By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
Ever since the 1992 birth of Rorschach Test, a onetime Denver band now situated in Seattle, James Baker--initially known by the memorable moniker Jimmy Utah--has been working tirelessly toward the goal of signing a major-label contract and earning the mass popularity he sees as his due. And now, at last, the first part of that equation has been solved. Unclean, a CD that was initially issued on the act's own Semaphore label back in 1996, was recently revamped and updated for release by Slipdisc, a new Chicago-based subsidiary of Mercury Records that's been likened to that city's Wax Trax imprint. The platter is set to reach the marketplace within days, and Rorschach Test, whose members include programmer Troee and guitarists Benjamin Anderson and Kris Geren, aims to support it on the road. The outfit joins Godless Promise Mechanism at Pure Energy nightclub in Colorado Springs on Friday, March 20, and appears the next night at Denver's Seven South alongside DJ Tower and DJ Chromer. And you can bet the boys will have merchandise on hand and available for purchase.
As scenesters are apt to recall, the Test was formed after Baker moved to Denver from his hometown of Portland, Oregon. The group's initial lineup quickly completed a pair of videos (for the tunes "Panicaltar" and "Buy and Degrade") that became favorites on Teletunes, KBDI-TV/Channel 12's long-running video program. On a personal level, however, the bandmembers were in sorry shape. As Baker told writer Susan Dunlap at the time of Westword's original profile of the conglomeration ("Test Case," June 2, 1993), the players were basically "fucked-up junkies. We would practice one or two songs and then I would say, 'Man, I gotta go have a drink!' and that would be the end of practice. The addiction and the alcohol abuse got so bad that at one show, I was so twisted that I could not see the microphone in front of my face."
Such behavior was accompanied by random law-breaking; Baker was arrested on a variety of charges, including check fraud. But he subsequently decided to cut back on his vices, and once he had done so, things started happening for him on the music front. After settling in Seattle in 1994, Rorschach Test fell in with an area indie, DC Records, and made an album, The Eleventh, that caught the attention of representatives at Island Records. Turmoil at DC caused Island to back off, but the band received a career boost after hooking up with Neil Kernon, whose production credits are numerous and impressive. "He produced everything from David Bowie to Queen," Baker enthuses. Kernon also helmed Unclean and was actively involved in trying to get it placed with a major. Then, in the middle of this process, he was hired to head the A&R department for Slipdisc--and according to Baker, "his first order of business was to sign us up." The long-awaited contract was inked on January 1, following four months' worth of negotiations. It's a one-record pact with what Baker describes as "two options at the artist's discretion."
Both the Rorschachers and Kernon wanted Unclean to be the quartet's Slipdisc debut, but only after some upgrading. So Kernon went back into the studio with the band, polishing tunes like "Wheel of Misfortune" and recutting "Satan," "Elvis" and "Cripple Touch," a trio of tracks that were first heard on The Eleventh. Not surprisingly, Baker talks up the finished product. "It's a lot more up with the times in terms of what's going on electronically," he asserts. "But it doesn't compromise the heavy sound that we've always had. I'd call it a fusion of techno metal and groove-type stuff."
Indeed, Unclean has as much in common with White Zombie as it does with Nine Inch Nails. Unlike the 1996 version, which was weighed down by several ineffective mid-tempo ditties such as "Heaven Can Wait," this year's model pretty much roars from beginning to end. But underneath the grinding guitars, thwacking beats and random noise is the commercial sensibility that's always separated Baker from the pack. Epitomizing this tack is "Sex," a remake of the heavy-breathing Berlin opus of the early Eighties that's intended to do for Rorschach Test what the cover of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" did for Marilyn Manson.
A video for "Sex" is in the offing, and Baker expects to receive a lot of attention for it. But even though the fame for which he's thirsted for years seems closer than ever, he concedes that reaching for it has been exhausting. "I can't help but feel a little hollow. We put in all this work to get the record contract, but when we finally got it, we realized that we had to start over again; it was like learning to take baby steps after already knowing how to walk.
"We've had to jump through a lot of hoops," Baker adds. "But we're really excited by how things are going. And if we have to jump through some more, we'll do it."
Last week, a caller who sounded disturbingly like Andrew "Dice" Clay used some of our nation's most popular profanities while blaming me for precipitating the firing of Whipping Boy, a DJ at KBPI-FM/106.7. This assumption makes a certain amount of sense: After Mr. Boy accused me of racism in a late February broadcast that resulted in numerous threats against me, I vigorously defended myself against his utterly false and extraordinarily irresponsible statements in the March 5 edition of this column--and I also implied that he deserved disciplinary action. But much as I'd like to claim credit for his March 4 disappearance from the airwaves, I can't do so, if KBPI program director Bob Richards is to be believed. Richards says that the move had nothing to do with the attack on yours truly; he was unaware of the incident, he adds, because "I choose not to patronize your venue." (Which means, I think, that he doesn't read Westword. Too many big words, probably.) The reason for the decision, he claims, is KBPI's shift away from modern rock and toward the "Rock the Rockies" format with which the station was traditionally associated. To that end, Uncle Nasty, a late-night DJ with the outlet from 1990 to 1994, is returning to the fold. (He takes over the afternoon-drive slot on March 30.) As for Whipping Boy, he's likely to wind up at another station owned by Jacor, the conglomerate that counts KBPI as part of its massive portfolio, but probably not in this market; Richards says the jock's style is not a good fit for any of Jacor's Denver properties. And for that, every Coloradan with a working cerebellum should be eternally grateful.