Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Catatonics

Ted has been asking me to write the story of the Catatonics since before he started South Bend Power 90s. Of course, I can see why. We were fucking awesome but there are probably only about 10 people who even remember we existed. I am tickled these songs are going to be up on the site and want to thank Ted for giving me the opportunity to spew about the Catatonics experience.

I came to the Midwest from sunny Oceanside, CA. In retrospect going to Notre Dame was a dumb idea, but I was also a Republican at 17 years old when I made the decision so there you go. I brought my skateboard with me and though I was not very good at riding it I quickly fell in with the 3 other people (on a campus of 8,000 undergraduates) who owned skateboards and we were very excited to know each other. Andy Yang, who faithful SBP90s readers will recognize as the distinctive presence behind the $90 drum kit on Obstruction and the Go-Lightly's recordings, was one of the other skateboarders. He was also from Southern California and like myself had come of age with a hackneyed So Cal jockpunk soundtrack. These early freshman days were really awkward. I actually considered myself straightedge when I hit campus and was making a concerted effort to enjoy that unlistenable strain of hardcore. Andy and I were both sort of confused, but we knew we loved punk rock and oldies and we found ourselves in an uptight Catholic Midwestern private school environment very dissimilar to what we had grown up used to. My reaction was to be sort of a lame provocateur.

Around that time in 1995 we were treated like annoying zits by the indie rock cognoscenti and my big college transition from, like, wearing Pennywise shirts and moshing into a Crypt/Rip Off Records styled garage rock jerk didn't do anything to endear me to the K Records crowd. Andy and I got a show on WVFI and called it the "Boom Boom Dedication Show" named after Freddy "Boom Boom" Canon's "The Dedication Song" which Dick Biondi would play on WJMK, the Chicago Oldies station we loved to listen to. No one ever called in to dedicate a song… let's hear it for Carrier Current! I felt like an outsider, even among the 30 or so "cool" people (which included one or two people from every identifiable alt.rock subgenre like goth and ska etc and lot of people who were basically your garden variety Pixies fans) who were involved in WVFI. If you are reading this then you already know what I am talking about.

We met Jeannine Gaubert, also from San Diego, through WVFI. The night we decided to start a band is telling of the time and place. Sitting in a packed Washington Hall audience waiting for guest lecturer Doug Liman (can't place the name? He was the director of "Swingers") to bring the excitement, we waxed restless about the lack of hipshaking music locally. We decided then and there to Do It Ourselves (as was the fashion of the day). Jeannine did not know how to play the guitar but wanted to learn. Andy did not know how to play the drums but wanted to learn. I wanted as much attention as possible so I wanted to be the singer. I had come up with the name the Catatonics beforehand and I still think it is the best name of any band I have ever been in (though I am guilty of being in some real crummily named bands- you be the judge: Catatonics, Mad Dogs, Homowners, Hick-Ups, Voice of Man Who Took Wheelchair, Grove St. Lyons, Killer's Kiss, Epic Sessions…I rest my case). We wanted to be just like The Make-Up but do oldies-type songs. Andy and I were pretty into Supercharger and the Mummies and the Trashwomen and stuff like that and we all loved the Cramps. It seemed really easy. Also, I hated most of the Notre Dame campus bands at the time and literally wanted to get up and destroy them.

Andy bought a used JC Penney Catalog-type drum set from a family in the Elkhart suburbs, but I will let him tell that story if he so desires. Jeannine practiced. We wanted to do "Burnin Love" by Elvis Presley and "Oh Boy" by Buddy Holly. We found those songs very, very hard to learn. I think we enlisted Mike Larmoyeaux because he was the only bassist around who would play with us and he was an actual musician and could help us with the basics. We were completely lost. I do not think Mike enjoyed being in the Catatonics, but I felt like Mike hated being in every band we were in together though he would always do it when asked.

We got mildly better, but agreed we needed guitar solos and Jeanine was still learning the basics of bar chords. No one we knew seemed to fit the bill (rock n roll guitar player) so we were lost. Our Morrissey/Marr moment came when we heard there was a guy who owned an electric guitar somewhere in Andy's dorm and we set out to find him. We knocked on the door of his dorm room and asked him to join our band on the spot. He ran through some Metallica leads and we knew we had found our man. The best part was his name, Dave Stoker. I immediately started calling him Dave "The Night" Stoker. I have no idea what happened to "The Night." I tried to Google him, but it is surprisingly a fairly common name. I will say he had what we needed. Though a metal guy at heart, he could really "swing" when playing leads he probably thought were submental over music our parents would consider square. Dave was from Florida (as was Mike) and the fact that all 5 Catatonics grew up near the beach was something I liked, in terms of us being people who wanted to avoid the soulless, grooveless music (particularly bands from Chicago) popular at the time.

I admit I do not remember much about practicing with the Catatonics. I do not think we had done it very much before we recorded these songs at Jeannine's house. We used a boom box with a condenser mic built in and got the levels right by moving it around the room. I still think it sounds great! Downloadable here for posterity you will find:

1) "Oh Boy" - We finally did get this Buddy Holly cover down. Andy's drums are perfectly retarded.

2) "South Quad Girl" - Highly topical Notre Dame themed song capitalizing on the first blues progression Jeannine learned with a really inappropriate time shift crapola chorus. This song is about looking for hot new girls by eating at South Dining Hall instead of the usual North Dining Hall.

3) "Straight A's in Love" - Johnny Cash cover. Mike and Dave really shine on this. Still sounds good to me!

