Cell 7 – “Is Anybody Listening?” (2019)

Ragna Kjartansdóttir has been part of the Icelandic hip hop scene since its earliest days.  In 1996 she joined the Subterranean crew and rapid-fired rhymes on their seminal Central Magnetizm the following year, one of the first hip hop albums to come out of island enclave.  It’s an album that has held up remarkably well – classic beats, MCs jumping in and out with precision, and Kjartansdóttir’s female vocals offering a not only a reprieve from the testosterone but showing that she can more than hold her own.  Give a listen to “My Style Is Phreaky” and ” It’s tha Subta” and just try to call me a liar.  I dare you.  And that’s how the world got its first taste of Cell 7.

Another 16 years would pass before Ragna released her first solo album as Cell 7, 2013s CellF.  We caught her that same year at Iceland Airwaves, performing an impressive live set at Lucky Records, and we’ve kept tabs on her ever since.  The following year she was a guest MC at an awesome show by the reggae/hip hop RVK Soundsystem (below), owning the stage and making it clear she still had game.  Needless to say, when I heard she had a new album coming out in 2019, and even better she was crowdfunding a vinyl release, I signed up immediately.  And I’m glad I did, because not only is the record and packaging awesome, so too is the music.


Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane

RVK On Stage just published an in depth interview with Cell 7 HERE.  You should definitely check it out if you have any interest at all in the early hip hop scene in Iceland.  As for the review, I thought about writing something new about Is Anybody Listening? for the blog, but when I went back and re-read what I wrote for RVK On Stage I liked what I saw… so that review follows below.


I’m independent / I don’t have a crew, Cell7 tells us on “Don’t Care”.  And she clearly doesn’t need a crew these days, two decades on from her hip hop debut as part of the group Subterranean.  She was young then.  Today she’s a woman with adult responsibilities and children.  And she won’t put up with any nonsense.  Don’t be fuckin’ with my income / I don’t play / I don’t care.


Is Anybody Listening? is Ragna Kjartansdóttir’s second solo album as Cell7, a blend of R&B drenched beats and grooves overlaid with in-your-face lyrics.  Ragna’s delivery is perfectly suited to the music, less youthful braggadocio and more mature confidence, with even her disses spit with a matter-of-factness that brokers no disagreement.  I got powermoves / You don’t get to tell me what I’m supposed to do.  She means it, too.  Sometimes bellicose, sometimes smooth as silk, but always poised and bold, Cell7 has been in the rap game since before many of the up-and-comers were even born, and she’s not going to let them forget that fact.

The album opens with an aggressive stance, the first four tracks establishing Cell 7’s bona fides, making it very clear that she’s not to be messed with and culminating with the super-fast and intricate rhymes of “City Lights”.  The next four songs slow things down a bit, embracing the R&B elements and giving Ragna the opportunity to show some vocal diversity, her velvet-like half-rapped-half-sung lyrics perfect for late evening chilling, the slowed down time when the main party is winding down and just a few friends are left hanging out in small, intimate groups.  Most notable is the female anthem “Peachy”, an empowering celebration of self-confidence (I’m feelin’ myself / Bullshit free / A hundred percent / Organically me).  The album closes with “Powermoves”, a track that blends her earlier vocal conviction with the later viscous beats, a perfect way to bring everything full circle.

Released digitally in February 2019, Ragna took to the web to crowdfund a two-color, limited edition vinyl pressing of Is Anybody Listening?  If you’re a vinyl junkie like me, this one will be a must-have with its beautiful cover art and the included poster.  But you don’t need fancy packaging and formats to enjoy Is Anybody Listening?, just get yourself a download or stream it, put your earbuds in, and groove.

Who Killed Society – “Before Everything Got Broken” (1981 / 2018) and Circle Seven – “Suburban Hope” (1983)

I don’t go to record shows often.  I spent a lot of time “on the other side of the table” at sports memorabilia shows over the years selling stuff, and that gives you a certain insulation from the crowds and the inevitable frustration of waiting around to try to get into the box that someone else is flipping through.  But a few weeks back, against my better judgement, I went to one in Seattle.  While waiting around for yet another person to finish flipping through a bin I decided to kill time looking at stuff in a box on the floor next to the table, and that’s where I came across Circle Seven’s Suburban Hope.  I’d never heard of them before, but it turns out they were from Seattle (in fact two of the three members are from Montana but had recently moved to Seattle…) so for a fiver I figured why not.

I was pleasantly surprised when I put Suburban Hope on the turntable, so much so that I wanted to find out more about the band.  Fortunately guitarist/singer Randy Pepprock has a pretty unique (and rock related) name that made him fairly easy to track down, and he graciously agreed to do an email interview.  He also sent along an article about his punk band Who Killed Society (WKS) and the early scene in, of all places, Missoula, Montana.  I encourage you to check it out HERE, as I can’t add anything to this well-researched piece.  It was Jeff Ament’s connection with Missoula that eventually allowed for the release of WKS’ Before Everything Got Broken 37 years after it was recorded (by none other than a young Steve Albini), an album that contributed songs to Circle Seven’s first (and only) record.

Randy, WKS broke up in 1981.  What prompted you to move to Seattle after that happened?

We used to drive over to Seattle from Montana for punk shows, so when it was time to leave Montana it was a natural choice. I had a friend (Lya) that lived there that got me a job at a restaurant & put me up for a week or so to get me started. Later on I extended the same favor to Jeff Ament & Sergio Avenia from Deranged Diction, who were also from Missoula.

How did you connect with Sabina Miller and Danielle Elliott to form Circle Seven?

Sabina was the bass player for WKS, and my girlfriend at the time. I think we meet Danielle through an ad in The Rocket.  (♠)

Four of the six tracks on “Suburban Hope” also appeared on the at-that-time un-released 1981 WKS album.  They definitely changed character – not only are they longer, but sonically there’s an overall post-punk feel to all the Circle Seven songs and the vocals are very prominently featured.  You indicated in a previous interview that you weren’t thrilled with the sound of Suburban Hope.  What are your recollections of the recording sessions, and what do you think you should have done differently?

I take full responsibility for how the Circle Seven EP ended up sounding I should have been more assertive & spoken up at the time. WKS was an abrasive, post-punkish band with short, minimalist songs & I think Circle Seven was an extension of that. Very spartan. A friend of Danielle’s, Mark from 3 Swimmers, helped us engineer the EP & he was just coming from an entirely different space. I had this guitar that sounded like a dump truck crashing & when we first started recording he’s like, “Oh my god, that guitar sounds like shit.” So we cleaned everything up and took all of the rust & piss out of it. Prettier, but not nearly as authentic IMO. You know, we were a young band in a nice studio for the first time & perhaps intimidated by the whole process. Whatever, that’s on no one but me.

What was your perception of the Seattle music scene during that period? How did Circle Seven fit (or not fit) into it?

Loved it. I saw so many great bands then. I think at that time everyone just did whatever the hell they wanted because NO ONE thought that it mattered or thought it would ever lead to anything. Later, when I moved to Hollywood, I became aware that everyone was thinking, in the back of their minds, that “Hey, we could get a record deal & become rock stars.” No one thought that in Seattle in the early 80’s. We left right before that happened. Bad timing I guess. 🙂 Not sure we really fit in. I think we kind of fell in-between the cracks and were kind of hard to classify. Not a hardcore or punk band. Not too arty or intellectual (too many rough edges). It was OK, we did our thing anyway.

What are you listening to these days?

I don’t follow most new bands, there’s too much out there. I was listening to Patti Smith the other day, Motorhead, the Velvet Underground. Lucinda Williams. I like Elle King. Always a Stooges fan. In fact, a year or so ago I was playing “Funhouse” in the car & giving my 17 year old daughter a music history lesson about the band & why they were so important. A few months later we were at the theater watching the most recent King Kong & “Down in the street” comes on and I leaned over to tell her, “Hey, it’s the Stooges!” & she looks at me like, “Shut up dad, I know.”


Once I learned that many of Suburban Hope‘s songs were originally recorded by WKS, I decided to pick up a copy of Before Everything Got Broken to do a little side-by-side comparison and see how they changed over the course of just a few years.  It turns out the answer is quite a bit, actually.

