GRÓA – “GRÓA” (2018)

I don’t usually write about CD-only releases.  After all, the blog is called Life in the Vinyl Lane, and my backlog of vinyl is more than adequate to allow me to post once a day if I wanted to.  But let’s be real – putting out your album on vinyl is expensive, even if it’s a 7″, and most stuff hits the streets either digitally or on CD.  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  Every now and again, though, I run across a CD that blows me away, and when that happens I feel compelled to tell you all about it.

The new seven-song CD by GRÓA is one of those albums.

I got this from my buddy Gestur over at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, who I give carte blanche to add any CDs to my vinyl orders that he thinks I might like.  And most of them I do like.  Occasionally though I find one that I love.  And that’s why I’m here writing about GRÓA as I sit down to listen to it for the third time in a row.

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If you look at the cover of GRÓA you’d be forgiven for assuming this is punk or some kind of extreme metal.  But while there is some punk attitude, it’s more indie to my ears.  The band is comprised of three young women who are still in high school, none of whom played anything other than piano before forming this band and making it all the way to the finals of Músíktilraunanna, Iceland’s annual battle of the bands.  It’s hard to believe they got this good this fast, but I’m sitting here listening to the evidence with my own ears.  I generally focus on albums as opposed to singles, but if I was picking a Top Song of 2018 I guarantee you that “Ocean Is Amber” (♠) would make the Top 5 and would be a strong contender for the top spot.  The verses undulate and the choruses explode.  There’s a hint of funkiness to the rhythm (and if you want to hear them get really funky, check out “Eoeo”) that is a perfect foil to the angsty vocals in the chorus.  Other times they’re darker and punkier, most notably on “Fimmta Lagið”.

You can listen to GRÓA and buy a digital copy and their label’s Bandcamp page HERE.  I’m not sure about tracking down a copy of the physical CD – that might require a bit more effort.

(♠)  As soon as I heard “Ocean Is Amber” I was sure I’d heard it before, but I knew I’d never seen GRÓA perform live.  Turns out the song was included on the comp Drullumall #1, which I also highly recommend.  It was put out by the same label, so you can check it out at their Bandcamp page as well.

Green Ice – “Green Ice” (1986)

greeniceMrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane took a Saturday class a few weeks ago, so I thought I’d use that time to do some deep digging up at Silver Platters in Lynnwood.  Travis from Guerilla Candy popped on by and we spent a couple of hours flipping through the vinyl together and catching up.  For whatever reason my eyes kept landing on somewhat obscure Seattle-area bands like Childzplay, The Hitmen, and Correna.  I also came across this nugget from my side of the lake, Bellevue’s own Green Ice.  All of them went into my stack because I’m all about the little-known local stuff.

I spet some time online last weekend trying to track down something, ANYTHING, about Green Ice, but basically came up blank.  There’s a Bellevue mailing address on the back of the album and a look at Google Maps revealed it to be a house just off of 156th Avenue.  Without exaggerating I’ve driven by this house at least 200 times in my life.  Sometimes it feels like a small world.  But other than that address (♣) I came up blank, mostly finding references to Green River or a Seattle-based funk band that also goes by Green Ice.  Strikes one and two.

But it seems like we’re all connected digitally these days, and pulling a few threads got me to what I thought might be Green Ice bassist Pat Nipert.  And sure enough, it was.  And Pat was nice enough to indulge me in a few questions about his former band.  So without further ado, I give you the Patrick Nipert interview!

Patrick, tell us a bit about how Green Ice formed and how the band members knew one another.

Rick Sinclair Mangan put an ad in The Rocket (the equivalent of The Stranger back then). I answered it and we went through a couple drummers and guitar players before we found lead guitarist Mark O’Brien from Boston and drummer Randy Sangder from the Aberdeen area. The four of us all became fast friends quite quickly, but Rick and I in particular remain close to this day. Basically we found everyone through Rocket ads.

How did the four-song self-titled Green Ice record come to be? Was this the only thing the band recorded?

