Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Sordid History of Indie Rock...

Thanks to my great friend Greg Elkins (congrats on the recent nuptials!), I got to work with his band from 1988-1994, Vanilla Trainwreck from Raleigh, NC. First running sound, then running lights, then shooting photos for self-released 45s, then directing four music videos.

Three of the four videos ran on MTV's "120 Minutes" first with Kevin Seal, then with Dave Kendall.

The first was "Yellow" off of "Sounding To Try Like You," their second album. I drove from NYC back to Raleigh to shoot in Wayne Taylor's house in downtown Raleigh. I think the label forwarded me $1200 for the budget, but I still shot it on 16mm film (all of them, proudly). No one made a dime, but everyone got a sandwich. Wayne's house was all white walls and I lit each wall with a different color gel - red, blue, orange, green and yes, yellow. When we wrapped, Wayne earnestly asked if we could leave the gels and lights there. He liked his house that way. Greg lip-synced wearing a black velour suit with an American flag tie - something that any fashion forward band would covet now, twenty years later. I can totally see Matt Berninger from The National sporting such a get-up. My favorite and most smelly idea was to have Ken and Greg, guitar and bass respectively, fry up spam with soy sauce all over it to make it brown. DO NOT try this at home - especially after 10 takes. That was the only thing that Wayne wasn't wild about. I'll see if I can find that one...

I decided to make two videos for the price of one - pre-Tarantino/Rodriguez style. "Safer Than Zero" the lone acoustic track on the album, got a very cinematic treatment with me driving the rental car and my cinematographer (I wish I could remember his name) shooting out the window at 100 miles an hour on some back farm roads. I'll see if I can find that one, too...

"Yellow" was a huge success for Mammoth, featured on their "Framed" VHS video compilation and getting MTV airplay. The VP of the label, Steve, called me and said it was the best video they had, and they had Juliana Hatfield, Joe Henry, The Bats and The Chainsaw Kittens on their roster.

The next album and the Trainwreck's last was called "Mordecai" named after the neighborhood in downtown Raleigh where we "all" pretty much lived/had lived. And Steve called with another $1200 offer.

"Sister" was the next conceptual piece as it was the single off the album. It starred my friend Joe Dean, the redneck philosopher, as the principal and a little girl that was the daughter of someone Greg worked with at Fallon's Forists. My concept was two-fold: Have Joe getting ready for a date with the dude who was on the cover of the album and have the little girl fuck with the band while they were trying to play. Two "sister" concepts juxtaposed, if you will.

Juliana Hatfield introduced "Sister" on 120 Minutes on Sunday night, June 5th, 1994 and mispronounced the name of her Mammoth Records label-mates. We all sighed. I think she was junked out. Or on Robitussin...

Fuck it, it was still a "World Premiere." Right between Velocity Girl and Violent Femmes. And the Femmes were followed by "Deliah's Gone" by Johnny Cash, starring Kate Moss. Dead. And on the same show was Sonic Youth's video for "Bull In The Heather" where Kathleen Hannah from Bikini Kill jumped around and fucked with the band. Don't know if any of them ever saw "Sister" - probably not - but I felt justified.

Disney bought Mammoth and we all rejoiced. Then, they promptly folded the new Disney/Mammoth label, forever putting those three master recordings in limbo. I will never forget having a drink with Ken in The Village somewhere and him putting his head in his hands and saying "The Mouse owns my masters."

The Mouse still does, I think.

From the All Music Guide, 1994:

"This Raleigh, NC, indie-rock foursome write pop songs with layered, complex melodies. They've released three albums: Sofa Livin' Dreamazine, Sounding to Try Like You, and Mordecai, on Mammoth Records. The band consists of vocalist/guitarist Greg Elkins, guitarist Ken Bowers, bassist Greg Eades and drummer Brian Quaust."

You can get all three of their albums on eBay. I suggest you do.

I made this and I'm proud as fuck of it:

James M. Graham, Website
James M. Graham, Tumblr
James M. Graham, Monograph

No comments: