Wednesday, July 30, 2008

JEFF KOETTEL - "Bar-Nun" 1994

I’ll admit that when this was released I thought it was retarded and I was annoyed by it. Listening to it now, it’s still terrible – but in a charming sort of way. I can only assume this was released because other bands were releasing tapes at the time and Jeff wanted to share his contribution to the scene. Some stones are better left unturned, but I’m flipping this stone over anyway.

Jeff received a karaoke machine for Christmas one year and used it to make fake “radio show” tapes and three tapes of original “music”. Jeff had no training in music at all, couldn’t play any instrument. Jeff could, however, press the “demo” button on a keyboard and sing stupid songs over it, songs about Diet Pepsi, Rex (“where you always pay less”) and whatever else popped into his head. Make no mistake, this stuff is terrible, but it’s a great snapshot of a time that has passed. You can really hear how much fun he was having recording this nonsense.

In 1994, Jeff had a big birthday party at our house and invited a bunch of bands to play there. GHOOM, CITRUS BOY, GRISTLE and THREESKIN all played, but it was Jeff’s party and he was to do a set of his music that evening too. By the time all of the other bands finished playing, most of the audience went home and he ended up playing to an empty garage. I always felt bad about how that went down, like we completely took the wind from his sails that night, but being his older brother – I probably did shit like this all the time and didn’t think much of it.

This is total bedroom / bored-core stuff. Today it would probably be labeled “tardcore”, but when Jeff recorded this stuff he wasn’t listening to anything like this (I don’t remember him listening to anything but Dead Milkmen and Pantera at the time) and came up with all of this crap on his own. Jeff managed to completely rip-off Wesley Willis without ever hearing him.

This is the second of Jeff’s three tapes, I think, and of the three – this is the one where his “musicianship” was at it’s peak. Jeff later went on to play keyboards in SCAT, a doom band that eventually morphed into a thrash metal band, and currently plays drums in BILLY CRYSTAL METH, an instrumental sludge/doom band.


Thursday, July 24, 2008


FORCED EXPRESSION were a powerviolence/grind band that released three 7”s during their short existence in 1995. Brian and Spence, who had both played together in UNISEX two years earlier, formed this band with Daryl, a transplant from NJ. Nothing this musically extreme had ever existed in Ottumwa before this. They only played one live show, April 28th, 1995.

This 7”, their first, was recorded at Studio 16 Productions here in Ottumwa. It was probably the first and only time the owner/engineer had a request to record a Skilsaw, or a microphone being thrust into a coffee can of broken glass (you can hear both at the end of track #7).

Released on Reek Havoc records in 1995, either 1000 or 2000 copies were made, I don’t know for sure, maybe 30 copies or so were sold in Ottumwa. FORCED EXPRESSION was the first Ottumwa band to go global.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

