Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hold Back the Road That Goes... The Story of Shudder to Think - Part Two

Hold Back the Road That Goes... 
The Story of Shudder to Think

part two:  in the beginning... /arson/curses

(HEAD MEDICINE is proud to present Part Two of  its multi-chapter, comprehensive oral history of Shudder to Think.  Be sure to check out Part One: "Introduction/ the future", as well as a condensed overview of the band's musical career.  Shudder to Think produced one of the most original catalogs in rock music, and although beloved by many, is not everyone's taste.  If you are not already familiar with the music of Shudder to Think, hopefully you give it a try and enjoy it.  thanks  ~kojak)

From the very beginning, Shudder to Think was a square peg in a round hole. Even with their most recognized avant garde work still years and a major lineup change away, the band was wedged awkwardly into the 1980s Washington DC hardcore scene. Unlike most of the bands around them, Shudder to Think had no sociopolitical manifesto and lacked any kind of strict punk idealism.  Elements of classic rock and shameless pop melodies were fused into their sound, a rarity for the time. Most decisively, the androgynous vocals and stage presence of singer Craig Wedren often left sweaty, testosterone-fueled scenesters confused and angry. Even though the band had the full respect of their fellow DC musicians, including Fugazi's Ian MacKaye who would later sign them to the legendary Dischord Records, geography often seemed to be the only similarity between them. Shudder to Think was a head-scratching anomaly, a distinction that would never change.

Shudder to Think was formed in 1986 by bassist Stuart Hill, guitarist Chris Matthews, drummer Mike Russell, and vocalist/lyricist Craig Wedren.  It was an unlikely rag-tag pairing of creative minds, but the band's singular sound soon began to take shape.  Shudder to Think's first recordings, the 1987 demo tape Get Off Of My Fucking Blue Suede Shoes, was sold at shows and a small but faithful cult following began to develop.  

This material evolved into their first official release, the It Was Arson 7" from Sammich Records in 1988. Arson was Shudder to Think's jumping off point from the hardcore/post-hardcore music being made around them and is easily the group at their hardest and most aggressive.  Chris Matthews' guitar is white hot with buzz-saw power chords and heavy metal solos flying around Stuart Hill's rock solid bass lines. Mike Russell had not yet developed the subtleties of his later work and instead sounds hellbent on beating his drums straight into the fucking ground. Craig Wedren's singing, screams, yelps, and howls, especially in the context of 1988 Washington DC, sound almost extraterrestrial.  At the center of it all, though, were the irresistible pop hooks that would become a Shudder to Think hallmark, even at their most bizarre and challenging.  

The title track, "It Was Arson," still sounds amazing and possesses all of the characteristics of these early embryonic years. 

Questionable by Shudder to Think on Grooveshark
Ro by Shudder to Think on Grooveshark

Shudder to Think's sound quickly evolved past Arson and its heavier metallic overtones, becoming more developed and nuanced.  The surrealism and off kilter song structures that would soon dominate Shudder's work had not yet infiltrated their creative consciousness, though.  Instead, the music became even more melodic. Traces of flamboyant glam rock were bubbling up in the mix, and the pop hooks and melodies were stepping out even further into view.  Their debut full length album, Curses, Spells, Voodoo, Mooses, was released by Sammich Records in 1989 and perfectly captures this unique moment in the band's history. Every great deconstructionist knows how to first build the cathedral before tearing it all down and reassembling it, and that is what Shudder accomplishes with Curses. This is the group's straightforward power pop masterpiece. The bass hooks are deep, the drums are tight and crisp, the arena-sized guitars are incendiary, and it's breathtaking having a chance to hear Craig sing a perfectly straight melody at full throttle without his trademark twists and turns. Curses was out of print for years and has long been a little heard secret, even among Shudder's fans.  Surprisingly, Curses sounds totally modern.  There are countless bands today who sound like this in their wildest wet dreams.

The first four songs on Curses encapsulate the band at this time.  Most noteworthy is the ridiculously titled "Abysmal Yellow Popcorn Wall," originally released in raw form on Arson. This is an absolutely perfect piece of guitar power pop, the pinnacle of what Shudder to Think was trying to accomplish. How this wasn't even a moderate college radio hit, I will never understand.  Shudder would never sound this straightforward ever again.

After Curses, Shudder to Think released the Medusa Seven 7" , a UK single from Hoss Records in 1989.  "Vacation Brain" and "Boys Don't Hate Noise" seems to be the moment that Craig Wedren's surrealistic lyrical tendencies began to take hold.   Soon, the band would sign with Dischord Records and metamorphosis into an almost entirely different sounding group, a trend that continued on throughout Shudder to Think's career.


Chris Matthews interview

~What were your earliest musical memories and when did you begin to play music?   any training or self taught?  important early influences?  

My first instrument was trumpet. My dad played it so I was following him. He loved Louis Armstrong. That did not go far.  I started playing guitar when I was ten. I took lessons for a few years with a guy named Harold in Bethesda. I give him tons of credit for opening my eyes and ears to good music. I only knew what was on the radio and terrible crap like Steve Miller and Elton John! He taught me to play Hendrix, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Aerosmith, Boston, Queen, Pink Floyd and other hard and heavy guitar driven stuff. I loved it! About the same time I discovered  WHFS on the radio and learned about new bands that Harold did not know. It was mostly New Wave (i.e. not punk or hardcore) like Talking Heads, Police, Clash, Devo, and Joan Jett. I definitely found something I loved when I picked up the record Urgh!: A Music War. This record had about 25 songs from different bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, the Police, Steel Pulse, Oingo Boingo, OMD, Devo, X, XTC and Gang of Four. I really loved Gang of Four and XTC and got all of their albums right away. WHFS also introduced me to the idea of local music. They had a daily listing of who was playing. This did not include any punk rock shows that I remember, but it did open me up to the idea that I could be in a band and play at ‘cool’ places like 9:30 club, DC Space, or the Gentry on capitol hill, where I played my first real show.

~Were you a part of any pre-Shudder to Think bands?

I played in two and half bands before Shudder. The Kingpins, a wannabe rockabilly band. This is the band I played in at the Gentry. 3-2-1, a new wave group with a bunch of Field School friends, and Stuge, which later morphed into Shudder to Think.

~How did all of you meet and when did Shudder form?  can you tell us a bit about those early  rehearsals?  How did the music come together at the beginning?