Who Killed Society – Before Everything Got Broken (1981 / 2018)

Originally recorded in 1981 with none other than a young Steve Albini at the studio controls Before Everything Got Broken didn’t see the light of day until 2018 when it came into the orbit of former Montana punk scene musician and current Pearl Jam member Jeff Ament, who helped get it dusted off and released, including selling it via the PJ website.  At seven songs and 13 minutes, it’s very punk rock.


After opening with the instrumental “Distant” we’re introduced to “Cover Up”, a decidedly post-punk jam full of raw gloominess and alienation, the guitars coming at you like rusty razorblades and the vocals speaking to the kind of societal rejection that only the young can truly express unironically.  “Say One Thing” is more of a standard rock song, though one with some definite new wave elements.  The A side closes out with “Don’t You Dare”, it’s rapid-fire drumming giving the tune a jungle beat, the guitars again slicing through the low end with complete and utter disregard.

The flip side opens with “Suburban Hope”, what would later become the title track of Circle Seven’s album of the same name a few years later.  This version is stripped down and back to that post-punk vibe, the military-march-like snare rolls at odds with the anti-society message of the vocals.  “Just Turned 20” is the first 100% punk song on Before Everything Got Broken, a blistering fast proto-hardcore number that’s over almost before it starts.  “Brave New World” takes us back in a post-punk direction and is my favorite track on the album, the incessant beat creating a sense of angst and pressure that mirrors the stress of day-to-day life.

The sound quality of Before Everything Got Broken is excellent.  There were a few spots where it felt like the master might have had a blemish, but it doesn’t detract from the overall feel of the album.  If you’re interested, it’s available on the Pearl Jam website HERE.

Circle Seven – Suburban Hope (2013)

Four of Suburban Hope‘s six songs originally appeared on Before Everything Got Broken, rounded out with two new tracks.  It opens with the title track, one of the four Before Everything Got Broken tunes on the record.  This new incarnation brings a much more new wave sound to the music while also moving the vocals to the forefront, placing the lyrics and message into the prominent position.


Down to the office,
Smile at the boss,
Never realizing just how much you have lost.

It’s a longer and more fully realized song than the original, though at the expense of a certain honest rawness.  It’s a style that carries through all of Suburban Hope‘s compositions – pre-synthesizer new wave, sonically well-balanced and with emphasis on the vocals.  Something in it speaks to me in a way that resonates, perhaps because it forces me to look at my own middle class suburban life.  I know Randy isn’t a huge fan of how it sounds… but I really enjoy it.


Big thanks to Randy for answering some questions and a shout-out to Jeff Ament (as if he needs one from me…) for contributing to Before Everything Got Broken‘s release.  I wonder how many other solid albums are out there on tape just waiting for someone to dust them off and put them out.  I prefer not to think about how many were destroyed or simply thrown away.

(♠)  The Rocket was THE Seattle alternative music scene bible back in the 1980s and into the 90s.  Originally monthly, later biweekly, the free paper eventually grew its circulation to 50,000 copies per issue.  I used to pick it up a whatever record store I happened to be in at the time.

Witches Tears – “Cry Of The Banshee EP” CD (2019)

Father Pujardov:  The Beast is not dead.  

Inspector Mirov:  I put four bullets in him.

Father Pujardov:  You think evil can be killed with bullets?  Satan lives.  The Unholy One is… alive!

So much for Pere Ubu’s advice on “Laughing” – when the Devil comes, shooting him with a gun won’t do you any good at all.

Metal albums generally don’t open with samples of movie dialogue.  Not even doom metal albums.  And not even if the segment comes from something cool as hell like Horror Express (1972).  But Witches Tears aren’t your typical doom metal band.

