Love Battery Recharged
One of the bands to rise from the grand late-'80s/early-'90s Sub Pop machine was Love Battery. They were heavy and psychedelic, pounding out distortion from a steeled fish-eye kiln of melody and rhythm. Some called it "noise pop," while some even went so far as to say "grungedelic." In 1989, Room Nine head man Ron Nine, Kevin Whitworth and Tommy Simpson of Crisis Party, and drummer Jason Finn of Skin Yard and Presidents of the United States of America recorded Love Battery's first single, "Between the Eyes," at Jack Endino's Reciprocal Recording studio. Three Sub Pop full-lengths followed over the next four years. Bass duties were subsequently held down by Jim Tillman of the U-Men, and then by Bruce Fairweather of Green River and Mother Love Bone. Drummers Dan Peters (Mudhoney) and Mike Musburger wielded the sticks at various points. In 1994, Love Battery finally saw major-label time with a release on Atlas/PolyGram Records. Love Battery are playing a KEXP Concerts at the Mural show with Curt Eckman of the Walkabouts on bass and Ben Ireland of Sky Cries Mary playing drums. Ron Nine was gracious enough to talk about the now and then of it all.
How do you think Seattle relates to the early '90s now? Can I say the word "grunge"?
Speaking for myself, I always kind of rebelled against the word "grunge." Now I embrace it. It comes to mean that scene at that particular time, and I'm proud to have been a part of it.
What do you remember about Kurt Cobain?
Kurt was actually more of an introverted guy. I hung out with him at parties and stuff; we'd sit next to each other and barely exchange words. I wasn't so social because I was smoking a lot of pot. I have a feeling he was doing the same. I was kind of intimidated by him—even back then, in '89, people could tell there was something brewing inside him, a monstrous talent. I remember being at Dan Peters's house for a party, and Krist Novoselic brought the prerelease of Nevermind over on cassette, and we listened to it over and over. I thought, "Man, these guys are going to be huge. They're gonna be as big as Jane's Addiction!" [Laughs] Every time I saw Nirvana, there was this momentum that never stopped. Crowds got crazier, the songs got better, and the performances got better. They opened for Sonic Youth at the Moore Theater one time, and they only had Bleach out and a couple singles. The crowd went way more nuts for Nirvana than they did for Sonic Youth.
What were some Seattle clubs to play then?
The Off Ramp, the Central, the Rainbow, Squid Row, the Vogue. The Vogue was one of the first places having original music.
You also have a Joe Strummer experience?
Well, I got to meet him one time. He was the nicest guy. He offered me the rest of his cheesesteak. I should have taken it and frozen it or something. We were in New York recording our third album for Sub Pop that Michael Beinhorn [Herbie Hancock, Soundgarden, Ozzy Osbourne] produced, and he had just finished working on that big Soul Asylum record with "Runaway Train," and they were playing at the Beacon Theater on Broadway. We met up with them at a little bar in the Village before the show. Soul Asylum came with the Jim Jarmusch crew, Jarmusch and whichever British rock stars were hanging with him. It was Joe Strummer that night. I told him he ruled my teenage years. He didn't want to talk about himself, though. He wanted to talk about the Troggs.
What was recording your first single with Jack Endino like? How did you all get that song's massive tremolo?
Jack Endino is the best. All the stuff that came out of Reciprocal sounded so good, so we thought, "Shit, why mess with a good thing, let's go to where we know." I originally wrote the riff on keyboard. When I first showed it to the band, I had this idea of a Wipers upbeat type of thing. I used to record our practices religiously. I made up a lot of my lyrics in practice and wouldn't remember them unless I recorded it. We were messing with that riff, and I had the idea to try the tremolo. I had this old twin reverb amp, and I think the tremolo had been modified because I'd never heard one that went that slow. I put it on the slowest setting, and we jammed with that big eh-eh-eh-eh-eh sound. The lyrics came out of listening to those takes and writing down the best lines.
What prompted lyrics to pop into your head?
I would have notebooks full of lyrics, lines that kind of didn't go together, or lines I thought sounded cool. I'd prop up the notebooks in front of me while we were playing, and pick lines from here and there, and make stuff up. It came out of that process. Sometimes I'd prop up a book of poetry or a novel I was getting into, just to have a starting point. Ginsberg's "Howl" or Kerouac's Mexico City Blues. I really liked the French symbolists, Baudelaire and Rimbaud and Verlaine. I'd sing lines, maybe they'd end up in the song, maybe not.
What's a Ginsberg line that you messed with?
I paraphrase from "Howl" in "Confusion Au Go Go." I say, "I've seen the minds of this generation screaming hysterical, totally taken." Ginsberg said, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn."
Walk me back to the beginning of Love Battery.
I was in bands in the '80s, and I was good friends with the guys in Mudhoney. I don't think anyone had made much of an impact until them. I used to work with Mark Arm, and their album just came out so they were leaving to go on tour. On his last day of work, I remember thinking, "Fuck! I wanna do that." Bruce Pavitt was also a friend, and he said, "You know, if you get a song together, I'll put out a single," and I said, "Fuck yeah!" So we did "Between the Eyes," and Love Battery came out of being right in the whirlwind of the whole Sub Pop thing, pre-Nirvana. I was itching to get on the road and sleep on people's floors. And I wanted to record and play good music [laughs].
Going into that initial recording with Jack Endino, what did you all talk about?
We told him we wanted to record with that tremolo, but he didn't think we'd be able to get the take doing it live. He thought we should overdub. I talked him into letting us try. He was like, "No way you'll get it." I was like, "Come on, Jack, we do it live." We ended up getting it on the second take [laughs]. Also, I was really into bands that had loud guitars and buried vocals. I wanted that same thing. It's more pronounced on our second album, Dayglo. I was into My Bloody Valentine and the Telescopes on the Creation label. Insanely loud guitar-oriented mixes, with everything else barely audible. Jack was reluctant to go that route, and I had to fucking fight him on it, but I got it to grow on him, and later I think he came to like it. I felt like I needed to stick to my guns with it. Jack is so great. He was a good friend; the community was so close back then. Jack was really the first one to capture the energy of those bands. I mean, I loved the U-Men but I never thought their recordings did them justice. It wasn't until Step on a Bug that I thought, "Finally, their recording has the energy of their live shows." Jack always brought that live energy to the recordings. There was a lot of adulation for him, and he deserved it.
What made Jack Endino so good?
Drum sounds. Strong drum sounds. He was a meticulous master. He would have everyone set up all the gear, then he'd have them leave, and he would work on tuning the drums for hours. Before any playing happened. I realized after a while how important that is. If drums sound like crap, you can't fix it in the mix at all. He knew his gear, and his room was comfortable, like an old eight-track machine. Basically, you had your band tracks, and then maybe you could overdub one guitar and one vocal. You didn't have much choice but to be raw and spontaneous [laughs].
Any new Love Battery on the horizon?
We do have some new songs, but I don't think they'll be ready by the 17th. Most of my new material is focused with my new band Vaporland. We're recording and will hopefully be putting it out soon. We've been talking to Van Conner at Strange Earth about releasing it. Things have changed so much with the industry. I don't know if record labels are even valid anymore with the internet. Things are slightly topsy-turvy. But we'll put stuff online for download, and I think release a CD and some vinyl. Hopefully after the New Year.
What's different about your songs now? Since you've had the Joe Strummer cheesesteak DNA implanted in your hands, throat, and cranium?
I'd say they're simpler. Less thought-out. Thanks to Joe and his cheesesteak.
This article has been updated since its original publication.