Monday, October 31, 2011


Everyone in the world should have a friend like Neale Shaeffer.  Maybe you do.
I can't help but kind of bristle whenever I see anything marketed towards Analog Nostalgia.  Partially because I'm kind of a sucker for it.  People made mixtapes for each other, and it was an art.  Your last song on the side of a TDK D-90 (or a TDK SA-90 if it was someone you wanted to have sex with) would end, less than 5 seconds would pass, and you'd hear the satisfying CLICK as the tape ran out.  Care was given as to the order - wait, am I sounding like John Cusack?  Anyway.
Somehow, my friend Neale always knew about bands before anyone else.  In the summer of 1991, he asked some of my friends and I if we wanted to come up to D.C. with him to see a band called Nirvana.  Never heard of 'em.  I can't name all of the bands I first heard from his mixtapes (Fu Manchu, the Pixies, Monstermagnet, Sleep, Elliott Smith), but I'd say that easily 20% of the music in my life was a result of one of those tapes.
This being a time when "Googol" just meant an obscenely large number, there was no real way to get any information about any of these bands aside from maybe Spin or Alternative Press (did they even exist back then?).  You really had no idea who any of these bands were, where they were from, what they looked like, etc.  Two bands that jumped out at me from one of the tapes were called Helmet and Sarabellum.  In my mind, they were equals.  I didn't know that one of them was on Led Zeppelin's record label, and the other one probably couldn't fill a living room outside of their home in Raleigh, NC.
As an eighteen year old kid, I had no real idea about the machinations of the music industry.  I was under the impression that the "good" bands would maybe play a couple of concerts, get signed to a record label, and tour with Aerosmith.  On the other side of the spectrum were bands like mine and my friends' - playing garages in front of each other.  To me, there wasn't really a whole lot in between those two extremes.  I would end up spending the next two decades of my life in that realm.
Not long after moving to Richmond in 1992, Sarabellum played at the Metro.  Naturally, my friends and I went.  To my utter and complete amazement, we were 5 or 6 of the 11 or 12 people in the audience.  How could this be?  This band is incredible, and there's no one here??  Where is the justice??  The best part was, the band seemed completely oblivious.  They played to the crowd they deserved to have had, not the crowd they had.  Then, not long after that show, they broke up.
Another thing that was great about them was that they all looked relatively clean-cut except for the bassist, who looked like Captain Caveman.  One of the guitarists was named Dennis, and his posture was so bad he made a spider look like Heidi Klum.  He later went on to play second guitar in Buzz*oven briefly.
Their entire recorded output consisted of two 3-song demo tapes.

Sarabellum Demo One

Sarabellum Demo Two
I think my friend Christian Hendrickson interviewed the band once, and they said that the song "4 no 5 Children" is a reference to an old woman who was asked how many children she had and apparently forgot.

Thanks again to Erik Sugg for letting me borrow the cassettes.


  1. Don't know how active it is, but there are some interesting comments:
    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Excellent post Dave. I got to see Sarabellum twice. Once at Kings Head Inn and once at the infamous Zeal Stortion. The Zeal Stortion show was a packed sweaty mess. One of the most memorable shows of my teen years. It was right around the time of the first Gulf war and there was some regular looking drunk guy yelling "SCUD!!!!" in between each song. The Kings Head show was about as ill attended as the Metro show you talked about. I have more stories about that show, but they are probably not appropriate to talk about here.

  3. Hey Dave I was the Drummer for Sarabellum and I just wanna say thanks for the kind words.

  4. A damn shame they didn't tough it out. They were far ahead of the pack. There are several bands from that era that deserved to be signed or at least heard by the masses. If they would have done a couple of US tours I think they would have been huge. Great guys. I had a lot of fun hanging with them back in the day.