"The Kzoo Phenom: How I remember it"
Drafted by Jeff Till in late May of 2007. This is sort of a history or perspective based on how I remember the three years Kalamazoo was popping. There might be a lot of mistakes, as I suggested in the title, this is how I remember it now, 14 years or more after the fact.
The Kalamazoo music phenomenon: How I remember it
By Jeff Till (drafted on May 20, 2007)
Being in Kalamazoo from 1988 to 1993 was one of the best and most cherished times in my lives. When I feel nostalgic about belonging to a class or fraternity, I think of the 150 band guys I hung out with during that time. It was my primary time of identifying myself as an artist, and represents a fanciful time before the crushing gravity of adulthood overwhelmed my personal vision and idealism.
Besides feeling cool at the time (playing in a rock band, being in the newspaper frequently, hanging out with the cool kids), it was also a great time because of the sheer number of friends that everyone had. There was such a healthy vibe where everyone must have knew at least 200-300 people by what they did and thought. Of the 15 venues and 115 bands, you could count on ending up almost anywhere in town and being invited to hang out with someone somewhere.
Before I came to Kalamazoo, I was in a couple of high school rock bands, most notably with CHUCK WOOD who later played guitar in FIRESALE and VINE (an excellent band, only mired by a singer who could dance better than he could sing. The Vine 'threat' was always present, with CHRIS BRYERS once telling me a rumor that ERIN DWIGHT was to be their new singer. I asked if she could sing, and Chris swore it didn't matter - being pretty would be enough). Chuck and I both went to Birmingham Groves HS, in an affluent Detroit suburb, a year a part, and played with our friend AL WISEMAN.
I had briefly thought about not going to college and trying to play in bands around Detroit. My mom convinced me that no one would ever take a 17 year old seriously (wow is this true), and that I should wait until after school. I got into Western with my 1.9 academic GPA, headed to major in acting and watercolor painting, which I would get my degree in five years later.
GOING TO SCHOOL
During my sophomore year (1989 - 1990) I had an anthropology class with BRENT OBERLIN and CHRIS SIMMONDS of KING TAMMY. Brent swears I wore leg warmers at the time, and while I'm sure I wore something preposterous and effeminate, I've never owned nor wore leg warmers. While the three of us were far from best buddies we did hang out on the steps for a few chats, I guess gravitating to each other as the sole freaks and geeks within the class (Brent would later be both Chris and I's formal advisors on our first CDs - SCREWTAPE's Anthemunanthem and King Tammy's "Think of what you are eating and how it powers you".) Brent told me he was in a band called DESACRATOR, to which I replied "oh a death metal band", and he said something like "no, we're changing things around. We're doing something different", presumably with the THOUGHT INDUSTRY concept already quickly coming together.
I told Brent that I was going to start a band. Brent later confided to me that some dipshit told him nearly every day that they were going to start a band or that they played guitar and assumed I was full of shit like everyone else.
Chuck Wood came to Western that year and we futzed about starting an act. We found CRAIG VERITY from posting a flyer in a record store. Craig worked at MUSIC EXPRESS out towards Oshtemo and was attracted by our punk rock references on the flyer. We were able to practice at the store, with Chuck's friend TONY playing bass (Tony would later play guitar in Firesale and Vine), and myself as a stand-alone lead singer (a mistake). We inexplicably managed to book ourselves at a largish battle of the bands type show at the Western student center. Chuck and Tony ducked out of the band, fearing that we weren't anywhere near good enough to perform in front of a crowd. This was true, but I really wanted to keep the good inertia.
In an emergency effort, we recruited semi-known SNAKE OUT bassist GREG MITCHELL to play guitar for the one show, and I played bass and sang. With only a practice or two, we arguably got through a set known with the dullest of dull names COMMON GROUND. Other participants in the show (as memory serves) included THE SINATRAS (in probably their 10th year together at that time), JOHNNY WITH AN EYE (Verve Pipers' Vanderark's early band), and EVE BLACK.
CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZ
Eve Black really exploded when they played. Lots of hair and jumping, with lots of guitars and double kick and wireless rigs. While they certainly we're trying to distance themselves with the hair metal bands of the day (think POISON) they certainly had a lot hairy flash. There seemed, though, at the time, a ground swell of the same popular show in unlikely places - Thought Industry & Eve Black, Thought Industry and Eve Black, Thought Industry and Eve Black. Sometimes with MISANTHROPY (Four Peace's progenitor) and sometimes with Chicago bands named like Warhammer and such. They weren't necessarily playing at Western or Club Soda, but they were coming. Or at least the shows were well promoted.