I came to know of this brooding trio through my connection with their bassist Bowen Staines.  I first encountered Bowen about 10 years ago when I was trying to track down a DVD copy of his brilliant Iceland Airwaves documentary, Where’s The Snow? and since then we’ve had a strange relationship that is almost entirely online, the only exceptions being when we randomly bump into one another on a rock in the middle of the North Atlantic during Airwaves.  I also have some of his original art on my walls – a pair of hand-painted records, one featuring a map of Iceland and the other the portrait of one of his musical heroes, G.G. Allin. (♠)  So maybe this is a disclaimer of sorts – I know one of the guys in the band.  But I can promise you that if Bowen put out an album of Rosemary Clooney covers or went country, I wouldn’t be writing about it.  But I like metal, and I like to support indie artists by buying and listening to their stuff.  So there it is.

And since I do happen to know the bassist, I figured hey, let’s interview the band!

How did Witches Tears come to be? What was the vision for the band?

-Dominic Spinzola (drums): Witches Tears is from Scituate, Massachusetts, and was formed sometime around the beginning of 2018.  I was on a walk to the lighthouse, when ran into Garreth (guitar, vocals); I’d seen him over the years walking around town listening to his headphones like I used to do, and we decided to start jamming with me on guitar, and him on drums, and then we switched around.  I’d already known Bowen (fretless bass) for a couple years, back when I was delivering pizzas.  He’d just moved here that same day, and he answered the door wearing a Cradle of Filth shirt, and it’s very rare to see another metalhead in these parts.  I don’t think I’ve thought too much into what we “should” or “could” be.  We wanted to be Doomy as hell, but we were missing something, so I recommended Bowen as our bassist, and he ended up being the missing link.  I guess Uncle Charlie sums it up best… “If you’re going to do something, do it well. And leave something witchy.”

The songs on “Cry of The Banshee” are quite long, and that gives the band a lot of room to explore. While the undercurrent is Doom, I hear a ton of crazy 1960’s-style Psych in here, too. When coming up with the songs, how much of it is planned out, and how much sort of evolves organically?

-Bowen Staines (fretless): Normally, Garreth writes most of the riffs, and we jam them out, and then Dom and I make suggestions, yes? 

-Dom: Yeah, I’d say 95% is just jamming the songs until it feels right.  I think it’s our strong suit, the ability to just go off and create our own vortex, and it’s something we try to hone in on when we play live.  Pretty much all of our recordings are improvised, totally written in the moment.  I’m glad you picked up on the 60’s element! I’ve always dug Roky and The Elevators and Witchfinder General, and I think Garreth’s playing is reminiscent of the garage-era sound.

-Garreth Colm Byrne (guitar, vocals): Yeah, I’ve always loved the 1960’s counter culture, and I try to soak it all up like a sponge, and the grey water that gets wrung out afterwards becomes my vocals and riffs.

-Bowen: There’s definitely a 60’s element in there, just slowed way down, and much heavier.  And by leaving the songs so open-ended, it allows them to evolve more organically. At the beginning, I felt kind of like the odd one out, but not in a bad way, because I grew up listening to a lot of Scandinavian metal, and when I started playing with the guys, they were spending all day in the rehearsal space just watching old Vincent Price horror movies, and talking about loads of bands I’d never heard of before.  They had to baptize me, in a way.  Scituate, as a town, is what you make of it.  There’s practically nothing to do, but it’s so close to Boston that the opportunity’s still there to connect with people and make something happen.  We ended up getting signed to a label after our first live show. 

What’s up next for Witches Tears? 

-Garreth: We have our first headlining show coming up on May 26th at The Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain, MA, for the release of our first EP Cry of The Banshee.  It’s being organized by our label, Wreckless Wreck Chords, and I think there are at least five or six bands opening before us.  It’s basically an all-day event.  We’ll have copies of the album available at the show, as well as cassette tapes, t-shirts, and a bunch of other good stuff.

-Bowen: Yep, I think everyone is really looking forward to that, because everything has happened so fast.  We’ve been a band for barely over a year, we’re on a label, and we’ve got our first headlining show.  And we’re really thankful and humbled by the opportunity to share the stage with so many talented people.  I’m also in the process of trying to organize some shows for us in Reykjavík, Iceland for later this year, maybe in the Fall.

-Dom: After the release concert, we have another show on June 16th at the C-Note in Hull, MA. Come out, ye sinners. 

