Friday, June 10, 2011

Shiverfix: Part I

In the end Shiverfix was my band. Through all of the others, this was where my heart was.

It began as far back as 1988 or '89, when my collaborator and best friend David Bliss and I recorded a couple of songs in a small apartment with any one around who was available to play an instrument. David had been taking guitar lessons, blues-oriented, in-the box stuff, while I'd been writing some poetry and imagined becoming a singer, a frontman in the vein of Michael Hutchence or Jim Morrison. We weren't after a certain style, didn't have any real goals. We had our influences (The Cure, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, etc.) and we hoped they would find their way into the music.

From those first two songs, horrible-sounding songs, recorded in an apartment in Aurora, Colorado, we went to other apartments to record more songs. The drum machine always ticking away, unwavering, in each. Tryin the whole time to recruit our friends into playing with us. Even if they had no muscial experience. This paid off when Lori joined us to play bass.

Unloading gear in the alley at 15th and Blake

By 1990, we were rehearsing in a warehouse at 15th and Blake in Denver, back when the area was full of decrepit buildings and viaducts. The warehouse had been an old sporting goods store and some other sort of retailer before that, and it served as the transient home to an eclectic group of musicians, artists, and other outcasts. Under the name Satori, our rehearsals, with the addition of Becky as our drummer, often seen smacking the snare with a stick in one hand and taking a pull on a cigarette with the other, took place in a large open area. People would walk through, stop for a while to watch, move on. It was like playing in a half-lit store, while people milled about. Except elsewhere in the place people were doing drugs, watching TV, or screwing. It wasn't always conducive to experimentation, to the open innovation that a group of nervous, still-learning, musicians needed. It also forced any personal or personnel issues onto display.

How the warehouse at 15th and Blake appears today (via Google Street View)

The viaduct across the street, how it appeared in 1987 (via

Satori played one live gig at the warehouse before the residents got evicted for having open fires during a show. I was twenty, frightened, and lousy. The band before us had broken a hole in the makeshift stage which I nearly fell in. The drums were on a riser behind us, spearated by a partition that more or less prevented them from being heard. Not the best first show. And then Satori was done. Tensions had been high, and without a place to rehearse, the band dissolved.

Here's a raw demo recorded then of a song called "Shattered":

Of course we couldn't stay apart for long and soon, with Becky replaced by the drum machine, we went back to recording in apartments. We wrote better songs, songs we were proud of, and tried out drummers. Many of the songs from this period would become staples for David and I through the years. Eventually, a mmove to Seattle was debated. This was 1991. Everything good was coming out of Seattle. David moved. Lori left to join St. Lucy Altarpiece. I did nothing. Until David moved back to Denver.

Here's a song from that era,"History's Pedestal":

By the end of '92, David and I found brothers John and Guido to play bass and drums and went by the name Scratch. It came from too much time spent at Calvin’s playing pool. We were certainly after something more rock and raw, something that felt like the late nights and the abandon with which we were living then. Because we worked evenings and stayed out late, rehearsals were usually held mornings in the basement of a house at 6th and Sheridan. The tales of the previous night’s exploits were often too much for the good Catholic brothers.

A Scratch-era version of "Flower Dress":

The gigs didn’t come. Despite what we thought were good songs, a good amount of creativity, nothing panned out. David and I were really more interested in living a rock and roll lifestyle than doing the hard work required to get gigs and really make a go of it.

Eventually, one of the brothers got someone pregnant and Scratch came to an end. Then it was just me and David, and that damn drum machine again.

We moved into an old storefront at the corner of 5th and Santa Fe on Cinqo de Mayo 1993. For years we had struggled finding a place to play. You couldn’t have a drummer if you didn’t have a place to put him. You can get away with recording guitars and bass at low volumes in apartments, but the volumes necessary to play with a drummer required dedicated space. Still, though, drummers were hard to come by. I played bass on some recordings, but still we didn’t get anywhere.

In the fall of that year I bumped into two members of the then defunct St. Lucy Altarpiece on the bus. In just a few minutes’ conversation it was agreed that I would come over to play bass with them, to see if I would play in a new band they were putting together. The level of frustration with the lack of progress with the band was high. The decision to leave and join Swoon was easy.

In some ways, David and I cared about the music more than we cared about “making it.” And that was what was so frustrating. To put so much emotion and care into the music and know what we were the only ones enjoying it was demoralizing. To play in a new band, to have a secondary position, was liberating. I could do something different. I could be creative. I could finally play some live shows.

Until Swoon gave me the boot in early 1995.

Shiverfix: Part II coming next week.

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