The JOVM pays tribute to the great Chris Cornell.
Currently comprised of founding members Chris Cornell (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Kim Thayil (lead guitar), along with Matt Cameron (drums), who joined in 1986 and Ben Shepherd (bass), who joined in 1990, the Seattle, WA-based grunge/alt-rock quartet Soundgarden can trace its origins back to the formation and eventual breakup of an early 80s Seattle-based band The Shemps, which featured Cornell on drums and vocals, along with original bassist Hiro Yamamoto. Strangely enough, over the years what seems to have been forgotten is that the members of Soundgarden had started their recording career with Sub Pop Records; in fact, the renowned alt rock/indie label released the band’s first two EPs 1987’s Screaming Life and 1988’s Fopp, two efforts, which the label re-issued a couple of years ago through both vinyl and digital formats, marking the first time in about 25 years that the EPs were pressed onto vinyl — and the first time they were released digitally. Interestingly enough, Sub Pop Records helped distributed Soundgarden’s 1988 full-length debut, Ultramega OK.
And although they had some creative differences with the album’s producer Drew Canulette and the band’s overall dissatisfaction with the final mixes, their full-length effort was a commercial success as it garnered both a 1990 Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance and attention from larger labels — including A&M Records, who quickly signed the band. At the time, the band had intended to spend some time remixing the album for subsequent pressings of the album; but those plans wound up falling by the wayside, as the band went on to write and record their sophomore effort, and major-label debut, Louder Than Love.
Last year, the members of the band acquired the original multi-track tapes from the Ultramega OK sessions and they enlisted the assistance of renowned producer, engineer, long-time friend and frequent, old-time collaborator Jack Endino, who has famously worked with Nirvana, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, Skin Yard, The Black Clouds and others to create a new mix of the album that would tie up what the band felt were persistent loose ends — while fixing the album’s overall sound. Interestingly, the band found six early version of album singles that eventually wound up on Ultramega OK and reportedly those early versions, which would eventually become staples of their live sets at the time, capture the band’s sound and songwriting in a much rawer, less polished form — and much closer to the sound on the Screaming Life EP.
Almost 30 years after Ultramega OK’s original release, Sub Pop Records will be releasing the remixed and expanded re-issue of the album, as a long-awaited “correction.” Naturally, for die-hard fans and completists, the re-mixed material will capture the band’s sound as they fully intended it, while the re-discovered early material will serve as a window into the development of the band’s songwriting approach and overall sound. Now, as you may remember, I wrote about the re-issue’s first single “Beyond The Wheel” and the re-mixed version possessed a crisper, cleaner sound, which helped to display Kim Thayill’s incredible guitar work and the interplay between Matt Cameron’s Bonham-like thundering drumming and Cornell’s Robert Plant-like wailing. The re-mixed and expanded Ultramega OK’s second single “Flower” much like its preceding single displays a cleaner, crisper sound, which gives the song the muscular insistence that the band became known for while interestingly enough, the song has moments that nod at Badmotorfinger and Superunknown.
There are bands, whose sound and aesthetic make such a forceful and immediate impression that you can instantly recall the first time you had come across them; in fact the first time I had ever heard Soundgarden, I was watching MTV‘s Headbanger’s Ball. And what I can still remember more than 25 years later was how the show’s host at the time, Rikki Rachtman told viewers that they needed to be on the lookout for Soundgarden — mainly because of Chris Cornell, who Rachtman had described as being a little guy with an enormous voice. They promptly followed that with the music video for “Outshined” off Badmotorfinger — and I can remember being blown away.
Strangely, as the years have passed what’s been forgotten is that the members of Soundgarden had initially started their career with Sub Pop Records; in fact, the now long-renowned grunge label had released the Seattle-based band’s first two EP’s Screaming Life and Fopp, which Sub Pop re-issued a few years ago, marking the first time that both of those early efforts would be availably digitally, as well as through vinyl. But interestingly enough, the renowned Seattle-based label also help distribute Soundgarden’s full-length debut, Ultramega OK.