-Garreth: We’re also hoping to get back into the studio again soon to finish up our first full-length album.  We have so many songs and ideas that we just need to properly record, and get them out there.  We have more than enough material for a whole album ready to go.

What are you listening to and digging right now?

-Dom: Great question.  Hmm, for me, right now I’ve been listening to a lot of Steeleye Span, Drunk Horse, Satanic Warmaster, Planxty, and my friend’s project, The Notorious P.A.G.A.N.

-Garreth: I’ve been listening to a lot of Moss, Devil’s Witches, and revisiting some of David Gilmore’s solo work.  I also just got Bowen into Leatherlung.

-Bowen: Get ready for an influx of a bunch of foreign shit, haha!  I’ve been holed up in my film studio the last six months doing a new music video for the Icelandic band, Sólstafir, so I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been listening to them a lot this last year, haha.  The Vintage Caravan just put out an amazing new record, as well.  Apart from that, I always have H.I.M. on steady rotation, as well as Motörhead, Turbonegro, Clutch, Mammút, Kontinuum, HAM, Dead Skeletons, and New Hampshire’s famous wildcard poo-baby, GG Allin.  That dude grew up like one town away from me, haha.  Oh, one last thing, real quick: we would really like to thank Mikke Worm and Tyler Spillane at Wreckless Wreck Chords for all they’ve done to help us, the blogs, radio stations, and media that has covered us, and the great bands and people we’ve shared the stage with – thank you sincerely, and we hope to see you all soon!  


witchestearsbansheeImmediately after Father Pujdardov tells us that yes, indeed, Satan still lives, the weight of the opening track “Cry Of The Banshees” falls on you like one of those two ton weights the Roadrunner used to drop on poor Wile E Coyote, an unstoppable gravity-accelerated mass that squashes you right into and through the ground leaving you nothing but paste.  But it’s not pure obliterating density.  Byrne’s vocals hit you like Satan’s fingernails on a black metal chalkboard, raspy, pained, deranged.  The sonic density harkens back to early Black Sabbath, wisps of psychedelia infusing the low end like some kind of gaseous form of LSD, the entire effect hypnotic and reminding me of the early snake temple scene in Conan the Barbarian when the woman is swaying right before she jumps into the snake pit.  It’s like being ground to dust by a musical pestle and mortar.

The instrumental “Strung Through The Floor” is a manic jam session, throbbing and trippy, crashing cymbals replacing the vocals and riding over the top of the music like ball lightning.  “Moving Walls” pushes the vocals into the background, giving the whole thing a nightmare-like quality, though the guitar-centric interlude embodies the best aspects of the early 1970s hard rock aesthetic, indulgent without being self-indulgent, intricate without being pompous. The marathon 13-minute “Long Strange Days” is exactly what its name implies, long and strange (the title’s initials are L-S-D; coincidence?).  Here the psych element comes to the forefront, the pace slower and more deliberate, each bass note hanging in space waiting for the next to be played.  There’s a prog-like quality to the flow.  The pace and weight increase almost imperceptibly and eventually you think to yourself, damn, this got heavy again.  The album closes with a demo version of the title track, rawer than the later studio version and capturing more of that live feel.

Cry Of The Banshee is described as an EP, probably because it has five songs.  But don’t be fooled – these suckers are loooong, only one of them clocking in under 10 minutes and the whole thing lasting 53+.  This isn’t punk rock.  This is metal.  Some of the band’s catalog is available on Bandcamp HERE, and I believe more CDs will be available soon.  So give ’em a listen and maybe send ’em a few bucks if you like what you hear.

(♠)  Despite Bown’s affinity for Allin you should not be afraid to go see Witches Tears perform live.  So far as I know Bowen has never thrown his own poop into the audience.  So far as I know.

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.


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.


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. 

Deception Bay – “Deception Bay” (1989)

Last month I picked up this copy of Deception Bay’s self-titled debut while digging at Seattle’s Daybreak Records.  The 1989 release is one of those “tweeners” that at five songs is too short to be called an “album”, but too long to be a single.  To complicate things even more it clocks in at 33 minutes… which is certainly closer to album length than it is to that of an EP.  Discogs categorizes it as a “mini-album”, which I suppose is as good as anything else I can come up with, so let’s just go with that.

