Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ben Weasel's History of Screeching Weasel

Ben Weasel's original liner notes in the 1994 release of Kill the Musicians (as posted on my now-defunct semi-official Screeching Weasel website, Boogadaboogadaboogada--1994-1997, RIP...apologies for any typos introduced when I originally typed this up):

The Screeching Weasel Story

We formed in 1986 a few weeks after I saw the Ramones. Back then, we were known as All-Night Garage Sale and I was attempting to play bass. Jughead was the guitarist and a displaced Door County-ite appropriately named Steve Cheese was our drummer. Aside from a couple of songs from a practice tape that were played on WNUR's Fast and Loud show, we didn't record anything. Those practice tapes are long gone. By November, we'd added a real bass player who we christened Vinnie Bovine...Vinnie was a metalhead, but he got some of those letter stickers from the hardware store and spelled out FUCK YOU on his guitar, and that was good enought for me. We also changed our name to Screeching Weasel, a variation on the name suggested by a freind: "Screaming Otter," which he saw on a frat boy shirt that read "I'VE GOT A SCREAMING OTTER IN MY PANTS!" (In case you're wondering, All-Night Garage Sale was suggested by Mr. Cheese in honor of the wierd guy who lived by the Dairy Queen in Prospect Heights and sold his wares out of his carport at 1:00 A.M.)

I looked up recording studios in the phone book and finally found one that didn't laugh when I told him we were a punk band. The studio was Solid Sound in Hoffman Estats and the engineer was Phil Bonnet. For $200, he'd let us come in at midnight and record 27 songs on the 12 track machine. Midnight came on the fateful day and...Bonnet didn't show up. After angry phone calls and fulstered apologies, we set another date, this time for 4:00 A.M.the following week. Again we stood outside the locked studio shivering in the snow while Bonnet slumbered peacefully at home. More angy phone calls and repeated apologies ensued. We finally made it in at midnight the foloowing week. Bonnet, realizing the extent of his fucked-upedness, let us record on the 24 track board for the same price as the 12 track board.

We did 28 songs and put 27 of them on a demo tape which we sold through ads in the infamous Berkeley punkzine, Maximum RockNRoll (the song we didn't put on was a really lame cover of some Brady Bunch tune) (One of the songs, "In the Hospital," was rleased by the now-defunct California label, Flush, in 1991, as part of a 7" EP compilation entitled Blame and Burn. I believe a thousand were pressed...) (The aforementioned is the only record no listed in the complte discography which you'll find on the insert of the LP and CD versions of How to Make Enemies.... Those tapes are long gone, though I think Jughead might have a beat up copy of one somewhere. The rest of the songs were primarily moronic little ditties I'd conjred up during my two year sta at a Maine drug rehab from age 15-17 (the book detailing my life in said rehab, currently titled "This Ain't No Hippie Commune," will be finished someday) or else cheesy rip-offs of tunes by the popular bands of the day like the Circle Jerks, Angry Samoans, Black Flag and our favorite, Adrenalin O.D. We wanted to fucking BE Adrenalin O.D.; SUBURBANCORE, that was our motto. No kidding, when it came down to choosing band names, the two that wer left were Screeching Weasel and Suburban Vermin. In retrospect, they both sucked.

Our first show was in Matt Nelson's parents' basement (Matt went on the be THE MAN for booking punk gigs in Chicago, though he's really no longer THE MAN for booking punk gigs in Chicago. Sorry, just thought I'd eplain my reasons for naming him instead of referring to thim as "a friend." I'm certain that somewhere there exists a videotape of this so-called performance, but I'm fairly sure that whoever taped it forgot to turn the microphone on.

After that we played a few over-21 gigs at a hellhole called Batteries Not Included , which was in a creepy neighborhood (of course, now it's a slick, clean up yuppie neighborhood and I think I liked it better before), was owned by some paranoid freak who was a dead ringer for Eddie Murphy and was booked by Jim Ellison, who has gone on to minor fame with Material Issue and who never paid us more than six dollars. Those show were fun but the only people who showed up were the drunks who came in anyway (well, that's not totally true-our last two shows there, we had 20 or 30 actual punks show up). It was at Batteries that we met up with Russ Forster, president of Underdog Records. He signed us up to do a twenty-seven song album which we recorded with Phil at Solid Sound in June of 1987. A thousand copies were pressed and quickly sold, and though Russ licensed it to a British company called Shigaku Trading (who pressed and sold 2,000 copies), he would not re-press it. Pat Daly, who owned the Empire record stores in Chicago and Wilmette, told me it was because Russ was saving his money to do a full color album cover for his own band, Spongetunnel. For our trouble, Russ paid us $200 and gave us back the tapes and all the rights to the album. We tried to get another label to release it, but nobody was intersted.

