In high school I briefly lived on a cul de sac in a suburban development. For some reason, my father wanted to take a crack at suburban living, but it was very isolated and insular — metaphorically, everything that is wrong with suburbia. (Anecdotal side note: when I was grounded and my friend threw a pack of smokes up to my bedroom window to help a sister out, the nosey neighbors ratted on me, meaning they had nothing better to do than sit at their TV trays and narc out teens.)
Luckily we ended up trading Garage Mahal for a neighborhood with character (and neighbors with better things to do) in the nearby city after about a year. Even though McLiving was behind us, Teenage Me could really have enjoyed a band like the Woolen Men. Their new self-titled LP, out now on Woodsist, adds to their already excellent discography of DIY self-released tapes and records. Alex Geddes, Lawton Browning, and Raf Spielman take the spirit of The Wipers and Dead Moon to create energetic “fuck-the-establishment” rock and roll that appeals to adults in suspended adolescence like myself, as well as younger generations. After all, teenage angst is timeless.
Album opener “Mayonnaise” immediately reminded me of the character Elmo, the exterminator who seduces bored housewives in Steven Soderbergh’s Schizopolis, who said something like, “Fuck this shit, fuck this mayonnaise” — mayonnaise being one of his codes for suburban batshit. But that was a total accident. Lawton, guitarist and movie hound tells me, “I hate that movie, actually. Right now I’m on a serious Spalding Gray kick — everybody should watch Swimming To Cambodia.” Ditto.
The Bay Bridged: What inspired that song?
Lawton Browning: I didn’t grow up in the suburbs but I know plenty about them. I’m interested in the relationship between where artists live and those huge tracts of land just outside what most of us think of as “the city” and the zone of sophistication there. Those places can be terrible but they have a weird human beauty too. That song is from the perspective of someone who knows how complicated that relationship really is and wants to leave but can’t quite make it.
TBB: Movies like Schizopolis and Swimming To Cambodia aren’t made with a commercial audience in mind. That approach seems like it would be relatable to the Woolen Men.
Lawton: Woolies make music to please ourselves first. 4-track recordings, tape hiss, and instrument error aren’t an aesthetic or marketing strategy for us, they are what we grew up using to create. I think audiences respond better to honesty in art anyway. At least I do.
TBB: What inspires your music?
Alex: We all work and live in Portland and I kind of think Portland itself is a huge inspiration. Our lives are all pretty intertwined because it’s a pretty small town and amid the humdrum of our lives here there’s a certain frequency we try to tap into.
TBB: How has Portland, a morphing city much like SF, affected your approach to making music?
Alex: Portland is a tricky place because its not quite big enough to self sustain. That is, people have to keep working because they like what they are doing — there’s not enough money or interest to become independent so it’s really up to individuals to make things happen. That being said, the city has changed under the pressure and influence of its own bizarre popularity in the public imagination right now. I grew up in the city. It’s dealing with the same kind of issues I am right now.
Sound familiar? Catch the Woolen Men at the Knockout with Cruel Summer, Swiftumz-lite (i.e. a solo set from Chris McVicker), and Tears Club, where they promise to have a tour-only cassette and some hard-to-find releases for sale.
Woolen Men, Cruel Summer, Swiftumz, Tears Club
March 28, 2013