Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fiddlehead - Hometown Heroes, Part 2

Here are the downloads:

Fiddlehead's Last Show Ever (Midtown Music Hall - July 24, 1994)

Fiddlehead Live on WFMU - July 4, 1991

Fiddlehead Live at The Masquerade - January 1991

Fiddlehead Live at The Wreck Room - 1991

As always, here are all their recordings: Fiddlehead Complete Discography

I have included the song Tophat, which was a classic from their early demos, graciously provided by Mike Haggerty. I believe everything they have recorded is now included, but please send me whatever I might be missing!

Here is my second post for Fiddlehead, one of the greatest bands ever to exist in this town. You can read my previous post here. I would like to truly thank Mike Haggerty and Geoey Cook for participating in the interview below, and providing so much history on the band. Thanks (i.e. tightly packed bowls) to Kip Thomas for loaning me his tape collection, so I could transfer all these shows. Much more is coming from this guy. Also thanks so much to Such As alumni Steve and Scott Wishart, who helped identify most of these songs on the recordings. Also, Mike wanted me to let you all know that the final show at the Midtown Music Hall (recorded by Henry Owings, of course) is to be enjoyed for nostalgic purposes only.

Fiddlehead Interview
Mike Haggerty (M) - bass, Geoey Cook (G) - vocals
2008-09-25 at 97 Estoria in Cabbagetown
James Joyce (J) – interviewer

J: Basically the idea was that I did the original Fiddlehead post on the blog without talking to either of you guys or Kip, I thought “all that stuff is pretty much out of print or really hard to find, and it’s some of the best local recordings out there”.

M: Unfortunately we’ve lost or taped over everything.  I’ve got some really great pieces like I’ve got one rejection letter from Jello Biafra and you can’t decipher what the fuck he’s saying.

G: But he liked our first single.

M: He loved us, and he said “thanks a lot, and we look forward to hearing more”, because Allied, the guy John Yates, was the graphic designer at AT (Alternative Tentacles), so he was going to hear all our stuff anyway, so Jello was like “I’m looking forward to hearing your record come out”, and then it was “sorry you didn’t make it to Alternative Tentacles”, but on the flip side…

G: I don’t think we would have been a good fit for AT anyway.

M: Yeah, they were kind of squirrelly at the time, but the thing with Allied was that they had such a varied sound. They really never had their own thing like a lot of the other labels did, and I think that was kind of their downfall, like an “emo-core” or something.

J: It was just too spread out.

M: It was really spread out. He really liked bands from the south for some reason, and that’s why he picked bands like Buzzoven and us and some other bands.

J: But it wasn’t so regional, it seemed like whatever he was into he would put out, like if it was from Chicago, or wherever.
G: He was a guy with a very wide variety of tastes. I remember when we were out with him in San Fran for 3 or 4 days, they guy was listening to everything from Jazz to AC/DC to the Jesus Lizard. But we met some neat bands. Strawman was a lot of fun, they were one of our label mates, we played some shows with them.

J: So much of the Allied catalog is gone because unless you listened to those bands or had those albums, they kind of disappeared. I don’t know where I could find a Strawman album these days.

G: A world of difference. And now I couldn’t even imagine the whole Myspace element to it, a completely different avenue to take now.

M: And even recording, Geoey was talking to Franklin doing that interview with the Swervedriver guy, and he was asking him “so who are you recording with?”…”recording with?” you don’t go to studios anymore, you got ProTools, you and your buddies sit around and top 40 records are made.

G: He was telling me he recorded a whole record of vocals on his Ibook.

M: Another thing is all of our stories … we didn’t have cameras. Video cameras were so expensive back then.

G: God I wish. I tried every year to get a video camera to take on tour, and I only knew two people that owned one and they were like “whoa, the thing’s like two thousand dollars, man, no way”.

M: And there’s really not a lot of video footage of us playing either.

J: It was kind of cool, like the “Waiting with Dave” stuff is heavy from that period, in it’s own way, but the “Deaf Waiter” stuff, Bruce turned down a little bit, took out a lot of the overdrive but it was wasn’t quiet music. It was kind of in this mutation stage, like the album after that would have come more to this point. It was really transitional, in a way. It’s kind of cool, because there’s not so many bands that are heavy and make quieter music that sounds anything like that. Sounds bizarre, really unique.

M: They kept billing us as avant garde, which I guess was like “nothing else like it, don’t really know what to tag it as”, and we got a lot of that. Of course there were people from the south always thought we sounded a lot like bands from Chicago, people from Chicago didn’t really see that element and saw more of the south in us, stuff like that.

