I was totally about to post Slughive’s self-titled self-released 1995 cassette EP as part of The Centipede Files, but found that one of the band members, Joel Anderson, later of The Vidablue/Ten Grand and then Tornavalanche, had beat me to it putting up a Facebook page for Slughive containing a link to a downloadable Soundcloud set of aforementioned cassette. These guys were local regulars of the mid-’90s Boat House scene in Cedar Falls that I mentioned in the earlier Behemoth post, and one of the most loved therein. They started out under the name Wormhole, and after catching one of their early shows I wrote in Clipper Gore something to the effect that they were awesome and sounded kinda like Season To Risk gone off the rails. Get set for some heady, aggressive noise rock and check it out.
Via the We Hate Music podcast, I heard of a new website out there looking to pull together information about Des Moines music and musical happenings in one convenient location, Quarter After 5. I really dig the idea. Hopefully it doesn’t become merely another outlet for all the same local bands you already hear about everywhere else. Since it seems to be open to submissions, I’d say that’s only a matter of who gets involved with it. So please, go submit your band and help this thing be awesome.
They have a pretty interesting blog over there, and I was reading through some recent posts, and something really struck me. First there’s this bit from an interview with Brent Dean of La Strange:
Q: What’s your take on the local music scene?
A: The local music scene in Des Moines is really frustrating. There are so many bands and it seems like anyone can get a show and that anything passes as a band. I remember once I went to a show on a Tuesday night and the band opening came on an hour late, then the next band came on late and I was really pissed off because I was going to either miss seeing the band or stay up until 2, so I started shouting the name of the band I wanted to see. I guess with La Strange I just never want to be the guy people are waiting for to get off so they can see the band they came for.
Now, I’m not one of these guys that gets my panties twisted up if somebody dares to say something about local music that isn’t 100% glowing positive cheerleading. In fact, I hate that “if you don’t have anything [nice](http://092.me)” attitude, I think it’s poisonous and lets mediocrity flourish. I think if you think a band sucks, you should say so. It will either spur them to get better, or help them to weed out the element that doesn’t “get” what they’re trying to do. And I don’t know this guy, and never even heard of his band. But reading this bit, apart from the very last sentence anyway, just kinda made me think “geez, this guy sounds like a dick.” “Anyone can get a show and anything passes as a band”? Well dear sir, please do enlighten us on what your definition of a real band is, so we needn’t waste our time with anyone else. Also, guess what dude, at rock shows, sometimes shit happens. It sucks that a band you like got one set delayed because some noobs of the sort that play opening slots on Tuesday nights at the sort of the venues to whom it wouldn’t occur to just move one of the other bands’ set up to fill the time, couldn’t get their shit together. But this anecdote hardly serves as evidence that the local music scene as a whole is “really frustrating.” It seems to boil down to that this guy’s perspective on the music scene is that he’s bummed out that his amazing self has to slum it among lesser talents. Well then, go move to a city where only bands that measure up to your personal standard exist. Good luck finding it.
Then, the very next article, an interview with the always awesome Patrick Tape Fleming of Poison Control Center, we get this very contrasting perspective:
It is so important to say how incredible the Des Moines, Iowa, music scene is right now. The best bands in American [sic] are in Iowa right now and I think we need to make it a point to tour and show the country what we got going on here. I mean, coming back from SXSW, we played in Arkansas with Utopia Park and Mumfords and people were saying “holy shit, what’s going on in Iowa?” It’s incredible. I think it’s great we can roll into a town and they say it’s amazing. I can list at least 25 bands that are so great in Des Moines and Ames alone right now.
This might be verging on the cheerleading I called out above, but I can tell you that Pat’s enthusiasm is genuine and what he’s voicing here is closer to my experience of the music scene in central Iowa right now. It’s got areas in which it could use growth, but the number of quality musicians and projects they engage in is really something right now.
It seems like Pat’s attitude toward music and what makes it good is very different than this Brent guy’s. It is my personal theory that an environment closer to “anyone can get a show and anything passes as a band” is exactly what causes a thriving music scene. It gives new musicians and new ideas a way to get started and gives existing musicians room to experiment without needing an official stamp of approval from people who think that their idea of a real or good band has to apply to everyone. Without that, a lot of people who would otherwise have a chance to grow into great musicians might instead just conclude that music-making is for other, special people. And that would be a damn shame.