On March 10, 2017, Sub Pop Records will be releasing a remixed and expanded reissue of Soundgarden’s full-lengtht debut, as a long-planned “correction” of their debut. Ultramega OK was originally recorded and released through SST Records in 1988 — and while the members of the band enjoyed working with the album’s original producer, Drew Canulette, they were dissatisfied with the album’s final mix. And as the story goes, the band had intended to remix the album for subsequent pressings; however, the band quickly had major label success and were signed to A&M Records and the band went into the studio to work on their major-label debut effort, Louder Than Love. And as a result, the Ultramega OK remix had fallen off to the wayside.
Last year, the members of the band finally acquitted the original multi-track tapes from the Ultramega OK sessions and they all decided to set some time aside to work on the remix. Naturally, the band enlisted the assistance of renowned producer and engineer Jack Endino, a long-time friend and former collaborator, who has worked with Nirvana, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, Skin Yard, The Black Clouds and others to create a new mix of the album that would tie up some persistent loose ends and fixes the album’s overall sound. Interestingly, the members of the band also found six early versions of songs that eventually wound up on the full-length album, which they initially recorded in 1987 with Jack Endino and Chris Hanszek at Reciprocal Recording — and mixed by Endino last year. Reportedly, those early versions of songs, which were later staples of the band’s live sets, capture the band in a much rawer form — and much closer to the Screaming Life EP. Naturally for die-hard fans and completists, the rediscovered material will serve as a window into the development of the band’s songwriting approach and sound. The forthcoming re-issue’s first single is a crisper, tighter and much more forceful version of “Beyond The Wheel” which better displays Kim Thayill’s guitar work and its interplay between Matt Cameron’s Bonham-like drumming and Cornell’s vocals. And compared to the original, the re-mixed alternate version almost sounds like a completely different song.
Led by its founding member, composer and bassist Ezra Gale and featuring Rick Parker (trombone), Alex Asher (trombone), Jon Lipscomb (guitar) and Madhu Siddappa, the Brooklyn-based trombone-led dub quintet Super Hi-Fi can trace their origins to a rather unlikely beginning. Gale, who was a founding member of acclaimed San Francisco-based Afrobeat act Aphrodisia, an act that once played at Fela Kuti‘s famed Lagos, Nigeria-based night club The Shrine, had relocated to Brooklyn and was collaborating with Quoc Pham in Sound Liberation Front when Gale was asked to get a band together for Pham and Gale’s then-monthly Afro-Dub Sessions parties in Williamsburg. Much like DJ Turmix’s Boogaloo Party, the Afro-Dub Sessions Party would pair the live band fronted by Gale with the dub’s top-flight producers and DJs including Victor Rice, Prince Polo, Subatomic Sound System, the Beverley Road All-Stars and others.
When Gale founded Super Hi-Fi, the project was initially intended to translate the improvisatory mixing process of dub to the live show; however, with the 2012 release of their critically applauded debut effort Dub to the Bone, a busy touring schedule in which they opened for nationally known acts like Rubblebucket, Beats Antique and John Brown’s Body, followed by the release of their Yule Analog Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, the project began to cement its growing reputation for crafting a unique and expansive take on dub and reggae.
With the recent release of Super Hi-Fi Plays Nirvana, the Brooklyn-based dub quintet push the boundaries of reggae and dub by paying tribute to Nirvana. And in typical Super Hi-Fi fashion, the members of the band manage to create their own take on the iconic Seattle-based trio’s material with renowned dub producers, Sao Paulo, Brazil‘s Victor Rice; Venice, Italy‘s Doctor Sub; and Brooklyn’s Prince Polo — all of whom are frequent collaborators with the band — assisting to further bend and morph the band’s sound in trippy and psychedelic ways, which help take fairly familiar songs into bold, new territory.