We were writing prolifically being primarily an original act, though we did a handful of covers. I think we settled on “Breakdown at Geneva” as the EP opener because it was our most popular/requested song at shows. The other three went over well at shows as well, but I think we pretty much selected them because we personally liked them. If memory serves, we had “Shattered Eyes”, “Color Blue” and “Talking in Tongues”. Rick and I both sang lead on the various songs. We recorded at Reciprocal Recording in Ballard (had previously been Triangle Studio). The engineer, Chris (I can’t recall the spelling of his last name, but I believe we credited him on the sleeve) (♠) seemed quite excited about us and was playing us for quite a few of the other bands coming in to record. He said the pop bands said we were too heavy and the heavy bands said we were too pop, so I suspect we were in some Netherland. The band mates always had a great deal of autonomy with their parts, so we’d let Mark O’Brien build his own ideas into the music. He played everything on a paisley Telecaster. Sangder was a very clever drummer and from a bass player’s perspective… very easy to sync with. We pressed the EP at Imperial Records in Vancouver, Canada. Our engineer up there was a Vietnamese guy who talked like John Wayne. Doesn’t get any cooler than that. We recorded yet another EP at Imperial Records as well, but never quite clearly completed it. It’s still in the cans somewhere. We were just finishing up that EP when the band played a show in Philadelphia, where we opened for the Psychedelic Furs. That quite a moment for us, but life was twisting us in different directions right then. And it turned out to be our last show.

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Green Ice (left to right):  Mark O’Brien, Pat Nipert, Randy Sangder, and
Rick Sinclair (Mangan)

To my ears Green Ice has a very college radio/indie vibe from that time period. At the same time you recorded it, though, grunge was starting to bubble under through bands like Green River. We’re you guys aware of what was going on on the other side of the lake in Seattle?

We were aware of some of the grunge stuff developing though I don’t think it was being called that at the time. I think we thought of it as being more garage band stuff at the time or just heavier edged stuff. We were playing showcases with three bands in a show, so we were playing with a wide range of Seattle area bands down in Seattle clubs like Astor Park, the Central, the Hall of Fame and others, so we were aware of the scene around us.

What eventually came of Green Ice? Were you involved in any other bands after Green Ice’s demise?

As I mentioned we ended up splitting up after opening for the Psychedelic Furs in Philadelphia. Rick wanted to head to England with me to try and push our music over in that area of the world, but my life was simply not going in that direction at that point in time. So, things split up and that was kind of rough because we were tight. We ended up back together in the 90’s playing original music again. We created a CD or two. Then Rick and I got together again in the last five years now where we’ve been playing together In an Irish folk rock band. So that’s been our most recent project. A combination of Irish originals and standards. It’s allowed us to keep playing out and most importantly to keep writing new stuff, though Irish flavored. 

What are you listening to these days? Are you still playing the bass?

My musical tastes have always been pretty focused. The Church, Beatles, Badfinger, Al Stewart, and a range of others. And as mentioned above, still playing bass, guitar, and singing… though with a flare that harkens to me Irish roots.

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Within a couple of hours of hearing from Pat, I got a note from guitarist Rick Sinclair (Mangan) who actually doesn’t live too far away from me.  I asked Pat about that desire to take Green Ice to the UK.  “We never got that serious about the idea, we were broke 20-somethings,” Rick told me.  “But we did often talk about how much better it would be, or so we thought, in that demographic.  We were really growing into our sound, just when we broke up.  I think we would have gotten more attention if we’d just stuck it out for a few more years.”  And after listening to Green Ice, i agree with Rick.  The overall sound reminds me a lot of the indie/college radio stuff I was hearing on KNDD in the early 1990s.  They were a bit ahead of their time, and not hard enough to have been swept up in the grunge thing when it came to pass and every Seattle-area band with an electric guitar was getting signed to a major label deal.

If you have fond memories of the early alt/indie scene, you’ll definitely enjoy Green Ice.  And who knows… maybe those lost recordings will surface someday?  I know I’d love to hear them if they do.

(♣)  I later learned that the Bellevue address was a house that Rick Sinclair was renting at the time.  “Kind of a temporary address to put on an album, now thinking about it,” Rick said when I asked him about it.  That’s true… but it’s also true that in the pre-internet era if you were an indie band putting out your own record as an audio calling card, you wanted to help people track you down.  That’s how it was back in the day, kids.  You had to send people letters, and hopefully they’d be forwarded if the person moved.

(♠)  This was none other than Chris Hanzsek, co-founder of C/Z Records and a guy who recorded and/or produced a lot of Seattle’s grunge bands before the scene broke.  The compilation Deep Six is one of the most important landmarks in grunge. 

