Initially formed in 1989, the Seattle, WA-based grunge rock band Gruntruck featured Skin Yard’s Ben McMillan (vocals) and Norman Scott (drums), The Accused’s Tommy Niemeyer (guitar) and Final Warning’s Tim Paul (bass) can trace their origins to when founding members Ben McMillan and Norman Scott wrote a song while on tour with Skin Yard that they had was worthy of forming a new band around. Interestingly enough, around the same time Scott had a brief stint with Soundgarden and collaborated with Chris Cornell on a lesser-known project, the low frequency power trio Bass Truck. And with the new song and other material that McMillan and Scott started to write together, they decided to blend the sound that Norman developed in Bass Truck — in other words, a harder, more metal-leaning grunge rock sound.
1990’s Jack Endino and Gary King-produced debut Inside You was released through Seattle-based label Empty Records with a simultaneous release through German label Musical Tragedies. Along with the release of their debut, the band released a Henry Shepherd-produced video for album single “Not a Lot to Save,” which received airplay on MTV. (I should note that Henry Shepherd is the brother of Soundgarden’s Ben Shepherd.) Interestingly, the members of Gruntruck had opened for Pearl Jam throughout 1991 — and in particular, they opened for Pearl Jam on the night that renowned grunge rockers filmed the video for “Even Flow.” With the growing buzz on all things Seattle, the members of Gruntruck signed a multi-album deal with Roadrunner Records, who re-released Inside Yours later that year. 1992’s sophomore Endino and King-produced effort Push featured album track “Tribe,” which received regular rotation on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. Building upon a growing profile, Gruntruck opened for Alice in Chains during their 1992 US and Canadian tour, as well as in Europe during the winter of 1993 with Pantera. After the band returned to Seattle, they went through several lineup changes but they released a video for “Crazy Love,” which received airplay on MTV, including a reference on Beavis and Butthead, in which a stunned Butthead mused “I must be hallucinating now. I can’t believe they’re playing something cool. These guys rock!”
At the height of their popularity in 1996, the members of the band were struggling to make ends meet while fulfilling contractual obligations to Roadrunner Records. Polygram Records offered to buy out Gruntruck’s contract for $1 million, but the folks at Roadrunner Records refused. Based on the advice of their lawyer, the band filed for bankruptcy in an attempt to break free of their contract, which was promptly followed by their label suing to block their bankruptcy petition. The result was a precedent-setting case that’s been cited in subsequent cases, written up in legal journals and eventually inspired congressional legislation. Although the court eventually ruled in Gruntruck’s favor, their various legal issues exacted a financial and emotional toil on the band — despite the fact that they were attempting to recapture some of the momentum they had captured before.
By 1997, the band’s original lineup reunited and they had been working on new material together and some of the songs written wound up comprising the material on their self-titled third album, an effort that the band envisioned as a breakthrough effort. The album was recorded over a two year period in five different studios in and around Seattle with Jack Endino and Martin Feveyear, who has worked with Queens of the Stone Age, Mudhoney and Screaming Trees taking up production duties, and once it was finished the band went through a busy live schedule in Seattle, to build up buzz for the album; however by 2003, the band went on hiatus, as McMillan needed time to recover from health issues.
Sadly McMillan died from complications related to diabetes in 2008, and the third album languished in the vaults until last year, when Jack Endino mentioned its existence to Found Recordings head, Scott Blum, who pushed to get the album released. And over a decade since its initial recording, Gruntruck’s self-titled album is slated for an October 13, 2017 release, and the album’s first official single “Bar Fly,” features an ambitious arena rock sound consisting of enormous power chords, a shout worthy chorus and while clearly nodding at metal, the band’s sound manages to be reminiscent of Dirt-era Alice in Chains and Purple-era Stone Temple Pilots. Interestingly, the song will strike many as a remanent of a decidedly particular period — 1996-1998 or so — but underneath that, there’s a sad reminder of what could have been; after all, for the rare Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgardens, etc., there’s countless bands, who get close to making it and many more that never make it.
Filmed by Thomas Engisn and edited by Gary Lundgren, the recently released music video features grainy VHS footage from the band’s original lineup performing sweaty, ass-kicking shows — and it’ll remind you of watching similar videos on 120 Minutes and other video shows.