4) "Asexual Girl" - A period perfect pop punk song about a girl I can assure you is not asexual. She was just still in high school at the time and freaked out by me.

5) "I Think We're Alone Now" - Probably our best song in terms of nailing the concept of the band - an Ian Svenonius impersonation over a wacked out oldies song with the Night Stoker delivering the shining guitar solo of his career. I later changed it to "I think I'm Alone Now" when singing this to myself in the car which makes the lyrics a lot funnier. Try it!

6) "C'mon Over To My House" - Another pop punk crunchfest. Favorite line here: "Maybe we can watch Who's the Boss, or take all our clothing off!"

Not from lack of trying, we played exactly one show (dressed like what we imagined Nation of Ulysses would wear and Jeannine silk screened "The Catatonics" on the back of or shirts). I do not have any nostalgic feelings of inclusiveness in the ND indie scene circa 1995-6, but that's likely a function of my overall lack of confidence at the time. It seems funny since the show was with emiLy, the Cuba Five and Chikkenhead, but I remember we were told the other bands did not want us to play and when we did eventually get added at the last minute it was like "OK fine, but you are playing first and you have to hurry up." We were amenable whether we wanted to be or not, since our set was like 20 minutes at the most. Ironically, soon after this the Mad Dogs happened which was like Chikkenhead and the Catatonics put together. The show was in the living room at the Green House where the next year I basically slept in Ted's room every night because he stayed at Faye's. Two years later I lived with Doug in the Canary House which was next door.

I think people were surprised by the Catatonics. We played some really basic, catchy 3 chord rock n roll. It was completely unlike everything going on around us. It was actually danceable. People did dance, which was shocking and wonderful. A lot of our friends missed us (though I wouldn't exactly say they "missed" us if you know what I mean) and the rest of the night I felt pretty good about what we had done since people who didn't see it came up like "I actually heard it was good, I wish I would have known I would have come earlier." Um…thanks?

-- Chris Owen


see also:
The Catatonics on MySpace


Mike L. said...

You're wrong, Chris. I loved playing in this band.

chris o said...

Hahaha, well I'm frequently wrong!

theodore said...

actually, it's this tape that could be, in some way, responsible (or blamed?) for the starting of this blog. a couple years back, the dubbed over "nirvana unplugged" cassette that had these songs on it suffered a near fatal melting incident in the back seat of my shitty old ford escort. luckily i was able to salvage it, but i thought, holy crap -- i almost lost that music forever! yikes! within a week, i figured out how to convert tapes to mp3, and soon had a fine stash of ripped-in campus band recordings. when i told a few people i had done this, they were like "gimme gimme!" soon after, this blog was, in part, initiated as convenient vehicle for distributing all this stuff to folks who were interested.

so, thanks Geffen, for making shitty melty tapes! hahahaha!!

Jeannine Gaubert said...

Ted thanks for saving this tape and creating these MP3… just one question, why was the Catatonics/ Nirvana tape in your car? Where you actually listening to it?!?!

Chris you did such an awesome job writing this. You remembered so many things that I had forgotten!! (not surprising… it seems like I don’t remember very much.)

I was really scared to listen to these recordings. I hadn’t heard them since we recorded them in my bedroom (aka our practice space). But, they’re actually better than I anticipated, and I’m super happy to have a copy of them. If I remember correctly we recorded these songs shortly after we started practicing so we could see what we sounded like and make improvements. So it wasn’t intended to be a “demo”… hence the recording with a boom box. Hopefully we sounded better by the time we played live! (To be honest, there are some songs I don’t remember playing…)

So here are a few things I DO remember about the Catatonics…

I remember that Chris and I were listening to lots of Garage, Rockabilly and Oldies as well as Post-Punk stuff. I was super into everything happening in the San Diego scene, like Drive Like Jehu and all of the Gravity Records stuff. So our idea was to try to do something mixing these styles together. Unfortunately, we weren’t skilled musicians so we didn’t really know how to play the music we had in our heads.

I remember us writing our first Catatonics song at my parent’s house in San Diego. So, my guess is that it must have been over Christmas vacation. I remember this is when we came up with the brilliant line “"Maybe we can watch Who's the Boss, or take all our clothing off!" I think I may still have a notebook with these scribblings somewhere.

After winter break when we returned to ND, that’s when we recruited Mike and Dave (Andy had already signed up). We were super excited that they said “Yes” because they actually knew how to play their instruments and Andy and I were just starting to learn.

I remember we really wanted to add some keyboard to the songs so we went around to all the pawnshops trying to find a vintage one. We found one called the Wandering Genie that was insane but the guy wanted more money for it than we had. So every week we’d go to the pawn shop and try to bargain with the guy to lower the price. Eventually he got so suck of us badgering him he sold us the “Genie” for $60 just to get rid of us. The sound was awesome, it had keys that lit up in rainbow colors and effects like “Magic Swing Bass”. This was after the “bedroom” recordings were done and just a couple of weeks before our first show so we didn’t have a chance to work it into our mix.

Unfortunately, we were together less than a semester and the show that we did play was right before the end of the school year. This is when I graduated so that’s why the Catatonics were so sort lived. I actually had hopes of keeping the group going though. I moved to Chicago and thought I’d drive down to South Bend often enough that we could practice. Whelp, needless to say that never happened…

FYI the Genie ended up in good hands. I lugged it around with me for years and when I decided to move to France I donated it Trans Am.

Jim Mc said...

Chris, I didn't realize you were so mad at everything back then!