Tonight, Don Giovanni will do their second showcase of the weekend at the Mercury Lounge, with Shellshag headlining! Shellshag are one of my all-time top five favorite bands around right now. Here is a blurb I wrote on a mega awesome house show they played at SXSW:
Tack more grit to Liz Phair's 1994 indie rock debut and you've got Brooklyn's Shellshag, a guitar/drum duo who show their love for all things punk and grunge with their recent album Rumors in Disguise. At midnight a crowd of 50 packed into a messy kitchen at a University of Texas student party, where guitarist Johnny Shell and drummer Jen Shag tore through a raucous set. Shag attached bells and shakers to a her sequined belt and clunky combat boots for additional percussion, and more came from the crowd, who hit her drum while hollering along to Rumors gem "Resilient Bastard." [SPIN]
Download Shellshag's recent WNYU live-set/interview here. (But pls skip the first three minutes to avoid my horrible voice.)
Shellshag have been playing/touring for 10+ years, and released their third record Rumours in Disguise on Don Giovanni in January. At WNYU, the duo told me about their early days back in California in the 90s — like how former Pavement drummer Gary Young recorded their first record in '99, inspired "Gary's Note" and convinced them to take Shellshag seriously. They also discussed their label Starcleaner, and the warehouse venue of the same name Jen helped run in the 90s.
Check out excerpts from the interview after the jump. And be sure to catch Shellshag at Mercury Lounge tonight with other awesome Don Giovanni artists — including Noun, the solo project of Screaming Females' Marissa Paternoster.
You said you did your first album with Gary from Pavement -- how did you meet him?
Shell (John): Gary came to a show that me and Jennifer, before Shellshag, which was pretty much Shellshag with sit down drums and a bass player. Basically, not Shellshag, but otherwise a lot of the similar style songwriting and a regular three-piece band. We played with Gary's band at Noise Pop 1999, Gary Young's Hospital, which is what he started doing after Pavement.
Shag (Jen): I met him when he was in Pavement because I was such a Pavement fan, so I assaulted him one night at a -- not assault, but verbally -- about drumming tips. And he just told me to hit as hard as I could. We kind of bonded on drums and stuff and then oddly enough we played with hospital.
Shell: Gary's a great guy, he invited us out to his house, and we thought we were going out there, swimming, hanging around. And the second we parked the car he was like, get in here. We went in the studio, and started working on stuff. He basically convinced Shellshag to not be a side-thing we were doing when we weren't playing with our other friends in our other bands, but to be the thing were were gonna do. And we suddenly had a record.
Shag: Yeah we weren't even prepared, we didn't have lyrics. Hence, Gary's Note, actually. That song's named after Gary.
Shell: There's two reasons -- not just because Gary was intrically involved in the recording. But recording that song, on the original recording, there's one long note at the end of the song, and that's Gary playing the food pedal on the Leslie organ. He was inspired on his own as we came to the end of the song, came flying through the studio, tripping over mics, knocking stuff down, and dove like a football player, and he played this note.
Shag: That literally is Gary's Note. He was holding new lyrics up because it was a new song. We had no lyrics.
Can you talk about Starcleaner?
Shag: We started the record label in 1995, but it wasn't intended to be a label. We weren't working it or anything, we were just 'releasing' things we wanted to put out. After all these years, we only have about 33 releases. We put things out when we want to.
And Starcleaner was also the name of your warehouse space.
Shag: From '94 til '98 we went real strong, and in the beginning Anton from Brian Jonestown Massacre, he was all about it. So he threw a lot of great shows early on at the house. Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols are probably the most well known bands that played there. But... Gaunt played there, we had Hickey, we had a lot of great performance artists play there like Miranda July, Michelle T., Tribe 8. There was a really amazing scene of girls in the Bay in the 90s, and they ruled the scene. They employed me, first of all, they owned almost every business in the Mission, and I learned so much from all those ladies, I got a lot of confidence from them. It was a happening time out there.
You guys have this really extensive history playing in California, and now you live in Brooklyn and are involved with a label that's based in New Brunswick. Can you kind of talk about how you got involved with Don Giovanni, and how your history from California has like influenced what you do today? 'Cause clearly you still carry that same work ethic and stuff.
Shell: We went through our younger playing years in California, we were there 12 years. I'm pretty sure whatever we have from that's gonna go with us everywhere we go. That's our backbone.
You mentioned Don Giovanni — we came in 2005, and we were touring 7 or 8 months out of the year. So it hardly felt like we'd moved to New York. These are some of the people we met almost right away, doing shows at Maxwell's and around. I believe Jennifer might have met Joe and Zac first.
Shag: I think Dead Dog, one of our favorite bands, they live in Athens, GA now, but they were in Brooklyn at the time. And they booked us with Screaming Females, and I almost had a heart attack. It was at ABC No Rio, probably '08. I was floored, of course. All the bands blew my mind. And the kids at the Fort, the band Stupid Party, we put out a single for them, they really hooked us up out here, because they helped us find our friends, and our peers. And I grew up in New Jersey.
And you guys kind of tour incessantly.
Shag: We've been touring for ten years but with this bands, five. I'm amazed, there are a million great bands out there, and people are organized. It's a new time.
Shell: It wasn't always like that.
Shag: In the 90s, when we would tour -- this is always fun to tell people -- we had no cell phone, we had no Internet, we were sending packages and we were on pay phones with maps. We had no GPS, and you were afraid you were going to get beat up at certain places. It was pretty intense. You didn't know what you were walking into. That had it's own charm.