The K label, and in particular its International Pop Underground series, are an item on my mental ‘over time, I’ll collect all of these records’ list. It’s not a hugely pressing task, it’s more that in the occasional quiet eBay/Discogs-searching moment I may stumble across a bargain or two and decide to go for it.
So, this Seaweed 7″, along with another International Pop Underground record (Beck’s ‘It’s All In Your Mind’) found their way to me over the past couple of weeks. Seaweed are a hazy memory of a name, and listening to ‘Deertrap’ take me right back to the early ’90s boom of indie rock. It’s typical of the time at which hardcore music was morphed and sculpted into something different, something poppier but no less noisy. Just a little slower, I guess. Out of this time came the grunge ‘thing’, spearheaded by Nirvana’s world-conquering popularity. It was a fervent and inspirational time that also – in no small part due to the passion and dedication of labels like K – spun out Riot Grrl and a new wave of networked independent music-making that was exciting and endlessly productive.
I didn’t know (or couldn’t remember) a whole lot about Seaweed before writing this. So, Wikipedia to the rescue. They disbanded in 2000, but reformed in 2007 and continue to this day. In the past they toured with Green Day, Superchunk and Bad Religion. They had a song on the Clerks soundtrack. Good stuff. The K label’s International Pop Underground series started in 1987, and that too continues to this day (although it’s been quiet for the last couple of years), with over 130 volumes so far. According to the K website’s page about ‘Deertrap’, this record was “recorded in their first flush of youthful enthusiasm before they recorded their first album and went on to grunge-era stardom.”
There’s very little on the sleeve to hint at who created the artwork for the record. The only credit provided at all is to producer Dan Pelton. It’s not the most exciting record sleeve, and the kerning of ‘Seaweed’ leaves a little to be desired, but the graceful sweep of the shape on the front isn’t unpleasant, and the black-and-white-Xerox feel of it has a certain punk charm.
Links: Seaweed on MySpace / K
No release date is given on this record, but I think it came out in the very early 1990s. Lois Maffeo was an intrinsic part of the more indie-pop end of the nascent American Riot Grrl scene of that time, and part of the excellently-named Courtney Love, who for ever after would need to be referred to as Courtney Love (the band), as they’re nothing to do with Courtney Love (the person). I wonder how many promoters and gig-goers got caught out by that band name? Hah!
Lois seemed to have a few famous friends, relatively speaking. On this record she gets help from:
- Molly Neuman (Bratmobile, Frumpies)
- Stephen Immerwahr (Codeine)
- Donna Dresch (Team Dresch)
Cool. That kind of ‘guest star appearance’ speaks less of some kind of unit-shifting corporate strategy and more of an intensely creative, supportive and co-operative scene that existed in American indie music at the time (and perhaps still does?). There were a lot of bands, and a lot of people, and they all got mixed up into all sorts of different situations.
I’ve never really looked closely at the sleeve of this record until now. It seems to be some kind of shrine, perhaps? A shrine to Sammy Davis Jr, John Wayne, Tyrone Power and a whole load of other people? No idea what it means, and I can’t work it out. I presume it means something, as it’s quite an odd image and not one that would be either stumbled upon or randomly chosen.
This is the fortieth release in K Records’ International Pop Underground series, which continues to this day I believe. I love this series of records, and everything it stands for. They’ve been released by K since the mid-to-late eighties and are a pretty impressive ‘shopping list of talent’ that has been comprising and documenting the shifting sands of independent music for over twenty years (!) now. I demand that you stop reading this now and visit the K Records website, where you can see the amazing breadth of artists that have had records out as part of this series.
This is another choice from a pile of seven inch singles that I purchased from a kindly Brighton-based seller on eBay some years ago. I think I’ve mentioned this transaction on here before. It was a set of K Records and other US indie label releases, and it was a joy to receive them in the mail.
If you haven’t heard of K Records’ ‘International Pop Underground’ series, of which this is a part (IPU = International Pop Underground, you see?), it’s worth acquainting yourself. Since the late eighties (I think), K have been regularly releasing seven inch singles in this series, and as a whole it builds up a pretty comprehensive record – pun intended – of underground artists over time. Here’s an alphabetical list of some of the artists that have been involved:
- Blood Sausage
- Love As Laughter
- Some Velvet Sidewalk
Quite a fruity and impressive list, I’d suggest, in the indie-pop and alternative spheres. And that’s only a sliver of the full set.