ANYWAY… I really dug this the first time I listened to it.  While it was spinning I was poking around online to see what else I could learn about Deception Bay, and it turned out there wasn’t a whole lot. In 1991 they put out a pair of releases, the 10″ Fortune Days and the full-length My Color Flag, but that was it.  However, I did find a video on YouTube.  For whatever reason the comments section caught my eye, and that’s where I saw a comment from Deception Bay guitarist/vocalist Jay Dunn.  After a few searches I was able to put two and two together and thought that I found the right Jay Dunn online, so shot him and email, and sure enough it was the guy.  Jay was great to correspond with and agreed to answer a few questions about the band for the blog.  He also sent along the great photo below, one of the very few of the band together and I believe the only one that shows all three members who were on this particular record.


Deception Bay at The Rat in Boston
L to R:  Carl Boland (bass), Jay Dunn (guitar and vocals), and Michael Evans (drums)

Photography by Paul Fay


So without further ado, here’s the man himself, Jay Dunn.

Jay, thanks for taking some time to talk to Life in the Vinyl Lane!  Tell us a bit about how Deception Bay came to be and who was in the band.

Jay Dunn:  In the mid-eighties, Carl Boland of October Days and I started playing together at my house in Central Square in Cambridge, MA.  These were heady days for musical and artistic experimentation of every kind.  Think WZBC’s landmark programming “No Commercial Potential” 24/7.  Zoviet France, Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Skinny Puppy, hundreds of truly avant-garde artists just quietly playing on the radio in the background.  We used no amps, no drummer, and often recorded right in my room or onto a portable cassette 4-track.  Carl played bass and provided percussion literally by hand on some drums we got from the alley.  We made some tapes, and sent them around.  Playing with a real drummer happened only at our first show, in Johnny D’s in Allston, I think.  Over the following years we played with a number of awesome drummers, including Michael Evans, Terry Donahue, Him Arhelger, Danny Lee and Rich D’Albis.

How did the band comet to record a session at WERS, and how did that recording eventually become your five-song self-titled debut with Independent Project Records?

JD:  I don’t remember how we got the radio station’s attention, but at the time, that live broadcast was only the third time Michael Evans (drums), Carl and I ever played in public, as it were.  Together with our producer Douglas Vargas, and recording engineer Car Plaster, we just gave it our best that night, heard it was a success, and eventually managed to the master tapes from a DJ there.  We’d played in Boston with Savage Republic, Bruce Licher’s band at the time, and as Independent Project Records, he was interested in the film aspects and moody environment we’d managed to create around our songs.  After mastering the record at Capitol in Hollywood, we played a few great shows in Los Angeles, reuniting Carl with October Days drummer Rich D’Albis.  For a guitarist, it was a dream come true to have a rhythm section like that.

I’ve seen “Deception Bay” described as goth rock, and that’s somewhat fitting given the overall darker feel of the songs.  What strikes me the most about it is the way the rhythm section played.  Normally you expect the drums to set the pace, generally in conjunction with the bass.  But to my ears it’s the bass that sets the blueprint for the songs, holding steady and occupying a prominent place in the mix.  The drums seem to follow, but with some occasional tempo changes and flourishes that give the structure some character.  On top of that bass your guitar work and the vocals add the more emotional content to the songs.  How did the band approach writing it’s material, and were you focused on having a distinct type of song structure?

JD:  I was never conscious, really, of composing songs as such – they just happened as a result of our free-form style.  Nothing we composed has ever been written down, that I know of.  You could think of it as jazz in a way, yet the vast majority of jazz artists are consummate musicians first.  I can’t read or write music, but it’s in my blood.  My mom and her mother were both classical pianists.  We always had music in our lives growing up.  In Pakistan I learned about the Sufi and the devotional performers of “qawwali” music.  In Urdu the term means to speak, or utterance, but the implication is that the singers are vessels, they are merely channels for something else.  In no way am I likening our creative process, such as it was, with such a beautiful form of expression.  But our music did just kind of come into being, without deliberate notation or preservation in any tangible way.

Deception Bay went on to put out a pair of albums in 1991, but noting after that.  How did those last few years unfold?

JD:  Carl had been on track to be a doctor since I knew him in college, so I moved out to LA as a trial, and ended up staying out there for some time.  Both “My Color Flag,” our first and only studio album, and the IPR Archive Series 10″ were packaged and sold by Independent Project Records.  The art was ours, designed by Bruce Licher, and we did some of the printing ourselves.  Carl stayed in Boston to pursue his residency, and I went on to play and perform with a couple of different bass players.  For a few memorable shows, including a live show on KXLU, I performed with Dino Paredes of Red temple Spirits and Rick D’Albis from October Days.  We even performed with Zoviet France, a highlight of my experience as a musician.  In the end, I just had to face the fact I wasn’t making any money or forward progress, so I started devoting myself to visual projects only.

You’ve established an amazing career as a photographer and artist.  How did you get into photography, and what was the journey like as you transitioned into being a professional?

JD:  I first became interested in multimedia in high school, but didn’t get started taking photographs until I went to Alaska as a youth.  those days it was all about the light, and it still is, in a way.  I was shooting black and white stills and film in my early days as an artis, and went on to incorporate film in our public performances.  Those were dark and personal days, though, and while formative, they lacked any real perspective on the greater world outside our country.  It was only after leaving the US and starting to experience some of the world’s less fortunate places that I realized how lucky I’ve been, and how much I wanted to contribute to a better understanding between us humans.  I think photography can do that, and the best photojournalism and video lets people tell their stories without judgment, with dignity.  I never consciously set out to make a career of it, it just happened.

Last but not least, are you still playing the guitar?  And what are you listening to and loving these days?  Any artists or releases that might be flying under the radar that you think folks should check out?

JD:  I wish I could say I still played.  In fact, a guitar teacher at one of the nonprofits I’ve been working with surprised me the other day when he showed up to a kid’s class with a vintage Gibson SG.  What a beautiful instrument.  I strapped it on, just to get the feel again, but I would have needed a few hours, a lot of electricity, and a room by myself in a deep dark cave somewhere to really communicate with the thing.  If anything, I’ve learned to appreciate much more about the world.  There are so many kinds of music out there, and every one of them can stir up something primeval in us.


deceptionbayOne of the most intriguing aspects of Deception Bay is that it’s a live, in-studio recording.  The guys didn’t get any re-takes or do-overs; it was one-and-done.  For a young band to sound this great in that kind of environment is pretty special.  In fact, it doesn’t “feel” live at all in the way some of the Peel Sessions do; the entire thing sounds very intentional.

The rhythm section is trance-inducing on the opening track, the nearly nine minute long “Since You Followed”.  That flows directly and seamlessly into “Hook This Chain”, which brings a similar rhythmic pattern but one played at a much brisker pace, replacing the post-punky gloom of the opener with a sense of mildly anxiety-inducing urgency.

The vocals take on a more prominent role on the B side.  “Not Far From This” is perhaps as close as Deception Bay get to a radio-friendly song, though even here it’s one that would only be getting play on college stations.  There remains an insistent quality to the music that carries over from the A side, with the lyrics following in a more structured pattern.  “Ride” is the only song clocking in at under five minutes, and it’s driven by a powerful and restrained bass line, one that feels like it’s straining against the leash, desperate to lunge for your throat but being intentionally held back.  The album closes with “For The Season”, and this is the one time that the vocals step right on up to the front of the stage and say, “hey, listen to me!”  There’s a desperation to the repeated line for the season, one that by the end of the song moves more towards resignation.

I’ve probably played Deception Bay a dozen or so times since I bought it, which is pretty unusual for me and speaks to how much I enjoy this record.  I’ll definitely be on the lookout for their other two releases.  Jay has some Deception Bay LIVE TRACKS and VIDEO posted online, so follow the links if you want to check ’em out.  And I recommend that you do, because they’re pretty great.

Big thanks to Jay for taking some time to answer some questions and send along some images!