Monday, April 30, 2012

Black Squid

I don't really know a lot about Black Squid.  I'm not sure if anyone does.  Their myspace page doesn't seem to reveal much.  Supposedly they're from somewhere called Slobovia or something, but I don't even know if that country exists.  What's even more confusing is that in one of the songs, MC Griest says he's from Germany.  I was once fortunate enough to see them, and that certainly didn't clear things up - both members wore masks and sang along to pre-recorded music, but I got the impression that even the vocals had been recorded earlier.  After the show I tried to talk to them and they kind of shrugged and pretended that they didn't speak English.  What was weird was that later that night I saw them talking to some extremely hot girls, and there didn't appear to be a language barrier.  Maybe the girls spoke whatever language people speak in Slobovia.  They also were drinking out of these strange cans that I'd never seen before - later I found out it was called Gow, and apparently it's only available in rural parts of Lower Slobovia.
Some time around the turn of the century, I was able to get Black Squid a show at the Hole in the Wall in Richmond.  They charged me $15.99 for a burned CD with no cover, but I had a good job then so it was no big deal.  I assumed that the cost was so high because of foreign taxes or whatever, but I couldn't help but feeling like behind their masks, they were kind of laughing at me...

You're Gonna Die (When Black Squid Arrives)
The Death of Billy Sancho
10 Pack o' Gow
MC Griest in the Haus
It's So EZ to Pleez Me
Billy Sancho
Shortlongs and Dirtlips
Mock Yourself

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Sword

In the late 90's, there was a Richmond band that went by the name the Ultimate Dragons.  Initially the band consisted of JD Cronise on guitar/vocals, Ben White on bass, and Trivett Wingo on drums.  After a couple of shows, I was added as lead guitarist, and all was well.  A couple of East Coast tours, a high quality recording, big local shows, and the most important thing - momentum.
After Trivett missed a show that we were scheduled to play with Engine Down, I was given the fun task of kicking him out of the band.  We got our friend Brad to replace him, but it wasn't the same.  Ben moved to California, I moved to Chicago, and JD moved to Austin.  End of story.
Wait, there's more!  We all ended up moving back to Richmond (this happens {knock on wood [I'd really rather not get shot while getting my bike stolen]}) and reformed the band.  I forget whether Ben or JD moved to Austin next, but I ended up following suit.  While there, we started up the band again with Adam from Those Peabodys (now of Bangaar) and Alan from... ummm... I don't know, but he moved away.  This must have been around 2003, when JD gave me this disc of new songs to learn:

01 A Druid's Curse
02 Barael's Blade
03 The Horned Goddess
04 Hammer of Heaven
05 Toadstool Ring/World Below

Not long after this, JD played a solo set along to pre-recorded tracks not unlike what I was doing at the time in my own one-man band.  The first Sword show was just him at Beerland with my one-man band and maybe 15 crowd attendees.
I convinced Trivett to move to Austin to be in my band Funeralizer.  Not long after he did, I found out JD recruited Trivett and Ben to be in the Sword, but with Kyle Shutt instead of me.  This was all fine by me; as I had recently gotten married, had a daughter, was supporting this family by working 40 hours a week, was going to school, was in the band J-Church, and was recovering emotionally from the recent death of my only sister.  If Sammy Hagar himself came up to me, grabbed me by the shoulders and asked if I was ready to rock, I'd have had to say, "Well, in what capacity, the Red Rocker?  I mean, I can rock in a way..."  He'd then have focused his beady, tequila-soaked eyes on me before declaring that there is indeed only one way to rock.  It'd have been cool to have been asked to have been in the band in the same way that it'd have been cool to have been invited to a wedding that everyone knew you couldn't go to.  But I would have had to have said no.

Anyway, Ben was kicked out after their first show and replaced by Bryan Ritchie, and the rest is history.  I'm glad to say that my friendships with everyone have remained intact (except for Alan - what happened to that guy?), and isn't that what's important?  Wait, maybe playing in Eastern European castles opening up for Metallica and making out with Australian supermodels is more important.  No, friendship.  Friendship!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Teenage Dog

I was at a house party somewhere in Austin ca. 2003.  Or was it 2005?  No, 2004.  Some band called Teenage Dog was playing.  They were a pretty decent indie rock band.  It wasn't any kind of religious experience, but I felt compelled enough to watch them and got their CD (though I may have gotten it years later).

