Friday, September 26, 2008

The hal al Shedad's Last Two Shows - The New Beginning That Never Was

Here is the download: The hal al Shedad 1999-01-17 and 1999-04-08

Here are the set lists from these shows:
1999-01-07: Solitaire/Separation Anxiety/Question-Statement-Answer/Vampire Costume

1999-04-08: Plausible Deniability/Solitaire/Question-Statement-Answer/Separation Anxiety/Vampire Costume

As 1999 began, the hal al Shedad was at a difficult juncture in our career. The band had been continually progressing and mutating over the past four years and now was at a point where the songs we had originally written had very little in common with the songs written two years later and nothing like the songs written four years after that. Furthermore, there was so little of the original emotional connection to many of our songs, and we were spending most of our practices re-learning our old songs instead of writing new material. Any band that has been around long enough reaches a certain point (for us being our fourth year), you can either move forward and not look back or become a human jukebox, continuously playing old material and occasionally playing a new song here and there. We decided on the first option, as we were not the hal al Shedad show and revue, so we shelved all of our previous songs and wrote an entire new set for 1999. We had 5 new songs ready and started playing these exclusively in and around Atlanta.

Attached to this post are two shows from this period, recorded at the Echo Lounge by Henry Owings, and luckily he did this otherwise we would have no recordings whatsoever for several of these songs. The first show was on January 17 with Blonde Redhead and the second (our final show ever) was on April 8 with Sam Prekop and Papa M (M, Aerial M, David Pajo, whatever), also four years to the day of our first show ever in Pensacola with Inkwell. We did not know at the time that it was going to be our last show, but there was a gap of a few months before we got together and practiced again, and at that last practice it was clear that each member of the band wanted to make different music and the whole thing ended pretty much at that practice. It is a shame that we never played an official final show, but sometimes that is how it goes.

Ed started playing bass in The Good Friday Experiment soon after this, and also focused on his recording career at The Living Room Studio. I will still see Ed's yellow Les Paul that he played in hal when I visit his studio, and wonder if I will ever see him play it again. I moved to guitar to play in Chocolate Kiss at this time, but have been back playing drums over the past few years - still the same drumset as always. Ben played the same bass setup for years in various bands, but finally got a new custom made bass in the past few weeks. His current band, The Forever War, is playing at the Drunken Unicorn on Wednesday October 1, so go check it out.
Here are some thoughts on these songs:

1. Solitaire - This was one of our heaviest songs, and was properly recorded at Chase Park Transductions by David Barbe in Athens. It appeared on the split 7" with Rainer Maria and on the Singles and Unreleased CD that came out a few years ago.

2. Separation Anxiety - Also called "the piano song". Ben started playing an electric piano at shows, and Ed had a Roland Juno 80 synthesizer by this point, so we had two keyboards up on stage in addition the drums, guitars and amps. Ed actually plays bass on this song, and we recorded a proper version of it at Ed's studio, also appearing on the singles collection CD.

3. Question Statement Answer - Never recorded except here at these shows, but a good song nonetheless. We had a period where we were writing quiet songs with a lot of open space in them, but near the end we started writing rockers again, although never as frantic as "On Building a Timebomb" or "Supercolliding Superconductor", for example.

4. Plausible Deniability - This one was more or less unfinished. We originally wrote it with a heavy ending much like our songs on Textures of Tomorrow, but scrapped it and wrote a more choppy groove somewhat inspired by the Sorts, who Ben was really into at this time. We recorded it with the old ending in Ed's studio, but had this live ending from the show, so when we released the singles collection, we actually go from the studio version to the live version halfway through the song.

