Sunday, December 16, 2007

From the cutout bin: Chalk farM - notwithstanding

I have a bit of a soft spot for Chalk FarM (no idea why the capitalization is that way). In the late fall of 1996, I went to see Better than Ezra at the UNO Arena in New Orleans, still (so far as I know) the largest headlining show BTE has ever done. It was the homecoming date and the last show on the Friction, Baby tour and it was awesome. Chalk FarM was the opening act, and during "King of New Orleans" the lead singer of Chalk FarM came back onstage and turned over cue cards with the lyrics to the song on them. Then he placed a crown on Kevin Griffin's head, which Griffin tossed into the crowd at the end of the show (I still have one of the plastic jewels from the crown).

I believe Chalk FarM came back through town in the spring of '97, but that was the last I ever heard of them, until I found this CD in the dollar bin at my local record store.
So who were they? A Los Angeles band made up of East Coast transplants, they were originally a two-man acoustic outfit that then expanded to a full band, and they were frightfully socially earnest (this really comes through in the lyrics). So a bit like Vertical Horizon crossed with Live. Their one big hit was "Lie on Lie," from 1996, which you can find on YouTube, but which I can't embed for some reason. They then had a minor hit with "Live Tomorrow," which skirted the edge of the mainstream rock Top 40 in '97. As a sidenote, they did much better on the mainstream rock charts than the modern rock charts, which is a little surprising, as the modern rock station where I lived played them a lot.

Chalk FarM was dropped by Columbia sometime in the late '90s, lost their drummer, regrouped enough to put out a second album on their own label in 2000, performed in the film Coyote Ugly, and broke up. The lead singer, Michael Duff, recently released a solo album, and appears from his website to have gotten fairly involved with Scientology... perhaps he can open for Beck.
notwithstanding is a decent album, neither great nor terrible, and considering the success Vertical Horizon had with this basic sound three years later, it's a little surprising that they were dropped by Columbia.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

From the cutout bin: Summercamp - Pure Juice

It's time for a new feature here at Tied to the '90s: From the Cutout Bin, where we dig up old CDs that have been forgotten for whatever reason and can now be found in the dollar (or quarter) bin at your local used CD store (if your community still has a used CD store).

First up, Summercamp and their only album, Pure Juice, released in April 1997. These guys came out of the surprisingly-varied Santa Barbara scene, which also produced Ugly Kid Joe, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Nerf Herder, Lagwagon, Dishwalla, and Sugarcult and were together in some form or another for a decade before Madonna made them one of the early signings to her vanity label, Maverick Records. Actually, that may be one reason why these guys aren't around anymore; Madge herself set the bar a little high when (in early 1997, mind you), she claimed that her new signings were better than Oasis (seriously; check it out here)

Not to be cruel, but I have no clue what Madonna was talking about. These guys sound absolutely nothing like Oasis; it's very, very typical mid-'90s alt-rock, distorted guitars with melodies influenced by late-'70s power pop. Think Dishwalla or the Posies, but a little more generic.
Their single "Drawer" went top 40 on the mainstream rock charts and top 25 on the modern rock charts, but the album never charted (Wikipedia says "Should I walk away" went top 10 in Japan). They played the Lollapalooza second stage in '97 (the year it tried to go electronica with Orbital, Tricky, the Prodigy and the Orb on the main stage), then toured with Tonic, did a couple of festivals in Europe and Japan, and dropped off the face of the earth.

So what happened? This article from February 1999 says the band had gone into a studio in Santa Barbara to record a follow-up with producer Gil Norton (Feeder, Foo Fighters, Pixies, Jimmy Eat World, etc.). Another website claims they subsequently recorded in LA, New York, and London, replaced their drummer, and were doing more recording with Bon Jovi's producer. The album was scheduled for fall '99, then fall 2000, but nothing ever came out, not even in Japan. Their Myspace page says they broke up in 2000.

Lead singer Tim Cullen has put out a solo album, toured Japan, and done some work with Bad Astronaut and Sugarcult. He's currently in the Playing Favorites with Marko from Sugarcult and a couple of guys from Lagwagon. Guitarist Sean McCue has played some shows with Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket and also has a solo album.

Here's a video of the band playing the Fuji Rock Festival in 1997:

This wasn't a bad album. It showed some promise, and their sound was quite similar to bands like Stroke 9, SR-71, and American Hi-Fi who got pretty big a couple of years later. Maybe Summercamp was a little before their time.
Check out their one sorta hit, "Drawer," which sounds a bit like Superdrag: