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My Savage Renewal Project....
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The Savage Republic Story
Savage Republic, the L.A. based drone-rockers and post-rock forefathers, have announced that they are reforming for a series of reunion shows this November, thirteen years after they split. From what I remember, I was first introduced to their sound through an NME review of their Trudge E.P. by Chris Bohn- this review spoke of a band that combined Eastern music with rock like a soundtrack to a desert landscape. There is a very cinematic sounding quality throughout the work of the band and Bruce Licher's later band Scenic that seems ripe for plucking as soundtrack stuff. This is a musical direction that group leader Bruce Licher has claimed was intentional and that has been made use of before. Also consider that the track "Real Men," from their first LP Tragic Figures, soundtracks the scene at the climax of The Silence Of the Lambs. This visual/cinematic quality may come from the fact that the bandleader was an art Student when he formed the band in UCLA in '81. As the leader of Scenic, he still runs his own letterpress, making CD sleeves etc in a recognizable style that's graced a lot of other people's work too.
On recollection, I've felt that my discovery of Savage Republic was a perfect example of finding a band that would fill a hole that I already knew I wanted filled. This is because I was looking for something that combined the Middle Eastern music I always liked with punk or psychedelia. Savage Republic managed to combine all three, although their take on punk was a bit cerebral. I bought their first LP in its Sordide Sentimentale version a while after reading the NME review. It is a very interesting mélange of post punk, surf, Eastern and art influences which I played quite a bit but only really linked to a couple of individual tracks. By the time of the third LP, Jamahiriya, something really clicked with me- it remains one of my favorite LP's to this day. It was something I regularly played on my Dublin pirate Radio show along with the two LP's from their last European tour- I hope I educated a few ears. That would be an improvement of a sort over being able to find the record in a Dublin store as I did on moving over there. In 1988, I had managed to see the band play some very wild shows when they toured England, the only time they did so (if you count both ends of a European tour as once). I've since been told that there was a tour of mainland Europe the year before too. Ethan Port wasn't with the band when they toured the UK, busy finishing off his college degree.
Savage Republic came together as the Africa Corps at UCLA in 1981. Two years earlier, band-leader-to-be Bruce Licher's discovery of the No Wave scene, and specifically DNA, led to his deciding to finally pick up a guitar after having been a huge Ventures fan all through high school. There is a coincidence here with my last article in that the No Wave scene had heavily shaped the Gun Club guitarist Kid Congo's view of his instrument. Like Kid, most of the players in Savage Republic were more interested in soundmaking than conventional technique. To quote later member Thom F 'When I think of SR, I don't think of musicians. I think of soundmakers. I had only been playing bass one year when I joined SR (and it showed). Musicianship isn't everything. We all brought something different to the table and that's what makes SR special.'
This was a straighter rock version of another project called Bridge that he was doing at the same time, which contained the same members. "Bruce Dan Voznick was my main partner in Bridge (he was also vocalist in the group Afterimage) and he and I shared guitar and bass duties. We drafted a film student friend named Michael Gross to do vocals through a megaphone, and Mark Erskine to play scrap metal percussion (which, for the live Bridge shows was a pile of scrap printing plates that he hit with a 2x4)."
Mark Erskine was Bruce's course mate, who he'd seen doing a percussion work on a performance art course he was on. Soon after they started practising in the parking space/tunnels Bruce's ex Them Rhythm Ants bandmate Phil Drucker (at the time known as Jackson Del Rey) talked his way into playing along with them. Drucker was in contact with a 16 year old bassist named Jeff Long who was interested in learning to play experimentally and became involved in the project. As Bruce describes Long, "he was a bass prodigy and had already played with some heavy jazz players, loved Jaco Pastorius, and was starting to get into punk rock and looking to stretch out into new things. He was a friend of Phil's, and apparently they had played in some band previously, though I never got any details." These 4 would form the line up that would record the band's first LP Tragic Figures.
While the band was still rehearsing in Bruce's apartment in West L.A., Licher caught guitar orchestra composer Glen Branca's first west coast gig at Cal Arts gallery in Valencia. Bruce recalls "there were 6 people in his group total, and the 10-15 minutes they spent tuning were mesmerizing. He then performed 4 pieces and I'd never heard anything like it. By the middle of the fourth piece, I was hearing sounds I couldn't see anybody playing, no doubt from the overtones bouncing around and off the walls of the gallery space. After the performance I went up to tell him how much I enjoyed it, and to ask about the tuning of the guitars. All the way home all I could think of was "I've got to try tuning my guitar like that." And that's exactly what we did at the next SR (actually Africa Corps at that point) rehearsal I had gone and bought a bunch of B strings for my guitar and strung it all up with 6 B strings.'