J: What in the south did they see?

G: We got the Chicago sound more than anything.

M: I think there was kind of like a do it yourself, kind of backwoods, Slint-y kind of flair to it. I love Slint, and there’s no way them and us could ever be on the same league or playing field at all but sort of like that “twang”. Or whatever, that made it “not northern”. Or California, because California at the time was all “digigigigigi happy happy happy, political”, you know. Like “three chord monte” happy, political.

J: More pop-punk stuff.

G: And more like technical, I mean like the Jesus Lizard of course, that kind of sound, more mechanical, angry sound.

J: The type of rock that people of your age was making at that time. It was an element of the times, because a lot of those songs would be totally crazy to write them now, this is totally coming from somewhere else, but at the time it sounded more “in place”. My guess was that this is what the older guys were doing at the time. You didn’t really question it, you just thought it was cool.

M: We put a lot of time into making up the songs and putting them together in such a way, almost trying to throw the crowds off. Taking beats out, switching it up just a little bit. Basically we felt that all the little nuances on a record make it more durable. You can listen to it longer and go “wow, I never heard that little figure there before”. So we left a lot of that in there.

G: That’s a good way to put it, that it makes it more durable. And not that there’s any comparison between us and something like Bitch Magnet. Ben Hur, today is a great fucking album. It’s a great record because it has so many nuances, and so many layers.

J: That was from its time.

G: Very dated in the grand sense.

J: I wouldn’t say “dated” in a derogatory way at all, but that was the great music of that time. It took a long time for you guys to write songs. You said you would take a lot of time on songs, would you work on a song for a couple of months and really tear it apart? I know songs that Kip played on, Kyle played on later, and Kyle would totally switch it around drum-wise and bring in different dynamics to everything.

G: There was a lot of perfectionism in the band. There would be a never ending change of variations of the song. It would start out as one thing and end up as something totally different. We might take 5 or 6 months for that.

M: It was a big change for me, because when I was playing with John Brown, they guys that I was playing with were from GA Tech, and they were really rigid and would come in and have “A-prime, B-prime, C-prime”, and they would have this shit all mapped out. They would sit in their living room by themselves and they would come in and this was the song. Fiddlehead was never like that. There was never a controlled environment, it was always total chaos. We would come in with ideas, and it would be more of a jam session, but then it would result in a week or two, or maybe even a month of perfecting and pulling elements out and adding elements in. One of the contributions that I always ended making was that I was always the one to come up with the end of the songs. All the grandiose stuff, just basically taking things and tweaking it out a little bit, taking a beat out of it and adding something.

G: You would write a lot of the main stuff too. Some of our best songs Mike wrote without a doubt. Hard Genny, Waiting with Dave, Circles. All that early stuff.

M: Collaborating and working with Bruce, for the longest time that whole setup was very, very good. Basically it started coming apart when there was a lot of label interest, and it was too early of a time, you know, to be 21 and this lady from Warner Brothers telling us that we’re never going to have to work again and all this weird shit, and it fucks with your head. Then you record with Albini 3 months after Nirvana did, and then you have to sit and wait for all these people that sit in a room with all these suits on, and that was a different generation of AR at the time. They all died off and the next generation would have been totally like “hell yeah”.

J: That would have been the same era of the Jawbox’es, and other bands getting signed.

M: That’s what caused it – Nirvana’s going there and so is Fiddlehead. They thought we were going to be the next, in fact they offered us a spot in a gig in LA opening for Nirvana, but we couldn’t make it.

G: Yeah, and I regret that. We were supposed to play a seminar with Nirvana, and it was 3 or 4 months after that, Kurt was dead. I was like “damn, I wish we’d done that”. But it was one trip to LA, probably 2 grand.

M: We couldn’t finance it, we couldn’t have done it.

J: Realistically, these guys (the label) could have picked you guys up. I forget the terminology, when they pick you up and just hold you there. And then they just sit on you for a couple of years, and they just string you along and eventually they either put out your record and put you on that grind, or they just drop you.

M: It’s really weird because at the time Touch and Go was sending us letters, and we were recording with Albini and that recording was going in so many hands all at once and it was so nerve-racking. Just that whole experience, we should have recorded with David Barbe hands down. Hands fucking down.

G: It was interesting, we were talking with this girl from Touch and Go named Christa, right, and when we went up to Chicago, she just loved the Dod E stuff. So she was like “oh, can’t wait to hear this you guys, come by, we’ll do dinner, bla bla bla, whatever”, so we’re up there recording, and we dropped by unannounced, gave her the tape, and we never heard from her again. They were expecting that Dod E sound.

