Seattle Years Disclaimer: As I enter the Seattle years in this music blog, the above disclaimer goes double, because so much happened and there are so many details to cover in this 14 year period; so many shows, so many bands, so many friends and so much change in my life. As a result of this and the fact that the four of us who formed Treepeople found ourselves in the midst of a scene which blew up around us and attracted the eyes of the world just 2 years after our arrival, not to mention the 12 years I played music following that, I am bound to, hell, I will forget something.
This means two things: I will be coming back to entries and adding things to them over the months following publication, and, that the part of the above disclaimer where I ask for help from people in keeping me honest and in remembering things is crucial to them. I thank anyone ahead of time who was there, and, those who weren't there who have access to valid info, for helping me to correct errors in dates or chronology. Yes, I have the Internet, but many bands, scenes and things I will cover did not receive the attention I feel that they deserved and thus I will recall them mostly from memory, or rather, memories; mine and those of friends. Also, friends who were in bands which I do not happen to mention, please don't take it personally, just remind me. I have created a monster in undertaking this blog, one which I am determined to ride until the end!
Lastly, as mentioned, this scene gained national attention, and thus, needless to say and as we all know, many bands/people became famous, became rock stars, were/are admired by millions, etc and etc...This makes another part of my original disclaimer even more important. This memoir is intended to tell my story, from my perspective. I have no intention of creating a place where people can seek gossip about famous people, nor is it about 'name-dropping'. I write of my impressions of people, bands, and the Seattle scene from the '90s into the early 2000s. I protect those who are my friends fiercely because a symptom of being known is frequent intrusion into their lives beyond a level that I feel is acceptable. Thank you for indulging me this disclaimer.
A kind of disclaimer on Violent Green entries...In writing about the band Violent Green, at this time I am not in contact with Jenny O'lay, so I am not directly getting input from her, and, one member is no longer alive. In the case of the former, out of respect to O'lay, I am compelled to keep personal details at a high level, and in terms of Drew Quinlan (RIP, Brother), I am not in touch with any of his family to get approval of what I write about concerning him, as I did with my previously passed bandmate, Pat Schmaljohn (and thus felt better in writing about Pat) but I do not have the same access to family in Drew's case, so for that reason, out of respect for Drew and his family, I will also keep details at a high level. I won't make it cold and unpersonal, don't misunderstand me. Our dynamic as people was a huge part of the band. I guess what I am getting at is there are details that will remain private, to meet with high standards I strive to meet on this blog, even more so in light of this lack of input from the former bandmates of which I write. I hope I have achieved these standards. This also brings up the point I always make, but it is important to reiterate; this is all from my perspective only, and of anyone whom I get input from.
Our odd relationships and their tensions were one with the music, and I think, actually I know, that was a good thing, a necessary ingredient of this band, a band that forever reshaped how I thought about music, both listening to it and making it. I owe that to Drew and Jenny's brilliance and imperfectness, which made me feel okay about my own imperfections, (only to a degree, as my inner, self-critical voice was still in full effect) and it helped me realize that even I held brilliance, in my own way, when I played with them, warts and all. One thing I can confidently say is; we gave a fuck about the music. And that was because this was a highly musical band (most of the people who got what we were doing were musicians themselves) and thus I will focus much of my energy in terms of the VG entries talking about that; the music, it's influences and forms, and how the three of us and what we brought to the band from previous projects and the music we each loved, created, eventually, a rich tapestry. It is worth digging into this world O'lay spun with this bizarre, dark, poppy, goth, folksy punk music from Mars ~ *
Steve Fisk disclaimer: Steve Fisk is everywhere in this blog because as you can/will see, we worked together a lot during this time, and we work together still. Deal with it!
My other blogs: Short Story Long - (Top of mind, conversational, formal essays, photo essays, etc.) Artwork, Poetry
Be strong. Our best hope for the bizarre B sci-fi pandemic film we find ourselves in that is unfortunately real is local leadership and citizens (WE stopped this thing from getting out of control by being ADULTS), and as I like to say, to turn a phrase on its head, the clothes wear no emperor. But we will get through. We are fuckin tough. And most of America seems to get it so far. Sometimes we have to lead the leaders. Be well.