BILL BASSET BAND - "Juvenile and Boring" 1992-1994

“Drakesville Reunion” was an all day event of bluegrass bands, vendors and loads of Amish people gathered together in Drakesville, IA once a year. In the summer of 1992, Mike and I went with his father and watched probably a dozen or more bluegrass groups play, each sounding more or less the same, blending in with the next and not very interesting for someone like me who grew up listening to heavy metal. Each group consisted of clean-cut, well dressed middle aged people playing on what looked like brand new equipment. This isn’t what I expected bluegrass musicians to look like, so I couldn’t help but to feel a little cheated. Just as I had totally lost interest in what was happening on the stage, this old, grizzled guy with a huge gray beard took the stage wearing bib-overalls and a railroad conductor’s hat, dragging a beat-up upright bass with duct tape on it to fix cracks it sustained from years of abuse. From the strings of his bass were small stuffed animals hanging, swinging back and forth as he played. This was Bill Bassett, an exciting moment in an otherwise boring day.
BILL BASSETT BAND formed that evening after returning home. Mike and I were inspired to start our own band, in hopes of being able to play next year’s “Drakesville Reunion”. Needless to say, this wasn’t something we pursued, but it was enough to get us started.
Starting out in Mike’s music room on the ground level of his house we recorded a few songs, then after waking up his mother, we moved it down to the far corner of his basement. For the most part Mike played guitar and sang. I played percussion on tin cans, pieces of metal, electric fan and whatever else I could find, sang and played guitar on a few songs. We recorded the songs immediately after coming up with a guitar part, the vocals mostly improvised, everything done in one or two takes. We stayed up all night playing and recording songs.
The tape we used for the recording was really shitty, like the worst quality tape you could imagine. Regardless, we thought the songs were pretty funny, so we decided to dub copies of it and give them out to unsuspecting people. “The Gospel According to Bill” was released, each with a unique hand drawn cover at first, later with a photocopied cover. Around 30 copies of this tape were given away, a good portion of which probably ended up in the trash.
We were smarter the next time we recorded and used a new tape instead of one that had been recorded over a dozen times. The “Bill Bassett’s Railroad Hat” and “Bill Bassett’s Cute Little Fuzzy Stuffed Animals Hanging From His String Bass Band” EPs were recorded, but went unreleased. A second release finally came about in the form of the “I Wanna Play at the Drakesville Bluegrass Festival” tape, featuring re-recorded versions of some of the fan favorites and new songs, Mike’s brother Mark joining in on banjo on a few songs. Around 40 copies of this second tape were made.
This “Juvenile and Boring” CDR was compiled by Mike and released on his Mighty Feeble Lo-Fi label. Mike did a good job of selecting the more listenable songs, eliminating the garbage that nobody really needs to hear today. Below is a review of the second tape from Spank Zine (I think it was Spank?) Mike included in the CDR layout.
“Super lo-fi the way it’s meant to be done: a bunch of kids, some boom boxes and a complete disregard for self-censorship. This is total kitchen sink music, including two songs about plankton, two about cigarettes, samples of a Korean acupuncturist, tin can drums, a woodpecker, an electric fan, and shoddy editing. Ahhh, there’s nothing like the mellow sound of a three dollar built-in condenser microphone. It’s obvious that members Andy, Mike and Mark have the time of their lives recording themselves goofing around. Songs like “At Bobby’s House” and “Jumping Rope” are both silly and poignant in a way that reminds me of some of John Prine’s older stuff. Others like “Uncle Bob” and “Jimmy Brown” are utterly inane and devoid of substance, yet pull this listener through because of their sheer ridiculousness. Listening to this album, I feel like I’m hearing a time capsule of these guys as they sail through uncharted musical territory. Their unabashed experimentation and their omnipresent sense of humor paint a vivid picture of these weird individuals as they put together songs about subjects that no one else would want to, using instruments that nobody else would want to use, making music that anyone else might simply dismiss as juvenile and boring. There is simple charm found in this collection of 29 songs that is quite uncommon in today’s self-conscious indie rock world. Kudos!"

BLACK MAGIC - "Burdens of Sanity" 1990?

Way back in 1992, Mike and I recorded a tape as BILL BASSETT BAND, an improv folk duet recorded in one long sleep deprived night. We decided to make tapes of this session and give them to people we knew. We were sure that BBB was the first “band” to dub and spread copies of their tapes in Ottumwa. I gave one of my copies to Steve Peterson, a quiet, but friendly guy I had a class with. After accepting my tape, he asked me if I had ever heard of BLACK MAGIC. He went on to tell me how great they were, and then a couple days later brought me a tape to borrow. I knew after listening to it that he didn’t really think they were a great band, and after some prodding he told me it was a band he and his cousin did a couple years earlier.

I never knew when these tapes were recorded exactly, but they must at least be as early as 1990. BLACK MAGIC recorded 3 tapes, “F.F.A.”, “Skulls” and “Paranoid: Leader of a Nation”, cover art existed for all three, but I’m not sure if copies were ever made of them or if it was ever distributed. Steve brought the covers to school for me to see, but wouldn’t let me borrow them to make copies of them. It wasn’t until a couple years later in 1993 or 1994 when Steve compiled all three tapes and released them as “Burdens of Sanity” that I got a copy of these songs for myself.

