Wednesday, January 30, 2013

TOMMY LASORDA - Demo Tape and 7" EP - 2001-2003

   You may remember a while back when I told you about the teenage punk band LOS RABBIS and all of their exploits (or some of them) in the Bay Area. Mike and Adam, who made up half of that band were also wailing away at another band called TOMMY LASORDA, where they constantly traded off instrument duties. The latter appeared to take the teenage freakout abandon of LOS RABBIS and mold it into wildly addictive pop hooks. They didn't ever have an easily classifiable sound, but they seemed to take equal parts of HICKEY, MELVINS, BEAT HAPPENING and anything else rattling around on their bedroom floors and just meld it into some kind of low-fi hodge-podge that was wholly their own.

"Planetary explorers" - Provided by the band.

   LOS RABBIS were supposed to come to Chattanooga many years ago when I lived there, but they ended up cancelling due to a family emergency (possibly?). Less than a year later, I got a call from Mike or Adam asking if there was a show that TOMMY LASORDA could jump onto that night because they would be driving though Chattanooga. Luckily, there was already a show set up for RESIN at our all-ages space, so I told them they could jump onto the show, even though I had never seen or heard TOMMY LASORDA in my life. They showed up in a busted ass minivan and loaded out their shit to play first. They played their hearts out to the 20 or so people in attendance, belting out two-minute-or-less ragged punk songs; each one better than the last. At the end of their set, they played "King Solomon's Reef" (included on demo tape), which is a complete departure from all of their other songs (to put it lightly) and blew my mind. I didn't watch the other bands that night because I knew that it wouldn't get any better than that (luckily, for the other touring band, the room soon filled up with people and weed smoke).

TOMMY LASORDA live at Rear Entry in Chattanooga. Photos by me.

    Later, after I moved out to SF, I was "working" one day at Mission Records when Adam and Mike walked in. They asked if they could borrow an extension cord. I rummaged around and found one behind the counter. I asked what they needed it for and Mike casually said that they were going to play a set at the BART station as the two of them walked out the door. Sarah T and I hurriedly locked up the gate to the store and rushed down there. Five minutes later, I saw one of the best sets I ever saw by the band in the middle of the day, as they played to drunks, freaks, commuters and addicts on the street corner. Mike started off the set by saying "Hi, we're TOMMY LASORDA and we really don't give a fuck!"

TOMMY LASORDA at 16th and Mission (a different time). Pic provided by the band.

   This download includes both the band's demo tape and 7" Ep, which was released by S.P.A.M. Records. The demo tape is chock full of classics, in my mind. The tape kicks off with "I Can't Swim", which passes itself off as a lackadaisical pop song until the screaming kicks in. Its followed by "Artful Dodger", which is a slice of catchy genius. Later in the tape, the listener is greeted by "Mr. Frogman Superhero", a song that suffers from something I like to call "The Sugar Bear Syndrome". Let me explain. When I first heard the beginning of the song "Sugar Bear" by THE BANANAS, I thought "Oh my god, this song has stupid cutesy lyrics. I almost can't listen to this". Then, the whole band kicked in and it became the best thing ever. This TL song did the same thing to me when I first heard it. Recently, I listened to the TOMMY LASORDA song 20 times in a row and loved it every time (nevermind that I was on a plane over the Grand Canyon, freaking out and on pills). The EP does not let up one bit and is just as good as the tape. "Racing My Ego" off of that record has been a mixtape staple for years. 

   As I've mentioned before, maintaining this blog has put me in touch with a lot of unexpected people. One of those unexpected people is Mike from TOMMY LASORDA / LOS RABBIS. He was nice enough to send some unreleased TOMMY LASORDA recordings (check back tomorrow!) and he got together with Adam (digitally) to answer some of my dumb questions. So, here is an interview with TOMMY LASORDA....

Remote Outposts: First off, why the name Tommy Lasorda? Really, why any band name? But specifically, is there any meaning behind the band name?

 Adam: I’ve always thought of it as just an opener, a first move, a gambit. I can not recall when we actually thought of the name or if any decision making process actually even occurred. Personally, I believe the name had something to do with the canary yellow walls of the room we dubbed our tapes in. Then, it may have went something like this: Kirk Gibson? No. Fernando Valenzuela? Naw. Sandy Koufax? Naw. Yeah. Maybe. Orel Hershiser! Yeahhhnaw. Should we just be Lenny Dykstra? Dykstra? Dykstra! Yeah. Dykstra! Probably. No. For all I know, that may have been more a’ pro pro. Hindsights 40/40-- a hot bat, many a-stolen bags, and an above average amount of base hits.

