Thursday, February 28, 2008

Make the Collector Nerd Sweat (Part 1)

Whenever it becomes time to update the old resume, there are a few things I leave off. Hospital graveyard shift worker -- doesn't make it. World's crappiest busboy -- no. Uninspired freelance PR flak (for a few soulless weeks in college), definitely not. Master of the electric bull -- well, possibly.

Also left off: record label magnate. But indeed, for a couple years in the early '90s, I was joint proprietor of Tucson, Arizona's Ghost Town Records.

Ghost Town was started by my high school friend Daron, to put out records by his band (Soulfish) and other friends' bands. Not sure how I was recruited -- maybe because I had an aura of responsibility, maybe just because I was around all the time. We had visions of starting another Dischord, with all that entails -- legendary releases through the years, the Tucson hardcore scene growing into one spoken of with reverence, etc. It sounds foolish now, but we were 18, isolated, and had idealism to spare.



Our first record was a split 7" between Groundwork and Suspended Animation, two bands with a pretty deeply intertwined relationship -- as best I can remember (deep breath) Brendan was lead singer of SA, quit, Dave (SA's guitarist) took over vocal duties, Brendan started posi/straight-edge band Upside with a few other guys, they decided to make it an animal rights/straight-edge band so they broke up Upside, added Dave to that lineup on guitar, started Groundwork, and SA broke up. Something like that. So the record was a transition of sorts, the last recordings from Suspended Animation and the first from Groundwork.

We were a bit too proud to ask anyone who had done this before for help, but we muddled through, got our edition of 500 vinyl records, got our recycled-paper covers (Groundwork bassist Britt and my brother did the art for the Groundwork side; I think SA's drummer did it on that side), got our Pagemaker-laid-out ads off to MRR. Several mail-order customers admitted they ordered it just because the ad's photo showed Dave wearing a Chain of Strength t-shirt, so we apparently had some canny marketing abilities.



I'm pretty sure we only sent off two review copies (we didn't have many to spare) -- one to Maximum Rock 'n' Roll, one to No Answers. No Answers never published another issue, and after we had excited and anticipatory late-night discussions about the MRR review (maybe Mick Krash would do it!), that turned out to be a pan. As I recall, Groundwork was dismissed as typical straight-edge, Suspended Animation was criticized for the song lyric "casual sex is a sin." Privately, most of us were embarrassed by that lyric, but it upset our finely-honed teenage senses of justice to hear someone else criticize it.

Slowly, though, the batch (hand-numbered -- I just checked and I have #2/500) sold out. (collector note: the lyric sheet features a cameo appearance by yours truly, looking rather shocked in the upper left corner, over Brendan's shoulder -- I was probably wearing the same Turning Point t-shirt that I'm wearing in every single photo from my senior year of high school) Meanwhile, though, our dreams of Tucson as Hardcore Capital of the World were getting smushed -- Groundwork was first discussing a move to California (with the goal of getting on New Age Records, largely forgotten now but a churner-out of crap in the 1990s), then hooking up with some sketchy Italian label for their second release. This didn't happen to Ian and Jeff!

Groundwork went on to be a pretty solid hardcore band -- I think at this point I can say without bias that they were a cut above most bands in a similar boat at the time. They went on to make a name for themselves, in minor circles, with increasingly political lyrics and good songwriting, while also being frequently self-defeating (frequent within-band fights, Britt quitting just as they were getting bigger, etc). At times, they drank a little too deeply at the Downcast well for my tastes, but that's part of small-town scenes -- you're always looking at the bigger boys. After the Ghost Town release, they recorded the aforementioned Italian single, then moved on to Bloodlink Records, which put out another 7", another split, and then a full-length LP after they broke up. A discography CD came out at some point, but seems to be long out of print (and as I recall, it didn't have the split 7" tracks -- Britt and I tossed around the idea of putting out those songs and an unreleased demo as a 10", but it never came to anything).

The post-mortem: Brendan went on to be in Absinthe (who were fantastic -- their limited output is among that rare subsection of hardcore that I can still listen to today, and a Los Crudos/Absinthe bill remains one of the best hardcore shows I saw back in those days) and then Bury Me Standing (sort of after my time); Dave was in Soulfish and later 400 Years, who put out a couple things on Lovitt Records; Britt was in Asunder a few years back and had moved up to Seattle last I talked to him; drummer Thayer was DJing last I heard (many years back).

One more side note: during one of Groundwork's semi-frequent schisms, Brendan, Britt, Thayer, and Jerid (who later became Britt's replacement on bass and then second guitarist) formed Sackcloth and Ashes, and recorded one song for a compilation which I hope to god never did come out. Heavy hardcore, over-serious and uninformed political lyrics, and alternating between Brendan doing grindy vocals and me shrieking like Doc Dart (another reference!). It really cemented a simple truth: I wasn't cut out for bands.

(This is taking much longer than I anticipated, and I've got things to do -- so -- TUNE IN TOMORROW FOR PART TWO.)

12 comments:

Brushback said...

Oddly enough, there was also a Ct. HC band in the 90's called Groundwork, if I'm not mistaken.

Brushback said...

Holy shit-- you sang on a recording?

That's gotta be something to hear.

gsdgsd13 said...

Actually -- the Connecticut Groundwork was one of the little sidenotes that I meant to mention. They were known down in Tucson, with some nervousness -- but none of us ever saw anything by them come out. But, in our naive way, we worried about the prospect of major lawsuits over the band name.

There was one funny moment when some Phoenix hardcore dude called one of the Groundwork guys, pretending to be one of the CT band's members, and saying he was driving to Tucson to kick everyone's ass.

Yeah, I sang. I don't have a recording of it... I don't know anyone who would except perhaps my brother. A moot point, because there's no way in hell I'd ever let anyone hear it. Just imagine... badness.

Brushback said...

There was at least a 7" EP from the Ct. Groundwork (maybe it was a split); I'll have to dig it up someday.

gsdgsd13 said...

I'd definitely be interested in hearing it -- after all these years, I'd get a little closure.

Brushback said...

I might post that Groundwork record eventually, although it's probably total crap, and I'm all about kwality.

Timmytims said...

"God is unjust, we are not right"

gsdgsd13 said...

"God is unjust, we are not right"

Quiet, you, or I figure out how to rip ABCM mp3s.

Anonymous said...

Greg -
This is pretty funny stuff. Memories of days gone by...
I would actually like to chat with you about some of this, you should get in touch.
Cheers,
Brendan

Anonymous said...

Hey, Greg:
I'm working on a book about 90s Hardcore (www.myspace.com/90shardcore). Brendan told me to drop you a line about Groundwork pics/flyers and other general 90s hardcore stuff. Drop me a line either at the My Space or at 90shardcore@gmail.com if you can help. Thanks!
Brian

Scott Beibin + His Amazing Friends said...

Hey Greg

I've been writing a bit about the history of Bloodlink Records, and there's a whole section on groundwork of course..

get in touch
Scott Beibin
(bloodlink records)

Anonymous said...

Late to the party here...

The CT Groundwork was on a comp from 1992(?), a two song 7", and an 11 or 12 song CD. I played drums.

I have about 400 copies of the CD. The guy that pressed it was pretty ambitious considering when it came out, we hadn't played in three years.

The singer from the CT Groundwork received an amusing phone call from someone in the AZ Groundwork regarding the phone call mentioned above. Guy was pretty bent.