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Podcast Episode
Season
Six
number
301
Type
Roundtable
Post Date
Oct 18, 2016

Boston in the 90s

Digging Your Scene - Roundtable

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Our latest Digging Your Scene takes us to Boston, home of the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr and many more that made the city a vibrant 90s scene.

In the spring we hosted a roundtable on the Chicago music scene of the 1990s, so for our next “Digging Your Scene” episode, we decided to head to Boston, the home of the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Belly, Buffalo Tom, Morphine, The Lemonheads, Juliana Hatfield, Letters to Cleo, Sebadoh, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and many more. To help us on our quest to figure out what made Boston such a vibrant city for alternative/independent music in the 1990s, we’re joined by a trio of Boston music vets:

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SPEAKER: Tim

J this week we’re back with a roundtable. And we’re doing our second dig your scene roundtable, J and this one is one I think we’ve had pretty much on the shortlist since the beginning since we came up with this idea of digging into the scenes. It all started with the test pilot. I guess the test episode of Australia last year which did the whole country of Australia in one episode which was kind of a daunting task but then we we narrowed it down to cities in the United States in the United States.

We started with Chicago in the spring. We decided to do Boston the second because probably after Seattle Boston and Chicago are probably tied for the most bands that people recognize.

Remember no we’re a part of the 90s music scene more so than any other scenes. I think those two cities are 1A and 1B after Seattle would you agree.

SPEAKER: J Dziak

Yeah and we’ve reviewed a couple of the bands that we’re going to talk about tonight and part of prepping for this episode I realize we have dozens more to review. So oh yeah I think it’s good primer for seasons to come as well.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

We’ve reviewed a lot of bands we’ve talked to people from bands with Bill on from Buffalo Tom back a couple of years ago telling us about what was going on back then. So lots of fun stuff going to happen in this episode. So we have a great roundtable lined up.

I’m going to start with our returning champion from the band The Shield Divine, Dear Leader. He had a new album out just around this time last year called “The Morbs”, the fourth album from the band. And I believe they have a show coming up soon. Mr. Aaron Perrino welcome back to the show.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

Aahhh Yeah. Thanks for having me back on.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Absolutely. This is the first one since our shoegaze roundtable. Were we tried to explain shoegaze which was certainly a interesting task trying to narrow that one down.

Joining us from from the left coast I believe I think I have that correct. From the band Letters To Cleo, Kay Hanley Welcome to the show Kay.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

Thanks. Nice to be here.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

First of all it’s perfect timing. You guys reunited and you have a new E.P. out. I just read actually today as we’re recording this it went up on stereogum that Team Coco is streaming the album for people to check out.

And then you have some gigs lined up in California, Chicago, New York, Boston coming up is it. Let me just ask. Is touring now quite different from touring in the 90s.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

Oh yeah. I mean so many so many reasons why it’s different. I’m 20 years older. I’m less likely to want to work a double shift and get into a van and sit in it for eight hours.

So it takes a lot. It takes a lot of motivation for me to leave my comfortable environment.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Yeah I would imagine that you want your start times to be a little bit earlier now too.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

Totally. It’s sad but like I was reading about something starting at 11 o'clock a few weeks ago and I was like oh my god I couldn’t leave the house before 11 back in the day. Like if a party started at 11 and it might as well have been 4:00 in the afternoon.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

That’s pretty much it. Back in the 90s or back in the 20s in our 20s. That makes sense.

Finally joining us from 88.1 FM WMBR in Cambridge Massachusetts. MIT’s college radio station, Mr. Keith Sawyer Welcome to the show.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

Thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Absolutely. I gave you guys a little rundown before we started recording but I want to explain to the audience what we’re doing here. We’re going to start with looking at Boston and the music scene and trying to understand what made it so vital What made it so important to telling the story of what the 90s were in terms of music and the alternative music, indie, and rock music of the 90s. But I think before we can understand the 90s we need to go back a little bit and take a look at the 80s. I’m going to lean on Kay a little bit on this one just because Letters To Cleo formed in 1990. So you were what like early 20s when that happened.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

Yeah I was twenty one I guess or 22.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

OK so I assume then in the late 80s you were probably going out to shows taking in bands that were playing in the area. Who were going to see around that time?

