photo & text by nacrowe
my introduction to GARBAGE was the music video for the song "STUPID GIRL" off their self-titled debut GARBAGE (ALMO, 1995) record which i saw on MTV at a relative's house in NEW JERSEY in the summer of 1996. it was my first trip stateside since my family's move to NIGERIA and it was during that impressionable period that i similarly discovered METALLICA and RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE among several other bands.
obviously the first thing i noticed was how ridiculously COOL and POWERFUL a front-woman SHIRLEY MANSON was (and still is). usually women in bands have to put up with a bullshit double-standard and have to come off submissive, coquettish and demure to be accepted, but here was a dynamic SCOTTISH woman that took no prisoners. just an absolute force of nature. tracks like "VOW," "I'M ONLY HAPPY WHEN IT RAINS," "QUEER", "SUPERVIXEN" and the aforementioned "STUPID GIRL" convey a forceful INNER STRENGTH while paradoxically projecting an affecting sense of VULNERABILITY. MANSON is so compelling a singer that it is easy to take her for granted, which is why i think she should be regarded as one of the great ALTERNATIVE ROCK singers of the period without question. right up there with LAYNE STALEY, CHRIS CORNELL, SCOTT WEILAND, KURT COBAIN, SHANNON HOON and PERRY FARRELL. i know i just listed a bunch of dudes, but that is kind of the sad fact about MANSON in that she was one of a rare breed of ALTERNATIVE ROCK front-women that played by their own rules (the nearest analogue i can think of within the genre is COURTNEY LOVE or DONITA SPARKS).
just as crucial an ingredient is the production. GARBAGE stands as a seminal record during the period for its revolutionary hybrid sound that seemed to marry ALTERNATIVE ROCK with droning SHOEGAZE-inspired textures and POST-PUNK and SYNTH POP-inspired electronic flourishes. there were bands that played with this hybrid sound before and after, but GARBAGE perfected it and popularized it. its interesting to consider that the band has not one but three record producers as members in that of BUTCH VIG, STEVE MARKER and DUKE ERIKSON (all having been involved to differing degrees with SMART STUDIOS). VIG of course being widely celebrated for his singular production work with NIRVANA's NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) and the SMASHING PUMPKINS' GISH (CAROLINE, 1991) and SIAMESE DREAM (VIRGIN, 1993) records among others. it is a testament to his production abilities as well as capacity for collaboration that GARBAGE sounds nothing like either band. GARBAGE is its own sonic animal.
my favorite track on the record is "MILK" which i have long found deeply affecting. during this period i felt culturally ISOLATED being abroad in a new environment away from my childhood friends in CALIFORNIA. being in middle school is difficult enough, but the stark, unadulterated realities of NIGERIA was an absolute turning point in my life and there was a period of transition. when i listen to "MILK" it takes me right back to that headspace of being somewhere other than where you wished to be. that sense of LONGING and DISTANCE is palpable in the song. of course, i eventually accepted my new reality and never looked back but that song evokes that sense of deep MELANCHOLY brought on by social DISCONNECTION and ISOLATION in a manner only matched by THE SMITHS and JOY DIVISION in my estimation.
i love the debut GARBAGE record. i highly recommend it to anyone interested in true risk-taking within an established genre. in my opinion, GARBAGE transformed ALTERNATIVE ROCK and progressed it forward by seamlessly integrating modern recording technology and making such acceptable by both fellow musicians and the general public alike. it is a truly great record that is most definitely worth checking out.
i love the idea of long-form interviews as the basis of a research project.
in fact i've made no secret, writing before (linked HERE, HERE and HERE) about my experience as a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA where i spearheaded an oral history project aimed at the impact of the KOSOVO conflict on how both sides of the border dealt with the influx of refugees in 1999. it was a taboo subject internally but i thought it was information worth pursuing from the older generation (along with other unrelated topics such as life under the communist ENVER HOXHA regime) so that there was a record for future generations. similarly the questions themselves werent mine but my students at the UNIVERSITY OF VLORA where i was stationed at. my prompt to them was what questions they thought their grand-children would would want to ask their great-great-grandparents. talk about epic, a four generation question! it got them thinking in that scale and those were the questions i asked, not mine as an AMERICAN, i was just the conduit.
i came across the WOMEN OF ROCK ORAL HISTORY project recently online and i thought it was the coolest thing. the contributions of women to the cultural achievements surrounding ROCK N ROLL cannot be understated but are often overlooked.
