Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Everything Must Change: A Semi-Exhaustive History Of The Hurricane Lamps (And How They Became The Jet Age)

You know, sometimes people say stuff to me like "Boy, you know about a lot of bands!" but the truth is that sometimes I'm an idiot. For some weird reason, many years ago, I got this odd idea in my head that The Hurricane Lamps had a bunch of horn players in the group and were, hence, some sort of dreaded party band. So that sort of explains why I stupidly didn't listen to the 5 Hurricane Lamps albums until well later.

Hardly a party band, The Hurricane Lamps were a D.C. area indie group made up of Eric Tischler, guitarist/singer/songwriter, and bassist Greg Bennett and whoever was on drums (Jason Merriman in that picture up above). Now, that's not to knock the various THL drummers but, rather, to acknowledge that they went through 'em a bit. Of course, once Eric and Greg found the perfect drummer in Pete Nuwayser, the guys were in The Jet Age. Each act has produced a remarkably consistent set of releases with key to that consistency being the presence of Tischler and Bennett.

So today, as I discover a lot of this music for the first time, and attempt to rectify my boneheadedness of years past, I'm going to write about each of the 5 albums from The Hurricane Lamps and offer up some recollections from frontman Eric Tischler himself on the long road from The Hurricane Lamps to The Jet Age.

ERIC TISCHLER (guitarist, singer, songwriter The Hurricane Lamps and The Jet Age): On October 13, 1992 (my 21st birthday), a really cool record label called to say they liked the demo I'd sent them, and they'd like to release some 7"s. Awesome. But I was a senior, and my rhythm section was composed of underclassmen who were, y'know, gonna keep going to college, and [so] we folded. As the school year wound down, I ran into Greg Bennett at a bar. He was two years ahead of me but had stayed in town to work at a nearby publishing company. I knew Greg played bass, so I recruited him with the promise of some Jam covers to fill out a set. I'd already convinced a buddy of mine to play drums, and we were off.

Upon graduation, the three of us were at loose ends, so we all moved to D.C., which was close to our college, and was my hometown and Greg's. Almost as soon as we arrived, I saw a listing for a new club that was opening, called The Black Cat. I sent them the same demo and they asked us to open for Lois and The Spinanes. Awesome, right? Shortly before the gig, our drummer cancelled because he had to attend some training for his new job as a manager at Lord & Taylor, and thus The Hurricane Lamps’ DNA was fully cast.

We went through 13 drummers, had serious talks with several labels that never went anywhere, and took 7 years to release our first record. On the flip-side, we got to share stages with Superchunk, Swervedriver (and Adam Franklin), Versus, Seam, Come, The Verve, and Superdrag, among others, and the legendary Bus Stop Records came out of retirement to release a 7" by us (although they'd planned on releasing two). It was an emotional rollercoaster.

So, by 1999, when we released our first record, Tales From the Sink, I'd written dozens of songs over three intense affairs. I strung together a loose narrative and thus the record was born. At some point after its release, Archie Moore approached me in a bar to say he liked the record, and I couldn't have been happier -- Velocity Girl were a huge influence on me -- [this all] made the idea of moving back to Silver Spring after college seem downright smart. I still remember playing a demo of the title track for the Afghan Whigs’ John Curley in 1994, when he came into the Tape World at Mongtomery Mall. In retrospect, the collection might have been a little schizophrenic, but I liked the variety in songwriting.

In this blogger's opinion, Tales From The Sink is clearly the weakest of the lot here. That said, there's a fire in the playing that is a nice updating of what late period Dischord acts like Jawbox were doing a few years earlier. Standout track "Soda Tower" would get reworked years later by The Jet Age as the flip of the superb "Had A Plan" single.

ERIC TISCHLER (guitarist, singer, songwriter The Hurricane Lamps and The Jet Age): Drummer Mike Mann moved to San Francisco, but we found Jason Stewart to fill in on You Deserve What You Want. These songs were written about my now-wife, so maybe that's why they're among my favorite; I mean I like all of my songs, but these make me a little happier. Soccer Team's Jason Hutto was living with me and our equally-gifted friend, Craig Gates (briefly a Lamps drummer), and the house was full of music; it was a really great time.

Here, on this one, you can hear Tischler and Bennet and crew trying their hand at various genres. There are moments that will sound familiar to any Jet Age fan, but just as many that are surprises: the glorious My Bloody Valentine-isms of "There's Been A Mutiny", or the percolating, mechanik rhythm of "I Need To Know Something Good Will Last", all Stereolab's "Pack Yr Romantic Mind" updated for a power trio. And, yeah, the seeds of 2014's Jukebox Memoir are there in "Baby's Learned A Brand New Dance" even if it's by The Hurricane Lamps and not The Jet Age.

ERIC TISCHLER (guitarist, singer, songwriter The Hurricane Lamps and The Jet Age): Jason quit (we never found out why), and Jason Merriman finally took a seat on the drum throne. This Jason had played the Swervedriver show with us back in '98; I can't recall why he wasn't able to join us then, but he wasn't, which was a bummer because that show was amazing. By this point, I think I'd finally honed in on my aesthetic, and Jason totally locked it down on Tilting at Windmills. Playing these songs was always a joy.