The Journey of recording Eros, haunted by personal loss
Violent Green headed into John & Stu's (formerly Reciprocal, where Treepeople recorded our first songs done in Seattle) with Steve Fisk at the helm and his good friend John Goodmanson, another Evergreen alumni who was doing engineering while also producing bands. John is super smart, low key, talented, and great to work with. He's what the older folks call 'Good people.'
I wanted an entry on the Violent Green album Eros to be a stand alone entry, because the record, and the process of making it, represent an upheaval in my musical evolution, at least that evolution experienced as a musician specifically, but also as a listener (as my 'Violent Green Disclaimer' above describes the whole band as embodying). As I call out later, anyone who wants, please email me comments about the album Eros or add them below. If you email them I can add them to the body at the end as well. I know there's at least 3 of you! firstname.lastname@example.org
As I have hinted at in previous entries, the lead up to recording the album Eros was a perfect storm of romantic loss, as Jenny was breaking up with her girlfriend of 7 years and, as I mentioned last entry, my relationship was headed for the rocks as well (and, as mentioned last entry, I was still being a coward about my situation, while my girlfriend went to college and lived and worked an hour and a half away, and, incidentally, when it did end, it would be after 7 years). Drew had also gone through a painful breakup just prior to us going in the studio, he and his girlfriend had been together a couple years only, but he was only 19 or 20, so that is a long time for a relationship at that point in one's life, and, he was pretty hung up on her (the hardcore band he also played drums in was, after all, named after this fact: Whipped) and yes, Fisk was also at the end of I think a 7 year relationship. So the vibe going in was a dark one of loss, of struggle, of uncertainty in our lives. I think this can be felt in listening to the record.
We spent hours and hours and hours rehearsing these songs before entering the studio. This session was to be our first serious full length lp, and it was being paid for by Up Records. That fact alone was amazing to us. At the same time, Chris was a friend, so we were very self-conscious of not taking up too much time and thus money. It wasn't like Up was rolling in money at that point (or ever that I know of).
Concerning Violent Green in the studio, it wasn't always about the absolute tightest take, but the take that expressed the most emotion and feeling. There is a term 'loose' that is often misunderstood by non-musicians when used in a certain way, that is to say, "...the band was loose," this means natural, easy, not stiff, but in the pocket, in the groove. The decisions to scrap takes that didn't have 'it' was of course driven in part by Jenny, but by this point, Drew and I were also pretty in tune with when a take didn't feel right. Of course, Steve Fisk had the most to do with helping us pick the best takes based on looseness, and coaching us to create them, and he saved a good combo of different takes for us to choose from. I still have a DAT tape ('digital audio tape') of different mixes from the Eros sessions, which were generally narrowed down to 3 takes each and no more.
This session was a different experience than any other recording session I have done in that most songs are connected directly to specific memories of recording them, but only flashes, not long detailed memories. Each of the songs had (and still have, more than 20 years later) a certain spell to them, cast into the air, to the mics and to the listener. There was a strange magic to what began to happen, and it wasn't fluffy, fun magic. It was dark and earthen and like low rumbling thunder in a swamp. The process was somewhat of a catharsis to the pain we were all feeling. I don't feel it was conscious, it just happened, helped along by Jenny's already dark, mystical and emotional songs. This of course, need it be said anymore, is how I feel about the session. [Fisk recently told me when we were discussing Eros, that a positive romantic connection also came of it, be it years later; He first met his current wife, the brilliant artist Anne Marie Grgich, through the record, as she did the beautiful artwork for it - Life can be wonderfully strange, too].
Of all the albums I have been on, I come back to this one to listen to more than any, like I am still trying to decode music I was part of creating, all these years later, almost as if it isn't even me playing bass on it. That emotional, anxiety-ridden but sweet, goofy yet sombre young man was another person, I suppose.
I think the best way to discuss Eros is in two parts, one of which may not flower (no pun intended! because of the fact that Violent Green was obscure and not many folks will want to participate, but, again, if anyone wants to email me comments on the album Eros, I know a handful of people who really love the record (which warms my heart), and secondly, to do what I have done in previous entries in this blog; to go through each song on albums I have played on and write about my take on each, which is what I undertook below, but first, a couple of reviews of Eros, one by the music journalist Greil Marcus in Art Forum.
There was not a ton of press or reviews about Eros, (though certainly more than I present here). And insanely, it happened to get a review by the renowned British music journalist Greil Marcus in the high brow magazine Art Forum. I shit you not. See below, we made his top 10 list for 1995, ahead of Elastica. At the time, in my naivite, I had no idea who he was. Later I learned it was, well, kind of a big deal, as they say. My eternal thanks to Mr. Marcus for gracefully documenting a record that was under most people's radar (and frankly still is) and for capturing the emotional tone of Eros in a way no review had or has since. This is without question the peak of any press about any music (or any other creative art I partake in) I have ever been a recipient of. I'll take it, as I say. Below the AF article is a review from Raygun mag as well. They are just phone photos cropped badly (someday when I am less lazy I can replace with some better scans!) Also, in my research for this entry I found that Mr. Marcus also included this review in his book Real Life Rock:
A song by song analysis of the Violent Green LP Eros
Artwork by Anne Marie Grgich
Anne Marie Grgich Website
Listen to Land
Just Jenny and her guitar. Not a lot to say about it only because it is so simple and self-representative. The song has only one part, and two components; her gravelly, deep, sorrowful voice and her sharp and emotional guitar playing. It showcases how she could sing a line in a straightforward voice that was highlighted with moments of word endings being pushed just to the edge of a scream. It also highlights her particular guitar style and sound. It is a nice prologue to the rest of the album.
Listen to Jetty
Maybe my favorite VG song ever (though it has competition from a couple on this LP, such as Wine), so I will have a lot to say bout this one. It is a pretty darn good representation of where we were as a band musically and emotionally at that point. The rhythm of Jenny's guitar playing is very unique, and bordering on abrasive when naked at the beginning, with a distinct, muffled, short 'chukka' sound stroked out 4 times quickly at the end of each note, which sets the jagged, angular tone of the song. Offsetting this are chords stroked in a more airy way, yet still fraught with tension, in my mind, sexual tension (more on that below). One guitar track opens the song, panned hard to the right side, and the way Fisk mixed it was such that when the band comes in, it is much louder than the solo guitar intro, so the impact is enhanced. This song also shows how as a bass player, within these songs, I was able to craft different ways of playing to them, and all of them fit. This was, as mentioned, due to the fact that Jenny played a lot of open chords, giving me a tons of freedom. I wrote/played off of Jenny's vocal delivery and phrasing often in VG, but on this song, the parts I wrote for the verse are directly from Drew's drum parts. Drew's drumming on the song (and the record) is alternately jazzy and punky, and as always, perfectly appropriate for each part. I like how the song has suppressed tension within it, especially in the beginning, and then opens up rhythmically to a more swaying feel, much like that of the ocean, which is part of the subject of the song. I open up in the verses and add little flourishes within the bass chord halfway through, to match the lyrics (as I always tried to on drums in other bands) where she says "...Out on the Jetty/Out on the rocks..." and in parts of other verses, this illustrates what I have pointed out about her songwriting, in that there is a clear verse/chorus/verse...structure musically, but what seems a chorus lyrically is embedded within a verse (meaning the above) and then as a nice added touch, directly following the above line, Steve Fisk added a perfect keyboard part on the instrumental chorus (the instrumental chorus by then was a VG trademark), cementing his place as a 4th member of the band in the studio as needed. Then, after the keyboard part, Jenny sings the provocative line: "...I will take/Off my dress/When you give me/What you love best...", an impactful expression of the power dynamics and transactional nature of a sexual relationship, phrased in such a way as to turn the idea of taking off a dress for someone, where normally a woman doing so is the exploited party, into a form of dominance through sexuality (though it is important to point out that Jenny was/is a lesbian, and that I am speaking in a broad sense here, and, a cis gender heterosexual male sense, so gender is less relevant within the context of the song). That is how I see it, anyhow.