We had begun to gain a minor local following; by the time the album was released, we were attracting seventy or eighty people above the handful of friends who came to all our shows. Some of those friends were in other local bands, like Warren from the Ozzfish Experience. We played a bunch of gigs with Ozzfish (there's a song about them on our first album, which, if I didn't tell you, was self-titled) and finally decided that we had to do a split EP with them. Hell, we'd gone from demo tape to album-we felt a little stupid for passing the critical EP stage anyway. Again we recorded at Solid Sound. The Ozzfish tunes took forvever because Warren absolutely HATED being in the studio and becamse rather surly and hard to deal with at points. We recorded four tunes, "I Hate Led Zeppelin," "American Suicide," "A Political Song For Screeching Weasel To Sing," (of COURSE it was a take-off on the Minutemen tune) and "Twinkie Warfare." Warren tried to hook us up with Depression Records in Battle Creek, Michigan, but we dediced against it when the label prez, Bill Board, said he'd only put it out if we listed him as Executive Producer on the sleeve. We decided to to put it out ourselves. We split the pressing cost and Warren mailed off the tapes and a check to the plant. We were stoked when we got back the two test pressings, but not too stoked when the pressing plant decided to file for bankruptcy and keep our money and tapes. It's kinuva neat EP, but unfortunately, only two copies exist (I think Warren has one and Jughead has the other) (and that's the other record not listed on my complete discography.)

The Ozzfish broke up around the same time that we kicked out Vinnie, whose personal problems had made the band a living hell. To this day, Vinnie expresses his hatred for me, even though his sacking was a group decidion (hey, he set a precedent; to this day, anytime anyone has a problem with Screeching Weasel, it's always my fault, even though we always came to personnel decidions as a group). Warren, a guitarist by trade, was recruited to be our new bassist. Warren was the first in a long line of Screeching Weasel bassits who didn't own his own gear; he used Jughead's red Yamaha bass and crappy Yamaha guitar amp.

With the "Fish" half of the Ozzfish team firmly entrenched in our rhythm section, we started playing more gigs and writing new songs. A local punk named Mike...sold me a little Roland guitar amp and a Hondo guitar for a hundred bucks (which replaced the "K" guitar and plastic amp I'd bought from my next door neighbor for $30). I started playing guitar and singing at the same time, which was quite a chore, but we were writing songs with those patented cheesy little melodic "leads" and we needed a second guitarist. The whole thing was made even more difficult by the fact that I knew only one three=stringed chord which I slid up and down the neck of the guitar like a psaz; my head was constantly at a 45 degree angle as I attempted to keep an eye on my fingers and sing into a mike out of the side of my mouth simultaneasly.

That summer was probably the beginning of the end for Steve Cheese. We were taking our first real road trip out to California to play the famed Gilman Street in Berkeley. The idea was pretty simple; we'd drive out in my '76 Checy Malifbu and borrow equipment from some of the band members who lived at the infamours Oakland punkhouse, the Ashtray. Work was no problem for three os us -John and Warren got time off and I simply quit my warehouse job. But Cheese had gotten married the previous psring and he had started to take his job seriously. He'd only be able to get the weekend off, which meant' he'd have to fly out. Then we discovered that Warren, because of college exams, would have to fly as well. Warren had the money for a plane ticket but Steve didn't, so my parents offered us a deal 'paint the outside of the house before they moved to Wisonsin and they'd buy a ticket for the cheesehead. For three days e, Jughead and Warren scaped and painted. Cheese showed up sometime after the job had been completed.

Me and Jughead drove out with two friends, experience no shortage of mechanical troubles along the way. We ended up staying the Maximum RockNRoll house for one night, and then with Matt and Lint from Operation Ivy, who shared a house in Albany with a guy named Joey.