I met Stuart working at Bob’s Famous Ice Cream in Glover Park probably in 1986. He was the one who really introduced me to the DC punk rock/hardcore scene. We organized a show at the Chevy Chase Community Center for 3-2-1, his band Stuge and Lunchmeat. I was immediately hooked on the hardcore scene after that show so I asked to joined Stuge. Mike was the drummer. After the singer, Bobby, left for college, we asked Craig to join. Craig went to the Field School, where I had graduated (I went to GW for college). He was in a school play that I went to see, and after hearing him sing I asked him to be in the band. He was playing with some other folks, but played with us and I guess we were worth the gamble. 
For a short while we played as Stuge. I can’t remember when we changed the name, but I do remember it was Mike’s idea when he said on a drive to practice one day that he “shuddered to think that we would be just another hardcore band.” By then we are practicing at the Greenhouse, a group house in Langley Park where Marginal Man also practiced. Stu was living there while he started college at UMD. The rest of us were living in DC and would drive out a couple times a week for practice. These are hazy memories but we started off trying to be a hardcore band, which did not seem to work. Mike did not want to play the boop-bap beat  nor was I much good at thrashing and Craig’s voice called for something different. So it ended up being something different, which came out sounding like the songs on It Was Arson. I wrote the basic riffs for "Questionable" and "Abysmal Yellow Popcorn Wall," "It Was Arson" was Stu and I think "Ro" was both of us. Craig and Mike did their own parts. This was how it worked, one of us would show up with something we thought was good and we tried to make it into a song. Craig was fun to watch because he would always sing out a melody over the rest of us and figure out words for it later. I always thought this was how his lyrics turned out so interesting. 
I moved into the Greenhouse after the band started becoming something real. By then we were playing shows pretty regularly and were planning to record It was Arson. After a year I moved back to the city for my last year of college and we moved to practice at the Little Tavern warehouse in Silver Spring. Craig’s Dad was somehow involved in the business and had a large empty space so we could practice late.

~In your mind, what were the strengths of each of the other band members in those formative years?

It was simple, everyone brought energy. Craig could sing like no one else and eventually he came to be able to think out a song better than anyone I know. Stuart was solid on the bass and kept us together, plus he got the shows. Mike insisted we do the best we could. He was an engineer working for PEPCO when we started so he was very much torn between a career and being in the band, so it had to make sense for him. I was mostly just a spaz who could play some guitar and write good chord progressions. Maybe the others will have something better to say about me.

~When did Shudder begin playing live?  what are your memories of the shows from this era?  In your thoughts, when did Shudder really start hitting its stride?

I do not remember what our first show was, I bet Stu knows. We played a lot at DC Space early on opening for bands like Kingface, Marginal Man, Ignition, and GI. We also played some suburban all ages shows at various Legion and VFW Halls. The best part of these shows was how great the crowd always was. We were lucky to get the opening slots so the headliners drew a big crowd that came early enough to hear us. The groove kicked in when I started seeing people singing along. This must have happened when we put out It was Arson. We had some pretty bad shows before then with bad sound or just bad playing! It’s a bit later, but I remember that "About Three Dreams" was pretty popular one and loads of people knew the words to the whole story at the end, “cuckoos are all jewish, etc.” I only learned the words after I saw that everyone else knew them!

~What was your place in the Washington DC hardcore/post-hardcore scene?  what kind of reception/acceptance did you receive?  pros/cons to coming up in that scene?

I tend to think we were sort of outsiders. There was a core group of bands and people by the time we showed up. Minor Threat and Rites of Spring were already broken up and starting new bands  by the time I figured it out. The whole Dischord group was at the center. This is not to say that they were not welcoming to us. A lot of people knew Stuart from Glover Park so I think we had an in through him to get their attention. This is how we got in a position to ask Amanda Mackay to put out the first records. However, once we became a little established I remember seeing those folks at our shows and having come to see us. This is probably another part of knowing we hit our stride. One funny story is that after a DC Space show Ian and Jeff came up to say great show and we asked them if they might be interested in putting out our next record. They said they thought we already signed somewhere else, luckily we had not. But this kind of shows you were we stood, it was like one foot in and one foot out of the scene. Craig was also part of this. He was always looking to expand his musical horizons, so I think there was a pull from him to be different from what was happening in DC.
~Can you tell us a bit about Shudder to Think's early tours and some of your strongest memories/experiences?  thoughts on Shudder's live performances around this time?

Our first real tour was fantastic. We hooked up with SNFU and played probably 12 shows with them across the northeast and in Canada. They really showed me at least how to be in a band. One of my best memories was our van. We found a used converted van that was named the “Captain’s quarters.” I think it had some sort of boat wheel for a steering wheel. It was terrible and we were only barely able to make it run. We really only pulled it off thanks to Stuart’s brother Bruce who knew how to fix cars. The van eventually died in Cleveland, where Craig had family. We abandoned it there and used a rental to finish the tour. As for the shows, I wish I could say something distinctive, but I don’t remember much. I do remember that they were almost all at VFWs and the like and it was pretty usual for the VFW members to be there drinking at the bar while a horde of 15-20 year old punk rock kids watched the show, It made for an interesting contrast. 
Our next tour was with Swiz and we went across the country. Our show in Houston was memorable because there was maybe 2 or 3 people who showed up. So at Craig’s urging we played in our underwear. Then when we played in Austin probably the next day there was a huge turnout. It was pretty cool to see how the different scenes were put together and to see how local kids could pull it off. I remember that Salt Lake City had an absolutely amazing scene with a great place to play.  It was a surprise. Again, I cannot remember specific shows. I guess playing was second in my mind to getting to go to new places and meet new people. If anything we certainly got better on tour. 

~What were your day jobs/school/other ambitions and priorities while Shudder was getting off the ground?

I worked at Bob’s Famous for a year or so then moved to working at a Safeway on Macarthur Blvd because the pay was better thanks to the union. I also worked at the Café at the Philips Gallery after I moved near to Dupont Circle. Along the way I was in college at GW where I discovered anthropology, which I majored in with a focus on archaeology. I graduated in 1989 and stayed in DC to play in the band. After a year I went to graduate school at Columbia to start a Ph.D. program. I stayed in the band and commuted with Craig back and forth from NY. The following summer, I guess in 1991, I found a great archaeology project in Annapolis, MD which helped me to make up my mind to choose to stay with archaeology. I dearly miss the band and wish it could have worked out for me to keep playing! However, I finished my Ph.D. and have since published two books, edited another and published more than a dozen articles on my research. I am now a full professor at Montclair State. I am married and I have two kids Dexter, 10, and Hollis, 7,  and I have just started playing music again with some people in town.

~can you please share with us a bit about the recording/release/reception of the This is Arson 10" and Curses, Spells, Voodoo, Mooses?

It was Arson was recorded at a small basement studio that Stuart knew about. It was an 8-track set up. I think we went there because it did not cost too much. Curses was recorded at Black Pond (I think) in Rockville, which bumped us up to 16 tracks. Making these records was part of the process. We wrote the songs, played them out, and went in to record. It was also part of the fun of being in a band, though I did not know to prepare well enough before we recorded Ten Spot, so these sessions ended up just being the best we could do. The studio was also where we could really see how great Craig was. He had total control over his voice and could try out a wide variety of harmonies to sort out what worked and to produce the multilayered vocals that carried our songs. Plus, the more we recorded the better we got because of his help. Really the reception of Arson and Curses was the same as it had been for the  shows, we were seen as a little off beat. Craig’s vocals and the lack of a solid hardcore underbelly either attracted or repelled people. There was probably not a lot of people in between. In fact, I think to answer your next question, Curses reflected my desire to get more attention. "Vampire’s Proposal" was my best effort to copy Dagnasty and "Floating" was our only “hardcore” song. Still, while (at least) I was hoping to draw in a bigger crowd, the record and what made us unique is what ultimately allowed us to step up.

~Curses is by far the most musically and lyrically straightforward of the early Shudder albums.   What were the band's creative goals and ambitions at this time and how were they beginning to evolve? 