J: But then again, that’s such a monumental thing to do. To go back at that level and be like “let’s start over”. Fugazi can do it, but.
M: At that level, to have Steve Albini’s phone number, and to call him up, and to book a date, and to have Superchunk call and say “hey man…”

G: David Yow called when we were hanging around, and Steve was gone and the phone rang and I picked it up and I knew the second he said anything that it was David Yow.

M: Being young we were so impressioned by all that, and because we were such big fans of his but it was a big disaster, because it just didn’t turn out.

G: You don’t ever want to put together a record in front of somebody you have so much admiration for.

M: Half of those songs on the recording, most of those are single takes. We didn’t have a budget, we didn’t have a lot of time to do it, so basically everything was single take.

G: We did it in 3 days.

M: And it was all live. All separate rooms, and most of it me and Bruce were in the same room, and it was in his basement. You can imagine that setup, it’s pretty tight.

J: At that time, I guess. It’s funny, like on Refuel you can hear the difference recording it in a different place, like King Friday on both records. 

G: Overall it was a fantastic experience, and for me being so young, touring at that time was a whole different, not everybody was doing it at the level that we did. We did 3 national tours plus Canada. Those were the best summers I ever had. Just a blast, time of our lives.

J: No Europe, just US and Canada.
G: We were trying. We sold more records in Europe than anywhere.

M: That was the big dream. We never toured for our last record, so that was the plan, we were going to Europe.

J: It was all real patchy at that point, because after that record came out, it was really hard to see you guys.
G: There was only a couple of shows after that record came out.

M: We played the Rodan show and that was it.

J: I don’t even look at it that way, because to me it was a great local release. Local heroes that are making the big album, and the Dod E stuff the same way. This is a band playing cool music in our town that we can actually buy their album.

G: You can see them at Somber Reptile every weekend!

J: But they are on a national label, and they have real distribution. Everyone else is putting out their own 7”s, or demo tape.

M: That was my approach as a manager. I always thought outside the box, being Atlanta. I pretty much ignored Atlanta and started working the nation.

G: Mike was responsible for every out of town show. Booked all 3 tours using Book Your Own Fucking Life. He spent 8 months on the phone to put together a 6 week tour.

M: The other thing was, I would make decisions, and at the time you are 21, how the fuck are you going to make a decision about Warner Brothers?

G: You booked the first tour at 19, you turned 21 on the second tour.

M: I was really too young to be making these decisions.

J: But it’s good life training. Touring trains you for everything. So much about life I learned from touring or skating.

G: Absolutely.

M: Our first tour we fished change out of the capitol fountain. Me and Doug just rolled up and “fuck it, we’re hungry, we want a cheeseburger”. So that’s the kind of tour it was.

G: For me at that time, we were young, we were broke. I think I made $500 a month or something at the time. The first tour, we were hungry. We ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly. The second tour we basically broke even. I left home with $200, I came home with $200. And the last tour, I left home with $200 and came home with $400, so we could make a living off this, I was having the time of my life. When you’re that age, you can live off 5 bucks a day.

J: Did you use the band fund for everything you did on tour?

G: I forgot what the percentage was, but let’s say we got paid $100. Each person would get $10 and $60 would go into the gas.

M: These guys would steal whatever was left that we needed. Food, they were the biggest friggin thieves.

J: Would you leave town with $5 in your pocket and go “okay, I gotta make this work”?

M: Totally - it was nuts. Leave town, pay your bills and have a box of strings, and that was 50 bucks. I hope we can make it!

G: I remember we could totally easily live off of $5 each. We ate a lot of 69 cent bean burritos from Taco Bell, tons of peanut butter and jelly, junk.

M: Garbage – shit we would never eat now.

G: It was awesome times, and the thing that blew me away the most was that, when you play in town, pretty much you play for your friends, always. It’s always the same 30 people that are there.

M: Not after they did that Creative Loafing article. That show, there was so many fucking people there that I’ve never seen before that just showed up.

G: That’s true, but I’m talking about touring. From the beginning, and our biggest show we played was in Vancouver. We were 4000 miles from home, and we had people singing along, that knew the words, it was crazy.

J: That’s what Allied does for you.

M: There’s more fans in Europe than in the US.

G: We got lots of foreign fan mail, from France, Germany, Ireland. It was fun.

J: Did you play a lot of houses at first, or were you always sticking to clubs?

M: We kind of did. We payed our dues, like all other bands.

J: Playing clubs is paying dues too, at least at the house the person who lives there will be at the show.