We had two shows at Gilman. The Friday night show was going fairly smoothly. About 75 people showed up and seemed to be having a good time. We took the stage and had played about 5 songs when a bonehead from down the street named Screamer tossed a tear gas bomb inside the bluc. We made 75 buck and went back to Matt and Lint's a bit dejected.

The next night, we opned for Operation Ivy and things were quite different indeed. Over 450 people showed up, and at the end of the night OPIVY was kind enough to give us $400--that money covered our costs, (in retrospect, it was MORE than kind of them to give us the dough, seeing as how we borrowed their gear AND we sounded like shit because Cheese had gotten quite drunk on whiskey with Pete Chrimpshrine prior to the gig).

While in California, we made the acquantaince of the guys from Crimpshrine as well as the Lookout Records guys. At the time, things were still pretty exciting out there and we were heavily inspired by what we saw. Later in the summer, after I'd moved into Jughead's mother's house, Crimpshrine came through town and ended up staying with us for two weeks. We played them the four song demo tape we'd just recorded (yep, it's long gone) and their guitarist/singer, Jeff, taught me how to take my three stringed chord and move it up toe the second, third and fourth strings. No more sliding up and down the guitar neck! To this day, I still use the guitar starp Jeff gave me and I still haven't learned one single new thing about playing guitar (including the names of the second, third and fourth strings).

After searching desperately for another record label and coming up empty-handed, we decided to go ahead and record our second album without a label and release it on our own. Through a starnge set of circumstances, Juggy and I met up with a guy named Dave Best who was starting a record label and wanted Screeching Weasel on it AND wanted Juggy and I to run it. We recorded Boogadoboogadaboogada (the title refers to a phrase that was used by the guy whoe came up with our band name when he felt like vocally appreciateing good looking girls whilst passing by them in his car) for our own Roadkill Records (now defunct) in October 1988 and fully expected to have it in stores efore our first real tour, which was slated to happen in December.

We did the tour with Spongetunnel, travelling together in their van. Aside from having a new record that hadn't been released yet, we also had a new drummer, a sixteen year old kid who we christened Brian Vermin. Cheese had been asked to leave the band about a month before the tour due simply to the fact that he wasn't willing to tour.

The "NO SHOWERS 'TILL GAINESVILLE" tour was a minor disaster. The two bands fought constantly, and by our last show, there was plenty of tension in Screeching Weasel. We had a blow out argument on the way home and within two weeks of returning, Warren had simultaneously quit and been kicked out (it's not as bad as it sounds; we discovered that he and I were able to be friends once we weren't in a band together). For a replacement, we got Danny Vapid, a local punk who seemed to attend all our shows and had been the singer in quite a few local hardcore bands (including the Igor Skulls and Generation Waste). He wasn't the world's greatest bass player, but John handed him over the Yamaha and he fit right in. We called him Sewercap at first, but the name didn't stick. He was fainlly christened Vapid in 1991 and the name dogs him to this day.

Early that spring, we recorded the Punkhouse EP...in a professional downtown studio with Pike Potential. Mike had done a fanzine when he lived in Ohio and now that he was in Chicago, he wanted to start a record label. Punkhouse was his first release. Mike recorded us himself in the studio where he worked. As you can tell from the recording, he was a terrible engineer. We recorded the basic tarcks without Juggy, who had gotten stranded in downstate Illinois. I had been up all night delivering newsppaers and was not in the best fram of mind. When Juggy finally showed up, we had finisedh everything adn were getting impatient. Perhaps we should have cut him some slack, as his guitar is noticeably out of tune with the other guitars on the record...The reocrd had six tracks, "Punkhouse," "Fathead," "Good Morning," "I Need Therapy," a cover of Tommy James' "I Think We're Alone Now," and "Something Wrong." The terrible recording quality combined with the fact that I wrote most of the lyrics while I was drunk make it my least favorite SW record.

Not long after that, we recorded a four or five song demo at a studio run by fome flake in Berwyn. While we were mixing, Juggy asked if the bass could be turned up.

"Oh, you wanted that recorded?" he asked.

