is Kendra Smith ready for the country?
by Gina Arnold
photos by Lyn Gaza
issued on Option #62 May/June 1995
Four hours north of San Francisco lies the road to Kendra Smith's place. Although
usually not taken, it diverges at Confusion Hill, winding through an interminable lane of
redwoods known locally as the Avenue of the Giants. Some of the trees stick perpendicularly
out of the rocks as if God had pulled them out in anger and shoved them back in any which
way. The area looks abandoned except for the occasional ramshackle house by the side of a
road. One has a tin woodsman on its porch. Another has a rickety sign out front that
reads: "Carving for Christ." Stephen King would probably love it.
During World War II, this part of the coast was used to train Air Force pilots for fogbound landings because the number of clear days around here is infinitesimally small. When the fog rolls in, it coats the mountainside, fluffing up the horizon, insinuating itself into every nook and cranny, weaving a trail throughout the wood. It is an eerie, gray-green, oak-covered landscape, one which, according to legend, is haunted by Coastanoan ghosts.
There's an abandoned mill nearby where the owner and his son were killed in freak accidents allegedly caused by spirits of angry Indians; there's been more than one Bigfoot sighting in the last five years. More mysterious still, the novelist Thomas Pynchon is supposed to live in the area, but no one knows where. Parts of his last novel, Vineland, bear more than a passing resemblance to the place where Smith, the former Dream Syndicate bassist and founding vocalist for Opal, has chosen to make her abode.
Most people who abandon rock bands spend the rest of their lives pining for their glorious past. Not Ms. Smith. In the six years since she abdicated Opal in the midst of a gruelling tour, she has carved out a secretive life for herself, building an organic farm in a meadow in the mountains and, with the help of her father, a small cabin. Since she grows most of her own food - supplemented by huge bags of store-bought beans and rice - Kendra's meals are determined by season: leeks and greens in winter, tomatoes and zucchini in springtime, and pesto all summer long. She keeps several cats - including a lumbering 25 pounder named Mr. Kitty, who resembles a small bear - plus a bunch of chickens and a donkey she's training to pack wood.
Smith lives "off the grid", meaning she isn't dependent on Pacific Gas & Electric or the state-run water system for her daily wants. What electricity she has comes from a solar panel on the hillside, her water comes from a tank, and everything else is powered by propane. Her cabin, a pretty, sunny, log-hewn space decorated with delicate rugs and an enormous wall of bookshelves, also contains an authentic Irish stove from the 1920s. Chopping wood from fallen branches is one of her most important summer tasks.
At night the temperature often dips into the twenties. "When I first got here," Kendra recalls, "I'd huddle up by the stove wearing every sweater I had, with the cats all piled on my lap." Now that she's grown hardened to the weather, Smith spends evenings at her pump organ or strumming her acoustic guitar. The organ needs no amplifier in the high-ceilinged, 12-by-13 cabin; the sound here is amazing, a hollow shout. "Nighttime is a good time to play," says Kendra, fingering her harmonium, a strangely utilitarian instrument painted army green which sits unobtrusively in a corner. She pumps the bellows and the notes ring out, sustained and resonant, almost devotional.
It is easy to picture Smith here in the evenings, fending off the incipient gloom with music as fog down creeps from the mountain. It is a type of mystique to which the songs on her atmospheric new record,
Five Ways of Disappearing (4AD), lend themselves without much
effort. Up here in the country, she is pretty much hidden from sight. But because her cool
presence, humane voice, and unusual folky sensibility colored much of California's
early-'80s Paisley Underground music scene, Smith has not exactly been out of mind.
