Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Eric's Trip, the Record Collecting Impetus and a Journey Escape

I write from Moncton, New Brunswick, home of Sub Pop's first Canadian band Eric's Trip. It's not too often I visit a band's hometown and get excited (in Thunder Bay I called all the local record shops looking for the Jarvis Street Revue's "Mr. Oil Man" LP with no luck) but having never imagined in a million years that I'd have any reason to be in this town, I will have to admit I'm a bit geeked.

Eric's Trip lasted from 1990 to 1996, with reunions in '01 and '06 and a performance planned for this year's Sappy Fest in August. Taking their name from the Sonic Youth song title, their lo-fi home recordings and creepily simple artwork (pen/ink, cut/paste, b/w photos) have always rung true and cool without pretensions to do so. Lead singer and guitarist Rick White is a pure musician who seems wholly unconcerned as to how the surrounding society views his music. He is not a musician because he wants to be one, he is a musician because he can be nothing else.

Where a song like "Behind the Garage" is a soft lullaby played simply on an acoustic guitar and sung with plaintive voice, the band also thrashed out fuzzbombed and noisy indie rock like "Sloan Song", obviously indebted to Sonic Youth/Sebadoh/Dino Jr, but ultimately branching off into its own independent, mid-Nineties, maritime province originality. The later stuff off of Forever Again leans a little more psychedelic, but never does it wary from its honesty and intrigue. With Julie Doiron's able-bodied bass and sweet-as-pie vox, Marc Gaudet's solid chops drumming and whatever Chris Thompson decided to add as guitarist, the band is as pure as a French mountain stream.

Eric's Trip is a band I think a lot of people still don't know about, almost frustratingly so. These records are so clearly amazing, differing from their inspiration and existing almost in a vacuum where the sounds are sincere and timeless. Yet you rarely hear anyone mention word one about them. So I guess that's why I'm writing now. Spreading the word. Y'all definitely need to check out their Sub Pop debut Love Tara and fill in all the blanks from there.

This fascination started when I called Sub Pop in the Winter of '97 to request their free mail order catalog. I'd previously hand-written them a love letter asking about the vinyl availability of Superfuzz Bigmuff, Screaming Life and Bleach (at the time, non-existent) the status of the Singles Club (defunct) and whether or not they would send me any free shit. I was amazed to get a stack of the rocket ship "Powered by Sub Pop" stickers, some Supersuckers guitar picks and two Eric's Trip pins. I believe I gave one to Trevor Naud. The other should be in my archives somewhere.

(The letter writing campaign came to me in a spell as I trolled through my record collection one night looking for any address listed on a back cover, liner notes, whatever. The Foo Fighters never wrote me back. The Super Stinky Puffs letter got returned to me. Rage Against the Machine sent me free copies of the "Ghost of Tom Joad" and "No Shelter" 7"s.)

My receipt of said catalog is one of the ultimate watershed moments in my brief life. Not only did the descriptions of the records hit me as honest, poignant and funny as fuck (and would thus be my sole inspiration for my attempting to write about music) but the catalog was my slow birthing process into the seedy world of record collecting. I've not been the same since.

While my introduction to the Sub Pop Singles Club history would be via two pages from the indispensable Rolling Stone's Alt-Rock-A-Rama book (also responsible for introducing me to: the Shaggs, the Memphis Goons, drummer jokes) my full immersion came through my purchase of the Sub Pop discography poster. This 24"x36" full-colour placard on 120-pound paper pictures all of the label's releases starting with Bruce Pavitt's original Subterranean Pop fanzines and going all the way to the soundtrack for the documentary Hype some 15 years later.

So many times I referred to that poster that the images might as well be tattooed to the inside of my eyelids. With clear demarcations as to what releases were sold out, still available via mail order, never released to begin with, recalled, that poster acted as my road map for years to come.