Prior or during this time was also what seemed like the relatively thin stable of Kalamazoo college rock bands such as the GODBULLIES, BATTERY ACID VACATION, FAQ, and CATHARSIS. They didn't seem to play at bars much. CLUB SODA had only one night of college music a week, often with semi-nationals with the locals only getting starting spots, and the other bars weren't having bands yet. It seemed, at least to me, that every time there was a WIDR festival or some other day of bands, it would be the same collection every time. Even reading the short list above, you could tell there was little solidarity among the bands, with Godbullies being the big boys on the scene, despite playing music that I suspect most people didn't like.
After Common Ground, Craig and I started a new band called CRY with an Alabaman named GEORGE. George suffered through our bad pop punk, despite really wanting to play for AC/DC or SKINNARD. We played a handful of shows, including another Battle of the Bands where we went up again against Johnny with an Eye and rightfully lost. Brent and BILL CLEMENTS were judges and were vocally supportive of us. Whether their endorsement was genuine or not, I began to feel included. The fact that Brent was a judge at this time already betokened his growing authority within a very young scene.
Cry got to open for ALL, which was my favorite band at the time, and, honestly, seemed like a gift from ambitious and respected DIY show booker, straight edger and music advocate JOEL WICK (Joel would later hook up with Chuck and Tony in Firesale)
LOOKING FOR A DIRECTION
After Cry, Craig and I had certainly caught the bug and could see the scene gaining participants, enthusiasm and an audience. We auditioned the BUDHACHRIST team as potential guitarist (prior to LISA SLOVENSKI playing drums. Lisa had bought my modest drum kit which I bought to clang around on and play with the FOUR HORSEMEN, a hobby band that included my roommates future MONSTER ZERO friend JOEL 'TOOLMASTER' JOHNSON and now JV celebrity/comedian/Tony award nominee STEPHEN LYNCH, who is now married to non-Vine-singer Erin Dwight, who used to hang out at our house a lot). We also tried out the guitarist (Vince? Vic?) who would later start KONICHI WAH, who wanted to do something like JANES ADDICTION.
Which is an important point. In 1989, the radio didn't know what it was doing really.
The confusion had GUNS N' ROSES burying the hair metal scene. Non-hit bands such as THE GRATEFUL DEAD and THE REPLACEMENTS both had their only radio hits. METALICA was starting to get wide acceptance. A new wind was coming in the likes of Janes Addiction who didn't sound like punk, but played heavy but slower punk music. In 1989, NIRVANA and SMASHING PUMPKINS were playing Club Soda still (I was at the Nirvana show, I don't think I was at the Pumpkins/Rollinghead show, but I have the flyer. By rumor, The Smashing Pumpkins stole CRAIG RIT's drum set once).
At what might have been the first KALAPALOOZA Craig and I hooked up with MATT SAHLGREN who was both funny, thin and handsome (and notably inebriated) and hit it off well. We started the poppy punk band OVERMAN. We had our first show at a New Year's Eve party (Jan 1, 1991) at the EAT house where we had no keg, no heat, no cover, and played our set twice. Despite the lack of amenities, the party was a success and many many people came. We were given our first show the next night (due to a cancellation) at Club Soda playing with the Sinatras. We were jazzed. A couple parties at the FOUR PEACE place also happened.
The Four Peace guys were always exceptionally kind, enthusiastic, gracious, and generous. Their band, though, never quite got it right, and I'd be generous to say they were a square peg within the scene.
POWERMAN: KEVIN OBERLIN
Our third show was us crashing a party at KEVIN OBERLIN's house and begging to play. Kevin and the others were just beginning (I believe) to reveal TWITCH (pre-Bryers version) and they were entering the scene at 100 MPH. Kevin was linking on to Thought Industry and that train, grabbing on to the breaking music trends (metal/punk/funk fusion, drop-D tuning) and willing to aggressively promote, including going to the studio to record a real demo tape (which they did - the very listenable FEEL THE PALM. While no one is going to give Kevin a Grammy for singing, the tape still rocks even now, and definitely showed boatloads of creativity). The party ended when some drunken Hayseed pulled a gun in Kevin's basement, and a very young (18?) Kevin had to talk the guy down and out of the house with a gun pointed at him.
Later we played with ROLLINGHEAD at the K-Club at Kalamazoo College, which was starting to grow its own unusual breed of rockband with the entire LEPPOTONE crew. To think about how short of a timespan this is, Rollinghead would be headlining entire weekends at Club Soda in a matter of months.
