Sunday, August 7, 2022

Music History Part 46: A new band, a new job, a romantic relationship in decline

Disclaimer: Memory is a funny thing, and an elusive one. Meaning; I might have some of this wrong, as 1. My memory is not always accurate, like anyone and 2. It is from my perspective only. Any friends  who were there, feel free to correct me or add things I have missed. It helps! Also, no gossip on anyone here, it ain't about that. Personal details are on a surface level, and friends, girlfriends and others are re-named to respect their privacy. People in bands generally put their names out there on albums and in interviews anyway, and are not in the habit of staying anonymous, and therefore are named here. That said, anyone who is in the blog that wishes me not to use their name has only to ask.

Seattle Years DisclaimerAs 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 band-mates 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 ~* 

A silly 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! (Or, make it into a drinking game).


My other blogs: Short Story Long - (Top of mind, conversational, formal essays, photo essays, etc.) Artwork, Poetry

I have been away a while due to life interruptions, the most recent being that I had back surgery in November,  but it ain't my first rodeo, and I am on the mend, getting better and stronger every day. I also got COVID then recovered from it a few weeks ago (thankfully I had just gotten my 2nd booster, otherwise I would have been way more sick). Before all that, during the height of this bad apocalyptic sci-fi film we found ourselves living in (complete with a fascist leader in power) I assumed I would be working on this blog and my other blogs (see links above) a lot, but no, I wasn't feeling it. Other medical issues, friends dying, an odd romantic online interlude with someone from my past (an interlude that couldn't be consummated due to the pandemic, proximity and other quirks about it, but it's cool, we're still buds) plus ice storms, power outages, heat waves, smoke-outs from wildfires and more made sure that I wasn't feeling it. Despite all that, I am grateful for what I have, and where I am at. If it weren't for the love and help of my friends (and the hard work of doctors, nurses and physical therapists) it would have been almost impossible to endure. I bow in respect, and I hope you readers/friends are all well, and hanging in there. OK, back to the chronological blog, daunting as ever due to so much that was going on in my life in 1994-1995. I will do my best to keep it all sorted. Thank you all for your patience and the notes of encouragement; as I always say in response; thank you, it is a labor of love.

RIP Tracey, you were truly one of the finest human beings to walk the Earth. 

RIP Jon Hale, now with Tracey, for they were meant to be together, wherever, forever. You were the one who, with your band Commonauts, inspired a 16 year old Wayne to play music in a band in the early '80s, and gave me the honor of playing drums in Commonauts when the band reformed in 2014, and who was integral to both the Boise and Seattle music scenes. So much more to say about Jon, I will devote an entry to him, when I am ready. And I ain't ready. Miss you, Captain Commonaut.

Wayne R. Flower II, Summer, 2022

Bye, bye bagels

My job at Spot Bagel had disintegrated after seeming to be promising for a time; I ended up co-managing the Spot Bagel cafe' by the Pike Place Market for a short time with one of the bagel bakers, a wonderful woman who I became close friends with, and am friends with to this day, she now lives with her wife and son in Tacoma. The manager who helped me to become a manager was a great guy, the definition of a 'cool boss,' but he had to go rescue the flagship cafe' and eventually left because new executive management had taken over in Corporate, who basically ruined the company over a short period of time (in my mind, many other minds) especially  responsible for this was one woman in particular, who came from the mega corporate tech world and made terrible decisions that crushed the family-like atmosphere created by the founder, who, as I mentioned, seemed like a decent guy to me. 

I learned a lot from managing. The main thing I learned (but forgot when I gave it a go again as a boss at a different company years later); I am not cut out to be a boss (I had also previously been a boss when I was foreman of a cleaning crew for an apartment building remodel, covered in a previous entry, but the cafe' job was different, I was more of an 'official' boss there). A boss has to sort of cut themselves off from being an actual friend with their employees, and I had a hard time doing that, and a hard time disciplining people when it was needed. I just never felt comfortable with compartmentalizing my personality in that way.

I did, however, learn to multi-task efficiently, and handle a variety of diverse tasks. For example, a day-in-the-life may be: the giant bagel oven broke down and I was calling for repairs and then right after that, sitting down to broker the peace between two employees who were fighting, then ordering what food and beverages we needed, signing in deliveries, then on to accounting, then, dealing with a pissed customer who was being an asshole to my employees (in Seattle in the '90s, this happened a lot - at one point the price of a dozen bagels went up a nickel and the yuppies flipped out, so I had my cash register employees keep a cup of nickels by the register, instructing them to give them people who were being assholes about it, and after letting them rant, say something like, "You seem pretty upset about it. Here, here's your nickel," and they would storm out in a rage, often throwing the nickel on the counter before exiting). 

Eventually a new boss placed over me and my co-manager was brought in, and he was awful (and his reign ended after I left when an affair he was having with a very young employee began to interfere with his management, and ultimately ended when his young lover stole a bunch of money from the cafe' and ran). 

So I followed my boss to the flagship shop, and right before he quit, as shitty luck would have it, the aforementioned awful manager was chosen to take over there. Then came dress codes (always the death knell of any remaining coolness at an establishment) which were antithetical to the identity the place had always been known for; it's very character and appeal. One employee was a drag queen, and he wore modest make up and colorful, expressive, non binary clothing. They forbade him to dress that way, or to wear make-up while working (but women could of course still wear it!). We were all furious. The place just went down hill from there. I had to bail, so I quit.