Five Ways of Disappearing stems from an earlier album,
The Guild of Temporal Adventurers,
which she put together at the behest of a fan named Sunshine, who runs the tiny Fiasco
label. After the album's release in 1992, various labels expressed interest in her new
work, and eventually Smith signed with 4AD. The new record, recorded quickly and easily
with the help of her constant companion, Alex Uberman, and a handful of musicians in the
Garberville area, is a bit more Gothic sounding. Steeped in pump organ, the album is akin
to the late Velvet Underground singer Nico's solo works
The Marble Index and
only lighter in tone and meaning. It is very much in line with Kendra's former work in
Opal, complete with placid acoustic guitar, dark-tinged tunes, and her gentle, unforced
Besides being a musical soundtrack that's pregnant with the timbre of its environment,
Five Ways of Disappearing is full of Smith's whimsical literate sensibility. The song
Drunken Boat, for example, is inspired by the Rimbaud poem
of the same name (
Le Bateau Ivre);
Temporarily Lucy is
a witchy tale of a mysterious stranger;
Valley of the Morning Sun is a list of the
names of old dirigibles;
Aurelia was taken from a short story by DeNerval.
As always, Smith makes odd covers choices: the Guild record had a Can song,
Five Ways features a twisted version of Richard and Mimi Fariña's
Marauder which, stripped of the original version's bluegrassy nasalness, is an eerie
chant of lust and anomie.
Although she is pleased with the release of
Five Ways, Smith has extreme reservations
about the music industry. "We've been thinking of ways you can get stuff out without
it - cassettes, mail order, books, other media," she says. "Maybe it ought to be
like in the old days, when artists had a patron to support them."
Smith played one gig in L.A. in September as part of 4AD's tenth anniversary celebration,
All Virgos Are Mad, and plans to make a video
for the song
Temporarily Lucy. She won't be touring though; her garden needs too much
tending for her to leave home for long periods of time.
It took Smith a while, after moving up to Northern California in 1989, to start thinking about music again. For one thing, at first she worked three days a week at a nearby organic farm to earn some cash. It was a backbreaking job, picking and weeding and loading huge containers of tomatoes and vegetables in 100-degree heat. And when she was finished, she had to go back to her homestead to do her own chores.
It was the diametric opposite of the life she had led for 10 years in Davis and Los Angeles - a life which began the night she drove with a couple of girlfriends to see the Clash at San Francisco's Kezar Pavilion. Soon after, Smith started working at the UC-Davis college radio station, formed a band and learned to play bass. After moving to L.A. and joining the Dream Syndicate, Smith got a student loan from UCLA which she used to buy equipment and go on tour. Later she took temporary jobs to support herself, and helped record the Syndicate's classic first album,
Days of Wine and Roses, as well as
the Paisley Underground '60s tribute compilation,
Rainy Day. She later worked with the Rain
Parade's David Roback on various projects - Clay Allison and the Kendra Smith/Keith Mitchell
Group - which turned into Opal and has since evolved into Mazzy Star.
But in 1988, after willing Hope Sandoval her slot in rock history, Smith all but disappeared from the temporal world of indie music. To those who live deeply inside that world - many of whom are addicted to its insidious charms - Smith's abdication was seen as inexplicable. The possibility of some kind of drug freak-out is often bandied about; her sanity is even questioned. But that type of speculation ceases when you meet Kendra face-to-face. At 34, she is quite beautiful in spite of her rugged lifestyle. And her life without a telephone or conventional electricity is as staunchly independent as the low-rent reality of rock-band bohemia.
In fact, Kendra's lifestyle has much in common with the DIY ideals which fuelled her initial call to punk rock. "I am really bugged by the whole aspect of music for money," she says. "Before, art was just supposed to ornament your culture, or facilitate different social or magical events. But now music is done with the hopes that it can work out some logistical or financial things for you. It's supposed to fulfil expectations somehow."
That is the aspect of music from which Smith has flown not once, but twice - first by leaving the Dream Syndicate, then by leaving Opal. Forming bands is her forte; cashing in on what she's formed is less interesting. She laughs. "Someone else said that the other day, in a different way. They said, 'You seem to have the ability to leave right before a band gets successful!'"
