Seeking "Spiritual Pollution"

To this day it still might be widely perceived that grunge’s northern reach ended at the 49th parallel in the early ’90s. That simply wasn’t the case though. Signed to Reprise/Warner in 1991 based a single demo tape, Vancouver’s Pure achieved the bulk of their success based on their 1992 full-length debut, Pureafunalia. Produced by Talking Heads keyboardist Jerry Harrison, the album relied heavily on many rock standards of the time, leading Roch Parisien of All Music to explain how Pureafunalia boasts “an anarchic, punk attitude, tight funky rhythms, a splash of 60s psych, and great big hooks combine to beat such British bands as EMF and Jesus Jones at their own game.” Two of the band’s music videos from the release, “Pure” and “Blast,” were nominated for the “Best Alternative Video” award at the 1993 Much Music Video Awards, with Pure’s “Blast” beating out the likes of Sloan to win the award. If the extent of the band’s success can be measured by one single factoid, however, it’s that their track “Tennis Ball” was featured on the soundtrack to BASEketball in 1996. As far as I’m concerned, by that fact alone they were gods among men.

Of those two songs, “Pure” and “Blast,” when hearing them now, I prefer the smoother sounding “Pure,” but I don’t recall listening to them all that much at the time. Same goes for the Soundgarden-y “Greedy,” which was also accompanied with a music video. The song from Pureafunalia that struck me as the most brilliant at the time and has since stuck with me the longest is “Spiritual Pollution.” The track boasts an entirely different vibe than “Blast” or “Pure,” with its infectious guitar riff leading into a simplistic handclap-based rhythm and an earworm of a chorus that never seems to grow old to me. To this day it makes me smile.

There’s a lingering thorn in my side regarding the song though: its corresponding music video has apparently been forgotten by history. Or at least history as far as the Internet’s concerned. I remember it to be hip enough (hip at the time, mind you) that it became an event for me every time Much Music would play it. If a VJ mentioned that it’d be coming up in a playlist, either before the next commercial break or sometime during the next 24 hours, I remained glued to the TV set so I could check it out. (Admittedly, as an elementary school student at the time, this wreaked havoc on my grades.) Yet despite holding such a positive role in my memory bank, it’s apparently nowhere to be found online.

Many of Pure’s early albums are available for streaming online, as are a number of other music videos from the band: “Anna is a Speed Freak” (which was banned on Much Music at one time), “Feverish,” “Me and the Almost Beautiful Girl” and “Chocolate Bar” (which is my second favorite Pure song) joining those previously mentioned. While there was apparently a version of it on YouTube at one point in time, the closest thing to the video that can presently be found online resides on on Pure’s MySpace page. “With a little interview at the front end, this was the lowedst [sic] budget video we made for the Pureafunalia album. Strobes are nice.” But the fucking visuals have been disabled. What gives?

Well, during the hours (yyyyyup, I’ve literally spent a couple of hours trying to track this thing down) of searching online as well as emailing and messaging people with the hope that someone would reply with a tip, I dedicated a bit of time reading the group’s blog posts and scanning the bulk of their MySpace comments. From what I’ve found, the reason the video is nowhere to be found is due to a combination of issues. Writing on Christine Leakey‘s MySpace page, a representative of Pure commented some 357 days ago, “hi Christine, this myspace page is locked now. Apparently the all powerful WMG has their software scanning all uploads and we triggered it. There are a lot more songs on if you use that site.” To which Leakey responded, “damn.. that is so wrong! warner did the same thing to mike trebilcock. he is unable to upload any of HIS music from the killjoys to put on his page.” (An aside: I was also looking for the music video for “Rave & Drool” by the Killjoys this past week… it, too, is absent from the Internet.) Blog posts “Majors vs. Youtube” (Feb. 10, 2009) and “The songs are missing” (March 19, 2009) both explain a bit about the difficult time the band has had dealing with Warner’s blind deletion of their music. A message from “Mark” (possibly Mark Henning who was the band’s keyboardist before quitting in 1994) in the latter read, “For whatever reason, it seems that Warner’s Music Group has tightened its hold on the digital community and now our songs, which have been so happily playing on this site for over two years, are gone.”