One good thing that came of working at Spot Bagel was that I began to write about all the weird experiences I had there, serving uptight Seattle yuppies and dealing with mentally ill street people who wandered into the cafe, and this writing became a way to reconnect with Pat from State of Confusion and Treepeople, who had started an arts and entertainment magazine in Boise called Street Magazine, for which Scott (Pat's brother) also from the same bands, contributed to, honing his developing graphic arts skills, skills that eventually led to his own successful business that he still makes a living with today. Scott had just moved back to Boise in 1994, making me the lone ex Treepeople member left in 'Jet City'. The articles I wrote were titled 10 Reasons Not to Move to Seattle, a reaction to the mass influx of people coming to settle in the city then, radically transforming it in mostly undesirable ways (as well, the title was poking fun at top 10 lists, which had were wildly popular then in print media (which is all we had besides TV and radio, Baby), and wonderfully parodied at the time on the David Letterman Show). I had a lot of fun doing the articles, it was my first experience of having my writing read by a wide audience, and the first time that I had deadlines for my writing outside of school. I am forever grateful to Pat for giving me that opportunity (I will be adding some scans of the articles and go into Pat and my collaborations, including the original publication he and I did of poetry and art called 'Food' in a 'Missed Bits' entry, draft already begun).

A New Job (A good one, for a change)

I don't remember how I got this job, maybe I saw it in the newspaper (that's how we did it in those days, kids!) or a friend told me about it, regardless, a small, well respected specialty caterer in Seattle, located in the upper middle class neighborhood in the furthest northern part of Capitol Hill, hired me as a delivery driver. They were such good people that they instantly became like family to me, and this job offered me stability and support that I truly needed at that time, as well as flexibility to accommodate my rapidly growing music career (and they were the first client for a cleaning business I started, more on that next entry). The owner was/is a wonderful woman who very quickly became a sort of surrogate mother to me in some ways (and a personal hero), from whom I learned a lot about food and life from; she forever has my respect and gratitude. Thank you, Jane!

Heaven sent, with Halo bent; The Halo Benders and God Don't Make No Junk - (The following account is based on my memories and recent conversations with bandmates Calvin Johnson, Doug Martsch, Ralf Youtz and Steve Fisk, to whom I am grateful).

Having a decent stable income was huge for me at this point in my life generally, and as a musician. It allowed me to more easily buy music equipment and travel to places for touring and increasingly, for recording, which started with an unexpected call from my former band-mate from Treepeople, Doug Martsch, who was then starting to become well known in the Northwest music scene and in pockets of music nerds throughout the world from his band Built to Spill

Per Calvin Johnson, when Treepeople was still together (and after I had quit the band) they played a show in 1992 at a now long closed space in Austin, Texas with Beat Happening, the seminal Olympia, Washington band co-founded by Calvin (who was also co-founder of K Records). Calvin by then had become well known as a musician, record label owner and all around promoter of the Olympia music scene, which was then at its zenith.  

Treepeople had met Calvin before the Austin show, when Calvin put on some shows for the band (a couple of which were when I was still a member) and at these shows, as often happened in those days, the bands exchanged tapes; the Beat Happening tape was Dreamy (I can guess that the Treepeople tape we gave him was probably the No Mouth Pipetting demo, based on the period of time). Per Calvin, he and Doug hit it off. A little while after this meeting, Doug had listened to the Dreamy tape and liked it. One of Doug’s first inspirations that led to he and Calvin ultimately collaborating arose from Doug listening to the song by Beat Happening from Dreamy called Revolution Come and Gone, as he wanted to use a sample of Calvin saying the word ‘revolution’ for the Built to Spill song Revolution (from the Built to Spill debut, Ultimate Alternative Wavers). This led to Doug asking Calvin if he “wanted to sing on this thing I am doing [ie, a music project].” 

Doug's memory of how he and Calvin connected is a bit different, but that is the way of memory when decades separate us from these times, and the truth of it is probably in a bit of both memories (that is how it seems to be in my experience, anyway). 

Doug remembers seeing Beat Happening for the first time when they opened for Fugazi in Seattle (I was also at that show, it was great) and he really liked them. He said at that Fugazi show, he remembers Beat Happening being kind of silly and cute, but when he saw them in Austin (at the aforementioned show) they were different, and pretty intense.

After the first Built to Spill record (which had gotten a positive response in the Olympia scene) Doug wanted to work with someone else who sang and sent a tape to Calvin, and Doug was really excited about working with him. They didn’t really know each other that well and it was kind of awkward at first (this I understand, as, like Doug, up to being in Violent Green and Halo Benders, I had also only played music with people I knew pretty well already) but despite that, they totally got each other and connected through the music.

They worked on some songs together like Scarin’ (Doug says this was his favorite song and at some point he realized that the chords were the same as ‘Rocky Racoon’ by the Beatles) and other tunes. A memory he had was that one night he could hear Calvin singing Scarin’ in the bathtub. Doug would “...wrap chords around the notes.” At some point it became clear that they needed more people to be part of what they were doing, especially a drummer.

Doug later called to ask if I wanted to come down to Olympia and lay down some drum and bass tracks. I of course said yes, it sounded fun. He had already recruited a friend from his Farm Days years, Ralf Youtz, who played drums on the debut Built to Spill LP, and who would soon become a musician of note in the Portland, Oregon music scene (The Feelings, Sone, The No Nos, Ape Shape, Halo Benders) where he had moved from Boise (after having grown up in the same town as Doug; Twin Falls, Idaho) to also play bass and drums. The plan was that Ralf and I would switch back and forth on the two instruments, a formula that ended up working well throughout the life of the band. In a recent conversation with Calvin, he told me what he loved about working with Ralf and I was that he or Doug could ask one of us, "Can you put a bass (or drum) track on this song?" and Ralf or I would say, "Yeah," without hesitation and knock it out pretty quickly. 

At the time of the recording, it wasn't yet a band; it was a project. We got together to see what we would come up with out of the very different songwriting and signing styles of Doug and Calvin, which became the signature sound of what ultimately became The Halo Benders.