For legal reasons, I'm not posting every song.
01 AJ Hidell  This is probably the best song about Lee Harvey Oswald from the last decade.
04 Black President  Oddly prophetic as this song came out in 2004.
07 Hong Kong Chinese
After the show, the bassist came up to me and asked when my band - the Ultimate Dragons - were playing again.  I don't remember if I knew.

A few years later, said bassist started temping at my work.  We became friends out of mutual respect for each others' bands.  She said she had started a new band called Yellow Fever, so I went to see them at Carousel Lounge.  They were a little more minimalist than Teenage Dog and (in my opinion) a bit better.  The trio consisted of the bassist of Teenage Dog (Isabel) on guitar/vocals, a girl from that band I didn't like the Carrots (Jennifer) on other guitar/vocals, and I think the guitarist of Teenage Dog on drums.  Or drum rather, as I think he only really played the snare drum.  They had a great chemistry - especially in the vocal department.  Jennifer had the smooth mid-range, and Isabel had the sparkling highs.  It worked. 
All was well for the next couple of months.  Yellow Fever started getting more and better shows to bigger crowds.  Maybe 6 months into their public career, Isabel moved from Austin to New York.  The remaining members were faced with 3 choices: break up; replace Isabel; or re-form the band with a new member, a new name, and new songs.  They went behind door number 2, which was the trickiest choice.  Their entire sound was based around the vocal harmonies.  The first replacement was a guy named Cole, but he didn't pan out, so they went on as a two-piece.  Which is fine and all, but the songwriting slowed way down and fans (which were increasing with the distribution of their EP) were given a watered-down version when they saw them live.  They continued playing under the name Yellow Fever and writing songs at a fraction of the pace and (in my opinion) a fraction of the quality.  This didn't stop the bigger and bigger shows, and the better and better reviews.  This review came out over 2 years after Isabel left the band.  Pitchfork Media even gave it a surprisingly high 7.2 review.  Again, that review came out over 2 years after the fact.  These are two of many articles and reviews that came out years after Isabel left Yellow Fever and they soldiered on as if nothing had changed.  The band kept playing shows and selling their album for at least 3 years in their diluted form, and for all I know they still are.  Did anyone buy John Oates' solo album
That said, the remaining members of Yellow Fever aren't entirely to blame.  Isabel moved away by choice - she wasn't kicked out.  The ethical thing to do would have been to have started over, but early in my career I'd probably have made the same mistake.  And yes, it was a mistake.  Judge for yourself:
So here's the thing.  There are people that create music because they HAVE to.  They hear songs in their heads that don't exist, and they can't rest until their angels are exorcised.  Sometimes, the chemistry between two artists creates a work that is more than the sum of their parts - and I'd give the benefit of the doubt to Yellow Fever that that's the case.  That may be unfairly generous to them, as Isabel has since started the band Moonmen on the Moon, Man and toured Europe as a solo artist since moving to New York.  Other people play music for less pure reasons, and history tends to judge them accordingly.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Zulu as Kono

In the summer of 1997, my independent rock band Secret Girlfriends hit the road for a month-long tour of the USA.  A very unwise move, as (a) we had no following - even locally (b) we had nothing released except for a couple of screen-printed t-shirts and some self-made cassettes.  However, like most moves that are considered "unwise", I wouldn't have traded that experience for the world. 
I don't know what it's like any more, but there used to be a time where you could scour the classifieds in the newspaper for a $1000 Ford Econoline, and take your band on tour.  It was hard to spend more than $3 on a full meal at Taco Bell, and gas used to be $1 an hour.  You'd play at a club, or at a house party if you were lucky.  You'd stay at a hotel, or on someone's floor if you were lucky. 
On this particular voyage, one band that really stood out for me was the one we played with in Austin, Texas.  They were called Zulu as Kono.  Our route up to that point took us from Richmond, VA up north, then to the Pacific Northwest, all the way down the coast, and through the desert.  My dad and his wife lived in Austin, so we had a place to stay.  Maybe that had something to do with it, but I felt very at home in Austin.  Lots of like-minded people.  I don't remember where the show was, but I do remember it was at a house party.  I also barely remember Zulu as Kono except for the fact that they either had 2 bassists or 2 drummers or 2 guitarists and played this crazy/controlled kind of mathy Fugazi/Shellac rock.  I talked to someone in the band afterward, and traded information with him and learned that their name (if memory serves) was taken from the credits of an old episode of Hawaii Five O. 
2 years later, Zulu as Kono toured the USA, probably the same way my band had 2 years previously.  I got to return the favor and got them a show at Hole in the Wall at Richmond.  As with our show in Austin, there were maybe 20 people there.  It's crazy to think of doing something like that now... mortgages, car payments, wives, kids, jobs.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, I got their album.
01 Bombastic Bimbo
02 Fig. 98 (Terror)
03 Young Geezer
04 Crackdown on the Cuteness
05 Roosevelt Square
06 Waltzons
07 Damaged Liver
08 Wiseblood
09 Emotional Emotions
10 Hogwobbler
11 La Leche del Diablo
12 Gotta Smoke? (Show the Beer)
13 45 Sec. Wreck
When I moved to Austin in 2001, I saw them I think one more time, then they  broke up.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