BLACK MAGIC formed out of resentment and boredom. Steve’s cousin, A.J. Orlando, was labeled a “problem child” by his family and was sent to Iowa to live with Steve’s family in an attempt to straighten him out. I can’t remember where he was sent from, but I want to say CA. Bored and angry, A.J. enlisted his cousin Steve to be in his band, playing on a Muppet Show drum set accompanying A.J.’s bass and vocals.

All of the BLACK MAGIC songs were recorded on a dual cassette boombox, the earliest songs without overdubs. Somehow they discovered the boombox had a defect and they could do overdubs by playing one recorded tape in the first cassette deck while recording onto the second deck at the same time. The second deck would record “open air” and pick up what the first deck was playing, along with whatever else was going on in the room at the time. Subsequent songs may have had more instrumentation, but the sound really just got worse with each overdub. I had the pleasure of recording on this same boombox with Steve in 1994 when we collaborated on a History project together and did a music interpretation of the Revolutionary War.

These BLACK MAGIC recordings are the earliest known recordings to have been made in Ottumwa by an original band doing D.I.Y. recordings. The whole collection of songs has an overall claustrophobic feeling to them. You can almost place yourself in the room with A.J. and Steve during the recording while listening to them, experiencing their boredom and frustration. Listening to them now, it’s probably one of those “you had to be there to realize it’s importance” things, but this stuff brings up all sorts of memories, good and bad, while listening to it - something good music should do, even it’s played on a Muppet Show drum set.


CITRUS BOY - "Conniption Fits" 1996

CITRUS BOY was one of the more prolific bands from the old days. Most bands released 1 tape, and then broke up and formed different bands. CITRUS BOY stuck it out for 3 releases, this tape being their last, and their only studio demo. These guys played all the time, it seemed, their live shows were always chaotic and usually ended in a guitar being smashed.

It’s my understanding that CITRUS BOY formed when their other band, SMIRNOFFS, was supposed to record one day and their singer couldn’t make it because his girlfriend wouldn’t let him out of the house. Instead of scrapping the whole day of recording, they decided to form a new band with the same members (minus their singer) instead.

This tape shows CITRUS BOY at their most polished, in playing and sound quality. Recorded at Studio 16 Productions in early 1996, this would be their last recording. While I think that “Not Nirvana” is probably the best representation of their sound, this is probably the best starting point.


GHOOM - "Ghoom '94" 1994

GHOOM existed during the summer and fall of 1994 and only released one tape, “Mostly”, through Jack Mackerel Productions, but truth be told – the band made and sold all of the tape themselves. GHOOM was made up of three of the nicest dudes I’ve met in my life, people who did more for the scene here then anyone else, perhaps. Mike put on shows in his basement, recorded bands for free and released compilation tapes of local artists. Clint was the editor of Real Life Zine, often featuring local bands within it’s pages, and hosted the annual “Paroxis” events that drew more people than any other. Having said all of this, I feel bad labeling it as “wuss-rock”, but I don’t know what else to call it. I don’t feel qualified to give this stuff a proper label because I don’t listen to stuff like this, but I guess you could call it alternative. Smashing Pumpkins and Firehose were probably influences on their sound as the members were fans of their music at the time (probably still today).

This CDR was released on Mike’s Mighty Feeble Lo-Fi label, and collects their only demo and a bunch of live songs that actually sound better than the demo does. I can’t imagine this CDR reissue is getting much exposure through sales, but it’s in need of a wider audience. Hopefully this post will help.


BIG CINDERBLOCK TONSIL - "Live From the Bench" 1995

BIG CINDERBLOCK TONSIL made their official recorded debut on “Music For Shrinking: The Second Ottumwa Compilation” on the Mighty Feeble Lo-Fi label, but before that they existed as a live act for a short while. Completely devoid of any talent, B.C.T. were more of a musical terrorist group than a band; two guys with bad wigs and body odor who took over the bench in front of the church on North Court at 2AM every night for nearly 2 weeks. Songs were written on the spot about whatever popped into their minds and played instantly and without rehearsal to an audience of anywhere from 0 to 10 people on an acoustic guitar and a cymbal perched atop a drumstick. More people might have seen them play, but they severely limited their audience by insisting they start their shows at 2AM. This 51 track collection was compiled by Angry Moon Productions and consists mostly of live recordings done from the bench on a hand held tape recorder. This is silly, juvenile stuff - be warned.