This is the same basic idea as behind the guitar credited on the first Velvet Underground LP as Ostrich guitar. This was also the predecessor to the instrument the band may well be best known for, the white 12 string Hagstrom guitar called the Monotone which is responsible for a lot of the more Eastern sounding textures on the bands' recordings. At the time, Bruce was using a cheap Fender Stratocaster copy, which was followed by another Strat, then came the Hagstrom because Bruce couldn't afford to go for a Rickenbacker. Up until he corrected me, I was convinced he was using a Gibson SG, possibly because I always link it to classic psychedelic era players. For a similar reason it would've been weird if he had got the Rickenbacker since it's the guitar always linked to the jangle of the Byrds.
I wondered if there was a conscious attempt to break away from previous connections. Bruce: "There was always an attempt to break away from standard anything in Savage Republic. From the get-go, the idea was to try something new, to break down the boundaries, and see if we could take things somewhere they hadn't been taken before. Even if occasionally we started from somewhere someone else had been (Faust's "Krautrock" turning into "Exodus," or that obscure Ventures tune turning into "Attempted Coup: Madagascar") we always tried to find sounds or a way to put things together that hadn't been done before. And even if later on the sounds got a bit more sophisticated or less experimental, I think there was always an intention to make music that sounded like nobody else out there. And to a great extent I think we succeeded. Even with Scenic, I still am very pleased that none of our records sound like any other band out there."
At that time, Bruce had also recently bought a copy of the Faust IV album. This was not the only krautrock influence on the band from the start; Bruce also cites both Popul Vuh and Amon Duul II. With Faust IV, Bruce was really taken with the sonic drone of the song "Krautrock," and played it for Phil, Jeff and Mark. 'I suggested we try something along those lines, so Jeff started up a simple, repetitive bass line, Phil & Mark got a gamelan-style percussion beat going on a metal rail and pipes, and I started droning on what became known as our "monotone" guitar. Lo and behold, the melody I came up with reminded us of the theme music to the movie "Exodus," so guess what we decided to call the song? Still one of my favorite SR songs of all time, especially the parking garage version which appears on the Independent Projects 10" box set'.
Tragic Figures was originally recorded under the band name Africa Corps. After it was recorded and the sleeve had been printed, Drucker announced that he was unhappy with the connotations of the band name. Bruce: 'when Phil laid down the ultimatum that we had to change our name or he would leave the band just as our first album was about to be released we spent a couple days brainstorming on what might be an appropriate new name for the band. We'd recently done some explosive shows in LA - one at Al's Bar that a friend had said was like a war zone on stage, so "Savage" seemed to fit. And the idea of a "Republic" also seemed to fit, as we did everything ourselves booked the shows, flyered, wrote all the music, made all the band decisions, did our own recordings, album covers, etc. Just like most every other band that wasn't on a major or trying to be. But somehow, as conceptual art students we liked the idea of stating the obvious in a conceptual way, and I think somehow both Phil and I were drawn to the idea that we were establishing our group as something a bit more substantial, and we liked the idea of calling ourselves a "republic." I remember thinking of the name "Savage Republic," during the brainstorming and almost saying something, then discarding the idea because it seemed "too obvious." Just like an art student to think he has to be more mysterious or obtuse or something. Then Phil said "what about Savage Republic?" It seems the name was hovering around in the ether that day, and we both sort of plucked it out, though Phil was the first to verbalize it. And it quickly became obvious that that was the right name for us.'
The name had been a problem before, with people approaching the band admiring Africa Corps' apparent Nazi connection, Drucker was Jewish so its appreciable that he wouldn't like such thought. There was also a band called Africa Korps on the East coast, which in itself may have created problems. Licher was left having to print 'Savage Republic' over every place that the original sleeve said 'Africa Corps.' The legacy of the original band name remains in the usage of an altered Africa Corps logo for the band merchandise. Bruce substituted an Islamic Crescent and Star for the original Nazi Swastika thus hopefully removing the original connotations.
This LP is the most punk sounding the band got. Beneath the murk in the mix the band sounds like a cerebral hardcore band with a funky rhythm section playing eastern tinged surf music covers of serial music. I tend to group it alongside such mavericks as the first Meat Puppets releases and D.A.F.'s Die Kleinen und Die Bosen, both of which came out in the same year. It definitely shares the same qualities of pushing against the barriers of what could be seen as punk music while retaining the same raw edge that less musically ambitious bands had. This may be down to the band not yet being entirely used to their instruments, a quality that Bruce has said elsewhere led to reinterpretation. Here things were made slightly awry because Mark was dabbling with psychedelics all the way through his time in the band and it had a negative effect on him in the long run. This caused some hairy events just before the recording of "Ivory Coast," otherwise one of Tragic Figures most memorable tracks, leading to drum tracks not being quite as strong as they could be.
The original sleeve features the firing squad execution of an Arab Dissident, according to Ethan Port, 'It's an Iranian college professor, who's hand is bandaged from being broken. He was the history professor of a UCLA student who lived in the UCLA Cooperative Student Housing with me in the 1980's.' I was afraid that such images would mean that the reissue campaign of late last year would be delayed if not halted by happenings in Afghanistan; luckily this wasn't to be the case, not for very long anyway. The French Sordide Sentimentale release used a different, abstract image, presumably because of the political ambiguity of the image.