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

I had a band before Letters to Cleo so I was 18 when I first started playing in bands around town. I was a huge fan of the local music scene. I was out constantly and I remember my sort and version of seeing like the Beatles and The Stones was seeing Tribe and Heretix go head to head in The Rumble. And I think it was like at what is now Avalon and these are two local bands there were over a thousand people there probably, to see this.

It was just such a monstrous scene in the 80s and there was there were so many amazing bands and it was so inspiring to go out. And people were like Keith Richards to me.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

And I think in doing a little bit of research the one thing that I was surprised by is how many bands that I thought of as being 90s bands but they actually had formed in the early to mid 80s. Bands like Dinosaur and then became Dinosaur Jr. They were around in the very early 80s. The Del Fuegos, Big Dipper, Gigolo Aunts. These these were bands that when I thought of them as, you know, what era are they sort of took part in. I was always thinking “oh these are 90s bands” because as were when the albums I knew came out. But it seemed like there was a much more vibrant scene maybe even then in Seattle.

I don’t want to diss Seattle but there were a lot more bands in the Boston scene. What do you attribute that to? Is that because of a number of colleges there? Are there supportive recording and indie label scene there? What ideas do you have on that?

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

I think it’s all of the above. My experience wasn’t so much the kids in the colleges around town coming out to see bands as much as that it was kids coming to go to school; coming to Boston to go to college and starting bands because it’s such a vibrant scene. And then they would just hang out. They would stay and then of course we had, you know, incredible network of radio stations, college radio stations, and two major market radio stations in WFNX, and WBCN that actively supported local music and played it. I was just listening to Dogzilla today and just like this is a local band that would play The Rat and was on at drive-time on WBCN. We just had a really supportive radio scene. and yeah it was a very fertile environment for being a band and going to see bands.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

All right Aaron I want to just throw this to you. I know Sheila Divine formed a little bit later in terms of its history. Where do you sort of come in with going to shows and sort of getting immersed in that sort of scene.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

Yeah well I mean I went to college in Oneonta, New York and I was in a band there and we chose Boston to move to because of the music scene there.

So it was bands like letters to Cleo, and The Pixies, Buffalo Tom all those and we were like we should move there. So I mean I was more late 90s you know mid to late 90s. I was going to see bands like The Elevator Drops and Cherry 2000 a bunch of bands like that. So smaller local bands. Oh and Tugboat Annie.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Ok can’t forget Tugboat Annie.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

That’s right. I can’t forget them.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Keith when do you enter to the scene in terms of the Boston radio market? You think it was in the mid 90s?

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

Yeah pretty similar timing. I moved to Boston in 96. I’d gone to school up in Rochester, New York and done radio out there as well as radio in New Jersey.

So when I came here you know sort of those bands that Aaron mentioned, I mean Papas Fritas to me was was of the first ones that I really saw. They had a national presence but they weren’t necessarily that type of band that was going to move up to a major label.

Kay just mentioned The Rumble in passing. But when you look at the really what The Rumble did and what it still does and giving local bands a showcase. What it is is it was sponsored by WBCN and it was just a competition. It was like a round robin competition in the local clubs that pretty much any local band had a shot to be in it. You could only do it once and it happened every single year and it created a lot of press around the local bands. And when your band made it to the second round or made it to the finals you know that meant something. Aaron could talk about it because his band won it one year.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

Yeah yeah absolutely. You’d get tons of press. You know The Noise and all these people covered it and then when we won, I mean that was definitely the launching pad to us getting a record deal and all that kind of stuff.

SPEAKER: J Dziak

So why do you think that worked. Because that’s an idea that I think a lot of scenes have tried or dabbled in and it just never quite works. Like it might work for one year or partially work. Why do you think it took hold there?

