Tomorrow night, local metal heroes Akimbo will take the stage at the Comet, and (reunions pending) play their last show ever. For one more day, they are Seattle's best active metal band--in my mind, a title they've held for most of their run. They've performed under the name Akimbo for fourteen years; put out six full-lengths, a 7", and a split 10"; and cycled through nine guitar players (that is, including touring fill-ins, but still). It's fitting then, that they are breaking up because their guitar player, Aaron Walters, is leaving the band for personal reasons, and the remaining members (bassist/vocalist Jon Weisnewski, drummer Nat Damm) see no reason to make it a dozen. Their sound on record is that of a thunderous bass-driven monster, with aggressive, yet intelligent guitar riffs and breakdowns, and drums that could restart an arrested heart. Live, they are ferocious, and could play louder--and drink harder--than pretty much any band out there.
Akimbo: Damm, Walters, Weisnewski
One more show, and now we've learned: one more album. Alternative Tentacles will release the album they've just recorded this fall. It's an album--as a band that's already written its own obituary--that won't be traditionally promoted or our toured behind, but one that the band says they need to put out, for peace of mind more than anything.
"We decided to break up," says Weisnewski, "and the very next conversation we had was: 'Well, we have all these songs; it would really mean a lot to me if we could record them.'"
Photo by Charlie Schuck Aaron Walters, Nat Damm, Jon Weisnewski
The three members of the band are relaxing, beers in hand, in their small Capitol Hill jam space. Weisnewski and Dam look like metal versions of Andy Sandberg and Blake from Workaholics respectively. The tallest of the three, guitarist Aaron Walters, the professor-who-likes-to-party, sits on an amp near the door, faux-discrediting the others' facts as they talk about their early work before he joined the band, and painting elaborate pictures of their work that he had a hand in. "This whole egotistical thing that I do is shtick, by the way," he laughs. They are all hilarious, and in good spirits.
"I'm glad we're doing the record now," says Walters. "I had spent two years--maybe three years getting more and more bummed-out on heavy music and the local scene, and being in a band, and sort of all this pain-in-the-ass that's involved with it. I hated going to shows, shit like that. It was a really tough decision to want to stop playing in the band."
"God damn right," inserts Damm, chuckling.
"Absolutely no hard feelings," continues Walters. "Nobody was bummed, really. It seemed like the thing to do.
"We were just moving ahead like we always do, just writing songs," explains Weisnewski. "It was at a much slower pace than before, but we had most of a record ready to go. Then we decided to stop playing, and we have all these songs... Most of them, I really, really like, and it'd be really sad for me to not have a recording of those. I place a lot of personal value on recordings," He continues, "I feel like they're this neat little time-stamp of something that I poured a lot of artistic energy into over the course of a year or two. The thought of not being in the band anymore, and not having a recording of those songs--there's a handful of them that are very, very dear to me--if we didn't have them recorded and documented it would be a big bummer to me."
For Damm and Weisnewski, the let-down will be cushioned by their other band, Sandrider, who's sound has drawn many fans from the same school. For Walters, teaching music and filling in as drummer for indie electronic/hip hop producer Stres will fill his time. It's a conflict-free split, and one that probably won't leave too many fans with a bad taste in their mouth. The rare arc of a band that simply seemed complete. Only time will tell if the unique circumstances surrounding the new album's recording has any effect on it's sound (rushed, or unhinged and brilliant, etc.).
As a tribute to their run, I decided to pick the band's collective brain about every release they ever put out, and throw in a bit of critical analysis of my own for color. It's one of the geekiest band-related things I've done in a long time (I haven't written my favorite UK bands album critiques in the mail for a few years!). Long live Akimbo.
Critical Analysis: None. They are the only Akimbo releases I couldn't get my hands on.
Geek-out info: Jeff McNulty--former Blööd Hag guitarist; current guitarist in Android Hero--recorded the split 10" with Teen Cthulhu. The An Army of Evil Robots Programmed for Human Destruction 7" was recorded a couple of months later in the same studio ("a weird basement in South Seattle; just off Rainier Avenue") by Kaanen Tuppert. Guitarist Kyle Iman accompanied Weisnewski and Damm on both recordings. It was put out by a small local label that was called Rock and Roleplay Records.
The band says: "The tour on the 7" was right after Kyle quit the band, and we had to find the guitar player. That's when we got [guitarist Jared] Burke [Eglington]. We called him two weeks before we were leaving." -Jon
Harshing Your Mellow (CD - Dopamine records / Vinyl - Seventh Rule Recordings, 2001, Alternative Tentacles (re-release), 2007)
Critical Analysis: "Harshing your mellow" could be Akimbo's mission statement. They take every relaxed neutron in your body and give it a jolt like you were hooked up to a car battery. This is their most punk record, evidenced mainly by the short song lengths that don't so much feel truncated as they do crammed-in, with brisk tempos and inaudibly barked vocals. Another punk move: track nine, "F*ck Everett, F*ck Tacoma", was recorded in Tacoma with the rest of the album. The energy here is raw and hardly corralled. It's a righteous outburst of aggression and angst before they transitioned to a more calculated brand of brutality with Elephantine.
Geek-out info: Recorded in Tacoma at Uptown Studios with Wes Weresch in three days (two to track, one to mix). If you have the Alternative Tentacles re-issue, you will notice a few abrupt song endings, and a lack of transitions. This is because the label had only the pre-master recording before the band inserted audio samples from old records and movies in their collections (which would have cost money to license anyway).
The band says: "We went to Wes because of Enemymine['s album] The Ice In Me...once we heard that record, we were like 'We have to do this: we have to go to that guy, and get that sound.' Our record sounds nothing like that." -Jon
"The first record we recorded to tape." -Nat
Elephantine (CD - Dopamine records / Vinyl - Seventh Rule Recordings, 2003)
Critical Analysis: Though their punk/thrash roots are still riding up front much of the time, Elephantine capitalizes on the sledgehammer break-downs and tangential song structures that had begun to emerge from the Damm/Weisnewski power train on HYM. The acoustics are huge, and fantastic. The songwriting is some of their most creative, while maintaining their signature grisly sound.
Geek-out info: Recorded at the old Paradox theater in the U-District in an upstairs studio by Joel Brown. Jon used a Fender bass amp instead of his usual Sunn Coliseum. Guitarist Jared "Burke" Eglington is a guitar collector, and used a large number of different guitars to achieve the layered sound on each song. This was the first time Nat used a traditional drum set; all previous recordings were drummed using a two 22-inch kick drum "cannon", which was glued together with wood glue. At this point, Burke took on a full-time job, and could no longer tour with the band.
The band says: "A lot of people say that's our best record. I have a hard time disagreeing. It's pretty good." -Jon
"Burke got really nerdy on that recording." -Jon
"The recording was finished for like a year and a half or a year before we had the record in our hands. We did so many tours playing those songs, and not having the record to sell. It was actually really frustrating." -Jon
"We were young and dumb, and our label was young and dumb." -Nat
City of the Stars (Seventh Rule Recordings, 2004)
Critical Analysis: A good, loud record, though it lacked some of the wandering progressions, and slowed-down riffage that made their sound so distinct on Elephantine. Lots of guitars.
Geek-out info: COTS was put out by Seventh Rule Records, who were based in Chicago at the time, though they now call Portland home. The band met SRR founder Scott Flaster while they were in Chicago touring with the Blood Brothers. Flaster was working sound at a venue call the Fireside Bowl, and heckled them ferociously. He apologized on their next tour, and offered to put out their next album. It was recorded in the Interbay neighborhood at Chroma Sound by Zack Reinig in five days. The band had picked up second guitarist Dustin Brown, and was a four-piece at the time.
The band says: "It was in like a studio that caught on fire, and was a lost cause for insurance purposes." -Nat
"[The band settled on an album title when] Jon found an old notebook of his about Tycho Brahe." -Nat
Forging Steel and Laying Stone (Alternative Tentacles, 2006)
Critical Analysis: Recording sounds great here, again. The album contains great moments like "Ground Control to Major Bummer", and "Rockness Monster", which is perhaps their most commercially viable single.
Geek-out info: Recorded at Avast 2 studios (now called Ironwood) by Joel Brown, who had done Elephantine for them. This was their first record on the Alternative Tentacles label. During the recording of the album, the decision was made to ask second guitarist Patrick Cunningham to leave the band, as he was actively battling a heroine addiction. The band recruited Aaron Walters to play guitar on a subsequent tour, and later on, to join the band full-time.
The band says: "We went back to Joel Brown because we were so happy with [Elephantine], and we weren't very happy with the way City of the Stars turned out." -Nat
"[Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra] asked us to be on Alternative Tentacles and we were like 'Yeah, sure, sounds awesome'--totally played it cool. Then we left the backstage, and Nat and I hugged each other." -Jon
"In high school, we pretty much just listened to Dead Kennedys." -Nat
"'Forging Steel and Laying Stone'--Nat saw that [phrase] on a billboard in Chicago; a big mural." -Jon
Navigating the Bronze (Alternative Tentacles, 2007)
Critical analysis: A return to the psychedelic unpredictability of Elephantine, the album is easily among their best. "Dungeon Bastard" and "Lungless" are two more radio-worthy singles. Heavy, brooding, unapologetic, and amazing.
Geek-out info: Chris Owens (of the band Lords) recorded the album in Louisville, Kentucky. After recording eight days worth of material, the studio's hard drive crashed, and the band was forced to re-record everything to that point. While touring on the album, the band struck and killed a large female deer in Texas while driving in their touring van. The van was named "Crusher".
The band says: "Nat got super pissed [when the hard drive crashed], and what took him eight days before, he did in two." -Aaron
"Navigating the Bronze is just about touring." -Nat
Jersey Shores (Neurot Recordings, 2008)
Critical analysis: Their concept epic, which chronicled a series of shark attacks along the Jersey coast, this album is an experience. They built tension here with long, drawn-out, roller coaster movements, then annihilate them with intensely fulfilling fits of volume. It was a ballsy move after the success of their more traditionally-written previous albums, and they pulled it off with flying colors.
Geek-out info: The album was recorded in the same session in Louisville that was Navigating the Bronze, though the two vary greatly stylistically, and were released at different times on different labels.
The band says: "We did Navigating the Bronze and Jersey Shores in the same recording session." -Aaron
"['Lungless'] was a riff I basically woke up in my sleep at my parents' house, and sort of like wrote down really quick." -Aaron
"We were drinking like a twelve-pack a day each." -Aaron