"But I have to do that," she goes on. "The whole point is that I have to do things while it's living and really vital - while it's either doing something for me or fulfilling my ideas about what music should really be and do. Why waste time?"
Her move to the country was just another attempt to retain the integrity of her ideals and her music. "My environment influences my music to a degree," she says, "but only because I choose it. Because what makes me do the kind of music I do is the same thing that made me want to come here and enhance it in a way. This was just a place where I could tap more purely into the things I wanted to tap into - the energies that feed music. The general orientation of my music has always been the same, no matter where I was. It would be the same if I lived in a cruddy apartment."
"Obviously it's easier for me to hear, uncluttered, the different musical things coming to me in this environment," she continues. "In an urban environment it's a little harder. But it's all in your head, really; you can create a quiet space for yourself anywhere."
Many people who return to the land originally grew up that way - in rural places, or with hippie parents. Not Smith. An Army brat, she was born in the U.S. but spent her childhood living in various places, including Germany. When she was 14, her family relocated to San Diego, a town she now practically disowns. "I hated it immediately. My favorite things were horseback riding and skiing, and then I moved to Southern California where everyone was into tennis and surfing."
Her German background is interesting, given the similarity between Smith's current music and the solo records of Nico. Could that German childhood have cast some kind of neo-Teutonic-Gothic light over her future career? "That's an easy correspondence to make," she says, "but no. The music in Germany was like the worst of the dregs of what couldn't make it in America anymore. There was an American military station that played soul - I was really into soul for a while - and some rock, just a few shameful things. The only thing living in Europe did was to completely free me from American commercialism; for five years I watched no television."
"As far as Nico goes, I have a love for Gothic things in general, and Nico had kind of that sound. The harmonium deal was accidental. I hadn't thought about her harmonium when I got this one, but I do like what she did with it. She explored some really interesting vocal ranges, lower scales and timbres that are really unusual for a woman." She smiles, reminiscing: "When I was in the Dream Syndicate, we opened for Nico at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco in about 1982. I was really excited about that at the time."
I have an indelible memory of Kendra standing on stage at the Rat in Boston in 1985, wearing a groovy miniskirt and knee-high suede boots, gazing coolly at the audience as she sang
Fell from the Sun. At one point while visiting her in the mountains, I
reminded her of that gig and those boots. She shrugged off the illusion: "Clay
Allison - that was an awful tour; terrible tensions swirling around."
A few weeks later, however, Smith shows up for a photo shoot down in San Francisco wearing the same boots, dug out of the closet for my benefit. She had, in fact, brought a bagful of what she calls "my Jimi Hendrix duds," a wonderful array of clothing gleaned from the "free" box at the Garberville Salvation Army, including velvet tunics, vests, pants and a pair of horns which she insisted on wearing in her hair all night long - presumably a kind of jokey allusion to Pan and her pagan lifestyle.
Smith's life is not as pagan or primitive as it would appear. It's true that she bathes in an outdoor bathhouse, and that getting her water even remotely warm is quite a chore. But the solar panel provides enough energy to play her CD, there's a six-pack of Coca-Cola tucked under the sink, and she drives into nearby Garberville once a week to take a Middle Eastern dance class, attends seminars in donkey packing, visits neighbors, and occasionally DJs on a local public radio station.
Kendra got her first taste of radio at UC-Davis in the late-'70s. "One fellow there who was [future Dream Syndicate member] Steve Wynn's roommate was pretty influential on us all," she recalls. "He had a show and he kept getting kicked off 'cause he'd do things like play three jazz records at once. He was into things like Albert Ayler and all those extreme jazz people - and into punk rock. He was kind of a pa figure. At that time, when I started working there, I met people and got exposed to more music and I kind of put myself on a crash course to study music while I had the music library at my disposal. I listened to everything I got my hands on."
Another roommate taught her to play bass, which she practiced along with Miles Davis'
Kind of Blue. Presently she transferred to UCLA,
where she formed the Dream Syndicate with Steve Wynn and Dennis Duck. For a while, the Dream
Syndicate epitomized a new kind of punk intensity, and Smith, standing coolly in the
background, added some indefinable aspect to the mix. But in 1983, just before the band
signed to A&M, she quit. "I could foresee that it had to be a space for Steve to do
his trip, and I wanted to do more than play bass."
Smith was also burnt out by touring. "Guys don't mind the irresponsibility of it, and the superficiality of the relationships, and being worshiped by strangers. But I felt like I was never connecting with anyone. It was just meaningless conversations with millions of people. Being in a band," she remarks, "is a geek scene. It's fun as long as there's an attitude of us-against-the-world. But that's always pretty short-lived."
Kendra stayed plugged into the music scene, more or less, before she and then-boyfriend David Roback did Opal's first full album, 1987's
Happy Nightmare Baby (SST). Then came the
end. "I should have quit right after that record, because I could already see
disjunction there," she says, "happening in a pretty serious way."
After a short tour, she finally escaped. "I cut myself off completely. I really didn't want to know what was going on with anybody. Even though I was still in L.A. a little bit longer, I wasn't really paying attention to anything anymore."
In the pen behind Kendra Smith's house, the donkey brays for dinner. It is a sad sound, as though the poor thing is being tortured or choked. Kendra rushes to it, leaving me to contemplate the ensuing darkness. To live like this, far from civilization, at the mercy of your own devices, takes a really strong inner life. It also requires a certain amount of courage - a need to take risks.
"I've had a lot of different changes in my life, so it almost seems like a lot of different lives," she says. "But I was longing to be in this place. My last year in L.A., I remember, I'd wander around alleys and places that were open ground, that weren't all manicured, and see weird flowers or something strange and I just wanted to be in the country, I guess."
Kendra was de-tuning herself. "For me, this change has been pretty easy. I travel pretty lightly. I've never had much more than a room in a house. And I really like having everything limited by the daylight hours, by the temperature, by what is growing, by how much electricity I can gather. When I first started I just had a trickle for a radio."
She shrugs. "To the degree that my music is involved with pop, I've already assimilated everything I needed to assimilate. Besides," she adds with a glance around her finite cabin, "limitations are good for art."
article & pics kindly provided by Lin Tzer-liang (thanks Tony!)
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How Kendra learned to stop worrying and love the drone
by Wes Eichenwald
issued on The Boston Phoenix, May 26, 1995
Kendra Smith was born to sing Zen koans. She played bass in the Dream Syndicate as they spearheaded the psychedelic
revival in early '80s Los Angeles, reworking the Velvet Underground's ethos before every other band did. She then found
her own songwriting voice, quieter but equally intriguing. She was there - sometimes up front, sometimes lurking in the
shadows, taking notes - as low-volume, high-atmosphere alterna-rock came into its own. She moved from the trio Clay
Allison to Opal (which upon her departure became Mazzy Star). And she built a cult mystique with trance-inducing
Eastern-influenced melodies mixed with sweet pop touches, topped by her clear, wise-child intonations.
Among friends and former colleagues on the LA scene, Kendra Smith is equally famous for her lifestyle. For the past seven years she's been living on a 30-acre farm in Northern California, eating what she can grow, shovelling manure and chopping wood, cut off from public utilities and the telephone. She designed, built, and wired for solar power an 11-by-13-foot cabin home. She composes songs on acoustic guitar and funky old hand-and-foot-powered pump organs, which she uses on her discs. For Smith, DIY isn't a catchphrase, it's her life. You could call her a female West Coast Thoreau, but she'd quickly tell you that she hasn't mellowed that much, adding that she hates "fluffy folk music". As you might have guessed, she also hates to be pigeonholed.