I decided to double check what was on Curses before adding more. What I see is that this is the last record where most of the basic parts of the songs were my work. As I said above, most of our songs were put together based on some chord progression or riff that I brought in and then Craig, Stu and Mike would fill it out on their end. By the time we got to Ten Spot, Craig was much more active in the basic song writing, so the straightforward quality of Curses is really the difference between songs with or without  Craig's input early on. Still, the influence of my new wave roots and all of our desire to be something new shows through. If "Vampire’s Proposal"  is trying to be Dagnasty then "Take the Child" is more like Joy Division, and "Fresco" and "Luv You Too" are really just  jangly things with distortion. Actually we hardly ever played these two songs, which seems too bad in retrospect. At the same time, we all loved to just play loud and fast which is what’s behind "I Grow Cold" and "3 Sisters." After Curses I think we stepped up a level for sure and chased our ambitions to go on tour and actually give the band a real shot. I think we for the first time figured out that we could write good stuff and that we could grow further. That is what you hear on Ten Spot.

Mike Russell interview

~What were your earliest musical memories and when did you begin to play music?     any training or self taught?   important early influences?

I took piano lessons early on and really got into the tenor sax in grade school.  I ended up playing sax in a couple of college bands doing soul/ska/new wave covers and originals.  I learned a lot about playing in a group from great musicians R.C. Forney,  Mike (V.D.) Vanduser, and Al Duvall in those bands.  I then started practicing on my brother's drum set the summer before my senior year.  I am a totally self-taught drummer which has its pluses and minuses.  My first real drum idol was D.J. Bonebrake of X but thankfully I didn't try to emulate him or I would have just given up.

~Were you a part of any pre-Shudder to Think bands?
Stuart invited me to drum in his first band called Stuge (with an umlot) back in 1984,  with friends Bobby Jones and Sam Fleming when they were in high school and I was an old 22 year old with an engineering job.  Bobby and Sam left for college and I thankfully stuck around as Chris and Craig came in eventually.  

~How did all of you meet and when did Shudder form?   can you tell us a bit about those early   rehearsals?   How did the music come together at the beginning?
I'm not sure how Stuart  invited  Chris to play, who was the guitar player in a band called 3-2-1 or why in hell Chris wanted to play with us since he had real rock guitar chops.   But he did and he knew Craig from high school.  The early rehearsals were funny since we were still trying to be a hardcore screamer band with a singer who was anything but.   Fortunately,  Chris came up with some song bits and riffs quickly that worked much better with Craig's style. 

~In your mind, what were the strengths of each of the other band members in those formative years?

Stuart had/has a great musical memory.  I so envied that.  Chris was already a great guitar player so he had the skill to be able to play on the edge with speed and passion.  If someone hasn't done their PhD paper on Craig's astonishing talent by now,  then they should. I think my main strength was that I loved playing with those guys and I wasn't afraid to try to learn as I went along.  

~When did Shudder begin playing live?   what are your memories of the shows from this era?   In your thoughts, when did Shudder really start hitting its stride?

I remember that my kick drum always slid away from me during the early shows.  I wasn't much of a finesse drummer,  basically hitting as hard as I could.  I tried ropes, cinder blocks,  whatever, to no avail.   We hit our stride when I bought a drum set (from a great DC drummer Eric Wallgren) which seemed to stay put.  That was clearly the turning point in the band's history.

~What was your place in the Washington DC hardcore/post-hardcore scene?   what kind of reception/acceptance did you receive?   pros/cons to coming up in that scene?

In the beginning,  people were kind but probably a bit put off.   We had support from important people like Cynthia Connelly (D.C. Space) and Amanda MacKaye (Sammich Records) who supported us which  allowed us to develop a following slowly.

~Can you tell us a bit about Shudder to Think's early tours and some of your strongest memories/experiences?  thoughts on Shudder's live performances around this time?

First tour was in a fabulous air-brushed van called the Captain's Quarters .  It had a nautical theme complete with a mermaid IIRC.   That van ruled until it crapped out in Cleveland two weeks into the tour.  Craig's mom arranged a rental van for the rest of the punk.

  Next up was my family's 1977 Econoline 150 that still had the original shag carpet.  That carpet almost killed Craig who had some pretty severe allergies.  I guess leaving the carpet in and suffering instead of ripping it out was … punk.

~What were your day jobs/school/other ambitions and priorities while Shudder was getting off the ground?

I worked full-time as an electrical engineer with the local power company.  We then lined up a long tour with Swiz and I quit my job.  Still not sorry about that.   After that,  I went to school part time to be a math teacher while being a bicycle courier, paper delivery guy, receptionist and office temp. 

~can you please share with us a bit about the recording/release/reception of the This is Arson 10" and Curses, Spells, Voodoo, Mooses?   it is a pop-infused punk masterpiece that still sounds fresh today. 

Thanks!   I have pretty fuzzy memories from then except always being blown away by what Craig and Chris could come up with on the fly with respect to overdubs,  solos and harmonies.


~Curses is by far the most musically and lyrically straightforward of the early Shudder albums.  What were the band's creative goals and ambitions at this time and how were they beginning to evolve? 

Speaking for myself,  I remember just feeling so lucky to be able to play regular shows and have someone interested in putting out our music.   I loved touring but we were somewhat  limited by school since Chris ,  Craig and Stuart didn't really take a break.  At this point,  Stuart was getting to be a good old friend and I was always astonished by the musical ideas of Craig and Chris so I just wanted it to go on as long as possible,  realizing how rare and often short-lived those kinds of experiences are.   

Stuart Hill Interview

~when did you start playing music?

I started playing bass around the beginning of high school, around 13 I guess.  Me and my friend bobby both were kinda like, "oh we should play bass," so I bought a bass and just bascially started playing.  I had a couple of friends who played guitar and I had them show me some stuff.  That was around the time I started getting into the whole DC hardcore punk scene and started going to see bands and stuff.  At that point a lot of the people in the bands that I was going to watch would just be hanging out and I was like, hey, anybody can be in a band... you don't have to be a rockstar.  So eventually I started a band.  A friend of ours knew a drummer, Mike, who was this older guy.  We got Mike to come over and practice one day in my basement.  For some reason,  he agreed to play drums with us.  I'm not sure why, cuz we were terrible.  At the time, he had graduated college and he was working full time, so he was probably 23 and we were 16.  He just seemed so much older than us, like he was in a different world.  So we started playing, and we played a couple of shows and then I met Chris at an ice cream store I was working at.  I kinda turned him onto a lot of the indie stuff that was going on in DC.  He was in another band, but they were playing a lot of covers, so eventually I talked him into joining our band.  Eventually, the other guys in the band went off to college outside of the DC area so it was me, Mike, and Chris at that point.  We needed a singer.  Chris' girlfriend at the time was in high school and she was going to school with Craig.  She was like, "oh I know this guy who can sing and he's looking to be in a band."  So we had Craig come over and we played for him and he totally hated our music.  But he didn't have anyone else to play with so he was like, "alright..." and he started playing with us.  Actually, I didn't like his vocals at all.  He freaked me out when he started singing.  Fortunately Chris and Mike had more of a musical sense than I did and were like "No, this guy is good.  We should definitely do this." So that's kind of how Shudder to Think began.

~what were some of your influences at this time?

