Wow... it's been awhile. Lots to talk about.
Last summer I took some time off for thinking. One result was a decision to start playing some music again. The whole experience with my solo record Permanent Fatal Error, and a west coast US tour with Dirty Power as my backing band, also factored in, plus an enjoyable stint playing bass with the amazing Upwell. I realized three things: 1) I still really enjoy playing live, 2) singing lead vocals, although I proved to myself I could do it, is HARD, and 3) I just don't have a "frontman" personality.
Most outside of Seattle don't know that during the years 1986-1990, while Skin Yard was going strong (I was guitarist/co-founder) AND I was working fulltime at Reciprocal Recording (the "engine room of grunge"), I also played drums in a very strange surfy band called the Crypt Kicker Five (named after the band mentioned in a Bobby 'Boris' Pickett song). That band never played outside the greater Northwest US area, but we managed to record an album's worth of material, and C/Z Records released one 7 inch. Well, we are about to put that stuff up online as free MP3s, stay tuned if interested. (I was also playing bass part-time with Terry Lee Hale in a sort of garage-bluegrass-speedfolk band called The Ones, a combo which played its last reunion gig in 1995. Terry Lee and myself have been talking about getting some of that stuff out eventually too.)
So, last year, having gotten the solo album/frontman thing out of my system, I joined an existing band on lead guitar, and another band on drums... so it's like 1987 all over again.
The first band is called Kandi Coded. I was sort of drafted in when their lead guitarist left the band (amicably) partway through my recording of their album. I was invited to throw down some solos. Then I agreed to play a few gigs. I had so much fun I decided to stick around. We finished the album, and Volcom Entertainment has just released it... so I'm on an album ("Time Wasted Is Not Wasted Time") with worldwide distribution for the first time in decades. I'm only playing on about half the record, but those familiar with my guitar style will have no trouble figuring out which half. That includes all four songs on our MySpace page, myspace.com/kandicoded.
Interesting thing about Kandi Coded is there's another guy in this band who gets called a "legend" all the time... kinda takes the pressure off. ;-) The lead singer/guitarist is Jamie Lynn. Now, I don't know beans about winter sports, and Jamie is an outwardly humble fellow, but I slowly realized the guy is a snowboarding hero of some stature. Which meant nothing to me as a lifelong music geek... but when someone showed me a recent issue of a magazine called "Snowboarding" and their feature story "The 20 Most Influential Boarders of All Time", there was Jamie at number 2. There's videos I've seen where Jamie appears to be snowboarding off sheer cliffs. He's also quite sought after as a (visual) artist; examples can be found at kandicoded.com. But when we play, it's just about the music.
One thing new to me about this band is that Jamie is pretty tight with a lot of the companies that market to the snowboarding crowd, so weird opportunities come to us that never came to Skin Yard. Volcom, for instance, started out as a snowboarding and sportswear company that then started a record label. Zumiez, another such company, sponsored a tour this summer called the "Zumiez Couch Tour", which involved setting up an outdoor stage in shopping mall parking lots across the country, trucking in huge skate board ramps, setting up merch and refreshment booths, and having bands play in between skateboard competitions. We ended up playing five of these gigs in blazing mid-afternoon sun, which might be more outdoor shows than I've played in my entire life prior to this, and the audience was entirely all-ages. It was excellent, except that it's hard to see the readings on an LED tuner in daylight. In September Kandi Coded will be doing 12 club shows as part of the Volcom Tour, with Riverboat Gamblers, Totimoshi, Valient Thorr and some other Volcom bands... 100% all-ages shows, which have been another rarity in my career. All-ages shows are always the best; people are there for music, not booze. Exact dates will be posted on myspace.com/kandicoded.
The other band, in which I'm drumming, is called Slippage. I was attending a gig of my friend Mia Boyle's band, and opening was a loud guitar duo, no drums or bass. The singer/guitarist, who goes by the name of Allison Wonderland, had a great voice, and the other guitarist was an old friend of mine, Gary King, who used to run House of Leisure studio here before it burned in a fire. Even with no rhythm section they were good, weaving a thick tapestry of distorted guitar melody. I sat there tapping my hands and feet to their set, then approached them afterwards and said, I could drum to this stuff... and like that, I was in! Granted, after a 17-year break (!!) it took some time for me to regain my drum chops and muscle tone, but it has come back with a vengeance. Six finished and mastered songs (downloadable!) can be found at slippagemusic.com, plus photos and other stuff at myspace.com/slippagemusic, check us out. I don't contribute to the songwriting, just the arrangements and recording, but drumming gives me a buzz quite unlike guitar playing... it's a more visceral kind of fun, like motocross racing, and it's GREAT exercise.