We also play with Twitch at least once or twice more prior to Chris joining the band. A show at the WMU amphitheatre is one such event.
me...back to you..."
We got to play with NOMEANSNO at the Kalamazoo skate zoo, which would later be a new favorite band and profound influence. Another gracious and superb gift from Joel Wick.
I believe the weekly entertainment supplement FRIDAYs was launched around this time, with MARCY PERSKI giving full attention and lots of coverage of the local scene. Marcy ran a gossip column every week that made everyone feel like a celebrity. In the few years that followed, it was very possible to be mentioned in the paper just for showing up somewhere and drinking a beer.
Also at this time was another growing entity in SON OF ONE, which featured Chris Bryers. While they were a humble three piece and had the same small crowd that Overman might have had, everyone could tell that Chris had a keen sense. HOLY MAN was their most recognized song, at least by me.
Chris went to play in SELLING HEAVEN where they recorded the Napoleon's Homecoming/Butterfly demo on tape (hearing BUTTERFLY live was really breathtaking, and it would just get better and better every time Chris would say "I try". And while there's a tired argument about whether Bill should lay off the 'flight of the bumblebee'-style bass lines, his feedback-laden, Del Palmer-y bass playing on that song is superb), and then after JEFF CLEMENTS joined the band they recorded the KILLSWITCH/BEATEN SENSELESS DEMO which was only distributed among family and friends. The title of that one would betoken everyone's next step, with Selling Heaven taking Killswitch as a name, and 'beaten senseless and giddy with love' being reused for the new Twitch incarnation.
That tape is awesome by the way. Every song a monument to depression and the mundane and the profane and low self esteem. It was expertly recorded on a four-track.
During the summer of 91, Craig and Matt both moved into the EAT house on Academy.
Craig scores a version of the popular Thought Industry SEVENTH SEAL DEATH/CLOCKWORK
ORANGE EYE demo (one has to wonder why Dustin never went to college. His tastes
almost read like a modern art history college curriculum). It is selling like
crazy and they must get signed to METAL BLADE soon around that time. The story
JASON NEWSTEAD and DUSTIN DONALDSON and the demo tape is well known and documented,
so I won't repeat it here.
OK, real quick: Jason, who lives in the area, ends up at Thought Industry show, is impressed, and asks for a tape. Dustin gives him one and Jason puts it in his pocket (after all, he's a soon-to-be famous bass player, connected to the most important heavy metal band since LED ZEPPELIN). With all the bravado of a matador, Dustin demands payment for the tape. A surprised Newstead complies, and later turns on execs at Metal Blade to the mobius art metal.
I'm going to get the order wrong on some of these events, but the other big signing right then is BLACK SPRING to "Why Not?" records, an upstart by local non-musicians who I guess had big aspirations and some inheritance money. It seemed like a big deal, and Black Spring got to record with a real producer (BUTCH VIG, prior to Nirvana and GARBAGE fame). The partners also foot for a name-brand artist to do the cover artwork. The album, though, is never completely funded and remains in unreleased limbo for what must be a year.
Party at the COUCH HOUSE? Not bad at all.
During this time I also 'quit' acting school in the sense I retire the idea of ever being an actor. I smartly, though, continue the program till the end to get my degree. My peers these days, all of whom are business executives, scientists, software engineers, designers, and other professionals find it humorous that I have such a junk degree. I now realize that carrying such an easy and fun program ensured that I didn't drop out, which would have been the case if I had studied, say, marketing or communications. I still got the degree, which was enough to get the first job in the mail room, which is all a degree does anyways. People often mistake college for a place where you learn skills. It's really just a holding bin that shakes some the idiot out 18 year olds in a relatively safe and controlled extended summer camp.
In the fall of 91 Craig and Matt and DAVE NASH and I move to a dumpy house on Short Street near East Campus. At this time, the scene feels like (particularly in my limited purview) to be FAQ, Rollinghead, and Thought Industry in the roost, with the likes of early Twitch, Selling Heaven, Overman, Black Spring pulling up the rear. Club Soda starts letting the locals headline, and it begins a slowish transition where the club realizes that booking locals with lower prices and no guarantees probably makes better fiscal sense than bringing in a lot of nationals who don't necessarily draw but still require compensation. Besides, crowds are showing up for the locals in a much more consistent manner.
Overman released a DIY tape and sold 200 copies. We had a humorous list of thank-yous where we tried to ingratiate ourselves to the scene.