By this point, we were touring regularly (if not frequently), playing cool clubs in big cities, getting great reviews in Magnet (from the esteemed Fred Mills) and The Big Takeover (often from Dot Dash's Terry Banks) and it felt like we had momentum.

Yeah, this is the one where The Hurricane Lamps became The Jet Age...at least in terms of sound, if not name. And there's no Nuwayser on drums, of course. "Parade" bursts with energy in the manner of Gedge and his Wedding Present gang, a bunch of folks that The Jet Age would tour with more than once, while "Don't Turn Around" shows some signs of a lingering shoegaze fixation on Tischler's part but at least the tune's strong and not just a showcase for a bunch of pedals. It's significant that I started noticing Bennett's bass playing on this album; unlike on The Jet Age records, he's not as forward in the mix it seems and that's a shame. Thankfully on Tilting At Windmills you can at least start to sort of groove on the riffs Bennett uses to anchor these cuts. The album closes on the surprisingly twangy "Stranded" which still rattles impressively despite some slide guitar(?) on the number.

ERIC TISCHLER (guitarist, singer, songwriter The Hurricane Lamps and The Jet Age): Sing Me A Song is probably my favorite Lamps record; if we'd been peaking, this was the crescendo. It was diverse without being directionless, and I felt like I could stretch a bit on the production front. Even Pitchfork liked it!

A solid and supple record, Sing Me A Song is buoyant indie of the very best variety. "All These Things" bounces and crashes behind Tischler's yearning vocals and one can clearly see the path of The Jet Age before at least 2 of these cats. "A Promise" shimmers and Tischler's vocals have rarely been this affecting, while the title cut roars like The Who in the very best way.

ERIC TISCHLER (guitarist, singer, songwriter The Hurricane Lamps and The Jet Age): Pitchfork liked our follow up, More, More, More, too, but I felt like we stumbled somehow. As a writer, I was trying to stretch in directions that Jason just wasn't into, and the band was founded on the notion that I wasn't a micromanager, so I didn't feel comfortable pushing for different performances. We hit the road in late October of 2003, and the tour started wonderfully, but as we worked our way back from the West Coast (where we played with a then-new Blitzen Trapper), George Bush was "elected" president. At every show, the audiences were smaller and more subdued, and everyone would talk in hushed tones about how depressed they were. It was awful. By the time we reached home, Jason decided he was going to quit the band and go to graduate school and Greg, perhaps more pragmatically, decided he was just gonna fucking move to Norway. And he did.

As a swan-song, More, More, More seems pretty fantastic to this listener. "Everything Must Change" is phenomenal -- up there with The Jet Age's "Left For Dead" for me. "If You Leave Right Now, Where Will You Wake Up Tomorrow?" refines the conversational and direct style of Tischler's lyrics that would come to fuller fruition on The Jet Age releases, while the nearly-sweet "Oh, Candy" -- NOT the Cheap Trick classic, I should add! -- bounces with pep, for lack of a better term. "The Lesson You Haven't Learned" works up an impressive, near-Swervedriver-like roar as it progresses. And while there's a lot of energy throughout More, More, More, a new listener can perhaps understand Tischler's feelings that this album isn't as good as, say, Tilting At Windmills or Sing Me A Song.

ERIC TISCHLER (guitarist, singer, songwriter The Hurricane Lamps and The Jet Age): To me, the Hurricane Lamps were always me and Greg. The Jet Age formed with a different bass player. He moved to Colorado, and Greg moved back to the States just in time. I think The Jet Age is a better name, and I knew Pete didn't have Jason's limitations, and, frankly, we probably needed the refresh. At one point, the Lamps could headline The Black Cat on a weekend, but it was getting harder to do.

And that, kids, is why Eric Tischler and Greg Bennett ended up in The Jet Age with Pete Nuwayser. "Everything Must Change" indeed! So, over the course of 11 albums now -- (5 Hurricane Lamps releases and 6 The Jet Age ones [so far]) -- Bennet and Tischler have refined a sort of ongoing approach that is, on some level, the equivalent of that mid-period Superchunk stuff where Mac's fire had not been tempered by adulthood, when the fury of punk -- and maybe a love of The Who, in Tischler's case -- could still instill songs with something indefinable that felt immediate and heartfelt and entirely uncontrived. Devoid of artifice, but aiming high, the tracks of The Hurricane Lamps, like those later of The Jet Age, are ones that tackle the fears, hopes, and joys of maturity with all the rough bravado of a bunch of kids picking up instruments for the first time. Looked at now, I can see that I missed out on music I would have enjoyed back when these 5 Hurricane Lamps were first released, especialy considering how much I loved Versus and Superchunk then.

As of today, 3 of the 5 Hurricane Lamps albums are up on Bandcamp. Just follow those links above. For details on The Jet Age, please check out the band's official website, or the band's offiical Facebook page.