This indirectly led to me playing drums in a video for the song "45" by local hip-hoppers the Saturday Knights. I live next door to a studio, Soundhouse, where conveniently enough, I do most of my work. (Trident 80B/ProTools/Studer 827.) The owner, Scotty Crane (a good friend, and son of Bob Crane, Col. Hogan from the TV series) called me one day and said "What are you doing for the next 20 minutes?" He was working with the Knights in the studio, and they had an 'uncleared' drum sample that they wanted to replace with real drums. So I went out there and they looped the sample into my headphones, and I played until I locked in with it, and they used my drumming in the chorus of the song. Then when they went to shoot a video for "45", they asked me to play drums in it! (You can see the result at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufumVTQvNcU) You know a hip-hop video is from Seattle when there's crowd-surfing in it, and at the end one of the guys dives into my drum kit!! (They asked me first... the drums survived.) Scotty and I also made a "remix" of the song, for the hell of it, in which I play guitar, bass and all the drums, and it's evil and heavy like Skin Yard with rappers; but I don't know if it will see the light of day.
BTW, I finally made some new Skin Yard T-shirts, the black skull'n'snakes "Knuckles" design, in S/M/L/XL. People kept asking. I'm actually wearing one in the Saturday Knights video. Go to endino.com and click on "Jack's Garage Sale".
Another musical project I got roped into is called The Freeks, which is basically drummer Ruben Romano from Nebula/Fu Manchu, guitarist John McBain from Wellwater Conspiracy, and Scott Reeder from Kyuss. They sent me a long instrumental song as ProTools files and instructed me to go nuts on guitar, which is never a bad thing to request of me. John said the result sounded like the Pink Fairies, which was a high compliment. [So they named the song "Uncle Jack's Last Freakout."] An album should be out in the fall.
And what about my work in the STUDIO? The year started out strong with me doing a new Black Halos record up in Vancouver BC, one which will probably come out later this year, details to come. Again, they slayed it... some really classic, great Halos tunes and Billy's best singing yet. And I'd tell you about doing some Flipper demos a few months ago, but then I'd have to kill you. (All I will say is 'where has this band been all my life?') But the real highlight of this year has been doing the new High On Fire record, "Death Is This Communion", out in September on Relapse, the only label I've ever worked with that pays their entire studio bill IN ADVANCE. This was a great gig, not least because my old friend "Diamond" Jeff Matz from Zeke is now their bassist. And meeting and hanging with Des Kensel (drums) and Matt Pike (guitar, vocal) was a pleasure. This was a band where I knew, from the first time I heard them, that the guy who REALLY should make a record for them was ME! That's RARE! We hit it off, and Matt and I geeked out pretty heavily in the studio with guitar sounds. I'd like to go into detail on my recording methodology while making this record, but it will mean more if I save it for a newsletter after the album is released in September. And yes, it's a pretty pummeling record. If you're a HOF fan you will be pleased.
A video guy was hired by Relapse to document the recording sessions, so you can watch us on YouTube.com (it's a multipart series) if you go there and search with the phrase "high on fire studio"! These are cool videos, and BTW that's my WALLET in my front pocket, dammit.
I have a very nice two-page interview with photos in the August issue of EQ magazine; they let me rant and rave at some length. It's their editing which has me saying "the Led Zeppelin", plus the band mentioned in the photo is not "Winnebago" but "Winnebago Deal", but what the hell. There's also a couple very good recent online interviews which are linked from my blog section at myspace.com/jackendino. Enough time has passed since the grunge explosion that people are now asking me much better questions, not just the old Nirvana/Seattle/grunge song and dance.
Speaking of which... Everett True's Nirvana book is out at last, and it's a doozy. My UK copy is titled "Nirvana: The True Story" (get it???) but since US readers have no sense of humor, I hear the US publisher gave it a different title. This is the ONLY Nirvana book I've seen which captures not only the tragedy and farce, but also some of the crazy fun of those times before it all went wrong. People forget that the early grunge years were a hell of a lot of fun for a lot of people, Nirvana included. Everett interviewed me extensively, and he let me get a few real zingers in. I'm particularly pleased with the "Godfather of Grunge" addendum at the end of one of the chapters, it's pretty damn funny. Also, my dear friend Gillian Gaar, with whom I collaborated when we were doing the research for the box set, recently wrote a short book specifically about the In Utero album. And in the UK, there was a BBC TV series called "Seven Ages of Rock" which interviewed me for their section on grunge and indy rock... I hear it's pretty cool, but I'm still waiting for a copy.