In general, it’s really hard to overlook this instance DMCA bullshittery, especially given the minimal number of people who are likely out there trying to view ripped versions of VHS videos taped from late night cable broadcasts, but this one especially pisses me the fuck off. Why? Because, simply put, “Spiritual Pollution” was maaad bonkers back in its day, and anyone who cares enough to want to check the video out nearly two decades later should be able to. Done deal. So, if for whatever reason, this blog post reaches someone who has a digital copy of the video, an old VHS tape, or even a lead as to where I might be able to view it, let me know in the comments or send me an email. In an unlikely move considering today’s everything’s-free culture, I’d also like to mention that I’m willing to pay for it. (Update: It's now online, available below.)

[This article first appeared on Tsururadio.]

Spin Doctors “Pocket Full of Kryptonite”

All that jive about first impressions being the most important moment in a relationship and you’re kicking things off with the Spin Doctors? Really?


For a brief period of time the Spin Doctors were, as the kids say (actually, I can’t vouch for the kids, but I say this quite frequently; kids around the world would be wise to follow suit), trill as fuck; they covered Rolling Stone when doing so still mattered and had more than one platinum album in the States despite being largely known for a single pair of songs. If you want a history lesson on the band, check out their Wikipedia page (now with 100% more John Popper references!), or this post on Consequence of Sound which pretty much covers the exact same stuff. That’s not what I’m interested in though. What I know, love, and (surprisingly still) remember about the band is their five times fucking platinum album, Pocket Full of Kryptonite. OK, but why introduce the series with it? Well, here’s the context:

I was in grade school when the album was first released in 1991, but likely didn’t own it until around 1993 when the band struck commercial gold with “Two Princes” (which for years I thought was called “Two Princesses”) and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” Though I hadn’t quite reached the point in my life where my Walkman (and later, my Discman) traveled with me everywhere I went, this was the period of my young adolescence when I was first introduced to Columbia House Records. I remember scanning the massive mail-outs they would send, each page more colorful than the last, tearing off the little stamp-sized album identifiers, licking them, and slapping them on the order form. For those who aren’t familiar, Columbia House was kinda like a drug dealer that people hated but still buttered up to when they needed a cheap fix. The old adage “the first one’s free, but the next one will cost ya” was never as true as it was with those shady bastards: get a dozen tapes (later CDs) for just one cent! (small print: “you better enjoy ‘em, because for the next seven we’re going to financially rape the shit out of you™”). Anyways, I don’t remember which other tapes I received on that particular go-around with the company, but I do remember sometime later walking through a field with a friend who was on my hockey team, discussing who our favorite bands were. His name was Matt and he loved him some Aerosmith. Come to think of it, we both owned Big Ones at the time of said discussion, so it might have been 1994 when I first owned the tape. Regardless, my response to him was, of course, the Spin Doctors.

Looking back on it, I never fully understood how much of a jam-band they were. Even when I bought their second album (which I purchased from a pawn shop, re-sold, then re-purchased on at least two occasions), it didn’t sink in. Now knowing more of the genre (know thy enemy) it’s not hard to realize that Kryptonite meets the most basic of qualifications to be certified a jam-band record: the album has a fucking 13 minute song on it. Despite my contempt for the Phishes of the world (moreover, their fundamentalist fans), to this day I still think that monster “Shinbone Alley/Hard To Exist” is a solid listen (though perhaps only for nostalgia’s sake). The nine tracks that come before it, though, are where the bulk of my fondness remains.

Like my aforementioned back-and-forth with the group’s second album, the rather shitty (though I can’t actually remember actually listening to the whole thing from start to finish) Turn It Upside Down (which still went double-platinum), I had an ongoing problem with buying music, selling it when I needed money, and buying it again. The majority of the time this was done through some used CD stores, so I didn’t end up losing too much on the deal, but it was still a bonehead habit. I can recall having no fewer than five copies of Kryptonite in my life; the most recent being during my college years; none of which I still own. But what I do keep with me is my affection for the saucy riff and bouncing bass line that peels open the album on “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues,” the gentle simplicity of “Forty or Fifty,” the relative loudness which followed with “Refrigerator Car,” the cool harmonica-rock (I wasn’t kidding about the John Popper reference; the band came from the same scene in NY as Blues Traveler) of “Off My Line” and, of course, “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and my personal favorite “Two Princes(ses).”

Pocket Full of Kryptonite wasn’t the first tape or record I ever owned, but it remains one of the earliest which still sounds good to my years. The hope is that a lot of other music is shared in this ongoing feature, but there are few pieces which I will hold as near to me as this by the Spin Doctors. If you’ve made it this far, first: thank you. Second: why not share one of your first musical purchases that still bears relevance to you.

