By Bret Miller
Back at the beginning of the 90’s The Supersuckers decided to move from Arizona to make their fortune in Seattle. These were the early days of Sub Pop before Nirvana’s Bleach was released. The time of Mother Love Bone and Green River, before some journalist named the Sub Pop sound, before Grunge. The Supersuckers may not have been “Grunge,” but they enjoyed a stay at the label for many years, watching Nirvana and others make it big in the mainstream and have their music labeled as alternative rock.
Supersuckers are definitely an alternative to the Nu Metal that we’re stuck with on MTV and radio and everywhere you turn on TV commercials and movies. These Arizona transplants make loud, dirty and no-bullshit rock dedicated to love, sex, drugs and good times. But they have another lesser-known side to them: they’re a kick-ass country band as well. Must’ve Been Live is their first release on their own label Mid-Fi (as in middle finger) and is a joyous ode to down home living, getting drunk and wandering around doing not much of anything. They’re touring across the country now in support of the album and will also play rock shows in the bigger cities. Here’s what vocalist Eddie Spaghetti had to say about and his country/rock roots and the present state of the Supersuckers.
Where are you based out of now?
I'm living in San Diego, one of our guitar players and I live there, one guy lives in Seattle one guy lives in Austin. We're kind of spread out but we're slowly going back to Seattle. By the end of the year we'll all be back there. That's where we like making the records.
Where are you originally from?
The band started in Tucson in the late 80's and we decided to move to Seattle since we had some friends there. We didn't have our sights set too high or anything like 'you want to play some shows' and the guys were like 'why not.' It was better than in Tucson. Tucson is a really great town but for the kind of music we were making, there weren't too many bands to play with, no one saw things the way we see things.
How was your sound different than the other bands back then?
There was a lot of jangly guitars, singer/songwriter stuff going on, that was the scene and we were a cartoonish hard rock band. We weren't quite heavy metal, there was a big heavy metal scene there, but we weren't quite that, we all had come from these different environments. Of course, being young being in a heavy metal band was prerequisite Tucson music. On our side of town was the Camaro drivin' mullet havin' side of town. We formed this band around a bunch of friends in high school, even before that. We just wanted to make good rock without having to call it something. When we got to Seattle there was a lot of like-minded people. We thought we'd move up there and be the best band they ever saw. We thought 'who's ever come out of Seattle?' Then we got to Seattle and realized they had a really great rock scene that we had no idea of.
That was the time of Screaming Trees, and Soundgarden, when they were just starting out.
They were pretty popular when we got out there. Mother Love Bone was a good band at the time. Bands like Mudhoney and Nirvana. Nirvana's first record was just finished but hadn't come out yet. I was working at Sub Pop sitting on the floor stuffing Tad singles into sleeves and we were listening to the finished tape of Bleach. It was the first record that I was going 'holy shit, this isn't just good, this is really, really good.' They kind of reminded me at the time of a modern day Creedence Clearwater Revival because they took pictures of nature and they wore flannels and that is what I equated with and His voice was kind of like John Fogerty's. I just think Creedence was amazing and I thought Nirvana was amazing.
Did you think your music was sufficiently different from the other bands on Sub Pop?
At the time we were a little different because we were a five-piece, we had a lead singer. We had an internal struggle, me being the songwriter wanting to be like Motorhead and our singer being a frontman, wanting to be more like the Rolling Stones or the Faces. Basically like a Black Crowes type band before they became popular. We ended up parting ways with him and became more like my vision of wanting to be like AC/DC, Motorhead or the Ramones, a straightforward type of band. When Nevermind came out I was like 'oh shit, there it is, that's what every band wants to do.' That distilled everything that all these bands had been working toward. It did make us work hard.
What did you do? Did you put more blues, more swagger into your music? Did you get angrier?
We definitely don't think we were as angry, I think we were more positive, cynically positive lyrically speaking. We sort of dodged every blanket naming that you could have. Whatever music became categorized we just started to avoid it. When they were calling it Grunge we went out of our way to say 'no, we're not Grunge.' When our first record reviews came out they called us a punk rock band and I was surprised but then I was flattered too because I like punk rock. I never thought of myself as 'Eddie Spaghetti, Punk Rocker.' We dodged (the Grunge label), maybe to our detriment. Maybe if we towed the line a little and played slower, maybe we would have made more money.
That may have helped your longevity as well.
I think it's helped us in the long run to be who we are and want to be and remain separate. With our country thing that we do and that we are at a loss to explain where it comes from, there was this Alt-Country, No-Depression movement that we also avoided. So maybe that hurt us too. I just don't like there to be any categorizing in our music.
Again, all those bands have broken up and their members gone solo, while you are still the Supersuckers.
It's a great thing to me to look around when we're playing and see the same four guys who've known each other since fifth grade and we've traveled the whole world.
What would you attribute to your staying together so long? Were you all in a band in junior high?
Only the drummer and I were in a band in high school but we all played together and around each other. I think the fact that after we'd all played in other bands that we were all success oriented. We thought 'we've got to make a demo, get signed to a major record label, we've all got to be rock stars.' We all tried that when we were kids but the decision to start a band with your friends as opposed to starting a band with a bunch of guys and try to become friends-that is what kept us going as far as having the same mind. What do you think each band member brings to the Supersuckers? Headaches, grief, ineptitude [laughs], all the things that you do with your friends every day. You know, 'why don't you do this better, why aren't you more like that?' But at the end of the day you love and respect everything that they do. We had a period in our band where we replaced our guitar player. It was a good lesson in chemistry where it just wasn't the same at all. There is this intangible quality that we have when we all play together that makes it the Supersuckers.