In the mid 1990's, I had a side project band called 15 on the 15.  We were an unconventional trio - my friend JT played accordion, Patrick played banjo through a distortion pedal, and I "sang" through a delay pedal and played ukelele.  We butchered Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath tunes in front of anyone unfortunate enough to be around.  In order to assuage the stagefright and embarrassment, I was usually on LSD while we performed (something I do NOT recommend).  This is not our story.
One night, we played at this seedy rock club called Twister's on Grace Street in Richmond.  It was next door to a depressing strip club called the Red Light Inn.  The owner was this sleazy guy named Jerry who often wore track suits and always looked as if he'd just gotten out of a bathroom filled with cocaine and underage girls.  In my psilocybin haze I had forgotten to ask Jerry for 15 on the 15's meager earnings, so I went back the next night to collect.  After waiting for him by the door for what felt like an hour and a half, he finally came back with our cut - $18.50.  "Cut" is right.   There were at least 200 people there, at $5 a head.  Oh well, that's show biz.
The headlining band that night was called Claude Zircle.  They were an old glam metal band in the mid 90's.  The door was only $3, and I had recently come into some money, so I figured what the hey.  I ventured inside.
An air of despair hung thick inside the club.  It was completely empty.  There was Sarah, the bartender with the crooked teeth and the cleavage, and the soundguy.  Even Jerry disappeared - no doubt returning to whatever he was probably doing in the employee's bathroom.  The club was so empty that you could smell a faint waft of rancid urine wafting from the bathroom stalls, mingling with the odor of stale cigarette smoke from the night before.  I guess the guys from Claude Zircle hadn't showed up yet, or maybe they cancelled.
The band onstage at the time was called Lovestain, and they may have been one of the worst bands I've ever seen.  They all looked to have been in their mid to late 30's, with their mullets either balding or slightly grey.  The singer wore either leather or vinyl pants that looked like they didn't fit.  They tied a couple of bandanas around their mic stand for some reason, and their backdrop consisted of a worn-out looking bedsheet with the word "LOVESTAIN" hastily spray-painted on it.  Their instruments looked very pawn shop - and not in a cool vintage-y way.  The guitarist had a whammy bar that he overused and one of those awful Crate full-stacks that was almost taller than him.  The drummer wore a pair of headphones over his baseball cap for some reason.  It didn't seem to help, as he was barely able to hold a beat together.  I'm sure they had a bassist, but I have no memory of him.  The singer had kind of a beer gut and one of the songs consisted mostly of him making a bunch of sexual-sounding grunts.  It was gross, especially since I was the only person in the audience.
As odious as they were, my disdain for them was outweighed by my pity.  It just seemed so overwhelmingly sad.  Soldiers battling for a lost cause, that have been at it for so long that they didn't even know what they were fighting for any more.  Were they ever in better bands when they were in younger?  Bands that anyone cared about?  Were they once talented, but their creative spark had been eroded by years of rejection and/or substance abuse - or just years in general?  Would they later go home and have to lie to their wives or girlfriends about the "big gig"?  Worse yet, would they go home alone?  What kind of jobs did they have?
After their set, I felt so bad for them that I asked the guitarist if they had any merch for sale.  For $3, he sold me their demo.  3 songs on an unlabeled, normal bias 90 minute cassette tape, maybe 6 minutes of music.  I used the remaining 84 minutes of the tape to make a Blue Cheer mix.  I still listen to it sometimes when I want to feel better about myself.