For me, it was a hybrid between the 70's classic rock and punk rock.  That's kind of what I was bringing in.  Everone else kind of brought in their own take on it.  We pretty much had those roots in common.  Craig had the most ecclectic taste, and he always has, so he brought in some very varied influences.

~how did the music come together in the beginning?  when did you start coming into your own? 

When Craig joined, we were doing really old stuff, and he was kinda singing that and Chris was writing more songs.   Craig didn't bring in stuff for a while, and that was kinda his snobbiness, thinking that we weren't good enough to do his stuff in the beginning.   It was mostly Craig's lyrics, tho.

~what were the strengths of each of the band members early on? 

I guess we all had our own unique approach on what we were playing.  Craig has always been the driving, unique factor.  Mike was more of a trained musician.  He had played a lot of instruments growing up, and he brought his own take on drumming to the table.  Mike really helped keep us cohesive.  Because of his training, he kept the focus, making sure that the parts made sense,  that everyone was in sync, and that our timing made sense together.  Chris and I might have been trying to do things a little more standard than the other two. 

~what do you remember about the early Shudder performances and the crowd reaction?

We were kind of a mess.  It took us a while to get things together.  I wouldn't say it was terrible, but it was rough.  I think the crowd reaction varied.  It was kind of a microcosm of what it ended up being.  There were some people who really dug what we were doing and got it from the beginning.  Most people were just kinda like, "What the hell are you guys doing?"   but we kind of slowly built up a following with people who would come out and see us play.  We were opening for a lot of bands, and people who had never heard us before kinda freaked out, but there was that small group of people who would get it, the first time they saw us they got it.  Over those formative years we were able to build that core group locally, kind of the same way we started doing it when we started touring.  It just kind of grew from there.  It never really changed, but just grew to a slightly bigger scale.

~when did shudder begin to hit it's stride?

Probably around the Funeral at the Movies or Get Your Goat timeframe.  We started touring more, we had the experience under our belt, and we had done a lot of shows so we had gotten better and Craig was more involved in the writing.  We were all getting better musically.  Really, when Nathan and Adam joined, that's kind of when we became focused as a full time band.  That's really when it all came together, when we started writing for Pony Express Record.  We were practicing a lot, and touring a lot.  We were all dedicated and focused on the band at that point.

~what was your place in the DC scene and what were the pros and cons of that scene?

We were trying to fit into it, I guess.  We were able to talk Ian into putting our records out on Dischord, so that definitely helped solidify us into that scene.  The pros were, we got more exposure, we got the built in dischord publicity nationally... the cons were... we were kind of shoehorning ourselves into something we didn't really fit into.  A lot of people had an expectation with Dischord records, and we just did not fit that mold, so that was a bit of a hurdle.  We got a lot of negative feedback at shows because of that.  When you are opening for other bands, you end up with a lot of knuckleheads who don't get it and wanna be assholes about it.  Yelling at us, throwing things at us.

~any other ambitions or priorities at that time?

Up through Get Your Goat, chris and craig and i were in college, and Mike was working that whole time.  Basically we were touring in the summer, and we would talk Mike into taking his vacation so we could do it.  So it really wasn't until we all finished school when we could really focus on it and that was ultimately why Mike and Chris ended up leaving.  They kind of had other full time priorities and couldn't dedicate the time to being in the band full time.  It was 1991 when I graduated college, and there was a pretty big recession at that point.  If I had been able to get a good job, a really good career type job, I probably would have just done that and not continue with the band.  But I couldn't really find a job, I was just working at a book store, that kind of thing.  So I graduated college and it was a good thing I had a band to fall back on (laughs).  Usually it's the reverse.  Later in life, I'm glad I had the college degree, so that worked out well for me.  But at the time, it kinda made sense to go with Shudder to see where it went.

~memories of recording this is arson and curses?

I think they were both recorded at Inner Ear Studios.  I wanna say that Arson was recorded in two days, with one of the days for over dubs.  We didn't really have a producer but we had a friend who helped us out, and he recommend that we work with his brother for recording Curses.  That was a totally different experience.   It was a longer recording process, a bit more formal, but I don't really remember too much.  Everything was already written except for "A Vampire's Proposal."  There were no lyrics, it was just an instrumental piece, and Craig came up with the lyrics and vocals on the fly.  That was pretty cool.
things started to get a bit weirder after curses, what was bringing that evolution into the weird and less straightforward?

It was really Craig's influence and his "why don't we try this" kind of thing.  Basically we all thought it was good and we just rolled with it.  It wasn't anything we talked about and decided, "let's try to make some fucked up music."  It was just kind of what happened.  He wasn't necessarily bringing in songs, but he was collaborating and influencing the direction of the songs, moreso than the early stuff. 
how had your ambitions been changing by this point?  were they out of place with your peers? 
It did seem that we were trapped in that scene a little bit.  We definitely had asperations in getting music out on a much larger scale, and it seemed like it was more of a question of not if but when it would happen.

Craig Wedren interview

(Note: this is a complete transcript of a fantastic and in-depth phone conversation with Craig from December 2013.)

~What were your earliest musical memories? 

I was always pretty obsessed with music.  I didn't realize it except in retrospect.  I come from a family of avid music lovers, but no professional musicians.  Actually, that's not totally true.  My grandfather played trumpet in a sort of wartime big band in Ohio called The Four Kernals of Corn and he used to ride the Ohio rails and played for the ladies.  My dad played a little clarinet in high school, but nobody was really serious about music, except that everybody was just kind of  obsessed with music without really knowing it.  My grandfather was way into classical and opera, and my mom was just like a pop and rock music sponge, and my dad loved big band and early rock and roll... sort of  where the two crossed over... sort of the Bill Haley and Frank Sinatra zone... so I had really good music, not terribly deep or obscure music around me all the time, pretty much the popular stuff, be it classical, opera, rock and roll, or big band, but there was just a real joy surrounding music in my family from both sides.  My dad and I would dance around in our underpants listening to Little Richard.  I remember that when I was probably 5 or whatever and, y'know, that's awesome five year old music cuz it's just  SCREAMING and fast and punk as fuck.  And then I remember riding around with my grandfather when I was maybe seven or so and he was teaching me about rhythm.  I remember he was playing something classical in his car but he was just sort of asking me if I could find where the pulse was in the music.  Then my mom, who was in her mid 20's  in the early 70's,  was fully listeing to FM radio.  I was driving around with her so I was just sponging it all up, and we would both sing along to the radio.  She has a really nice voice.  My mom's side of the family have pretty nice voices, but, again, nobody took it seriously... not like they would go off and become a singer with it.  It was just something that they loved.  But interestingly, it wasn't something... in my 30's it was something i started to regret.. but we were never a family that would sit around and play music together.  It wasn't like that unless it was a Jewish holiday and we would sing Hanukkah songs or Passover songs or whatever it was.  My grandmother would do blessings over the candles on Shabbat and she had a really pretty voice, but it was never, like, "let's hang out around the piano and all sing together."  Everybody was just a little too self conscious or not particularly confident in their musical skills.  In  retrospect, it would have been an awesome singing and jamboree family, but it just wasn't everybody's disposition.

~When did you realize you wanted to be a musician? 