Dub Narcotic Studio at the time was in the basement of Calvin's fairly large house in Olympia. The basement itself wasn't large, though, in fact it was a little cramped, especially the small tracking room where all the instruments were crammed. In the next room were racks of Calvin's vintage recording gear, looking to me like equipment from a mad scientist's lair in a '50s B sci fi film. Calvin told me that the Halo Benders debut was the first full album recorded there (and he had tracked some eps there prior), and a week after Doug left, he recorded the wonderful Beck LP, One Foot in the Grave (a record I am a big fan of) and that both records are the ones for which he has received the most praise for production, and he said he just used a couple of SM58 mics and some 'crappy preamps.'

Doug had written some songs and recorded them as demos prior to showing up for the first tracking sessions for God Don't Make No Junk (GDMNJ), like On a Tip, and some of the songs he and Calvin wrote together, like Freedom Rider, which evolved from a simple (but really rad, in my opinion) guitar part Calvin had written. Doug used a drum machine for the beats on the demo versions of the songs he wrote. Ralf told me he remembers when he tried to play an interpretation of the drum machine beat on the song Don't Touch My Bikini (which became the unquestionable fan favorite/'hit' upon release of the record), Calvin said to him, "Ralf, you are playing the beat like this;" and he proceeded to do a groovy, loose dance (in that way only he can) and then he said, "How you wanna play it is like this:" and he then did a more stiff, rigid dance, so Ralf wrote a beat that mimicked the drum machine beat very closely (production by dancing!)

As I remember it, the first song I tracked was the song Canned Oxygen, on which I played drums and Doug played bass and guitar (Doug is actually a great bass player himself, as it turned out; I had no idea). The song is punky and fun, and I employed the drumming style I had used in Treepeople. This song would be on the first 7 inch release from the session, and when GDMNJ made the Gimme Indie Rock: 500 Essential American Underground Rock Albums 1981-1996 list, it was called "...a musical high point for both principal personalities [Doug and Calvin]." But at that time, we had no aspirations for such compliments, or press. We were having a blast with this musical experiment. 

 As you can hear in the Canned Oxygen song, Doug and Calvin's voices were at opposite ends of the scales, Calvin's signature baritone and Doug's higher voice, and they each sang their own lyrics, occasionally melding in meaning, which also became a signature sound throughout the life of the band, and I think it really set us apart from other music at the time, and I have never heard anyone do it in quite this way since, as their lyrics usually rarely had anything to do with each other in terms of content. But somehow, like Scott Schmaljohn and Doug Martsch's 'jigsaw' guitar parts in Treepeople, it worked. I asked Doug if this was planned and via email, he responded, "There was no consistent approach to lyrics. Every song was different. Some lyrics like snowfall, don’t touch my bikini, and Freedom rider were written by Calvin and I just made up background vocals using his lyrics. Calvin wrote the rest of the words for will work for food after I showed him the song and sang the first line "I need a couch I haven’t got one." and then there were some songs like Virginia reel around the fountain where we both just sang whatever we wanted and didn’t pay any attention with the other one was singing."

Steve Fisk got a call from Calvin about some keyboard ideas he (Calvin) had for the record, so Fisk headed to Calvin's to do some tracking (and he also ended up mixing the record later). Calvin had some older keyboards and Fisk brought some of his own, he remembers one was his digital Hammond. It was the first time Fisk had been to Dub Narcotic Studio. There were two beautiful hand-made speakers (he thinks they were made by Diana Arens, an important DJ in Olympia who had a great KAOS FM radio show called Free Things Are Cool) and that Calvin had a "beefy solid state power amp." 

Fisk's involvement in the band was somewhat limited, especially for touring, as he was very busy during the ‘90s doing music production work (for some great bands, I might add). Pigeonhed, a neo soul rock/groove band Fisk co-founded with Shawn Smith (RIP) was blowing up, and his band Pell Mell (one of my all time favorite bands) from his San Francisco days was still putting out music, and had signed with Geffen Records. As I have mentioned more than once, a lot was going on in the NW in music in the '90s (but do I really need to tell you that?).

The finished product that became the album God Don't Make No Junk was a pleasant surprise to me, in that it was constructed in a piecemeal fashion over time, and my involvement on it was to come in, track some drums, and head back to Seattle, so I had no sense of it as a whole, like I had with every other recording I had been on.

Ralf Youtz remembers it the same way, but also through the lens of a fan delighted to be a part of the project; "...For me, the mind-blowing moment came later, after I went home to Portland. I was living my life a few weeks or months later...and a cassette came in the mail with rough mixes of the whole record, basically in the order the record ended up [in]. With all that Steve Fisk stuff, all those Doug and Calvin performances they'd done after I left...I hadn’t heard any of it before, and I was like, I cannot believe that I'm involved in this!...I didn't talk about it [when he and I spoke for this entry]...this was such a huge deal for me, musically. You and Doug had been my musical role models since [attending] my first punk show in Idaho in 1985. Calvin, Beat Happening, and the K Records scene had made a huge impact on me starting in 1990. It was wild for me to be playing music either with - or at least on the same record as - some of my musical heroes." (from a chat with Ralf on Christmas Eve, 2021, at Dots Café in Portland, Oregon). I was also a fan of Doug's music, and having played music with him during his formative years didn't bias that at all, in fact, it enhanced it to see it evolve while being a part of it. I was new to the Olympia and K Records sound and scene, and to Calvin's work, but I quickly became an impressed fan, and as mentioned, I was already a fan of Fisk's work. Being part of this project/band was some of the most fun I have had playing music.