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

I mean WBCN is like huge. I would say in the top eight stations at the time in the country so it was their thing. Oedipus, who is the program director, he had a lot of power. But I think just because of the magnitude of that station. I think that’s why it was such a big deal. I mean when we won it like you would get to open those alternative station concerts. We got to open the River Rave with The Cult, and Aerosmith, and Coldplay. You know that kind of stuff.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

And you said the name Oedipus. He was probably the first punk rock or DJ ever on WTBS at the time before WBCN changed its call letters. When he moved to WBCN he really supported the local scene and then you have an WFXN coming in which was an independent station that was competing with WBCN and they really pushed the local scene as well. As Kay said it wasn’t anything to turn on the radio and hear a song by Smack Mellon. And you know on a commercial level nobody would know who Smack Mellon was unless you were in Boston.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

And I think in looking at some of the 90s stuff one of the things that I noticed is the diversity of bands that you don’t see in a lot of other cities. You know people obviously associate grunge with Seattle even though there were some other bands that came out of that were they weren’t grungy like The Posies for example. But overall there’s this tag of that. And when we talked about Chicago we got into like there’s a lot of heavy industrial music that came out of Chicago. There’s a lot of Cheap Trick inspired hard rock or power pop if you will.

But when I look at bands like Morphine, bands like the Dam Builders, bands like the Drop Nineteens, Magnetic Fields there is a wide range of sounds to the point where you can’t ever really define. I think Boston as having a unique sound. I’ve only been to Boston once in my life so I don’t have zero experience with the town or what have you. Is it a scene in which there is sort of a concentrated area where bands are playing or is it everywhere around the city where you can go to clubs to see bands play. How it is like the I guess you’d say the the geography of Boston work into this. Because it seems like it’s a big array of sounds that are coming out of the city in the 90s.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

Yeah I mean I would definitely agree. I was thinking about the same thing as well you know listening back to the Chicago episode there were some very distinct sounds coming out of the Chicago. Boston, it’s really hard to pinpoint one thing.

Certainly you know where the Middle East and TT The Bears are or were. Middle East is still there, TT The Bears is not anymore. Central Square Cambridge. That was a big place to go to. Lansdowne Street right across from Fenway Park. There were always several clubs in that area. But then there were other clubs that were just kind of distributed around it. Whether they were in JV or you know like The Channel which was over in four point. Allston, the Allston scene which was more punky. You know there is just that there are venues everywhere.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

Yeah I agree. I mean like Middle East and TTs were right next to each other. You could always go there and find something to see. And then like Landsdowne street was was more of like you know that was Don Law who owned that whole section. So it was national acts that would play there. And The Paradise too, I forgot.

SPEAKER: J Dziak

Are there some scenes, maybe close but separate? like either suburban, or Cambridge? I mean like little offshoots. Does that sort of exist?

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

No I would I would say it’s right within that Somerville, Cambridge, Boston, Jamaica Plains, Allston area and it’s all there all right close together.

If it wasn’t there it was probably Amherst or it was probably coming out of Providence.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

Yeah Providence had the art rock scene and then yeah I would say Amherst obviously. You could do a whole episode on that. And there’s so many bands now that sound like the sound. Crazy.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

The Sheila divine and Letters to Cleo have something in common which is I guess you guys probably know, Cherry Disc Records.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

We also have the same manager.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

So that would make sense. So we also shared a rehearsal space for a minute. We shared a label for a minute. We shared a manager. Lots of things in common. Did not share a sound though.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

It’s true.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

It seems like there’s more than a few solid record labels. You know every city has a billion record labels that have like two bands on it with no distribution. Can you guys get into some of the indie labels that were in acting like scouts for the majors at the time. In terms of a lot of smaller labels ended up getting scooped up in the 90s. Whether bought out completely or as a percentage. I’m thinking of labels like Rounder or a couple other ones.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

Taang! would be one.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

I know it was more, when you’re talking about the 90s especially, when bands started getting scooped upiit was less about the label. There was this interesting thing happening at the time where studios and producers…

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

Yeah, Fort Apache

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

Fort Apache, Q Division, are big examples of that. And you know Mike Dineen on the pop side and Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie on the on that sort of more… you know they did they did Radiohead. The first Radiohead record but they also did like all the Juliana (Hatfield) stuff and Belly. So a band had their studio and producer affiliations and that was where they were getting their juice more from local labels. I mean in the late 80s with Taang! and stuff that was a little different. But those bands didn’t, I mean they went on to like Lemonheads.

