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Sunday, June 7, 2020


“Make sure that hook is big enough to catch a whale”- Jim Bacchi

Fuzzbubble in motion (Photo by Larry Busacca)
Had Fuzzbubble actually sent their massive armada of pop hooks adrift at sea, whales and other cetaceans would have been driven to global extinction as early as the mid 90’s. Simply put, they are one of the most explosive and melodically gifted power pop bands of all time. Their self titled debut album immediately imprinted on me as a (I’m going to say 11 or 12 year old) kid with a taste for his dad’s Beatles, Kinks and Who records. The album has continued to grow on me ever since—as has their "Demos, Outtakes & Rarities" album (which honestly plays more like a fully realized LP than a collection of castoffs). Recently, Fuzzbubble members Jim Bacchi, Jason Camiolo, and Mark DiCarlo have embarked on a new project: “Cult Stars From Mars” (named after an early Fuzzbubble track). They have a fantastic ongoing podcast (LINKED HERE) and will be releasing brand new tracks (keep an eye on their Facebook page for updates:

 I am absolutely thrilled that Fuzzbubble (and now Cult Stars From Mars) members Jim Bacchi and Jason Camiolo have agreed to answer a few questions for me. 

Don't Let It Get You Down (Youtube Audio)

N: “Don’t Let It Get You Down” is one of those rare perfect pop songs— one of those songs that sounds like it has existed since the beginning of time. Do you guys remember the evolution of the song’s chorus— that killer melody and harmony? Did it emerge as a pretty fully-formed piece of music, or did it go through various iterations before what we hear on the album? 

Jim: Thank you for that compliment. It’s one of my most prized songs.

 I remember exactly how that song happened. Probably 1996…I was in my apartment in Hollywood, getting my day started. I was listening to a Seattle band called FLOP (the “Fall of the Mopsqueezer” album)…the song that was playing was called “Big Sky”, which unbeknownst to me was actually a KINKS cover…now, you’d think I’d know that being a power pop fan, but I’ve never been that big of a fan of The Kinks (I know right? Powerpop 101 right there, but I just never really connected with them).

 Anyway, the last line of the song is: “don’t let it get you down.” It was a really nice melodic phrase, but it was that lyric that caught me. So, I immediately shut the CD off and picked up my cheap 1960’s Kawaii Jaguar copy, and the song literally just came gushing out. Literally written in like 30 minutes--maybe except for some lyrics-- which may have taken more time, but not much.

 Somewhere in the middle of that 30 minute burst of creativity, Brett (our bass player) called me. The band had moved out to  Hollywood to put Fuzzbubble together at the beginning of that year…anyway, he just called to see what was up, and I was like “I just wrote this amazing song,” and I think I may have played it for him. Anyway, we got together, rehearsed it up, and recorded it not too long after that.

 I still remember the whole thing, because it happened so fast. Sometimes the best songs just happen like that.

 Jason: I remember recording the demo of that song on Mother’s Day of 1996 in LA - (I think the studio was "The Sandbox") and phoning back to NY to wish my mom a Happy Mother’s Day… Jimmy showed it to us and we loved it right away. Obviously Beatle-esque, but I recall talking about The Raspberries influence, and for me--drumming-wise anyway-- there’s a lot of Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick) --or at least my attempt at him-- in there.  As with most Fuzzbubble songs’ drums - lots of Ringo, and lots of Bun E. influence.


Bliss (Youtube Audio)

N: You guys talked (in the podcast) about your harder rock influences. I always felt like there was more to that edge than just the remnants of grunge--it was just too sincere. Of course you come right out of the gate with "Bliss"-one of the hardest hitting/ most defiant power pop songs ever written. Do you remember what gave you that unapologetic "band versus the world" vitriol? Where did that blood and vinegar----that rocket fuel---come from?

Jason: I will let Jim answer as he is the main writer and ‘visionary’ of the band… but as an aside, we are also legitimate and ardent hard-rock and heavy metal fans, and all four of us played in much ‘harder & heavier’ bands prior to Fuzzbubble.

Jim: The song is actually not "band vs world"-- it's "Jim vs world". It's a song of introspection-- a very personal song about not fitting in, and always feeling like (as the great Neil Peart once described in the song "Subdivisions") "the dreamer and the misfit so alone". It's about always feeling wrong about who you are, and finally saying "fuck, everyone is crazy…but I'm alright".

It was definitely musically influenced by the Foo Fighters’ song “I’ll Stick Around”. I was listening to that first album a lot at the time I wrote “Bliss”. I liked the melodic, yet aggressive feel.

 Jason: I also love Dave Grohl-- especially his drumming-- and it’s no surprise he’s a fan of The Beatles and Cheap Trick. In a weird 'twist' we would eventually have a single (“Out There”) on the soundtrack to Godzilla, along with the Foo Fighters (“A320”). Dave Grohl also played drums on the studio recording of “All About the Benjamins - Rock Remix”, which we played live a few times (including with Slash at NetAid in ‘98).

Rockstar Parking (Youtube Audio)

N: If a young band came to you guys with a demo/ some song ideas, and said they needed it to "sound like Fuzzbubble", what kinds of pointers would you offer? Anything in terms of composition, attitude, or recording (I know you have a lot of studio experience Jim)?

Jim: Well, sonically speaking, a few things.

 A big part of the Fuzzbubble sound is that the bass guitar is dirty, and the guitars are on the cleaner, less distorted side. Not “jangly clean” like The Byrds, but kind of cranked up and clanging…or as Chip Z’nuff told us: “Beatles with Balls”. That about sums it up.

 Drums? Ringo and Bun E Carlos. I’ll let Jay answer this one, but for me: a nice, ringing, open sounding drum kit, and a swingy feel to the beats.

 Vocals? Harmonies…but not just harmonizing along with the lead vocals-- actual question and answer harmony parts…like the Beatles do. Counter-melodies to the lead vocal. Also, just singing a straight 3 part harmony is cool, but a nice tension harmony always makes things way more interesting.

 In terms of composition: Make sure that hook is big enough to catch a whale. That chorus needs to be melodic and catchy. You want to hear that song once and remember the hook. Hard to do, but it’s what I always aim for. Make sure you create a nice tension building up to the chorus, and with 2 guitars it’s always nice to have the guitars doing different things at times, as well as playing the same part for impact as well-- switch back and forth. It gives the song more dimension, then more impact when they double the same part.

 Recording…well, most of the Fuzzbubble material was recorded on 2” tape…no, copy/paste option…you just did it, and tried to punch in any mistakes. Now things are way different-- it’s a lot easier to fix things. While I do record the modern way now, I AM glad that I learned to engineer and record the old fashioned way. The real fun is recording the new way, and getting it to sound like the old way. It’s what everyone wants, and that’s why there are so many vintage style plug ins...and I own most of them, LOL.

Jason: Funny, because I wasn’t reading ahead here, and when I got to Jim’s comments about the drums I laughed!

 Yes, exactly! Ringo Starr & Bun E. Carlos definitely make up the bulk of my influence as far as ‘Fuzzbubble - Drums’ are concerned. I would add Clem Burke (Blondie) and Andy Sturmer (Jellyfish) as well. I do love Roger Taylor of Queen too - and MANY more!

 But, the overarching idea here as ‘advice for the drummer’ from me would be this: “You’re not here to play the drums… you’re here to play drums in these songs.” Meaning: As much as I am also a fan of prog rock and metal and many other very "technical" drummers (Neil Peart, Terry Bozzio, Danny Carey…), that’s not the ‘vibe’ for a Fuzzbubble or power-pop band (in my opinion).

 The drums/ drummer are a 'support role’ –to ‘groove’ or ’swing’ or ‘drive’ the SONG. This is pretty much my mantra for the new project (Cult Stars From Mars). Although I’m only, or always, playing drums… I make some appearances on keyboards and bass as well in the new project. So far... ; ) 

I was interested to learn that Jason has two sons who are roughly the same age I was when I discovered Fuzzbubble. So, do they think their dad's music is pretty cool?

Maxwell (12): Yeah.

Ian (11): Kind of. No offense but I was born in a different time period.

So there you have it! Again, if you haven't added the podcast to your bookmarks, here it is: Podcast From Mars

Exciting things in the works...

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Sugarpop- Give Up Your Sister (1997)

J-Bird Records was an early online music hub. As Roger Catlin wrote in a 1996 Hartford Courant article: 
"J-Bird Records, which operates out of Wilton, is likely the first wholly inclusive label -- signing bands, designing products, manufacturing CDs and marketing them in a virtual store whose number of titles, like the Web itself, will be unlimited."
It was an era in which people were excited by the "web's" unlimited potential rather than terrified of it. How quaint!

Arguably the finest release in the J-Bird catalogue is Sugarpop's "Give Up Your Sister". A tip for 90's/ early 2000's music conoisseurs: if a band's name is a combination of "sugar" and another word, it is probably pretty good. Sugarpop, Sugarbomb, Sugarcult, Sugarspoon, Sugartooth...all really good bands! I am even quite partial to Sugar Ray (c. "Every Morning"). Oh, and wasn't the inimitable Icelandic vocalist Bjork originally in a band called the Sugarcubes? I think it's a pretty solid rule. 

Allmusic appears to stick the "power pop" label on this album, but I don't completely agree. Yes, it is melodic, but it doesn't quite fit the mould. More accurate are reviewer Andy Hinds' Nirvana comparisons ( The similarities are especially apparent on tracks like "Cigarette", where the vocal delivery bears an uncanny resemblance to Kurt Cobain. Forunately (and unlike so many others), Sugarpop understand what made Cobain such a great vocalist and songwriter, so the similarities are welcome. "Dashboard Hula Girl" seems to recall Beck with its spare arrangement, wiry slide guitar, and danceable drum beat. In fact, the entire album seems permeated by the kind of off-kilter pop sensibilities Beck pioneered on 1994's "Mellow Gold".  