So with a little teasing from the catalog and flat out taunting from the poster, I made it my mission to collect all the releases depicted therein. The Moby 7" where he covers Misson of Burma's "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" in speed metal fashion? No thanks. It's not on the poster. While others my age surely pined for Pamela Anderson as depicted in a skimpy red bathing suit poster on their wall, I dreamed of the days I could actually hold a copy of Nirvana's "Love Buzz" single.

So I discovered Eric's Trip the same way I would discover loads of other bands I came to adore... through the "With Love, Sub Pop" poster. Whereas I'd heard about Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Tad through my voracious Nirvana literature consumption, it was this poster that led me to search out other titles I would have otherwise ignored. So I grabbed a copy of the Fastbacks Zucker at a Southwest Detroit pawn shop (only because of the label it was released on) and fell in love. I grabbed the ESSENTIAL Hazel "Truly" single before I had an inkling it was essential. And I slowly accumulated every Eric's Trip release on the label, resigning myself to the fact that they were the real deal.

I bought my Flaming Lips single off Brendan Benson over a meal of mozzarella and tomatoes with blueberries and milk for dessert. The Jon Spencer 7" from Dave Buick as we carpooled to go see Mudhoney. Fugazi at the WFMU Record Fair. The Dwarves "She's Dead" b/w "Fuckhead" as my first-ever eBay purchase in February 2000 for the price of $37.50. The "I never thought I would ever own this record in all my life" Nirvana "Love Buzz" from Chris Brokaw (of Sub Pop bands Codeine and Come) via Nils Bernstein (long-time Sub Pop employee who I stumbled onto as he was eBay selling and managed to get a Gories 7" test pressing, Billy Childish #'d 2xCD and loads of other goodies not to mention tons of invaluable writing advice) with money I was given for my high school graduation.

And with a little bit of hindsight, my Sub Pop collecting provided me with a wealth of information that still proves valuable daily. It was my gateway drug into the world of indie rock trivia and minutiae. So while I may not care much about the Mad Daddy's single I own, I do know that band member Slim Chance would later go on to play with the Cramps. Or that creepy Helios Creed dude has a single that kinda sucks, but he played in a band called Chrome that made some whacked out racket that's pretty alright.

I can trace my existence through Sub Pop releases and where/when/from whom I bought them. Even nowadays where there's no poster to designate all the releases after catalog number SP-374, I still know that I bought Sleater-Kinney's One Beat on tour in Munster, Germany in 2005 or that I got the Wolf Eyes "Stabbed in the Head" single at their show opening for Sonic Youth at the Majestic Theater in the summer of 2004. Even more insane to me in a way that is impossible to explain is the amount of Sub Pop product I get sent for FREE without even asking for it.

Partially because I write about it. Partially because I've come to know some people who work there. Partially because they stock some Cass product. But on the whole, I turn into a nerdy little school boy every time that Sub Pop promo mailer makes its way to the HQ. I think too many reviewers believe they are owed records, the promo spigot eternally pouring its riches (and its wealth of mediocrity as well) onto them in an orgy of Western wastefulness. I buy a LOT of the shit I review (as far as 7"s, practically all of it) and am proud to do so. I view the promos I receive as a privilege and not a right.

So as one of the last remaining few who actually consistently purchases music in the tangible form, I am eternally grateful every time it is given to me. I don't write about music to make money. I write because I love music. To get a free CD, especially something I want or plan on reviewing, is just magical. Once that feeling is gone, you can put me out to pasture. And the same should be true for ALL music writers in the world.

So with hopes of turning up Eric's Trip super-rarities, I pencil out the addresses of all the record stores listed in the Moncton Yellow Pages and start walking. At Live Wire I get the CD version of Songs About Chris and Rick White's recent solo LP. More importantly, the guy behind the counter tells me that Marc Gaudet works at Frank's Music. They call me a cab and $12 later I'm at Frank's only to find out that Marc is on vacation.