Adding to the uniqueness of the release, Very Special Recordings, a small, boutique Brooklyn-based label founded by Super Hi-Fi’s Ezra Gale, that specializes in releases cassettes that showcase the diverse of their borough’s and city’s music scene. Interestingly, while we all live in a world of Spotify playlists and streamable music that one never really owns, cassettes have seen something of a renaissance of late with several artists and labels releasing cassette only releases — and in some way, it’s a response against not just streaming services but against the trend towards technophilia for the sake of technophilia. While being relatively cheap to make and sell, a cassette tape does require a bit of effort — you’d have to go to a physical record store to purchase your favorite band’s new record and then bring it home to play; have a label or friend mail or give you a tape; and at the very least, you’ll probably listen to the whole tape, if not an entire side once. Plus, let’s not forget, that unless your favorite song is the first song or last song of a side, finding it can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience. And yet, if you remember buying cassettes at your local record store, as I do, it’s an experience that frankly I sometimes miss very dearly.
I recently spoke to Super Hi-Fi’s Ezra Gale about Super Hi Fi Plays Nirvana, how the arranging and re-arranging process differs from Gale’s normal songwriting process, the band’s upcoming releases and more. Check it out below.
WRH: In the Q&As for The Joy of Violent Movement, we almost always begin with some fairly introductory stuff for readers. So let’s begin, shall we?
WRH: How did the members of the band meet?
Ezra Gale: I had an idea for a two trombone band and placed a Craigslist ad for trombone players which got exactly two responses, from Alex Asher and Ryan Snow, who became our first two trombone players. Everybody else I just met through other musicians.
WRH: How would you describe your sound?
EG: It’s dub, but I don’t know if it’s reggae.
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
EG: The last album I bought was Bowie‘s last album, Blackstar, which is just incredible.
WRH: Seminal albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind, U2’s Achtung Baby, A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, Superunknown and Down On The Upside, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Vs. and Vitalogy and others reaching important milestone anniversaries, it’s a bit surprising to me that to my knowledge more bands haven’t seriously begun to tackle them with more covers and more tribute albums, especially if you consider how many Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Beatles tribute albums have been released over the years. Why haven’t there been more Pearl Jam, U2, R.E.M. tributes and covers? And how did you come upon paying tribute to Nirvana?
EG: I really don’t know about those other bands, for us we started playing a version of “Something In the Way” a couple years ago, and we all sort of got the idea that maybe a whole album of Nirvana tunes could be interesting.
WRH: Much like your fantastic Christmas albums, Super Hi-Fi Plays Nirvana features a couple of very well-known songs such as In Utereo’s “Heart Shaped Box,” and their famous Unplugged cover of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” as well as some rather deeper cuts such as “Verse Chorus Verse,” their Incesticide cover of “Love Buzz” Nevermind’s “Something In The Way” and “Polly.” What inspired you to choose those songs to tackle instead of something more tried and true?
EG: Well, initially I wanted to do all really obscure ones. Nirvana is a band whose famous songs have been played to death and I don’t know if anyone really needs to hear another version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, for example. But I know them from when Bleach came out and they were just this really great, intense band from Seattle that not many people knew- my college band even opened for them then, randomly. So I wanted to spotlight some of those lesser-known songs of theirs. But then, I think i was riding my bike and I suddenly started hearing “Heart Shaped Box” in this really slow, weird way, so we ended up doing that one. Ultimately it’s just about giving each song a different treatment and finding something new to do with it, no matter how many times you’ve heard it before.
WRH: How do you go about re-arranging material that’s fairly familiar in a way that adds your particular spin to it — while maintaining something familiar? And how does the process of re-arranging material differ from your normal songwriting process?
EG: It is different than a normal songwriting process. This album was very similar to our two Christmas albums (“Yule Analog” Vols. I and II), in that the goal was to take familiar material and make it sound different. And like in arranging those Christmas songs, I made some rules for myself doing it, which were that the melody line had to be the same, but everything else around it could change. So the rhythms are obviously very different, but also, Nirvana was a band with only one singer and we have two trombones, so in a lot of these versions the second trombone part is made up- like in “Verse Chorus Verse”, “Heart Shaped Box” and “Where Did You Sleep” especially. And also the chords are quite different in some of these, “Polly” and “Where Did You Sleep” especially are pretty different chord changes than the Nirvana versions.
