I wrote this essay while freelancing for Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger between 2005 and 2008; near as I can tell, they never published it. I came across it today while writing about Philly band Cassavetes, who shares its name with a song on the record, and thought I’d post it around these parts. Enjoy.
Historians of 90s rock tend to fawn over Fugazi’s strident independent ethic moreso than its actual music, and it makes sense why.
Even the most committed listener would admit it’s easier to admire a hard-held commitment to anti-corporate, fan-friendly business practices than an inscrutable stylistic mishmash of thrash, arty noise, funk, reggae, Flavor Flav-styled vocal interjections, and a general penchant for being – aw hell, let’s just say it – weird.
Which is what D.C. linchpin Ian McKaye became upon leaving the rigid repression of Minor Threat’s bare-knuckled punk. He and his newfound bandmates’ – in both the short-lived Embrace and the more prolific Fugazi – indulged their assorted musical interests in ways that invited non-descript adjectives like “angular,” or the all-telling “post” prefix (in Fugazi’s case, “post-hardcore”)…both of which are rock writer code for “FREAK.ING.WEIRD.”
Not to say that folks didn’t understand the band. Heads rolled to the slippery dirty groove of “Waiting Room” when it played on 120 Minutes, and hooks like “ONE!TWO!THREE!REPEATER!” had fists flying in the air. Those who heard, knew they were privy to something great. But by the time In On The Killtaker came out in 1993, the media had given up on crystallizing that greatness into much more than “yeah, these are the guys who won’t charge more than $5 a show.” A shame, since that’s the point where Fugazi got really interesting.
Here in Grand Rapids there are not many folks doing electronic music, or even implementing electronics into their tunes. Hearing friends doing something interesting within a town full of punk rockers is very refreshing. FILMLOOM is a duo experimenting in a percussion-heavy electronic pop tunes, finishing up their debut record now, releasing early November. Definitely need to give their new single a listen, it’s lovely.
I’ve spent the last two summers in southeast Alaska, in a town called Sitka, situated on a series of islands in the Pacific. There are about 9,000 people who live here - worlds away from my life in New York City (I’m fond of saying that there are more bands in Brooklyn than there are people here). I’ve come to Alaska through the Sitka Fellows Program - a new residency program. Essentially it means that I’m here to live simply and to play the guitar and to sing into the ocean.
In no particular order, here are the things I’ve learned to cherish here:
-the long, lazy arc of the sun as it rises and sets, staying up in the sky past well past 10pm
-the ever-uncanny, screaming calls of ravens in the woods and in parking lots
-the deep, happy, living smell of wet spruce trees
-swimming in cold ocean water with the silhouette of a volcano in the distance
-swimming near the airport runway and under planes as they take off
-the quiet persistence of thousands of fish making their way upstream
-the constant movement of water, in the waves and in the tides and in the sky
-a small, icy waterfall nestled deep in the woods - I’ve stood under it and hollered for joy
It’s very beautiful here, laughably so at times. But what’s more is that there is time and space to do things. Time to walk miles and miles into the woods and up mountains. Big, empty rooms that I fill with sound. Time to talk on the phone with my friends. An abundance of space in which to consider my tiny body against the sea, the mountains, the starry veil of heaven.
Writing and playing music here is so easy. It just flows. In New York, I do my work in spite of the world - in spite of rent, in spite of student loans, in spite of the loud fun of bars gently calling me out into the night. Here, in Alaska, due to some potent combo of well being and natural awe, the words and tones just are. My voice and my guitar astonish me with their clarity. And when I sing,
i’m writing to you about my band Purmamarca which began as a solo bedroom and basement recording project but has now developed into a trio and has also expanded to being recorded in the kitchen, too.
i first learned about your blog through HAUS1025, in bushwick where i lived and worked for two years. i met bands like softspot and workman song there, both of whom you’ve written about.