M: We would take, for example, Green Day put an ad in MRR, “we’re going on tour, call our home number” and play a show with us. I was like “hey, what’s up Billy Joe, we’re in Atlanta and we want to set up a show” so we set up the shows. So that way, obviously we’re going to fucking open up, so we got Green Day coming. Shit like that.

J: And they would help you out, hopefully, in San Francisco.

M: Yeah, we did play in San Fran, but it wasn’t as a result of them. It was more from Allied. But we played with them, they were there.

G: That was at the moment that Dookie broke.

M: They had all brand new equipment, all that shit and it was packed.

G: It was a totally different scene. When we played with them here, they stayed a Mike’s house.

J: Was that the one at the Existentialist Church?

G: Yeah, we’ve got that on tape actually.

J: I missed that one. We couldn’t find it, that was the problem. We were driving around in a car. I was 15, and we could have been in another part of Atlanta for all I knew, but definitely not in Candler Park.
M: It’s so funny that it’s right there by Little 5.

J: And now you pass it everyday.

M: I don’t know how we found that venue, but that’s the kind of things that we were doing back then, which was thinking outside of the box of what most other people were doing. We would get in the van, and then try to find the venue and it would be some crazy shit like that. We also did Staab – John Staab from GI, we did a show for him there. It was a lot of fun meeting a lot of crazy new people.

J: Getting out of town is the big deal.
M: Then you become local legend. As soon as you leave town …

G: Everyone’s reaction is different. When you’re playing even in Charlotte, they’re like “you’re the out of town band, you’re not our friends that play here every night”. That was the thing that blew me away was that the reaction was totally different. We never get that at home.

M: There were some really great moments, like in Vancouver, and that other time when that guy said “oh man, my arm’s broken, I gotta get out of here” and he’s in the pit and we didn’t usually have a pit at our show, but we were in North Carolina, so they do pits there and he had a broken arm and he said “hey man, help me out” so I pull him onto the stage, they guy climbs onto the speaker set and dives into the crowd. Okay bro, help me out!

J: So there was Third Season, and you switch singers and you (Geoey) come in, and there’s Fiddlehead, Kip is gone and Kyle comes in and you knew Kyle from…

M: From a band called Figure. We saw them at the Wreck Room, and basically he said “I want to jam with you guys”, which we already had a drummer, so we all kind of huddled, and we were like “let’s just see what’s going on”.

G: The minute we saw him, we were like “damn, that kid’s good”. At the time he was like 13, drum solos like Neil Peart, it was insane. I don’t know if you ever heard any of the Figure stuff, but it was very radio friendly. So we were like “this kid’s great”, and then Mike and Bruce jammed with him, sort of behind Kip’s back.

M: We basically wrote “Waiting with Dave” in a day, and we were like “there’s no way we can not play this song again”.

J: It’s hard to go up against Kyle, that’s the deal. If you’re going to go up against Kyle, you’re going to lose.

G: He told us straight up that he wanted to play for our band, bottom line.

M: Kip has a handful of drum beats, he still does. And they’re good. And so does Kyle for that matter, but Kyle’s very dynamic.
G: Kyle’s got a lot of variety in him. He just throws all kinds of little extras in there and he’s got good stage presence.

J: Because you only had the Moneyman 7” and demo with Kip on it, and you did one or two tours with him?
M: We did one tour with him – in ’91.

J: And Kyle kind of ended the band as well. He moved on.

M: Yeah, he did. He moved to Athens.

J: And he was already in the Martians by that point. Because I remember he played with you guys at the Midtown Music Hall with Rodan, and the next night at the 40 Watt with the Martians and Rodan.

M: Yeah, and Kip got his just reward when he took Bruce. Kip pulled Bruce out of Fiddlehead for Freemasonry. We were about to get Jerry (Fuchs) to play drums for Fiddlehead. And Bruce quit before that happened.

J: That would have been a weird switch, because it would have been from Fiddlehead to Martians and Martians to Fiddlehead. Switching the drummers.

M: It was a big distraction, and it probably would have done us a lot of good not to have it happen. And I think I have a lifelong fear of success. There is something that always stops me a few steps short from really knocking a homer.

