Monday, August 06, 2007
[pic above: Fred Erskine by Kris Mestdag. please don't sue me. thanks.]
something i've found: the more you care about something, the harder it is to write about. the reason is simple enough--you just want to do it justice i guess.
i've been thinking lately that Frederick T. Erskine needs some sort of online shrine and i might as well get the ball rolling. not to be a snob, but i'd be extremely surprised if more than like five people who are reading this have any idea who he is. and so it goes for a lot of rock musicians who aren't frontmen or members of Led Zeppelin: in jazz, they know your name, in rock they know the band name.
anyway, you might recognize some of the bands Erskine has played bass and/or trumpet and vocalized in over the years. i think the following is the complete and roughly chronological list: Hoover, the Crownhate Ruin, June of 44, the Boom, Him, Just a Fire. the period we're talking about is the early '90s through like last year. as far as i know, he's not up to anything currently.
ok, i guess that was the easy part, the "who the hell are we talking about here?" part. i love a lot of musicians, but only a few are like in the hall of fame or the pantheon or the uppermost upper part of my interest and enthusiasm. i've written about most of these heroes on Dark Forces at one point or another, folks like John Fahey, Andrew Hill, Booker Little and bands like Craw and Cheer-Accident.
Fred's definitely on this list and he's one of the rare rock dudes i'd single out from any particular band he's been in. the thing is that i haven't always adored all these projects; sometimes i've even gritted my teeth through music i thought was kind of crappy (ahem, late June of 44) just to get an aural glimpse of this dude's work.
UNBELIEVABLY GORGEOUS BASS PLAYING. i don't even know how to frame this. there's the visual image. i saw Fred several times, both with June of 44 and the Crownhate Ruin. he's a short, sort of stout, top-heavy guy with kind of a baby face and these sunken eyes. very, very unassuming and with this sort of mellow vibe when he's not up at the mike. he'd often raise his eyebrows while he played as if to say, "piece of cake." he'd also close his eyes and puff his cheeks out in this really funny way.
it's a cheesy concept/notion, but when i think of the idea of groove, i think of Fred. his basslines are these like dubby, ever-so-slightly fuzzed out bubbly things. he always played without a pick and you can hear it in the playing, it's just got this sproingy, springy aspect, but without any sort of slap or pluck nonsense. it's very very very difficult to be really really good at bass without sounding absolutely absurd and cheesy and Fred is one of the few to pull this off (as is Tony of Archaeopteryx and Stay Fucked, but i digress).
i'm not sure how best to intro Fred, but i think it's just by posting some tracks, no? here are two INSANE jams from Hoover, a band i absolutely cherish. they were part of the Dischord/DC scene in the early '90s, and their reputation pretty much rests on "The Lurid Traversal of Route 7," a full-length from '93, which is now available in a nifty remastered version (go here for ordering info).
Hoover - Electrolux
Hoover - Weeds
the second track here is from a self-titled EP the band put out in '97. as the text on the back of the disc indicated, this release was "intended as documentation only" (as opposed to all those other records that are intended as a substitute for the live performance or some other nefarious purpose--kidding, kidding). basically they reunited in that year to record a few post-"Route 7" tracks.
anyway, so "Electrolux" boasts perhaps the finest odd-time groove ever recorded, a fucking sick, hypnotic jam in 9. you are not going to believe the fucking fat, sick sproinginess of the solo bass intro. it's just pure tone, pure signal, buzzing and throbbing. dig the two little accents Fred starts throwing in at the ends of the measures at 1:52; dig how the bassline turns into one loooooong note when he starts singing; and dig also the total manhandling of the bass at 6:05 when the guitar drops out. at that last juncture, Fred is taking this 9 groove and fucking owning it: it sounds like he's wrestling a fat boa constrictor. and check the awesome hoarseness of the vocal...
Fred is the singer on this one too. i'm a huge fan of his voice. he can scream, but also whisper and let forth this sort of wounded croon. you don't get that in "Electrolux" so much as "Weeds."
"Weeds" is a brutal track, showing off one of Hoover's most awesome strengths, i.e., just fucking grinding a riff into the ground until you want to burst. people have referred to them as sort of pre-emo or whatever and i totally see that. it's very fraught music, sort of despairing and gloomy but intensely cathartic. most of all it's churning, grinding, minimal.
obviously "Electrolux" is that, but "Weeds" is in some ways even more powerful. the final verse is absolutely devastating. Fred is HOWLING. i'm talking about around 5:20. there is a downright scary amount of sweat and white-knuckle feeling built up at that point. people talk about Slint tunes like "Good Morning Captain" as the epitome of tension-release indie rock, but this stuff is just as powerful methinks.
anyway, got off the Fred topic a bit, but i plan to continue in this vein. have tons more tracks i'd like to post but i will restrain myself b/c i don't want to overwhelm. here are a few Hoover videos i've found. both, weirdly enough, are of the same song, the "Route 7"-ending tour de force, "Cuts Like Drugs" [for the sticklers: yes, it does end the album proper. last three tracks on CD are from a separate 7"]. the second vid is from the Hoover reunion show from 2005 at the Black Cat in D.C., which Joe and i and some other buds proudly trekked from NYC to see. it ruled.
"Dries --> Cuts Like Drugs" (John Hiltz House, NJ, 199?)
"Cuts Like Drugs" (Black Cat '05)
(both of these are from a very cool music/video blog called The Sound of Indie, which is a real trove for anyone obsessed w/ arty and intense '90s indie stuff the way i am. trolling the clips, i spied Blonde Redhead, the Make-Up and tons tons more. check it out!)
and here is a rather drab interview with Fred (apparently the only one online) from 2000.
if anyone out there is a fellow Fredhead, please speak up. we need to stick together!