Bassist Jeff Long was then sharing his time between Savage Republic and a band called Wasted Youth. For a while it seemed that Wasted Youth were a better prospect, but Jeff regretted this when Tragic Figures started getting good press. By this time, Drucker had asked fellow UCLA student Robert Loveless to join the band who therefore became a five piece (Loveless is currently working with Bruce Licher again as a member of Scenic). At the time he started working with SR, he was very interested in keyboards amongst the normal multi-instrumentation that seems typical of all the members of the band. This change of lineup was taking the band into a far softer direction than they'd had before, possibly indicated by the sound of the later Ceremonial. This lead to a short term name-change to Final Republic. Bruce: 'Final Republic was the name that Phil, Robert, Mark & I performed under for several shows right around the time that Tragic Figures came out and Jeff Long had left the band temporarily. The sound was starting to change and it didn't seem as "savage" anymore as it was starting to head in the "Film Noir / 17 Pygmies Jedda By The Sea" direction, so we decided to shift the name a bit. Then Jeff came back and we became the 5-piece SR again until after the Mojave Exodus show in 1983 when Jeff left for good.'
Jeff Long left in mid '83 after the band had done the Mojave Exodus performance in the desert and the rest of the band continued without him, at least that is until the end of the year.
Around this time, work was being done on material for a second album that was initially due for release at the end of 1983. This was to lead to great arguments about direction between Licher and Drucker. Licher retains copies of the master tapes of this material and still holds dreams of releasing the material the way he originally envisioned it. His bandmates would eventually released the material the way they saw it, in more acoustic form under the name 17 Pygmies, a split-off band centred around Robert Loveless and Phil Drucker. This LP has remained difficult to get hold of for several years I thought this was due to legal considerations; Robert Loveless has told me that there was a limited reissue from Stray Dog records in Greece coupled with the Hatikvah EP sanctioned by Phil Drucker. I'll have to see about getting a copy since it's a record that I really would like to lay my hands on.
Licher was to keep the Savage Republic name and reformed the band alongside Erskine with the intention of making soundtrack type music. 'Originally, Ethan and Greg joined first, and we recorded the song "Trudge" for a proposed compilation LP on Play it Again Sam Records in Belgium. After we sent them the track they liked it so much they asked if we would record three more songs for an EP if they sent us some money. It was at that point that Thom joined and we recorded the rest of the Trudge EP. One other tidbit -- before the song "Trudge," when I was first starting to put the band back together and had asked Ethan and Greg to join, I had also asked my friend Fredrik Nilsen (former bassist for L.A.'s great BPEOPLE and currently playing improvisational music with a group of L.A. Free Music Society people called Extended Organ) to be a part of the new SR. We had one or two rehearsals at his place in Pasadena before he decided it wasn't right for him (and things weren't really clicking musically either, as I had thought they would), so he dropped out.'
Brad Laner reappears in The SR story later, then left to form the more popular band Medicine who seem to share some of Savage Republic's influences, though they are far less tribal sounding.
The other new member was Thom Furhmann who came in on bass once the title track of Trudge had already been recorded. He'd only been playing his instrument for a year previously, initially playing in a band called Spadra Moods. His big influences in the early '80's were Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Wire, not to mention Barry Adamson of Magazine.
Savage Republic now had a stable line up that apart from Erskine would remain with the band up to the last planned LP Jamahiriya. Ethan Port was missing from the two LP's recorded on the last European tour (Customs was a fortunate accident brought about by spare time created by Greek Customs hence the title- more on this later). The band played its first gig with the new line up also appearing as Djemaa-el-Fna (a one-time acoustic percussion performance which included most of the Trudge-era SR line-up) at the Desolation Center performance with Einsturzende Neubauten and Mark Pauline's Survival Research Laboratories.
One thing that impresses me deeply about the LP's with the 2nd era line-up is the way that melody/impact and rhythm all seem to be held on the same level. Or at least until Erskine left and Laner took over when the drums seem to almost take dominance/lead role, remaining in constant change while the white 12 string Hagstrom known, as the Monotone, remains static. This Monotone is the instrument responsible for the more evocative eastern sounding elements of the sound. As noted earlier, Licher had developed the idea for this instrument early in the bands history around the same time that he caught Branca for the first time.
This line up recorded the Trudge E.P, which was my first awareness of the band, although I didn't hear it until much later. This is Bruce's favorite recording of the band and also the template that he based the sound for his later band Scenic on. 'My original idea with Scenic was to go back to the part of SR that hits me the most deeply, which is the Trudge EP material, and then take off from there with a new set of collaborators and see where we can take things.' The sound here is more orderly than the earlier record. It is heavily layered, based around the dynamics of tension build and release. Though it retains a great deal of energy, the punkier aspects of the earlier recordings are only represented by the dissonance in the guitar tuning. It also features a broader range of instrumentation. Horns are beginning to appear in the sound, played by band members more used to playing other instruments but still sounding effective.