The album's high point comes at track 6: "Downtown". Their many influences coalesce into something unique and arresting--a magnetic 2-or-so minute pop song you'll be singing all day!

Unfortunately, media samples are scarce, and the album doesn't appear to be on Spotify or iTunes. Use the Allmusic review page as your source for audio clips if you want to know if this album is for you, and then seek out used copies on CD. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Some Of My Favourite 90's/ Early 2000's Powerpop

In no particular order, and with many omissions (I have enough left for a few more lists)...

Greta-This Is Greta! (1995)

My previous post covers Greta in depth (an interview with Josh Gordon). I won't re-write that post here...but obviously this album deserves a spot on this list.

Some People (Youtube Audio)

About You (Youtube Music Video)

The Nines-Wonderworld of Colourful (1998) 

A prolific and extremely talented group. It was difficult to pick just one album. The single "Melanie" alone nearly made me choose 2001's "Properties of Sound", but I think "Wonderworld..." is their brightest moment, and demonstrates their full range. There's nothing they can't do---from the chugging, shadowy "Bobby's Alibi" to the heavenly Pet Sounds-esque "Ghost Town Sunday", to the fuzzed out pseudo-grunge of "Jules Maxi" it is all perfectly executed.

Ghost Town Sunday (Youtube Audio)

Bobby's Alibi (Youtube Audio)

Jellyfish- Spilt Milk (1993)

In my opinion, this album is EASILY one of the top 10 best of the 90's (any genre). The ambition and scope are massive, and the musicianship is godlike. Andy Sturmer's lead vocals often recall the heroics of late Queen frontman Freddy Mercury (!), and the harmonies call up visions of Sgt. Pepper era Beatles, or The Beach Boys circa "Pet Sounds"(!) (just listen to the too-perfect opener "Hush" if you don't believe me). If that's not enough of an endorsement, I don't know what is.  AllMusic's Mark Deming gave the album 4.5/5 stars...but I assure you, he merely lost that .5 in the pocket of another jacket. It's a 5/5, hands down.

Joining A Fan Club (Youtube Audio)

Imperial Drag (1996) 

Roger Joseph Manning Jr.'s post-Jellyfish project. More straight-ahead than Jellyfish, but still absolutely massive. I hear a 70's glam influence here--perhaps a bit of Marc Bolan/ T-Rex in the track I have linked below?

Boy Or A Girl (Youtube Music Video)

Splitsville- Presents...The Complete Pet Soul (2001) 

Yes, your eyes aren't mistaken; the title is a combination of "Pet Sounds" and "Rubber Soul". Not since the makers of "Life" cereal has someone been so audacious in the naming of a product. Despite this act of hubris (and I mean this in the Classical Greek sense: defiance of the gods-- usually sealing one's fate), Splitsville were able to back up the title with the goods. While the album's namesakes may never be truly surpassed in terms of both quality and mythology, this is a worthy shelf companion. Splitsville have always been able to flex their vocal harmony skills. On this album they went all in--turning the distortion down a bit on their amps, slowing things down just a touch, and indulging their intimate familiarity with 60's sunshine-pop. Luckily this doesn't come across as a novelty record--the writing is simply too strong, and the earnestness seeps out of every groove (if ever a CD had grooves, it would be this one). Why not wear your heart on your sleeve? Why not indulge? Good on you Splitsville!

Sunshiny Daydream (Youtube Audio)

The Shazam-Godspeed The Shazam (1999) 

Nashville's "The Shazam" released this gem on the now defunct "Not Lame Recordings" label. If you're searching for good powerpop artists, the "Not Lame..." roster is a good place to start. If you're not afraid of falling in love, check out the song "Chipper Cherry Daylily".

Chipper Cherry Daylily (Youtube Audio)

The Pillbugs (1998) 

Seriously, who has the audacity to make their first release a double album!? These guys, that's who-- and the gambit pays off! Essential for fans of 60's psychedelia (think The Pretty Things circa "S.F. Sorrow" and early Pink Floyd). Available (along with the rest of their catalogue) for listening and purchase on Bandcamp. Spacy, cerebral pop ecstasy.

Pretend You're Not Home (Youtube Audio)

The Pillbugs on Bandcamp

Brian Stevens-Prettier Than You (1996) 

Talented "Q Division" alumnus (check out that label's roster for some other great artists), and former member of Boston cult heroes The Cavedogs. Stevens even gets some help on guitar here from Clayton Scoble of Poundcake (reviewed in another post). Just as colourful and rich as the baroque cover art would lead you to believe.

The Piper (Youtube Audio)

The Gravy-Hangman's Pop (1997) 

Includes Todd Spahr, another former member of The Cavedogs. Not dissimilar to what Stevens was doing (which is good).

Memory (Youtube Music Video)

The Gravel Pit-The Gravel Pit Manifesto (1996) 

The third straight "Q Division" release on this list. A bit heavier and more jagged than the previous two, but just as enjoyable and pop-savvy.

