Friday, June 20, 2008

The CHOTCHKE Years / 1993 to 1998

ABOVE: Walt's Band sticker from 1991
CHOTCHKE pre-history:
I had always wanted to play a full drum kit, supplemented with found objects, noise, and vocals, and cop ideas from my long list of favorite drummers, and I finally got to do that with members of the Bogomils who filtered down to me through association with Jon Arnold, who I saw often as he worked next door to me in Noe Valley, SF, managing Aquarius Records.
Hearing that there might be an opening for a percussion player in their plans, I tried to wedge in.
In March of 1990 I had my first sessions with Lucija Kordic, Mauricio (the Rev. Mo), and Jon, and shortly the idea for WALT'S BAND, who would play only music in 3/4, in any genre, was born.
That July an abandoned and badly earthquake-damaged building in the South-Of-Market part of San Francisco (849 Folsom) was taken over by a large group of Art-Squatters, and we were invited in.
Thus 'Walt's Studio' was born, in a rather nice and large loft room in the building, where we moved a lot of instruments in, including a Hammond organ and full drumkit. Big City Orchestra also came in to use the space a lot, through me, and we did some nice recordings there, including running, since we had so much space, an extremely long tape loop that ran for 100 yards or so, for a particular session.
Eventually the police and the owner of the property came and cleared everyone out (ironically and conveniently on a rehearsal night), and we had to leave before the big blowout concert in October, as planned by the guy who invited us all in and instigated the squatters takeover.
Concurrent with this, we had a non-waltz-tempo incarnation called FRESNO, who played a terrific improv gig on October 27th, 1990 at the annual Exquisite Corpse theatrical extravaganza at the Victoria Theater, in SF. For this, the audience came up by turns and typed script at stage front on the provided typewriter, and we played suitable music through that, and then the actors went backstage, quickly glanced over the pages, and then came back on and the 'show' began, for which we played live and spontaneous accompaniment.
I recall that Fresno played background music for several performances of a dance troupe, which I haven't looked up the name of yet, at City College. Very weird stuff, we used to get pretty wild and noisy and/or peculiar and super subtle at these.
My notes do mention in detail another pair of gigs back-to-back that we did at the Armpit Gallery, in the lower Haight, during which time Lucija was in a bad car accident and couldn't play, and Jon and I recruited das to play with us in Fresno; I'd totally forgotten about these shows.
It says here that in April 1991, Fresno rented a rehearsal room- which I also don't remember. I sure remember the first room that Chotchke had, though!
Meanwhile we recorded miles of tape at Lucija's or my studio as either Walt's Band or Fresno. None of it ever released.
In March 1992 I tapped Lucija to be in the all-female noise ensemble The Chambermaidens, for my planned WOMEN: TAKE BACK THE NOISE gigs, really sort of a BCO offshoot.
In July of 1992 Jon and Lucija perform as two thirds of the 'pit band' for my play EXISTENTIAL CHILDREN'S STORIES.
In February 1993 I auditioned for the Bogomils-soon-to-be-Chotchke.
I got in and we began to share Pluto's (the drummer, Marc, was Lucija's boyfriend and co-owner of Amoeba Music) practice pad in Oakland. At the beginning we were: Jon Arnold, Carrie Barclay, Jonathan Hess, John Fellman, Margaret Murray, and I. Margaret was the third in our front line of electric guitars, a very powerful sound, but she soon left.
JONATHAN HESS:
"I'm not sure how we found Margaret Murray. She was great. But she was already in U.S. Saucer, who were very strong. I can't imagine our struggles were very compelling. After a number of choice rehearsals, she bowed out. She came back to play with us at our first gig (with The Thinking Fellers) though, and was in on the first bunch of recordings at Guerilla Euphonics in Oakland, done with owner Josh Heller engineering. One of my best ever musical moves in Chotchke was to turn her way up on 'Footsweep' when we mixed. She's on all three songs on the 45."

On March fourth, 1993, we played our first show as Chotchke, opening for the Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 at the Covered Wagon Saloon, SF. It says here that it was very well received and that I was called studmuffin, which I must have loved (I was probably wearing the black stretch-vinyl pants), there was a nice sound-lady, and plenty of beer provided in the dressing room. Off to a flying start! The poster for that show is displayed below (not right below, but at the top of the poster gallery). It was the first in the series of 'story' posters, with continuing characters and a supposed 'storyline'.

Apparently another early and great show by Chotchke was July 2nd, 1993 at the Blue Lamp, it says here in my journal notes.

