More Than a TAD Overdue

Sub Pop is reissuing the influential early releases of a Seattle grunge-rock original.

Tad Doyle is a rock-’n’-roll lifer. He may not be a household name, but he’s been a major fixture on the Seattle music scene for 30 years. And his best-known musical project, the one that bears his name, is having its first three records remastered and reissued on November 4 by Sub Pop. This is great news for fans, as the records have long been out of print and never been made available digitally.

Though TAD started as a one-man band with Doyle playing all the instruments on his debut Sub Pop single, singing and playing guitar to prerecorded tracks simply proved too much work in a live setting. So Doyle put a band together, recruiting fellow local musicians Kurt Danielson, Gary Thorstensen, and Steve Wied, and the quartet set out to make a full-length record with Jack Endino, who had just finished recording a pair of other acts for Sub Pop: Nirvana and Soundgarden.

“It was very quick,” says Doyle, about making that first album. “I don’t think we were even together as a band for a month before we went in to record.” With Endino at the helm, the band was able to capture its inspired early days. “One of the things I loved about Endino is that he wanted to experiment as much as we did.” Some of that experimentation involved recording industrial objects as instruments, like a hacksaw or a car’s gas tank, or banging on a resonant brass tube from a microwave transmitter that Doyle had scored from a friend’s dad who worked at a TV station. “Once of the most interesting things he did,” says Endino, “was bow a ride cymbal. I’ve never seen anyone do that again, before or since. He had some good ideas.”

The result was God’s Balls, a pounding, sludgy debut light-years from the kind of hard rock Mötley Crüe and Warrant were offering, which dominated MTV and rock radio in 1989. “God’s Balls is a cry from the heart,” Danielson says in Everybody Loves Our Town, an oral history of grunge, “It’s primal, it’s primitive. There’s a lot of screaming. We wanted to manufacture a kind of white-trash version of America. Tad and I were fascinated with [serial killer] Ed Gein. There was the song ‘Nipple Belt’ that was directly inspired by him.”

The band set off to Europe with Nirvana shortly thereafter and spent the next decade touring and making records, eventually for a series of major labels, before calling it quits in 1999. The band’s early releases, however, remain vital grunge touchstones, and because they’ve been out of print for decades, they’ve become lost relics from the golden age of Sub Pop. Entertainment Weekly gave 8-Way Santa an A- at its 1991 release, describing it as “biker rock driven by crushing slabs of guitar potent enough to kill baby seals at 50 paces.” And the album has lost none of its riff-heavy raw power in the ensuing decades.

“I remember joking with Endino over the phone,” says Doyle. “It just seems a shame that I get so many e-mails from people asking me where they can get the stuff, because it’s all out of print and it’s hard to find. And I made a joke that if one of us died in the band, they’d probably be right on it.”

Thankfully, everybody in TAD is doing fine, and it was actually Endino who got the ball rolling on the reissues. “I kind of did this on a voluntary basis in the beginning,” he says. “For my own amusement, I took the first TAD record and I remastered it for myself. And I was kind of shocked at how much better I got it to sound.”

Eventually Sub Pop got on board, as did the band. The process was a bit of a time warp for Doyle, who hadn’t heard his early releases in decades. “I was able to listen to those records from a listener’s perspective for the first time,” he says. “That was really fun, to listen as a fan.” The reissues will also include lyrics for the first time. “We’d been misquoted so many times, probably because of my delivery and the accent. I thought it might be interesting to put the real lyrics out so there’s no gray area.”

Though TAD never found the commercial success some of their peers did, Doyle sees this as a good thing. He’s proud not to have compromised on his artistic vision or integrity. “I don’t think it was a pissing contest or anything. I was always very happy for everybody that I knew, from the early days on, that got the kudos and the success and the monetary gain from the music.”

One of his favorite memories from those days is how quickly the ’90s Pacific Northwest aesthetic spread to the rest of the world via a music press that had become enamored with Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam. “The fact that within a couple of months there was grunge fashions showing up in magazines—it was funny and just weird. We grew up in Seattle. It’s cold a lot and damp and wet, so that’s the kind of clothes we wear, layers. Sweatpants with gym shorts over the top and multiple layers of shirts and silly hats. I’d go to L.A. and see these guys wearing these hats and flannel, and I’m like, ‘What the fuck are you doing? It’s hot down here!’ ”

The Sub Pop reissues include remastered versions of the band’s first three releases, God’s Balls, Salt Lick, and 8-Way Santa, and include bonus tracks and demos (which are collected in a bonus fourth LP with the vinyl bundle).

Though the reissues might seem like a perfect opportunity for TAD to play some reunion shows, Doyle says that isn’t in the cards. Since 2006, he has been fronting Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, which released its debut album last year. “For me, TAD is a part of my life that I’ve done, and I’ve always moved on into the future. My heart isn’t in that anymore. Certainly there’s great offers to do it, but I don’t feel it would be the right thing to do.”

Reunion or not, Doyle is proud of all TAD accomplished. “It was four guys coming together with fairly different backgrounds and educations that were making this organic being that was outside of ourselves. I’m very honored to have played with those guys. The music to me is still vital. It’s timeless.”