Allmusic Review & Song Clips

Sloan-Navy Blues (1998) 

Canada's perennial powerpop powerhouse, Sloan, are so consistent that there isn't a simile available to describe how consistent they are. Why? The word "Sloan" has been universally accepted as the go-to simile for something that is extremely consistent ("x is as consistent as Sloan")--saying "Sloan are as consistent as Sloan" is just self-evident. Since their debut album in 1993 they have taken care of business without interruption, and without falling below the incredibly high bar they have set. But, if I HAD TO pick a favourite album from their catalogue, I think I would go with this one. It is just too much fun! It also contains one of their signature tracks: the riffy and electrifying "Money City Maniacs". Other instantly loveable cuts include "She Says What She Means", "Chester The Molester", and "Iggy and Angus". Near-legendary status in Canada, but I'm not sure how well-known they are elsewhere. Essential listening.

Money City Maniacs (Youtube Audio)

She Says What She Means (Youtube Music Video)

Chester The Molester (Youtube Audio)

The Killjoys- Gimme Five (1996) 

The chiming, reverb-drenched opening notes of "Soaked" are a direct callback to "There She Goes" by The La's (that being one of the greatest singles on one of the greatest albums of all time)- so you know you're in for a good ride. This is crunchier than The La's though-- just listen to standout track "Like I Care". It was 1996 after all--- it would have been impossible not to be excited about the chunky riffery that was constantly in the air. "Space Girl" is a nice mid-album detour into more quiet territory though. Also, these guys are Canadian, proving that Sloan weren't merely a fluke--Canuck powerpop is a real thing.

Soaked (Youtube Audio)

The La's (1990) 

Like I said in the last blurb: one of the greatest albums ever made. While frontman Lee Mavers was apparently displeased with the production, I think the songs are just too strong to be sullied by any mixing issues (and I actually have no qualms with the production myself). I don't even know if this can fairly be called "powerpop" is transcendental and ineffable. I tend to put this on whatever "best of" list I can shoehorn it into.

There She Goes (Youtube Audio)

The Tories-Wonderful Life (1997) 

The single "Gladys Kravitz" is impossible not to like. Excellent vocals too!

Gladys Kravitz (Youtube Music Video)

Fuzzbubble (2000) 

Be careful, this one has attitude. If you like "power" in your powerpop, this one is for you. Opening track "Bliss" hits like a silverback gorilla, so make sure you're holding onto something and wearing some protective gear. A very formative album for me.

Don't Let It Get You Down (Youtube Audio)

Bliss (Youtube Audio)

The Green and Yellow TV- Record X (2002)

The subject of an independent post from awhile back, but too good to be left off of this list! Another formative album for me.

Ruined (Youtube Audio)

In With You (Youtube Audio)

Vinyl Kings- A Little Trip (2002) 

The Vinyl Kings are composed of a group of session-men with dazzling resumes. This is obviously an homage to The Beatles--but it is much too heartfelt and earnest to be dismissed as simply a tribute or a burlesque. No, this is a proper album and it deserves your time and attention.

A Little Trip (Youtube Audio)

The Spongetones- Beat and Torn (1994) 

I'm cheating a bit here on two counts:
I) This is actually a compilation, not a proper "studio album"
II) It consists of the group's 1980's material.
After careful consideration by a panel of myself, I have granted this album exceptional status. It is a nice companion to the others on the list, and an excellent introduction to the band (who did in fact continue to release quality material throughout the 90's and into the early 2000's).

My Girl Maryanne (Youtube Audio)

Supraluxe (2005) 

"Sugar Chalet" is a hit in multiple fairer parallel universes.

Sugar Chalet (Youtube Audio)

Willie Wisely-Turbosherbet (1997) 

Punchy, sexy, and infectious. Some may prefer 1996's excellent "She", but this one has had more rotation with me personally. Either way, you can't go wrong.

She Said Yeah (Youtube Audio)

So Turned On (Youtube Audio)

P. Hux-Deluxe (1995) 

P. Hux is the pseudonym of powerpop luminary Parthenon Huxley (what a great name!) Huxley would later be involved in ELO Part II (a Jeff Lynne-less second iteration of the legendary 70's/80's giants)-- a fitting recognition of his considerable talent. Huxley lost his wife to cancer a few years after releasing this album-- making the already touching love songs found here all the more poignant in hindsight.

Playing Her Guitar (Youtube Audio)

So Good (Youtube Audio)

That Dog- Retreat From the Sun (1997) 

The group's most solid release in my opinion; absolutely bursting at the seams with confidence. "Never Say Never" hits it out of orbit with its new-wave inflected cool and "Gagged and Tied" seals the deal.

Never Say Never (Youtube Music Video)

Gagged and Tied (Youtube Audio)

Chaselounge- Black Plastic Ordinary (2005) 

Distinctly early 2000's sound (would have slotted in nicely alongside pop punkers like Fall Out Boy) but with echoes of the ghost of rock past (do I hear some of Elvis Costello's vocal acrobatics on "My Rotary Phone"?)

