Sunday, September 21, 2014

dredge too far #2 - the anthologist-archaeologist explains

Nick Soulsby, the chap behind Soul Jazz's No Seattle compilation of ultra-obscure North West US grunge-adjacent bands, explains the thinking behind the project:

"Basically, "No Seattle" was my idea. The kind people at Soul Jazz took a look at the music and felt it was worth hearing - that aural quality was the first consideration they had alongside a desire to see a story, a reason behind a release such as this. I'd always loved how their releases have a tale to tell, something to be read not just heard, that seems to bestow great respect upon the music they release and the choices they make

"Why these bands? Well, there's a website called I had become fascinated by all these forgotten bands rubbing shoulders with future 'Godheads' so went and found them. I created a book to be published by St Martin's Press next March - an oral history of Nirvana told via the tales and experiences of 170 of the bands they played with. The book is called "I Found My Friends" because the emphasis became one focused on community and a shared life - right to the end Nirvana treated their fame as something to be shared with their friends and those they admired and my interest was more in these people helping, supporting and creating with one another rather than in the oh-so-overdone trials and tribulations of being famous. 

"Throughout, people kept sending me music and kept surprising me; "wow! I know a lot of the North West musicians were adverse to engaging with 'the business' and actively hated 'the media' but how tha heck did no one ever notice this?!" I kept hearing things I thought were genuinely good. I decided to take a chance, wrote to the label and proposed they do a release about the bands who weren't sold by Sub Pop. Why? Well, in a region receiving so little attention it was easy for an awful lot of bands to slip below the radar - name a North West U.S. label of that time? Basically, Sub Pop is the only one to sell and that's because it sold a very packaged product, mimicked mainstream rock and then bought a ticket for a U.K. journalist to come visit them. If it wasn't for Nirvana even Sub Pop would be as obscure to most music consumers as Alternative Tentacles, Touch & Go or New Alliance...Or more pertinently, as obscure to most as Kill Rock Stars, K, PopLlama, Rathouse, eMpTy, C/Z, Velvetone...

"An interesting point you raise is what criteria should decide whether something can be the subject to a retrospective? There seems to be the suggestion in what you write that being noticed by the media at the time is the crucial factor - but then that would seem to get us into Van Gogh territory whereby if an unknown doesn't make it 'at that time' then there can and should be no resurrection for them. It also seems to suggest (I'm not saying intentionally) that not even coming close to 'making it' is a higher arbiter of value and worth than any musical quality or interest it might possess? Perhaps that's Velvet Underground territory - unless an individual's later success retrospectively resurrects the value of their earlier work (not a ludicrous idea at all.) 

"In this case, Bundle of Hiss are the direct predecessor of Tad; one individual goes on to be Mudhoney's drummer; Seattle's uber-producer Jack Endino plays on the record and is producer for a number of pieces; three of Nirvana's drummers are on the record (the aforementioned individual from Mudhoney plus Aaron Burckhard and Dave Foster); a gentleman from Nubbin goes on to work with Yoko Ono; Starfish are recorded by Bob Mould and released by King Coffey of Butthole Surfers; Patty Schemel of Hole plays with Small Stars...In terms of linkage to bands and artists featured more in the media glare there's plenty...But of course there are plenty of further questions to be asked regarding what role or instrumental contribution could or should legitimately command attention... Or which phase of a band's existence someone should be present for in order to be worth remembering... 

"I felt there was a story to tell about a region that wasn't noticed at all until 1989-1990, that managed to sell one single style of music to the world and only became remembered because a particular band blew up. You're right that I feel there's a gap for a properly comprehensive and respectful study of the origins and peak of the grunge scene, the bands immediately behind Soundgarden/Mudhoney/Nirvana on the Sub Pop roster - but that opportunity wasn't one I had open to me. I saw a lot of good musicians, in a region that lacked the infrastructure to bring them to mass attention, who broke up for all the usual reasons bands brake up and who varied significantly from the 'grunge template'...It doesn't mean it's 28 tracks worth of Smells Like Teen Spirit uni-glory, it does mean that there's 28 tracks memorialising a region that had a lot more going on that just "long greasy hair, stubble, sloppy Black Sabbath and black n' white cover shots (no girls allowed.)" That alternative felt worth showing - the 'Seattle sound' could have been something very different and maybe the counter factual has some points of interest... "

1 comment:

  1. cheers Nick

    what you say makes perfect sense

    also there is no objective cut-off point for when something is worthy of reclamation/reissue

    in Retromania, the question of cultural memory and what's worth preserving / rescuing from history's dumpster is raised specifically in reference to Numero Uno - with the implication being that some degree of forgetting is a necessary function within any culture

    Numero Uno’s approach reminds me of anthropology. Those city-based things they do remind me of this well-respected anthropologist Ruth Finnegan who did a survey of all music-making activity in Milton Keynes. Every last band, in every genre, pretty much. But her criteria were not aesthetic or critical, she was looking at things sociologically and in terms of the function of amateur music-making in a British community.

    With Numero Uno I think they can perhaps feel that the soul music they tend to specialize was not properly covered in its own time, was marginalized by the media for racial or regional reasons. Often it’s very solid music, but whether it really warrants being re-presented to a new audience who may not be that familiar even with Al Green or Stevie Wonder, let alone a regional great like ZZ Hill.... is a moot point.

    I think with rock though, certainly by the mid-Eighties, the independent label system and the small magazine / fanzine system was pretty efficient as a way of finding local DIY talent and elevating it to its proper level. Certainly with the UK music papers, there was both an external dynamic (competition between the papers – you had four weeklies plus ZigZag, as well as a number of big selling zines) and an internal dynamic (with the weeklies 51 issues a year, loads of writers all looking to make a name for themselves) that probably erred on the side of giving attention to new bands too early. It doesn’t feel like many deserving cases slipped through the net. Situation wasn’t quite the same in the US cos of no weeklies, but there was Spin, Puncture, Option, Alternative Press, local alt-weeklies on the Village Voice model.... it was also the heyday of zines...

    But then my appetite for grunge isn't that high in the first place... i'm pretty much Nirvana, maybe a few bits by Soundgarden, perhaps a few other things....

    with something i'm voracious for, i've lot more tolerance for the hopelessly obscure, the second-division and third-division.... The redundancy factor doesn't kick until things get really mediocre, really inessential... Hardcore and jungle tekno being prime examples of this uncritical insatiability, see