PERSONNEL LIST / after this blog was all written, I decided that perhaps we needed a clearer (alphabetical) list of players who've worked in Chotchke:
Jon Arnold, Carrie Barclay, Jon Fellman, Larry Hendersen, Jonathan Hess, Kate Horn, Pete Jay, Margaret Murray

Chotchke History notes by
JONATHAN HESS:
"Drew and Jon Arnold an I all lived in Santa Cruz at the same time {early-mid 1980's}, but had not known each other.
In early 1991 I did fill-in work at an ice cream store in Noe Valley. There I met Jeremy Wheat. Jeremy was soon let go for huffing the whipped cream supply (busted when the manager tried to top a sundae and received can after can of unaerated dribble), but before he split, he asked if I wanted to jam with him and his friends. When asked what kind of music they were doing, he said 'they played a lot of waltzes'.
His friends turned out to be Lucija and Jon. We clicked right away. Jon seemed familiar; it turned out that he had sold me my first The Clean e.p. at Aquarius Records a few years before. We both agreed that Tall Dwarfs were tops. On such things long friendships are born.
Lucija named us The Bogomils. We worked up some songs, and got a gig with her partner's band (Pluto) at The Heinz Club in Oakland. I don't remember the songs too well, but I do remember we switched instruments a lot. This practice continued on with Chotchke.

We wanted to record. For some reason, Jon (who was more than capable of doing this himself) suggested that his friend might do it - if we gave him pot.
That's how I met Drew. He came to our practice room and set up. We played our tunes. I recall Drew, eyes closed, happily monitoring under headphones, smoking the joint we had secured, and mysteriously turning knobs. When we had finished, he played us the results. I was shocked - he had taken it upon himself to record the raw tracks with effects. I recall it sounded pretty good (I think those tapes are lost now), but I was stunned at his audacity. Normally any effects are printed later - a band decision. Well!
{Drew: I think that Jon Arnold owns those tapes- they were never in my archive.}
Shortly after that, Jeremy quit. I then left San Francisco for a short stint in the country. When I returned, Jon and Lucija had moved their doings into Pluto's practice room in a converted Sam Spade-vintage office building in Oakland.

We played and recorded as a three-piece while trolling for more players. I knew Carrie Barclay and Jon 'Pappy' Fellman socially, and had played a Jacques Boyreau project with them - we composed a score for the original 'Night of the Living Dead', and played it live during a screening at The Peacock Lounge in the Lower Haight. I imagine I brought them in. It worked well - Carrie's electrified bassoon was a revelation! Jon quickly offered up his Ibanez multi-effects unit for her to use, undoubtedly rubbing his hands in anticipation. Pappy was a kindred spirit, and came with great guitar hooks. I'm not sure who brought in Steve Shiyoku (a co-worker of Pappy's at Amoeba in Berkeley), who played guitar, drums, and sang. Steve was super-nice, but just learning to play. We played one gig at Club Komotion, one of Jacques' two-films-playing-at-once wingdings.
I remember the club's newsletter described us as 'underwhelming'. It was true! For how twee we sounded, there certainly were a lot of us onstage.

Lucija quit. Steve was fired. Chotchke was always a clash of aesthetics, and often (aside from even-tempered Carrie) of personalities, too. The former could spark creativity; the latter a three-alarm emotional meltdown! And I was sometimes the arsonist...

After Lucija left, we decided to start anew as Chotchke. Jon thought up the name. A little useless thing. It seemed just right.

Lucija and Steve had both drummed. We now needed a drummer. Jon invited Drew, who impressed me by not only having no problem playing in 5/4, but being able to play rocking fills in 5/4 too! He was in.
Drew also made a point of bringing his little Tascam 4-track (neatly packed in a suitcase) to every rehearsal as a matter of course. Our improvisations were sometimes the genesis of our songs, and often better than the songs! Drew recorded them all."