My Rotary Phone (Youtube Audio)

The Irresponsibles- When Pigs Fly (1999) 

Protegees of the legendary Adrian Belew, with a decidedly poppier sound than their mentor. Many great tracks here (will probably warrant a longer entry in the future). Maybe a bit of an XTC edge?

A Girl To Looze (Youtube Audio)

Fountains of Wayne (1996) 

The world lost a tremendous songwriter this year in Adam Schlesinger. Fountains of Wayne have always occupied an important and much-visited spot on my CD shelves. I think this, their debut, may be their most consistent release. It also paved the way for many other powerpoppers who emerged in the late 90's/ early 2000's-- showed them the dazzling heights the genre was capable of reaching. While it wasn't until the 2003 single "Stacy's Mom" that these guys fully broke into the mainstream, many of the tracks here could have easily done the trick with a bit of luck.  

Radiation Vibe (Youtube Music Video)

Admiral Twin- Mock Heroic (2000)

Tough to pick just one album by these guys to include here, but tracks like "The Unlucky Ones", "No. 1 Fan", and "Blessed Imperial" are hard to top.

No. 1 Fan (Youtube Audio)

Wunderband (1997) 

Quirky, off-kilter fun. Sometimes compared favourably to XTC.

Mayqueen (Youtube Audio)

Liar's Club-Drop Dead (1994) 

The subject of a lengthy post elsewhere on this blog. Just never gets old!

Allmusic Drop Dead Song Previews

Michael Penn- Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947 (2005) 

Member of the talented showbiz Penn family (brother of Sean Penn), Michael is a powerpop mainstay and a seriously bright dude. This album completes a string of solid releases going back to 1989 (and is the most ambitious of the bunch in my humble opinion). As the title suggests, the backdrop here is post- WWII Hollywood/ California. Residue, memories of memories, self-aware nostalgia, tenderness, hints of lingering trauma...sophistication wrapped in stellar popcraft.

Walter Reed (Youtube Music Video)

Owsley (1999)

Straight-ahead fun. By 1999 Will Owsley had already demonstrated his considerable talent as a member of cult heroes The Semantics, who released a single album, titled "Powerbill" (only distributed in Japan), in 1996. Despite consisting of Owsley, Zak Starkey (son of Ringo Starr), Millard Powers (who later joined Counting Crows on bass), and (occasionally/ informally) Ben Folds, The Semantics seem to have faded into obscurity. A re-recorded Semantics track, "The Sky is Falling", appears here and is arguably the album's highlight.

The Sky Is Falling (Youtube Audio)

Oh No The Radio (Youtube Audio)

Wondermints (1995) 

Selected by Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson as a touring backing band, and as studio-mates for his re-recorded version of "SMiLE", listening to this album makes it easy to understand why. In fact, I think I prefer this album to "SMiLE" I allowed to say that?

Proto Pretty (Youtube Audio)

Superdrag- Regretfully Yours (1996) 

Fortunately, this album saw a pretty broad release, so tracking down a physical copy is usually fairly easy (and prices for used copies online are generally extremely reasonable). "Sucked Out" got some well deserved airplay, and the rest of the album lives up to the promise of that stellar track.

Sucked Out (Youtube Audio)

Sugarbomb- Bully (2001)

Very apt band name. Theatrical bombast and an eclectic mishmash of styles. Sometimes they even seem to recall Jellyfish (yes, they're that good). Fantastic vocals, well executed harmonies, and complex-yet-direct compositions. Jackdaw 4 would be another apt point of reference.

Motor Mouth (Youtube Audio)

Mail Order Girlfriend (Youtube Audio)

The Sneetches- Starfucker (1995)

Sneetches, if you recall, are fuzzy, yellow Dr. Seuss-ian creatures-- some having stars on their bellies ("Star-Belly Sneetches") and some without. I am just leafing through my own copy of Seuss's book to find the scene referenced in this album's title.
The Sneetches have achieved cult-hero status for their lovingly crafted classic guitar-pop tunes, and they gained positive critical (not necessarily commercial) recognition in the late 80's and early 90's. The band would split after 1994's "Blow Out The Sun", but released this mini-album, composed of leftover tracks, the next year. Against all odds, it ended up being one of their finest works, and a fitting capstone to their legacy.

They Keep Me Running (Youtube Audio)

Watch Me Burn (Youtube Audio)

Silver Sun (1997) 

Immaculate harmonies, razor-sharp melodies, and lots of cheeky sexual innuendos. Like an amped up, feistier version of the Beach Boys.