Somewhere around this time KATHRYN V. gives Craig a tape with Nevermind on one side and Smashing Pumpkins on the other. In a year, this is a big deal.
Success builds on itself. If the music is good than more people show up. If more people show up, the show is more fun even if the music lags. Soon, with all the people, it becomes a fun night out even when the band sucks.
This is where solidarity starts to gel. Suddenly there are commonalities in sound - technical prowess, tight rhythms, strategic atonality, mixes of genres. A consistent rail starts being laid, mostly lead by Thought Industry, followed by Twitch, followed by CLOCKMAKER, followed by Selling Heaven. And now there's this baseline of quality / ingenuity that starts pushing the likes of my band, and Black Spring, and FAQ.
Plus, everyone is gaped-jawed watching Brent play bass, because he's fucking awesome at it. CHRISTOPHER LEE and PAUL ENZIO and Dustin are playing some neat stuff as well, but we've all seen good guitarists and drummers all the time. Seeing a bass player shred it is something new. So Brent's really good, and Bill Clements is something unique (like something you may even see on TV in a soft news piece), but then there's other guys who are good and are just a joy to watch/listen too. Like MIKE ROCHE and MIKE YOUNT and SCOTT STEVENS and pretty soon it's unpopular to be a hack so everybody raises the bar, and everybody ante's up. The result: a continuous improvement program driving music quality, policed by peer pressure.
Plus the new hip stuff from outside Kzoo is teaching us some lessons. HELMET, PRIMUS, MY BLOODY VALENTINE. And maybe, just maybe, a little PEARL JAM, ALICE IN CHAINS, FAITH NO MORE, MR. BUNGLE.
(of course, at the end of the night when everyone was done being cool and really wanted to listen to music, out came QUEEN, or KATE BUSH, or even THE DOORS, or RUSH or old GENESIS, or new PETER GABRIEL or the Replacements)
While long hair and leather was the norm (probably for any rock scene) every one started dressing the same. Shorts and tights and boots. Shorts n' boots in the summer. Shorts, boots, leather jacket. Friends band rock t-shirt, black with white logo. Almost a uniform. If you want a club, a uniform is a good thing.
A lot of this reminds me of the networking concepts of nodes and hubs (as applicable to internets, brain structure, financial markets, media markets, etc.). We certainly had a lot of sort of touchstone 'hubs' that would communicate central ideas to the whole group. Kathy V. was of these who communicated widely between lots of different people and groups. I'm not sure who started wearing boots with shorts to start with (outside of the homosexual trend in big cities), but I would bet it was another hub: Dustin Donaldson. Other hubs included Kevin Oberlin, Brent Oberlin, Joel Wick, Marci Persky and GEOFF HALSEY (maybe not Geoff). Others were one-way hubs such as Chris Bryers or DAVE GRANT. Others seemed to be almost inverted hubs, like RESIN MATTRESS guitarist CHRIS (JOHN?) REMY who seemed to have a lot of distinct ideas, but didn't really like to share them.
Overman was the first band to start playing a MISSIA's workin' man's saloon, which turned into a pretty regular Sunday night venue, if you didn't feel like disco dancing at the WAREHOUSE. Soda started doing some Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the bands. My next band, SCREWTAPE MCMXCII would be the first of the clique to play at HARVEY'S ON THE MALL, opening another Wednesday location. I don't remember what we did on Thursdays (played Sega?), but if Rollinghead was at Soda on the weekend, pretty much every night was covered for live music. It wasn't unusual to see 10 bands per week.
Our Monday's became a treat. Band practice, then to the UpperCrust where they had dollar pitchers of beer and dollar subs/pizza. There would always be all sorts of friendly faces there. Then on to Soda, then to home or someone's house. The ATM used to give out five dollar bills, and it wasn't unusual to visit it and take out five bucks for a night. A budget might look like: $.99 for forty of Mickeys for band practice; $4 spent at UpperCrust (one slice, one sub, two pitchers of beer); $0 cover at Club Soda (hey, Chris is working the door and you're in like Flynn); $3.75 for three Strohs, nursed through the night; $0 for freebie from COLIN or other friendly bartender, $0 for thata-boy beer from PAUL TOTH; $0 for three beers knowingly snitched from Black Spring's backstage case; $.99 for post-show Mickeys. Total night expenditure: about $10. Result: fed and legally disallowed to operate a motor vehicle.
