Monday, February 18, 2013


On Halloween 1993, I went to a place called the Czar Bar in Wicker Park in Chicago to see a show and I don't really know why I went there, I don't think I knew any of the bands on the bill. But this band Strawberry played and over the course of their first song I fell in love with them because they were the most insane band I had ever seen in my life. It was some sort of drum machine driven atonal glam rock band with a bunch of garbage, thrift store wearing motley crew of freaks. After one song my jaw was on the ground and I knew I had to be friends with these people and/or be in the band so after the show I quickly went up and declared my love for them and told them I would be their roadie or soundman or whatever they needed me to be and they accepted me instantly. Most of them were 5 to 10 years older than me, but they saw that I was an eager young man and that I wouldn't take no for an answer. So I started hanging out with these guys a lot and getting into their creative world which was very insular and full of an incredibly stunning array of in-jokes and references. And I started speaking their lingo. At a certain point in 1994 there was a schism in the band and the singer Scott left and I quickly inserted myself into the group on guitar and we gained a drummer and we did one gig as Strawberry without Scott, who was ostensbily the original lead singer. Scott showed up with his girlfriend and heckled us and tried to sort of ruin the show and we sort of played anyways. Strawberry was a band that had a propensity for getting banned from venues in Chicago. So we realized quickly that if we were going to play shows we needed to change our name because we couldn't really play anyplace. One more thing about Strawberry was that they were incredibly vulgar and insulting towards people in general, and they also had a penchant for twenty minute fully scripted rock operas that were just utterly mind blowing. Musically, they were an extremely cacophonous mess but they were really one of the most amazing bands that I'd ever seen. They were literally all about making something from nothing, which is an ethos that I've always had an extreme affinity for. So, by 1994 we had changed the name of the sort of new new rock version of Strawberry into Vanilla, and we'd made a false history about how we were a New York bar band from the 80s and we basically started trying to book venues that wouldn't book Strawberry as Vanilla, which we successfully did.

We started playing small clubs in Chicago pretty regularly once or twice a month and nobody really liked us. We were extremely irritating, extremely loud, extremely shrill, extremely cacophonous. We thought all our songs were like these really great tuneful classic rock songs, but once you added the extreme volume and distortion that we thought was somehow effective it just turned to a wall of shit. It was basically just so harsh, like no one wanted to listen to it. And we were dicks. Our whole concept was trying to be the most debauched rock idiots we could, and we were really trying to do that image-wise as well as sonically -- we were trying to push everything to the most stupid, extreme parody of male rock aggression. It wasn't slick, but I thought it was pretty funny. So, we used to do things like have costume contests against the other band members -- we would show up at the shows and try to outdo each other in terms of costumes. We basically had a huge wardrobe of garbage clothes that we would sort of rifle through and put these really insane outfits together. Our bass player was named Jesus Maria, our guitar player/singer was Cho-Yun Li, I was Johnny Holocaust and the drummer was Lawrence "Larry" Pomeroy. We also used to make huge full-size body shot posters of ourselves which we would go up in broad daylight on 20 foot ladders and paste in the middle of Wicker Park, right at the corner. We would literally spend an hour in front of cops, in front of everyone basically vandalizing buildings and putting up huge full body shot posters of each member of the band, right next to each other. And no one would come to these shows. We didn't care. We were all about the action and the documentation of doing it. Every show the band ever did was videotaped, although the videotapes have gone missing. I mean, we did more photoshoots than we did gigs I think. We would get dressed up and we ton of photoshoots. We probably did like 20 photoshoots.

One of the concepts behind Vanilla was that we were an unfortunate band of tools who were owned by a Japanese multinational called the Taigkyo Corporation, which was a division of the even larger Nipponese Americorp. We were signed by accident in the grunge explosion, and now we were being turned out by this corporation to be their American emissary pimp grunge/pop band. The idea was that we were extremely unhappy with this and were being basically used like tools so our unpleasantness had to do with the fact that we were being forced into rock slavery. So there was this whole conspiracy theory about the Taigkyo Corporation threatening to kill us all the time and we worked that into our shows and lyrics and our propaganda.

We did a few demos in '94. Then in early '95 we went in and recorded a studio album, which you're listening to right now. in '95 there was a single pressed with two of the songs from the album, but we didn't really sell or distribute the single or make cover art for it. There are a few makeshift covers for it in very low runs, but it was never really distributed or made public. I think there were might have been 300 or 500 copies pressed, and they were just not sold or distributed. You might have gotten one if you went to the show or your a friend of ours. Other than that, I don't know what happened to them or anything about it. We never released the album, we never really had any momentum because no one liked our band. By the end, people were sort of vaguely interested but we had a lot of internal fighting and we kind of petered out in '95 after switching bass players.

The people in the band stayed in touch, and I still consider Cho-Yun Li to be one of my best friends and a creative genius. When we were doing this in Chicago there was a big scene and there was a lot of free time, and it was a totally different milieu than now. Even though no one really liked our band and we didn't really release our record, it is still to me very pertinent because we were part of a social tapestry in Chicago in the mid 90s. People that don't even like us or can't remember anything about us have heard of that band if they're from Chicago -- they remember it. I think our function was just to be in the time, and not be so obsessed with career or a document or anything. We were just really crazy and we hung out a lot and we got really fucking crazy ideas and we actually did them. They weren't well received, but they were really well received by us -- we really thought we were geniuses, and we thought what we were doing was the most amazing shit of all time. I certainly don't have any regrets about it.

-- Weasel Walter, 1.8.2013

Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, Vanilla.

Vanilla LP (Taigkyo/Pukekos)

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