Listen to Many Gowns
An important song as it represents (along with the final Eros cut, Horses) a shift that was coming in the band's approach to music, one that reflected the influence of hip hop on Drew and Jenny. Drew had already been making beat loops and using samples for a couple years by this point, and had local rappers coming to him to produce demos (such as Seattle hip hop group B2C (Born 2 Create). This influenced Jenny to also be interested in sampling and building beats. On tours Drew and Jenny played a lot of hip hop on the van stereo, and their favorites seemed to be The Roots (a group who would in years to come complete my evolution as a hip hop fan when I saw them kill it live in Seattle in the late '90s), Outkast (the early, harder-edged stuff) and especially Wu Tang Clan, their ultimate favorite group. Wu Tang brought a whole new take on creating beats and sampling; It was dirty, out of tune, warbly and dark. This style fit VG like a glove. Interestingly, the engineer on this Eros session, John Goodmanson, would years later end up producing on Wu Tang Clan recordings [Correction: Goodmanson mixed some sections on a Wu Tang record, under the production of RZA and Steve Thompson]. At the time, I was not versed in hip hop beyond the early, more popular stuff like Grand Master Flash, Run DMC and Beastie Boys. It was an education that would take years for me. At this point in Violent Green, it was merely a flavor, soon to be the main course, much to my dismay at that time, which I will get into in later entries. These days, I love hip hop in all its forms. Fisk and his solo stuff, which heavily uses beats and samples and unique found noises as beats and foundations, and his brilliant music and beats on the poet Jesse Bernstein's influential record Prison (for more on this, see Part 39) and in the two man music project Pigeonhed were also huge influences on Drew and Jenny's sampling, as mentioned in previous entries. Also in my memory of recording this tune was Drew's masterful playing of just the cymbals, live, along with the samples and beats. But what I didn't like about it? It was a song on our record that I had zero contribution to, a fact that began to bother me as hip hop and trip hop styles crept in. I would adapt, as I do, and ended up, on later songs with beats and samples, playing some of my best bass. But to everyone else, since it was on songs with beats and samples, they assumed the bass parts were also loops of samples. The last Violent Green album had no live drums, and, I rehearsed to a cassette tape! I will of course discuss this later. That all said, I did and do dig Many Gowns. But it paled in comparison to the tune that would ring out the end of the record, Horses, which pushed me to the edges of what I was comfortable with musically as far as what we were all doing, and ultimately pushed me through a wall to a different musical world. More on that below in the analysis of Horses.
Lost in Threes
Listen to Lost In Threes
This is one of our poppiest songs and follows a straight verse/chorus/verse structure, but still maintains our trademark mentioned above of having a what I am calling a musical chorus. It was a nice song to break up the other dark songs on the record (along with the tune 25₵) and in our set. I have no idea what the lyrics were really about, as was/is often the case with VG songs, but offer ideas below. Even as poppy as it is by VG standards, Jenny's voice is deep and dark. After all, she could have sung the pop smash hit If You're Happy and You know It and make it sound dark. Steve Fisk once contrasted her songwriting style to that of the front person (Al Larson) for her former band Some Velvet Sidewalk, whose songwriting involved songs about ice cream; "...Is that all there is?!?!" and "You be the cat/And...I'll bethemouse!" Paraphrasing Fisk here, "Some Velvet Sidewalk is the bunny hopping through the forest, and Violent Green is the wolf closing in..." To be crystal clear, Al Larson is a friend and a person I collaborated with for a show with the Tacoma, Washington hip hop group The Evil Tamborines, more later on that, but, I am a huge Some Velvet Sidewalk fan, I consider them one of the most original bands to walk the earth, but the 'to be clear' part is, I am in no way dissing Al's songwriting, and I know I speak for Fisk when I say he wasn't either. This is apples and oranges stuff here, and also to be fair, the next line after You be the cat/And...I'll bethemouse! is, "MOUSE TRAAAAAAAP!" This was veiled Disney, and wrought in anguish. SVS kicked ass ~ RIP Martin ~ miss you, brother) Lost in Threes opens with the lines "...She is so pri-vate/Broken hearts/Ev....ry...where.." In my mind, this is clearly about her fresh romantic loss. And maybe all of our losses (well, not mine, as it was imminent, but not extant). The descent in the song continues with the lines, "Blue cold sunlight/Darker than man's/....Spite..." almost as if self-conscious of the music being too sunny; This is cold sun.