But I don’t feel like that label affiliation, it was sort of more historical than it was a launching pad for a bigger career.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

So the people at the labels would have the ear of the majors and be talking to them saying “hey we’ve got this band in here you might want to check out”? Was there any sort of you know communication between the studios or was it just that the labels were keeping an eye on what was being recorded? Like How did that work?

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

In my area bands would get attention from touring and word of mouth. I have very few examples, at least in my history, very few examples of bands staying at home in Boston waiting for the phone to ring. Like that just didn’t happen.

You know it was like you had to be out there. You know like turn turning the wheels, pounding the pavement, getting fans, playing shows. I don’t know. Aaron did you feel that way?

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

Yeah I mean it was always like you’d do the touring but then obviously you do your showcases in New York City. Though it would always feel like “we got a showcase at Brownies” and then that would be where the labels would come to see your 8 o'clock set and that was the big thing. And then it would feel like it went to the next level, the scouts come into Boston to see the real show.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

Right. Right.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

I mean when you look at the story of like Throwing Muses or The Pixies. You know it was 4AD that they directly dealt with and, once again, Fort Apache was part of that whole thing.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

Yeah. I mean even when you talked to Paul… I mean when The Pixies… It was like literally the call went there and they’re like “hey we’ve got this band in like they like” basically and Paul is like “alright I’ll do it”. And it just turned into something epic.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

The thing we need to talk about is, you know we’ve talked about the radio side but there’s also the newspaper side. Because this is pre-internet we’re talking about. Keith you had mentioned, we were chatting about this, there is the Boston Phoenix? Is that paper still around?

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

No but it was great but it doesn’t exist.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

It was like our Village Voice. If you had to put it in context.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

And the Phoenix was also owned by WFNX. So that’s the radio station. So those were connected as well.

SPEAKER: J Dziak

OK. So what’s different.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Yeah usually the weekly is owned by like the daily. At least that’s been in my experience. The Daily has the big circulation and then they do a weekly arts paper. That’s different that it’s owned by the radio station.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

Or vice versi.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Yeah, that was pretty much it? It was just the Phoenix as far as weeklies go? There wasn’t any other?

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

Nope.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Yeah. OK.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

Aaron mentioned The Noise, which is more independent and they very much focus on… you know not sort of the bands that are at that major label level. But really just the local bands. But The Noise is very passionate.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

Yeah, that be where you get your first review and some guy would come to your show and give you a terrible… and you’d get really mad.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

You just would be nobody on Tuesday night and some guy would come out and review your show and just rip you to pieces. And you were like “wait what!”.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

But you were in print!

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

It was so part of the deal though. Once you put your first band together and you played your first couple of shows get ready because the noise was coming for you. If you got out of your career, as a Boston band, without getting ripped to shreds by the noise then you were not in a Boston band.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

I mean pitchfork basically ripped them off.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

And then later on at the end of the 90s early 2000s The Weekly Dig came along and they were they were, once again, a local version of the Phoenix. Not to say The Phoenix wasn’t local.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

OK. So when does Newbury Comics enter into all this? Because that’s the thing that a lot of people who are not familiar with Boston at the level that you guys are but maybe have bought a vinyl record or a reissue recently… sometimes you can get the Newbury Comics version with the special color vinyl. Where do they factor in and what other record stores were supportive of stocking local artists? Sometimes here in Columbus, where I’m at, we’d see bands doing in stores at record stores. Now that a lot of record stores have gone away, what were some of that you guys remember.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

Newberry Comics is the big daddy you know of the whole scene. I mean you call it a chain if you want to but had 20 or 30 different locations all across the city and all across all different parts of New England. Yet they were very very much focused on purchasing and selling local bands. To a point where they would have cards in a different color you to show you, “OK these are local bands that we’re stocking here”. As far as doing in-stores, they had such a powerful reach. And certainly there’s a lot of other record stores that supported the bands in the area but Newbury was the big monster.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

At the beginning we always did a lot of stuff with Strawberries and that was the place that supported us early on. It was like Newbury Comics is like so cool. It was like super cool and we weren’t really cool enough for them for a long time. That’s what we thought. So we were Strawberry’s people for a minute.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