5. Vampire Costume - This was our last song ever written, and kind of fitting thematically for the end of the band. Ed plays synth on it, with some heavy guitar in the beginning for dynamics. The song was never recorded in a studio, which is unfortunate as it was a favorite of mine. This is a lesson to all you bands out there - record your music! It dosen't have to be at an actual studio, but just get it on tape somewhere or you will regret it later.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Early Works of BOB

Here is the download: Bob - The Early Years

1-3: From Refuel Compilation
4-6: From Self-Titled 7"
7-21: From Complex Organism Blues CD

Bob was an enigmatic and mystifying band in Atlanta. I never knew the guys, and only saw them a few times, but they had a habit of popping up in strange places. I remember the Go-Steadys playing with them once at the Somber Reptile in 1992 or 1993, and as you could imagine they were not so well received by the teenage ska fans. Later Car vs. Driver played with them, Pineal Ventana and Dribbling Hermits at the Homage Coffee House for a WREK benefit in 1994, which rocked but was also when I stabbed myself in the eye with a drumstick and couldn't see. I got to see them other places and times and really enjoyed it. Their bassplayer was so damn tall, and I remember their drummer having back problems and eventually had to play standing up. Also, their guitarist played a beat up Stratocaster with a Fender Twin that had a great psychedelic paint job that was really cool from my kid perspective. Later, I remember they got a lady in the band to play bass/percussion, and played some kind of weird dance music, which I wasn't so into. They were certainly very creative and making music that I couldn't really process or grasp so well at the time, but I liked it. I remember some of these songs so well, like "Nasty" and "Pope Is" as art-rock anthems from my school days. I have included in this post what I believe is their first 7" along with their songs on the Refuel compilation and the Complex Organism Blues CD, which was one of the first CDs I ever purchased. I heard the CD after this one was really good, but I never ended up getting it. I hope you enjoy what I have included, and please leave comments and info on Bob so I can get more of their story.

Here is the artwork to the Complex Organism Blues CD:

Here is their page for the Refuel Athens/Atlanta compilation:

The back cover of the self-titled 7":

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Paper Lions - Our First Peer-Rockstars

Here is the download: Paper Lions Album

I saw Josh Lott the other weekend at the Highland Inn, and he told me that after 14 years of living in Athens, he has made the move back to Atlanta and started law school. This is in a way the end of an era, as more and more old friends from Athens have left that town for good and now I know nobody there when I visit. As you probably know, Josh was the drummer for many bands including At the Price of the Union, The Walt Lariat (as bassplayer), Paper Lions, and later Teenage Methlab and Elf Power. Paper Lions was the amalgamation of two postpunk Atlanta/Athens heavyweights Some Soviet Station and At the Price of the Union, with Josh adding drums to the SSS strings of Jesse Smith, Chris McNeal and Justin Snyder (also formerly of the Kossabone Red). To me they were not so much like Some Soviet Station with a different drummer, but something else entirely. They were much more melodic and less aggressive compared to their previous bands, and with a little Jawbox in them along and some modern postpunk that would seem to fit right in with some of the edgier popular music today.

They were the first band from our immediate network that really made a run for it as a professional band. They quit their jobs, toured as much as possible, and put out a quality recording on a reputable label. They bought real equipment, had a real van, played real clubs (not DIY house shows), worked very hard on their songs and their musicianship, and generally put everything they had into their music. I remember every show I went to of theirs was packed, and they seemed to get very popular very quick, at least in Atlanta and Athens. I am not sure of the later history of the band, as I moved away while they were at their apex, but my understanding is that Kindercore Records who put out their album folded suddenly after a bad business deal and left Paper Lions with no label or records to tour under. Also the grind of heavy touring, etc. burned them out and they threw it in sometime in 2004 or so. They had all the elements of a great modern popular postpunk band, and could have taken it farther than any band before them, but somewhere along the way things went off track. Maybe that is not what they wanted in the end, or maybe the frustrations of the grind got to be too much. I know I couldn't do it myself, it's not an easy life. I wish them all the best, and success in their current endeavors.

Here is an interview they did for Performer mag back in 2003:

Here is the artwork for their album "The Symptom and the Sick":

Monday, September 15, 2008

Roosevelt - Athens Nth Golden Era

Here is the download - Roosevelt Discography

1-3: From the Fuel Compilation
4-6: From the Person Single
7-16: From the Shingle LP

When I was in 11th grade (in 1991), I played in a band called Finletter with a guy named Brian Sweeney, who is the little brother of Kevin Sweeney from Hayride, one of the pillars of the Athens rock scene over the years. Brian introduced me to all kinds of Athens bands from the time, and out of all of them I think Roosevelt was my favorite. To me they were kind of like The Meat Puppets (who I enjoy immensely), taken to a different level with their incredible instrumentation and skill. It might be a bit noodley for most people, and this sound when done by other bands can be really horrible, but it fits them perfectly. They were also one of those bands that made better music the longer they were around, as I like the last music they did far more than their earlier work. I arranged the unofficial discography in this order so the "hits" in my opinion are right up front.

