My last show with Skin Yard was on Thursday, Feb 21, 1991 opening for NoMeansNo at the Off Ramp in Seattle. Leaving the band had been a deeply bittersweet decision on my part. My entire identity had essentially been defined by my being a musician, and more specifically as a primary songwriter, bass player and defacto manager of the band that I had co-founded with Jack Endino at the beginning of 1985. I had become a father in 1989, and over time felt increasingly torn by the competing realities of being a touring musician and my desire to be a more present and responsible father than mine had been for me.
But it was more than that.The band had become a tense animal and we had established a complex pattern of conflict and strife between the various members, and while we were at the absolute peak of our creative prowess and musical capability at the time of my departure, it had ceased to be fun. Ben had already started Gruntruck with former Skin Yard drummer Norman Scott, and his attention definitely seemed more focused on that band than it was on Skin Yard. Inside Yours (their debut) had already eclipsed 1000 Smiling Knuckles in terms of press and sales by the time I left Skin Yard, as their record had been picked up by Roadrunner, a label that had the muscle to push it to more mainstream metal audience. The year after I left Skin Yard, Gruntruck toured with Screaming Trees and Alice in Chains as the opening act. That pretty much tells the story right there.
Another big factor was the fact that I believed that 1000 Smiling Knuckles was the closest we’d ever come to achieving what we set out to create when we went into the studio. I didn’t think we would ever be able to release a better record, and I certainly felt that it was probably the best record that I would ever be part of, so in that regard, it felt like a pretty good time and place to step away.
I still had C/Z Records and on that front, things were blowing up. So while I wasn’t playing music anymore, I was still in the thick of the Seattle music scene releasing records by a bunch of great bands who were creating a lot of glorious noise themselves.
In 1993, I got a call from a band called Pretty Mary Sunshine who had just been signed to A&M Records. They had a show booked, opening for Red House Painters, but their bass player, Joe Bass (aka Joe Skyward) was in Europe with another band he played with –The Posies—and he suggested me as a fill-in. I agreed, and began learning their songs. Anchored by Kurt, their guitar player and songwriter, and his girlfriend Patrice who was their singer, I found a band that seemed largely influenced by Mazzy Star which worked for me, as I was (and still am) a huge fan of theirs.
The band however did not have the discipline of David Roback and Co., and was mired in a haze of relationship drama and was compromised by a lot of pot smoking, and I assumed whatever drugs were available at any given time. The song structures were basic at best. Indeed, on several occasions Kurt would come up with a song on the spot and that was apparently it. The band didn’t seem inclined to spend any time arranging or fine-tuning any of the compositions, so I took that on as a role in the band. Over the course of our rehearsals, I encouraged the band to work on the songs, so that we could take them from seeds of ideas and shape them into more fully fleshed-out works with some added subtlety and nuance. They welcomed the process and recognized that the set improved with a bit of extra time and love thrown in. They asked me to become a permanent member of the band (which would have meant that Joe would be out upon his return from Europe), but I politely passed. The show had gone off well and I loved the energy of playing live again, but knew that I would not be able to deal with the relationship drama and was completely disinterested in trying to write songs with a band who were high more often than not. Not passing judgment, and not assuming anything about any of them 25+ years after the fact, but at that time I knew what I was game for and what I was not. It felt like a preemptive train wreck, and from what I heard through the grapevine, it turned out to be just that. They released one record on A&M, but the band imploded and a second record was never released.
And after that, I never played again.
* * *
Fast-forward to 2019. Twenty six years after the Pretty Mary Sunshine show.
My dear friend Sluggo, his wife Laurian and their two kids Dregen and Blixa who have been coming down here to the desert for Spring break for the previous several years, were planning their trip again, but this time, their visit was going to be a little different: Sluggo had recently started a new musical project – a band out of Oakland called REQ’D, and had released their debut, Fall in Love on Hate Street. Sluggo asked if I might be willing to try to look a show for them during their annual visit. I—of course—said yes, and called my friend Bobby about maybe doing something at his amazing creative space, Furstwurld. Bobby was all in. The show would be on a Wednesday, and since REQ’D was a completely unknown band, our expectations were well managed, meaning that we had none.