By comparison, you could probably have an even cheaper evening on a Wednesday at Harvey's. The manager might even buy you hard liquor and a taxi (or at least the threat of a taxi, I never actually saw someone take one). There a semi-interesting article online about why Harvey's finally closed/transformed in 2001, and for better or worse, it started with the taco bar.
Thought Industry went to FAST TRACKS with SKINNY PUPPY'S DAVID OLGILVY in what I think would have been Fall of 91 to record their first Metal Blade record, and I believe they toured with Skinny Puppy shortly afterward.
If solidarity was becoming clear at the end of 1991, 1992 would push it even further. I'm going to screw up some sequencing, but I won't be more than a year off. Somewhere early in 92 MIKE ROCHE and JARED BRYANT briefly campaigned to get me into their new project, which they would rehearse for about a year (this became TABLE). Chris Bryers left Selling Heaven to join Twitch. After a brief replacement, Jeff Clements started singing for the renamed Killswitch. Craig and I and new guitarist/singer/composer COLIN BRADFORD started Screwtape. Everyone seemed to be having an easy debut. First shows were crowded versus the long haul of playing in front of six people for a year. I believe both Screwtape and the new Twitch had their second shows at the State Theatre on a big Thought Industry bill (some scenesters who had put in their time thought this unfair).
If Screwtape and the new Twitch felt like they were continuing a tradition, the new bands that were cropping seemed to be falling right in line. BRAINTREE, even by their name, had no qualms in feeling TI. Table, TONGUE, EYE TEETH, OBTRUSIVE MODE.
I hesitate to put Table in that list, but they were as techy and in-scene as they came. I'm getting ahead of myself, because in 1992, Table would still be practicing. Six songs. Six shows.
I'm over-generalizing, but there seemed to be two backgrounds that fused together on the music side. You were either a ruralish guy that grew up liking IRON MAIDEN and was figuring out the chorus pedal, or your grew up listening to THE CURE and we're just figuring out the distortion pedal. Twitch might be a fine example of combining the instrument players (Maiden background) with Bryers (Peter Gabriel background). At any given party or gathering around a table, it wouldn't be a surprise to hear THE DREAMING or HOUNDS OF LOVE followed by RIDE THE LIGHTNING or KILLERS followed by DISINTEGRATION.
It should be noted that the club managers were quickly coming in with full support. Paul Toth was always a quality fan and friend of the scene and overall stand up guy. RICH from Harvey's was interested, warm, and accommodating. AL from Missiahs was supportive in his own way. There was a friend of the scene from the commercial radio station (forgive me, I've forgotten his name) who hosted a local show and was more supportive than WIDR, who inexplicably didn't really participate. Maybe it was because they lost control over Monday New Music nights or maybe because the scene almost had nothing to do with Western Michigan University.
FAQ released the LIVERBOX seven inch somewhere around this time. I don't think Halsey's pants were falling down yet. We'd have to wait a year before Geoff's ass crack became FAQ's 'fifth guy'.
We started practicing at KING TAMMY's house and became good friends with them. JASON FORTIER was always around, and Chris, DARREN, JOHN, STEVE and the others were all swell as well. Their band and Screwtape played together often.
SONGS FOR INSECTS came out and it was truly the masterwork everyone hoped it would be. I don't know about everybody else, but I thought it a wholesale step better than expectations. Twitch released HOMEWRECKER which was part reworked pre-Chris twitch, part new stuff, one Selling Heaven song (LEON'S TEMPLE in a revamped version. Chris once told me that he would never play the Selling Heaven version for KEVIN FARKAS because of the raging jealousy and ego blow it would be to hear MIKE YOUNT's creative drumming. He was probably right. I thought they should have done a hybrid version, perhaps exchanging styles by verse e.g., one all staccato accents then one disco beat).
"The animals in the trees are asleep" (WTF?) "Something beautiful will happen... Conquer me"
If Kathy was a social information hub, Kevin Oberlin was an action hub. Kevin recruited long-time friend Micheal Mead to 'produce' our CDs. It's also Kevin who brought many of the bands to CAMILE at GRASS RECORDS later on (not much later though). Black Spring got their album out of limbo and released it under their new DIY label SWOLLEN LIP. Rollinghead released DADDYHORSE. Screwtape released ANTHEMUNANTHEM soon after, and it was often co-marketed with Twitch. While there wasn't any shortage of cassettes prior, the world suddenly seemed flooded with CDs, and most of them were damn fine.