So as a kid, there was recorded music everywhere, and i literally knew every breath, drum fill, and mistake of any popular song on the radio throughout the 70s and maybe the first few years of the 80s.  I wasn't aware of it at the time, but I was just kind of filling myself up.  Then I got some of the records as I got older...The Doors, Elton John, Carol King, Jim Croce,  I was a huge Bee Gees fan, too... and when I was about seven, I finally discovered KISS, so that was a big change for me.  It was KISS and Elton John for a little while.  I'm trying to think of the first time I heard... it was either "Anarchy in the UK" or maybe it was "Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones or "Clash City Rockers" or something... I remember some video, it must have been "Anarchy," and it changed my life.  It was the Beatles-on-Ed-Sullivan moment for me.  It was that electrifying moment that so many people had, so many kids, particularly boys my age had when they first heard the Sex Pistols and The Ramones and The Clash.  I already knew that I wanted to make music when I was about 9 after I had gotten through the "I wanna be a fireman, I wanna be a baseball player" phase,  then it was "I wanna be a rockstar."  At a certain point, I realized that these rockstars who I worshipped, namely KISS, were not gods, they were just dudes.  Dorky jewish dudes, which I could certainly relate to.  So when I was 9 or 10, I just made it known to everybody in my family that I was going to be a rockstar.  It wasn't a musician at that point, maybe I said musician, but it was just, like, I wanted to be a superhero combined with  heavy metal, which is exactly what KISS was, or even what Black Sabbath was to me.

~At what point did you begin to play with other musicians? 

When I hit about 12 years old, which was a little after or around the time that I first heard Sex Pistols or The Clash, that's when everything sort of blew wide open.  I mean, I had been listening to whatever was popular... New Wave, Pretenders, Blondie... whatever was on the radio... but I didn't know anybody with access to the underground.  So it was really only what crossed over that I was aware of.  Then, for my bar mitzvah, my mom got me a microphone, my first Shure 58 mic, which I still use. Everybody does.  And I joined my first band which was called the Immoral Minority with a friend of mine, my first sort of guitar foil-slash-best friend whose name was Scott Harbert.  I was fairly outrageous and starting to become fairly flamboyant in my mode of dress and, y'know, it was the early 80s so things were getting super androgynous  and super new wave-y.  I was living in Cleveland, going to an all boys, very traditional prep school and kinda dressing like Boy George meets.. sort of like where New Romantic and punk rock kind of crossed over.  But again, it was via Cleveland so it was kind of a collaged catch-as-catch-can version of it.  It wasn't like a New York City or a London version of it.  We just didn't have access.  Again, there was this whole scene of being kind of sheltered from the source.  So i would just kind of smell it in the air or sense it in the ether and that made it all the more titilating and forbidden.  It was some sort of mysterious forbidden zone that i wanted to access.  So I became sort of challenging the way that I dressed and basically my friend Scott, the guitar player in Immoral Minority, was a real real true prodigy.  There is actually a video online that my friend David Wain directed when we were like 13 years old and it's a song called "Something Girl," which was Immoral Minority's first original song.  I'm the only one in it, I don't know where the rest of the band is, but the video is online somewhere.  That's the first original song I ever sang.  But the music was written by Scott Harbert and you can hear his sick flying fingers all over the song.  This guy Jeff Golenberg who's now an agent in Los Angeles who reps and Slash... he had a drum kit and a PA and a practice space, so he was the drummer, and this guy Matt  played bass, and I had... I dunno... i had whatever a frontman is supposed to have.  I had this really cool falsetto and this really big open vowel, tremulous, kinda operatic part of my voice, both of which are still the strongest parts of my voice...  certainly the most emotional...  but I didnt really have a lot of other parts of my voice.  Those are sort of my two gifts.  This real nice... well, it's not nice cuz some people hate it... but this distinct falstetto and this  big, belting tenor part of my voice.  I was just imitating singers whom I loved and whose songs we were covering.
~What were your early experiences with performing live and what kind of music were you playing at this time? 

Again, what was beautiful about living in Cleveland at the time, and Cleveland is a very, very music obsessed town, is we didn't distinguish between the Bee Gees and the Dead Kennedy's.  It was all the same.  It was just music that obsessed us.  So we would  play it all.  We would play a Van Halen cover, an original, a Sex Pistols song, a Journey cover, and then just make noise for a little while.  Everything was equal.  It was similar to what Nathan experienced growing up in Seattle, i think.  It was Def Leppard... awesome... throw it in there. We were obsessed... used to dress like Joe Elliot, the singer of Def Leppard.... The Germs... awesome, throw it in there.  Completely great music to mosh around the bedroom with.  So it was all one thing to us and I think that openness and truthful love of whatever struck us is what we brought to Shudder to Think.  I feel it was part of what made the band so unlike other hardcore bands, or any bands for that matter, in DC or any other big cities.   In any First World, sophisticated big cities that actually have access, there is a conservatism and a feeling that black is cool, white is not.  And I don't mean that in terms of skin color.  It's like X is cool, Y is not.  And we were like X and Y are both totally cool, or both X and Y suck, or if you mix X with Y, you get Q.  Isn't that weird?  Let's do that.  It was just  all fair game for us.  So that was my first band, the Immoral Minority, and I was in a bunch of other bands in Cleveland, one really good new wave band called Freudian Slip and it was super awsome and we used to win lots of Battle of the Bands.   I was always in one of the two or three big cover bands on the east side of Cleveland in the suburbs (laughs), so it was kinda like a scene.  It was  Cleveland in the 80s and so ya just show up and play whatever.  You would play Duran Duran, you would play The Cars, then you would play Stray Cats, whatever it was, people were fine with it.   If you were 13-15 years old in the suburbs and you didn't have much to do, it didn't matter who was playing on stage or what they were playing, you were just psyched.  You get to go to the ice rink and there's somebody playing Led Zeppelin.  Great!  Or the Go-Go's.  Awesome!  I just don't think anybody cared because it was much more about just trying to make out with girls or boys or whatever.  I could be waxing rhapsodic, but I think that's how it was.  However, once we hit about fourteen or fifteen years old, then we started having more knowledge of and access to the so called underground.  College radio.  R.E.M.  The Replacements.  The Violent Femmes.  4AD records.  Weirder labels than that... Ralph Records, SST Records... so we were starting to become obsessed with the subculture and starting to shun and scorn the mainstream.  Our timing couldn't have been better.  Pretty much by '85 or '86, radio was starting to get pretty weak.  In the early 80s it was pretty great.  I really think that popular radio in the early 80s was the last bastion of progressive white music, cuz there would be alot of progressive black music in the late 80s/90s when hip hop started to get really interesting on the production end.  But in terms of popular music made by white people, it got pretty crappy by the end of the 80s.  And then the whole hair metal thing came in which  was a pure retread, although i do love Guns 'N Roses and a few other bands.  And then the whole alternative thing...  the popular end of most alternative music was really very conservative and beige and hetero and classic rock based.   Not very progressive, even tho there were some great bands.  And certainly once you got under the radar there were all sorts of bands, all sorts of weirdos making music, so it's not like there wasn't great music there, but in terms of mainstream music, i think the early 80's were sort of the end of the fun.  And then you had to go underground, which is what we did.

 craig wedren:  bottom, middle    david wain:  top, left

~Did you have any vocal training? 