One of the other great aspects of Roosevelt is that it featured Mr. Ballard Lesemann on drums. Henry Owings mentioned that Kyle Spence and Jerry Fuchs are the best drummers Athens/Atlanta ever created, but I would also have to put Ballard right up there with them. I never got to see Roosevelt in person, as I started school in Athens in the Fall of 1993, after they broke up. However, I would see Ballard around town and was way too timid to talk up drums with him. Later on he played in The Germans, and I believe Hayride for a time as well as the Rock A Teens, but then moved to Charleston where he works in the newspaper business. Roosevelt will play a show from time to time, and released a CD retrospective back in 2001, but I was not aware it even existed (or the shows for that matter) until I did a bit of research for this post. Atlanta can be a completely different world sometimes. If I get my hands on the CD, I will post it here as well for completeness sake as it has some extra stuff that is not on the main releases I have here.

Here is their page from the Athens Fuel Compilation:

Here is the artwork from the Person single:

Here is the artwork from the Shingle LP, sorry my scanner isn't big enough to fit the entire image.

For more info, check out their Myspace page.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Chapman Park - 1997.04.26 Demo Tape

Here is the download: Chapman Park - 1997.04.26 Demo Tape

Chapman Park was a short-lived group of I-Defy house resident and Portait member Scott McFarland (aka Scott MC) on guitar, Francis Jensen from The Forty-Two on drums and Scott Wilson on bass who I never really knew. They were the closest Atlanta ever had to an Ebullition-style or Gravity-style post hardcore band. I bet if they stayed around long enough they would have had some raves in HeartAttack, but who knows. They reminded me of bands like Portraits of Past, etc. but maybe more in presentation than in true musical resemblance. I remember the band playing in strange setups (I believe Francis liked to set up his drums sideways or something), and they would play random hip hop or other sounds on a boombox near the drumset for in-between song filler. But Francis provided all the filler they needed, so maybe the boom box was not necessary. I saw them a few times, and remember The hal al Shedad playing with them at Sprockets in Roswell, because that was when we played Anthrax by Gang of Four and Francis did the spoken word part of the song for us.

This demo tape truly embodies the DIY aesthetic of the time. It's great that the tape has a cover that does not fit in any normal tape case, the lyric sheet is this tiny stapled paper booklet with random pictures and quotations, and the entire release is so roughly homemade. You can picture Scott, Francis and Scott in the I-Defy living room (or more appropriately outside a show) assembling these demo tapes for sale or just give away later. Nowadays we have access to CD burners, printers, etc. so we can make a more polished, professional looking demo without any effort, but back then the more rugged and thrown together the package was, all the better.

Scott MC gave some nice background in a comment below, so I decided to add it to the body of the post:

I figured I would fill in some extra details here since a ton of people never saw us play. My memory is a little hazy so I'll do my best. We started Chapman Park when I was still living at the I DEFY house and that was our first practice space. Then Scott Wilson got a job at a place called "Toys From the Darkside" in historic Chamblee. They sold old Star Wars toys and whatnot. So we then started practicing there and wrote all the songs on the demo. We did play a few out of town shows but I don't recall all of the details. I know we played with Mineral in Gainesville and Reversal of Man in Tampa. After the Summer of 1997 we closed down the I DEFY. Gavin moved into the warehouses and Chapman Park all got a house together in Doraville that had room for a practice space. A few months later Frank got in a really bad car accident and couldn't walk for several months. That kind of killed any momentum we had as we went on a long hiatus. Once he got better, we picked back up but decided to scrap all the songs that were on the demo and write new songs. I think these newer songs were way better but of course we never recorded them so you have to take my word for it. Our first show back was at a house in East Lake (I don't remember who lived there - maybe Lewis Lovely?). I was surprised by how many people came out. The newer songs had more of a rock element to them instead of the strange time signatures of the demo. Anyway, we played a few more shows and stuck around for a few more months but I think everyone's collective interest in the band waned and we just sort of stopped played. Portrait was also going strong by this point so that is where more of my creative energy went. We continued to all be roommates even after the band was done until Summer of 1999 when I graduated. I haven't talked to Frank in a long while but I am sure there are people who read this blog that still see him when his bands come through Atlanta. Scott Wilson lives in NYC and works at DC comics and I see him every few months, but he hasn't done any bands since Chapman Park as far as I know.

