Last week, we brought you the first part of Aaron John Gregory’s “epic love letter to music.” When he left off, Giant Squid‘s vocalist/guitarist was in some baby cephalopod bands (The Pedestrians and The Connection) and listening to tons of Subhumans and Citizen Fish. Now, of course, the Californians have a fantastic new record out that you can pick up here (after you finish reading his exceptional playlist below of course).
Part 2 of
How I discovered some important music while growing up in the suburban wastelands of Sacramento (open an ale, grab some headphones and keep an open mind).
Ah, Citizen Fish! The closest young punks in the ’90s could get to seeing the Subhumans, and we loved them just as much. Every year they toured the States and came through Sacramento, easily drawing 300-plus people, sometimes more. This is where the rocksteady ska influence came from for me and the other members of our band. Anarcho peace-punk bands from Britain had no problem mixing working class upbeat reggae with punk. It wasn’t cheesy, it wasn’t contrived–they didn’t suddenly sing in Jamaican accents or bust out the congo drums. It was just another way to play high energy guitar or to create a dynamic in blistering fast music. This wasn’t ska-punk, it was punk-ska, and no one did it better, or weirder, than Citizen Fish. Plus, all the peace-punk messages were still there, as Citizen Fish consisted of three members previously from the Subhumans, most importantly the singer and unintended punk-prophet, Dick Lucas. Citizen Fish is my second favorite band to this day, with Subs in first.
My third favorite band would have to be Culture Shock, which was the other band Dick Lucas sang for, and in writing this article, I’ve discovered they started playing shows again after a 20-plus year hiatus (above).
Where it gets interesting, and über-obscure, for those of you that have made it this far, is how influential local music was to me. The punk scene in Sacramento in the mid ’90s was vibrant, turbulent, drunk, violent, high, tweaked and amazing. There were countless bands, some from a[n earlier] generation than us, like The Yah Mohs, The Greens, Pope Smashers, Los Huevos, Nar, The Sea-Pigs, The Bananas and The Secretions, some were our peers, like the Lab Rats, Phooka, Thought Police, E.S.D., Six Cents, Ill Effect, R.F.R., Spinach, Beyond All Hope, Generation Nihilism, Liplock, The Antics, Girls Soccer, No Regard and local hardcore heroes The Lesdystics, The Diseptikons and The Hoods. Many were from neighboring towns like Roseville and Davis but it all congealed into a wonderful, supportive, anything goes kind of art scene. Below I’ll try to include as many of these bands that I can find videos for, many of which have some cool connections to Giant Squid.
The Diseptikons: To us, they were friends, family and the most furious fucking hardcore band Sacramento has ever seen. Their drummer JD was also Giant Squid’s drummer on our first self released album, Metridium Field. They were an institution in Sac. Unfuckingtouchable. Twig and Jesse–the vocalist and guitarist–are in two other rad Sacto bands called Kill The Precedent and Red Tape.
The Lesdystics: Our brothers. Endless parties and amazing shows sharing the stage with these guys. Bill Hughes, guitarist from The Pedestrians, The Connection, all the way through to Giant Squid’s Metridium Field, is also in this band, leading them here through some classic Anthrax.
The Yah Mohs: We all aspired to have the raw energy, fuck it all attitude and furiously violent grooves and changes that this band pulled off half asleep. Everyone in The Pedestrians would see these guys and just lose our shit at their shows. Sadly, they’re basically non-existent on YouTube except for one live set I’ve included above that doesn’t capture quite how spastic and amazing they were live, but it comes close. So I’m including one of their 7″ EPs. Very Nation of Ulysses but a bit more straight ahead, pissed off punk. The singer and guitarists went on to start the hugely successful dance-punk band Chk Chk Chk (!!!). The guitarist’s sister, Cory Farwell, was the second guitarist in Giant Squid during The Ichthyologist days.