I had a little bit.  My family is fairly conservative, midwestern, and very puritanical in terms of work ethic, which is another thing that other members of Shudder to Think had in common, particularly Nathan and I.  We were  very puritanical  in our work.  Stuart too.  When I told my family I wanted to be a singer, they were like, "Ok, you have to take lessons."  At a certain point I was like, "I wanna play guitar."  "Ok, you have to take lessons."  I was a punk, I was lazy about it but I actually really enjoyed singing lessons mainly because the guy they sent me to was crazy, and probably had dementia or alzheimer's by the time I was working with him.  When my mom was a kid, this notorious choir teacher at one of the synagoges in Cleveland was the only professional voice person they knew.  So we used to go over to his house once a week and all I remember is his big face and his bright shining eyes and meaty fingers banging on the piano, just getting me to belt stuff out.  I don't even remember anything about it except that he was very old, a little bit crazy, and super fun to be around.  He had these weird catch phrases, like "Take your bel canto and make it a can-belto."  Bel canto is an opera singing term (laughs).  If he had been living in New York he would have been a Borscht Belt character.  I don't know if I learned anything or not, but I had a very fun time quote-unqote studying with him.  On the early Shudder to Think stuff, you can hear where I'm sort of figuring out my vocal style, but I  had my whole vocal thing together, basically by the time I was 16 or so.   When I went to college at NYU,  I was in the experimental theater program and voice was a mandatory part or the curriculum.  so I studied voice in college and I learned a TON there about breath and focus and presence and I actually started paying attention to and developing, which continues to this day, different parts of my voice that heretofore had been ignored or that  I never knew existed.  I still do not have a very strong, even tho I have a low speaking voice, I do not have a very strong, powerful, or emotive low or middle range when I'm singing.  So that's something I still continue to work on. The reason for that is when I was starting to sing in bands, and singing to the radio in the 70s, I'd be singing along to Freddye Mercury or I'd be singing along to Ozzy Osbourne, or I'd be singing along to Chicago or Journey, or god knows what, and so many of these men, and women obviously, had very high pitched voices.  That was not an era of baritone singers.  So when I started playing in bands when I was like 12 or 13 years old, the fact that the songs we were covering all had pretty high pitched singing requirements combined with the fact that I was trying to sing through an amplifier, my first P.A. was a fender twin, I was trying to be heard.  So I'm singing out of a fender twin with my bar mitzvah mic, and Scott from Immoral Minority has a Marshall half stack and we are playing Black Sabbath songs.  I am not only singing incredibly high in my register, but I'm having to scream just so I can be heard above a whisper.  So very early on I developed super strong high belting parts of my voice.  To this day I'm still trying to fill in the gaps with other more subtle muscles.  So when I went to college I started studying voice a little more but it was more experimental. I had this amazing teacher who is still in New York and is just an incredible artist in her own right named Lisa Sokolov.  She was amazing because she was much more about... and this resonates to this day with me, not just with my voice but with everything that i do creatively and musically and just living in life... finding one's own authentic voice, to ignore cultural ideas about what is and isn't pretty or quote-unquote good and to communicate with that voice, from that place, at all times.  Because truth and authenticity, weird as it may sound, always penetrates.  So that was a big thing that i learned from her.  The other biggest thing I learned my first year of college was how to start breathing technically from a lower part of my body cuz we tend to breathe up in our chest and you need to start learning to breath way down below your belly if you want to sing for the rest of your life without blowing it out.  So that was a huge development point for me.  Then I started studying with a guy named Neil Semer who also was a teacher around New York.  His was much more about traditional technique. I think he worked a lot with more Broadway, choir, and maybe some opera people, but he was great.  By the time I got to the more traditional vocal technique stuff, I already had such a weird unique style of my own that I didn't really feel like I was in danger of losing myself I guess.  So that was my training.  I kinda wanna find somebody to study with now, cuz I think that aging voice.. once you hit maybe 40... I'm fascinated by people's voices from age 40 and up because we really generally only hear young people sing.  Especially now, we hear teenagers and people in their 20s, in pop music anyways.  But in opera for instance, one's voice doesn't fully ripen until your 30s and 40s and I'm just interested in the Lisa Sokolov notion of true singing into old age.  Obviously it's important to me.  And I'm just kinda fascinated by what happens to peoples voices as they age both physically and biologically and psychologically as you have children and your priorities change.  One's voice is a reflection and projection of one's being, right?  So whatever you are thinking and whatever you are feeling and whatever you are doing is ideally coming through in your speech.  And what you are doing and what you are thinking at age 40 is so totally different than age 20 or age 10 or age 16.  It, along with everything else along with life, changes your voice.  So I'm very interested in that.

~How did Shudder to Think form?

When i was 16, I moved to Washington DC, which was perfect timing, cuz I was ready for First World urban utopia/dystopia,.. that is where my head was at.  I went to a place called the Field School which was  very progressive.  Two really beautiful houses across the street from each other just up from Dupont Circle where all the embassies are in DC. Nathan was there too, and Chris Matthews had gone there,  but he graduated the year before I came. I had just been kicked out of a band and I was really, really miserable.  I mean, my whole identity as a teen was wrapped up in being in a band, being the lead singer, and I just lived and breathed music and girls, basically.  So, I really was out of sorts cuz i had recently uprooted myself from Cleveland, moved to Washington DC, and had been in a band called The Red Room and they kicked me out.  I remember answering the ad for Red Room which was "a lead singer wanted for a cross between XTC and Chilli Peppers."  This was '85 or '86 and I was like, "awsesome, I can do that."  Y'know, I don't really sing like either of those guys, and I'm sure something was weird about it.  So I was kinda down on my luck and really didn't know what I was going to do.  I was in this play at school with Chris' girlfriend, he was a freshman at George Washington University, and she was like "Hey my boyfriend's in a band. He's a guitar player,  and their singer just went off to college. You should try out."  I was like, "Cool!  Gimme his number." She gave me a cassette of the band and it was just like boom bap boom bap boom bap DC hardcore with shouting and vaguely political lyrical content.   It wasn't really where my head was at or what I was interested in cuz I was always much more melodic.  I've never been much of a screamer.  And I was never strictly into hardcore music, in fact most hardcore punk to me felt very limited and limiting.  Obviously not everything, I mean, Black Flag, Germs, there are all sorts of hardcore bands that I love.  Bad Brains, obviously, and a handful of DC bands... Minor Threat, Rites of Spring, I mean, these were some of my favorite bands.  But as a genre, a.) it felt very male and I was like "Why would you wanna play music for a bunch of dudes?" and b.) I think growing up with ... like I said, my family was all very very musically attuned, but I come from a melody family.  I guess a rhythm and melody family.  On my mom's side, everyone was always attracted to beautiful melodies and beautiful voices... opera, and the more melodic end of 70s fm radio, and that's what I sang along to growing up so a lot of hardcore didn't make a whole lotta sense to me.  I certainly had no aspirations to front a hardcore band, at least not in a traditional way.  But I needed a band.  I didn't have anything to do.  And I didn't have any friends yet in DC so it was really lonely.  I remember I would go home to my dad's apartment where I was living and just put on my headphones... that was the year that the album "Steve McQueen" by Prefab Sprout had come out...  Pre Fab Sprout is one of my favorite unsung legendary bands... so I would just sit there listening to that record, pining for my friends and my home and what I sort of felt was my lost identity which at the time was wrapped up in being in a band.  So I thought, fuck it, I'll audition for this band, which was called Stuge, and it had umlats over it.  That band was Stuart Hill, Chris Matthews, Mike Russell, and their lead singer had gone away.  I went to the audition space, there are probably pictures online somewhere with what we all looked like... Mike looks exactly the same as now, except his hair is gray.  Stu looks like a completely different human being.  He was smooth-faced... still had his baby fat... this little DC hardcore dude.  And Chris, I'm not sure if he had his dreadlocks yet, but they were on their way.  So I'm sort of singing and I learned a few of their songs and, to quote Black Flag, "They hate us, we hate them, we can't win."  They didn't like me, I didn't like them, but by the end of the rehearsal I was the singer in the band anyways (laughs).  At first it was just like a weird, ill fit.  We were just a bunch of awkward dudes.  But we needed each other.  Very, very quickly, however, it became clear to all of us that there was a little seed of something extraordinary and special in there.  Something unique, certainly, even if it was very wobbly and messy and unfocused for a little while.  There's just something about putting my vocal style on top of this music that turned it into something else. All of us were, I guess, sophisticated enough, for lack of a better word, or savvy enough about music in general as opposed to hardcore music specifically, or punk rock  specifically, or even underground music specifically to recognize that, whoa, this could actually be  a great band.  So that was how that started.