Thanks to Chris van Etten for loaning me the demo - I was too dense back then to get one of my own.

Here is the lyric sheet broken out into one page (click to enlarge), and the back "cover" of the tape.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Non Atlanta Post: Drums & Tuba - Box Fetish (1996)

Here is the album for download: Drums and Tuba - Box Fetish

Occasionally I will do a non-Atlanta or Athens post, if I have some kind of personal connection to the group or otherwise think that it is interesting and difficult to find elsewhere. Drums and Tuba fit into this category for me, as they were one of my favorite bands from Austin back in 1996, are certainly interesting and this particular album is difficult to find. In fact, I had to get a friend of mine from Austin to send it to me, and I have never found it since in any record store. These are the classic Drums and Tuba songs from this era - an instrumental trio that was popular at the time (e.g. Trans Am) with drums, guitar and a tuba instead of bass. I personally gravitate towards the drums, as the dude is amazing and also played in Paul Newman, which released a few albums on Trance Syndicate back in the day. For this album, there are no effects or singing, although in later albums they started experimenting with looping tuba, guitar and drum parts in a live setting and eventually singing on their songs, which is usually a bad idea for most previously-instrumental bands. Sometime after this album or their next, they got the attention of Ani Difranco and started touring with her extensively and releasing albums under her label. I can only imagine Drums and Tuba playing these songs in stadiums opening for Ani, and what her crowd must have thought of them. They moved from Austin in the late 1990's to New York and continued recording and touring, but seemed to run out of steam a few years back. I would see them whenever they played Atlanta, either at the Echo Lounge opening for Daniel Johnston, or at the EARL as a headliner, and bought all of their albums, etc. I checked their website, and it looks like they were touring as late as Fall of last year, but there is no activity in 2008. It also states that they are currently based in New Orleans, so I hope they are finding some success there. As for their recorded output, I really like this first album the best, as well as the Flatheads and Spoonies album which was when they really started getting into the live sampling and layering of their sound. These are great musicians, and make great, interesting music. Maybe I'll get some comments from Austin on this one.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Year Zero - The Class of '96

Here is the download: Year Zero Discography

As requested, Jon Lukens sent me a video still, as he couldn't find an official glossy for the band, must have used them up on press kits for the Masquerade. When Cough Syrup and Astrosmash folded in late 1994, Ben Lukens started The hal al Shedad with Ed Rawls and eventually myself, and Jon Lukens started Year Zero with Matt Cicarelli (from Cough Syrup) and two guys named James Dunn (on guitar) and Brandon McDearis (on drums). Later, Matt Cicarelli was fired and/or moved to Cleveland for his studies and was replaced by Heather McIntosh, who I knew from my early college education at UGA. Jon wrote a little biography and descriptions of each member here, so it saves me the time of writing my own:

Depending on your temperment Year Zero could be a bit overwhelming to the listener, as Jon would sing/scream/blurt lyrics at you the entire song, and the guitar and drums would just plow through and assult you all the while, so that it was really the bass that seemed to provide the dynamics and changes within each song. Sometimes they were confusing, but sometimes they really connected and it was amazing. I recorded one of these shows, perhaps the best Year Zero show in my opinion, at the Godless Red Athens house here.

