In this week’s Fest issue, Daniel Person talks with Kent Ueland of Terrible Buttons—Spokane’s best band two years running, according to its alt-weekly Inlander—about what makes Spokane, and its bands, tick. We had space in the paper for but a fraction of the nuggets of wisdom he mined from his subject, so here’s the full convo (read the print edition here ).
Seattle Weekly: Spokane’s motto is “near nature, near perfect.” How accurate is that?
Ueland: I think one of the big differences between Spokane and Seattle is I can drive 10 minutes and see a litany of waterfalls, and we have [state] parks literally surrounding us. If you ask me, that’s the one thing that truly sets Spokane apart; Spokane’s 10 minutes from wilderness, which is great from a songwriter’s perspective, for sure.
SW: How near perfect is it?
U: Well, I’m not so sure about that. It’s hard to find the perfect city and everyone has their issues. Everybody’s looking for different things from different places, but for me this is perfection. Perfect for the touring musician, because you’re really just looking for a place to keep your shit out of the rain while you’re out on tour. It’s like, ‘Why would I pay triple the rent when I’m trying to live on the road anyway?’ It enables musicians to realize that goal of being a road dog.
SW: Driving to Spokane from Seattle, you have to pass through that part of the state that looks like Oklahoma on a bad hair day. I’m talking Ritzville area. Any advice for powering through that last hour or so?
U: I would say 15 miles on either side of Ritzville, don’t go one mile over the speed limit. That is the Washington speed trap right there. I would also suggest getting comfortable with some of the acts that are playing in Volume! this year, the local Spokane talent that should be known and isn’t known. People like Dead Serious Lovers, that’s just the best band in this town and it’s pretty tough to find a goth rock band in this state that rivals their last record. I just don’t think it can be done. [The album] Les is perfection, top to bottom.
SW: Spokane has a fast-food place called Dick’s where you can get a good hamburger for cheap. Any other places Seattleites can go if they are feeling homesick?
U: The Seattle Dick’s vs. Spokane Dick’s controversy is a tale as old as time itself. Ours gets a bad rap because one time they found a dead body in the dumpster. Now all of a sudden the burgers don’t taste as good to Seattle people. I don’t get it. We do burritos right over here; Neato Burrito, which is also called the Baby Bar, hosts a lot of live music; it has one of the best burritos I’ve ever had. It’s a good $8 stomach bomb. But if you’re like me you’re looking for a $5 gut bomb, in that case I recommend Atilano’s. The Atilano’s burrito is sure to make your night and ruin your next day. It’s on Third. A big yellow sign with terrible punctuation.
SW: What’s the most offensive nickname for Spokane you’ve ever heard from west siders, the one they should know really hurts Spokane’s feelings?
U: “Spokomton” is the most popular one, which is really funny to me because the crime rate in Seattle is astronomical compared to ours. “Spokanistan” is another one. That one’s probably a little more offensive since it plays to the hickish stereotype, we’re just a bunch of mountain people who just came out of the Caucuses and raped and pillaged our way to what we are now. Both of those paint us a certain light that isn’t quite fair. We’ve got our share of problems, but so does everywhere else.
SW: What should be the first beer a Seattleite drinks upon arriving in Spokane?
U: Go to Iron Goat Brewery and have three of everyone of their beers, just so you can remember it tomorrow. You can at least take the hangover with you.
SW: On to music, your album cover to 2013’s Runt shows you all camped out beside a just-cut wheat field. Does the landscape of Eastern Washington influence your music?
U; I’m not sure if it’s the landscape or the culture, but it’s a very different vibe here than in Seattle and that definitely goes into the music. There’s definitely a believability in the despair that isn’t in cities that have better reputations. We do dark music well. Seattle’s got sort of an electro-pop thing that’s on the rise and incredibly popular and we, in general as a scene, have gone the opposite way and gotten darker. There’s a darkness that can’t be ignored and is believable on account of the wasteland that surrounds us.
SW: Is there anything like a Spokane sound?
U: There’s the L.A. Weekly article going around saying that if you’re not a jam band then just forget Spokane. Yeah, there are good jam bands here but it’s very strange to me that that has become our reputation because the things that we do well are the farthest from that, like intricate song writing and complicated arraignments. The darkness is something that is decidedly Spokane.
After some banter about how LA Weekly will say anything for web traffic...
To me, talk about a pile of shit town. L.A. is like a human garbage heap. If I could never go there again I would, but it’s like this weird rite of passage where you have to play bullshit shows where nobody gets paid so that people think you’re a real band. It’s such nonsense.
SW: What that L.A. Weekly article was really getting at was that not a lot of touring acts come through Spokane, and I think there’s some truth to that...
SW: So it’s the local bands that are going to be topping the bills at a lot shows. How does that affect what you do?
U: As part of this renaissance, Spokane just opened the best live music venue I’ve every played. I’ve been to the Mississippi and back and I can say the best venue I’ve ever played is here and it’s hard to name a Seattle venue I haven’t played. The Bartlett, which opened in November, it has the best shows, consistently the best shows, it’s just the cream of the crop and the sound is phenomenal and it has already, since November, put us back on the map. Bonnie Prince Billy is coming, the Antlers are coming, Future Islands has played.
SW: Let’s talk about the renaissance. You guys have been around five years and I understand that your last show as a band will be at Volume! Over those five years, how have things changed just in the time Terrible Buttons has been around?
U: It was tough going getting started in this town. It’s not as hard now getting going. We put out a record that was produced by and engineered by Ryan Lewis and Macklemore, that was within our first year of being a band, and it still took us two years to get our name into the local alt-weekly. We had to fight tooth and nail to get where we are. Now it’s like, you start a band and you play these awesome shows and they make sure you sound good and you can get your foot in the door. It’s just a whole new place.
And other cities have that, but the difference is the self awareness of all the people who put these things on. People think we’re a piece of shit and we work harder because of it and put an emphasis on how local these things are because of it. There’s a certain about of pride that comes from being the retarded little brother of the city that thinks it’s the hottest shit in the world [Seattle]. There’s really something to the underdog appeal.