The record was received well by most music press and fans of Doug's and Calvin's music, and Steve Fisk's music and music production. Ralf and I were pretty much hired guns for this record, but progressively had a bit more creative input with each record, and Ralf ultimately wrote one of the songs on the final Halo Benders LP, The Rebel's Not In ('Rebel's Got a Hole In It'), a song on which I played only a snare drum (the only drums I played on the whole record, as by this point, I was officially the bass player) which proved to be exciting and challenging. More on that record and the other one later.

A Romantic Relationship in Decline

The heading above sounds like the title of some article, but it gets right to it. At this time in my life, a time when my life as a musician dominated more and more of my life and energy, my relationship of 5 years was on a downward slope. Because my life as a musician dominated more of my life? Hell no. This isn't some alternate version of the sexist Kiss hit ballad, 'Beth.' This was about a young man who was confused about some things, and as I have hinted at, a coward about facing certain decisions that would have been better for both people involved had he faced them, made them, and it was about a young woman who had her own plans for life and forged ahead in the only way she could. 

We all make mistakes, but our mistakes are ours to own alone. My partner headed off to college up North. She wanted me to come with her. I decided to stay, because...everything I had worked for in my life as a musician in Seattle (not to mention the Seattle scene itself) was booming. I couldn't give it up, and it seemed like traveling back and forth to rehearse, play shows and record was too much. Yes, this was a big part of it, and when things like this happen, this crossroad that rears its ugly head, certain things are no longer hidden. In this case, one of these things was the simple question I faced, but didn't acknowledge as to what I was actually choosing at the time; What do you choose? Your music career or your partner? I chose music. At the time, it didn't seem so cut and dry, so black and white. It was only an hour and a half away! We could make it work! Yeah...

Ok, so that does sound a bit like like the Kiss song, but hear me out. The truth is, I wanted out of this relationship. I know that now. But I fooled myself then. Because she was/is a wonderful person, and a big part of me didn't want to lose that. I had never been with such a good person in my life; but it also scared me. Mixed in with that emotional cocktail, I honestly didn't think I deserved her, deep down (and as it turned out, I didn't). And my attention was scattered then. My life as a musician had gotten busy, crowded and complicated. And I had anxiety and insecurity issues which did not help (as if they ever do...). I had been romantically hurt a number of times in my life, but I was with someone who would never do that to me. And like I said, that scared me, which is of course fucked up, but...

…how does one explain the complex emotions experienced when in love? The stage was set. The script wasn't written, but I was writing it on the fly, as my partner took a huge step to improve her life an hour and a half North of me, hurting because that wasn't as important to me as my music was, after she had stood by me for 5 years of her life while I toured, rehearsed for hours and hours a week and was often engaged in marathon recording sessions, and as a result couldn't always hold down a decent paying job. A story as old as cis gender, heterosexual relationships themselves in the 20th century (and continuing to the next). I didn't know it, but romantically at least, I was becoming a fucking cliché. And I would carry it all the way. 

This blog, this memoir is, after all, the story of a person, in this case a young musician, but no story of a any musician is just about the musical journey. The music and the life are linked. But more importantly, there are many lives that are affected by this journey, and many people who support that journey, or, as my partner was doing at this point in the tale, are just living their lives juxtaposed to it, but because their story isn't the story of an 'artist', it isn't told enough. As well, the story of the musician's emotional life is not told enough except in some glorified 'suffering artist' context. Art is important, yes. To me, it always has been, always will be. But what I have learned is that these lives, the lives around art and artists (and often on which said art is inspired by or based on) are far more important. Because at some point, whether within a night or a lifetime, the music goes silent, the light is turned out on the visual art, the book is shelved and forgotten, the film or play becomes a fragment of memory. What is left is Life.

That's it for now, I plan to be more prolific with my blogs, especially this one. As I get older, writing becomes more prominent in my life, so I want to carve out more time for it.

Be well and be SAFE. The COVID variant out there is already very contagious and it is unusually hot out, so this Fall when conditions are ideal for transmission, it will be bad. 

Wayne, 8/7/22

Friday, July 15, 2022

Scott Schmaljohn on the radio talking Boise punk history and its differences from music scenes in the present

Hello all, sorry for the long gap in posts, COVID and life are to blame! I have a draft ready to go (Halo Benders, Young Wayne's cool new job and more), it should be posted within the week!

Here is a recent interview on the radio with my old friend and bandmate Scott Schmaljohn (we played together in Dissident Militia, State of Confusion and Treepeople, and he has done other awesome bands: Stuntman and The Hand).

          Photo by Brian Bothwell, cropped by author

Sunday, February 27, 2022

State of Confusion Performance at Treefort 2022 Cancelled

Due to unforeseen circumstances, we have to cancel our performance at Treefort.

Our drummer Erik has health issues involving his back that cannot be resolved in time for our performance. 

We are bummed we can't give it one last go, and we were looking forward to seeing you all, but in the end it's just a show, and Erik's health comes first.

Thank you to everyone in Boise, elsewhere and at Treefort for the support and the opportunity. Keep fighting the good fight!

Yours with Love, State of Confusion 💥❤💥

Sunday, February 13, 2022

State of Confusion 2022 Treefort venue and dates/times announced

The Treefort schedule is out, so we can finally tell you when/where we are playing!

@ The Shredder, Sat 3/26 12:40am - 1:40am (Saturday night) w/ Death Lens, Flesh Produce, Cuffed Up, Shutups, Bad Optics, Cat Piss, Porcelain Tongue, and more!

Older punks, get your naps in, we are on late, we want to see you there!

Stoked to play the 10th annual Treefort in the town where we used to put on punk shows in places who would have us. You've come a long way, Boise! Pat would be proud.

Boise Noise forever!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

I'm still alive! Good things coming soon in the realm of this blog and of punk history: A State of Confusion reunion at Treefort, this March!