My attitude towards cover versions is just that there’s no point in doing them if all you’re doing is to play it like the original version. No matter how great the original song is, I don’t ever want to regurgitate what someone else has done- go listen to the original if you want that. At the same time, I think it should be recognizable as the original song, somehow. So the challenge of taking material and sort of shaping it into something different that still has echoes of the original song is something I really enjoy doing.
WRH: While doing a little research for this interview, I learned that you’re currently working on your sophomore full-length effort, as well as Beatles/Police 45 for Record Store Day. Could you tell us a little bit about those projects?
EG: Yes, we are about 80% done with the mixing for the new full-length album, which is going to be called “The Blue and White” and it will be our second LP of all-original music. It’s quite different I think, there are lots of vocals and different sounds for us. It was recorded and mixed all onto tape too, which has been a real pain in some ways (!) but is so, so worth it- it sounds amazing I think. It will be out in the springtime sometime I think, on vinyl, somehow or other, we haven’t figured out yet.
And then the single is done and will be released on Electric Cowbell Records for Record Store Day in April, it’s the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping,” which was actually recorded for our “Dub to the Bone” album but left off it, and a version of The Police‘s “Hole In My Life” which we recorded for the new album, both extremely whacked-out and different versions, I can’t wait to play it for people.
WRH What’s next for the band?
EG: We haven’t been playing live that much the last few months because I’ve been so focused on finishing these albums, so once we’re done completely with the new LP I’m looking forward to playing a lot more in the new year.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the Portland, OR-based doom metal quartet, R.I.P. The quartet has long operated off the belief that heavy metal didn’t come from the forest or beam down from outer space; but rather, that it crawled up out of the sewer and writhed to life in in the grit and grime of the streets and their unique take on heavy metal and doom metal “street doom” is deeply indebted to that approach. And in addition to that, the quartet have developed a reputation for relentless touring when they signed to renowned Los Angeles-based label RidingEasy Records, who will be releasing the band’s highly-anticipated full-length debut In The Wind on December 9, 2016.
Now you may recall that “Black Leather” had the Portland-based quartet pairing scuzzy, power chords with thunderous drumming and a driving motorik-like groove in an expansive and spacious dirge that allowed room for some additional, blistering guitar pyrotechnics in a song that seemed to draw equally from Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Hawkwind — in the sense that structurally speaking, the song in its first half or so is power chord heavy dirge and in its last half turns into a psych rock-leaning stoner rock with a swaggering self-assuredness while evoking sulfurous smoke billowing from the depths of hell. In The Wind‘s latest single “Tremble” is a stoner rock/psych rock doom-filled ass-kicker reminiscent of the aforementioned Black Sabbath and of Badmotorfinger and Superunknown-era Soundgarden as the song consists of dense layers of punishing power chords, some ridiculous guitar pyrotechnics, a motorik-like groove and murky lyrics that evoke the fear and dread that many of us have been feeling for the past 24 hours.
Sub Pop Records re-releases the early and lost catalog of a grunge rock pioneer, TAD with the release of the video for mosh pit worthy “Stumblin’ Man.”
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the release of their full-length album and to celebrate the occasion, the album will be re-released on September 30, 2016 in a deluxe package that will feature previously unreleased demos, live material, alternate takes and concert video. And although the members of the Seattle alt rock supergroup have played a handful of legendary shows back in the early 90s and a couple of reunion appearances over the years, this year will also mark the first time that the act has gone out on a headlining tour.
“Black Cat,” was a previously unreleased demo that finally sees the light of day, and as you’ll hear it’s a propulsive and percussive, bluesy dirge that pairs Cornell’s signature wails with grimy blues power chords in a song that manages to channel Led Zeppelin and Soundgarden’s “Spoonman.”