 Mike: Because Boone Logan wasn’t in the Majors yet.

 Adam: Because Tommy Lasorda was in the Majors. Because Logan Hatch didn’t exist yet.

 RO: I could never really figure out if your band was from the Bay Area or Olympia? In the long run, it really doesn’t matter, but what would you say?

 Adam: Olympia. Shortly after Y2K.

 Mike: After high school everyone went off to far-flung colleges except me. I stayed in the Bay Area and enrolled at Skyline Community College only to drop out and spend all day at the Burlingame library. When I exhausted all of their books on silent movies and lucid dreaming, I moved up to Olympia where Adam was enrolled at Evergreen. I convinced him to drop out. We shared a bedroom at a house on Edison St. near Ralph’s Thriftway, both of us paying $100 a month in rent. Tommy Lasorda started in the basement of that house. We moved back and forth between Olympia and the Bay Area a couple of times during the band’s lifespan but the germ of the band began in Olympia. Olympia was good for us because it was a scene we had absolutely nothing to do with. We played maybe four shows in town the entire time we lived there. We spent all of our free time in the basement writing songs.

 Adam: Far-flung.

 Mike: Flung far.

 RO: The band started pretty soon after the disbandment of LOS RABBIS. What made the two of you keep playing together?

Mike: That’s actually a bit of a misconception. Los Rabbis was still a seasonal concern while Tommy was around. For a few years, the four of us would get together in the summer when school got out and go on a multi-week tour. Tommy Lasorda was basically what Adam and I did while Dean and Mike were in school. This caused tension down the line because at a couple of points I felt like we shouldn’t have to put Tommy on hold so Los Rabbis could re-form. It felt like we hindered ourselves by putting everything on pause for two or three months.

 Adam: Music, like a Maui timeshare: its amazing that we made it, even if but for the few times that we did!

 RO: LOS RABBIS, to me, seemed like pure unbridled teenage anger but still had a goofy, almost nerdy edge to it. Tommy Lasorda definitely retained that edge but seemed more focused on writing unhinged pop songs. Was that intentional? Were you guys just trying to be a pop band that was informed by the MELVINS?

Adam: A few descriptions I’ve heard: Dirt Pop, Camaro Rock, and Two Man Rock Armada--there may be more. We had an interesting amp-to-speaker ratio with some decent output levels. We had some fairly oversized drum skins and cymbal radii to contend with and we just kinda took it from there -- worked within that framework. Occasionally the circuits got hot, the sticks got hotter, and at that point some might have said they were in to see a pretty good fight.

 Mike: Nothing was planned, it was just a natural progression of where our mutual musical tastes were headed. As most people probably do when they move to Olympia, we were listening to a lot of Beat Happening at the time. But also a lot of godheadSilo and the Wu-Tang Clan. The Melvins were always a constant, more as a template for what was possible than actually trying to sound like them, although we played a few shows, most notably in a Manhattan bar, where we did all Melvins sets.

 RO: I got your band on a show in Chattanooga where you won the audience over with your catchy songs. At the end, you asked if you had time to play one more and then played “King Solomon’s Reef” (from the tape), which kinda blew everyone’s minds. What’s up with that song? It’s totally different from everything else, really intricate and weird. What was the inspiration for it? (besides maybe the diner in Olympia?)

Adam: Riff obsessed demolition derby Robert Christgau has never dissected. A+

 Mike: “King Solomon’s Reef” was a test. We basically wanted to see if we could do it. The jury is still out on if we succeeded. A lot of that was written outside the basement while we walked around town, just vocally passing off riffs and fills. We woodshedded it for hours and just kept adding more parts to it. The very beginning is a direct rip-off of the song “Charlotte” by the all-girl Canadian metal band Kittie, who we were kind of obsessed with at the time.

 Adam: We wanted to be actual “merchants of the riff” “Hey..(opens coat)...would you like to see a riff collection...allow us to respectfully pull out a few licks...tell us if you see anything you like or should I say lick...oh?...(sigh)...that one’s not for sale...

 Mike: Speaking of that show in Chattanooga, there was a local guy there filming all of the bands that night and he asked us what our band name was. We said “Tommy Lasorda” but he didn’t understand us and all night he kept calling us “Time and Disorder”, which is still the greatest punk rock band name ever. That’s what Adam says at the beginning of “Punkest Girl in Town” on the 7”.

 Adam: I also say The Reef should change it up and try going with “King Solomon’s Riff” for a while.