But by the time I had moved there in 96 it seemed like Strawberry’s gotten a little more corporate types. But that was your perception.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

Probably yeah. And by that I’m sure… No I think when we did a big outdoor thing for the release of “Go” and that was probably in 97 and I think that was for Strawberry’s. No. You know what, I don’t know.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

There was also a big Tower Records which had a multi-floor on the corner of Newbury Street. I always went there destination wise.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

The place to get the local singles for me was In You Ear and it was right near where the Paradise was so it was very easy ,if we’re going to show especially, just to pop in there and see what was in the vinyl section. They had another location in Harvard Square as well. And then there was just a bunch of single stories that were all around that you could go to.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

My favorite was Mystery Train. That’s where Dave, from the Gigolo Aunts, worked there forever.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

And there was another one in Davis Square….is it Disk Diggers? I forget the name of it. There was another one in Davis Square in Somerville that was really good.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

I forgot about Mystery Train. That’s a good one. They always had like a dollar CD thing. I was so poor so I would just buy all the the cut-out bin ones.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

The sounds of Boston, The St. Marks sounds of Boston.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Strawberry’s, I just looked it up. That was a part of Camelot and some other ones. It looks like… and Record Town.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

It was a little more corporate. I remember when I came down here to interview in like 95 and when I went to Strawberry’s thinking that “this was going to be so amazing” and instead it was like “Here’s the Top 20 billboard” and I was like “ ahh damn it”.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

We’ve covered a lot of the various aspects of the 90s in Boston. There’s always an X Factor. Usually that’s a person or a group or something like that. Here in Columbus, we had an X factor, I guess you’d say, in the 90s and 2000s. He was the guy who ran a club but then he also would put on festivals and he’s kind of this consigliere of the Columbus music scene. Basically if you are blessed by him you’re going to get all of the ins of playing his club and getting on this local festival and you’re going to open for national bands when they come through. That sort of thing. Does Boston have any sort of people like that who are the scene…

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

The scenesters?

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

I guess you’d say in the 80s, undoubtedly, it was Billy Ruane for sure. Well he was an interesting character. This was the rumor about Billy, who sadly passed away a few years ago. He was ,until his last day on earth, probably out seeing a local band. But word on the street was that he came from a lot of money. He had a lot of money. He also was mentally ill, but he was well enough to take care of himself. He got this idea that he wanted to start… you know he just loved rock and roll music he loved punk rock. He loved to be part of a party and so he apparently went to Joseph and Nabil, correct me if I’m wrong about this this was just like a rumor, at The Middle East and said ‘I want to start a rock n roll room and in the back of your restaurant"

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

It was initially an expansion of a birthday party he had at TT the Bears but he couldn’t feature all the bands he wanted to. So it went into the Middle East downstairs.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

This wouldn’t have been the downstairs because this was the upstairs time and there was no downstairs until the 90s.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

It was a bowling alley or something like that at the time right.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

Right. But the upstairs room was a rock and roll room for a long time for her many many years at least well over a decade before they ever started the downstairs room. So it’s entirely possible that that’s what the downstairs room got started in. No it’s just the upstairs room. And from what I heard he personally would pay the huge guarantees to bands, to touring bands, to come through and play. That’s what I heard. But then he was just out every night seeing bands and he was just like this crazy, weird, insane literally insane. Dude.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

There’s going to be a documentary out there… they are making a documentary on him. So it’s coming out soon.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

So if you didn’t go to a show and see Billy Ruane stripped down to his underwear at some point you are not a Boston scenester. Yeah. If you didn’t take the TNC Mary Lou Lord busking somewhere you weren’t a Boston scenester.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

J that kind of sounds like Don B a little bit. People in Columbus will know Don. The famous Don B who would hang out at Bernie’s and other clubs and would implore bands… when it was 2 a.m. and everyone was drunk, he would implore the band playing to play the Batman theme so that he could get up and sing with the band.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

And I feel like I did…I think I was a part of that. Yes.