Around 1994 or 1995 a bunch of copies of this homemade cassette album appeared in the “local artists” display at the since-defunct Co-Op Records in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It’s awesome — old-school industrial electronica with a dark sense of humor, seemingly made on an old Macintosh with really grungy low-bitrate sampling. It’s all glitchy and dirty and noisy and kicks all kinds of ass. I played the hell out of my copy back in the day, and I made this 192Kbps mp3 digitization from that copy with my computer. A few years ago I managed to track down online the Robert Williams credited, exchanged some emails, he imparted that he made this album while a student at University of Northern Iowa, made mention of possibly putting it up online, then nothing came of it and I lost all track of the guy. So now I’ve gone and done it myself because this is too good not to share.
I love reading a good interview with a musician that actually has some good ideas and philosophies about music, art, what-have-you, instead of just talking about the mundane aspects of their current work. A recent couple interviews with Dylan Carlson of Earth have been especially thoughtful and I thought I’d share a couple of my favorite bits from this Q & A from Alarm Magazine that was posted to Facebook the other day:
on talent and authenticity:
We have all these myths and representations of music and art, like it’s something for other people to do rather than for everybody. Like the Amadeus myth that there are just born these phenomenal musicians, and the rest of us can only mash our teeth and plot to murder them because they’ve been given this gift that we don’t have. I absolutely abhor that whole myth.
The reason Mozart was Mozart was because his dad started training him when he was four. The reason Jimi Hendrix was a great guitarist was because he played guitar 18 hours a day. They put in the work; that’s why they were good. Everyone wants to go out and be on American Idol and be a star and believe there are people that are somehow just naturally gifted, but that’s bullshit. Ultimately, if you want to do music, and you put in the work, you’ll do something worthwhile.
on the meditative aspect of Earth’s music:
I remember a brief time when I was homeless, and the most frustrating thing of that whole experience was that there was just no place that you were allowed to be, where you didn’t have to be buying something, or paying for something.
There are no more places in the world for people to just be; you have to be doing something or spending money or being involved in an exchange. It’s really frustrating. In the old days in England, before the Enclosure Act, there used to be a thing called “the commons,” which no one was allowed to own, and anyone could use it, or they could just leave it alone [laughs]. That whole concept is gone
on whether bands need to tour more to stay “financially solvent:”
My hope is that live music will become more important, like it used to be, but the economics of that don’t always work out. Back when music was big live, there was no TV, no radio; we didn’t have 24 hours of Internet porn [laughs], so we’ve got competition now.
I definitely think people seem more excited about live music than they used to be, and they want to see bands that can actually play their instruments as opposed to backing tracks and dance routines, and that kind of spectacle.
I’m not sure where I stand on that last one, I mean, I love live music, but when you live outside the small few major urban centers of the country, the bigger or even mid-level bands aren’t coming to play where you can easily get to. I hear of so many bands I really want to see just passing by (or even right through) Des Moines or even all of Iowa like we don’t matter. So to be a music fan out here, you kinda have to be a bit of a record nerd, or else stick pretty heavily to your regional acts. Also it’s hard to say how the profitability of touring will hold up against the continuing rising cost of fuel. But it’s definitely all worth thinking about.
Last Saturday night April 2nd, if you’re a Des Moines music fan who wasn’t at either Gross Domestic Product, or the English Beat show at 504 Club, or seeing the classic Guided By Voices lineup at Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, or at whatever Residents show Matthew Dake of You Are Home said he was going to, chances are you were either at home or where I was, the Jucifer show at Vaudeville Mews. Apparently that’s a few of you because it was a decent crowd.
The first thing people always think/say about Jucifer is their volume level. They bring along an epic wall of speakers for Mrs. Jucifer’s guitar, show up hours in advance of the show to set them all up and test them out, and they sit there taking up half the stage while all the opening bands play. It’s pretty impressive and I don’t envy their job lugging that gear around and setting it up night after night, but it’s easy to end up thinking that that’s pretty much all there is to them. But the experience is a draw in itself.
