AND THE SEAWEED WILL TELL
So your small-time rock-and-roll band has signed a big-money deal with a large record label. Does that mean you have to alter your personal hygiene habits? Not if you're Seaweed guitarist Wade Neal. "My goal for today is to put on clean socks," he reports from Austin, Texas, a stop on the outfit's latest tour. "I sweated right through the pair I've got on at the show last night."
No surprise there. Seaweed's vigorous live performances, either as a headliner or as an opening act for groups such as Green Day, Bad Religion, Fugazi and Superchunk, have earned the five-piece (Neal, vocalist Aaron Stauffer, guitarist Clint Werner, bassist John Atkins and drummer Bob Bulgrien) a substantial cult following. The band's studio output has received less attention, but that's changing thanks to Spanaway, its third full-length effort--and its first for upstart major Hollywood Records. The album's first single, the driving "Start With," is winning the band its greatest modern-rock airplay to date. Still, Neal insists that Seaweed didn't jump from its previous home, Sub Pop, simply because the musicians figured they could make more money elsewhere. "We got a letter from one kid accusing us of selling out," he notes. "And we were like, `That's pretty lame.' I think I'm going to write back to him and say, `I hate to break it to you, but Sub Pop isn't an indie label'--a reference to the company's recent pact with the Time Warner media empire.
"Most of our fans are like, `What label are you guys on?'" Neal continues, "and those are my favorite fans. It's interesting to switch who you're doing business with, but it's secondary to us. Your band is what you do, and a label is just a label. I don't really care that much about affiliation."
Nevertheless, Neal admits that it wasn't easy leaving Sub Pop, located forty minutes from Seaweed's base of operations in Tacoma, Washington. Mention of the city, whose punk-rock scene gave birth to the band in the late Eighties, brings out Neal's hometown pride. "Seattle is like a weird, new-age coffee city where everybody's really mellow," he says. "Tacoma is way more trashy and industrial--and it's a workers' city. But when people are like, `Your city smells,' we're like, `Well, your city smells, too.'
"In Tacoma there's definitely more of a connected scene," he elaborates. "In Seattle there's just an overload of bands from people moving there."
While the success of Sub Pop has been a magnet for many of these immigrants, Neal points out that some of the band's oldest friends work at the company. However, that didn't prevent some minor problems between Seaweed and Sub Pop. In particular, Neal and his mates weren't pleased when their second album, 1993's Four, was inaccurately listed by the imprint's computers as an old release, resulting in indifferent promotion. Neal swears that this incident didn't drive the group south, but he does admit that Seaweed's happy with Hollywood, the Disney-owned label best known in Colorado for releasing the ill-fated final record by the Fluid. And he's even happier about Spanaway. "We're really proud, really confident of the new album," he crows. "I'm pretty close to it, so there's always little things that bother me. But I think it's a 90-percent record. Every song has a different vibe, a slightly different mix and a sound. And people in the past have said that all our songs sound alike, so I'm proud of that."
By the same token, some critics have dismissed Seaweed as just another grunge group. Wade doesn't give these claims much credence. "At first, that really bothered us, because we didn't think we were that kind of band," he explains. "We thought we were more of a punk-pop band. But really, it's so stupid for people to get all hung up on stuff like that. If someone calls us grunge or metal--whatever. In the Eighties there was new wave and a million bands were called new wave--everything from the Stray Cats to the Human League.
"It's almost like we're a new band right now, anyway," he goes on. "We haven't done anything in two years, and a lot of kids getting into new music now don't know who we are. We could be from the moon."
That's about the only place Seaweed hasn't played over the years. The outfit is now in the midst of its eleventh trek of the continent. "Looking back on the tours, it doesn't seem like that big a deal," Neal claims. "But you are influenced by other bands. You learn how they work--you don't even need to be influenced musically. It could just be an emotion or a vibe you get."
Of course, Seaweed's never needed lessons in rocking, which Neal describes as "looking somebody dead in the eye and slamming out music as loud as you can." Likewise, the players have already figured out how to alleviate the pressures surrounding the release of their major-label debut. "That's no problem," Neal says, laughing. "We drink a lot of beer and smoke a lot of pot."
Seaweed, with Into Another and Truly. 9 p.m. Wednesday, October 4, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $7.35, 447-0095.
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