Happy New Year! I hope you are all as well as can be after all that we have all been through in the last couple of trying years (really, five, if you count the Trumpocalypse - and I do - that just keeps going and going like an authoritarian Energizer Bunny, or maybe a cockroach is a better metaphor, except, that would be a major insult to cockroaches, who are actually crucial to the environmental health of our planet). I am hanging in there after some trials in addition to what we have all have experienced, more on that in the next entry; speaking of which, I am working on that now (entries going forward will take me longer because, as I have mentioned, I am writing of the mid '90s, when my music career was very busy, as were my jobs that actually paid the bills, and then, you know, there were also self-created personal trials - it's all part of the music, ya know!).

Enough of that. Here is some good news; State of Confusion will be reuniting at the next Treefort Music Festival this coming March (exact dates/times TBA, watch this space and social media, but the fest is March 23rd - March 27th). 34 years since State of Confusion disbanded & reformed as Treepeople, 11 years since SOC last reunited in Boise, 23 years since Pat Schmaljohn left Earth. We honor him by reforming at Treefort, 2022. What the world needs now is super fast, skull ripping punk with something to say.

This go ‘round, we are excited to add Troy Wright to the ranks, who played drums for SOC a short time & came back to play bass on Treepeople reunion tours (2018-2019). Troy follows Pat’s roles in both bands; now singing in SOC & playing bass in Treepeople. Pat would approve. See you there!

In other news, from here on, we are putting the 'SOC' in social media! Spread the word!

SOC on Twitter 

SOC on Facebook

(Instagram coming soon!)

State of Confusion LP  'A' Street

We hope you had a great New Years and that you are ready to do some (respectful, nonviolent and observant of social distancing) thrashing!

"Tammy's clappin', where's all your taste, in your ASS?...God, we'll send 'em home with Tammy, an' all their equipment too...Yeah, their goin' home with you tonight, and play for you all night long..."  ~ Martha, co-owner of The Crazy Horse Salooon (where SOC cut our teeth) to her cocktail waitress Tammy as we were about to play a song, covertly recorded and lovingly used as the intro to the SOC song, 'Creeps

"...I have tried to understand the nature of your war/But it gets darker and darker, as I see more and more..." ~ Pat Schmaljohn, from his lyrics to the State of Confusion song, 'Decency.'



Pat 'Brown' Schmaljohn doing his thang in SOC, Boise, Idaho, 1985 ~ Photo by Brian Bothwell

Your blog author as young man (and a whole other being, really), when he played bass in State of Confusion and lived on Schmidt beer and ramen, too poor to afford a shirt, apparently ~Photo by Brian Bothwell

The State of Confusion is a pro-vaccination band. Get vaccinated! For yourself, your family, your community, and so we can END THIS FUCKING THING ALREADY!

Yours, with Love, Wayne Ray 'Rhino' Flower II

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Music History Part 45: 'Missed Bits' (go to next entry if you want to continue with the sequential progression of the blog)

Disclaimer: Memory is a funny thing, and an elusive one. Meaning; I might have some of this wrong, as 1. My memory is not always accurate, like anyone and 2. It is from my perspective only. Any friends  who were there, feel free to correct me or add things I have missed. It helps! Also, no gossip on anyone here, it ain't about that. Personal details are on a surface level, and friends, girlfriends and others are re-named to respect their privacy. People in bands generally put their names out there on albums and in interviews anyway, and are not in the habit of staying anonymous, and therefore are named here. That said, anyone who is in the blog that wishes me not to use their name has only to ask.

Missed Bits

What is 'missed bits'? It is what I am calling entries where I add things I missed in the previous entries. As I have often whined about in this blog, there is no way I will be able to remember and cover everything that happened in my years as a semi-professional musician (emphasis on the 'semi'!) and so often I remember things or someone reminds me of something, either via email or something comes up in a conversation, or, when doing research. 

Lunch with Jello

I mean the punk singer, not the undelicious gelatin-based desert. In the '80s, the Dead Kennedys played a show at The Crazy Horse saloon in Boise, Idaho, after it was booted from the Boise State University Ballroom (as it was called then, now it is called the 'Jordan Room') where it was originally booked (someone higher up was not pleased, so they pulled the old 'you need $1 million of insurance' thing, that is, setting a number they knew could not be achieved, a common tactic). I didn't get to see this show, nor did any of my bandmates in State of Confusion. After the show, I sent Jello an SOC record. 

Flash-forward to the late '80s, when Jello Biafra (singer of Dead Kennedys) was doing a speaking tour, and spoke at none other than the Boise State University Ballroom. He remembered how the DK's were booted and made it a point to return and speak there. My girlfriend at the time had a roommate with a baby who wanted Jello's autograph for the baby (not sure why, I am pretty sure the baby didn't know who he was!). So my girlfriend, her roommate and her baby and I approached Jello onstage after the lecture (which was quite good, very political). I mentioned I used to be in SOC and had sent him a record, asked if he received it. He remembered this (not surprisingly, he is an avid record collector and it was/is a very rare record, with hand silk-screened covers, and only 1,000 of the vinyl were pressed) and he said, "I was wondering if any of you SOC guys would show up tonight!" We talked a bit and he said he was going to be in town for one more day and he asked if I could show him around town, where the cool places to eat were and the cool record stores. I of course said, "Sure."

I received a phone call from Jello about 9 am, and he said "You have got to come rescue me from this hideous corporate hotel." I picked him up and took him to the Record Exchange (still there, still cool, and at the time was the only place in town then to get cool records). We went to a nice little cafe in the Hyde Park neighborhood (Nina Mae's) where we had a fascinating discussion. He was smart, interesting, politically educational and courteous. I had a great day with him. We said goodbye and I took him back to his hotel. 