Listen to Serve Cold
I am realizing in listening to these songs again and analyzing them that most of my favorite VG songs are on this lp. That makes sense, I suppose, as it is my favorite VG lp! This is a contender for most favorite as well. I love how the guitar chords of the verse start with a sharp downstroke and open up into a more airy chord in each measure, and I feel pretty proud of how I interpreted what to play on the bass. The chorus was fun to play because the rhythm of it is so unique :bum..bum..bum..dabaaadabadadum..da bum bum bum da bumdadadadadadada...(Sure, that makes sense, Wayne). And speaking of the chorus, for most of the song, there is a pretty traditional back and forth between verse and chorus, until an outro verse. Drew does his thing, finding the right pocket, and uses his trademark tom rolls, sort of jazzy but retaining his hardcore punk roots in how fast the rolls are, yet, they are only fast at the end of each measure here, following the unique rhythm mentioned. Jenny's singing is as haunting as ever, and her screams are wrenching in the verses, and as was often the case with screams in her songs, the lines and notes she sang stretched into the screams, ramping up from straightforward singing.
Below is a video of the band playing part of Serve Cold (click link itself, photo is just a screenshot from the video) as the person filming only filmed part of it. It is the only Violent Green footage I know of (if you have footage SEND IT TO ME!) we were playing at Moe's Tavern (now called Nuemos) in Seattle, my guess is this is around 1995 or 1996. It isn't very long at all, but is a good example of how a song could fall apart sometimes, the video starts as a song does just that. It also shows the weird energy of the band onstage, evident in my throwing my hands up in annoyance at the song dissembling, and then her glancing at my dismay and laughing at it (in retrospect, an appropriate response - the me I am now would have responded the same way to Young Wayne). That said, this was a show where Jenny was being charming and funny, so that means she was digging the vibe of the room, and cracks a joke about the song falling apart, and relating it to the lyrics; "...I'm glad/I'm glad/I'm glad/I'm glad/I'm glad about your face..." After the song devolves and falls away, she says, "Ok, so...I guess we got too glad..."
Video retrieved from the Punk Rock Diner YouTube channel (screenshot from said video by author).
Listen to Spoken
This song begins with a simple, somewhat gloomy 2 note part, the very first of the notes is guitar only and then Drew and I come in with a paired down backing of the parts. The part feels like an intro, but as you listen, you find it is not. The second part is the main verse, more jazzy in a poppy way, 3 notes, the first two of which I took the liberty of adding a taste of funk by walking up to the high string on the E note and slightly plucking out the end of the note and adding a bombom at the one (as in the rhythmic one) of the E note. Jenny's lyrics are playful at first, "...I've got so ma-ny friends/I've got so ma-ny friends..." and ends with the words, "...but no...one." Again my interpretation is this is related to her recent break up, but hard to tell. Often her lyrics were somewhat abstract for the listener, but only because they couldn't really know what was in her head. I don't feel this was intentional, as say how Doug Martsch often writes lyrics to be broad in their meaning, and based on a composite of people, incidents or emotions. I feel Jenny always wrote about specific things, even if it was in an abstract way, or, about something abstract. It goes through two iterations of each of these parts, then the original 2 note part that felt like an intro becomes extended as a path to the dramatic ending. The notes are the same, but the feel is radically different, as Jenny begins strumming her oddly chiming guitar part harder and with feeling. I take this as an opportunity to change up to chords on the bass, which I doubled up (as in, I recorded the live part, then did an overdub - I realize now that this was the only doubling of basses I did in the studio in this band). In the overdub part, I let loose on the chords, and as I didn't use a pick, I had developed a method in VG for playing them by stroking downward with the backs of my fingernails, giving the chords bite. The last note of this part I twanked out on the g string with all my might. I remember being almost hypnotized by the song while I did so. Jenny's vocals, which start playfully at the beginning, morph into a gut wrenching scream, the main refrain of which is "...Living on the lake..." I am not sure what this refers to. It is an intense, emotional roller-coaster of a song.