~When did Shudder to Think become Shudder and not Stuge, both creatively and the name change?

Creatively, it was pretty instant.  I started singing the existing songs, but I couldn't sing them the way the old singer was singing them, so I just sang them like me.  I naturally found melodies for them and was singing in all the different ways that I like to sing, so it started sounding like Shudder to Think pretty early.  You can hear on Curses, our first record, a few older Stuge songs, "Let it RIng" and maybe "I Grow Cold."  I wrote the "I Grow Cold" lyrics and the vocal melody, but I feel like the music for that might have been something that predated me.  The band name didn't change until we had our first gig, which I think maybe was at DC Space, a beautiful club deserving of its own documentary.  We were sitting in a car either going to or coming from practice and I remember I was in the passenger seat  and Mike Russell was driving and he was like "Ah man, we have to come up with a name."  and he said,  "I shudder to think we'll just be another boom-bap hardcore band." At that point I was up for thinking beyond hardcore and I was like "Hey!  Shudder to Think!  that's a good name, let's do that!"  and they were like, "Yeah that's fine, let's use that for this first gig and we can change it later."  And then it just stuck. I like it.  It doesn't really sound like anything else, which I think is appropriate for us.

~How did the music and lyrics come together in the beginning? 

Chris would come in with guitar stuff and we would just jam it out.  I think I wrote a couple of little bits on Ten Spot, I wrote the song "Yes," and  then I wrote the song "Lies about the Sky" on Funeral at the Movies, and other than that  everything else was very much a band. Chris with guitar parts and the rest of us filling in our parts.  And the way I always worked is  we would have band practice, we would work on the instrumental song structures and I would just sort of start humming and mumbling along whenever a little piece fell in and felt right and then we would just record all of our rehersals.  These old rehersal tapes, which I'm sure exist somewhere, would be all of these recognizable songs with me being like [sings phonetic nonesense] , just sort of literally making mumbled sounds around the scales and the riffs until a hook would lock in, or a vowel sound would lock in, and I would usually have whole melodies  before I would even start with words.  Then I would fill in the melodies and sort out the sounds I was making.  Lots of "oooh's" and "oooo's"  with words, which is maybe why my lyric style developed in a more impressionistic or abstract way, cuz I was filling my own mouth with words, not writing words, and then creating music out of them.  It just seemed like the natural way.  I think about early  REM.   that all sounds very natural like he's just being phonetic about it or I think about the Cocteau Twins which didn't have any lyrics early on.  Liz Frasier was a huge influence and inspiration for me and my singing.  But it just felt like the obvious way to do it.  It's actually only in the past few years that I've even begun to experiment with words first, which is fascinating.  It's completely different.  I'm finishing a record right now with a classical composer friend of mine named Jefferson Friedman and the way we set it up we were like, "Ok, I'm gonna write words, give him the words, he's going to write the music and then I sing."  So singing these words... I'm having to relearn how to sing words that I would never put together naturally if I were starting with breath and melody.  It's changed the music.  I'll be curious what people think, if anybody notices.

~What do you feel were the other band members strengths? 

Mike was the oldest so he had some maturity and a car, and he had a really sweet motorcycle and also there was a kind of almost, he might disagree with me, but there was almost a jazz touch to his playing.  There was something about his flow. I love his drumming so much, he's such a natural drummer.  He has, and has always had, a very sophisticated intelligence to his touch, to his feel, and it kinda floats even when the beats are hardcore beats.  You can really hear it on "Pebbles," when he plays the ride at the beginning, or "Lies About the Sky."  his drumming in certain ways reminds me of DJ Bonebreak from X who is one of mine and everyone else in Shudder to Think's all time favorite bands.  DJ Bonebreak was a  punk rock drummer but with pure elegance with jazz and sophistication.  There was a classicism to it.  So on some level Mike had that even tho it was untrained.  Stuart... i mean, Stuart started the band!  In a weird way he was the least likely musician in the bunch.  He wanted to be in a punk rock band and he wanted to play bass and all of his friends were in bands so he started a band which bacame Shudder to Think.  Stuart was always a nuts and bolts organizer, and I was terrible at that stuff when I was a teenager cuz I was a spoiled horny lead singer.  I've since had to learn how to kinda tighten up the screws.  Stu was really the organizational guy.  He would book the shows and he would settle up with the club managers and he would organize band rehersals. He was mom in a big way.  There was also something he had, something about the way that he played.  That was his personality in the band, but in terms of his playing... I dunno... I just picture him as a kid and he became a much more sophisticated bass player later, but there was something about the way he used to dig in and play melodies on his bass which probably has it's root in Rites of Spring, like Mike Hampton's style of melodic, chordal bass playing.  But Stu was much more of a downstroker, so he would really, like, hit it really hard.  And then Chris was the songwriter.  Chris was a classic... in a weird way he was just like a messy classic rock songwriter, like if you took  the classic rock-ness of Pete Townsend with the sort of smearines and the chaos of somebody like Keith Lavine from PiL.  He was the songwriter.  And then he and I became the songwriters cuz he would have guitar parts and I would make up vocal parts and I think as oppossed to a lot of other bands, it was always very much about that.  Our songs had to work with just an acoustic guitar and voice, or a piano and a voice, otherwise it wasn't a good song.  And that sort of speaks to our puritanical, classicism thing.

~What are your memories of Shudder to Think's earliest live shows and when did you feel things really started to click?