Featuring Peter Bartsocas (vocals, guitar), Drew Demaio (guitar, vocals), David Diem (bass, vocals) and Jeff Gensterblum (drums, percussion), New York-based indie rock quartet Robes is comprised of a group of grizzled professional musicians, whose careers can be traced back to several different projects in the 90s. Demaio helped put Gainesville, FL on to the post hardcore map with stints in bands such as Gus, Strikeforce Diablo, Argentina, Asshole Parade and Floor — all before he decided to relocate to New York. Diem, was also a member of Gainesville, FL-based band Twelve Hour Turn. And after the band dissolved, Diem decided to pursue a career as a teacher before he also relocated to New York, where they caught up and began writing and sharing musical ideas through email. Gensterbaum was originally based in Michigan, where he was a member of Small Brown Fox, Able Baker Fox, Unwed, States and Kingdoms and Your Skull My Closet. As it turns out Gensterbaum was labelmates at No Idea Records with Diem and Demaio, with whom he had toured with quite a bit over the years. And when he relocated to New York, Gensterbaum called his old labelmates. Adding to the six degrees of musical separation at the heart of the band, Bartsocas also hailed from Florida and was a member of Pagan Girls, As Friends Rust and Bird of Ill Omen and — and as the story goes, Bartsocas and Demaio were good friends, who had talked about collaborating together before Bartsocas relocated to New York to finalize the new band’s lineup.
The band’s latest single “Unholy Moon” owes a major sonic debt to 90s alt rock — in particular Superunknown-era Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam — as the band pairs layers of enormous power chords, thundering drumming, extremely downtuned and rumbling bass chords with an anthemic hook, an alternating quiet, loud, quiet structure and Bartsocas’ baritone crooning. And as a result, the quartet reveals that they can craft a moshpit and beer-raising worthy hook.
Comprised of Peter White, Brayden Leske, Sam Baird, Tom Baird and Matt Crago, Adelaide, Australia-based indie rock quintet Lost Woods have quickly developed a growing national reputation for a 90s alt rock/indie rock inspired sound that has been compared to Jeff Buckley, Holy Holy and Soundgarden among others. The Australian quintet’s debut single “Overflow” reached the top ten of Triple J Unearthed charts and was on received airplay across several Australian radio stations including Radio Adelaide, Three D Radio, 4ZZZ and Syn FM. And as a result the band has opened for the likes of Harts, Holy Holy, Andy Bull, Jesse Davidson, SKIES, Bad Pony, Citizen Kay, Horror My Friend, The Vanns and others. With the release of their second single “Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant” Lost Woods went on Peter White told me their first national tour last year, a tour that managed to be extremely successful as the band continued to see support from local radio stations across Australia, which has lead to growing buzz around the band.
As the band’s Peter White explained to me via email, Lost Woods’ latest single “Vodka Ocean” is inspired by a tragicomic personal experience that happened to him while he was attending Australia’s Splendour in the Grass festival. White was looking forward to catching Frank Ocean perform at the festival and when it was announced that Ocean had to cancel, White wound up drinking way too much vodka “in a fit of melancholic sadness.” Eventually White wound up at the medical tent. “My girlfriend dragged me back to our tent, where I proceeded to throw up all over her rucksack and clothes, leaving the rest of the tent unscathed. Naturally, a song was born.” Sonically speaking, the Australian quintet pairs propulsive drumming, jangling guitar chords, an anthemic hook and a throbbing bass line with White’s soaring falsetto to craft a song that sounds as though it drew from The Bends-era Radiohead and The Smiths; in fact, much like The Smiths, this particular single pairs upbeat music with bitterly ironic lyrics.
Over the past few months, Jack Berry, a Reno, NV-born and Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter and rock/blues artist has quickly become one of my favorite artists of 2016 as I’ve previously written about two singles off Berry’s forthcoming full-length Mean Machine The Bull,” a sultry and bluesy single with an anthemic hook that sounded as though it were Superunknown-era Soundgarden — in particular “Mailman” “Spoonman,”and “Fell on Black Days,” as well as “Bad Dog,” a swaggering, cocksure song that continued in the arena rock-friendly vein of “The Bull” but bluesier, as though Berr were attempting to channel Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.
Mean Machine’s latest single “Coal” will further cement Berry’s growing reputation for bluesy and anthemic power chord-based rock that manages to possess a moody, sensual and contemporary take on hard rock and the blues, complete with his signature cocksure swagger.