Their only official release was the split 7" with Wheeljack, but they self-released two demos during their time and played a lot of shows. They were part of the stable of Driverdome bands from the mid-90's including The Forty-Two and Wheeljack. I'm not sure if they ever officially toured, but I'm sure they played a few out of town shows from time to time. I do remember James the guitarist was really into guns, and had a permit to carry a concealed firearm, which he kept on him at all times. When hal came up to Athens to play a show once, we were supposed to go shooting with James, but it never worked out. I never really knew James or Brandon before or since, but I have played in many bands and projects with Jon Lukens over the years, and seen Matt Cicarelli from time to time as well. He is now an attorney for Dekalb County, so if you are around the Decatur courthouse during lunchtime you might see him. I see Heather from time to time as well, mainly when she is playing with the band Dark Meat from Athens, but she has been in so many bands since Year Zero, including Japancakes, Gnarles Barkley and even has a solo career. I also remember from the old days that she is a cellist and didn't own a regular electric bass, so she would borrow the Music Man stingray bass from the guy in the Maritans, and turn whatever bass amp she was using all the way and control her volume with the knob on the bass. Naturally she blew up a lot of bass amps during this time. There are a lot of other random anecdotes about this band, but I'll save them for the comments.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dirt - Our Forebearers in Atlanta Noise-Rock

Here is the download - Dirt Discography

Track Listing:
1. Cleft on the Chin, Devil Within
2. Booger
3. Rugburn
4. Heavy Petting
5. Championship Dick
6. Grunt
7. Sad Hash
8. Negative Vibe No. 365
9. Palm Full of Pork
10. Milkbelly
11. Guilt on Ice
12. Shiny Girl Go
13. Suckah
14. Cold Fish
15. Nude Dancing in Arizona
16. Mopar
17. Skag Fight
18. Tam Po Po
19. Casa de Hee Haw
20. Peet
21. Serret
22. Gorgeous Weed
23. Dirk Flemming
24. Sinister Purpose

1-2: From 1st 7"
3-4: From 2nd 7"
5: From "Bag of Jakes" 7"
6-15: From "She Male Sugarpussy/Drill the Minx" LP
16-24: From "Sahara of the Bozart" LP

What were you doing in 1989? I can guarantee it was nothing compared to what these guys were up to. They were so ahead of their time in this town - I can't even imagine what people must have thought of this band back then, but I think they would rule this town today. I never got to see them live myself, but I had heard of their legendary status even back then when I was in high school. Actually, Stewart Voegtlin from William Carlos Williams wrote this piece on The Left Hand Path, which sums it up better than I ever could:

"It keeps you fit - the alcohol, nasty women, sweat on stage, bad food - it's all very good for you."

Some said Bonny Scott reborn, or Brian Johnson's shrieking shadow, an avatar of tres chord rock 'n' roll, stereotyped spitsink antics, Elvis zee Pelvis shake, rattle, roll. Hyperbole aside, John Forbes was very much the incarnation, google-eyed, gyrating; the gushing showman, a smile like The Young Traci Lords's gash: supple, crazed, welcoming. The rest of the [early] band was nothing close to Vomit, Lou, Deno and Gary; there was Jennifer Hensley, Runaways incarnate, smoldering in lip gloss, razorblade charm, navy blue coveralls. Dean Clyne and Georgia's answer to Phil Rudd, the late Allen Page on bass and drums respectively. Atlanta was indifferent as usual. The Royal Peacock, Clermont Lounge; well drinks for $2.50; Bud and High Life cans half the price. Poison's quick trickle had a lot to do with it. Most folks were furniture by 11 p.m. Forbes would come out, lightnin' bolt legs, Schlitz beer can hat upon his head. Plug in. Look around. Smile. Page would count off and away they went. Three hours later and Buckhead Safety cab lays down the law: Any one of you guys pukes in my ride and it's $40 flat. No if sands buts. Got it?

Before Page spilled his fluid thuds upon Hensely's maggot writhe wah, big-haired Deanna Gonzalez warmed the drum throne with junk trunk. Page musta seen 'em with DG; he basically cribbed his whole approach: heavy hands on hi-hat and snare; kicking through that gawdamned kick drum. It would have been too much; Forbes and Hensley locked-jaws with true Rodehaus Bluez. Leads written for lairs outta place even in James Dickey, in Harry Crews. The sort of sultry "please, cum onan fuck meh," schtick Gifford/Lynch tried to land with siren belle, Lula. Instead it comes off as lots of granny come-ons; rosewater perfume ain't no way to keep a man interested.