We had our CD release party at Harvey's (I believe this was the first punk show, at least in anyone's memories) and Rich gave us a taco bar. Eventually, Harvey's management would fall to Charles Bradford, becoming known as "Chuck's bar", and Brent would take over booking for Club Soda Monday's, so eventually it seemed the inmates were running the asylum.
The city seemed to be in full support. Kalapalooza had a second year that even featured second stages and such. There seemed to be a lot of shows at the State Theatre. There were plenty of secondary places to play, such as Sgt. Pepperonis, Peppers, the Warehouse, Ricks', and other non-venues started being venues.
A fine asset to the scene was the support of SHIRLEY CLEMENS from the Western Newspaper who was always kind and wrote about the bands constantly. In hindsight, Shirley was never treated as nicely as she should have been, perhaps mostly because we were arrogant and aloof and she didn't seem to match the scenery at the time. Or maybe because we couldn't figure out what she really wanted, what her ulterior motive was. She was sweet on Chuck B. All in all though, she helped us out.
In the fall of 1992, I moved in with Brent Oberlin, Chris Bryers, Charles Bradford, and Jared Bryant, all of us living and thinking band band band. Brent, Chris, Chuck, and Jared had previously lived together with Colin Bradford and LIZ, so I was the new guy.
Screwtape had made a decision to cut the long hair. Chris Simmonds was probably the first notable to cut the locks. I personally wanted to do it because all of sudden I felt like I didn't have to broadcast my identity via external looks anymore. In fact, I wanted the identity to be a surprise and expressed through action (this is even stronger in these modern days). Plus Helmet rocked and they didn't dress like extras from THE ROAD WARRIOR. Plus fat old guys look stupid with ponytails. (which maybe I was becoming, but I was really only 21 and 165 pounds. Note: currently 36 and 190, but have seen 34 and 220).
In that early rock house we all had our leather jackets stolen. We immediately all went out and bought big, practical, warm winter coats with hoods. It was a shame to lose all those cool jackets, but now we didn't have to stand around fucking freezing in the dead of winter trying to look cool. A blessing in disguise. My mother was happy to buy my new winter coat for me (she never liked the leather and liked the idea of being warm). I don't know if the other guys' parents chipped in for their new coats, but it wouldn't have surprised me.
Did the shorts n' boots go too? I don't remember. I started wearing sneakers though.
Did I mention that some people used to use recreational drugs and others enjoyed having a beer or two now and again? Well, they did.
CAN WE BE THE NEXT GREAT SCENE?
Seattle was also happening (maybe even old news by this time). The Minneapolis, and Austin, and Athens GA, Madison, and all these hoppin' geo-specific scenes.
And little labels were being eaten by big labels, and everyone was looking for the next geo to support. It was an unprecedented music industry consolidation and land grab. We felt this profoundly.
Somewhere in here the VERVE PIPE started. I got a job at Kinkos and one night Brian Vanderark came in ripped. Brian Vanderark had expertly written "THE FRESHMAN" and as much as we didn't like being separated from their scene and perhaps were a bit jealous, few could deny that he wrote and sang quite a whopper with that one. I think he actually took counsel from Chris Bryers at some point, probably after Twitch got their RCA deal, but I'm jumping ahead. I think Chris advised Brian to include "The Freshman' on their major release, which they were considering not doing since the song was already a little 'tired' in Kalamazoo. They did and it went national. It was weird, years later, being in Boston and having that "new song" be everywhere.
Harvey's on Wednesday's started to become better than Soda on Monday's in ways. For starters, Harvey's had dollar pitchers, a more casual atmosphere, and you could actually hang out away from the band if you wanted to talk. Still, Soda had the big sound and the stage and the kick drum going wump wump wump. A famous row between Brent and Dustin happened when Thought Industry played at Harvey's and Dustin wore a mask (tape on the nipples, no TV crucifix). Paul Enzio would spit on other members when they weren't looking for the amusement of the audience. Dustin had felt that they were underserved playing at such a humble location. Brent pointed out that the venue was far from filled. Surrounded by Bud signs, the mask had lost its gruesome effect.
We had the "STOKER AWARDS", an Oscar-like awards presentation for the local music scene. It was a big event, first at Club Soda and then at the State Theatre. This may be the single most telling symbol of the scene's invertedness, provinciality, and sense of delusional grandeur. Thought Industry was given the lifetime achievement award. I can't imagine who would have gotten it the following year. Maybe GARRET.
Garret used to wear a headset-style mic when he sang. He also worked at the Burger King drive-thru where he also had to wear a headset mic. Sort of like an ironic mirror reflecting unto itself into infinity.