This is a mainly instrumental 4-track e.p with one side of two long downbeat instrumentals and another two shorter, more upbeat ones on the other side. Where vocals are heard they are mainly background shouts so mainly deployed for their instrumental qualities. Even when a voice is clearly heard in the middle of the second track "Trek," it sounds as though the vocalist is speaking Maori. Bruce says this track 'was directly influenced by "Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun," and I'd say that there were more than a few SR songs that were influenced by post-Syd Barrett, pre-Dark Side of The Moon era Pink Floyd. The More soundtrack is still my favorite of theirs, as well as Saucerful of Secrets, and I do remember playing a few things off the first album (like "Pow R Toch H") to the SR guys at early rehearsals.'
The Trudge E.P. is now coupled on a CD with the next LP Ceremonial. Robert Loveless had returned to the band in the interim and remained until 1986. The original version of the LP was somewhat marred by very flat singing. There was more disagreement about whether the band should be instrumental or vocal. In the current instrumental version this seems to be the closest that Savage Republic come to Licher's current project Scenic even more so than Trudge does. The original cover shows the band hanging around in what looks like a disused quarry, this has been replaced on the CD reissue with a front cover photo of the bandless gorge and a backcover of the band walking towards the camera. Bruce: 'this was in the Orocopia Mountains just east of the little desert town of Mecca, California, near the Salton Sea southeast of Palm Springs. We went there for the name mostly. It was the location that Stuart Swezey, who promoted the Desolation Center desert shows that we were involved with, and I chose for the "Mojave Auszug" show with Einsturzende Neubauten, Mark Pauline and Djemaa-El-Fna. And it looked good.'
In 1986, Robert Loveless left the band again, as previously stated he was to return to playing with Licher several years later in Scenic. With this departure, the band kept the same line-up for the next year, touring including their first tour of mainland Europe, which unfortunately didn't include the UK. After this, Mark Erskine who had been undergoing some level of personal difficulties left the group to be replaced by Brad Laner. His time in the band was further documented by the double live LP Live Trek. I asked about how this was recorded. Bruce: 'As with all SR live albums released to date, they were recorded on cassette boomboxes or other cheap cassette recorders sitting in the back of the club. Mostly just intended as a way for us to document what we were doing, and listen to see how we could improve ourselves. Some of these recordings are pretty hard to listen to, but then some of them are pretty inspired...'
Brad Laner had been one of L.A.'s most promising musicians for a while, at one time he was in 11different bands playing almost as many different instruments. Brad on joining: 'I knew all of them for years previously mainly from being a big fan of the original SR and going to see them a lot and also from Debt of Nature being on a few bills with them.' Bruce thinks that 'Brad was way into Can as well as the Beach Boys when he joined SR, and I think his Can-influenced drumming brought out some really interesting sensibilities in our songwriting.' And certainly, when I played friends my copy of Jamahiriya in the late '80's it took a lot of convincing to stop them thinking it was a krautrock band. As I said earlier, several krautrock bands had been heavily influential in the sound of the band most notably Popul Vuh whose sound layering was taken aboard wholesale and Amon Duul II which might be detectable in the prominence of the rhythm section.
Founding member Jackson Del Rey was to return before the recording of the new LP Jamahiriya, he would last as a member until the European tour supporting the LP was almost over.
Jamahiriya has been a favorite LP of mine for a very long time. I'd had the copy of Tragic Figures for quite a while, liked it enough but only really linked to a couple of the individual tracks but buying Jamahiriya, taking it home plonking it on the record deck something just absolutely clicked. Its use of textures has meant that it was a very good LP to trip to back in my acid days. The use of rhythm should've ensured its place in dancefloor success 'cos it surely do make me want to shake m'booty. This funkier influence is probably part and parcel of the Can influence. The original LP also has a great cover that the reissue seriously does not do justice to. The four members holding up an eight-pointed cross of palm fronds in front of a beach sunrise.
Bruce: 'Mostly we wanted a cover that had a firey revolutionary feel, and hired a professional photographer to accompany us into the Santa Monica mountains to shoot some suitably heroic photos. The cover shot was at the end of the day when we had wandered down to the beach above Malibu and the sun was setting behind us. And I think those are actually seedpods from pampas grass, which we often used as stage dressing, rather than palm fronds. I then superimposed a photo Ethan's wife had taken of a fire Ethan had set on top of his oil can during an outdoor SR show under the beach shot for the final image.'
'The inside spread was blown up from a minute corner of a slide taken during the same shoot in the mountains. The full picture is of Ethan standing on top of a knoll in a heroic posture, but I liked the background and so this lower corner was blown up from an area the size of a couple grains of rice to the inside gatefold cover, which is why it's so grainy. Kind of nice that way, though.'