The band can still be contacted today through their
Myspace page run by Beckham where you’ll find a ridiculous pile of merchandise available for a band that existed for such a short while.


Monday, July 21, 2008

BORF BEAST - "70 Minutes of Evil" 1994-1996

Existing from 1994-1997, Borf Beast caught the tail end of the first wave of the Ottumwa scene. Even Ottumwa was not spared the influence of the Seattle grunge scene. Drawing obvious influence from Nirvana, Pixies and Lookout era Green Day, they played a great and energetic mixture of punk rock, grunge and even a little noise, but always with their own sound. This 25 track CDR collects their only demo, 2 compilation tracks, a full live set and an unreleased studio recording made in the band’s infancy. All three members are still active in the scene and went on to play in GRAND OLD LADY, LIVING FOR ID and GIANT BEARD THE PIRATE. Full liner notes in the zipped folder.


THREESKIN - "One Less Than Foreskin / Treatment for Minor Cuts and Abrasions" 1994-1995

Rising from the ashes of UNISEX, THREESKIN came on to the scene with two demo tapes and a live show filled with flying objects, elaborate costumes and two singers that shamelessly pummeled each other during their shows. Mixing the speed of thrash metal and short songs of hardcore punk, THREESKIN we’re the most violent of the first wave of Ottumwa bands, paving the way for CAPTAIN THREE LEG (of which all 5 members of Threeskin played in at one point). This 77 track CDR collects both demos (1994+1995), unreleased trax and rare unheard rehearsal stuff.


TRIGGABONE - "Head" 1994

TRIGGABONE (the name came from a botched crank call) was a one man project recorded in 1994 born out of boredom. Originally a poorly distributed cassette tape of maybe 20 copies, this re-release with an additional 10 trax pads out to an even 40 trax of weirdo outsider music inspired by The Residents, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, etc and clearly guided by alien forces. This could easily be mistaken for a long lost Residents demo, complete with marginal sound quality and nursery rhyme-esque lyrics.


MANTAPUS - "Discography" 1995-1996

Release #3 in the “Ottumwa Archive Series”, a series of limited CDRs showcasing some of the best music released in my hometown over the years. This is a reissue of the MANTAPUS demo from 1995 with 7 bonus tracks including their cut from the "This Is a Tiny Town" comp. MANTAPUS, to my knowledge, were the first full blown metal band from Ottumwa. Sure, some of my old bands came close, but not to the extent MANTAPUS did - blending death metal and thrash into a sound of their own. The demo tracks were recorded at Studio 16 Productions, the only place to record here in Ottumwa, and sport a surprisingly good/heavy sound considering the engineer usually recorded radio jingles and country bands. These guys were a local favorite during the year they existed, played lots of shows, released a demo and then disappeared. Here's your chance to check them out.


UNISEX - "Hold Your Breath... and Then Some" 1993-1995

UNISEX was one of the earliest punk rock bands in Ottumwa, existing long enough to record only one demo and featured future members of Forced Expression and Captain Three Leg. We wanted to be Poison Idea, fell way short of doing so due to none of us really knowing how to play. Instead we created our own brand of silly, short song HC with a crazed singer who sounded like he was going to break a blood vessel in his head at any time. 56 track discography with everything we ever recorded. Below are the liner notes I wrote for the CDR reissue...

"UNISEX existed for about a month during the summer of 1993. Mike was going off to college at UNI and a month was all we had. BEEF STEW disbanded and somehow Brian and Spence started playing with Mike and I. The idea was to write as many songs as we could in what little time we had, go to a studio to record them and then release a cassette. The magic number ended up being 20. 20 songs were written and rehearsed in front of my brother’s dumb drunken friends in our garage on no sleep.