After we moved to Grant St., Brent started GENIUS HIRED GUNS with Chuck, Jared, and Colin. They quickly had a great set and rolled quickly. They even recorded a disc in record time of great songs. I think it must of taken a couple of years for them to press it, because it's labeled 1995 but by gum did I hear them practicing in the basement. Brent wrote Thought Industry's second album MODS CARVE THE PIG in what seemed like a weekend on my old four track.
AS BIG AS JUPITER
Twitch recorded another demo at Western (with arguably a better version of JUPITER and I believe, if memory serves, one of the two different versions of WHITE PEOPLE - "White people have no reason to live"), and then got their deal with GRASS records where they recorded the masterful "BEATEN SENSELESS" album. I remember working the late shift at Kinko's when Chris brought the rough mix by and I remember thinking that even though I had seen them a thousand times, that I had never heard them before.
Rollinghead was still doing weekends and were wildly popular. How could they not be with Dave Grant up there all handsome with his pipes and his pythons and the whole bit? Now the shows were looking the same: Twitch, Thought Industry, Black Spring, Table, Screwtape.
I didn't really become friends with Dave until we worked on ESSENTIAL CUBICLE NOSEPICKER in 1999, which is too bad because he's a real funny, cool guy and it would have been nice to hang out with him more.
Somewhere during this time the NYC bands would come through, with their cruelty and noise. WRECK and a bunch of other neo-industrialist screamers. They would steal equipment. The LAUGHING HYENAS came through and some others that made screaming more fashionable. Brent had developed quite a bark at this time that he would employ in full force for Mods. HOLE seemed to play a lot at Soda, and everyone was ga-ga for the POSTER CHILDREN. ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT was a bully good show as well (both times).
Not many external bands broke into the click, but there was MORSEL who everyone liked (Morsel not only had a girl in their band, but a girl who played the STONE GRINDER) and the guys from Wisconsin who I don't remember their names but schooled us at our own game. (anyone? I want to say Kid Death, but I think I mean someone else). The THRESHOLD guys were also appreciated adjuncts.
King Tammy released their CD, which seemed to allow them to move on from an ancient catalog and really start to cook. I'm not doing justice to about 100 other bands who were doing neat stuff. The Sinatras briefly became KERPLUNK and were universally loved by almost everybody. The Leppotone guys were putting on rock operas (I think Craig and I may have played thugs in the pirate one) and the SLEESTACKS seemingly were having fun. SNORKEL was a treat to see. RESIN MATRESS went from 0 to 60 when PAUL KIRY changed his singing to be a screamer. COTTAGE CHEESE had to be seen, if for nothing else, to just completely change the pace. After night after night of technical, spastic prog-punk, it was nice to see some girls just completely fuck it up with giant smiles on their faces.
And I don't know why exactly some of the really good 'younger' bands didn't quite join in. IN OURSELVES were a very talented outfit. Vine started to get scary in how good they were getting. There was a whole post-hardcore scene that Joel Wick and others nourished that for seemingly years had the same six guys in the same band (DECONSTRUCTION, LAST LAUGH, SPORK, Firesale) but there was a Mckayean switch happening to slow anthemy stuff that was much more appealing and some of these 'younger' guys were learning to play. By rumor, the bands would tour and actually get warmer receptions/larger crowds in other towns.
I suppose I should mention FATSACK, FEEDBAG and PURPLE DAVE. I suppose I should mention THUMPER and even the neat KISS cover band Halsey, EVAN, TODD, and MIKEY did. And BONE CHINA. So there it is.
Or Feedbag's smelly shows. Or the Black Spring pumpkin show. Or the Overwoman show. Or the TI acoustic show. Or the King Tammy/Screwtape fight video. Or the Farkas/Donaldson pre-SPOONBENDER drum show they put on during Kalapalooza. The TV crucifix. Darling Nikki covers. Guest singing on STUFF. Guest singers at every show. "Hey Brent, wasn't it your turn last night to be on stage?" "Yeah, Till, and I wish you could have stayed off the stage then. Now hand me the mic before Geoff gets his pants back on."
What about JOHN FOUNTAIN? News has it that he became very successful and he should be congratulated.
