Saturday, August 5, 2017

Bands

Screaming Trees, Toronto, 1991

I HAVE SHOT A LOT OF BANDS. Almost none of that work is anything I'm particularly proud of today, but I still have a little backlog of it in my files, and now felt like as good a time as any to scan it and get it out there. Some of it is, I hope, of at least historical interest for fans. The photos in this post are a personal record of something else - failed technical experimentation, mostly.

I shot the Screaming Trees a few months before the release of Nirvana's Nevermind pinned them to the part of the map that said "grunge" - perhaps unfairly, but they might have made just a little more money by being press-ganged on to that particular bandwagon. They'd put out a few somewhat psychedelic records on SST back when I was still at Nerve, but I shot them in 1991, on tour with Mudhoney drummer Dan Peters and after they'd been signed to Epic Records.

Screaming Trees, Toronto, 1991

In a year they'd release Sweet Oblivion, a record I played a lot, but when I took these photos they were just another band who'd survived the indie rock swamp and had scored a chance at a potentially bigger audience. They'd never really get it in the shadow of Nirvana, but the band ended up being a launching pad for their singer, Mark Lanegan, who would turn out to be more interesting than I imagined when I posed them in the alley behind what I'm guessing is the Rivoli on Queen West, with a bunch of colour film I was hell-bent on cross-processing and a flash head in a tiny soft box at the top of a light stand.

fIREHOSE, Toronto, 1991

I shot fIREHOSE a few months later in the same alleyway with the same flash and cross-processed film. They were another bunch of SST veterans now signed to Epic's parent company, Columbia Records, but my history with them went back a lot further.

Mike Watt and George Hurley had been the rhythm section of the Minutemen, a seminal SST band who were credited, along with the Meat Puppets, Husker Du and Black Flag, with breaking hardcore punk out of its stylistic rut and giving birth to what would be the indie rock sound. I was a huge fan, and saw them in New York City just a couple of months before the van accident that killed guitarist D. Boon and ended the band.

fIREHOSE, Toronto, 1991
Minutemen, Irving Plaza, NYC, 1985
It was at the beginning of what I didn't even know then would be a photographic career, and I'd interview and photograph them in the dressing room and bathroom at Irving Plaza. I had a whole roll of photos of the band goofing around for my camera - in the toilet stalls and playing with a big blow-up globe that was somehow on hand, but that roll of photos went missing many years ago and I've never been able to find them again.

The shot above is all that's left - a scan of a print I'd passed on to Phil Saunders, a onetime Nerve colleague, to pass on to Mike Watt. Instead of taking the print, Watt and Hurley signed it (the Blue Oyster Cult logo is, I suppose, a stand-in for the signature of Boon, who was a huge BOC fan) and gave it back to Phil. They look like pretty basic shots, but I'd give anything to find those negatives again today.

This is what makes it poignant that the bottom shot of Watt, Hurley and Ed "fROMOHIO" Crawford - the Minutemen fan who convinced them to start playing again with him taking Boon's place - was shot years later in another dingy dressing room (the Rivoli again, I'm sure.) As with the Screaming Trees shots, probably on assignment for HMV magazine.

Babes in Toyland, Toronto, 1992

The Babes in Toyland shoot was a bit more polished, done once again for HMV when the band were on tour as the opening act for Lush. I'd set up with a rented backdrop and my strobe lights at the back of the Opera House on Queen East, and after changing the lighting setup from the one I'd used for Lush, got the band to pose for yet another batch of cross-processed film.

The Babes were once known as the group who Courtney Love copied nearly wholesale when she formed Hole, right down to singer and guitarist Kat Bjelland's signature look, later dubbed "kinderwhore." They were a pretty raucous bunch of women; drummer Lori Barbaro was famous as a scene fixture, well-liked for her energetic support of anyone she liked. Bassist Maureen Herman had just joined the band, whose new record, Fontanelle, would be released later that year.

A somewhat slick, even characterless shoot, in my opinion. I was far more concerned with nailing down a look I'd seen elsewhere and not with finding something like my own style. It was a mistake I'd make a lot during this hit-and-miss period of my career. Frustrating, to be sure, but at least I was working a lot, which meant that just occasionally something faintly original would make it through all the mimicry.


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