Julia (Youtube Music Video) 

Saturday, April 11, 2020


I would like to dedicate this post to the memory of Paul Wisdom Plagens- a man of immeasurable talent and inimitable creative voice. Please keep him in your thoughts as you enjoy Greta's music, and delve into their history with me.
Design by Josh Gordon & Richard Frankel; Photography by Alison Dyer and GALLO, C
I have wanted to write about LA-based band Greta for quite some time. As music journalist Stewart Mason writes, they: "...executed one of the most impressive mid-career changes of direction of the 90's" ( Still, their two releases "No Biting" (1993) and "This Is Greta!" (1995) are tied together by keen melodic sense, strong musicianship, and encyclopedic knowledge of rock history. The heavy psychedelia of "No Biting" was quite unique: the metallic attack of Scott Carneghi's drumming, and frequent forays into truculent first-wave grunge riffage--- paired with singer Paul Plagens' ear for melody and Josh Gordon's fluid, mellifluous bass-lines. In other words, equally prepared to pulverize or to romance. The music video for the single "Fathom" even got some rotation on MTV's zeitgeist defining "Headbanger's Ball" (they had videos featured on Beavis and Butthead's video review segment too, but I can't confirm which one(s)). Viewers who tuned into "The Ball" on November 13th 1993, for example, would have seen "Fathom" played alongside reels for Megadeth's "Peace Sells" and Motorhead's "Burner". But Headbanger's Ball was only part of the story---there were hints in the music that Greta would have been just as at home with fellow LA locals Redd Kross or Dramarama. Those hints exploded to the fore on 1995's This Is Greta!, an impressive power-pop platter, featuring my personal Desert Island Discs pick: "Some People". It remains an overflowing chalice of inspired 90's ambrosia (highlights including the aforementioned "Some People", the punchy opener "About You", the soaring "Silver Blue," and the relentlessly catchy "Warm Disease"). According to a 1995 interview in Highwire Daze Magazine, there may have been even MORE goodness, as the band apparently wrote as many as 30 songs for the album before settling on the final 11( Whether these additional tracks still exist out there in the ether I do not know, but I digress. I could write all day, but fortunately for you, Greta's bass player and frequent songwriting collaborator Josh Gordon has agreed to answer some questions for me.

"Some People" Audio-1995 (Youtube)
"Silver Blue" Audio- 1995 (Youtube)
"About You" Video- 1995 (Youtube)
"Jesus Crux" Audio- 1993 (Youtube)

Greta in Rolling Stone Magazine (5 August 1993); Photo by Greg Allen

N: Where did the name “Greta” come from? Did it have anything to do with the dress Paul was known to wear on stage in the early days? An alter ego perhaps?

JG: Our original drummer Brad Wilk came up with the name. He left to join Rage Against the Machine. we were sitting around at rehearsal or in the car trying to come up with a name, and he said "what do you think about Greta?" We all thought it was really interesting and unique. I don't know if you've ever been in a band, but coming up with a good name is such a hard thing to do. We had spent weeks-- maybe even months-- trying to come up with a name with no luck whatsoever. He said it, and it just kind of rang with us, so we went with it. The dress originally came from a Halloween outfit that Paul had worn for a house party we were playing. Paul went in drag, and we thought it was awesome. It brought an energy to the band, and Paul was able to really let himself go as a lead singer in it. Most of us have strong feminine components to our personality, and identify very strongly with feminine energy. The dress and the name personified this for us. We were feminists from an early age and very anti-macho. The lyrics to “Off the Slug” are an example of this. 

Paul Plagens in his Halloween party dress; Photo by Lindsay Brice for Getty Images

N: I think “No Biting” and “This Is Greta!”, while very different, are both strong in their own ways. I’ve noticed some reviewers taking the album title “This Is Greta!” as a declaration that it embodied the “real” Greta---the project you guys really wanted to do. Are they making too much of the name, or maybe misinterpreting it? Or was that really the case?

JG: The short answer is: we wanted to do both… but the long answer is: the "declaration" is, in fact, a correct interpretation. Paul and I had been friends since we were 12 years old. We, without question, come from the "Beatles are God" school of music. We religiously devoured 1960s music: The Who, The Kinks, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and everything in between. We also became punk and new wave fanatics in the late 70s (which was a seminal era for power pop as well: The Plimsouls, The Knack, 20/20, Paul Collins Beat), so there was also that dichotomy of pop music and "alternative", more dangerous/edgy music. Back then we were regularly bullied at school for wearing punk/new wave styles. We were threatened on a near daily basis. So as quaint as DEVO and The Clash seem now, it really freaked people out back then. People had very visceral reactions to punk rock when it first came out. In 1990 I had become very attracted to industrial/alternative music. Bands like Ministry were taking music into new territory. I told Paul that I wanted to start a band that had the heaviness of some of the metal/industrial music, but with a melodic sense. I wanted to combine the sound and feel of heavy metal with The Beatles. So, cutting back to your question-- when we did the first album, “No Biting”, we were all really into the this hard/soft thing. The first song we came up with for it was "Fathom". I wrote the music, and Paul and I worked together on the lyrics. All the melody for “Fathom” was Paul. We felt we had something unique, and pretty interesting. That set the tone for all of the songs that came after. By the time we got to "This Is Greta", we were painfully disappointed by the lack of success of the first record. By the standards of the industry in charge of our future, it was a colossal disappointment. I have ADD and so I was in a "let's try something different!" mode. We didn't have anything to lose and Paul, Kyle and I always admired bands like the Beatles and Stones that were always changing direction and evolving. Kyle, Scott, and I and were jamming when we all came up with the music for "About You"-- just before Paul got to rehearsal. Kyle came up with the gorgeous music to "Charade". We were just naturally moving in that direction. I think that kind of music is where we defaulted to. One of our pre-“No Biting” singles, made right after we signed to Mercury was a pretty straightforward cover of Hank Williams’ "There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight", and Bing Crosby's "Pennies From Heaven"-- so were always into anything that was good, regardless of genre. So, when we came to "This Is Greta" we had nothing to lose, and thought "fuck it", let’s just make the best record we can. I had to lobby for the title. I wanted it to be an introduction to the band like a lot of the sixties debut albums were -- "Meet The Beatles", "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones", The Zombies, Begin Here" -- I thought "This Is Greta” was absolutely a declaration! This is where we come from and this is who we are. I also love that it's the name of a Spinal Tap record [“This is Spinal Tap”]. We love Spinal Tap, so there was always a kind of "Tap" awareness that anyone who makes rock music should be aware of. This was sort of our "Jazz Odyssey" change of direction, but it was absolutely sincere, and very true to us.   