Mecca Normal – “Calico Kills The Cat” (1988)

One woman said,
“I don’t like the way things are going.”
One woman said,
“I think I’ll change it all.”
— “One Woman”

meccanormalcalico

This encapsulates the Riot Grrrl dream.  The Riot Grrrls didn’t get there, because society moves slowly, like a glacier.  But it was a step in the right direction.  Today we have #MeToo.  We’re continuing to make progress.  It’s just sad that after this many years we still have so far to go.

Mecca Normal were a duo from Vancouver, BC, and their sophomore album Calico Kills The Cat was released on Olympia, Washington’s forward-thinking label K Records.  I’m not sure I can truly say that Mecca Normal remind me of anyone else.  The songs are simple – David Lester on guitar and Jean Smith doing vocals.  That’s basically it.  You don’t even notice the true simplicity of their sound until you focus on it, because you’re so focused on Smith’s forceful and agitated singing.

Their songs are forceful and message-driven.  There’s an honesty here that runs deep.  And I like everything about it.

“F-R-5” Compilation (1987)

fr5I only made one record store stop on our trip to Denver, spending an hour or so over at Twist & Shout Records.  I highly recommend it – the selection of vinyl, CDs, and even books was top notch and the prices were reasonable.  Oddly enough after all that time all four of the records I walked out with came from a relatively small selection of punk compilations.  That little section was a gold mine.

I had no intentions of writing about F-R-5, planning on just enjoying it instead.  That is until I heard the opening track by Undecided (“Complications”), and then the absolutely mind-blowing cover of “Scarborough Fair” by Afraid of Clowns.  I couldn’t believe how outstanding this thing was!  The overall vibe is sort of college-radio-style-indie from that period, a bit or punk attitude but more lo-fi stripped down rock.

The bands all hail from the greater Virginia-Maryland-D.C. region and include a few well-known names like Scream and Government Issue.  A killer comp – highly recommended!

たろおみ – “たろおみの宿題” / Taroomi – “Taroomi No Shakudai” Cassette (2017)

I’m not much of a gambler.  I used to play poker with my friends in high school and college for pots made up entirely of loose change, and it was fun because over the course of an entire evening you’d lose maybe $10 if you really did poorly.  But poker ceased being fun maybe 15 or so years ago when it started appearing on TV and people got real serious about playing it, with all this talk of little blinds, big blinds, and buy-ins.  It all came to a head for me at a tournament a friend put together at his house where I ended up at a table with a lot of guys I didn’t know who were super serious about the whole thing.  The only thing fun about that evening was one guy in particular trying to decide if I was brilliant and trying to snow them all, or if I was really as bad as I appeared to be (answer – it was the latter).  As for Vegas, I’ve been there once in the last decade, on a trip for work, and I didn’t even so much as drop a quarter into a slot machine.  I’m the guy who goes to Vegas and has to pay for his booze.  Let’s be honest, those casinos aren’t there because there are ways for you to beat the house.  Frankly if I’m going to blow some cash, I’d rather just go to the record store.

Which is how I come to be playing this cassette last weekend.  A little over a week ago I was at Jet Set Records in Kyoto and I ran across a display of cassettes put out by Ocirco Records.  Given that I don’t read Japanese, I knew exactly nothing about these other than that the label the store put on them read “Indie/Rock”.  And if there’s one kind of gambling I DO like to do it’s rolling the dice on some random music, because worst case scenario I get to hear something new and still have the physical object which I could maybe sell or trade later.  So at ¥1,000 each (about $10 US) I figured I should pick one up, because why not?  It’s not like I’ll ever run across one of these at home.

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The one I grabbed is by an artist named Taroomi (たろおみ), 13-tracks of lo-fi weirdness recorded onto a standard Maxell 60 minute cassette, just like the kind we used to make mixtapes back in the day.  たろおみの宿題 is sort of bizarre, sounding very much like the kind of true indie music recorded in someone’s bedroom.  The recording quality itself is actually quite decent, with the songs themselves hard to pin down stylistically, though the whole thing has sort of a shoegaze vibe to it.  And I kind of like the fact that I don’t know what’s around the corner each time one song ends and another is about to begin.  As an added bonus it came with a download card inside because let’s be honest, how often does one have access to a tape player any more?

You, however, get the benefit of the power of the interwebs, because Ocirco Records posted this thing in its entirety on YouTube if you want to explore it.  It’s pretty cool, so you should definitely go give it a try.