Even if you've never had the privilege of visiting the Northeast Portland home of Ju Suk Reet Meate and Rock & Roll Jackie, if you've heard some of the deliciously overstuffed music the two have recorded as The Tenses or as members of the long-running collective Smegma, you might be able to envision what it looks like.
The outside of the creaky wooden house is painted bright pink. The inside walls are patched up with fraying posters from the world of '90s alternative rock and pop. And the upstairs office has almost every corner filled with Reet Meate's collection of LPs and CDs, and various gewgaws. It's overwhelmed by the smell of incense. Lying around the room, as well, are boxes of cassettes, printouts of labels and j-cards, the byproduct of Reet Meate's latest endeavor: the resurrection of his literal in-house label, Pigface Records.
Initially started back in 1979 as a way to get the warped psychedelic noise explorations of Smegma out into the world, the imprint has been lying dormant for nearly 30 years.
"For years, I had hundreds of records sitting around," says Reet Meate (born Eric Stewart), "and I'm thinking, 'This was a good idea?' I decided the whole thing of trying to sell them somehow wasn't something I was cut out for."
All of those records are long gone, snapped up by the collector's market for a pretty penny, but he didn't have any interest in becoming a label head again until he fell under the sway of the return of the cassette.
As well, he says, "it's more of a reflection of realizing now is the time on so many levels. If you've been doing something for 40 years, and anyone still cares about it, if it has any cultural significance, then I need to snap out of it and do something."
To kick off Pigface Mk. II, Reet Meate has a quintet of cassettes ready for consumption. Three feature his musical efforts, both on his own and in collaboration with a pair of younger musical acts, Giggles and MSHR. The latter works are especially electrifying as Reet Meate and Jackie—performing as the Tenses—wrench out a weird mix of dub-inspired smog and looped samples from old 78s, while their younger compatriots attempt to patch up the cracks with bits of vocals and synth or guitar gloss.
The other two cassettes are both archival works featuring the two halves of the musical brain that belonged to Lee Rockey. The late musician started off his long career as a jazz drummer in the '40s, working with icons like Herbie Mann along the way.
"At some point in the '60s, he just said, 'Fuck the whole jazz thing," says Reet Meate. "The Beatles had come and taken over and adult contemporary music was being pissed on by the culture. A lot of those players tried to fight the good fight, but Rockey just felt that that stuff's all sorts of bullshit."
Rockey moved to Portland and, while he still sat in on local jazz sessions, kept up a sideline as a avant garde composer, putting on multimedia events. Reet Meate got to know him after one such installation at the Art Museum, did some jam sessions, and then convinced him to play on some Smegma recordings.
When Rockey passed, his family handed Reet Meate boxes and boxes of unreleased recordings that the late musician had done, reflecting both sides of his creative personality. To that end, the cassettes that Pigface is releasing follows that same approach. One is mixes raw small ensemble bop with some strange spoken word recordings made under the influence of benzedrine, while the other is an expansive mass of undulating ambient sound and tape loops.
What has been a delightful surprise for Reet Meate is how excited people around the world are to get a hold of these tapes (right now only available via mail order and in a couple of local shops). But that hasn't convinced him to direct all of his efforts into making the label a thriving operation.
"I have to slowly grow into this," he says. "If anything, I'll start getting the tapes more professionally done because as it is, I'm doing it all by hand here. If there's enough movement, I might make the commitment of my time and effort."