Oatmeal pays homage to the site of the Rokkhouse, SB, IN, 1994. One of us was thinking about doing a concept album about the history of jorts.
Oatmeal: I Do Not Know What “Rabbitcore” Means
Oatmeal was Jim Doppke and Jeff Jotz getting together at Jeff’s urging in late 1991 or early 1992. (The directors of Oatmeal Holdings LLC have knowledge of only one photograph of Oatmeal (above), taken after the demise of Oatmeal the Band, Inc. Therefore, the rest of the article will be illustrated with public domain images courtesy of NASA.)
Jeff had definite ideas about how we should sound, and I tried to do them justice: 1. Basic love-rock sound. 2. Cool-sounding minimalist instrumentals. 3. Tight, cut-off endings. 4. Cover “Do Ya.” I wasn’t really sure I was versed enough in playing actual rock music to do any of this, having previously invested some time in affecting a singer-songwriter persona. But Jeff was excited about it, and I was excited about playing with Jeff, so I gave it a go.
And by “gave it a go,” I mean: mooched incessantly off the good will of others. I was not well-equipped for this experience in any real sense. Think of the person you knew who had the weirdest gear. What’d they have? A mauve left-handed Strat with Hello Kitty stickers all over it, including the fretboard? A nameless amp that somehow had wood paneling on it? The infamous “Eat Me” bass? Well, I had ‘em all beat. I owned a white Gibson Explorer
So I asked many people for permission to rock, and they granted it. At various times, I borrowed guitars from the extremely cool brainiac Marshall Armintor, as well as goes-without-saying-how-extremely-cool-he-is Ted Leo. I also borrowed four-track usage from TL as well as extremely-cool-like-the-other-side-of-the-extreme-pillow Joe Cannon. We rocked at the Rokkhouse, a place at which I did not live and paid no rent (though Jeff did). I borrowed amps, microphones, patch cords, picks, orange Fanta, spare change, and pocket lint from God-knows-who. I had my own guitar tuner, though, thank you very little. Overall, if I had been any less materially invested in this thing, I would have had to pay a cover to see us.
I then set about trying to write songs that I thought Jeff would like. I drew on our shared influences: Unrest (“Caustic”), Bob Mould (“Met Myself”), the Feelies (“Honorablesque,” “Bridge” [Jeff’s words!]), etc. The process was: 1. Knock around on guitar in room. 2. Play song for Jeff. 3. Play song with Jeff. 4. Jeff goes “Alright! Rad!” 5. Song finished. I’m lucky Jeff was as enthusiastic about the whole thing as he was. I also learned some covers at Jeff’s suggestion, like the Wooden Soldiers’ “Commercial Avenue” and the aforementioned “Do Ya,” but note the attention to detail on that last one. I probably could’ve learned how to play the real bridge instead of just improvising my own, but I had to wash my mullet that week (the Seinfeld look was very big back then, don’t let anybody tell you any different).
I’m also lucky that Jeff took it upon himself to make sure that we recorded ourselves, and that we got some gigs. I apparently couldn’t be bothered, as I was too busy with record collecting, literary parsing, mullet adjustment, and so forth. Gigs first, all two of them, both from 1992 I think:
Jim’s mullet is met with icy silence at Club 23.
- Club 23, possibly an open mic, possibly not. I remember playing our cover of Chisel’s “Swamp Fox/Spike” to some stirs of recognition in the crowd.
- Opening for indie-rock legends and all-around nice people Vomit Launch at the Rokkhouse. I remember wearing a thrift-store tee that said “Heart Throbbing” on it. That’s right, a thrift store tee in 1992, yeah, I was born this cool. Read it and weep, trendinistas. Though the real story here is that I paid for the shirt with my own money.
I also remember playing our cover of “Who Painted Whistler’s Mother?” by the Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (still a beloved favorite of mine, salaam to the Shadowy Men) at the VL show, and somebody from VL (Trish, the singer?) kindly praising our cover of The Feelies’ “Let’s Go.” Then, rather than brave the rigors of the Rokkhouse after the show, the VL folks stayed at my apartment. They were really funny and cool; they put up with my impetuous indie-rock self, and they made scrambled eggs for me the next morning. When I tell this story now, people seem surprised that I ate scrambled eggs prepared by people who called themselves “Vomit Launch,” but I didn’t blanch at it then and still don’t.
TL let me play his main Chisel guitar, and we used his drum kit as well. He recorded us on his 4-track, and he and his punk rock silver-spray-painted Stratocaster joined us on “Rokk-o-Medley.” (First one to name the song TL sings, and the original artist, wins a chance to enter a raffle in which the grand prize is a ticket for a drawing to win a cassette of Oatmeal’s other demo tape, the one recorded in the Rokkhouse basement on one microphone and featuring a cover of Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” [ed. note: winner will receive prize sometime within the next seventy-five years])
So yeah, TL was nails on guitar as usual, despite the silliness of the Medley, which I’ll claim as my idea. I had thought up perhaps an even less-advisable such medley when I was questing to be
When we heard Ted play on the "Rokk-o-Medley" we said "my God... it's full of stars."
Whenever I read this blog, I’m impressed with ND rockers’ dedication to their bands, even now. I wish I could say I showed that kind of dedication to Oatmeal, though I still do like our stuff a lot. Jeff’s game-for-anything drumming makes these songs for me, gives them the good nature and sense of fun that Jeff himself embodies. I also love to read, over and over, people’s expressions of thanks for the opportunity to have made music with their friends. I echo that sentiment wholeheartedly. As short-lived and small as Oatmeal was, it made a big impression on me, mostly because my good friend Jeff was having fun with it. And I was too, thanks to his infectious enthusiasm and sense of humor. I am forever glad that I got to experience them at close range, that he chose me to do this with him. And to cover “Do Ya.”
Thanks to everybody I mentioned, everybody I should’ve mentioned but didn’t, all our friends, all ND/SB rockers, the SBP90s guys for the time and care they put into this blog, and you for reading this.
All I'd like to add is that it was the early 1990s and minimalist low-fi bands like Beat Happening and Sebadoh were all the rage. So what better way to jump on the bandwagon then by creating a two-piece band comprised of electric guitar and 3/4 of a drum set? Actually, my old housemate John Dugan of Chisel fame was away for the second semester of his Junior year at the ND London program and he left us with an emasculated drum kit that lacked cymbals.
Oatmeal comes full circle.
I've seen fellow Jerseyans The Feelies more times live than any other band, so naturally, a cover of "Let's Go" was appropriate for our live show. And "Commercial Avenue" was a cover by an obscure 1980s band from New Brunswick, NJ called the Wooden Soldiers. You can download the EP here. As for "Do Ya," it is still one of the most rockin' pop songs of all time, and I will never, ever get sick of hearing it. I celebrate Jeff Lynne's entire catalog.
Jim Doppke was a skilled songwriter due to being a Bruce Springsteen fan during his formative years, so I was always impressed with his song ideas. I don't really know what influence I had on him... perhaps I just made his tunesmithing more bizarre.
Our recording session in Ted Leo's Radium City in 1992 was held the same day as my grandfather's wake. Seventeen years later, I still feel guilty for rocking out in Ted's basement instead of standing solemnly at the funeral home that afternoon. My grandfather moonlighted as a lounge singer in Newark, NJ in the 1930s and 40s and perhaps he would have been proud that I was carrying on the Jotz musical genes.