It looks like the same front cover photograph was used on the reissue but the early morning vibe of the original is reduced heavily in the three color reproduction. Bruce: 'Would've been nice to have the original artwork elements back, but ALL the artwork and master tapes (!!!) we sent to Fundamental Music back in the day were never returned and probably have since been destroyed somewhere along the line as record labels and distributors go out of business.'
I think the original sleeve connects to the music in a rare quasi-synaesthetic way. The music contained is definitely amongst the bands most cinematic, containing the Arabic/Eastern European themes that the band been developing since their first LP. The conflict between the two camps fighting over whether to make songs punchy short vocals or long instrumentals seems to have reached a point of compromise here too, since most of the tracks seem to combine elements of the two. As Bruce says above, Brad's drumming certainly adds something to the sound that wasn't there as noticeably before. Comparing the versions of tracks that appear on Live Trek, the Mark Erskine era live LP with the Live 88 Brad Laner-era LP, there seems to be a major dynamic shift. Erskine was a good solid drummer whose role seemed to be on equal footing with the rest of the instrumentation: Laner's drumming almost seems to take over as lead instrument.
Brad had a strange drum setup consisting of what he described as 'broken cymbals, rack tom tuned high to sound like a conga, two floor toms' and employing 'lots of Chris cutler inspired "extended" drum ideas i.e., hitting the sides and shells of the drums, funny tunings in general.' At the time, that Brad was in the group he was hands down the best musician. Thom F goes as far as saying that he could outplay most of the other members on their own instruments. Brad went on to form Medicine, fronting them on guitar and had some degree of success with music that I used to think owed a heck of a lot of influence to the band that he passed through. I'm not sure if it wasn't a case of two-way influence. He certainly doesn't see the comparison himself.
Again, the LP roughly splits into a side with lyrics/vocals and an instrumental side or at least into one where the vocals are used more instrumentally than the more lyrical other. This does fall apart a bit when it comes to the first side's Pink Floydesque long hypnotic instrumental "Tabula Rasa," a title that Savage Republic got to 5 years before Einsturzende Neubauten used it for the title of their 7th LP. The phrase means 'blank slate.' Here, the swirling, constantly changing focus on instrumentation seems to evoke that state very well. "Spice Fields," the second track on this side, is highly evocative of a desert patrol group rolling into view. Is it coincidental that this band used to be called Africa Corps? I think this is likely to be the first track that I'd play to anybody asking what the band was about since for me it seems to encapsulate the band in a nutshell. The whole LP is brilliant though and apart from returning the original sleeve I don't think this could be much better.
Apart from Ethan Port, who was tied down with University work, the band finally played the UK on the tour that supported the release of this LP. I got to see them at the Fulham Greyhound in London, where they supported the Young Gods. I wangled my way on to the guest list thanks to the band and their German tour manageress (maybe this needs stressing I think she was about the only female tour manager that I came across in the couple of years I was following bands around). I had hoped that my friends group Playground would be able to stick me on, since I really didn't want to miss SR. I saw them again a few days later at the Dome in Tufnell Park. At this gig, Thom F was forced to play support band Shriekrock's Day-Glo bass since the tuning peg on his own bass was broken. I thought he'd had his stolen so was fighting my conscience over whether I should tell him about a 10 string bass on sale in Denmark street that I also had an eye on, I think he probably didn't know until reading this. He probably wouldn't have wanted it anyway.
The Live 88 LP was compiled by Brad Laner from tapes made throughout the tour. Brad: 'I put my faves from the shows that got taped on Live 88 and Customs, the live track on which is from the same show as "Grinch" and "Sucker Punch." Nuremberg I believe. I had a sprained ankle and was playing the bass drum with the wrong foot. The show must go on!' (These tracks are only on the CD)
Bruce Licher: 'The original idea for the live LP was because a fellow who ran a record shop in Germany had asked us if we would record the shows on the tour, then he'd be interested in pressing an "official" bootleg album for us, as he had been doing that with a lot of bands that came thru on tour. Ultimately he decided not to and Fundamental wanted to release it, to try to make some more money off us, I guess, as we never saw any from it...'
Thanks to bureaucratic red tape the whole Greek part of the tour had been undermined by the fact that the band had tried to enter the country with incorrect paperwork. Bruce: 'Actually, the paperwork was correct as far as we had been told before we left the USA - until we got to Greece and they had changed the rules...' This had lead to the border customs officers confiscating all their equipment, which meant them having to play shows with borrowed equipment. After this had already gone down the band also wound up with spare time on their hands in Thessalonika, which lead to the recording of Customs. When SR went to reclaim their equipment before leaving the country they discovered that there were more signatures needed than they'd expected and that there was a customs strike about to happen. The promoter of the Greek tour had pre-booked studio time just in case the band could manage to stay the weekend. This allowed them to go into the studio for 3 days, November 11-13, at Recording Projects Studio in Thessalonika. They wrote the material in the studio and most of it sounds like they would have been heading in interesting directions if the tour hadn't ripped the heart out of the band. Though this was recorded on borrowed gear, it still sounds incredible.
