly's filled with butterflies with five foot wing spans
(They could have carried me over)
Watch in wonder at the man/child's transformation:
Now relatively taller, with hair in very odd places
It seems my personality could be considered an anachronism within the context of its housing.
Lackluster slacker?  Then why can't I ever relax, huh?

A mistake at the mastering plant made side B significantly louder than side A.  Here, the adolescent is fully grown and settles into marriage in "The Self-Detonating Nuclear Family":

Our white picket fence resembles upturned spears
Try to leap over - what, and be impaled? 
I'd rather fester here.
For my remaining years, I'll fester here.

The next song in order is "Hysterical" - which I interpret as a song about aging (it's actually about the health industry):

Ingrown toenail or myocardial infarction?  Sprained ankle?  Amputate!  Once that uterus is taken out, those allergies will dissipate. 

And the last song ("The Ditcher") - well, you tell me:

What does a young snot like you know about persecution?  And what can I - suburban guy - say either?  Let's drop the pens and microphones and join the peace corps.  Only the choir is listening - what do we keep yelling for?

* This is a reference to the band Vapor Rhinos. Tommy Rodriguez (guitar) worked at a guitar shop near my old house and was incredibly nice to me and very helpful - in addition to being a whiz at guitar building/repair. Dean Owen (drums) was supportive of many of my bands, and even wrote a glowing review of one of them (15 on the 15) in the Richmond Music Journal. Peter Headley (vocals) I didn't know that well, but from all accounts was a sweet guy. I forget who played bass.


  1. OK, so this is fucking GREAT. Thank you. For all of my attempts to archive all of the Richmond bands I loved as a teenager, I have never been able to come across a copy of the Ipecac demo, so this is actually my first opportunity to hear those songs (other than in live performances that are all now at least 15 years in the past--oh god). Anyway, I think you did a great job as Ipecac's guitar player, though it was blatantly obvious at the time that you didn't think so, which I always thought was a shame. It was an even bigger shame that you guys ended up breaking up when you did, though I'm surprised you didn't mention the brief post-Ipecac reformation of Jolly Mortals, which as I remember played some embryonic Ipecac songs during live shows. And HRM as well--you gotta post all that HRM stuff at some point. You guys ruled as well.

    Also, by the way, I don't know what's going on with Dan-O from Rocket 69 now, but some of the dudes from Vapor Rhinos are still on the scene. The guitarist, Tommy, replaced his brother in the reformed version of White Cross (you want to talk about people continuing to play music once they're old--those guys have got to be 50 at this point), and the singer, Dean, had a band over the last couple years that just recently broke up called Bay Of Pigs. It was him singing and a bunch of 21 year olds backing him up. They sounded like the Jesus Lizard or something. I never liked the Vapor Rhinos for shit, but Bay Of Pigs were really good.


  2. Andrew - stay tuned! I have tons and tons of tapes/etc. from that time period. I'm planning on doing one a week, posting every Monday night for a full year.
    I didn't mention the Mortals reformation because (a) I can't find my recording of it and (b) it felt inauthentic and half-hearted at the time. I remember asking John from Jolly Mortals if he wanted to reform, and he said no - I should have left it alone.
    The HRM entry is definitely coming! In order to do 50 of these entries I'm going to have to pace myself.
    The funny thing about the Vapor Rhinos is that I think I've met at least 3/4 of them and they were really nice. Tommy used to work at a guitar store on Main and Harrison (?) and used to fix my equipment for almost nothing. Peter Headley was a chef or something somewhere and was totally cool to me, and Dean wrote a very supportive review of one of my bands in Richmond Music Journal. It's good to see that they're still rocking (might not have thought that 20 years ago!)

  3. Long live the Vapor Rhinos.

    I've run into Thomas A. Crawley twice in the last few years. Once in front of whatever Twisters is called these days before a Direct From Hollywood Cemetery show. He just happened to be in Richmond that night. The other was at the Small Press Expo (indie comics) in Maryland (I also see La Scrota there every year). He seemed more content than I've ever seen him, and he works for the parks services in D.C., I think. Tending gardens and whatnot.

  4. It's good to hear he's doing well. I think that speaks to the myopic psychology of young rock and rollers - it seemed outlandish to think that someone could find happiness and fulfillment in a career that DIDN'T involve having drunk people spitting beer on you in a smoky night club.

  5. While you've been teaching snotty nose kids, playing in a mediocre pseudo pop-punk group, and playing self-indulgent, silly, and ridiculously long guitar solos, Dan-O has been running a successful recording studio in Richmond. Which, in conflict with your writing, you knew about since you hired Dan-O to work on your Richmond Music Coop Vol 3 CD featuring your band in Richmond and others you mention here.

    1. I'm quite glad to hear that he's doing well. I had nothing to do with the Ipecac recording on the Co-op CD, as I was not in the band when that particular track was recorded. I don't think I've ever met Dan-O.
      It would appear that your proclivity to googling is what led you to this blog, and perhaps also to some things about your friend David DiDonato (I'll agree about maybe 5/6 of the accusations about my guitar solos). If you were more familiar with this blog and were a regular reader, you might recognize a familiar arc: how my opinions of bands and the people in them change over time and usually soften. Perhaps I didn't articulate that clearly enough this time, or you were unable to pick up on that nuance.
      When I was 20 or so, I thought that old rock and rollers were pathetic and sad. To me, it was a young man's game. Whether or not I still feel that way about myself depends on what day it is, and is tempered by the fact that I am now on the other side of the aisle. The main thing that has changed is that I would certainly never judge anyone else nowadays in the same way I did when I was 20.

  6. Hey D! good news! it's been revealed that this article was published on FB! Yay! there's a mild full-time weekend warrior gaggle of types that have read this and may or may not "get IT". whether or not rationale kicks in and understanding of the mortality novel motifs are revealed to be understood.. no matter what happens.. never lose sight of the gaffe; never EVER put a farting manimal on your album cover.

  7. I'm glad to hear the article has been re-posted! More traffic is always nice.
    If that's a Vapor Rhinos reference, let it be said that I've met Tommy Rodriguez, Peter Headley, and Dean from that band and they were all really nice. Tommy installed a pickup in one of my guitars for me for really cheap. Dean wrote a really nice review for one of my bands in the Richmond Music Journal. Peter Headley once called me a "pussy" for not throwing a toilet paper roll at him at a show in Shafer Court, it was amazing.

  8. David,
    How could get in touch with you?

    1. just wanted to chat/email you in regards to ipecac!

    2. Sure, you can reach me right here!

    3. I would love to see the Ipecac discography done on a 10" or 12".

    4. So would I, but I feel like it would require Tom Crawley's artistic input.

    5. The Ipecac tracks?

  9. any plans to make ipecac tracks available for downloading or listening? never heard that demo...

    1. My good friend John Swart posted links to the Demo and other stuff here:

  10. One of the best hc bands ever-ever. Thanks for this! - mike mckee


  11. YO! This is Rick, who released the Ipecac/Opposition 7"...I would love to make a CD of all these fine tunes for the ride home from work...are all these links broken for real? BUmmer!!!

    feel free to email me at rick4130@yahoo dot com thanks dudes! Great memories!