I'm going to say it took 2 years.  I don't know why that pops into my head, but I'm going to say two years.  I mean, people REALLY didn't like us at first.  They didn't get it.  This still happens to me, but when I'm working on a piece of music, I hear what it can become.  But oftentimes when I play if for somebody they just hear an unformed mess.  I'm sure there was a degree of that in Shudder to Think where we knew what we were becoming, we sensed it, and we heard where we were headed.  I doubt that communicated to audiences.  I'm sure it was a much messier or at least a much more hit or miss thing.  But it took a couple years.  I remember for some reason, I flash back to a club called the Barbecued Iguana which was there in DC for a few years.  I remember a show there where suddenly it was very clear to us that we had our own thing going on and people were starting to get really into it.  People weren't starting to freak out yet... by around pony express record, our audiences were deep.   People who liked us, REALLY liked us.  And we felt that way about our music, we felt that we were doing something that was... well, I guess the way I feel about music and art and things in general is  if I have a certain feeling about it, than I trust and hope somebody else out there will have the same feeling.  So we had this very passionate feeling like, whoa, something exciting is percolating.  But it took about 2 years before we started seeing that look of recognition reflected back from the audience.  When we were going on tour, when we left DC, it sucked.  Because we were playing hardcore shows with hardcore bands and we would play at, like, the Moose Lodge in rural Pennsylvania and there would just be a bunch of short haired, crew cut, conservative muscle dudes and they did NOT like it.  At all.  It was very, very discouraging and very difficult because we felt like, hey, we should be as big as The Cure!  We should be as big as Echo and the Bunnymen!  We weren't thinking about whatever hardcore band was popular at the time, we were just thinking about music.

~What was your place in the DC hardcore/post-hardcore scene?  What were the pros and cons of that  scene?

In retrospect, it was great.  I mean, what a beautiful thing, and certainly it flowered into something much more diverse and unique than its legend.  At the time, there was this sort of leaden stigma attached to DC hardcore because it had a very specific... again, in DC it was pretty cool and colorful and lots of different kinds of bands and lots of different kids of people, but once you got out of DC, peoples' perception of DC hardcore was very narrow and very conservative and that was difficult for us.  We were always trying to shed that and to convince people or prove that we were something else.  Yes, we were from this place, but we were our own creature.  So it cut both ways because, on the one hand, it was an extremely fertile, creative time and place and community in DC itself, so that just felt great.  Once we got some momentum... the first couple years we were like "Nobody likes us, everybody hates us!  They just like hardcore music and we're not cool enough!  whatever!  what do they know anyway?!" Once people started liking us, we were like, "This is great! What a great place!  What a great scene!  So many wonderful people!  So many wonderful bands!"  So we were really grateful and proud and very fortunate.

~When did Shudder really start to tour and spread out from DC and New York? 

Pretty quickly.  We formed in late '86 and our first tour was late '87, early '88, something like that.  We went out.  I don't remember what the first dates were. I moved pretty quickly to New York to go to school but on vacations and weekends we would play shows and over the summer we would tour.  I have pictures from that first tour, it was brutal.

~Were there other jobs and priorities at this time?

We were all in school and we all came from pretty education-minded families so there wasn't a whole lot of fucking around.  We were either in school or playing music.  Everybody had jobs.  The summer between senior year of high school and college I ran an ice cream stand in Georgetown and Nathan worked there and Chris Matthews worked there, so that was kind of a fun moment.  But in general it was like, ice cream shop, delivering roses, restaurant, everyone was in college.  I don't remember anything particularly memorable.  Mainly we were all going to school and then rehearsing and then recording and touring every second that we could.  Again, there was a logistics thing cuz I was in New York but it was just an Amtrak ride away and most of the lyrics on all of the Dischord records were written on that route.  I would take the train to DC, we would rehearse, make cassettes of rehearsals, I would take the train back to New York, listen to the tapes, watching the trees go by and write the lyrics.  So we had an interesting rhythm to the way we were working.  And I certainly wanted it to be full time.  Everybody had different feelings about it, y'know?  And the more serious it got and the more full time the commitment became, it really forced everybody to decide "Is this what I had in mind for myself?"  For me, it was no question.  It was.  And for everbody else, the answers varied.

~What are your memories of recording Arson and Curses?

That is a relatively straightforward record.  One foot was still in what we had been and one foot was in what we were becoming.  But I think, just as songs, those are really strong songs.  I swear to God I don't even remember where we recorded those, I don't remember the experience AT ALL.  It's so weird.  It's like a weird mystery record.  Here's what I remember about Curses:  I remember making the art on my dad's floor with Chris, right?  So I remember designing the album art, I don't remember where we recorded it, or when, or what that was like.  I remember recording with this guy Chris Biando in his basement in, I think, Virginia or Maryland, but I think that was for Ten Spot.  Not Curses.  And I definitely don't remember where we recorded It Was Arson.  One thing that was interesting about the Arson single, which came out before Curses, is it's a much weirder offering than Curses.  It's darker and almost like industrial at times.  And the production is weirder on that single.  My vocals are weirder... everything just seems more goth or something.  Yeah, I don't remember recording those records at all.  I don't remember recording them, don't remember mixing them. I have no clue.  (laughs)  You know who remembers?  Stuart, Mike, and Chris. They will remember.

~Very soon, leading into your Dischord albums, the straighforwardness of the music would begin bending.  How was the creative process evolving?

That's such an interesting question.  I'm sure... I don't know if I was bossy, but I was wildly enthusiastic about whatever I was enthusiastic about.   We recorded Curses before I went to school.  When I went to school, I was living in New York, I was studying experimental theater and within that there was a lot of experimental music.  So I was starting to get into John Coltrane, I was starting to get into John Cage, I was listening to much more difficult, freer, experimental and in some cases very fractured music.  So where there previously had been little access to the forbidden, bleeding, beating heart of the underground, I was now sort of living dead center in it and with seemingly unlimited resources like teachers, friends, people on the street, and college radio was starting to explode... it was all sort of coming together so... and I totally speak for myself... but  the things that I was interested in were becoming much more surrealistic, impressionistic, experimental and much more about pushing the boundaries and breaking free of what had come before.  It was like our favorite things that came before us, what can we do that only we can do?  And that increasingly became the Shudder to Think mandate.  Ok, this might be a good song, but is this a song that only we could produce?  I'm sure it was partly conscious and partly just natural for where we were at, but that became part of our gestalt.  It was also a more psychedelic moment.  For some reason I remember there being a lot of acid... just things in general, were more psychedelic in that moment.  So it was pulling apart in a thrilling way.  That mindset, that whole frame of mind of off-kilter-ation... delicious discomfort.. being a little off balance... was always very appealing to me and it was increasingly reflected and expressed in the underground at that time.  We were connecting to a much broader palette, both aesthetically and philosophically by virtue of geography, and where we were living. I was living in New York, and they were living in DC.. and because we were getting older and because we were getting more popular , we had access to more stones ripe for unturning.  So it just became more about art and less about what we had grown up with. 

HEAD MEDICINE would like to graciously thank Craig Wedren, Stuart Hill, Chris Matthews, and Mike Russell for their time and effort, as well as Marco LaGamba for the advice and Shudder knowledge and insight.  thank you, guys.  and thanks to you, for reading all of this.  we hope you enjoyed it.

~writing and interviews by Kojak

Stay tuned for future installments of "Hold Back the Road That Goes...  The Story of Shudder to Think."  This is a planned multi-chapter project that will preserve, in one place, the oral history of this great band.  follow HEAD MEDICINE on Fakebook and Twitter for future updates

NEXT:  Hold Back the Road That Goes... The Story of Shudder to Think - Part Three:  The Dischord Years

1 comment:

  1. ugh that sad moment when you accidentally delete a very nice comment while cleaning up shitty spam. bummer.