You realize all of the good things about each other.
The way we work together we can read each other's minds. There isn't much of a need to dialogue what we are going to do. Here's the chords, play them, let's rock. Its kind of a turn your brain off music that we make.
Where were some of your earliest gigs in Seattle? Did you tour the country a lot?
Not at first, we got really lucky actually, right away we started getting pretty good gigs. One of the first one was this big show with Nirvana and Mudhoney and Tad and a bunch of really good bands that we got to be on the bill with. We got our foot in the door right away. Those early shows...we would practice so hard back then, really sound good and practiced and then come show time we'd drink our faces off and totally suck. But there was an energy there that everyone really liked but we had some videotapes of those early shows [looks embarrassed]. I was talking to Brian from the Hangmen and he said they would do the same thing. We would get in front of people and throw it all out the window. I think we thought that was what we were supposed to do: stand up there and act like drunken fools. Did it work?
It worked some of the time [laughs].
Where was your live album recorded?
Austin, San Diego and Dallas.
One of those shows one of your members had to replaced that night because apparently he was too drunk to perform.
Right, right. Yes, it does still happen, all too recently but we try, especially after being around so long to be really good for a fan who might have driven hundreds of miles to see us. I want to be good. I only want to suck in the ways that they expect me to be. I enjoyed your between song patter on the live album. You really reach the audience.
Its great when I'm on, but sometimes I'll be up there rambling and the guys will be like 'shut the fuck up.'
You produced Must've Been Live yourselves?
This new album isn't really produced at all. Its just live board tapes. Once we got the recordings they were done. We didn't really intend to make this record, it just fell into our laps. We decided to put it out. The more people heard it, we decided to make it an official release. The bulk of the disc is one show, the show in Dallas, where the first 13 songs are from, the recording quality is what's key because it came out listenable.
What I know about you, I thought you were a rock band and the first record I get is a country album. Its bar band country. You've even got a song called Barricade. Is that a document of some of your actual shows?
It is. It's so un-punk its punk to embrace the barricade because in punk show you want the kids on stage jumping off. I don't want the kids on the fucking stage, I'm not a water slide, and I'm not an attraction to ride. I'm a band, come and watch the band. I grew up in a time where people get up to the front of the stage, which is great, but they'd pump their fists and throw their hair around and have a good time. I don't like it when fans get up on stage and knock things around. Its very un-punk rock to say but I love the barricade. We needed some chicken wire a couple of times.
Did you finance the record and put it together yourselves?
This is our first real endeavor as a record label. We had been on quite a few record labels and we've gotten to the point where we're a little older and a little bit less drug-addled. We can get things together better than we used to. We still have the drive to have people hear our music. We don't feel that we've already seen our day in the sun. We're still relatively young and we enjoy it so much so we just decided to do it ourselves. We've heard about bands that have to wait years to have their records released and we don't have to do that. If we want to put out an official bootleg, which this basically is, we can. I think that a record label would have a big problem with that (takes the tone of a record label bigwig) 'OK, you're signed and your first record is going to be a live country record.' First problem is live, second is country. You guys are a rock band, we need a rock record right now. We've shot ourselves in the foot before, it heals.
What have you learned by doing it yourselves?
So far we've learned that a)It's very expensive and b)It's a lot of work. We didn't get into this music making stuff to work, it was an avoidance issue. It is a lot of work, but hopefully what we'll learn in a week is that it is very rewarding. When it comes out, people will enjoy it and that it sells enough copies to cover the overhead and we can keep going.
The fact that you are playing both a rock and a country show in L.A. and big cities shows that people might accept your country side. We continue to sell out our bar shows during high times and low times, new record or no new record. People want to see the band and that's because we totally kick ass live.
The music you performed is mainly from an album you made in 1997. That was the year Must've Been High came out. There is some other stuff on it too, some newer songs and covers. The bulk of it was recorded in early '99. It reflects that time. On this tour we'll play a whole bunch of new country songs which will likely have the audience asking for the older ones.
How do approach writing and recording your country songs that might be different from your rock songs?
All of our rock songs are written as country songs first just in that they're written on an acoustic guitar in my living room. I wouldn't say written, more made up. Then we turbo-charge them and turn them into rock songs. We had a few of these songs that were just not working as rock songs that we thought were great as a country song. When we were making Must've Been High we did a lot of homework as far as wanting to make a country record that sounded like a rock record or a rock band making a country record. Let's try to make a real country record, of course. with our songs, which are inherently left of center. It was a steep learning curve but we pulled it off. There's a similarity to me and that was the point of making this country record, and that was to show people that punk rock is really good and country is really good. They are both just simple, rudimentary forms of music that basically anybody who's spent a month or so learning the guitar can play. That appeals to me and that's what we try to show in the different genres.
Hear for yourselves when the Supersuckers play the Roxy on April 19th and 20th. Go to either their country show or their rock show, or go to both. The band proves that they can play both equally well. Expect some surprises from either performance. L.A. locals the Hangmen open both nights. See you there. Also just released is The Music Cartel's first Splitsville split CD featuring The Supersuckers and Electric Frankenstein. Must've Been Live is out now on Mid-Fi.
LIVE AT THE ROXY IN L.A.