SPEAKER: J Dziak

I’m sure you did if you played here at all.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

Billy probably didn’t have the business sense of the kind of a person you’re looking for but he certainly had the passion and the resources. And I think you mentioned Oedipus at another point. He would be another person who really had that business sense and that guiding hand of at least keeping that scene going and promoting more… trying to get bands to turn into national acts.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

And then Lily Dennison I think. She used to book this restaurant called the Greenstreet and she would have… it’s just crazy on a Monday night it be like Elliott Smith playing to like 20 people.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

And the Jeanie and Bonnie from TTs. Amazing champions.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

So let’s take a look at legacy of the Boston scene because, like a lot of scenes, there were a lot of bands that got signed. A lot of bands got thrown out into the major label world. They got one song on the radio. Maybe they got a second record maybe they didn’t. And a lot of scenes there was some fatigue but it seemed like Boston didn’t suffer. You know we talked with the Chicago people about that roundtable. It was really a not a lot of bands that they could point to that they thought well you know this these bands are still carrying on the legacy or there’s still a vibrant scene going on. I want to get your guys opinions as to… there’s a couple bands that I know that are from Boston. Speedy Ortiz is one of them that has been making some noise. And you go back a couple of you know earlier like Passion Pit is from Boston and then even lower than that like the Dresden Dolls which are quite different than a lot of the bands we’re talking about.

But no what do you guys see as far as the legacy of the 90s just in terms of the Boston scene and what developed there and in what has existed in the last 15 years since then?

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

Yeah I think there’s still a lot of venues. The venues are different but than they might’ve been you know 20 years ago. Middle East is certainly still around and the Paradise is still around but there’s still a lot of venues for bands to play and there’s a lot of bands out there playing them. I don’t know. I mean I think bands like Quilt, Mexican Summer who’s a band that’s that’s been able to have some sort of measure of success. I think you could make a tantamount. They sound sort of like The Breeders second record. They can be very diverse yet still have that similar sound to them. You know there’s a band called Bent Shapes which is on Slumberland Records which I really like… had kind of a fierce poppy sound. There’s a sort of a local unsigned band called Weekend Friends which I think they they did pretty well in the rumble and they seem to get a lot of press and they’re very fun. They sort of have that Julie Ruin-ish sound to them. You know they’re still bands around here and they’re still bands that are doing well but I think it’s sort of endemic of all across the United States that you know the music industry is such that it’s a lot harder to gain national attention and to you know actually be a hit maker. You know as whereas in the 80s and the 90s there was still that possibility… you threw out that sort of theory of bands getting chewed up and spit out by the major label system. That was Boston in a nutshell. You know you look down the list of all of those bands of Cave Dogs or Big Dipper or any other or any of the rest of them. It’s like they had that one shot or they had two shots you know the Dam Builders, Buffalo Tom, they may have some modicum of success but they never really broke nationally into the Billboard charts. They got well known. They could tour, they could survive but they weren’t having hits on the radio.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Well I think back to Jen Trynin and I read her book years ago “Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be” and it’s pretty much the tell tale of the 90s. You know the the demo is reaching the right person and then they’re super excited about it. But then they want to tweak some things and then the record comes out. There’s the first single and it kind of does well and “let’s put our the second single” doesn’t do as well. “You better get back in the studio and you got to be touring to push the record”. 'You got to do this festival over here and go to this radio station festival there" and then the second record comes out and nothing happens and now you’re dropped.

J and I have had over the six years we’ve been doing this podcast… I can’t tell you how many bands that we’re like “well we want to check out the other albums in this band’s catalog that we’re looking into but there’s only one other one” because they got dropped after their second you know?

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

Yeah and they end up owing the label a bunch of money. They couldn’t pay it off. And there you go.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Yeah yeah. That’s the story too is that I think if the record labels ever had to call in their debts with all the 90s bands that still have outstanding… that would be a lot of money. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

There was a great article recently I read from, now I forget the name of the guy, the head of Too Much Joy. But his band went way in debt and he was trying to figure out how much his band was making from Spotify and just the constant journey that he had to take in order to try to even get a slip that showed how much he was making. You know if your band is in the negative. Really they don’t care about you.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

The new boss is worse than the old one. It turns out. The streaming services… don’t even get me started.