Longshadowmen, in the Isaac + drummer duo lineup, opened the show, Isaac bringing his Leslie and an Ampeg 8×10 bass rig to play his guitar through. Apparently he adjusts the presentation to suit what he’s booked with. This setup gave his blues riffs a sound of rusty machinery. Sad Fucks were pretty meh for me, except that something about what they seemed to be going for reminded me of the Eggnogs. But they could stand to cut loose and variate things a bit more. Their multi-color-mohawked bassist graciously lent me his bass when I broke a string on mine during Fetal Pig’s set and couldn’t get a new one installed quick enough. It was his backup though, because he had also broken a string during their set. Coincidence. After our set came Midnight Ghost Train, touring with Jucifer, who brought the southern-fried riff-crunch. I wonder if anyone at, say, The Obelisk or Meteorcity has yet turned on to these guys, they were pretty great.
I think the acoustics of the Mews favored Jucifer better than the last/first time I saw them, when The Cactus Rats opened for them at The Reverb (old location in downtown in Cedar Falls) a bunch of years ago. It was loud but not as painfully so as before, so I was actually able to make out the guitar riffs clearly enough to get that what they’re doing is actually rather musical. Being able to let one long chord ring out for several seconds and then nail the next one dead-on without even looking at each other is quite a skill too. Given that I had fully expected to be in a grouchy mood by this time, they actually cheered me up a bit and were engaging enough for me to stick around for their whole set.
Week before last had some fun goings-on in it too. Tuesday the 22nd Dan and I did a two-piece acoustic-ish version of Why Make Clocks in between Longshadowmen — this time as acoustic guitar through the house system, Longshadowlady’s ghostly backup vocals, and some dramatic/spastic guest drumming from the drummer of Spirits Of The Red City (supposedly known as a free-jazz guy from Chicago) — and the headliner Spirits Of The Red City. Next to nobody showed up so we had an intimate evening of playing music for each other. There is little “city” about Spirits Of The Red City, they come off like some plains cult based out of a remote old farmhouse, standing or seated all near each other, wearing antique clothes, talking amongst themselves, playing spooky ghost-folk, inviting the audience such as there was to sit on the stage with them. For their first number, a musical setting of this weird old nursery rhyme, they also included a puppet show, which they set up from an old suitcase with a scrolling backdrop, using marionettes made from animal skulls. These crummy blackberry phone photos probably don’t do it justice, but it was very [nice](http://092.me)ly done. They turned out to be a quite friendly crew, I get the impression Isaac is old friends with them.
That Friday Fetal Pig played an early all-ages show with The Great Sabatini and Omens. Both were great. We got asked to play last, which is usually a bad sign, but not so much this time, as people stuck around. Omens is local, includes Luke Rauch of Druids on guitar, and has a little more hardcore vibe in them than does Druids but no less sludgy detunedness. The Great Sabatini were another loud stoner-doom band with no bass guitars — actually their bassist couldn’t make it, so the guitarist with the super long hair and whimsical wax-curled mustache filled in some low end with an octave pedal. They were probably one of the [nice](http://092.me)st friendliest bands I’ve ever been on a bill with, but that matters less to you as the music fan than that they rocked hard, putting up an amiable fun approach to big cosmic gloomy doom riffs.
I went back out the next night because the bill had two bands on it I love. When I’d heard locals Rhonda Is A Dead Bitch had a show coming up I was like “yeah I want to go,” and then when I later heard Pharmacy Spirits (from Lincoln) were on the bill too, it became more of a “HELL YEAH I want to go!” Opening band Kong Vs. Kong was kind of a cheezy punk rock cover band that I think I heard was basically the guys from Horseshoe Spatulas. I mean, who opens their set with “Search And Destroy?” You’d better be a Grade-A Badass to try and pull that off. Their playing was tight, but what they were doing seemed out of place. I think Betty Buzzkill already kinda does it better, or at least more believably.
Rhonda were set to go on second but someone tried to talk them into going on last. I am just so sick of this happening. Forgive me if I sound bitter, but it’s been done to me dozens of times. Basically what happens is either the headliner(s) are feeling lazy and want to finish early so they can go party or something, or there’s a particular band that they’re irrationally scared will clear the place out (if there were a “local band most likely to clear a room” title, admittedly Rhonda would be a strong candidate, and proudly so), or I don’t know what, but for some reason they have the soundman or somebody approach some little-known, ill-respected or challenging band on the bill and ask them to “headline,” which sounds to an inexperienced musician like you’re getting a kind of promotion from “opener” status, but by which they really mean, play to an empty room at 1 in the fucking morning. Maybe this happens because somebody overbooks the show in the first place. No 10PM show should have 5 acts on it and I personally think 4 is pushing it and 3 is the sweet spot; if I were booking I would require a pretty compelling reason to add a 4th act to any show. Bookers need to focus on putting together a quality show for the music fans instead of on trying to be a [nice](http://092.me) guy doing favors for every friend-of-a-friend in a band that emails asking if they can jump on some particular bill (usually one that happens to have a particularly tasty headliner). It’s also confusing for the people that come out for the show too, when the order of bands gets shuffled around at the last minute. Fucking booking guys should try being in bands and see how they like that shit getting pulled on them when they go play out of town. Rant over.