He was to catch a flight home to SF that night, but it was canceled (if I remember correctly) and he was checked out of the hotel and stuck at BSU. He called and asked if I minded taking him to the airport. I didn't mind. I don't remember our conversation on the drive (it was more than likely about punk music) but we said our goodbyes, and I haven't spoken to him since. However, my next girlfriend did, years after this, and it was a strange instance of synchronicity (well, I suppose they are all strange).

Flash forward again to the mid '90s (and take note that this part of the 'bit' is ahead of the sequential timeline in the blog thus far, so it will appear again there). I was living in Seattle, had recently quit Treepeople (a band that most members of SOC were in) and was playing in a few bands (Violent Green, Halo Benders, and Faintly Macabre') and my girlfriend (a different one than previously mentioned) was living in Bellingham, Washington (about an hour and a half north of Seattle) going to college  at Western Washington University. Her roommate was in charge of setting up lecturers on lecture circuits to speak at Western, and Jello was scheduled to do so, and was soon arriving at the airport. My girlfriend's roommate said she was unable to pick Jello up, so she asked my girlfriend if she could do it, and she was able to.

She happened to be wearing a Treepeople shirt when she picked Jello up. She was no hardcore punk fan, she knew who Jello was, of course, but he was no big deal to her (she wasn't easily impressed in general, to her credit). When Jello saw the Treepeople shirt, he said, "Treepeople! A friend of mine is in that band!"
My ex: "Who?"
Jello:"Wayne Flower?"
My ex: "Get the fuck OUT! (she exclaimed in the manner of the character Elaine from Seinfeld). That's my boyfriend!"
Life is weird, indeed.

Musical Janitors

In the late '80s, Doug Martsch and I formed a side project from our then current band Treepeople called Musical Janitors (as we were both janitors at the time). It was an opportunity for Doug to play some covers he loved that wouldn't have worked as Treepeople covers, and some original instrumentals, all songs he played on an acoustic guitar. I played bass (as I had in the band that morphed into Treepeople, State of Confusion (SOC) and as I am really more of a bass player than drummer at the end of the day). Doug's then girlfriend, mentioned previously in the blog, who bought Doug a guitar and helped pay for our self-released first 7 inch, Laurie Samuelson, sang on one cover, Gigantic, by The Pixies, and it sounded fantastic, she nailed it. I will forever regret not getting even a boombox recording of Musical Janitors, it was really fun. 


Sitarist Ashwin Batish

We played a handful of cafe shows and one trippy show we landed at the above-mentioned Boise State University Ballroom with none other than Ashwin Batish, the world famous sitarist. We met him just before the show and hung out with him in his limo. He was very kind to us, and simply amazing to watch perform. He started his performance by playing and explaining tabla drums and what each sound meant, and worked his way through how those rhythms worked in the sitar playing. By the end he was playing Slayer-like leads on the sitar! It was impressive. But the set-up was really awkward for us when we opened before him as there were chairs in rows for the audience and everyone was dressed up and really taking themselves way too seriously. It was the stiffest vibe from a crowd I have ever experienced as a performer (and I have played music for a Shakespeare play before). But that was it, we may have done another cafe show but I think we only played maybe 5 times total and bagged it. A nice little chapter in my life as a musician. There was one photo of Musical Janitors that I remember, long gone, I assume.







Photo retrieved fro the Treehouse Facebook page


Treehouse was a band from Olympia, Washington that Treepeople crossed paths with, and you may be thinking, 'Well, yeah, Tree themed bands all know each other, right?' ; ) but in fact the connection was through producer Steve Fisk, who had produced records by them (Fisk had also produced the band Screaming Trees; Thus the reason I gave him a baseball cap I found at a thrift store that said 'Tree Service' on it!). We played some great shows with Treehouse, their music was very cool, heartfelt rock with an indie flavor and a bit of a '60s rock flavor as well, with great grooves and hooks. They were all great musicians and many of them wrote the tunes, as I remember it. About 5 years ago, when I was still on Facebook, I had reached out to a member, Steve, and got some photos, but I have no idea where they all are now! I will post more here as I find them, and of course, anyone who has any email them to me (or videos, songs, anything):

What I did find from that exchange was a flyer and a photo from a great show in Olympia that we played with Treehouse called Treestock (of course!) in 1991. The bands played on the back of a flatbed truck. It was pretty cool, a great memory for the books in my time in Treepeople


         Treepeople playing at Treestock, Olympia, Washington, 1991                          

I also found a Treehouse performance on a cable access TV show from 1990: Treehouse live on TCTV, 1990 

TAD, God's Balls 

I was remiss in earlier entries when speaking of my old friend and friend/ally to the bands I was in (State Of Confusion and the band it morphed into after, Treepeople) , Tad Doyle, of the band TAD, to not mention the groundbreaking and influential debut LP, God's Balls that came out in 1989, and which hit Seattle like a sledgehammer and which Trouser Press aptly called "Impressively punishing." I remember Tad telling me how he got the name for the record: he was watching a porn in which a priest was getting a blowjob, and was exclaiming "God's balls! God's balls!" It cannot be overstated how much this record influenced the music in Seattle at the time, Treepeople included. 

Editing Treepeople LP 'Gre' (pronounced 'Gree', acronym for Guilt, Regret, Embarrassment) on and AMS Audiophile digital music editor at Music Source

When I was writing the entries detailing the recording session for the Treepeople LP, 'Guilt, Regret, Embarrassment' I left out one little detail, not a big one, but it was something of its time that impressed us as a band then. The record was recorded in 1990, before digital editing or Pro Tools were prevalent, but producer Steve Fisk did edit it digitally in a way after it was mixed down to reel to reel tape using a machine called an 'AMS Audiophile.' This technology allowed for cross-fading songs from one into another, which we put to good use. I have a memory of all of us in the band being at the post production studio where Fisk worked and used the machine, and seeing the songs as bright green digital WAV forms on a screen, and thinking it was total wizardry!