SPEAKER: M8

Yeah. Let me ask you about that since you have the new EP out and you guys are in control of that. Are you going to get that up on Spotify and Tidal and those types of places or are you just going to keep it to a physical release with maybe like an Apple or iTunes pay download?

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

No. No we will definitely be utilizing the streaming services. I personally am a fan of streaming. I am also a big proponent of subscriptions and I’m very very anti freemium. And actually one of the things that I’ve been dedicated to for the last year and a half is advocating for fair streaming rates on the digital platforms and I’m co-executive director of an advocacy group called Songwriters of North America which is working on these issues.

I mean the consumer has spoken and the way they would like to consume music is streaming. I think the future is very bright for artists and songwriters. As long as we get the rate right. And that’s what we’re working on now. Is getting the rate right.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

Go Kay!

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

Also making sure people subscribe. No freemium, death to freemium.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Isn’t that the entire history of the of the record industry though that they haven’t gotten the rate right ever with the artists going back to the 45s in the 1950s?

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

It doesn’t pay to do so for them.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

You know there there are many many problems with the labels… and the labels still present a huge problem. You know the labels made deals with you know the streaming services most notably Spotify. Where you know Spotify pays out 70 percent of its profits to stakeholders and the labels. So the labels took and they’d made the deal with the label. If you consider the 75 percent that the labels are getting from Spotify a pie of 100 percent they are taking 96 and giving songwriters 4 percent of the pie. So it’s like if you’re a songwriter right now you are in very bad shape. If you are an artist not as bad but still there’s no transparency. We don’t know what the labels are paying out to artists.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

That seems ridiculous considering it’s all digital and it’s all traceable. That doesn’t seem possible that that is that there is no records to back all that information up considering it’s all just ones and zeros to begin with at that point. It’s not like you’re dealing with SoundScan or indie record stores that don’t utilize it, And based on records shipped and that sort of thing. It’s like these are just ones and zeros being processed on a platform.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

It’s not in Universal’s interest to invest the money in order to get very precise.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

If artists want to see what they’re making… and songwriters if you want to find out what you’re earning you can look at the back of your ASCAP or BMI statement and see. There there is a digital…probably on the very last page and it’s a very small percentage of what you’re making overall, but you can see generally what you’re making from the streaming services and the Internet.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

J did you have any questions you wanted to wrap up with.

SPEAKER: J Dziak

I’d love to hear from each of our panelists here. Give me one artist that you frequently go back and listen to from Boston that probably the rest of the country doesn’t know. And you often find ourselves saying how the hell was this band not bigger. Who jumps out in your mind Aaron?

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

For me I always I listen to this album by this band Wheat. The album is called “Hope and Atoms”. I still love that album. It all still holds up.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

And they had their chance. The album after that was distributed by Columbia. Yeah it’s a great album The “Per Second Per Second Per Second” but it doesn’t sound like their first one.

SPEAKER: J Dziak

Keith is that yours as well or did you have another?

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

Just to step to the left of that, The Pernice Brothers. You know they were on Sub Pop for their first record and then decided to go off on their own. The next two records they put out after that “The world won’t end”, “Yours Mine and Ours” were probably my favorite albums of you know 2001-2003. And they have this very you know it’s kind of this Morrissey meets Pulp sound. Very ornate but it’s got this sort of under layer of depression. And whenever I hear like The National I’m thinking you know they could have been The National they were right there but they were maybe just a little bit more sumptuous with their sound than you know The National where a little bit more that Joy Division depression.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

That’s a band… Pernice Brothers is somebody I’ve always wanted to dig into and I just always forget to dig into their catalog. Kay what about you.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

Wow I just totally forgot about Pernice Brothers. I just love so so much and I think Joe is really hilarious and great.

Oh boy. So so many you know. Shit. I mean Morphine broke through more than anyone else of that era. I would say that I’ve listened to those guys all the time.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

One sneaky one is The Submarines which you don’t think of as a Boston band because they are in L.A. but it’s Blake Hazard and Jack Drag who are both you know total roots in Boston.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

We’ve done Jack Drag. We did that record “Dopebox” back in the day.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

And just what an amazing producer and musician. Everything he touched sounded gorgeous.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

All right. I think we’ve taken up enough of everybody’s Wednesday evening here. I want to thank all three of you for joining us and shedding a light on the Boston scene of the 90s and I think it’s given everybody a little bit more of a taste of what you guys saw and heard. And we’re a part of you know I think this is another interesting episode that people will will go back to when they’re you know trying to figure out what the hell happened in the 90s with all the bands and scenes that were happening. So I wanted to go around the room and plug everybody’s stuff.

Kay I mentioned you’ve got the Pledge Music going on Letter To Cleo. People can still go there and they can pick up a lot of cool stuff. I was pissed because I saw that there was a 7 inch for “Here and Now” that’s gone. I would have like to have grabbed that for my 7 inch collection but I need to start going to the used music stores to find one I guess.

But you’ve got some gigs coming up starting the 20th in San Francisco going through the 19th in Boston that’s all Letterstocleo.net.

Oh I wanted to ask because I have a four year old daughter. What’s the status of Doc McStuffins.

SPEAKER; Kay Hanley

I don’t think I’m allowed to say. But Season 4 of the show is still going strong. But I think there will be some news about things and its future or lack thereof very soon.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

OK I have a very worried 4 year old. That’s one of the five shows she’ll watch. So. Oh it’s not like oh. I’m just saying I’m just saying. She’s obsessed with that show. That’s the only show I shall watch on her iPad. And then on a regular TV show she’ll watch Beat Bugs show on Netflix that has all the Beatles songs.

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

Oh my god. I don’t know about that.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

It’s a show built around Beatles but reinterpreted by modern artists. So like Eddie Vedder, Sia does a song and Pink does a song. And so I’ve got her on her…

SPEAKER: Kay Hanley

That sounds literally like the most expensive show I’ve ever heard of in my life.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

And there’s an interesting backstory. You can go read about it but the guy took three years to get the rights to do it. And he had to finally meet with like McCartney and Ringo. So he had to go and take them like sketches of what the show was going to look like and explain you know what he was doing with the show and basically draw the show before he had the rights to actually make it.

But we get in the car every morning and she’s like play “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”. I’m like OK. All right we’ll do this for the 15th day in a row. We’re going to listen to the same song. I’m like can we listen to “I Am The Walrus” yet because I’m getting a little tired of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. But that’s neither here nor there.

Aaron! Sheila Divine has a show coming up November 12. Correct? The Great Scott. Where is that.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

It’s just a small club in Allston rock city.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Excellent. And people can go to I guess Facebook is the best place to find out news and stuff on the Sheila Divine.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

Yeah pretty much where we’re semiprofessional.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Yeah I know you still have a MySpace page.

SPEAKER: Aaron Perrino

Do we really? I don’t know. I don’t know the password so.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

It’s alright Justin Timberlake owns that now anyways so he has your password.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

And Keith when can people hear you at WMBR 88.1 in Cambridge Massachusetts?

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

Just go to WMBR.org. We’ve got two weeks of streaming content on there. All the shows are archived or if you want to look up my playlist they are at Track-Blaster.com and feel free to just search on my name and listeners out there if there’s a show where you want to see…We recently did a 90s power pop retrospective. Just shoot me an email I can get in your hands. I’m not too hard to find.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Excellent. And we greatly appreciate your creative names on our poetry on page. They bring us joy each week when you come up with some new ridiculous name that we can then use on the air for your comments.

SPEAKER: Keith Sawyer

That’s because I also support Star Wars minute and every week they do a rundown of the names so you always try and get like Star Wars pun in there for them.

SPEAKER: Tim Minneci

Kay, Aaron, Keith thank you so much for joining us.

Songs in this episode

  • Intro - Boston Medley (Pixies, Letters to Cleo, Dinosaur Jr, The Sheila Divine, Morphine, Gigolo Aunts)
  • 10:25 - Way You Walk by Papas Fritas
  • 31:24 - His Lamest Flame by Mary Lou Lord
  • 43:33 - Clear Spot by Pernice Brothers
  • Outro - Rock & Roll Band by Boston

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Digging Your Scene - Roundtable