[This article first appeared on Tsururadio.]

William Tyler Interview

Last year’s release from Nashville’s William Tyler, Behold the Spirit, conjures immediate feelings of warmth. Without a rough edge in sight, the recording serves as one massive gallery, each track standing as a unique showcase for a thought, style, or emotion. Much of the power of the album comes as a result of the years of practice and training the guitarist has invested in his craft — while Behold the Spirit is the first recording of Tyler’s to be released under his own name, he has previously performed and recorded with the likes of Lambchop, the Silver Jews, and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, not to mention his previous solo work under the Paper Hats moniker. Pitchfork referred to the instrumental Behold the Spirit as a “sterling mixture of bravado and dexterity” — words that are true, yet only go so far in defining the remarkable craftsmanship behind Tyler’s immensely skilled fingerpicking. Recently speaking to Tyler via email, we discussed his style, the recording of Behold the Spirit, his memories of Charlie Louvin & a couple of items that remain on his bucket list.

NPR recently used the term “hired gun” when referring to your career—how you’ve floated around and performed with such a broad cast of musicians. Looking back on what you’ve accomplished thus far, what would you label yourself as in those terms?

William Tyler: Well, I hesitate to resort to weapons as metaphors, but I would certainly contend that I have spent many years in Nashville as a session player, both on the road and in the studio. In situations like my experiences with the Silver Jews or Lambchop it’s harder to define the exact role of a “sideman.” Obviously there are contours as to what is delegated and what is implied when you are in a band with a figure like Kurt [Wagner] or David [Berman]. I have been fortunate to usually be in musical situations where there was plenty of room for the players to assert themselves, more like playing in a jazz ensemble than a typical rock or country group.

Having played with so many different people, how did you go about deciding who would accompany you on YOUR album; the players who drift in and out of “Terrace of the Leper King” or the drummer on “The Green Pastures” for instance.

Honestly since I have been so blessed to play with a variety of musicians, many of whom live in Nashville, it wasn’t hard to find help! Scott Martin plays drums on the song you refer to. He is an astounding talent, plays drums with Lambchop, Cortney Tidwell, and a variety of Nashville ensembles like Forest Bride and Hands Off Cuba. With “Terrace” I had the idea to send the tapes to my friend Alex McManus, who plays guitar in Lambchop as well but who lives in Omaha. Alex has always been a hero of mine, a totally original guitar player and multi-instrumentalist. I just sent him the rough tracks and let him go to town, which he thankfully did, via brass and violin.

Is there any sort of narrative that floated through your head when recording the album? Do you feel like you’re ever trying to tell a story through your music?

Yes. Place and history are important themes to me. So are mysticism and language. Whenever they can intersect I find a lot of inspiration, as in the Aramaic speaking Christian enclaves that have buried themselves into the mountains outside of Damascus. Or the forgotten alphabet of the early Mormons, called “Deseret.” Or in a bizarre, hand illustrated nineteenth century spiritualist text “channeled” by a nineteenth century dentist, which is what “Oahspe” is based on. And so on…

Not being a musician myself, I really have no barometer for something like this, and for whatever reason I perceive this to be more difficult when dealing with a purely instrumental album, but how did you know when Behold the Spirit was complete?

Adam Bednarik (the engineer/co-producer) and I spent a lot of time going over each song and trying to deduce which ones needed embellishment and which ones would suffer from it. The recording of the album took a while, since we did it by financial necessity in a rather piecemeal fashion. I think letting the tracks sit for some time helped us with the perspective on what was too much in regards to arrangement. Songs like “Tears and Saints” sounded better left alone and then ones like “Green Pastures” that I really wanted to build up.

I believe you had the honor of playing with Charlie Louvin before he passed. Did you ever get to speak to him on a personal basis and is there anything you personally take away from his life?

I knew Charlie through the sessions for one of the Tompkins Square albums he did a couple of years ago. It was a collection of murder ballads, but throughout the course of the recording Charlie would come up with various off the cuff tunes he wanted to try. Old Louvin Brothers songs, country standards, etc. It was a dream realized. The Louvin Brothers are one of the only recording acts I honestly never get tired of listening to. They always provoke something pure and spiritual in me, some combination of totally sublime harmony and often tragically bleak lyrical themes. Working with him was fun for the most part. He cracked a lot of jokes and smoked a lot of cigarettes. I do remember him referring to gigs as “work.” As in “Where we working tonight?” as opposed to “Where are we playing tonight?”

