Take One of These, Child
Beauty Pill's secret formula for success.
When last seen in Portland in 1998, Chad Clark led the ill-fated Washington, D.C., quartet Smart Went Crazy, critics' darlings who fused punk with orchestral depth and melody, but couldn't get along. Now Clark is back in town with his new band, Beauty Pill, sharing Saturday night's Berbati's slate with Stephen Malkmus as part of the Tape Op magazine conference.
During the five-year touring hiatus, Clark has been busy with a parallel career, recording and mastering other people's records. Most notably, he remastered Fugazi's back catalog (a much-needed facelift for great material) and has since moved on to the entire back catalogs for the Dischord and Touch and Go labels. Clark also produced the last three albums for the recently disbanded D.C. emo-core act Dismemberment Plan.
While Clark still forms the heart of the band with his writing, producing and facility with many instruments, drummer Ryan Nelson, keyboardist Rachel Burke, guitarist Drew Doucette and bassist Basla Andolsun make Beauty Pill more democracy than dictatorship. The new act variously recalls Charles Mingus, Galaxie 500, the Clash and the Plastic Ono Band.
Until recently, Beauty Pill's only recording was a magnificent but scanty five-track EP, 1999's The Cigarette Girl from the Future. But on the eve of its tour, the band recorded a new EP called You Were Right to Be Afraid. Unlike its painstakingly crafted predecessor, which blended instruments and samples into a sonic paella, the new album is a stripped-down affair recorded on a four-track, of all things.
"It certainly makes the statement that we're not just an overproduced studio band," Clark says. "This is a weird, out-of-focus record. It's kind of like a junk shop."
Clark's lyrical gift for blending humor with raw emotion, a notable feature of Smart Went Crazy, resurfaces with tracks like "You, Yes You", where he sings: "You remind me of the Jackson 5/ Back when Michael Jackson was alive/ Skyscraping Afro the bloom of youth/ Being insulated from the truth/ You remind me of everything good." Right back at ya, Chad. (Brian Libby)
Beauty Pill plays Saturday, May 31, at Berbati's Pan, 231 SW Ankeny St., 248-4579. Stephen Malkmus, Radar Brothers and Nedelle also appear. 8 pm. Tickets limited. $8 advance, $10 at the door. 21+.
Locked and Cocked
The Triggers make rock and roll a weapon.
You couldn't pack more spit, snot and venom into Shoot Your Mouth Off, the debut record by local band the Triggers. "A lot of it is just sort of, 'We're pissed,'" explains guitar player Jonny Cat in the refuse-strewn confines of the Triggers' van. "You draw a lot of anger out of energy. That's what propels you."
Two-plus years into their effort to, as Jonny Cat succinctly puts it, "have a good time and rip shit up," the Triggers have achieved respectable success. The new album, recently released on Seattle's Dirtnap Records, is a furious testament to the success of the Cat's battle plan. Lame music, telecommunication and basic hygiene all receive deadly, rapid-fire treatment, with the biggest guns (and most of the record) reserved for anyone or anything foolish enough to get between the Triggers and a good time.
Punk-rock ethos doesn't get more essential than that, and among this bunch, dedication to the cause is never in doubt. "I live, breathe and shit the Triggers," says drummer Justin, nudging impossibly bugged-out eyeglasses up his nose and clearly speaking for the whole band.
Pint-sized Candy, a uniquely strident, slightly mournful vocalist, adds depth to the band's meat-and-potatoes punk-rock overload. A whiff of nostalgia floats in the uproar--reduce the guitar wallop and rhythmic intensity by a factor of five, and the Triggers might recall hardcore-resistant bands of the early '80s. Just don't press the point with the Triggers.
"It's not about being your own band and having your own sound these days," say Justin. "It's about, like, copping a certain fucking thing that's already happened."
"We could wear sunglasses and skinny ties, but we don't," says bassist Turika, the admitted anti-socialite of the group. "That's all bullshit."
"Yeah," scoffs Candy. "Supposedly it's not cool to play in front of people in your T-shirts and blue jeans. But we don't care if it's fucking cool or not."
Despite the hot vein of debauched nihilism running through Shoot Your Mouth Off, the Triggers seem to see anger as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Rage is just part of their good times, and sometimes it's all just a joke. Who cares if only the band gets it? It's OK not to be fucking cool.
"We laugh," says Jonny Cat. "We have fun. We're like these dork jokers. We're not some serious thing." (Sam Dodge Soule)
The Triggers' album, Shoot Your Mouth Off, is available on Dirtnap Records.
HISS and VINEGAR
HEAVY HITTERS HIT TOWN FOR TAPE OP CONFAB
TapeOpCon 2003, the national indie-recording conference organized by Portland's own Tape Op magazine at Portland Art Museum this weekend, looks like a modern music-geek Dream Team. Steve Albini, whose surly but well-reasoned opinions are nearly as (in)famous as his recording genius, will hold forth. So will Ian Mackaye, implacable force behind the band Fugazi and D.C.'s beyond-legendary Dischord Records. Jack Endino, chief studio architect of the "Seattle sound," will expound, as will Jenny Toomey, who parlayed indie-rock goddesshood into a dynamic role as a pro-musician political advocate with the Future of Music Coalition.
Portland recording swami Larry Crane built Tape Op from Kinkoed zine into one of America's biggest recording-tech digests, an info-source for bedroom four-track fanatics to working pros. The magazine conference's three packed-solid days of panels and workshops include dozens of the top names in the recording biz.
Crane, who is busier than a Salt Lake City ob/gyn these days, figures TapeOpCon will draw between 400 and 500 people. "What started to happen last year was people just hooking up," he says of the conference's maiden voyage in Sacramento. "You have a lot of people who record the coolest music in their towns coming together, and that creates a buzz. You don't really get that camaraderie anywhere else in this business."
In addition to a feast of information and opinion (see www.tapeop.com for a full schedule and registration info), the conference features a Friday-Saturday slate of rock action at Berbati's Pan. Quasi, Stephen Malkmus, Beauty Pill, Radar Brothers and others will play successive nights at the club. Though conference attendees have first crack at tickets, limited numbers will be available at the door starting at 8 pm both nights.
"We just want to talk about how you make good records," Crane says. "It's about creative music recording, which can mean anything from ZZ Top to John Cage."
TapeOpCon '03 begins with a keynote address at 6 pm Friday, May 30.
JERI ANN SHEEHAN, R.I.P.
On May 15, Jeri Ann Sheehan--gruff-throated singer for early-'90s Portland scene champs Frances Farmer Gals and longtime figure in the city's rock-and-roll demimonde--died at the age of 44. Sheehan, whom friends found in a coma at her Southeast Portland home shortly before her passing, apparently succumbed to a heart attack hastened by years of hard living.
"Her body just kind of shut down," said Mary Beth Sheehan, Jeri Ann's sister.
"Mistress" Dawn Panttaja, Sheehan's Frances Farmer bandmate, attributed her friend and comrade's demise to the demons of an extreme rock-and-roll lifestyle. "She was in ill health from years of living on the streets," Panttaja said. "She came back to town and tried to stay clean, but she fell into the old Portland spell--the drinking and all the rest."
Panttaja says a memorial service at Laurelhurst Park on the 18th drew around 75 people. Sheehan's legion of friends and fans have another chance to say farewell: a June 3 wake at the Eagles Aerie (4904 SE Hawthorne Blvd.). Surviving Frances Farmer Gals plan a send-off performance, followed by an open-mic session of Karaoke from Hell, Panttaja's live-band punk karaoke act. Festivities begin at 8 pm