Friday, April 23, 2021

Part 44: Vernon Emory Aldo Rumsey (Jan 24, 1973 – August 6, 2020) - A memorial entry

I started this memorial entry months ago and then paused, as I wasn't ready. Now as I come back, more deaths in the music world have happened since to process, and there will be entries on them, as well. 

The first word I always text back when someone lets me know of yet another death is, "Fuck," (I deleted my Facebook account a couple years ago, never looked back, FB is not for me, great for many, but as a result I hear of deaths via text, often days after others already know).

This entry in memory of Vern Rumsey was composed in part from thoughts expressed in speaking at a Zoom memorial. I am forever grateful to friends and family for giving so many of us a place to grieve in this surreal time we are living in, and for the suggestion of a family member of Vern's to take our memories of Vern to a more permanent and public forum. I am fortunate to have this particular forum in which to do so.

After the Zoom memorial, I couldn't help but think of how so many all over the world have said/are saying goodbye to loved ones this way as well; remotely, on a screen, during this time of COVID. It is all we have, and a very different grieving process, but it can still also be beautiful, more than one expects (for a wake, anyway) and, at the very least, a way to release together, which we all need to find as many safe ways to do as possible. We have to be there for each other. [As of this writing, coming back to this previously started entry, though things are slowly getting better, with a president actually interested in governing, 1,000 people are still dying a day; but , I had my first dose of a vaccine a couple weeks ago] - To reverse an Unwound record title; The Light at the End of the Tunnel is [NOT] a Train].

Vern was complex, and a lot of things things to different people, though this certainly isn't to say he wasn't genuine, or that he was trying to put on some false face (unless, of course, he was playing a prank, which he enjoyed) he was just human; As a loved one put it at the wake, "Vern was a great guy...But he was also a jerk." (I want this kind of honesty at my own funeral, thank you). I was just getting to know Vern, after not being in contact for a long span of years, as a result of the normal divergent paths two lives can take over time. 

He and I first came to know of each other from traveling in similar circles and having mutual friends for years in the NW music scene in the '90s, and we also knew each other from my connection to the Olympia music scene through a band I was in with roots there, The Halo Benders (a band that was also a connection to Sam Jayne/Love as Laughter, who opened a few shows for us; but this is, sadly, for a later memorial; RIP Sam). 

I followed Unwound's path (a band for whom Vern played bass, of course) until they eventually broke up. I crossed paths with Justin Trosper (songwriting/vocals/guitar) and Sara Lund (drums) more than Vern during the period between the band's breakup and Vern's passing. Around 10 years after Unwound broke up, I returned to the NW after 5 years living in Boston, to Portland, Oregon, in 2008, a city Sara had also relocated to years before, where she started a family, and, cool bands like Hungry Ghost, and with Justin Trosper, like Nocturnal Habits (Justin also started a great, short-lived punk band called Survival Knife later, whom I had the pleasure of seeing). Vern was doing a project then he had done for a while called Long Hind Legs, which managed to land a song on the hit vampire TV show called Twilight.

Back in the early '90s, I was living in Seattle after moving there in 1989 with a band from Boise, Idaho called Treepeople. In 1991, I quit Treepeople due to personal differences I had within the band (for more on that, check out the Treepeople entries) and by the next year, I was playing bass in a trippy goth/folk/punk band in Seattle called Violent Green (eventually so named, after 6 months under the name Dirty Hand Dance).

Seattle producer Steve Fisk, who had produced Treepeople and a Violent Green 7 inch and album (plus later records, and, played in The Halo Benders) told me about a band he had been recording from Tumwater, Washington (near Olympia) called Unwound. At the time, I believe Steve had just finished work on the Unwound record 'Fake Train' and he gave me a copy when it came out; I was floored. I will write more of Unwound in the regular course of this blog, but suffice it to say that I had played punk rock music for a decade by the time I heard Unwound, and I had never heard anything quite like them, it was influenced by the same punk stuff I grew up listening to, but on Fake Train, you could hear hints of something...different. There was even some New Wave and a dash of Beatles in the calm parts, throw in Can, Glenn Branca, Black Flag, Sonic Youth, and a whole list of other influences, post New Plastic Ideas (1994) there are even hints of bands like early Siouxsie and the Banshees, and others, that then unfolded over the course of the band as the music matured and stretched out, but they shaped it all into something new and completely their own, using influences gracefully (in full disclosure, some listed are influences band members have told me of, some are from my own ear hearing things) but they were never imitating. 

Through all the great songwriting, singing, guitar-work and stellar drumming, Vern's bass cuts through like a groaning, driving machine, deep in the earth, rising to the surface, then churning into the soil like a colossal Sandworm from the Dune books - sometimes it doesn't even sound like a bass, but more like a distorted keyboard, or some agonized beast, or just a giant texture for singer/songwriter/guitarist Justin Trosper to lay over with whatever he wanted to (at the wake, Fisk relayed a tale of the birth of this sound; during a mix, Vern leaned over the soundboard and cranked up levels until it was this particular grinding sound). And by the time Sara Lund was on drums, the legendary lineup was locked in. Quite frankly, to me, this was one of the finest rhythm sections to ever grace a set of drums and bass and rig. If you know me, you know I do not say such things lightly (and yes; Fanboy Alert).

