From the desk of Henry H. Owings:
"Whenever people ask me what Pittsburgh was all about in the early '90s, I tell them it's easy: Thee Speaking Canaries, Don Caballero, Northern Bushmen, The Karl Hendricks Trio, and of course, Hurl. Hurl formed shortly after I left Pittsburgh for Georgia and put out a handful of singles, a couple albums and then, poof, they broke up. Not a bad run.
I started working on collecting material for this post almost a year ago, and now here it all is: all of Hurl's 7"s, a few live radio sessions, several live shows and even live video of the band performing. Of course, none of this would've been possible without the incredible assistance of Hurl's bass player Matt Jencik. I'd made quick friends with Matt back in '94 or '95 when Hurl was plotting their first jaunt to the South.
In the spirit of full disclosure, the interview was sent to all members of Hurl, but their drummer (Noah Leger) has been traveling so much with the Blue Man Group (no joke) that he's not had a chance to respond. Hopefully, his witty drummer joke on one of the WRCT radio sessions will shed some light as to what sorta guy Noah is. And hey, drummers are always the quiet ones, right?
I'm proud to have been one of Hurl's first listeners (the Turnip 7" showed up in my post office box the month it was released) and a long-time supporter. There's nothing else really to say, really. Hopefully there'll be more than a few people out there who will find this collection rewarding. So without further ado, after almost a year in the making, it's my pleasure to present Hurl."
So your first single was released by Manny Theiner (Pop Bus Records owner) and perfectly encapsulates that ideal "Pittsburgh Sound" of the early 90's. You had to be a young'n in '92. How in the heck did you hear of Bitch Magnet, Bastro, Live Skull, etc?
The first line-up of Hurl was based out of a suburb about 20 minutes North of Pittsburgh called North Hills. Mat and I went to high school together but Dave went to a performing arts school in the city where he was hipped to a lot of really great music. Funnily enough, one of his classmates was Noah Leger. Dave had a big half pipe in his yard and kids would come from all over the greater Pittsburgh area to skate there. One day, Noah (Leger) and Pat Morris (Don Cab bass player/Northern Bushmen guitarist) came by his place and I remember them playing a Northern Bushmen song using our stuff. Noah would end up replacing Dave 2 or 3 years later. Anyway, Dave introduced me to a lot of great music including Slint, Bitch Magnet and Mission of Burma, three bands that were very important to the development of the Hurl sound. Also, for a smallish city, Pittsburgh was blessed with a few solid stores including Jim's. I still remember pulling Umber by Bitch Magnet off the display rack at Eide's Comics & Records. Finally, like any voracious music fan, once I found something I liked, I tried to connect the dots to similar sounding bands, records by other bands on the same labels. I ordered a lot of records through the mail from Dischord, SST, the back of MRR, etc...
The DeSoto single. Did this happen after you performed with Jawbox in Pittsburgh or DC? Explain.
My DEAD first show in Hurl was with the Jawboxes at the HUB ballroom in State College. If I remember right, that was where we really first met those guys. At least it was my first meeting with them after having seen them at the Upstage once or twice. I remember really getting along well with those guys. Super nice people, and they seemed to really like the music we were playing. I think we went to the College Inn after the show and hung out with them after the show- and I THINK they offered to put out a single for us somewhere in there, and we had really just gone to Lee Hollihan's (recorded early Don Cab 7”s, Karl Hendricks Trio, Blunderbuss, etc.) and recorded a couple of songs so that stuff was already recorded and ready to go at that point.
Somewhere along the way you got lured into performing in Don Caballero. Did this put any sort of strain on Hurl or did it further improve your songwriting abilities for Hurl?
I definitely wasn’t lured into it. I was a really big fan, everybody in Hurl was. If I remember correctly, I was visiting my parents for Christmas and (Mike) Banfield (Don Cab guitarist) called and told me that they needed a bass player for a New Years show in Detroit with Helmet and Rage Against the Machine. It was probably 4 days away. He asked if I was willing to try and I jumped right into it. I started learning the songs from the records that night and probably practiced with them the next day. I don’t think anybody in Hurl was threatened by me playing with them. They were all very supportive and enthusiastic about it. I’d be surprised if any of them missed a show that I played with them. Playing with them helped my playing in Hurl immensely. All of those guys are amazing musicians and I had to get up to their level pretty quickly. I probably improved as a musician more during those 2 years or so than any other time in my life.