If anyone is wondering what I'm reading other than computer books, the Neil Young biography "Shakey" is awesome.
Saw some pretty great Seattle gigs last year: in quick succession, we got NoMeansNo, Radio Birdman and Blue Cheer. All were killer shows. NoMeansNo are longtime favorites of mine, and did not disappoint. Birdman, a legendary late-70s Australian pre-punk band fronted by guitarist Deniz Tek, had never done a US tour before. They played their first reunion shows back in 1996 at the Big Day Out festival in Australia... I was there recording Bluebottle Kiss at the time, and saw a show. Recently they reconvened to record their first album of new material since 1980, the new 'Zeno Beach'... and if you ever liked Radio Birdman, you'll love this record. If you are expecting some kind of hardcore punk thing, or never heard Birdman before, you might not get it... because they're a 70s ROCK band, like the MC5 or the Dictators or the Stooges. Like I said, PRE-punk. They had the drummer from You Am I sitting in, Rusty, who is a powerhouse like Donny from Zeke, so they totally killed it here in Seattle. And... Blue Cheer played their first club show in Seattle since 1980 (I was at that one too, 27 years ago). This was the same lineup that I recorded at Foel Studio in Wales in 1990, original members Dickie Peterson (bass) and Paul Whaley (drums) with guitarist Andrew "Duck" McDonald, the longest-serving BC guitarist ever. They slayed it, to my great pleasure, finishing up with a 10-minute version of "Doctor Please" from Vincebus Eruptum (1967!) that stunned people. The next day I went out to a barbecue in the Seattle 'burbs where they were staying with a friend before heading to their next show, and we caught up on the 16 years since I last saw them! If you ever get a chance to see 'em, do it. It may be old songs but this is no nostalgia act, and they refuse to do the nostalgia tour circuit. Blue Cheer was and is the first ever heavy metal band as we understand the term today; at the time they were called "acid rock". Watching these 60-year olds killing it filled me with hope.
Lastly, I got to meet Iggy Pop a while back. My pals the Boss Martians (whose upcoming record I have been mixing) got to open the Stooges show in Seattle, since Iggy's a Martians fan. I was backstage as 'guitar tech' for the Martians. Stooges were surprisingly good... and Iggy, also age 60, is still a bundle of energy. After the show Evan from the Martians insisted I meet Iggy backstage. Evan was trying to find some way to introduce me and managed to get out that I had recorded Nirvana's first album (that happens a lot). This had an interesting effect.
Iggy: "Did you record the GOOD Nirvana album?"
Me (painfully shy): "Um, I did the Bleach album."
Iggy: "B L E A C H !!!!" (Shrieks it at the top of his Iggy lungs, just EXACTLY as someone opens the backstage door in front of us, and so it echoes down this long concrete hallway outside! Like the voice of doom for an instant, then the door closed. I actually covered my ears for a second.)
Iggy starts going OFF about how back when he was in "the Seychelles" he had a tape of Bleach and he 'made a real connection' with that album. He loved it "except for that one pop tune". Suddenly it made sense to me. I pointed out that we recorded it exactly the same way Fun House was recorded... 8 tracks, with the band playing live in the room together all at once. So we had a really interesting talk about recording methods, and I noticed that there's nothing unfocused about Ig... he looks you right in the eye and you realize, this guy is sharp as a razor. Then he told me to make sure and give his personal greeting to Krist, "that great bass player those guys had, he doesn't get enough credit", he gave me a bear hug (!) and then he was gone. The rest of the week I walked around going "Did that really happen?"
To bring this lengthy screed to a close, I have to shout out a big "Rest In Peace" to my Bozeman, MT friend Ben Spangler from The Touchers, who died unexpectedly last month. We were just about to mix his new album. Instead, his engineer Chuck drove out from Bozeman and we mixed it ourselves, keeping in mind the mixing notes that Ben had left. It's a sad story, but the album (titled "Blithe") is going to be released anyway, by a label in Oregon, Mental Records. It's a great record, but I'm bummed (and pissed off) that Ben was taken from us too soon, because his stuff was just getting better and better. Dammit, I've lost too many friends. Watch for this record, it's some really excellent noisy indy rock with lots of fire and passion.
That's all for now... thanks for your patience. I know it's been a while since I wrote.
"HYPE!" Documentary distilled down to 5 minutes
Skin Yard's "Knuckles" video from 1991
Kandi Coded on Myspace
Kandi Coded Official Website
Kandi Coded On Volcom
Slippage on Myspace
Slippage Official Website
MY Space: Myspace.com/jackendino
EQ Magazine online: Aug 2007 Endino story at EQMag.com
Radio Birdman Myspace