N: I found a snippet in a Rolling Stone magazine from August 1993 (written by David Wild) calling Greta “Beatles-influenced hard rock” (this article predated “No Biting”). The pop/ power pop elements didn’t really seem as evident until “This Is Greta!”. Was your live set around that time pretty faithful to what ended up on the “No Biting” album? The Beatles seem like an odd primary point of reference for the band’s early incarnation (although your bass playing did always have a melodic McCartney-esque quality to it, even in the heavier moments). Was some of the later material already written/ in your repertoire by this point? Just curious where a journalist would have been coming from in 1993 after seeing one of your shows.

JG: I think I may have rambled the answer for this in my last answer. The only song from TIG that had been written during the “No Biting” era was "Rocking Chair". We had a number of very heavy riffs and jams that we were going to use moving into our second record, but we really were moving in a different direction. Paul was writing really strong songs like "You’re So Whatever" and "Some People," and we were all just going with it. Paul wasn't into heavy metal/hard music in the same way the rest of us were. Fleshing out those heavy riffs wasn't necessarily working or coming naturally at that time.

To anyone who was seeing us live, I can only guess that songs like “Sleepyhead” and “Jesus Crux” may have hinted at our Beatles influences, but songs like "Off The Slug" and "Insomnia" certainly don't make it obvious. 

McCartney is my favorite bass player and I was always trying to find appropriate melodic lines to compliment the songs. The pre-chorus to "Everything's Fine" is an example of my love of McCartney, and I recall actually saying out loud while writing the part: "what would McCartney do?".  Kyle's solos on that record are also, I think, reflective of his understanding and love of straight-ahead melody-oriented guitar solos. 

N: I think 1995 would have been one of the most difficult years to release an album----PERIOD. There was this collision between the cool affected-disaffectedness of early 90’s youth culture (I sense a wry critique of this in “Cal Cool (You’re So Whatever)”), and something more earnest and dramatic emerging in the first wave of “post grunge”. Either way, it didn’t seem like a new group could win—if you fell in with the post-grunge crowd you would attract megatons of hipster ire for being too serious/ earnest/ stiff…but if you channeled the energy of the early 90’s groups you would be labelled a “band-wagon jumper”. I think the enduring strength of Greta is a testament to the band not falling into either camp---being more transcendent...but did you guys ever struggle with anxieties about image? Especially after changing your sound so much between albums? (My take on 90’s culture is from second-hand accounts/ my own preconceived notions, as I was only 2 or 3 years old when this was all happening-so feel free to set me straight!)

JG: You're 100 percent right. You're also spot-on about “Cal Cool”. There was a lot of "hipster" bullshit at the time. I think that era gave rise to the hipster-- which none of us ever subscribed to. Silverlake (a hub of hipster pretension) was near nausea inducing at that period of time. We WERE earnest! I think that's one of the more tragic legacies of the 90s: a destruction of commitment. Everybody became so disaffected and ironic. Irony and satire are great for comedy and art in the right doses, but too much of it takes away society’s emotional vulnerabilities. Without vulnerability, you're really just pretending to be invulnerable. You can get carried away to some dangerous systems, many of which we're experiencing in America now. 

We didn't really struggle with our image. We were just doing what we wanted. We had fun with image, and by that I mean fashion can be fun, and has always been a huge part of rock and roll. We liked that… Bowie, The Sex Pistols, etc… Of course, even no image is an image. The Doc Marten's- cut jeans is obviously an anti-image image… but it's still an image. We were, in a way, so unsuccessful with our first record that we had nothing to lose, so we just did whatever we wanted. It gave us a kind of freedom.  

We were particularly proud of the second record. I think we played really well together as a band. I think "Silver Blue" was the tightest and most connected the four of us ever played in the studio. 