BELOW: Carrie Barclay in Jonathan Hess's basement practice space, one of our most creative places, and the location for some classic Chotchke music. One of the few remaining shots taken in there. Everyone in the band played every instrument and sang as well, so there was a lot of rotation going on at gigs and in studio.
In January 1994 the Chotchke 7" single was released, our only solo effort.
I had taken a sabbatical from Chotchke in order to work on preproduction for the play Unconscious Rhymes For Our Times from November 1993 to July 1994, although I did appear with them once or twice as a guest during that hiatus. Another note here says that there was a notably awesome show at The Thirsty Swede in SF in September 1994.
At a Valentine's Day show in 1995 we were the hit act out of a six-band lineup, including the Thinking Fellers! Below this, I have a mention that Jacques Boyreau was on the Jon Stewart show Feb 26th, plugging his O.J. Simpson film festival at the Werepad.
On April 18th we played at the Great American Dance Hall, SF; our biggest stage ever, spread out way too far apart. I'll never forget the sound of that kick drum mic-test reverberating through the empty and huge room, pre-show. Not our finest moment live, but we did get video and a (weird) board mix, and backstage at the Great American you're always treated like kings.
On July 2nd we played at Bottom Of The Hill with Ovarian Trolley, and sold a 7" Chot record to Vale of Re/Search Magazine, a nice chap. das gave him a BCO CONSUMER CD (one of my fave BCO things) that same night. Vale told us that he wanted to start a Re/Search record label. Doesn't everyone?
In September 1995, we recorded our second 16trk session, and (in my opinion) our best, at Guerilla Euphonics (actually their third, they did one while I was out of the band briefly), produced by Miles Boisen.
In September Jonathan Hess left us, and we began to cast about for a new bass player.
The new gal, Kate Horn, joins to play bass and sing on March 8th, 1996.

LIVE SHOW NOTES by JONATHAN HESS:
"
We played on some good bills. We were lucky to play with Bill Direen, twice. The first one at The Thirsty Swede (formerly the Nightbreak, now a coffeeshop) was great. It was a warm night, a San Francisco rarity. Bill was playing as a two-piece with a super nice kiwi named Derrick. They were excellent. The contrast between his dead-serious music and our total foolishness was pretty sharp! This was also the only show where we had people (probably drummer Larry's well-oiled friends) 'thrashin' in the pit', which an amused Jon Arnold remarked on mid-song.

We played a great show with Jad Fair at the same place. His band liked us, and told me they were sad that we weren't supporting them there on their second night. We usually made other bands sound good.

We were lucky to play a bunch with The Thinking Fellers. We were kindred spirits, for sure (except they were about a million times more talented)!

I loved the show at the C&W Saloon with Horsey from Vancouver. Bananafish obsessives might know that the drummer 'was' Pork Queen (is this obscure enough yet?). Horsey was excellent.

We did a few shows with Zsmizlina, {that's Zmrzlina, actually, Jonathan, lol! No one EVER knew how to spell that band's name!} who were always great, also kindred spirits for sure, and should have been on that Tiny Idols thing. Jeff Ray was really nice to ask us to re-form for his Mission Creek {Music Festival} wingding. That reunion was one of my favorite-ever gigs, with great bands on the bill (The Weegs in particular). Thanks Jeff!

The Valentine's Day show was great too - we actually were sort of a hit! I was out of the band for the next year's show by the same promoters, but I attended. That was the one where the band walked out in disgust. {mentioned by me in the BCO chapter- Drew} I think it was because the start time for the band kept getting bumped later and later for a bunch of lame skits and crap. I must say I was glad not to have had to deal with that!

The gig I saw with Kate (my replacement on bass) playing at the Bottom of the Hill was undoubtedly the best-ever Chotchke performance I've ever seen, definitely in terms of songwriting and tightness, good vocals... sigh! It was also the start of a wonderful friendship with Kate."


In June 1996, Chotchke goes on tour from California to Canada, opening for the Thinking Fellers Union Local 282.
No sooner had Kate settled in a bit and learned our (kinda tricky!) songs, then we dragged her out to road-test her. I had done this route once before with BCO in 1991, so I played some of the same places, traveled some of the same roads.
For instance, it says here in the journal, in Eugene OR., I met 'Don', who had seen BCO when we'd come through. And probably his ears were never the same, lol.
I see here that I enjoyed shopping at the humongous Powell's Bookstore in Portland while we were there, although my tongue was hanging out at all of the books that I had always wanted just sitting there. We sold lots of Chotchke product at Satyricon in Portland, it says.
BELOW: Mt. Shasta
Refueling the Leisure Slug, as it was known, our borrowed camper. You should click on this and look at it larger to see how Kate is drawing the stares of the local boys.
A Touring Montage. Granny's attic piled up with Chotchkeites, Carrie at the table, Kate in a park in Eugene, Kate und Jon, and Jon (Pappy) Fellman of Wandering Stars fame in the snappy Ultraman shirt.
In Vancouver, where we turned around for home, we discovered that the local strippers shave their bushes into a maple-leaf.
Seattle and Portland were our best shows of the tour, with Seattle being particularly memorable. Kate and Carrie and I were all very dressed up in beautiful skirts. I was still in mine when I loaded the drumkit out, and thought I was going to rip it. We often stayed with sweet people as we passed through towns, and in Seattle we got an extra nice breakfast where we were put up.
In Oregon driving home we had to slow down as the highway was covered with women's shoes. (Really!)