I read a little about how you settled on using longer acrylic nails for your picking hand. That’s just one aspect of finding your comfort zone, but do you still finding yourself picking up new techniques or approaches to music or are you slowly settling into a pattern of consistency?

I think anytime I find myself settling into a pattern of consistency I start panicking. So while, yes, there is a certain framework of tools and methods that you need in order to be able to do linear things like touring or even recording an album, the musicians/writers/humans I most admire are the ones who refuse predictability. That’s not to say I won’t become incredibly predictable! I perhaps already have. But it’s hard to separate things like using a certain pick, or string gauge, or in my case acrylic nails, which are all tools, from things like finger picking patterns, tunings, or a new instrument, which I feel are all methods. You need your methods to be constantly evolving alongside new tools.

When you began toying with the idea of playing instruments you weren’t locked into the guitar; do you still experiment with other instruments at all? Think you’ll be transferring your skills to turntablism any time soon?

I just got a pedal steel. I told my parents two of my bucket list goals were to learn French and the pedal steel guitar. And I have a feeling neither one is going to be easy! I would like to move in different directions. It’s funny that you mention turntablism, because while I wouldn’t claim to begin to understand that world, I see some continuities between the folk music communities and the electronic communities. My friend Volker Zander, who released the first Paper Hats album, lives in Cologne and knows a lot of the Kompakt/A Musik/Sonig folks. Minimal techno to me isn’t really that far removed from folk guitar, it’s just that the tools and the instruments are different.

Terry Fox

I just finished watching the film about Terry Fox that Steve Nash helped create for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series (Into the Wind). His is a story that I’ve taken for granted—being Canadian it has always been there as long as I’ve been alive—but I suppose I was never of the mindset to appreciate the magnitude of what the man did. Looking back though, I’m not sure I ever really knew.

In the film’s closing moments a comment is made to the regard of us, as Canadians, being in an odd situation where we are constantly struggling to find our sense of identity. This is something I’ve thought a lot about. The longstanding American joke of us being tied solely to “eh”s and “aboot”s aside, the fact remains that there is so little that can be held onto, culturally, that is specifically Canadian that it can create a spiritual void in the construction of building a sense of self. There was a Molson commercial a few years back which tapped into this, but its popularity only aided in the absurdity of having to base one’s sense of national pride on calling a wool cap a tuque.

The purpose of bringing this up isn’t to begin to dissect any personal issues I’ve had with finding my own sense of self (a Canadian born to American parents who is raised under American customs while attempting to maintain an identity that reflects his homeland… how could that possibly lead to internal conflict?), but only to say that I feel now as though I was done a disservice along the way by not being reminded time and time again as to WHY Terry Fox is important. Perhaps at some point in elementary school I was shown a filmstrip or as a young child watched something on television attempting to explain why Terry Fox is important, but I don’t recall.

What I do know is that Terry Fox’s story offers something that isn’t given as much importance as it should. A young man, barely into his 20s, having had his right leg amputated due to cancer that had grown in it, overcoming that horrendous burden and pushing on to so something extraordinary. It has been nearly 31 years since Terry dipped his foot in the Atlantic before taking off on his journey. While his physical goal—running across Canada—was not met, Terry ran 3339 miles in 143 days before having to cut his attempt short. He didn’t stop because of injury or of lack of will. He stopped because cancer had returned, and had spread to his lungs. In those 31 years that passed, the Terry Fox Foundation has raised over 500 million dollars for cancer research. Perhaps this is just my own blind eye toward history becoming more apparent, but I still feel as though any point of celebration such as this man’s legacy should be reminded to near-redundancy. How this legendary story of triumph isn’t a platform for honest national pride and honored at every given opportunity by every media outlet worth a damn (not simply once a year, mind you), I don’t know.

To stand as a symbol of national pride, I feel as though that symbol—be it a person or an event—has to be something that can be proudly broadcast to the world as something that anyone anywhere can identify with. Terry’s test, not only of will but of his physical self, is something that anyone anywhere has to respect. Terry died at the age of 22. Now that I’m familiar with the man’s story, I hope that I can share it as not only a source of human triumph, but as a source of my native country’s symbols of identity. For myself, I hope that I can add that bit of history to the stack of information filed under: “If they can do it, you can do it too.”