Here are also some random thoughts pulled together by Mike Haggerty:

The GNR story…

We were traveling across the upper 48 and going from the Midwest to the east coast. We had noticed a lot of the same nights we were overlapping dates that GNR were playing. So as we were cruising on a toll road in Pennsylvania, we came across two big tour busses. We had a hunch it was them but we confirmed it when we saw the backstage pass hanging in the driver’s window. At the time I thought they were a bunch of douchebags so I had the idea we ought to moon ‘em and write GNR on one of my ass cheeks and SUX on the other as we went by both tour busses. Our tour helper and comic relief manager, Doug Ahern had the task of writing it on my ass as we barreled down the highway just behind the GNR caravan. We went by the first bus with my ass hanging out and not much happened. As we passed the second bus you could see the silhouette of Slash’s fro and the cig dangling and a couple of bimbos sitting at a card table in the middle of the bus on our side. As we approached the bus the bimbos opened the window and hung out of the window, shot us a bird and were screaming fuck you! Doug managed to get the prep photos which are on the page. The tragedy of it was the he also slung open the side door of the van and tried to get the money-shot of the bimbos flailing but the camera was out of film or did not work.

There was a-whole-nother element to this band with regard to our mischievousness. Really, the other guys. The fact that if you did not pay us for our show as contracted we would often leave with a new microphone. We really did not care if we were blackballed. The Milwaukee story about the fire extinguishers and firecrackers is a good example of that. And you forgot to mention that we threw two packs of black cats in that house and then unloaded the entire fire extinguisher. The gutter punks wrote a whiney letter to our label saying we were a great band but we were a bunch of assholes. That evening we camped out and ate humbling “chicken dogs” roasted on a stick with much laughter. We were fearless. Bruce was at a punk show in the late 90’s and one of the bands playing was from Milwaukee. Anyways, the guy comes up to Bruce and says, “You ever heard of Fiddlehead?” Bruce did not know what to say and just hesitated long enough to let the guy say, “Those fucking guys trashed my friends house. What a bunch of assholes? I would like to have a word with them.” Bruce then answered, “No, man. I have never heard of them.”

When I played with Fiddlehead and opened up for Fugazi to a totally packed house at the Masquerade, I was a senior in high school. I remember chicks that would not speak to me in the halls at high school were all suddenly my friend. Some of them came up to say hi after the show. There was awkward conversation like ”Hi, I’m Cheryl. I was in your home-ec class.” I was officially a bad ass but I was so out of touch socially that I never realized it. Nor did I stray from my long-time girlfriend until that became a long distance deal much later.

I think the story of sort of a fearless abortion of a band and all our experiences would make a fucking awesome movie. I think people your age and mine are starving for something like that that shows cool old bands from the 90’s on the marquee again. To show the sense of naivety and optimism that existed before 911. When kids were heavily involved in the music scene. Back when Atlanta was not such a cosmopolitan city and still suffered from the damage done in the civil war and had kind of a bad name in the north and out west. Now A&R people look this direction and back then I don’t think people really did that much. Being from the south was a negative thing.

We got to meet all of our heros:
Kurt Cobain & Nirvana
Page Hamilton & Helmet
John Staab from G.I.
Bobby Sullivan from Soul Side
GvsB and the rest of Soul Side
Steve Albini
Green Day at the rise to their household brand
Volcano Suns

And that’s what was really priceless.



  1. great post and interview. it brings back alot of memories. mike is right on in describing the differences between the scene in atlanta then and now... it was such an outsider thing then compared to the rest of the country. other cities you could literally start a band and have a network already established to get the word out. you had to get out and navigate the waters to get out of atlanta. fiddlehead played with alot of noteworthy shows here in town that were tough to get people to. there was a small group of people who were really into things, and apathy otherwise... unless it was straight hardcore etc.

    i really liked 'the deaf waiter' alot. i liked the prior material too but really appreciated the departure. the last stuff was a bit more nuanced to me and i was sad that it was never expanded upon. very interesting comments about those last recording sessions. kind of like freemasonry's last recording... maybe could have been done a little better locally. i think every one of us who were making music during that time that showed potential wishes we could have some do-overs.

  2. I am ashamed to admit that, aside from knowing that there was a band from Atlanta called Fiddlehead, I didn't know jack about this band back in the day. They didn't play "local" shows much, so I never had a chance to see 'em. It wasn't until Freemasonry came about that I learned much of anything about Fiddlehead.

    All I knew at the time was that they were somehow loosely associated with Nirvana, and that was more than enough to keep a lot of us away from their shows. What can I say? Open mindedness wasn't one of the Gwinnett scene's strengths.

    I would also emphatically second Matt's point that ALL of us making records back then has quite a few cringe-worthy performances captured on vinyl/cassette/CD.

  3. Hey Carter - just wait till Brad starts digging into his archives. There are going to be some real skeletons coming out of closets in Gwinnett County!

    At least I got mine out of the way early - check out the Midget Farmer motherload post.

  4. Is a tracklist possible for:
    The Wreck Room and WMFU?
    Thanks, great post! Fiddlehead for the win! :))