In late 1995, Spell seemed ready for a national breakthrough, thanks to a two-album deal with Island Records. But although Mississippi, the combo's debut disc, was a strong representation of Spell's sound, the CD got lost in a flash flood of alterna-releases, and energetic touring failed to turn the situation around. Things were further complicated in August 1996 by the decision of Garrett Shavlik, the drummer who anchored the trio, to move to Seattle. The players reassembled in Los Angeles the following month to begin cutting a follow-up full-length with producer Nick Launay, whose credits include work with the Talking Heads, the Birthday Party and Gang of Four, but they weren't allowed to simply plug in and let it rip. Instead, Launay attempted to find a middle ground between aggression and radio-friendliness that left the Spellers feeling a bit uncomfortable. Today Floyd concedes that the experiment was a mistake.
"We recorded big-league, and I hated it," she notes. "I just thought it was way too sanitary, but there was so much weight put on us to do it that way. You hear about that--you hear people saying that once the pressure's on, things change, and it's true. There were all these expectations, and we didn't really have a lot of choice in the matter. We wanted to record with Nick, who was somebody we respected, and we did get that chance. But even though he'd disagree with this, I think he was definitely swayed by the label to do things a certain way. It was frustrating. We'd say, 'We want more guitar, because this doesn't sound like us at all,' but it didn't seem to make any difference.
"I definitely wouldn't make a record like that again," she adds. "I think smaller-budget recordings are the shit."
After the sessions wrapped, the next disaster struck: A shakeup at Island wound up claiming the heads of practically every Spell booster at the imprint. As a result, the threesome (subsequently supplemented by guitarist Tony Harsh) opted out of its Island pact and began shopping the Launay tapes elsewhere. A Seattle indie Floyd declines to name liked the tunes well enough to offer the band a three-album deal. However, the players' experience at Island made them shy away from making another long-term agreement. So they did a handful of home recordings, played several shows in mid-1997 and then went into hibernation.
"Spell's not officially dead," Floyd insists. "But Garrett's still in Washington, and there's just no way that we can really write music together. We could do it online, I guess, but that's not what we're really about. People do it, but I like writing with a drummer so you can tell the speed and the tempo. So I suppose Spell's still officially alive--but that doesn't mean we're planning to do anything about it right now." She laughs. "Maybe we'll do a reunion tour--in about the year 2020."
In the meantime, there's the GEDS, in which Floyd and Beckman are matched with drummer Dan Gilbertson, formerly a member of the LaDonnas. Floyd describes the band's sound as "back-to-basics rock and roll. All of the songs are really short, and that's really different from Spell and '57 Lesbian [another fine group from Floyd's past]. It's pretty cool."
Judging by the two GEDS tracks on Noise Tent '99 Spring Sampler, a collection just issued by D.U. Records, she's right. "What You Heard" is 99 seconds' worth of pounding riffs topped off by Floyd's open-throated wailing, while "The GEDS" is a cheeky theme song complete with big beats and cheerleader chants ("G-E-D-S, the GEDS!") Floyd hints that more GEDS product will be on the way soon--but at present she's focused on simply having a good time. "We hadn't been on stage for a year and a half when we got the GEDS going," Floyd says. "It was kind of weird at first, but now we're having a lot of fun."
Some quick hitters:
Clark ov Saturn's latest project, ph10, is about to go national. The outfit has been signed by Trumystic Records, an ultra-chic indie that plans to issue ph10's initial long-player, Sci-Fidelity, this spring. The disc, which was recorded last summer in Brooklyn, will feature ten tracks, including remakes of four songs first heard on Clark ov Saturn vs. Recone Helmut, an EP lauded by yours truly as one of the finest local releases of 1998 ("Your Friends and Neighbors," December 31). Saturn adds that the Sci-Fidelity number "Duty Weapon" appears as "Crisis" on Inna City Pressure, the most recent platter by cult figure Dr. Israel.
This year's edition of the People's Fair, sponsored by Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods, will take place on June 5 and 6 at Civic Center Park, but potential performers will have to get their acts together well before those dates if they want a spot on the lineup. Applications are now available and must be filled out and turned in by February 26. Interested parties are advised to call 303-830-1651 to learn more. Also soliciting applicants is the second annual Boulder International Music Festival for Young Artists (BIMFYA). The event, intended to showcase classical musicians who are eighteen years of age and younger, takes place on June 19 at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Boulder, but forms must be submitted by April 23--and only the first fifty hopefuls who respond will be considered. Those of you who qualify for this contest probably shouldn't be reading this column, because you never know when I might print a profanity. (I don't feel the slightest bit guilty when I do so, either.) But on the odd chance that you're defying authority, phone festival director Elena Mathys at 303-494-6975 to get the BIMFYA scoop.
Finally, please forgive me for a bit of self-promotion: Westword Music Awards Showcase '98, a CD that commemorates the fourth installment of the local-music bash of the same name, is finally available. The disc includes thirteen tracks by Showcase winners (namely, the Hate Fuck Trio, Hazel Miller, String Cheese Incident, Wendy Woo, Kingdom, Dotsero, Yo, Flaco!, Blister, Judge Roughneck, Opie Gone Bad, Brethren Fast, Hillbilly Hellcats and the Hot Tomatoes Dance Orchestra), as well as bonus cuts from nominees Nina Storey, Money Plays Eight and Chris Daniels and the Kings. Pick up the disc at a music retailer near you.
Tell them that Michael Roberts sent you--but only if you won't mind the dirty look you'll receive when you do.
In living color. On Thursday, January 28, the Reejers show up at 'Round Midnight. On Friday, January 29, the Foggy Mountain Fuckers resurface at the 15th Street Tavern, with Lonesome Dan Kase; Emilio Emilio and Bitches Brew celebrate the arrival of a new CD at the Bluebird Theater; and Whitney Rehr throws a CD-release party of her own at Temple Events Center, with the Reals and Book of Runes. On Saturday, January 30, Good Riddance greets bad rubbish at the Aztlan Theatre; the boys in Monster Magnet return to wreak havoc at the Fox Theatre, with Kid Rock; and the Wise Monkey Orchestra visits Quixote's True Blue prior to hitting pretty much every ski town in Colorado. On Sunday, January 31, Den One presents a performance by Future Reference at the 15th Street Tavern. And on Wednesday, February 3, Hawaiian slack-key guitar masters Cyril Pahinui, George Kahumoku Jr. and Rev. Dennis Kamakahi get tropical at the Swallow Hill Music Hall, and Quixote's offers up the Nadas. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: [email protected]. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com.