i feel that i am guilty of this as well. when i look at past playlists for my DEER GOD RADIO show on nonprofit radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC i am often confronted with a list of male artists. while there have been past shows specifically on the RIOT GRRRL movement and prominent artists such as BJORK, KIM DEAL and LADYTRON, as well as other shows that prominently investigate female musicians and artists within wider constructs (example: CAROLE KAYE contributions with THE WRECKING CREW), there is a lack of balance that i recognize. that is something i am working on. in the future i plan to add shows focused on PJ HARVEY, COURTNEY LOVE, KRISTIN GUNDRED, LUSCIOUS JACKSON, NO DOUBT, CHARLI XCX, PATTI SMITH, JOAN JETT, BLONDIE and producer SYLVIA MASSY (MELVINS, TOOL) to the mix. it is a work in progress.
these filmed interviews with the likes of PUNK ROCK / ALTERNATIVE ROCK / NO WAVE / INDIE ROCK luminaries like ALICE BAG (THE BAGS), LYDIA LUNCH, GAIL ANN DORSEY (DAVID BOWIE), KATE SCHELLENBACH (LUSCIOUS JACKSON, BEASTIE BOYS), EXENE CERVENKA (X), DONITA SPARKS (L7), MELISSA AUF DER MAUR (HOLE, SMASHING PUMPKINS), AMANDA PALMER (THE DRESDEN DOLLS), KRISTIN HERSCH (THROWING MUSES) and SHIRLEY MANSON (GARBAGE) among many others are a great resource for all musicians to receive a fuller understanding of the real history of ROCK N ROLL. its pretty exciting since this project is still very much a current operation especially in recent months with the advent of effective COVID-19 vaccines providing an opportunity for in-person, on-camera interviews again.
the WOMEN OF ROCK ORAL HISTORY is definitely worth checking out and revisiting. what a gift to music fans.
photo & text by nacrowe
L7 is the shit.
just wanted to get that out of the way right at the beginning. i got their album BRICKS ARE HEAVY (SLASH, 1992) my senior of high school in the early 2000s after reading somewhere that BUTCH VIG produced them and that they were part of the early ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene before it blew up. when i first heard them i remember thinking that this band is so heavy, so political and just so incredibly badass. like i stumbled on my new favorite band. specifically songs from that album like "SHITLIST," "WARGASM," "EVERGLADE" and, of course, "PRETEND WE'RE DEAD" as well as "FAST AND FRIGHTENING," "FUEL MY FIRE," and "ANDRES" from other albums just made me so content as an angry recently relocated teenager stuck in a boring suburban hell-hole. it was just the aggression, attitude and assault of their sound. very similar experience to when i discovered THE GERMS a few years before and GG ALLIN a few years later.
i recently came across this documentary L7: PRETEND WE'RE DEAD (BLUE HATS CREATIVE, 2016) which follows their career from navigating the concurrent LOS ANGELES 80s SUNSET STRIP / HARDCORE PUNK scenes to riding the ALTERNATIVE ROCK wave of the 90s as it ebbed and inevitably waned. interviews with band members DONITA SPARKS, SUZI GARDNER, DEMETRI PLAKAS and JENNIFER FINCH as well as the likes of SHIRLEY MANSON (GARBAGE), ALLISON WOLFE (BRATMOBILE/SEX STAINS), LYDIA LUNCH, VALERIE AGNEW (7 YEAR BITCH), JOAN JETT, LOUISE POST (VERUCA SALT), EXENE CERVENKA (X), ALLISON ROBERTSON (THE DONNAS), CSS, BRODY DALLE (THE DISTILLERS/SPINNERETTE), KRIST NOVOSELIC (NIRVANA) provide context to their ability to conquer the competition and, even if misogynist fans or music magazine editors couldnt get past their gender. it sucks having to even bring up gender at all, since it has literally nothing to do with their musicianship, but the fact is that stories like theirs is long overdue within the context of music history. it is too often overlooked. hopefully this and other documentaries that have popped up over the past decade (THE PUNK SINGER: A FILM ABOUT KATHLEEN HANNA, JOAN JETT BAD REPUTATION, PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER, PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE) will begin to reshape that unfortunate narrative.
i remember watching an interview with GARBAGE once where they described the beginning of the millennium as a pivotal moment in their career, basically because file-sharing had cut into their record sales. L7 ended in 2001 but little mention is made regarding such factors as widespread piracy. sales dwindled after HUNGRY FOR STINK (SLASH, 1994) only matched its predecessor, BRICKS ARE HEAVY (SLASH, 1992) in sales and they were eventually dropped. i mean it all makes sense that they were never huge because of said reasons earlier, they were authentically aggressive with attitude and a bludgeoning sonic assault. they were too original i guess. i thought it was real interesting that the only mention of technology was how fans gathered online and effectively forced the band to reunite in 2015 and tour.