Thankfully Jason and crew stood their ground and went on second like originally intended. They could stand to work on the speed of their set-up, but we’ll just leave that there. First time I saw them I liked them because they made such an unholy racket. Then they surprised me by coming out with a record with a heavy presence of 70s electronics vibe on it, and at the release show they pulled in a tight succinct set of short guitar-noise-pop numbers. This time they were in a cosmic shoegaze mode like a mashup of My Bloody Valentine with Hawkwind. Logan, on sound, seemed to have difficulty dealing with Jason’s wall of distortion. The loud noise jams over hypnotic repeating chord progressions meandered into trying-your-patience lengths until the house lights were brought up on them, much to Jason’s delight. And, as it turns out, the room didn’t clear out after all.
I love Pharmacy Spirits’ Teen Challenge album, which they now had vinyl copies of for sale. Under better monetary circumstances I’d have likely bought one. Their lineup was down to a three-piece this show, and I’m not sure Jim Reilly is accustomed to doing the lead guitar parts, as he seemed to have an excessive predilection for just randomly flailing at his guitar making noise instead of the great melodies they usually have. They went at it with reckless energy to spare, which went over gangbusters with most of the crowd, but for me seemed needlessly sloppy and tossed-off, and as such a little bit disappointing.
Look Out Loretta did a cowpunk kind of thing and did it quite well. My friend Ben M down in Dallas would really dig them. They’re worth keeping an eye on. The headliner (official as well as actual) who went on at 1AM, but to a house that was still rockin’ with rowdy music fans, was a fellow named St. Christopher, also from Lincoln, who I guess was going to some kind of punk-bluesman thing, standing up on stage by himself in a suit playing a hollowbody guitar through a Marshall, stomping on an amplified board and shouting tunelessly about getting drunk. Didn’t really turn me on much, maybe I was tired.
No shows coming up as of now. I’d really love to get out around Iowa and play some gigs, preferably clumped into little mini-tours to make it worthwhile, but I have inadequate transportation equipment to the purpose and am ill-situated to do anything about it. If perchance I can ride along in your van for a few days, get in touch. I’ve just recorded a bunch of stuff, both Distant Trains and Chuck Hoffman material. Meanwhile, we’re mixing the Fetal Pig record in a couple weeks and we have some really trick-looking Fetal Pig t-shirts available, designed by Nathan Thrailkill and printed by Nate Fetus, and every one we sell gets us a little closer to putting out the album.
Posted today to the Mortville Noise blog — please spread the word:
I’ve learned recently that my friend Heather Makar has suffered an extremely serious and life threatening injury. This injury has resulted in an extended stay in the Intensive Care Unit at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg. Since experiencing two massive brain aneurysms in February, Heather has shown us all once again her strength and her courage to fight and to overcome. She has beaten every odd placed in front of her and shows a remarkable determination to see this through. Her partner Mike continues to provide love and support by remaining always close to Heather’s side through this difficult time, as do her children and family.
A benefit show has been organized in Winnipeg to help raise money for Mike and her children. If you’re in the area, you should go. A silent auction is being held at the show, so I decided to donate some Mortville test pressings (among other things) that are of no use to me other than to make me feel important about something that in the grand scheme of things means very little. I’ve decided instead of sitting back and saying “I wish there was something I could do to help” to actually do something to help.
It’s been decided that I would be able to get more money from these records if I sold them myself because attendance to the benefit show in Canada is required to bid on the silent auction. Instead, I will be auctioning these myself outside of eBay. The auction will run until the date of the benefit show, April 21st 2011.
Head on over to Mortville for details and a list of the records up for auction — an impressive list including stuff by Rupture, Meatshits, Scroungers, and more — including, incredibly, the Sockeye/Ross Daily split 7″.