Fast forward to the late '90s, 1997 to be exact, when I was playing bass, as mentioned, in Violent Green, plus a couple other bands on bass and drums; The also aforementioned Halo Benders (bass/drums) and a band called Faintly Macabre (drums), bands that are/will be covered here in this blog. Violent Green embarked on our first and only coast to coast tour (having previously only done scant West Coast/Northwest touring, and, incidentally, the only ever tour I was part of that made it to the East Coast) which had been booked by a rookie booker, her first ever tour, which was pretty terrible in terms of shows/attendance, as could be expected (to be fair, a show booker is one of the hardest professions out there, and especially back then, when the Internet was very new to the masses and most everything was still done old school, and only rich folks owned mobile phones, and, she was booking an obscure, hard to understand band that nobody had heard of - no easy task). 

On this tour, we scored a West Coast leg with Unwound (it must have been arranged through Chris Takino, owner/founder of Seattle's Up Records, a label which started by putting out a 7 inch for Violent Green and was still at this point our label - Takino ~RIP~ was also an Unwound fan, as I remember it). I was to the moon about the tour, of course. By then I was on a steady diet of listening to anything Unwound released, New Plastic Ideas being my favorite (still on the short list of fav albums). At one point I was on a steady, almost binary musical diet of Unwound and The Thinking Fellers Union 282 (also known as 'The Thinking Fellers Union' and 'The Thinking Fellers'). 

By 1997, Unwound had worked their collective asses off, recording, touring and playing amazing shows that spread the word like wildfire. Unplanned by the band, as is often the way, they became kind of a 'buzzword' band; A band to watch, a band like no other, and all the hype was true. I was privileged to watch them kill it, every night on this West Coast leg, at a time when they were in their peak form. Every show, they would do their trademark huddle; Locking arms at the shoulders and touching foreheads in a moment of silence, like a rock n roll prayer, endearing and fierce at the same time, lending a ritualistic, spiritual vibe to the whole set (Vern had to stoop over, his bony back showing from under the usual thin punk T-shirt that was his uniform).

A few years ago, when Vern and I reconnected on Facebook, he revealed to me his new addiction that was out of control; Legos! Vern and I had plans to connect in person, but he got sick. Then some mutual friends, just before I did see him, told me he looked quite a bit different than when I had last seen him, which was some years before, as a strapping, cocky young Bass God, a cigarette burning in his mouth (I always marveled at how the smoke never affected his vision, or his impressive playing). 


Vern around when I met him in the '90s - (image retrieved from Unwound's memorial Twitter feed)


Vern around when we reconnected in 2018 (image retrieved from Unwound's memorial Twitter feed)


Random photo from an image search of 'Legos bass' which Vern would've appreciated

And he did look different; he was even thinner than he was already (famously so), his naturally dense hair grown long, his face hidden in a thick beard, but he still had the signature mischievous smile I remembered well cutting through it, and the wing-like, upper body enfolding hugs of his arms and long upper torso were still a part of experiencing Vern. For all his complexities and troubles, whatever else he was, Vern was often pretty loving and generous (I cried describing these wing hugs on the Zoom wake call, because it was when everything hit me at once, just as the call was about to end...You don't hug like that if you don't mean it; The King of Hugs). 


                                                      Vern's mischievous smile. It is missed. 

In 2018, I would go, with a friend, and catch shows of Vern's solo project when it came to Portland, Oregon (sometimes accompanied by a band) called Red Rumsey (songwriting/singing/guitar). Vern and I would catch up in that odd way people do with decades spanning between the beings they were when they met and the beings they had become; The young, beautiful musicians at the top of their game, and the now middle aged men with afflictions and health issues (and for me, my own well known thinness had eh, changed) and who were still riding the music train, for fun, if for anything. 

And Vern was having fun, touring in a very Spartan way, even when joined by a band, as he was when I invited him to open the Portland and Seattle shows on the Treepeople reunion tour in 2019. Red Rumsey (in which Vern was joined by Aaron Finkle on drums and Gretchen Guydish on bass, also of the band Mr. Finkles Tragedy, a band Vern loved) toured in a giant old classic car, crammed in with some equipment on laps. I admired that. Backstage in Portland Vern was ecstatic to play with us and we had a moment, this being the first time where we actually had time to catch up in that weird way mentioned above. Vern was praising me for the music I had played in my life, and I stopped him and said, "You don't understand how big a deal you are to me as a musician, and how big a deal Unwound is to me!" And so we effectively humbled each other. It was sweet, a moment I am glad we had, I am grateful that before he left this plane, I got to tell him that.  

   Red Rumsey playing at Doug Fir in Porrland, Oregon at a Treepeople reunion show, August 8th, 2019. Photo provided by Aaron Finkle.


Red Rumsey playing in Olympia at McCoy's Tavern, Christmas, 2019. Photo  provided by Aaron Finkle

At the Seattle show, Red Rumsey, killed it. Vern's songwriting was ambling and slightly dirty, like Southern rock a bit but overlayed with his underground sensibilities, similar to me in feel to say Royal Trux. It was cool to see him up there, having fun, after he had been so sick. The shows were both great (also opened by the amazing Boise punk band Itchy Kitty). At that same show, I was asked if I could take Vern's guitar amp and cabinet back to Portland with me, and he would pick it up later. Sure. But after Red Rumsey left, all we had was the amp, and we searched like mad everywhere at The Crocodile club in Seattle for the speaker cabinet, to no avail (I annoyed the hell out of the poor staff there for weeks after, calling to see if they found it). I felt awful! I had lost Vern's cab! But, as it turned out, Red Rumsey found it sitting out and grabbed it, which I found out weeks later via an email response from Vern. We reconnected later and he got his amp back from me, which lived in my kitchen for months. 

Thank you, Vern, for all the beautiful, fierce bass playing and unique song-crafting and for being a crucial part of one of the best bands ever. You will be missed. I hope there are lots of Legos (and maybe a Lego bass) where you are, Brother, and that you are having a blast pranking the angels.

Unwound: New Plastic Ideas

 Wayne R. Flower, 4/21/21 I y