Listen to 25₵
This song is definitely the poppiest Violent Green song. It is a really sweet little tune (clocking in just under 2 minutes), bouncy, and in spite of lines like '...Voice pounding in my head...' and '...If you don't like the concrete/...Shoooes at your feet..." the lyrics, compared to Jenny's other lyrics, are much lighter and more playful here. The song concludes with lines from a Residents song called 'Silver, Sharp, and Could Not Care';
"Lies can often give you power
Like a coffin filled with flowers
Gives life to the living, not the dead."
I am not sure why she included Residents lyrics in a song, and for all I know the rest of the lyrics may also be from other songs. The music is two notes, and as mentioned bouncy. I did some variations on the high notes I hit that change with the singing. A memory of this song is that by accident on this take, I alternated those switching high notes, one after the other, instead of every 3 measures (more on 3s and Violent Green below) and Chris Takino really loved that part for some reason, I think maybe because it was an unexpected little twist toward the end of an otherwise pretty strait forward song.
Listen to Wine
As mentioned above, this is also one of the contenders for my fav VG songs (we also recorded it in a prior session for our first 7 inch record on Up). It opens with a haunting solo guitar intro, which has one explosive spike of a chord in the middle of it before diminishing, hinting at what is to come, then subsides for the dust to settle then it morphs (a more appropriate description than 'changes' for this transition) into a tense, swooping, 3 chord verse part (the number 3 comes up all over the place in Violent Green, even in the simple fact of the number of its members, even the building we were recording in was triangular, 3 corners, and, I assume Jenny was keyed into the religious symbolism of the number, and did mention jokingly, when we played on the radio in Seattle later, how our songs were based on the 'Holy Triad' - and there is a song on the record called Lost in Threes- I rest my case) before the transition into a two note, almost droning part, with excellent cymbal splash accents strategically placed, - then it back into the three notes of the verse which (see, what'd I tell ya?) which are loaded for only three notes, in terms of what we did with them. Drew pulls out his Elvin Jones-like 8th note skills on the cymbals and toms. What always makes me smile listening to Drew's drumming are his crazy fast tom rolls placed at the resting point transition between some of the verses and parts, such as at the end of the main verse here, though each roll is slightly different for accent (something Drew and I did often, he with rolls and cymbal hits, me with chords and string bending, in VG). This is also the only song in which I sang back-ups, one line; "...There is/Suicide..." following Jenny's line that precedes it; "...And if/In your heart..." I can actually sing pretty well, but this was the only time I did it in this band. Not 100 per cent sure why, I don't think Jenny was against it. I think it was because I felt her voice was so powerful that it a) didn't need my voice added (in retrospect I may have even considered singing on the songs sacrilegious) and b) my voice may not have sounded so good next to her large vocal presence. The song flows along like a normal song should, with variations by both Jenny and myself on our guitars that break up the two note part with a sort of mini bridge at the one, where we each play a high note flourish (hers a perfect, uncharacteristically clean, clear chord), until it dramatically shifts into a two note part outro with a rhythmic suspension in the middle such that the second note is a release, like something falling into multiple membranes, stretching them, then breaking through; bum...ba......BAAAAAAA......bum...ba......BAAAAAAA
Then, after 3 (!) of these parts, the same notes are played at a faster pace more solidly, and I am opened up to add more notes as flourish (what Fisk eventually dubbed 'Wayneflavor').
