The Seattle Sound(s)

Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb.
Leading up to next week's release of The Taking, the new record from my band, Loaded, I've been put once more through the endless gauntlet of music-press and rock-radio interviews. I'm not complaining. I suppose there would be a need for a modicum of worry if the interview requests suddenly waned.

Next week also brings to public display a new installment at the Experience Music Project here in Seattle, Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses. My editor here at the Weekly asked me if I could somehow tie these two things together in one single column (Nirvana/EMP, and Loaded/The Taking). I actually think I can. It goes like this:

In doing all of this press for my new record, one constant theme has arisen from almost every interviewer: "This new Loaded record sounds very Seattle." The interviewers then go on to ask me if, by my living back in Seattle, this has given the new Loaded song-making process a Northwest slant. "Uh, no," I answer. I've lived back in Seattle since '93.

One thing that has struck me as obvious ever since I started listening to the early punk-rock singles and records that were coming from places outside of Seattle is that it was totally evident that our wet and cold environs here in the Northwest totally influenced the sound of its rock bands. We play in cold basements with jackets and hats on. The strings are damp. The guitar and drums are made of wood, which is also damp. The paper-speakers in the amp-cabinets are damp. We are playing music with LAYERS on! This makes the actual act of playing much more uncomfortable and a lot less fluid. The "Seattle Sound" is a by-product of our environment. Literally.

When I moved to L.A in 1984, I noticed gear just plain sounded different. I'm not kidding.

Another big difference that I noticed outside of Seattle was a real sense of competition between bands that were playing on the same bill or in the same "scene." In Seattle, there was just really none of that. Bands would loan each other gear and the use of a rehearsal basement and van or pickup for getting to gigs. Musical ideas up here were thought to be a thing to share, not to closet. This really led to a identifiable "sound" of sorts.

I'm not quite sure just why Nirvana has become arguably the most beloved band from this era that made the "Seattle Sound" famous. Alice In Chains were among the first of that era, and have withstood the test of time (and . . . death). Soundgarden pushed the edges of musicianship to the edges of genius, and are seemingly back. Pearl Jam have been the clarion-steady thing--always selling out arenas everywhere they go (no matter if there is a current "radio song" or not). The Melvins? Mudhoney?

This Loaded effort can also be associated with the Seattle sound and some of the aforementioned bands in that it was produced by a fella by the name of Terry Date. Terry produced or recorded a whole slew of these early demos and records, and he produced our new Loaded record. The studio is the same, too (Studio X nee Bad Animals). The way he mikes-up drums and guitar cabinets is the same. The way he pushes a vocal through on his mixes is the same. Dry and hard and tough, and without bluster or shine. Just brutal. In other words: the same old Terry Date. He sorta rules.

So what does the "Seattle Sound" mean today? If you are over, say, 35 years old, well then you probably equate it to these bands above. But one of the great things that happens up here is a change of identity, a constant evolution. Today the "Seattle Sound" is being defined by alt-folks, the likes of Fleet Foxes and The Head and the Heart. And what about bands like Death Cab? They sort of scrubbed the "old guard" rock out of this town. Not in a bad way either. DCFC are fuckin' genius!

I know that I am bouncing around a bit here, and that's just the point. This town has really done a fine job of providing a variety of musical identities. And yes, I didn't even get to the Sonics, Hendrix, Heart, or Queensryche! . . . heh, heh . . or The Fartz.

The Nirvana exhibit is a fitting time capsule of one of the sounds that has defined Seattle. But there have been many sounds that have defined this great musical city.

Loaded will be playing two upcoming gigs in Seattle. At Easy Street Records on Mercer on National Record Store Day (April 16), and a record-release party at Neumos on April 23. The gig on the 23rd will include an auction of rock and sports and fishing items of greatness, to benefit the VA Puget Sound Health Care System.

Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses opens April 16 at the Experience Music Project.

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