The band had been very popular in Greece following their recording of "O Adonis," Mikis Theodarakis' banned song from the 1960's that graced the B-side of their 1983 single "Film Noir." This led some Greeks to believe that SR were more aware of underground local history than they in fact were. The band had just thought they'd cover a gorgeous tune.
Over the week between Greece and the dates in the UK, things came to a head including an incident in Amsterdam involving a frying pan. The head belonged to Jackson. I don't think their show at the Barrel Organ, Birmingham UK was very well attended, which is a shame since if things had been going as planned, the band should've been incredible. I remember hitching down to this show to see them the day after seeing the Gun Club at Manchester Polytechnic. By this time, Brad Laner had already jumped ship so they had to use the support act Laughing Academy's drummer. Jackson Del Rey seemed to be seriously depressed, apparently had food sickness and was being heavily comforted by the tour manager. This seems to be the result of some serious infighting that had happened in Amsterdam a few days earlier. I ballsed up, getting a lift to Edinburgh with the band. I kind of doubt that that van would've been the most restful place to be during that trip anyway. They played Edinburgh with the local whiz kid drummer who had been brought in by the promoter, only doing the tracks that he could get a groove going on, something I'd seen with the guy from Laughing Academy the night before too. It seems Laner must've used pretty weird drum signatures.
I was put on the guest list in Birmingham as one of the only couple of names on there. I thought the entire list was supposed to be me and the guy putting me up that night. I've since heard that Thom F had invited Will Sergeant of the Bunnymen to come down. Thom F: 'the Birmingham show was a nightmare... I had invited Will Seargent of Echo to that show, but he never asked to be on the list. I found out many months later that he showed up but left after two songs... C'est la vie.'
Thom's stated opinion was that he would've loved to get one of the Savage Republic LP's produced by Sergeant. This reminds me that I'd heard a similarity between the playing style of the guitarist from the Dublin band Whipping Boy and the guitar sound on a lot of Savage Republic's stuff especially on the live LP from this tour. When I asked that guitarist Paul Page about whether he'd heard Savage Republic, he said no it was from Sergeant. Seemed weird that some of the republicans were also Bunny fans.
A couple of weeks after this, Bruce Licher sent me a postcard accompanying a copy of the Sordide Sentimentale booklet from the French Tragic Figures release. In this he told me that I hadn't really missed much and that after the Edinburgh gig the band got straight into the tour bus and drove straight to Heathrow Airport to make a morning flight. Must've been 400 miles at top speed.
So the group in fractious mood staggered home to the States and in December Bruce decided to leave the band, three years later moving to Sedona, Arizona. They played two final shows with a line up consisting of Thom Furhmann, Greg Grunke, Ethan Port, the departing Bruce Licher and a drummer called Aaron Scherer. Scherer was a member of Perry Farrell's pre-Jane's Addiction band Psi Com. For these last dates, the band could only organize a couple of days rehearsal and still sounded incredible. According to the band, the final show at the Wash in Claremont California was one of the band's best performances. A recording of the concert is due for October 2002 release through Mobilization under the title Execution of the State by Fire and Ritual.
Ethan Port, Greg Grunke and Thom F stayed together once Bruce Licher had left, initially under the name Motormouth. This grouping has had several alternative names and line-ups since.
2002 SR MEMBER UPDATE:
Bruce Licher is now the leader of the band Scenic. He is also running his own letterpress with which he has designed the covers for various artists work in his own recognisable style (he seems to like rough beige card). Until recently he was also running IPR as a mail-order firm, a lot of this work has now been picked up by Mobilization.
Thom Fuhrmann has continued to work in music and last year released a work called Tundra, which is an aural description of the Arctic wasteland. He has also worked in the bands Motormouth and Autumnfair, the latter of which has an overview compilation cd available through Mobilization.
Robert Loveless has had a varied career working with several different bands notably 17 Pygmies and Scenic. In his own words, 'living in Los Angeles (Silverlake) and working at an art gallery (that also sells my paintings and inks) and mixing sound one night a week at a great club in Hollywood called Largo... Producing CD's for Janet Klein and Her Parlor Boys- we just finished her third CD of obscure, naughty and lovely music from the 1910's, '20's and '30's; I also help her with photos and some art/web design... I'm usually painting and drawing when I'm not working on Scenic and my own CD (via my computer) of music. Of course lately I've been rehearsing for the upcoming Savage Republic reunion shows in November, playing mostly guitar.'
Phil Drucker moved onto 17 Pygmies with whom he made several records. He then returned to Savage Republic for their last 2 studio LP's and the Live 88 record. He is now a lawyer and not involved in music anymore (I think).
Mark Erskine contributed bass and vocals to a wacky 7" by the Zimbo Chimps and added some guest vocals on the same band's later lineup Skinnerbox's debut LP from 1986. He then disappeared from the music scene but appears to be starting to play locally in the mid-West.
Jeff Long was playing bass with the U.S. hardcore band Wasted Youth throughout most of his time with Savage Republic. He quit them to return to playing fulltime with Savage Republic until April '83, he then retired from music and now teaches psychology.
There is a Yahoo.groups chat-list dedicated to SR called Procession. Most of the members of the band appear there quite frequently. It has been a great help in my research for this article.
Savage Republic has long been a favorite of mine. I had some friends who attended UCLA and introduced me to their music. Tragic Figures is a classic album if you can find one of the original numbered releases. I saw them many times culminating with an opening spot for PIL at I think was the Pasadena Auditorium somewhere around 1983. Good stuff. Thanks Ben
Well, if you can do your Savage Renewal post on Savage Republic, I guess I could do mine on Savage Henry:
Mine will be on Savage Swimwear
Thanks for this long and thoughtful expose on the history of Savage Republic. But before you go to print, I'd like to help you fine tune some of the facts. First off, it would really help if you would interview all the artists you've mentioned because things are skewed to the degree where one single member is depicted as the sole creative numena while others are lesser contributors, or worse, conniving.
So, let me help you get the record straight on a few items... and I qualify to speak because I was, for a brief time, a guest member of the band but did move on to the 17 Pygmies...
Here's my feedback...
Sorry, but Bruce was not the band leader for Savage Republic, nor was Desi Arnez. Did Bruce really call himself the "leader"? If anything SR was/remains to be a collaborative effort and when ideas were presented that did not jive with a member or two, the majority voting would put the idea into action...
That's because the band members were art students who painted and were not learned musicians... they became musicians over time, like 20 years, but in 1981, when they entered into "soundmaking" it was because they only new a few chords or rhythms, not because they were rejecting conventional technique.
That's more like it... see... at least Thom is honest!
Whoa whoa whoa, hold on, slow down, the timeline is way off by at least 15 years... Bruce formed Scenic AFTER Savage Republic had split, and this was around 1994ish with Jim Brenner and Brock... it was a trio and a couple years later they invited Loveless as a GUEST. So first, for Bruce, it was SR, then Neef, then Scenic.
The tunnels were Mark Erskine's discovery and hang out.
Phil "talked his way into the band" -- where the heck do you come up with this??? What source said "talked his way into the band" and why would a group want a bandmate who weasles his way into the group? What's that say about the group, that they are spineless, too?
Okay, so Phil weasles his way into the group and brings in a central member who solidifies the sound, and Jeff is in, because like George Harrison as a teen, could play the freaking guitar while the other members were painters and not guitarists... so it was a smart move on Phil's doing to introduce Jeff to the group.
the monotone guitar is an old cheat and works great for guys who can't play... if anything, seeing Branca helped give the band an idea on how to cheat and make a sound sound like it's going somewhere.
that's strange... I gave Loveless a starburst Rickenbacker in 1986 which he sold a decade later... And yes, a real piece of equipment really brings out the talent of its player.
The guys probably had Faust IV in their music collection before Bruce brought a copy over, but who cares, you make it sound like the guys were trying to emulate Faust-- how crazy is that??? That's like saying Einsterzende Neubauten emulated Savage Republic because they played Tragic Figures in their livingroom. From what I recollect about the jam sessions, really, all it was was a bunch of guys getting together and just beating drums and thrashing riffs until something was chiseled out of the extensive mantra, becoming a song, and that itself was a collaborative effort.
This is what irritates me... Phil's not the kind of guy to throw his hands up in the air and say "I'm quitting if you guys don't chaneg the bands name." That's total Fantasy Island stuff. Look Boss, the plane, the plane!
That is some pretty trippy word stretching... now Phil is a mind reader stealing Bruce's thoughts..? Funny! No way. Here's the real story... Phil came up with the new band name, "Savage Republic" just as he came up with "17 Pygmies." The reason for the 17 Pygmies title was because Phil was working in a museum and was counting artifacts that were to be paired, or a set of 9 married pygmy relics, but there were only 8 complete sets and one single pygmy, so he said to himself, "wow, 17 Pygmies, not 18" and while doing so, noted to himself that that would be a cool band name...
The thing Phil didn't dig was the swastika and nazi punk sentiment, and being a good natured spirit told the group that those two items had to go because they were UNCOOL and UGLY. What band wants an association with White Supremacy? So if anything, Phil cleaned up SR's act and helped steer it toward a more wholesome direction and so capture the true sentiments of the members, being that they're peaceniks and not intolerant bastards. So I guess that's a pretty decent action coming from a guy who 'talked his way into the band.'
OK, so the guy who talks his way into the band also continues to bring in new members?