Lab Rats: Neighborhood band I grew up with, went to school with, played shows with and, on some nights, stood in awe of. These guys partied way more than The Pedestrians did, which may explain their brutal creativity or their mind-bending, fuck-it-all chaotic discordance. Still one of the punkest bands I’ve ever known. The guitarist never seemed to use distortion. How punk is that? (Thanks again to their drummer Ryan Bird, for recently posting a slew of these lost Sacramento punk shows.)
Pope Smashers: Artsy, spazzy, furious and they had a guy that kind of played a sax. Fucking crazy, and had lots of respect in the scene. All The Pedestrians are at this party (again, thanks to Ryan Bird for posting!).
Eventually, The Connection became Koi, a super weird progressive punk/reggae/art-rock monstrosity that would make most Decibel readers run the other way, but people in Sac loved it and the crowds at our shows kept growing. We were as much inspired by the British punk greats mentioned above as much as we were local heavy hitting heroes like Deftones and Far. After years of fucking with that terribly bizarre brew of musical influences, we got decidedly heavier, and heavier, and heavier. Guitars got down-tuned, all prog-punk elements drifted away and in came the waves of slow as fuck, doomy, sludge riffs. The reason for this is explained below. After a couple shows of Koi fans scratching their heads, we changed our name to Namor and gigged as that for about a year, releasing a two song demo. Soon enough though, we finally settled on the name Giant Squid and re-recorded those same two songs for Metridium Field.
Za’atar: I think I was about 20 when Dan Ratner, a life long neighbor a couple doors down from my Mom’s house, gave me a CD of his band, Za’atar. They were a Berkeley based outfit that played traditional Jewish songs with a large Middle Eastern influence, recreating the Mizrahi music of Jews that lived in Arab lands in North Africa and the Near East. It absolutely blew my mind, and would become a huge turning point in what I wanted to do musically. Today, while I still listen to heavy bands daily, I listen to even more Middle-Eastern and Asian music and have been on a bender with Turkish psych rock from the late ’60s and ’70s. That all stems from the musical awakening Za’atar stirred in me almost fifteen years ago.
Sadly, they’ve long since been broken up, but they put out two incredible albums. All I can find online is a woefully inadequate Myspace page (which in all honesty, I’m pretty sure I made years ago), and their second album here on CDBaby.com, where you can listen to more of the jams. It’s worth the time to seek out their records, but make sure it’s from the Berkeley band as there are plenty of other groups out with the same name now.
Neurosis: That massive stylistic change in Koi’s song writing mentioned above can be pinpointed to one specific band and one specific event: seeing Neurosis live at the Colonial Theater in Sacramento during the era between Through Silver in Blood and Times of Grace. My entire perspective on what could be done with a band was just fucked. I went home and watched the video above countless times and soon knew that I’d never look at writing rock music the same way again. (Cool side note–I recently bought the very same midi controller that Noah Landis is pounding on in this video. Great dude who personally delivered to my house in Pacifica, and he claims it still works, even after such abuse.)
I don’t smoke weed, haven’t touched it in years, but back then I would smoke once in a blue moon. Not long after this show though, I got high at home by myself with the specific intention of writing some weird heavy shit. I started drop tuning my lowest string, trying it at different intervals, and eventually let it settle on a flopping low A, creating an octave chord with the standard A string below it. My brain went “Oh fuck, that’s how Neurosis does it!” That moment I wrote the riffs for what would become “Revolution in the Water”, a song off both versions of Metridium Fields and the prior Namor demo, but this was back when we were still Koi. I remember Bill, the other guitarist in the band, looking at me like “What the fuck do you want me to tune my guitar to?!” There was no turning back at that point. Neurosis visiting Sacramento permanently altered my musical life, giving me the inspiration to build a long lasting career slinging meaningful, heavy as fuck riffs.
*Photo by Lauren Wiest
**Order a copy of Giant Squid’s Minoans here
***For past Decibrity entries, click here