Monday, May 4, 2009

Nuzzle

George Chen is a big fan of Nuzzle and had this to say about them:

"I first saw Nuzzle live sometime in 1994. Can't recall the specific show, but I'd heard them on a tape comp that the SeeSaw kids put out. Speak Youth also had a track by Tummyache, which was started by my Megaweapon bandmate Michelle Arias at the time so I credit that discovery indirectly to her. The lo-fi mess, the guitar tone and yelping abandon stuck with me and I sought them out when they would come play in SF. At the time Nuzzle and Fisticuffs Bluff were the Santa Cruz contingent of what seemed like the underground youth movement, post-Nation of Ulysses backpack wearing kids, but that painfully diminishes the impact of those bands into an emo cliche.

They had become somewhat legendary for their erratic absences and last-minute cancellations (none of them managed to live in the same town for very long), but it only made the prospect of seeing them play all the more dramatic and event-worthy: playing with Bikini Kill at a July 4th show, at USF essentially headlining a punk bill, other spots of olde like Epicenter. Shows happened so quickly that one was left with fragments to decipher their charisma - Andrew's tippy-toed and hand-tucked spastic dancing, that genetic advantage/parlor trick of brothers sharing vocals twining upwards, the propulsive bass of Sam and Ric's nuanced drumming that still hit hard. Nate's innate melodic powers, weird Latin phrases peppered the lyrics and references to Planet of the Apes or wholly sampling Ewok songs put them in a geek/cool kid Venn Diagram that I aspired to step into even as an outsider.

Their early singles were probably where most of the juice lies - the Mollycoddle one and the Anchors Astreigh weigh as favorites, succinct bursts. The first album, Follow, For Now held such odd moments of beauty and was so difficult to find in stores that it inspired me to start a record label to put it out on CD. This (Junk of Myth) ended up taking two years or so from conception to completion, and in that time frame they asked me if I wanted to do a 7" to tide things over, which came from these Stanford sessions with Andy Radin.

As the story goes, these recordings were meant for release on a biggish label at the time and somehow political shortsightedness lead to their rejection. It was sort of absurd as the band circa '97 had the sort of word of mouth and support that could have lead to something bigger, but part of the charm and frustration of Nuzzle was this Bad News Bears 'can't catch a break' or 'could've been a contender' aura. It was frustrating because us circle of believers knew that this was rough gold and it was the inherent lack of polish that kept it from being Modest Mouse-sized.

These Stanford recordings ended up being re-recorded for the Troubleman album, San Lorenzo's Blues, which stands up fine as a transition between what Nuzzle was and what the Dying Californian became, but the live sense of the band comes across best on these Stanford recordings, a band always on the cusp; of imploding, of post-grunge hype, of promising a transcendence with melodies that were too graceful for the moshpit but shy of Mersh appeal.

Giving all this context actually seems counterintuitive in a way to my Nuzzle experience. I don't expect everyone to like this - that was never the point. These songs hold up beyond the 'you had to be there' nostalgic tone of my description. You didn't have to be there to find something in this music, and that was really what sets this most apart from the class of bands they palled around with."

The first time I heard this recording was in my car on the way to Yo-Yo A Go-Go in 1997. Andy Radin gave us a tape with that on one side and the (then unreleased) new record by The Audience on the other as he worked on both of them. It occurred to me as we listened to it that our days of seeing them play in basements might be coming to an end.

I recently got back in touch with Andy Radin and one of the first things I asked him was if he still had a copy of that tape. Not only did he digitize it for me, but he said that he would discuss those sessions as well:

"I had seen Nuzzle a bunch at shows in Santa Cruz. I was, and still am, in love with the song 'The Sorting That Evens Things Out'. I think that has one of the best and most lasting riffs of the entire mid-nineties emo/whatever scene. Of course their big problem was that every recording suffered from the worst possible boombox-demo quality. That has its own charm to be sure, but live, they had a big fluid energy and crispness that you'd never get from their early records. I was working at the Stanford CCRMA studio as an undergraduate, and realized that no one was using the studio late at night. So I started approaching bands at shows and offering them a free or really cheap recording, the catch being it had to happen between 10pm and dawn. Nuzzle was the third or fourth band I recorded there, and I had big hopes of making their first decent sounding record.

I'm not sure how seriously they took it at first - Nate showed up with an awful sounding practice amp, not the big tube amp he used at shows, worn out heads on the drums, etc. I think they were expecting a garage operation, not the expansive marble lobby of the CCRMA building, the fluid-gimbal-mounted isolation rooms, and seriously high end equipment of a major university music department. We recorded to 16 tracks of Tascam DA-88, something like 8 tracks of drums, bass (direct and miked), and guitar (two mics) live to tape, one guitar overdub. Vocals are pretty straight, only a few doubled backing tracks in parts (for instance 'Unsighted Unguided') though we did play with recording a few of Nate's harmony tracks from way back in the live room, and in the echoey stone lobby. My clearest memory was that Andrew did the same tippy-toe writhing motions in the studio as he did live, and I swear to god he would grab a handful of underwear behind his back, and give himself an atomic wedgie while singing... Mixdown was pretty simple, a little 'verb, a little LA2A here and there, a good bit of compression on the vocals. Couldn't do much with the worn out drum heads, which is my biggest regret of the whole session. The whole thing took two graveyard shift nights as I recall.