Which one, Viva, Missyfish or the bootlegs? Also, to clarify, the bootlegs occurred when we (17 Pygmies) sent our demo tape overseas and because there are no copyright laws there, we shot ourselves in the foot... then when the band had taken a long sabbatical, idiot rumors were circulating that a member had done the bootlegging when in fact he was just as in the dark as we were.
Well, this is about as much as I can get into commenting tonight... anyhow, nice enough job, just try to get ahold of other members and have a bigger picture so as to avoid putting good folks down. Thanks, Louise
[ Edited by: louisebialik 2005-10-12 13:21 ]
continuing on with comments and suggestions to help get the story straight...
Correction-- Bruce doesn't retain rights and ownership of the music as it was a collaborative effort amongst the members. He may have the tapes in his possession but he's not the sole owner. Whatsmore, if he would like to rerelease the album to his liking, there's nothing stopping him. The other members would be into it, so chances are that if such a dream existed, Bruce would "release the material as he envisioned it" because there's no barriers. As for the "other bandmates" "splintering off" and making the songs go their way-- that's really idiotic. Musicians can be in multiple bands on any given day and what occurs in one band's creative production is not going to marry into the next band's experiences-- that would be like saying that the blue and red colored artists in Band A who mix and make purple still continue to make purple when blue members go outside the studio to record with yellow colored artists in Band B. Nothing is the same. There are no carry-overs... and Paniolo, Captured In Ice, and Jedda By The Sea sound nothing like SR, and by the time I joined 17 Pygmies in 1985, we were nothing near SR.
Try your luck with eBay. That's how I acquired my copies. And chances are that if Phil and I are into it down the road, we'll reissue from whatever tapes we have between us. That could be a long time a-coming because we're working on other projects.
I can assure you that Brad was well into establishing his own unique style YEARS before the Anti-Club days AND that in no way did his brushing with SR influence Medicine. If anything, it was STEAMING COILS and DEBT OF NATURE, not Savage Republic. Brad also lended a hand with 17 Pygmies but our collaboration in no way influenced his future work... and if there was any influence over Brad, it would have had to have been Karlheinze Stockhausen or Harry Partch, and I'm sorry that if such a venture was ever possible that SR didn't exploit the full opportunity because of all the members, Brad is the most skilled and dares to bend beyond the norm.
Well, this much is true and like the band's not taking full opportunity of Brad's contribution, the group got scared of having me on as a full fledged member because it didn't want a "girl singer" so it opted to let Loveless sing the other songs beyond Andelusia, but by then, Phil invited me into 17 Pygmies. If you ask me, Thom should have sung in place of Loveless because at least he could carry a tune and harmonize.
Yes, the creative idea for location and execution goes to the photographer and Stuart.
He didn't leave, he was voted out like I was. There was an issue about the singing and entering keyboards into the mix of the sound, but that was good for 17 Pygmies because Phil and I, with Loveless went into the studio and recorded WELCOME, signing on with Island Records and bringing in a diverse group of musicians into the project, including Brad Laner and Morris Tepper.
Well that's not exactly fair. Everyone has difficulties at some point or another in time but to call it the reason why Mark was moved out of the band is a little tacky. If anything, the band was having personal difficulties and problems communicating... so when the original members were gone, like Phil, Jeff and Mark, what became of Savage Republic, really?
The influence is probably more attributed to Brad's contribution than Can's.
And that's because Brad is a well skilled musician while Erskine and the rest of the bunch were painters and artists.
Hold on, apparently you've missed out on one of the greatest LA bands of the 80s-- STEAMING COILS-- you need to go get some Breaded, Tarkington Table and Never Creek... get those records, interview Brad, David Chrisman, Spencer Savage, Joseph Hammer, Don Bolles, and then continue on with your thoughts... what you will find is that Brad has this weird talking in tongues sort of gift when it comes to playing instruments and making songs. However, just while he's genius like that, so are the other players in Steaming Coils, and these guys lived like a tribe for nearly a decade. If there is any influential cross over from Savage Republic to Medicine, it's Steaming Coils but with more amplitude and real instruments instead of toys (no put down, just stating the facts-- the band used actual toy instruments because it was what it could afford at the time, plus they were creative cats trying all kinds of medium, including crinkled paper or dry beans in a pie pan). So in defense of Medicine... let it be known that Medicine is its own unique creation and not a bleed over of passing through Savage Republic. Whew.
And that's probably because of the frying pan stint...
check cdbaby.com to buy or listen to Phil's "I Am The Light" recent release. He's been making music throughout his career as a lawyer and is currently in the studio with old friends.
Maybe with these new notes you can fine tune your article and post it back into the Procession thread. Be seeing you there.
[ Edited by: louisebialik 2005-10-11 12:49 ]
Wow! That was super cool! I just pulled that off some bio site somewhere for my Savage Renewal Project here on TC for kind of a joke. Personally, I remember seeing the band in Pasadena with PIL and the drums just took me out! Good times back then. Thanks for clearing up who ever wrote that. How awesome to have a band mate find this and Tiki Central.
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