Purmamarca is very different from both of those projects. it’s ambient rock or indie psych or post pop. i actually don’t know what it is. after we self-released our debut record, Summer Air // Night, last march, we’ve been likened to kurt vile and tame impala and the shins and a modern day jefferson airplane, all of which are probably pretty accurate to some degree but also not accurate at all.
the idea of a record that embraced classic songwriting with a chill vibe started over three years ago. a lot of the songs gestated over that period of time, but the story of the band really begins when i began meeting the collaborators with whom i made the record:
re: Martin Jorgensen: in the winter of 2012 i was working part-time as a tutor to some kids in bed stuy. as i was leaving the brownstone where one of the kids lived, i reached for a cigarette and realized i was out. a really tall dude headed in my direction was smoking and i asked him if i could bum one. he said it was his last, but that i could have the rest of it if i wanted. which sort of blew me away given that so few people are actually that kind. he was carrying a casio keyboard under his arm and we talked about music briefly before i had to get to my next tutoring appointment. as i hurried off, i realized that he had said he was a drummer. i had been looking for a drummer for my band and in the flurry of the moment, i didn’t think to exchange any information with him. the next day i returned to the same street and went to the brownstone where the tall man said he was living. i didn’t really expect to find him but i left him a note on the front door and asked him if he wanted to jam sometime. unexpectedly, a few days later i got a call, and we’ve been playing together ever since.
re: Colin Alexander: in the winter of 2011 i moved back to brooklyn after having spent a half a year in california getting reacquainted with my family after having lived at college. before i found a place to live in BK, i crashed on a couch in the house where my best friend JT lived in bushwick, sort of before bushwick was bushwick. i met his roommates who were in a band called softspot and their collaborator colin alexander who also lived there. the first day i was crashing there we all had brunch together and that night we saw their friends future islands play at 285 kent. a month later one of their other roommates moved out and i was asked if i wanted the room. i lived there for the next year and a half - colin and i and the others watched episodes of twin peaks to get us through the winter, we endured the terror of finding a bedbug and the chaos of getting the house fumigated, and once colin accidentally dropped his AC from his second floor bedroom window and it came crashing down a few feet from my head as i stood in the backyard. it was actually after colin moved out to his own place that i approached him about mixing my first EP and we’ve been at it since.
re: Brian Bishop: for the last three years i’ve been playing small gigs around the city, including one at a bar in which no one seemed to really be listening as much as they were drinking and talking. which is fine. my friend tara had booked the bill that night, and another friend of hers, brian, played a set after mine. brian became a great friend and started playing with purmamarca a few months later, first with a euphonium, and later with a guitar.
re: Gabriele Grassia: early in 2013 i worked as a busser at northeast kingdom, an overpriced but delicious farm-to-table restaurant in jefftown. i got a job opportunity to lead a band for a night of short plays at a theater called ars nova and i took it. unfortunately, i couldn’t get my shift covered at the small-staffed NeK, and they fired me. they actually really don’t know how to be flexible or understanding with artists at all there. it sucked. i finished the short plays and i was without a job and i was broke as fuck. soon enough, though, i got a job delivering pizzas at verde coal oven, another spot in bushwick that might double as a mafia hangout. while i was there i met Gabi, a recent transplant from Italy who moved with his band Late Guest at the Party to pursue music in the big city. him and i would trade off playing music in the kitchen as we worked there and we had a mutual affection for chill, electronic stuff like Air. we ended up producing a track together and he’s become one of my very closest collaborators and friends. i’ve worked in a dozen restaurants and this was the only time i ended up jamming with another musician i’d met in one. everything happens for a reason.
did you make it through all of that? it was a lot to write, and i’m not surprised if you’ve skipped ahead. but really the story of the band is just that - it’s me and these dear, talented people who have joined me in creating these songs. i love them all so fucking dearly. and i figured that with your affinity for stories, you wouldn’t mind all the detail.
in regards to Summer Air // Night, we were so lucky to have portals premiere our first two singles "stay tomorrow" and "don’t need your love". them getting behind us was a huge step forward and also totally unexpected. i’m still so fucking grateful and surprised at how it all went down. subsequently, dots & dashes and the line of best fit wrote about our track "spring", goldflakepaint included "abandon shake" on their recent compilation, nothing if not loved, bandcamp featured our new release "no battles" on their weekly playlist, bandcamp weekly, and rough trade reached out to us and is now selling the record in their stores. all of these were actually totally unexpected steps forward, and we’re all stoked about the support and so grateful.
now we want to try to just keep getting the songs out there! if you’re interested in writing/sharing about any or all of them, we’d fucking love it. your blog rules.
we also have a show tuesday, august 26th at radio bushwick.
thanks so much for your time, man. we look forward to hearing from you.
The entire effort from this Milwaukee outfit is as good as the Brewers and fresher than the cold. I can’t stop listening to this entire Hush LP avail up on Bndcmp. Don’t forget, the four members Jami Eaton, Harrison Colby, Lucas Riddle, and Jeremy Ault have ltd cassettes for sale. #smartbuy