Listen to Giant
Finally we arrive at a song that has a verse/chorus/verse structure lyrically and musically. A sad pop song that I love, and have pondered covering in my solo stuff (but the idea was nixed as the song seems specific and personal to her experience). Despite my love for the song, for some reason, I hesitate to call it a 'favorite' but I am not sure why. Possibly because I consider it apart from all VG songs, it is in its own class. The lyrics are pretty clearly about love lost, and probably about her ex whom I am calling C. It is a heart wrenching song but also very tender and sweet, and maybe her softest vocal delivery in the history of the band, at least for an entire song, and her voice is beautiful here, especially when she sings the lines, ...You are/...Strong/To-meeeeee..." which has always evoked in me how one feels about en ex with whom it didn't work and how you still admire them as people, and wish them well. Or, it could have been written about C while she was still with her. I don't really know. I do know that the above line comes to my mind when thinking of exes, two of which I am still friends with, and, as I am always attracted to strong women, it fits, and also perfectly captures moments where these strong women didn't feel strong and I said the same words; "You are strong to me." And the heartbreaking line that sticks with me always is, "See if it's true/'Bout those who never mend." All the above said, the song could very well be about a book or a film, or a scene from either or about a relative [Hold the damn phone - Listening again, I hear the line 'Boo finds a friend'- this could be the character Boo from the novel To Kill A Mokingbird by Harper Lee, which fits with Jenny's literary and political tastes - someday I will find out from her, for now, this song is more of a mystery than I thought]. Good lyrics are usually like that; even when specific - the wording allows commiseration from the listener in unintended ways. The music is simple and folky throughout, and the chorus is a wonderful drop to the F note at the start, and I took care to stretch the last note of each measure in a kind of country music way, rather than the crazy rock stretches that I commonly did in this band. In this band, I learned to make one note do many things; by stretching strings, muffling them, and playing within the scale in many different ways. It opened my abilities to interpret a songwriter's intentions, and to expand a simple note.
Listen to Arbor
The song starts with two instrumental measures of the verse, which is at a galloping tempo, and I think this is an apt word for it, as it feels like a horse running. But then the horse slows suddenly, maybe to nibble grass by the river, as the part immediately transitions into a more dramatic version of the same verse part for the rest of the song, that is, it is the same notes, played with the same rhythm, but much slower. And that is the whole of the song as far as parts go. The most remarkable thing about the song is the blood curdling scream that Jenny unleashes in the midst of the seventh or so verse. I distinctly remember when this vocal take was recorded because of this scream. Jenny was singing the takes in a small vocal room (for of course recording vocals, but also horns, percussion, and other things added later to recordings) with its window facing the main tracking room so that the producer can see the person inside the booth while they talk to them on the talk back mic. She had done her aforementioned ambience altering by dimming the lights down low. On this take, she turned them off, and when she hits that scream, it sent chills though all of us in the control room. I know I can speak for everyone there, even though none of us ever talked about it after, because we all gave each other uneasy glances. I will never forget it. It was like some kind of sinister but not evil magic or something. And it was also beautiful. Not being able to see her, only experiencing her spirit through that powerful voice, it pierces the dark of my memory, I still get chills listening to the song.
Listen to Rabbit Snare
One of the darkest and to me creepiest Violent Green songs ever. It's like a horror film as a song, but also political. It was one of the few songs we did where we did a drop D tuning on the E string, which adds to this feeling I am talking about. Many Seattle bands, including Nirvana, had done this tuning in songs, but nobody quite like this. The melody is infectiously rhythmic, like many of Jenny's songs, the tempo and rhythm are that of a galloping horse (there again the horse, and as well there is a song called Horses on this record - she was a huge fan of Western films). The lyrics are fascinating but complex, and I won't even bother trying to interpret them, and you know you are in for a lyrical ride when a song opens with the lines, "Rusty bomb/Bursts the air/Or was that/A rabbit snare?" and then the lyrics respond to the opening question with, "IIIIIII.../don't care." But some of my favorite lines of hers are in this song. The stand out is, "...Fuck you...In your blight suit. Blight suit..." how can you not love a line like that, delivered to this sinister drop D tuned, dark and loping rhythm? It's creepy as fuck, and in the way that calls to mind Seattle poet (RIP) Jesse Bernstein's line, "...I like to think that when something disturbs me, it is important." The tune ends on a purposefully stroked open D note on my Kramer bass's string, and, with its super powerful level of sustain, the note growls and grinds through the end of the song, after Jenny softly ends the singing with the line, "...Scent of moss..." Rabbit Snare is one of the most bizarre and chilling of our songs, another one I hesitate to call a 'favorite' as it is so unique in the catalogue of songs (that being a demo, a 7 inch, 3 lps and a few songs on comps and one unreleased record after my time in the band).