So after buying a live Elevator (post ET outfit featuring White and Gaudet) LP, I thank the clerk and offer him a guest list spot for tomorrow's show. He graciously accepts and tells me Marc will be at the show as well. I leave my phone number and note that I'm looking for vinyl copies of and The Gordon Street Haunting and Elevator Part 1, you know, just in case he has any lying around. I figure it pointless to bother asking for any of the original cassettes, but maybe I can ask him in person.

This time a $15 cab ride gets me to Spin-It where a deadstock Canadian pressing of Thee Midniters "Land of 1000 Dances Pts. 1 and 2" is tempting, but a quick needle drop proves some groove damage on side 2 does affect play. I instead buy some post cards and the Atari game Journey Escape.

So I ask this of you...how come it was only at the beginning of this tour that I was told the shitty, shitty band Journey was given their own Atari game? I'm equally befuddled and pissed at this fact. Taken from the the Wikipedia entry for this game, here's the description of the plot...

You're on the road with Journey, one of the world's hottest rock groups. A spectacular performance has just ended. Now it's up to you to guide each Journey Band Member past hordes of Love-Crazed Groupies, Sneaky Photographers, and Shifty-Eyed Promoters to the safety of the Journey Escape Vehicle in time to make the next concert. Your mighty manager and loyal roadies are there to help, but the escape is up to you!

Funny though is the fact that you start the game as one of the lowly members of the band (you know, the shitty second keyboard dude) and each level gives you a member with a little more prestige, ultimately ending with (I can only assume) the legendary Steve Perry. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the first ever band tie-in with a video game? That alone is pretty interesting and unbelievable.

Back at the hotel and a perusal through the phone book leads me to an entry for a "Doiron, Julie" and I muster up the balls to call her this morning and invite her to the show. How embarrassing for me when the Julie on the other line, clearly confused, says "you're looking for the singer, eh?"

Oh well. I don't get chances like this often. At least I tried.

And it's all because of that little mail-order catalog...

9 comments:

Dale said...

I've been spinning Eric's Trip on the stereo quite a bit the past couple of weeks actually. I thought it was just me.

Anonymous said...

halifax being not so far away, be sure to send regards to the marquee (and the moon).

dpc said...

I'll have a listen to Eric's trip. The word is spread, thanks to you to talk about it with so much passion.

Now about getting free CDs, like you I assume it as an honor. Even more than that : it happens to me sometime to buy an album I already got for free, just to support the band. “Critical praise” won't push labels to release the next album of a band more than good old money in their pocket.

And btw, I seriously think that sending records for free to reviewers makes them to forget the simplier, more basic question that every music reader is gonna ask to himself : “Is that shit worth buying ?”. If they paid theirs, it would be the first question they would answer to.

OK, now I've got to say I've been reading you for a couple of months and I really like the way you talk about music. Coming here is always a pleasure. Keep it up and have a nice day.

Gary L. said...

Cousin Ben,

I've gone through three random renaissance love affairs with Love Tara over the past four years and still can't get enough of it - and I'm still listening to my original cassette copy, too.

- Cousin Hippie

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading these types of blogs the most from you Ben. The sooner they update that Journey game for the modern gaming environment the better this little old world will be (or maybe just my Friday nights). Cheesetastic.

JD

Anonymous said...

subpop never put out a single good record.

Nick said...

Hi,

Sounds really fucking weird, but I got into Eric's Trip because I heard "My Room" on 89x way back in the day.

Love Tara is in my disc player right now....

LLRNR

ted said...

eric's trip is great. the first sloan song i ever heard was their eric's trip cover on DGC Rarities

Jason said...

Ben,
I've been spinning Songs for chris tonight and came across this post. I also wrote to sub pop around the sme time probably and caught the tail end of their singles club which came in a huge package. I still cherish that Iron and Wine single, never heard of them but I couldn't stop playing it. Their legacy in the seven inch world will only be topped by third man.
Keep up the good work.