by Kari Tucker
How does a band choose a name? And do they care if it's an indication of the kind of music they play? Genre-guessing is a pretty easy game with names like Metallica or Megadeth. But what about Blink-182, Korn or Glass Tiger? If you weren't already familiar with them, would you have ever guessed (by their names only) that those bands are pop punk, post-grunge metal and saccharine-pop?
So just by looking at the name ELDERSTAAR, what kind of music comes to mind? New Age? Tribal? Industrial? Skiffle?
Nope. Elderstaar is pure rap-core. Think Rage Against The Machine or maybe Papa Roach. Had these guys been discovered in 1992, they would've already been familiar faces on MTV. Yet back then, the members of Elderstaar weren't even teenagers yet. They're throwing a CD release party at the Big Dipper this Saturday night.
The Elderstaar boys are general goof-offs, no different, really, from others in their late teen/early 20s peer group. They're also charmingly naive about the business aspects of their music. Without manager Bill Powers of Anger Management, they would struggle to keep track of their schedule and all those other pesky responsibilities. Like money and stuff.
Even more entertaining than their kinetic live shows is the interaction between the five members of the band. They are quick-witted and are endlessly amused by one another, gently correcting and teasing each other. They've given themselves stage names -- but can never quite remember what they are.
Yet on their debut CD, Sterling Dreams, Elderstaar is surprisingly professional. Produced at College Road Studios in Spokane, the rap-metal album contains songs that are dark, loud and raw -- with a twist. Added to their clever use of harmonies, are occasional curve balls, such as the addition of a sweet-voiced Jill Sobule-like female vocalist on one song.
"We have kind of a different sound," says guitarist Israel. "There's a genre right now -- people are getting sick of the hip-hop/hardcore thing, but as easy as it is to define our music by that staple, by that label, that's pretty much what it is. But it just sounds good."
"And we have something new to add to it," interjects drummer Amiko. "We're unique."
Although Elderstaar was named the top Spokane band in a poll on the local music web site, SpokaneBands.com, they rarely play here. In the three years the group has been together, they've toured all over the Pacific Northwest, including Montana and British Columbia (Elderstaar's biggest show in Spokane was opening for Five Foot Thick recently at the Met). And they don't intend to remain a Spokane band for long. They envision eventually moving to Hollywood where they have several excellent connections.
You can't take yourself too seriously in Hollywood, and the members of Elderstaar certainly do not. When asked what is important to them and what they promote, bassist Martyr responds: "We're really into changing your oil. We think people don't do that enough. We're strict about 3,000 miles. We think like clockwork you should be getting that done."
"We actually got sponsored by Pennzoil once, but that fell through," Amiko jokes. "Yeah, we're looking into Quaker State right now."
So, what is up with the name?
"Let's make up a new definition for it," insists Martyr. "All right, one time I was walking through this tunnel, right? And I found this jellyfish..."
"A short definition," Amiko tells him.
"...so I found this jellyfish, right? And I dried it out in my freezer. And then Israel saw it and called it an elderstar."
Why? I ask.
"Because it looked like one," responds Israel. [Long pause] "That's what it was, it was an elderstar."
It seems these guys know a lot more about the music business than they care to let on. They've certainly learned how to handle (and simultaneously confuse) the press. And as long as they're able to maintain their sense of humor, no bump on the road to fame should be too much for them to handle.
Elderstaar are playing a CD release party with Suffice and rapper Locke on Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Big Dipper. $5 cover. Elderstaar will also appear on The Peak's Local Artist Spotlight,
Sunday, Sept. 16.
The murmur of heartache
Is there an actual sound of a heart breaking? How about an audio equivalent of longing and, finally, of sweet release? Nashville songstress KIM RICHEY manages to translate these intricacies of love, loss and relationships into earthly and beautifully tangible music. Richey offers uniquely elegant songs and a southern siren's voice that bridges the gap between country soul and singer-songwriter rock 'n' roll. She opens the Trisha Yearwood show at the Arena next Thursday night.
In 1988, Richey first moved to Nashville to try her hand at songwriting. No stranger to the Northwest, Richey pledged that she would move back to her hometown of Bellingham, Wash., and work in a friend's restaurant if her songwriting career didn't work out. She didn't have to debate over a decision for very long. She began plugging her songs to everyone, eventually penning hit songs for Trisha Yearwood, Radney Foster and Lorrie Morgan. Over time, these successes made Richey a songwriter in demand and landed her a record deal with Mercury Nashville.
Raised on Top 40 radio and 45s from her aunt's record store, the epicenter of country music offered a different perspective for Richey. Here, she absorbed the influences that came to shape her music, writing and career. Radio programmers didn't have a clue as to how to fit her music into their formats, especially in Nashville. Back then, the alternative country sound was just taking baby steps. Radio, retail and even record execs were all perplexed by this new hybrid. But Richey had gold in her pocket, and gathered support from all of these industry types and much critical acclaim.