Which was your favorite recording session?
Personally, I don’t think I can pick. I love recording. All of the sessions were great. I think Not a Memory is our best album and I think the band was at the top of our game at that time. So if I have to pick, not a memory it is.
I think, for me, it was Not a Memory mostly because it was fully ALL of our own record, and the Matt/Mat/Noah/Dan lineup was fully writing everything. The bugs of the process were worked out having recorded at Steve's (Albini's old home studio) once before, and the whole vibe of the thing was a real snapshot of the time and the 4 of us.
Timeline question: Were there multiple line ups of Hurl? Were you and Mat in all of them? Noah?
TURNIP 7” Daly, Jencik, Brunger 91-92
DESOTO SINGLE & DEMOS: Daly, Jencik, Brunger, Wilson 92-93
EVERYTHING ELSE: Daly, Jencik, Leger, Wilson 93-98
I know you toured with Shipping News but what other notable tours did you do? Did Jon Solomon book all yr outta town gigs?
We did do some touring but that Shipping News tour was definitely the most successful tour that we went on. Most of our trips were short East Coast trips usually 10-14 days. We did do one 30 day long tour. It was a total blast. I remember being blown away during a show in San Francisco when some guys in the front row were singing along with the songs. That was probably the most fun I ever had on tour.
I don't think we really did but short legs with other bands other than the Shipping News tour, but those short legs were pretty notable with folks like Codeine, Lois, Rodan, Shellac, Dianogah, Don Caballero, Victory at Sea, Jawbox, etc. I know I'm forgetting a few, for sure. I know my shitty work schedule always made extended tours pretty difficult, but the long weekends or shortish tours were always pretty great. Our one full national tour was a blast, but it wasn't in conjunction with any other band for the full run like the tour with the Shipping News. Jon Solomon definitely did lots of booking for us out of town, but if I'm not mistaken Matt made quite a few phone calls and worked pretty hard as well on the booking front.
The band sorta lost steam by '98. How did the band break up? Was it amicable?
In the greater scheme of things, I don't know if I'd say CREATIVELY we were 'losing steam', because the songs we were writing were musically challenging, and the deadline we had to put on getting We are Quiet recorded seemed a little short to me, personally. I think some of those songs could've brewed a while longer to hammer out arrangements to fully get them to a more polished state, and probably write more of them. I would've loved to have kept playing to continue moving in different musical directions with people I really enjoyed playing with.
Our breakup was definitely a sad but amicable one. I thought we were still writing good songs and I think we all liked the direction the band was going. But it was also that time in our lives, we'd all (except Dan) grown up in Pittsburgh and I think it had become time to spread our wings a little. Pittsburgh, as great as it was, was starting to feel too small to us. Noah was the first to commit, but in a fairly short time we were all gone. Matt J and I relocated to Chicago in '99 where we started putting together the first incarnation of Taking Pictures, and Dan moved up to Vermont to be a farmer. We were and had been putting an incredible amount of pressure on ourselves to get to whatever the next level could be for a band like ours, and I think in the end we probably burned ourselves out. We would practice 3-4 times a week for usually 3-4 hours. Our collaborative songwriting process was extremely satisfying, but naturally way slower than we would have liked. A definite perfectionism and desire to raise the bar on where we'd been and were going without repeating ourselves pervaded, which in the end may have diminished some of the blissful fun part of what being in a rock band should be.
I've tried my best on Pukekos to cover a lot of Pennsylvania bands (T4, Punching Contest, The Karl Hendricks Trio, Slag, Gear Jammer) that have been ignored or marginalized in this highly forgetful blogosphere. If you were to tell those reading about some other bands from that time that've fallen through the cracks, who would they be?
Jumbo, Shale, Meisha (Ken from Meisha plays with Jencik in Implodes now), Blunderbuss and Davenport, Six Horse (Pat from Don Cab on bass), The 1985, The Johnsons, Cuss (Damon Che's little bro's band, Damon played drums for a bit). Honestly I think Speaking Canaries and The Karl Hendricks Trio are some of the most underrated bands ever, Pittsburgh or anywhere.
Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, Hurl.
Turnip (Pop Bus)
3. 12 Ft. Drop
Bessemer Process (Peas Kor)
2. Amateur Pornographer
4. One Man Buck
Madison Earful (My Pal God)
2. Dual Showman