A TOUR STORY FROM CARRIE BARCLAY:

Near the end of the tour, we were sleeping in the camper, and I think Kate was in a hotel room with Mark. I was sleeping in the "coffin", the small, box-like bed above the table. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling queasy. I also noticed that no one was snoring, which was unusual for this group. So I got up and went outside. As soon as I opened the door, fresh air rushed in and I noticed the camper smelled of gas. I opened all the windows and the door to air it out. I shut off the gas for a burner on the stove that somehow was accidentally turned on. I saved everyone's life. No one woke up.

I then decided to use the bathroom. I turned on a switch for the water pump, which started pumping even though I had not flushed and no water was on. Something was wrong. I soon discovered that the shower was accidentally on. Our equipment was stored in the shower, and was probably soaked. Still, no one woke up. Unfortunately, Pappy's brand-new acupuncture book from Powell's and his amp were damaged.


BELOW:
Another shot from our tour in '96, at Kathy's house in Oregon, as published in Snipehunt.

A gallery of Chotchke posters, most of them custom, limited-edition versions. With the cowboy ghost, the Chotchkefish, the Chotchketoast, and the baked potato!
After finishing the first draft of this blog chapter, I remembered that I have a long and detailed journal entry about the PURPLE ONION gig on July 17th, 1993, much more informative than a lot of them, and I had to add it in here, as it was such a funny night. We played two gigs in a row that weekend, and here's an edit of the diary entry:
"...The other (three) bands were all bad, although one of them contained the chap who'll be putting out our single soon, so we were nice to him. { Brutal!} The owner of the club is Tom Guido, who we'd heard many stories about, and is fast attaining 'Legendary Asshole' status about town. He was indeed everything and more in one delightful psychotic package.
First, das {who mixed for us in 1993} had a run-in with him when he asked for a third mic, and (again) later when he tried to set the mixer for us. The guy (Tom) was clearly a loony. Cliff {friend of mine and BCO member} wanted to hurt him- after we got paid- and so on. Good crowd, Laurance, Ericka, Ramona, Kate, Lucija {friends and some BCO people}. Our set was something all right.
Tom was on us from the beginning. Jonathan couldn't get the other band's bass amp to come on for him, and Tom was like, "Hurry up! Come on!" (He) wouldn't get off the mic all night. Obviously really wanted people to know that he was the real star of his club. He's bringing you all of this incredible talent, you know.
Jonathan had many witty comments that night {I'll bet he did}-- "It's like the mid-'80s version of the '60s." Which was right on target. People came {to the club} dressed in 'pseudo-'60s beat drag'. Ugh. Actually I like that look, but only if done well- the decor didn't support it. Guido doesn't have a clue, obviously, how to run a neat club. Too bad, it's a nice space.
Anyway, the set went lurching along, with this weird, disturbing, drunken punk energy. Then Jonathan broke one, and then another bass string. Jeez!
Jon and I hollered for him to get Panic Ear Service's bass player to lend him his bass, which {was done}- but by now, impatient ol' Tom was announcing the next band! We had played almost a sets-worth, anyway.
But Jon, bless 'im, called out the Space Journey song, an inspired choice, and poor Jonathan could hardly play it on this differently-tuned, etc. bass. Pappy was already freaked from Tom picking on him all night ({calling him} "Mr. Chameleon")
But he kept playing. Tom shut off the mics. And touched Jonathan's arm- but he and I stayed locked in that fuckin' groove. By this time in the set the crowd were totally with us and loving it. 'Cuz it was something really happening.
Spontaneous and aggressive. Amazingly, Guido turned Jon's mic on again in mid-song. I'll give him a point for that at least. So we did an incredible (if not musically) version of that song as the finish of the Chotchke journey...Quite a night... Jon and Shanna go to New Zealand and Indonesia for three months starting tomorrow, so we'll be a four-piece for a while..."

SNIPEHUNT interview, by Kathy Malloy, from the Summer 1996 issue, done during our tour. Pretty funny stuff. Jon's answers crack me up. I still wonder why Kate's face was burned-out of the band photo, though.
The multi-instrumental and super talented Carrie Barclay in my studio, on tiny bass guitar and, perhaps from an NBC session, on bassoon (she's featured heavily on the HAND IN MY HEAD cd by NBC). Here's a video of a show in which she appears.
Two of my favorite band posters ever, during a later period when I was getting very experimental and wacky. The 'petroglyph' poster was based on an actual photo of ancient Amerindian markings; the 'sand-drawing' poster was my first upside-down poster, which could be hung on a pole either direction. I had a vision of a little girl drawing a logo in the sand, and had to draw it, whether it was readable or not.