LOCOMOTIVE GODS (FOAMING AT THE MOUTH)
Geoff Halsey and Brent Oberlin joined Twitch for about a day and a photo shoot. Whether they meant it or not, it was largely a public fight between Brent and his disenchanted TI band mates. It made for some interesting drama for the week. FAQ recorded an album and briefly changed their name to INTERSTATE BRICKFACE. I guess by rumor (I just heard of it) they were offered a deal by POLYGRAM but broke up instead. It seems like something I would have heard back in the day. In what must have been early 1993, Geoff started playing pop songs with his sister SARAH and future-wife MOLLY, under the name DOXIE.
Kevin Oberlin was able to leverage his relationship with Camile and Grass records and begin giving sweetheart deals to others, including Rollinghead and Doxie. Grass was able to cash out the relationship with Twitch's signing to RCA. This, with the Grass Signings, the Verve Pipe deal, and of course TI, started to make the scene foam at the mouth.
And that's when I left. I was done with college, and like any Birmingham kid who rolls into town, he gets his degree and takes off. Sure, I lied down and ate with the natives while I was there, but with college done it was time to go. Actually, it didn't feel that way at the time. I really thought I would get a bunch of people to move to Boston with me. Now, when I refer to a 'friend from college' I am usually referring to someone I did not go to college with.
Leaving didn't take to long. Screwtape was yammering about an irresistible drummer from the aforementioned amazing Wisconsin band but our loyalties to Craig ran deep, and we were thinking about adding a female singer. (Screwtape '94 may have been interesting. We had just started learning "THING AND NOTHING" when we broke up) Instead, Colin decided to go back to school. I went to Boston with Dave Nash, arguably one of the most dependable guys in town who was also looking for something new post-degree (read: job).
I was 22 years old. A child. A kid. A pup.
Even with leaving I still never left. I returned frequently, hosted TI at my home when they were on tour, and still kept a huge part of my musical and youthful identity with the crowd. Most of my post-Screwtape projects pulled from the same talent pool. Even now, I've decided to build a monument to this era in the website LEONSTEMPLE.COM.
Of course there is more to the Kalamazoo story that happened after I left, but I don't know all of it. As for the scene, by report, things got gradually worse and then got worse yet. There were good things of course, such as Mike's nifty BROADSIDE, the total embrace of HARVEY'S, a live Rollinghead record, and some new bands that I would only hear after they were shipped. SLEET, DEAD RIVER DRAG and THE WATERLADIES are by far my favorites.
In a strange turn, all of my friends from acting school starting hanging out with my close band friends. This would have been more convenient had they gotten this together when I was still in town. The Rollinghead guys, while never stand offish or anything, began integrating more with the shorts n' boots crew.
I've ignored an entire 'female' aspect of this story. There's probably a good reason to mention KARLA WESCOTT or KRISTY KAMPSMITH. There were girls around who participated in various ways, but at the end to day (end of the night?) it was the dudes who would show their support for the bands, standing in a row in front of the stage, arms folded or holding a beer, interested but stern expression on the face. You could hear the music anywhere, but it was a sign of respect, appreciation and approval if you stood up front. Plus, you'd get to watch Dustin off stage left trying to screw up the drummer by flashing his penis.
RCA would buy Twitch a van, two recordings and a video, but the guy who signed them was lost in a re-org, as were they. TI would go on until 2001, releasing six more records, but always seemed disengaged from a label wondering where their heavy metal band had gone. Their last album, played by entirely new members, was released on 9/11/2001 (a poet couldn't invent a more perfect way to define the end of an era). People got old. Got married. More people moved away. I think Fridays stopped printing. (I've now confirmed that it's called THE TICKET now). There was a migration to Chicago, a migration to LA (Chris, Kevin, JOSH or JAKEY), a migration to San Francisco (Dustin, Farkas), a migration to NYC (Toolmaster, MANDY), a migration to Portland OR (Geoff, Molly, Karla).
Perhaps the biggest move would be Kevin Oberlin's move to California (where he's still a music cool guy, booking nineties era reunion tours). In hindsight, if I had to pick one guy who was the master hub of Kool Kalamazoo, it would probably be Kevin. You could easily argue a case for his older brother as well.
I write this from a hotel room in Atlanta at a business consulting and technology training week. I'm being paid a couple grand a day and really have nothing to do. I'm mostly here to go to cocktail parties and to talk about how global banking concerns will adapt their information practices. In every conversation I will have, there will be no talk of chops, meter, draw, flyers, or guitar riffs. Everyone will be wearing tan trousers and button down shirts, and no one will think for a moment that it would be prudent to wear boots with shorts and tight leggings. My wife and daughter are staying by the ocean with my in-laws. When I get home, my little girl will sit in my lap for two hours and then fall asleep.
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