We did get the bass onto one tune, but the whole thing sounded terrible. We sent a copy of the tape to WNUR for their "unsigned bands" contest, where it was promptly ignored. The original tapes have been lost and nobody in the band even has a cassette copy of it (though after we gained some national popularity, WNUR dug out the tape and played it on the air rlelentlessly) (not too long after that, someone at WNUR proclaimed us lame due to the presence of a member of Green Day on our last album. Funny how things change so quickly...).

Shortly after the Berwyn fiasco, we started setting up our summer tour, which was to last six weeks and take us around the country. We got our label prez to lend us $750 for transportation. The van proptly shit the bed. We decided to go anyway, using the faithful '76 Malibu for the tour. We brought our clothes and sleeping bags, guitars, snare drum and bass drum pedal, figuring to borrow the rest of the equipment on the road.

While in Berkeley, we recorded three songs at Sergay's Recording Emporium: "I Wanna Be Homosexual" and "Kamala's Too Nice" (later re-recorded for "My Brain Hurts" with slightly different lyrics) for Very Small Records' What Are You Pointing At? 10" compilation and "Slogans" for an all-Chicago bands 7" compliation entitled There's A Fungus Amongus. "Homosexual" was written at the suggestion of Homocore pioneer/fanzine editor/filmmaker Bruce LaBruce who had heard about Sloppy Seconds' "I Don't Want to Be Homosexual" and thought we should respong (and for thre record-we never felt that the Sloppys' tune was homophobic, nor did we ever have any animosity toward the band-we just thought it would be funny). Bruce wrote a few lines and I made up the rest as I sang in the studio. "Kamala's Too Nice" was written at our friend Kamala's house in Emeryville, CA (where we were staying) about twenty minutes before we left for the studio. The records on which these songs appear are long out of print, and we've put our second version (which actually has lyrics instead of babbling) of "Homosexual" on this collection ("Slogans" was re-recorded for My Brain Hurts with different lyrics, as was "Kamala" and, from the Punkhouse sessions, "Fathead"). The first version of "Kamala" is included here.

The tour ended up being somewhat of a disaster and when we got back, we discovered that the band was falling apart. Vapid and Vermin had started their own band, Sludgeworth, and were showing decreasing interest in SW. We went over to Solid Sound and recorded two more songs, "Teenage Slumber Party" for the Achtung Chicago compilation LP on Underdog and "This Bud's for Me" for the They Don't Get Paid, They Don't Get Laid, But Boy, Do They Work Hard comp LP on MRR Records. "Slumber Party" is avaliable on the CD version of Wiggle and "This Bud" is included here. The song was supposed to be a bit of a paradoy which is why it's so goddamn fast; Tim at Maximum had encouraged us to "keep with the theme of the record." We figured that meant play loud and fast and stupid. Doug from the local band I.D. Under played second guitar on these songs and he did a few shows with us as well.

Shortly after the recording, Vermin quit and stated that Vapid wanted out too, only he was too scared to speak up. Juggy and I decided to end the band.

Soon enough, me and Jughead had another band going which included Glynnis Johnson on bass, Russ Forster on second guitar and Erik Elsewhere on drums. We were known variously as Glynnis Johnson and Disgusteeens (the name comes from a Teenage Head song. I also shot an awful movie that year (1990) called Disgusteen which was basically worthless but for a pretty cool tune I wrote and performed with 8-Bark called, dug, "Disgusten"), Los Gusanos Amardos and finally, the Gore Gore Girls. Glynnis left the band after our first abysmal gig and was temporarily replaced by Doug I.D. Under. At the end of 1990, we recorded five songs in an eight track studio in Crystal Lake. One of teh songs, "Nightbreed," went on a limited edition 7" compilation on Flush Records entitled Mouthful of Monkey Bile. None of the other tunes have been released (though they may see the light of day on Lookout this year). The Gore Gore Girls played one gig with Doug on bass, then, early in 1991, we found a new bass player, Dave Naked. He had been in the band for a week when we played our third and last gig (Screeching Weasel headlined this show as a "reunion" in order to pay back Russ Forster the money he had lent us to record Boogada. We did indeed pay him back, and he paid us back by writing articles for several local fanzines claiming we had done the show only for the money. He was right of course, but he didn't mention that all the money went to HIM!). After the show (at which the Gore Gore Girls embarressed ourselves with our awful playing), Vapid met up with Jughead in the bar and discussed getting Screeching Weasel back together. I was initially reluctant, but finally agreed only if we'd play more Ramones-based music and call ourselves anything BUT Screeching Weasel. Me and Juggy told Russ, Erik and Dave that we quit the Gore Gore Girls, but we asked Dave if he'd like to stay on with our new band. This meant that Vapid would have to move to second guitar, but he was up to the task. I contacted a suburban kid named Dan Panic who'd been calling me on and off ever since I'd helped produced a track for his old band, Ivy League. Now we had a drummer and, as a five piece, we started rehearsing to record an album.