Jon and Carrie, and Pappy and Jon, rehearsing in my studio. Probably from a period where we were in-between rehearsal spaces. Jon playing drums, which he didn't get to do often enough in the band- usually trapped on guitar, as he was so damned good at that, and Carrie playing my baby-practice-bass, with her bassoon laying on the floor at her feet.
Below are five of the custom/one of a kind cassette packages that I made for sale at AQUARIUS records in SF. The tape case was sealed inside of the ham can, for instance, and on the others, just hot-glued onto the thing. I love this kind of crap. And it re-uses weird old stuff that's basically junk otherwise. I bet these K7s had some cool stuff on 'em, too.
For this 1995 Chot gig, I was pressed for time, and in order to save layout and printing time, and trees, I thought wouldn't it be great to do recycled promo cards for the show. Housemate das had thrown out a pile of index cards that he'd retired some time before, and I saved, many of them still with writing all over one side. Then I made up a custom stamp with some gig info, and used our existing Chotchke 'Botan' mascot rubber stamp. These are some of my favorite band promo items, as they were all unique, I made a ton of them to leave around town, and didn't burn through any new paper to do it.
Eventually, Pappy and Carrie left, Jonathan re-joined, Pete Jay came in on guitar, and much later it was down to Jon and Kate and I by 1998, and soon we gave it up altogether.
There are a bunch of gigs and personnel changes between 1997 and 1998 that I hope to tell more about with the help of the band, who I'm hoping will write some new entries for this blog, coming soon.
In 2003 we were asked to do a reunion show, and that lineup had 'everyone' in it. Jon, Kate, Carrie, John, Jonathan and I. I found re-learning my old songs much harder than I'd expected. I had gotten very rusty not playing drums twice a week anymore.
BELOW:
The three-song seven-inch release from ECHONET. With a cover drawing by me, and all of our arms in the Bassoonshiva on the back. Great stuff. I play music box and propane tank on it, among other things.



Chotchke
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Below are the two compilation lps that Chotchke appear on. The first one, Night Of The Living Dead Vinyl, from author Jacques Boyreau's Massacre At Central High record label, had (uncredited) production assistance from me on the insert card layout, and also in gleaning samples of dialogue from the movie's soundtrack. Chotchke were disguised as ZOMBU for this record, and our lineup included Margaret Murray on oboe, from the original six-piece Chotchke lineup. To our eternal dismay, the song that we worked so hard on for this record ended up being mastered at a slower speed than when it was given to Jacques. So, if you own, or ever plan to own this lp (and it's pretty good, too), just pitch your record player up a couple or three percent to hear the Prelude to the Night of the Living Dead Vinyl/Mood Swing as it was meant to be.
This next compilation features a Chotchke cut co-written by the band when I was in it, but the version that appears on the record was from a studio session when I had taken a six-month leave of absence from Chotchke to do the play Unconscious Rhymes For Our Times, and was replaced in the band by Larry Hendersen. However, I did do a bunch of bizarre and funny segue-pieces for the record with Ramona Banzaca, some of which were used on it. I also mixed the (terrible quality) four track tape at my studio with Jacques, that he'd received from Railroad Jerk to be put on the lp. And, gosh, I'd almost forgotten- I'm also on the Dimebag Child cuts on here, playing percussion and noise. The two songs were arranged (very nicely) by Jon Arnold, of Chotchke, and also starred Deb Fox. Good grief what a convoluted story. Wow, I haven't played those (Dimebag Child) songs in a long time, and I really like one of 'em a lot.
The 2005 compilation CD of Bay Area early-'90s bands that Chotchke appear on (Same Mistake, cut #3), from Snowglobe Records. A BlogSpot location for the fellow that began this comp. series is here.
A Chotchke T-Shirt, with the rarely-used hand-lettered logo. Mainly sold on our tour, there was only one pressing of them, unlike the BCO T-shirts which were printed over and over.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Geez, someone's gotta comment.

Uh, great additional writing from the bass player, who's also handsome and smart.

best wishes,

not the bass player

11:41 PM  
Blogger mindwrecker said...

Thanks for commenting.
Ditto on your opinion, from me
-----
the Editor

10:57 AM  

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