Listen to Shadow here
One of the few VG songs that has an intro part that acts as a prologue to the whole song (which bookends with an outro/epilogue), starting with a nice, easy going chord progression that starts with an electric acoustic guitar (later joined by her usual electric which takes over after the intro), over which Jenny twice recites in a spoken voice the line, "I'm on top..." a phrase that could be interpreted as a sexual position, which to me seems more likely than the only other interpretation, that she means she is 'on top of things' in life, as it doesn't fit with Jenny's lyrical content or style, or with her as a person and how she saw herself (she was plenty confident, just not cocky, and not without some self-reflection). After the intro, the song slows in tempo a bit to a two chord, loping part with a crazy percussive break in one of the transitions between notes, after a pause. I remember stressing out every time playing this break after we first learned it because it was the oddest thing I have ever played in a song, and super challenging because it was such a long percussive pause, the note hit just over 20 times, quickly - I just listened to it several times trying to get an exact count (I even tried making tic marks with a pen on a notepad along with the rhythm) and it is almost impossible to do without slowing the song down (which I can easily do, but...As you know by now...I am lazy!) and then after the percussive stall, another pause, one that decelerates before the actual pause with some purposefully strummed guitar chords, then it launches into an uptempo, rocking two chord part in which I was able to go off on my bass lines (a rare opportunity in this band), adding complex rhythms within those notes. What stands out to me generally in listening to all these Eros tunes now is that we did a lot with minimal notes, even with one note. This is what I mean when I describe the band as a 'musical' band, and that mostly musicians understood what we were doing. The elimination of choruses, the dissonant parts that somehow fit together perfectly, parts that evolve and build and launch into sheer emotional outbursts, all of this was a deconstruction of music and a rebuilding of something new, in much the same way as Captain Beefheart did (he was a big influence on Jenny too, as I remember - I had not delved into that brilliance yet as a listener and wouldn't until decades later - now I am a convert and huge fan - a scenario that was repeated for me with many bands Jenny and Chris Takino introduced me to - time release influences). At first (and actually all these years until now) I thought there was a line in the lyrics to Shadow "...And we lie still/Just to talk..." but it is actually "...lied, still..." which completely changes my interpretation of the meaning. Previously, I thought it was about a couple laying in bed in an intimate moment, talking (what I always considered a very sweet image). But now that I know it is 'lied', I feel it is probably about members of a couple lying to each other to be able to relate to each other and not cause friction, to keep the relationship together - Again circling back to the relationship issues she had just experienced, I assume. I would say Shadow is the fastest tempo song we played, at least in the end/outro.
Listen to Horses here:
My most vivid memories of recording this song were that the odd, hissy sounding noises were created by taking the top highat cymbal off, and Fisk having Drew drop pennies onto the bottom cymbal and recording it. Fisk then reversed the sounds recorded to achieve that effect. He was the perfect producer to help us explore this new territory (another awesome thing he did was to catch the air just in front of the bass drum with a small amp speaker converting it into into a mic, to add as a flavor to the main bass drum trac sound when mixing drums later, giving it a thicker feel). The driving force of the whole song is the marching style snare beat, a masterful loop. I remember being blown away by it, and it was very alien to me, this style of music (though I did listen to music at the time like Portishead, which incorporated noise loops as beats and warbly, distorted beats). I had heard nothing so completely immersed in this new style being called 'trip hop', which to me was like psychedelic hip hop, and it was intriguing but also induced head scratching (and as mentioned in the commentary on the other sample driven song here, Many Gowns, I didn't like that it was a song on a record by a band I was in that I had nothing to do with) and ultimately that led to me being nervous about Chris Takino hearing it, that is, that he would think it too weird to be on the record. At the time, I didn't know Chris all that well, even though we had known each other for about 4 years at the time of this recording session, so I was unsure how he would react to this bizarre style, this acid trip of a song. If it would have been later in our friendship, I would have known he would react how he in fact reacted, which was, as he sat in the producer chair after the song ended, stoned, mouth hanging slightly open (something I never saw him do) to utter but one word; "Awesome."
And so began a fast but measured transformation of Violent Green that would play out over 2 more records, and 3 more years before my time in the band ended.