(As a side note, I wrote a few tunes for the Gore Gore Girls that ended up being re-recorded with Screeching Weasel, like "Don't Turn out the Lights," "One Step Beyond" "Kathy's On the Rook" and "I Robot," [origanally titled "Lost in Space"]).

We decided that the only person we could contact about doing a record would be Lawrence Livermore at Lookout. By this time, we had been stolen and stabbed in the back so many times, we decreed that if Lookout wouldn't do it, we'd scrape up the money and rlease the album ourselves. Lawrence was interested in the band, but ONLY if we called ourselves Screeching Weasel. We agreed and made plans to embark on a short tour out to California, where we'd record the album with Lawrence producing. While reocrding My Brain Hurst, we did three extra tracks: a better version of "Homosexual" with real lyrics and an intro by Bruce LaBruce (who also appeared on the record cover), an anti-hippie song called "She's Giving me the Creeps," and a cover of Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces." Those three songs were released by Shred of Dignity Records as the Pervo-Devo EP and are included here.

Soon after we got home, Dave Naked was asked to leave the band. Our winter tour was downe with Gub (Formerly of Ivy League, currently of Gauge) as bassist/roadie. On the tour, we recorded some songs live on WFMU radio in New Jersey. Some of these songs were released by Selfless Records as the Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions and Happy, Horny, Gay and Sassy EPs. They are not included here due to the fact that they really blow.

When we got back from tour, we recruited Johnny Personality to play bass for us. Johnny had tried out for the Gore Gore Girls and was turned down only because he didn't have a practice space; he was and is an outstanding bass player. In February '92, we recorded a five song demo for Wiggle (which was one of the original band names for the Gore Gore Girls) with Steve Albini recording ad Eric Spicer of Naked Raygun producing. The only songs that didn't get re-recorded for Wiggle were "Going Home" (which I co-wrote with Aaron Cometbus-former drummer in Crimpshrine) and "Celena," which I hated. "Going Home" is on the Wiggle CD and "Celena" was eventually released on the It's A Punk Thing, You Wouldn't Understand 12" comp on Shakefork. The only song from that session which is on this collection is "Celena." To this day, I've only talked to one person who likes thie song-Aaron Cometbus, who claimed it was the best tune we'd ever done.

In the summer of '92, we recorded the Wiggle album at Sonic Iguana in Lafayette, Indiana. We also recorded "Radio Blast" and "Girl Next Door,"-two songs we thought were too weak for the album. Underdog later released them on a single AND we recorded a tune called "Achtung" by a band called the Authorities for an Authorities tribute comp that was supposed to be released by Paul Thomas' Insurrection Records (Paul's wearing a SW leather jacket in a photo somewhere in the booklet) but never saw the light of day. Juggy sez this is one of the best things we ever put on tape.

Soon after the album was done, Personality left the band to concentrate on his own projects. Meanwhile, I had become thoroughly sick of standing on stage and singing, looking like an idiot and figured that if I was standing on stage singing and PLAYING GUITAR, I'd at least have an eXCUSE for looking like an idiot. Vapid moved back to bass and I picked up the guitar again-only this time, I wasn't gonna play guitar only half the songs. I'd be a full time second guitarist (this meant that for three months, I spent three hours every day playing our songs on guitar without looking at the guitar neck. I SORT OF mastered the whole thing).

