It's less than an hour south, but when was the last time you checked out a band from Tacoma? T-Town is considered Seattle's rougher, grittier cousin, and the music reflects that -- the city has a long history of garage rock, with The Ventures, The (non-reggae) Wailers, and The Sonics all calling Tacoma home. But there's more to Tacoma than garage. I spoke with Matt Driscoll, the editor of the Weekly Volcano, who said via email that while Tacoma's scene is going through a period of transition due to the dissolution of several great bands (notably pop experimenters The Nightgowns, whose frontman's move to the Big Apple necessitated a hiatus), there's still a lot going on. A crucial factor in the musical makeup of the city, says Driscoll, is the presence of the Tacoma School of the Arts, or SOTA, an arts-centered high school that's part of the Tacoma Public School District and located downtown.
"Quite literally, SOTA is the incubator that drives our music scene. The list of great bands and musicians that has emerged from SOTA over the last few years is astounding," Driscoll says, noting that bands like Makeup Monsters, Apache Chief, Red Hex, and Oberhofer all went through the school. "Tacoma's music scene is one-thousand times improved thanks to SOTA, which allows all these talented kids to come together and mingle and combine forces," he says. But, he notes, "High school kids can be a little flaky. Bands break up and things change a lot, though keeping an eye on a couple all-ages venues -- the Space and Tahoma Tea and Co (formerly the Den) -- is a good bet for seeing firsthand what Tacoma's music scene is really up to."
He concludes, "I think most people unfamiliar with Tacoma would be surprised to find out how many truly top-notch young indie bands and artists are kicking around this place. Tacoma isn't just a metal, punk and beer town anymore ... though everyone still likes beer."
Read on to embark on Driscoll's guided tour of Tacoma bands and artists worthy of some serious attention.
Wheelies: Driscoll: "To be succinct, the Wheelies deal in garage pop -- great hooks and endearingly messy. It's almost impossible not to dig these guys," according to Driscoll.
They look this happy in all of their photos.
Makeup Monsters SOTA alums Makeup Monsters are likely familiar to Seattle audiences thanks to their success at EMP's Sound Off! (they competed in 2009, but were edged out by hip-hop collective Dino Jamz in the final round.) An indie pop project, Makeup Monsters are "young, fun and refreshing without seeming flimsy or un-relatable," says Driscoll.
The Fucking Eagles: Driscoll: "With connections to old school Tacoma band Seaweed, the Fucking Eagles pretty much sound and act exactly like I think a band from Tacoma should. Fuzzed-out, '60s inspired garage rock with a T-Town middle finger holding it up. The Fucking Eagles are as awesome as the name implies."
Girl Trouble : Driscoll: "Quite simply, I'd get kicked out of Tacoma if I failed to mention scene stalwarts Girl Trouble. And the band deserves it. Closing in on thirty years [author's note: !!], these guys have repped Tacoma and been a huge part of what T-Town's music scene is every step of the way. Hit It or Quit It was the first full-length record released by Sub Pop. And, to this day, frontman KP Kendall still takes his shirt off at nearly every performance. That's dedication. Those who need proof of what this band stands for need only look at the lawsuit levied against the band by Ohio's Gorilla Productions and the two-plus year fight that ensued -- basically because the band, and specifically drummer Bon Von Wheelie, refused to back down from her DIY rock ideals. It's an awesome story, and it pretty much epitomizes what Girl Trouble is about." Read the whole thing on the Volcano's site.
CityHall - EvergreenOne & Todd Sykes: It's impossible to deny the relentless grind of EvergreenOne and Todd Sykes, who together with DJ Hanibal make CityHall, says Driscoll. "Tacoma's hip-hop scene is perhaps the most creative and active element of Tacoma's overall music scene at the moment, and CityHall is a classic example," Driscoll says. "Sykes and EvergreenOne seem to release something new and high-quality all the time, and it's always well-received. I expect to see Sykes and EvergreenOne reach even bigger heights in 2012."
Not From Brooklyn: Driscoll: "Easily one of Tacoma's most buzzworthy bands at the moment, Not From Brooklyn does indie rock with nods of electronica. The kids eat this kind of shit up, and it's easy to see why."
Got a Tacoma band you'd like to see get some love? Add them in the comments!