A couple of weeks after the date had been secured, Sluggo informed me that their bass player, Dave would not be able to make it down and asked how I felt about filling in on bass. I said okay. Terrified and exhilarated, I began the process of teaching my fingers how to move again, and during the process was amazed at the resiliency of my muscle memory. Some part of me still knew how to play, and the joy of it all came flooding back, but not without a feeling of intense trepidation and uncertainty. The first step was to learn the songs on my own, but what I really needed was proper time rehearsing with the band, which thankfully I got.
* * *
I first met Sluggo in the late ‘80s through his Boston-based band Hullaballoo, who we were band mates with on Toxic Shock Records. I subsequently released a record by Hullabaloo, entitled Lubritorium on my label, C/Z Record. Sales were not good and I didn’t release a follow up. Over time, Sluggo and fell out of touch with each other. He had moved to the west coast somewhere in the ‘90s. It’s where he and Laurian met, and with whom they played together in the band Ain’t. After Ain’t, his band the Grannies recorded and released 9 full-length slabs of raw and raucous punk rock (all produced by Jack Endino) over the course of a jaw-dropping seventeen years , all the while dressed up in geriatric grandma-drag. Punk as Fuck: An interesting resume to say the least. The Grannies ran their course and Sluggo started REQ’D. For the sake of perspective, I describe REQ’D as punky roadhouse country-stained rock. This is why rock critics suck, and is ultimately why I am not one.
The night of the show I was nervous but reasonably confident. REQ’D’s lead guitar player, Anthony Pulsipher came down for the show and their drummer Richard Stuverud (Fastbacks, War Babies, Three Fish, RNDM), was interestingly already coming down to Joshua Tree for recording project. We had had two full rehearsals in the living room/kitchen of the house that I had built and moved into just a few months before, and so we were ready to play some rock. Also down for the trip was Jack Endino and his wife Mia with whom he plays in the band MKB Ultra. It had taken some finagling to talk Uncle Jack into coming down, but he did, and they had worked out half a dozen songs as a stripped down duo to open the set. It felt like old times all of use being together and playing a bunch of songs.
The show went well. It was not well attended, but when you have zero expectations, it’s hard to be disappointed. We were solid, and whatever fuck-ups there might have been would have gone by completely unnoticed. But for me, the most important aspect of the entire night was that an old piece of my soul had been revived. It was exhilarating, and since then, I’ve realized that I need to be playing again. I am pretty busy with work and with life, and it’s not easy to find musicians out here who want to play the kind of noise that I envision, but it will happen one way or another, and while it may not be as good to my ears as 1000 Smiling Knuckles was, I know that anything that ends up getting recorded will at a minimum be interesting and perhaps good enough to start a fire.
So REQ’D will be coming down, and this time we have a Saturday booked (at Furstwurld again), so keep your eyes peeled for the invitation, because it’s gonna be good. Also in attendance will be Dave Scott Flores, REQ’D’s bass player, but he’ll be on piano for the set (which he also plays on the REQ’D record), so I’ll be playing bass again! Dave will be opening the show as he’s recently released a solo record of his own, playing most all the instruments himself. It’s really good. I think that his idea is that it will be a stripped down solo set with him on piano, but I’m going to see if I can convince him to flesh out half of the set with a band – or at a minimum a rhythm section. He will be needing a bass player…
It’s hard to convey my thanks to Sluggo enough—for pulling me out of my shell, and re-igniting my passion to make music again. I don’t have the drive that I had in my twenties, but I still have enough hunger to create, and typically once I set my mind on something, I don’t let it go until the “it” gets done.