Todd from Selfless called during our party for the end of the Wiggle recording session and asked us if we'd like to cover our favorite Ramones album for his label. It was a completely stupid idea, so of course we did it. My favorite Ramones album is actually Leave Home, but we all agreed we could do a halfway decent job with their first album. We recorded it at Sonic Iguana in something silly like fifteen hours and mixed it to sound like the first Ramones album (bass outta one speaker, guitar outta the other). It was stupid, but a lot of fun and it makrs the only Screeching Weasel album on which Vapid sang lead on a song ("Let's Dance"). Lack of space prohibits us from putting more than four of those songs on here, but "Judy is a Punk," "Chainsaw," "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,"and "Havana Affair," are pretty decent versions of the toughest band in the land to cover.

At the same session, we recorded two other songs, "sop Aopera," (which was released by Skullduggery as part of their 10" comp called Fallen Upon Deaf Ears), and "Stab Stab Stab," which, along with our Albini-recorded "Going Home" comprised our half of the SW/Pink Lincolns split EP released on VML in early '93. "Soap Opera" was intended to be a parody of NOFX's style of songwriting; I'd been hearing a lot of comparisions of my voice to Fat Mike's. Unforunately, we were not as musically skilled as NOFX, but I think the song comes off well (particularly the middle part with the snake charmer stuff-I'd written that part in 1988 and had been waiting for a chance to use it-it's the best you'll ever hear me play lead guitar). "Stab Stab Stab" is in my opinion one of the best songs I ever wrote, even though it sounds nothing like a typical SW tune. I've never been able to write another tune like it, which is too bad 'cause I'd love to do a band like that (dark, weird, vaguely sleazy) someday.

We recorded nothing else until we came home from our '93 tour with the Queers. We did eight songs at Flat Iron-four of them were released as the You Broke My Fucking Heart EP on Lookout, and are included here (they're the only songs on this CD that are still in print). Of the remaing four, two were relased on the SW/Born Against split on Lookout and the other two just sat there. One of the songs is "Six A.M.," a dumb tune I wrote while out East on tour, notable because it's the only tune I ever wrote while driving and kept it going in my head for seix hours until I got to a guitar, where I was able to play the while song from beginning to end, including the "solo." The other was a different version of "Hey Suburbia"' since 1989, we'd been playing it live with a diffferent ending-you'll hear that ending on this version.

Not too long after that, we reorded three more songs at Flat Iron. Two of them, "Every NIght" and "Totally," would edn up on the Anthem for a New Tomorrow album because they were so much better than the versions we recorded later. The other song was a cover of "Chicago," which was released on CD only as part of a Frank Sinatra tribute by Grass Records. It also appears on the CD version of the SW/Born Against split. Uh, none of those tunes are on this CD. Why did I even mention them?

The only other songs on this CD are four live tunes recorded by Marshall Stax at Gilman Street in Berkeley during our '93 tour. you can hear the vocals drop out during "Veronica Hates Me" at the precise moment when MRR's Tim Yohannan and his cronies threw cream pies at us, covering everyone in the band with tepid Cool Whip.

Screeching Weasel's last show was a lot like some of our first. Held on November 2nd, 1993, it was a fiasco from teh get go. It was in a suburban heavy metal club staffed by uptight mooks who stood in front of the band to make sure nobody danced while we played. The sound was terrible and we got paid a fraction of what we had gotten used to making locally (which was still a good amount of dough...).

After that gig, we decided we'd break up a year from that date. Trouble was, Vapid ended up quitting the band and we didn't feel like getting a bassist only to pull the rug out from under him just as he was settling in. We went ahead and recorded our last album, How to Make Enemies and Irritate People (with Mike from Green Day playing bass) as well as a two song single commemorating the marriage of MAximum RockNRoll's Suzanne Bartchy. Oh yea, we also re-recorded the Gore-Gore Girls tune, "Nightrbreed," and for some reason, it didn't make it onto the album. Maybe it'll be released someday...Anyway, I guess we officially broke up on whatever day we finished recording Enemies.

Me, Panic and Vapid are currently in a band together called The Riverdales, a golden oldies-type band with some Ramones touches which I think will disappoint most SW fans. Lookout will be releasing our first album in early summer '95. Jughead still deals with all SW business and spends much of his time writing and directing his own plays and actining in other people's productions. I've seen two of his plays and they were both disturbing. Juggy's always been a little odd.

As always, contact Lookout Records for a catalog if you're looking for SW t-shirts, records, buttons, whatever. And as alway, stop writing us. We broke up.

Ben Weasel


Post a Comment

<< Home