One can dance to Dirt. Perhaps that's why the name sounds sensible. Honest. Easily arrived upon. Two feet to the floor, shakin' ass, etc, etc. Keepah knockin but ya can't come in... Little Richard, James Brown, the Grady High School Marching Band; that's where the beatz; the riddims rose from. Past, present. Near, far. Forbes fashioned the take bright, belligerent. By the time the two singles and single split clipped into a full-length, the local foax had nothing left to do but corral Benjamin "Smoke" into his Sundee best and snap that shot. Nothing quite like a tranny queer drinking two fingers of Kentucky Gentleman and working on a Basic 120. And the title... She-male Sugarpussy. The band printed the song list on the spine; motherfuck a lyric sheet. Personnel was printed on the label. Whew. Lotsa print putz whined and opined; dude's voice sux; AC/DC, or worse: Rose Tattoo. Forbes really only ever sounded like Gilbert Godfrey passing a habanero hairball through his urethra. Despite the shenanigans, Dirt continued. David T. Lindsay, basically the only sensible "music writer" to ever call Coca-Cola Kingdom home, put their records out; he attended their shows; he served them the best compliment ever, setting them as the IDEAL in the midst of so many "show reviews" plundered about the pages of Creative Loafing. Cutting foax down to size was immensely easy; all Lindsay had to do was scribble this sentence on the end of every blurb: "________ is every bit the band The Black Crowes aspire to be but no where near as great as Dirt." I thought he'd do it once, twice maybe. Lindsay did it for months. It got funnier and funnier. It's still funny.

Dirt may not be the IDEAL. But then again they may be. She-male Sugarpussy isn't a great record. But it's good. The song titles are almost as good as the record's title: "Nude Dancing In Arizona;" "Palm Full of Pork;" "Sad Hash;" "Cold Fish." I understand these song titles. They are my past, present, future. They have to be. It's neither Heavy Metal, nor "Hard Rock." Despite all the groove and blues references they might just have sounded like a second-rate Zepp, circa Houses of the Holy, at precisely five fucking times the speed. "The Crunge" was Page/Plant preening groove and blues; "The Ocean" gets them even closer to Forbes and Co: "Naaaah, naah, nunnah neh nah naw, neh nah naw neh nah neh naw naw...." Ain't much difference 'tween tunes. "Sad Hash" the exception. Hensely comes on with Peter North cumshot wah. Thick, ropy, serpentine. Forbes refuses to play charmer, just screaming, shrieking, howl. Foax who ever thought they might need a vocal "approach," would never approach Forbes' thought as vocal. It's a lung thing. A heart thing. Darby Crash with Bowie's haircut. Or vice versa. And then to look over at Hensley scraping her SG, the beat goes on. And on. And on. IDEAL is forever. Every bit the band The Stones aspired to be but no where near as good as _________.

As you probably know, John Forbes and his girlfriend Jennifer (not Jennifer Hensley, who was in Dirt but then joined Seersucker) moved up to Chicago after Dirt ended in the early 90's to start Mount Shasta, who I was a huge fan of. In fact, when hal al Shedad recorded our second album with David Barbe, I was most excited because he recorded Mount Shasta's "Who's The Hottie?" album a few years before, and it is a favorite of mine. David said that John Forbes had the loudest voice of any singer he had ever worked with. He could blow out a microphone in the studio from across the room. Also, he told me that John wrote actual lyrics to all his songs, but good luck verifying that one. Dirt is just great, totally visceral, and must be acknowledged for their contribution to Atlanta music.

Above: Cover for their first album "She Male Sugarpussy - Drill the Minx", which included all the song titles and information on the record spine, which was brilliant. Interesting to note Benjamin Smoke as the cover model, from Opal Foxx Quartet and Smoke - seminal Atlanta bands. Below is the insert from the CD and the back cover. It's interesting to note the era they were coming from based on the thank you list. Even Drivin' n' Cryin' is thanked.

Here is the cover for "Sahara of the Bozart", which was graciously provided by Stewart.