this is mentioned in the film, which released in 2016, but it also makes sense that they released a new album in 2019 on JOAN JETT's label. women supporting and promoting women. L7 did the same when they started ROCK FOR CHOICE nonprofit back in the 1990s to promote FEMALE REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS, they just put themselves out there. im glad that they are similarly being supported by the wider rock community writ large in recent years.
that and they came back to take on TRUMP with their latest album and how can you not love that?
parodies by nacrowe
check out HERE a special episode of DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC with a playlist dedicated to the music production career of BUTCH VIG, from his career recording DIY releases from obscure 80s midwestern HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK bands at his own SMART STUDIOS to his commercial breakthrough with 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK icons NIRVANA, SMASHING PUMPKINS and GARBAGE and beyond.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
thank god for AMEOBA RECORDS.
no doubt this series was meant as a way to garner interest in the sheer sea of available for purchase records, tapes, cds, dvds, posters, books, zines and various merchandise at their flagship stores in HOLLYWOOD, SAN FRANCISCO and BERKELEY, but man is it still cool to see what cultural artifacts jazz up influential musicians.
i only went to AMEOBA in HOLLYWOOD once when visiting a childhood friend of mine in nearby ORANGE COUNTY (where i grew up pre-NIGERIA). AMEOBA for me was like visiting MECCA. it was a sacred place, they literally had everything. i remember i got an out-print (at the time) copy of PRINCE's SIGN 'O' THE TIMES (PAISLEY PARK FILMS, 1987) concert film for cheap. really too bad the place closed doors so some asshole could put up some condominiums. just what the world needs. regardless, id put AMEOBA up there with the greatest stores ive ever walked into, which come to think of it, the only one that comes close at the top of my head is the FNAC CHAMPS ELYSEE in PARIS.
anyway, its always cool to hear musicians talk about music, so below are the episodes with SUNN O))), GARBAGE, THE MELVINS, WAYNE KRAMER, DELTRON 3030 (DAN THE AUTOMATOR & DEL THE FUNKY HOMOSAPIEN), JOHNNY MARR, MASTODON, CHUCK D, BILLY BRAGG and HIGH ON FIRE among many many other notable musicians, past and present.
THE SMART STUDIOS STORY (CONEY ISLAND STUDIOS, 2016) is documentary about the outwardly unassuming yet highly influential recording studio in MADISON, WISCONSIN, that was founded and run by STEVE MARKER and BUTCH VIG. the creation of the studio was at an interesting inflection point in american culture as there was a definite influx of underground HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK bands that were supported in earnest by college radio and a nationwide network of bars, VFW halls and small clubs not to mention independent promoters and independent record labels and record stores. what connected all these stakeholders in the scene was a sense of self-reliance and DIY ETHIC. maybe its simplistic to say that the puritan ethic of the midwest played a role in this community, but essentially this mindset led to an era of experimentation in music that was free of financial considerations, because none of this was supposed to go commercial. given that VIG was a musician (drummer in local bad SPOONER with future GARBAGE collaborator DOUG ERIKSON) he also had the added benefit of being able to listen and suss out the needs of a band, how to bring out their sound in a fun, experimental atmosphere. he was also able to know firsthand what worked and didn't work from a musician's perspective in "professional" studios. i think his versatility is underrated and part of his work ethic and gets lost in the shuffle when success for his production duties gained global notoriety.
enter NIRVANA and THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, the two bands whose albums NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) and SIAMESE DREAM (VIRGIN, 1993) altered the landscape for VIG and the underground scene seemingly overnight with the inception of a financially viable ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene that was supported by commercial radio, promoters and the commercial infrastructure of corporate AMERICA. this allowed VIG freedom in choosing projects since SMART STUDIOS was now a destination studio and his services a known commodity.
i think given that sea change it is to his credit that VIG along with MARKER and ERIKSON expanded their craft by utilizing technology and incorporating new techniques in their band GARBAGE. for me their incorporation of HIP HOP and ELECTRONICA elements into a new hybrid style are one of the defining sounds of the 1990s. the fusion of such is only that much more impressive given the cultural impact of his celebrated yet sonically more straightforward catalogue of ALTERNATIVE ROCK production work.
its ironic that this embrace of technology is also what brought down the studio, as digital recording software on personal computers made this DIY ETHIC spread to a new prosumer base of musicians. the time had come to move on.
my takeaway from this documentary is that good music can come from anywhere, no matter how far off the beaten path. SEATTLE, MINNEAPOLIS, PORTLAND. in this case WISCONSIN. innovation is a personal pursuit and must be met on its own merits. in many ways BUTCH VIG's career as an established producer was entirely a fluke of circumstance. on the other hand he was talented and was prepared to take advantage of opportunities when presented.
makes me wonder what other crevices of the UNITED STATES or even the golbal scene have i not considered researching. where should i look next? because i'm always searching.