The head of Mercury Records, Luke Lewis, was behind her music 100 percent from the start. He encouraged her to make the albums that she wanted, regardless of whether they fit into country music formats -- or any formats. Due to the commercial success of fellow genre-pushing label-mates Shania Twain and the Mavericks, Richey was allowed this creative freedom, relatively rare in the music business.
Richey has often been stylistically compared to Lucinda Williams, Shawn Colvin and Sarah MacLachlan. She possesses the rootsy twang and soul-baring lyrics like Williams, shares the pure, understated vocal techniques as Colvin, and on her latest album, Glimmer, evokes atmospheric moods similar to MacLachlan. Also much like these women, Richey has had to carve out her own niche and navigate the treacherous musical roads, defying categories along the way. Her first two albums found Kim in more traditional country territory, yet not formulaic or typical at all. However, she desired to translate her feelings and experiences into something that was personally her own, for and by herself.
Richey's third album, Glimmer, released in 1999, was a departure from her country efforts. Produced by renowned Englishman Hugh Padgham (the Police, Sting), the album took a leap into the unknown, emphasizing the raw emotion of Richey's lyrics while layering instruments and vocals to create a warmly ambient cocoon of sound. As with all of her releases, she has written or co-written all of her songs, quite unheard of in Nashville. Richey's music is quietly moody, softly engaging your mind and heart while wrapping you in a comforting blanket of understanding and reflection. Her songs could slide in easily next to Natalie Merchant or Melissa Etheridge, yet also rub shoulders with Son Volt and Iris Dement. This broad wake and appeal has made her a songwriting force to be reckoned with.
With influences ranging from XTC, the Police and '50s girl-groups, Kim Richey's music will never be stuck in a musical cookie cutter. As she says herself in the song, "Can't Lose Them All," "Every time I get shot down, I justify the risk. Because I come a little closer to a hit with every miss."
It looks like she is getting closer every step of the way.
Trisha Yearwood plays at the Arena with special guest Kim Richey on Thursday, Sept. 20, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $29.50 and $37.50. Call: 325-SEAT.
Ridin' the Big Train
There are two kinds of people: those who know about MIKE WATT and those who don't. If you've been into alternative (or more accurately, "independent") rock music since you were old enough to burn a copy of Rolling Stone, you'll need no introduction. If you haven't, you might be surprised to learn that you actually do know this guy. Remember Eddie Vedder singing, "Against the '70s"? That was Mike Watt's song. Remember Porno for Pyros? That was Mike Watt's bass. fIREHOSE? The Minutemen? Again, and again, Mike Watt. He'll be at Mootsy's on Monday night.
Bassist Mike Watt is a true, authentic, honest-to-goodness indie rock legend. He's been called "the living embodiment of the punk rock spirit." And I can't think of anyone who would better fit that bill. He was alternative before "alternative" became a meaningless music industry buzzword. And his work has influenced thousands of musicians.
Back in the late '70s, Watt was a founding member of the Minutemen (along with guitarist/vocalist D. Boon and drummer George Hurley). More than any other American punk or hardcore band at the time, the Minutemen were fundamental in creating the unconstrained attitudes that gave birth to alternative music. The Minutemen deconstructed everything -- punk, blues, jazz, funk -- and brilliantly pasted it all back together into brief (true to their name, most of their early stuff clocks in at around one minute), tense explosions of rhythm that completely abandoned traditional verse/chorus song structure. Gaining a huge, dedicated following, they constantly toured and turned out a continuous stream of records -- some of the very best of the 1980s.
Then in 1985 -- after the death of Boon in an automobile accident -- the two remaining members of the Minutemen (plus a die-hard fan) formed fIREHOSE, continuing on with the Minutemen style. They stayed together for almost 10 years before calling it quits.
In1994, when Watt decided to go solo, a vast array of alternative rock stars, recognizing his influence on their own music, stepped up to the plate to help him. The result was Ball-Hog or Tugboat, an album that essentially became a Mike Watt tribute. Among the album's participants were members of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Lemonheads, Screaming Trees, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soul Asylum, Beastie Boys and Sonic Youth.
These days, the ever-busy Watt (he played with Perry Farrell's art-punk metal band Porno for Pyros and more recently as a touring member of J. Mascis & amp; The Fog) is working on his third solo release. (It's confirmed that it will be completely devoid of six-string guitar; just drums, organ and bass). And of course never far from the road, Watt is continuing the proud tradition of the Minutemen by gracing stages all across the U.S.
His current band is comprised of himself on bass and guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Jerry Trebotic (affectionately known as the Tom & amp; Jerry Show). Come on down and give it up for a guy that in one way or another probably influenced most of what you're listening to right now. Hopefully.
Mike Watt plays at Mootsy's on Monday, Sept. 17, at 9 pm. Tickets: $10 in advance; $12 at the door. Call: 838-1570.