I think they were going to shop the session around and come back for a more lengthy mixdown later (which never happened), which is why I labeled my cassette copy 'Nuzzle rough mixes.' The band had two DATs from that mix, which I heard third-hand had been lost. So it may be that my cassette is the only remaining copy (other than my original unmixed DA88 tapes). I cleaned it up a bit, didn't play with noise reduction as it's a first generation dub from a full-digital mix, not much noise to worry about. I remember a little more sparkle in the drum overheads but that's about all that's missing. The Troubleman sessions are definitely great, considerably more produced, but I think there's a nice snapshot of Nuzzle's live sound here, and more of the plaintive urgency in the vocals that I liked so much about them. I hope that people get to enjoy this as much as I have over the years!"

Sam Fabela played bass in Nuzzle, and had this to say about it:

"Nuzzle officially became Nuzzle in 1992, prior to that we'd toyed with using the name Porridge for a while. Andy brought up the name Nuzzle and I'm pretty sure the rest of us weren't too stoked about it at the time, I know I wasn't, but it stuck and it looked kind of cool because it had those two z's right in the middle of it. So in 1992 we recorded a split 7" with a friends band called My Friend Chopper (Ricardo was drumming in MFC and moonlighting in Nuzzle at the time but we soon stole him away to come play in Nuzzle exclusively) and once we put the name Nuzzle to that recording it was done. Nuzzle was born and that was the first thing we'd committed to wax, releasing it ourselves, our song was called Bencht.

At the time we were playing mostly house parties, back yards, coffee houses and all ages show anywhere & everywhere around Los Angeles. One coffee house in Pamona called The Cup of J couldn't get rid of us, and that's where we met and became friends with so many other bands and especially touring bands. After high school one by one we all slowly ended up migrating north to Santa Cruz and Nuzzle really hit its stride.

It was in Santa Cruz that we really started playing a lot locally and helping out touring bands that were coming through the Bay Area looking for someplace to play before or after their San Francisco show. In late 1993 or early 1994 we drove down to San Diego to record 8 songs with Matt Anderson at Gravity Records. We decided to to split the 8 songs into two 7"s , four songs each, the first one was self titled and put out jointly between two labels Mollycoddle Records and Whaleboy Records. This first 7" was on super fancy blue vinyl and had a couple different hand made covers. We screened about half the covers ourselves using the Island of the Blue Dolphin girl on the front of the sleeve. Someone else made the other half of the covers with these crazy tissue paper sleeves, that looked incredible and were probably a pain the ass to make but more than likely got destroyed before you even got home from the record store. Later that year we released the other 4 songs on the Anchors Astreigh 7" put out by Youth Strike Chord Records. We recorded a Minutemen song for a tribute comp called Our Band Could Be Your Life - A Tribute to D Boon and the Minutemen, that was released on Little Brother Records in 1994 as well.

We played a whole bunch in 1994 up and down the west coast and in 1995 we did the same except this time we teamed up with a friends band for the summer (The Fisticuffs Bluff) and set out on our first official full US tour. It was killer. No sooner had we returned from tour we found out that Youth Strike Chord was willing to put out our first full length album, the only catch was they needed everything from us in roughly a week. I think we had like 6 or 7 days to get everything done because Drew Gilbert, who ran YSC, was leaving the country in a week and had to have everything shipped off to pressing plants and all that before he left. So off we went to record the songs and get artwork done on the fly. We ended up recording and mixing with a friend in two days and handing everything over to Drew on the day he left, our first full length was in the can and titled Follow, For Now. We played as much as we could in 1995 and had one live track included on a KXLU Los Angeles Live Comp for that radio station. In 1996 we had another live track included on a Yo-Yo A Go-Go comp from the Olympia festival we had played the year prior, that was the year we also released a 7" called No Más on Zum.

We had recorded an entire batch of new songs mid 1996 up at Stanford that we were supposed to give to a small off shoot label of Sub Pop called Die Young Stay Pretty. I believe DYSP had put out one official release with a few bands on deck, Nuzzle being one of them, when Sub Pop pulled the plug on the label. We weren't super stoked on the recordings at the time and had intended them to be just demos but ended up giving George at ZUM two songs for the No Más 7" with plans to re-record this batch of tunes later. It's kinda funny, that entire Stanford session was lost until quite recently. None of us had heard it in nearly 10 years and listening to them now we actually really like the recordings, they really captured what Nuzzle was like live back then - good energy and sincere with just the right amount of looseness. If i remember correctly we recorded all the music live in one day with vocals being done in a few hours the following day.