July 13th, 1993…. I vividly remember Chris Hunter, engineer at Studio 16 Productions, trying to hide his face so we wouldn’t see him laughing at our half-assed attempt at “music”. This was my first time in a studio. We set up, sound checked, recorded and mixed down in just under two hours. $70 was our total bill, $70 well spent. Mike’s paper thin guitar sound and Brian’s lack of cymbals (they were there, just didn’t get recorded?) stamped our demo with an odd sound, but it was what it was and there was no time or money to do it over again.

100 copies of our “demo” were sold, some packaged as part of the “Unisex Sack Lunch Boxed Set” in a brown paper bag with a packet of Kool-Aid, hot chocolate, two crayons, a sheet of Unisex stickers, moist towelette and a swell poster of our then mayor for the kiddies to hang on their wall. Once the 100th copy was sold, I deemed “Hold Your Breath” as having gone Tin Foil. A year later(somewhere between September 1 and 6, 1994) we got back together and re-recorded the songs in Mike’s basement and repackaged them with the studio recording as a second “pressing” of 50 copies.

One last hurrah, on April 5th, 1995, we got back together and recorded 2 new songs for Mike’s “This Is a Tiny Town” compilation. This was the last time we played together as Unisex and the last time I played with Mike. Brian, Spence and I would continue with other projects, but that’s another story, and another disc…."


GRISTLE - "Cut and Paste 1994: Complete Discography"

GRISTLE was an instrumental funk/surf/punk/metal/rock band that existed in 1994 and released two demos. This stuff really should have been released on SST Records as it fits that whole style of genre blending rock stuff that they released so much of, but instead - nobody outside of Iowa ever go the chance to hear it. It's a little outside of the garbage I usually release through Mortville, but as I was in the band and I feel this music is still important today, you're getting your chance to hear it now. 35 tracks in 78 minutes. Below is an excerpt of my liner notes from the CDR reissue....

"During out first rehearsal we were able to write two songs, "Singapore" and "Pigs in Space". Right away I liked it. It was different than anything else I had played before, anything I listened to. These two songs set the tone for future songs, a mixture of rock, funk, metal, odd time signatures, atypical song structures and, for the most part, all instrumental. We cranked out songs as fast as we could from that point on, eager to play them for our friends. We never turned down playing a house show, sometimes on no notice at all for no more than 5-6 people. We played everywhere, all the time it seemed. I loved it.

"Shit Piece Ha" was partly recorded at Jake's house, and partly at mine. We assembled a cassette to sell at our shows to try and get enough money to book time at a studio and record our songs properly. Then, and 14 years later, it's my favorite of our two releases. The sound was a little rough in parts and I know there are at least a few mistakes on my bass playing, but of the two demos we recorded, this one sounded the closest to what we sounded like live. We didn't keep track of how many copies were sold. We didn't care. This tape was a stepping stone to our studio demo, that's why it was released. Regardless, people really seemed to like it.

Later that year we entered Mind's Ear Studio in Bloomfield, IA to record "Brown Eye". It was to be recorded in two days, unlimited hours each day, but I think we spilled over into a third day for overdubs and mixing. First day went great! We took our time soundchecking, did as many takes as it took to get the songs right and everything worked. Chris and I both worked overnights stocking shelves at Hy-Vee and had to record the second day on no sleep. Overall things went okay, but I was never quite happy with the takes we did that day. Time was running out, "good enough" takes were accepted and we pushed through just to get it done. The whole recording was a little too produced in my opinion, but what's done was done. This would be my last time in a recording studio.

I think it was my idea to release it as a cassette. In 1994 people still bought cassettes. Cars were still being made with cassette players in them. I had no idea that over the course of 3-5 years cassettes would become a disposable format and everyone would be replacing their music collections on compact disc. Jake pushed for a CD release, but after going over on studio time, there just wasn't enough money for it. Fine with me, I liked cassettes, still do. I want to say we made 500 copies, but maybe it was only 300. Whatever the minimum order was, that's what we made.

Two of the studio songs that didn't make it on to the "Brown Eye" album were released later on the "This is a Tiny Town" compilation tape, a collection of Ottumwa artists assembled by our friend Mike and released through his Mighty Feeble Lo-Fi imprint (and the namesake of this blog). A wider variety of music styles couldn't be imagined, still a great listen today."