 RO: What do you guys have against bass players? Tommy Lasorda, Chinese, Poser Posse, Rainbow Bridge, etc,etc...No bass.

 Adam: On one hand, the lack of traditional and/or orthodox lineups is to warn against the pratfalls of anti-establishment ethos and lifestyle; a visual, if you will, symbol. On the other hand it shows and proves that there is quite possibly many more and still, yet another way. Bassist wishlist: Old St. Nick, Mickey (and Minnie!) Mouse, Vaclav Havel, Don Rickles (No!), Branch Rickey.

 Mike: And Thelma Ritter.

 Adam: A symbol, if you will.

 Mike: Our next band will be ALL bass. No drums, no guitars, no performers. Just six or seven basses all lined up in a blue bedroom. Not even plugged in.

 RO: Speaking of Poser Posse, what led to the formation of that band? (for the reader, Tommy Lasorda was Mike and Adam switching off between drums and guitar. Poser Posse was Mike and Adam both playing guitars with a drummer.)

 Mike: Like Los Rabbis, Poser Posse was originally a Dean and Adam project. They started playing with Patrick at his house in Oakland and I went along once or twice before weaseling my way into the band. Dean ended up leaving to do a million more important things while the three of us ate burritos, talked about burritos, and covered The Flying Burrito Brothers.

 Adam: The name Poser Posse originated in Olympia, but truly it could have been discovered anywhere.

 RO: What is your favorite MELVINS song and why?

 Mike: Easy. “The Fool, the Meddling Idiot” off of the band’s best album, 2002’s Hostile Ambient Takeover. There are three components that make up the Melvins’ music: heavy, noisy, and pretty; and over its generous seven-and-a-half minutes “The Fool, the Meddling Idiot” covers all of these bases with utter aplomb. It is the perfect desert island selection. The song contains some crazy ass Kevin Rutmanis slide bass, a terrifyingly awesome vocal performance from Buzz, and one of Dale Crover’s greatest drum fills. Oh, and it ends with a coda that sounds like Captain Beefheart writing music for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.

RO: That is also my favorite Melvins album!

 Adam: There is one song that comes to mind, one song any Melvinaut should they, if they have not already, take some time to seek out. This one song is a b-side that begins with some talk about a “Principal’s Office” before settling into a nice, easy groove. The title and lyrics rhyme with “Banal Straighten”.

RO: I have no idea what you're talking about but it made me think about their Mott The Hoople cover, which is awesome....oh wait, I have that 7".

 Mike: Wait, is it too late to change my answer?

 RO: Guest question from Morgan Stickrod: Just to see if your views have changed over time, which La Cumbre taqueria is the best, in your opinion? The one in SF or the one in San Mateo?

 Mike: Well, the San Francisco La Cumbre has way better tortillas but the San Mateo one has a framed photograph of Los Rabbis hanging above the door, so the best one is the El Farolito in South San Francisco. 650!

 Adam: I fondly remember a wonderful summer time deluxe burrito from La Cumbre in San Mateo. It was really, really, really, really good. I was very impressed and it was far and away more better than the usual “its just as good as I remember, but even better,” burrito. Honestly, I just cannot tell you the last time I remember eating a burrito in that ol’ Baghdad by the Bay--so San Mateo, handily.

 RO: And since we are not living in the past, and I have no desire to do so....what projects are you both working on these days?

 Mike: I have spent the last year working on a book of essays about Disney movies. That should be coming out soon. My brother and I have also been working for the last couple of years on a hip-hop concept album all about, and for, our father. It was originally going to be a Father’s Day present, then birthday, then Christmas, and then the year was over and the cycle started again. The songs are about the Green Bay Packers, Steely Dan, and living in a retirement community in Santa Rosa. It’s my magnum opus.

 Adam: Work? I like a recently cleared desk. Thanks for the questions!

Check back tomorrow for more from this band.

Thanks to Morgan Stickrod for loaning out the tape to digitize (mine broke years ago) and to the MRR house for their advanced digitizing capabilities.


Vill helm said...

Melvins, Hickey and Beat Happening, sounds good.

Speaking of the past revelling, I booked a show with Resin and they cancelled because one of them got caught syphening gas to leave their town.

Harvester said...

That's a really good excuse.

joshua leon harper said...

cool interview!

Nick said...

did the unreleased recordings that Mike sent in ever get posted? i didn't see a link

Harvester said...

It's this live show...

Nick said...

thanks again, your promptness is greatly appreciated!