This is where things start getting a little fuzzy for me. We hit a little bit of a lull around 97/98 but kept playing live up and down the west coast and managed to re-recorded that batch of songs with Jeff Pinn from Zilla/Hyde Street Studios in an abandoned half-way house that was supposedly haunted . That became San Lorenzo's Blues and was released in 1999 on Troubleman Unlimited. We decided to hit the road again for this release and do another full month long US tour this time doing the tour in winter, which we'd never done before, and it was quite an adventure. It was also this California Boy's first experience with the midwest and east coast in February....good lord. It was an amazing tour though and we had some greats shows playing with Bonnie Prince Billy and Wesley Willis! I can honestly say that i was the proud recipient of a Wesley Willis head-butt. Somewhere not too long after this our good friend George over at Zum offered to put out a Nuzzle anthology compiling all of the out of print vinyl, remastered, along with unreleased odds and ends from the early days. Junk of Myth was the final release."

Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, Nuzzle.



Nuzzle Rough Mixes (Pukekos)
1. Daedelus And Us
2. No Más
3. Unbreakable You
4. We Almost Lost Del Mar
5. The Word #2
6. Unsighted, Unguided
7. If Left To My Own Devices
8. No Love Like That

11 comments:

followthatparade said...

thanks! i just spent a while looking for my old bands ( a minor forest) flyers with nuzzle
i will scan them if you want em
i know there is more than one ..
there were a few low attendance shows in santa cruz that i remember fondly

sou.th low said...

Please tell Nuzzle thank you for my 'No Mas' 7" that they autographed after their show in LawrenceKS during the '99 US Tour.

greezus chrust said...

great story! thanks for the post!

rgratzer said...

Thanks. I think I would like their later stuff much better if I had seen them live. As it is, I like the anchors astreigh stuff like 5x more than the no mas and the later albums. But I'll definitely check this out.

I posted anchors astreigh here a while back - http://mostly.blueskiesabove.us/tunes/nuzzle/

I don't think I've heard the 7" on mollycoddle.... and that makes me sad.

and hod said...

when i was 18 (1996) living in santa cruz i approached andy after a show with a tape recorder and ask him to interrupt an impassioned phrase from my one my fave songs, which sounded as: "rackity rahckitty rahhc tah tah tah" or "tahh taehh tah. i was disappointed to get a blank look dovetailed into a walk away. i was an ass then and for many years to come. do u remember that andy? or just all the pointless questions since. miss u guys. great story, thank you luv hod

charles said...

Nuzzle has always held a very special place in my heart. I don't know if I can rightly describe the joy I felt in seeing them play. I made it my mission to befriend them because of how curious and exciting their music was. I've been a friend and fan ever since. Nuzzle's songs were like mysterious incantations blending history, poetry, performance, and rock 'n roll. Kingdoms of melody, chaos, and heart were thrown up against the rafters of many a basement in those days, and I felt like I was one of the few privileged soldiers charged with upholding their humble glory.

I still do.

Nervous Chris

graves666 said...

I still have the my nuzzle records... still listen to em occasionally too.

(and @followthatparade - the same goes with a minor forest)

jen said...

Where to start....Shooter and the boys from SoCal. Circa 93,When I was 16 I got to stay on Andy and Nate n Emilys couch in LA and I felt priveledged to be a part of that time period. My band, Allure, was not on the same par as Nuzzle in the early emo world, but we had fun looking up to other bands like them and fisticuffs and hinder. I have my Nuzzle 7" and my A minor forest CD and vinyl somewhere. Fond memories, thanks boys = Money Ric can jump tables like a motherfucker... Craig

oshareneko said...

Thank you for this.

mr. robot-o said...

i have a tape allure demo/release(?) given to me by one of you guys...

justin said...

i moved to santa cruz in 1997. i started working at this cafe attached to a bookstore called georgiana's. met some cool kids. developed this idiotic crush on a girl who worked across the street. she one morning came in for her coffee and asked if i was going to the nuzzle show that night. fuck yes i was going. i had no idea who they were, i'd only been in town a couple of months, but if she was gonna be there, well, you know. fuck yes i was going. i asked a co-worker about the band. "oh my god, nuzzle's so great. i've been friends with them for years. they're the nicest guys ever, too. they do an amazing cover of 'say it ain't so', too. i'm going if you want to go with me." so i did. turned out to be a pretty sweet show, too. unwound was supposed to be there, but they got stuck somewhere, so track star came down, and somebody else pretty great (but now i forget) played, but to be honest, i think everybody there was there for nuzzle. just like everyone else, i felt as though i'd made an amazing discovery. i got to be occasional friends with the dudes (though i doubt they'd remember me now) and i even managed to book them a small show in seattle - after i moved there, and after they'd morphed into the dying californian. anyway, easily one of the best live bands i've ever seen. everybody else missed out.