Here's a fun fact: Most of the tracks on the 2nd record are demo versions. We went in to record the album after doing the demos, and our A&R man said "these new versions suck...we're going to use the demos".  We recorded the demos in 2 days at Sound City, and there was no pressure. “About You”, “Charade”, “Silver Blue”, “Strained”, “Cal Cool”, and “Some People” were all recorded at Sound City for the demos. “Rocking Chair”, Nothing At All”, “Warm Disease”, and “Anomaly,” I think, were recorded after the demos, and intended for the record.  We're critical of some aspects of “No Biting”-- some of the tempos are too fast, there was a great deal of pressure, I don't think we're grooving and locking in as a band the way we would have liked... I think “Insomnia”, “Jesus Crux”, and “Sleepyhead” came out really well… but “Off the Slug”, “Is It What You Wanted”, “School On Fire”-- we think are too fast. 

We really like “Some People” too! That would've made Paul really happy that it's one of your Desert Island Discs.

N: Greta has some pretty cool videos. “Fathom” and “About You” are a filmmaker’s dream---all sorts of kinetic energy to work with---“Fathom”, for example, has that awesome syncopated riff to frame action around (and, as an aside for any musician readers-- the riff is a great way to see how good at alternate picking you really are). Anyways, do you have any interesting memories from the actual video shoots?

JG: We have great memories of the video shoots. I'm a huge film buff and have a real interest in design. The band let me run with conceptual ideas and production for the videos. For “Fathom” we were working with a pretty small budget. I think the director's name was Troy Smith. I was really into “Survival Research Laboratories”-- a performance art troop from San Francisco. They were doing very industrial, mechanical, violent pieces of performance art that I thought would be really perfect conceptually. Some of the intention behind “Fathom” was to sort of make us the house-band in hell. The opening "staccato" cuts are from a video for a song called "Fire Extinguisher Love" that I directed for a band I was in called "Ugly Wedding" in the late 80s. The guitarist and singer of that band, John Bird, grew up with Paul and I. He played organ on "Nothing At All" on “This Is Greta" and is currently the keyboardist for The Living Dolls with Kyle and I. I also really liked the idea of '60s go-go dancers dancing to such an un-sixties, undanceable piece of music. We had wanted the video to be much more colorful, vivid, and vibrant, and for whatever reason the colors weren't really captured as explosively as they looked in real life. The shoot was an absolute blast. we had a really good time making it. 

We were all really happy with the “About You” video. I worked with the director, Bill Ward, with an idea that I wanted the backdrop to have a 60s feel-- like something from “Shindig” or “Ready Steady Go”, but on a bigger scale. We were letting some of our mod influences come out. The band was facing a critical point with our label and our success (or lack thereof). The A&R guy was really behind us, and we were very excited about this new music, and really enthusiastic about the video. Sadly, it was never sent to MTV. The band was really tight as a unit at that period of time-- musically and emotionally. Bill did a phenomenal job on that video. We met him through my sister, and he had just done work with The Smoking Popes. We still stay in touch through Facebook now and again.

"Fathom" MTV Video-1993 (Youtube)

N: Lastly, in the spirit of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity (thinking about the top 5 side-1, track-1 debate)… how much did you guys agonize about choosing the perfect opening track for “This Is Greta!” “About You” seems like one of those Platonic ideals of a side 1-track 1. Especially considering your influences-- there’s a lot riding on that track. It has to be a real knockout punch (The Beatles’ “Taxman”, and The Knack’s “Let Me Out” for example).

JG: “About You” had that feel for us too. I love that you use The Knack as an example. Paul and I were absolute Knack freaks and I agree with you that “Let Me Out” is one of the great all-time openers! With the title, “This is Greta,” we felt that the first track had to exemplify this shift in sound for us. We experienced it as an up-tempo, lift you off the ground, power pop opener. We were using it to open our shows as well.  

"About You" Video-1995 (Youtube) **ALSO LINKED AT TOP OF PAGE

N: And of course I will give you some free space to say whatever you want---anything you want the listener in 2020 to know, any projects you have going on right now that you’d like to promote---absolutely anything.

JG: Kyle Baer and I still play together in a band called The Living Dolls. All of my influences are there: The Kinks, The Who, Lou Reed, ELO... I'm the lead singer, and I’m afraid I’m not even on the same planet as Paul as a vocalist-- but I love playing music, and will always do it no matter what. Scott was actually in the band for a couple of months as well. We all keep in touch and miss Paul a great deal. He was supremely talented. A tremendous songwriter.

During Paul's memorial, John Easdale (the singer for Dramarama and the co-producer of our first album and early demos) sang “Jesus Crux” and “Sleepyhead” with Scott, Kyle and I.  

It’s so nice to know that people are finding and appreciating the music now. It's validating. It means a lot to us and would have meant so much to Paul.  

Greta c. 1993, Photo by Greg Allen

Lund Bros.-Loser (1998)

Apparently Geffen was involved in funding this record's production, but ultimately passed on the band because they "sounded too much like The Beatles" (CD Baby Album Notes).  They fired the guy painting their ceilings for being "too much like Michelangelo" shortly thereafter. Their loss I guess. Luckily this was merely the start for the Lund Bros., who would go on to release a handful of extremely tasty power pop offerings.

In My Hands

Told You So

Kick Me