Mecca Normal are an odd band. Very confidently, almost defiantly simplistic, using just guitar and voice. The voice (that of Jean Smith) is one that I’m on the fence about, and have been so for years. It’s something of a strangled wail, but it has an odd musicality and an undeniable personality and power. It’s one of those musical things, though, that I’m just not sure if I like that much. I certainly appreciate it, but I’m just not that keen on hearing it! Does that even make sense? Is it patronising to say that I ‘appreciate’ it?
Thinking about it now, the IPU series is missing one thing from my perspective – inserts. That’s what these records need – little paper inserts with full listings of previous IPU releases, and some information about the artists. That’d make the series pretty much the indie-pop-collector fans’ dream!
Ah, Beat Happening and even more ah, Calvin Johnson. Mr Johnson is an underappreciated lynchpin of modern independent music. For a still young-looking chap, he’s been around for a long time, having a hand in the very early days of Sub Pop in the late seventies before setting up K Records and pretty much defining much of American underground music from that point onwards. He’s one of those quietly inspirational people who just gets on with things and doesn’t feel the need to constantly shout about it.
I was first introduced to Calvin Johnson’s band Beat Happening in the very early nineties, by my friend Paul. I’d find myself quite often hanging out with him and discovering all kinds of seemingly-random musical gems: Beat Happening, The Monkees’ Head soundtrack, obscure folk and soul acts, and so on. He made me a compilation tape around this time, featuring some of this stuff interspersed with his own cover versions of songs played on acoustic guitar. One of those covers was ‘Nancy Sin’, and it was a very faithful version.
I’ve actually got two copies of this record, as I bought one soon after Paul’s cover version and then much later scored a ‘job lot’ of American indie 7″s on eBay from a guy in Brighton. Now that was an exciting package to receive – a chunky sellotaped-up box containing thirty or so obscure releases on K Records along with several other labels.
Calvin Johnson played a solo set to around forty people in a tiny upstairs room in a pub in Oxford a couple of years ago. It was amazing. He wandered around the small crowd, acoustic guitar in hand, chatting with and taking requests from anyone and everyone. It was more of an ‘evening spent hanging out with’ than a regular gig. Excellent!
The first Nation Of Ulysses record, released on the cheekily-named Diskord imprint – a combination of Dischord and K Records, you see, I picked up this record around ten years after it came out, as Nation Of Ulysses were a band that I retrospectively discovered and explored, having first got into later associated bands Make-Up and Weird War. Part of what I like about collecting records is this ‘fill in the gaps’ mentality – uncovering something new and exciting from the past and knowing that there are some very specific, distinct items that will help join the dots in my mental mind map of music.
It’s clear to see the influence that NOU had on bands like Huggy Bear from the packaging of this record. The band create a mythology around themselves, presented in the form of typewritten manifestos, faux-historical documentation and mugshot-style photography. It’s spectacularly arrogant and self-serving, naturally, but it really works. I like the idea of Nation Of Ulysses and their members being some kind of youth terrorist organisation/cult, involved in an endless struggle against the man. It could be interpreted as less than tasteful in these post-9/11 times perhaps, but I have a feeling that if NOU started up today they’d do exactly the same thing. Musically, and alongside all of the posturing, this is a fantastic record. I dearly wish I’d have had the chance to see the band play live, as footage I’ve seen makes it look like it was amazingly exciting. The closest it has got for me is seeing Ian Svenonius fronting Weird War at an All Tomorrow’s Parties some years back – and that was pretty damned good. It was totally eclipsed, however, by the mind-blowingly brilliant performance from Hella that I experienced on the same day. But therein lies a separate story.
On a separate note, track down the Ian Svenonius-fronted Soft Focus show on VBS TV, it’s worth your time, he’s an erudite and confident interviewer and has managed to get decent commentary out of all kinds of musicians including Genesis P. Orridge, Ian Mackaye, Calvin Johnson, Henry Rollins and Kevin Shields.
This record was bought about three or four years ago at a shop in Oxford called Avid. That shop has now very sadly closed down, due I believe to ever-increasing rent gradually edging them out of being a viable business. I spent many happy hours in there browsing their shelves – which included a whacking great ‘indie/punk/post-punk’ kind of section, and an upstairs room with boxes upon boxes of interesting seven inch records. They had a long-term great deal on offer, with (as memory serves) any three records costing a tenner. Marvellous. Makes me regret that I didn’t spend more tenners in there, really, as perhaps that would’ve helped in some small way to contribute to their not closing down. Still, hindsight, and all that…
Normally I wouldn’t have bought a record with a crappy-looking sleeve like this one, but Some Velvet Sidewalk are great, and K Records are great, so the combination of the two is double great. I’m very, very slowly piecing together a collection of K’s releases, but there are so very many of them that it’s kind of a long-term project.