Smith makes an annual pilgrimage to San Francisco for the Chinese New Year; on the phone from a hotel room there she was as talkative and friendly as you'd expect a noted recluse not to be, frequently punctuating her comments with short, explosive laughs. Her first solo album-length CD,
Five Ways of Disappearing (4AD)
is, like Smith herself, simultaneously spacy and rooted in the earth. Nothing's in these stately songs that doesn't
absolutely have to be there. Although she's no idiot savant, and is as capable as anyone of self-conscious craft, her
songs seem to come from a right-brain dream state. Hemispheres - both the brain's and Earth's - blend easily in her
Bohemian Zebulon, for one, Brecht/Weill meets Scottish dirge. Along with the mysticism, you get the
In Your Head and the music-hall/
White Album jive of
Maggots. The textures are
provided by Smith's pump organ and synths as well as guitars (supplied by herself and Alex Uberman) and a variety of her
Northern California pals on bass and drums. But a steady hum underpins all these efforts.
"Well, it's the drone", she comments. "The drone is one of the more powerful musical things. It's not really exploited in our culture, because we want something to happen. But inside the drone, all the notes can resonate. Indian music does it, and there's close connections between Celtic and Indian music".
Like Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh, Smith speaks of not writing but being possessed by her songs. "When I did this recording, [I figured] the record's going to show me where to go. I have a very harsh muse, and if I don't respect her, she kicks my ass".
She admits to being influenced by Buddhist and Hindu philosophies only "to a certain degree. I like to look at them all. I think I always had an inclination to get lost in trance, and to be thinking about things seriously".
After the Dream Syndicate, Smith "got kind of burned out on intensely loud vibrations. I really like loud psychedelic music, on one hand. On the other hand, I really like to preserve my ears and my psychic balance, and electricity does weird things to you, especially if you're at all sensitive".
The spare, haunting "Fell from the Sun" - which, she says, was the first song she ever wrote - became the title track of the 1984 EP, which was done with her Clay Allison bandmates Roback and Keith Mitchell. It set the tone for her boutique, limited-edition, special-project sort of recording career over the next decade.
"I want to put one rumor to rest - that I jam with anybody who shows up!" she says, laughing. "I didn't really jam with anybody [in the '80s]. I possibly did, but I don't remember. What I play is very experimental or outside of contemporary pop. Most of the power for me is for percussion and rhythm, but pop has a lot of charm".
Given her aversion to air travel ("just indecently unnatural") and other disruptions of the cosmic stream don't look for a major tour any time soon, but Smith won't say never. She did venture out to play an LA club last October. And she's due to play Fez in New York next Friday, June 2.
"I'm not into nostalgia in any way, but I am definitely into the idea that you should create the environment that you dig. I don't know if I'll be pushing a plow 20 years from now. I still like doing what I do. There's no middleman in the form of a boss or a dollar, and that appeals to me. I'm not a placid person, and I know I could kick ass on most people that I thought were full of shit. But at the same time, I think it's important not to waste a lot of energy in struggles that aren't necessary".
article & picture courtesy of Wes Eichenwald (thank you!)
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the continuing saga of Kendra Smith
by Nigel Cross
issued on Hartbeat! #18 Summer/Autumn 1995
Back in January 1988 during a short visit to Los Angeles, I put in a call to Kendra Smith,
more by way of renewing our acquaintanceship than to catch up on her latest musical activities.
I knew she'd recently quit Opal, the band she and erstwhile beau David Roback had been working
on since early '84. She sounded tired and somewhat irritated that the "rock scene"
was intruding into her life again - she was poised to uproot herself back to Northern California,
this time to live a Spartan existence in a small cabin, miles from the beaten track, with no
conventional electricity sources, completely out of the public gaze. So I wished her well and
considered it just another door closing in my life. At least one person, I figured, was being
sensible and getting the hell out of not only the stinking rock 'n' roll sewer but even better,
out of "conventional society" all together.
Seven years on, it's a Monday lunchtime in central London and I'm talking to a different Kendra; she's ensconced in the Wandsworth headquarters of her record co., 4AD, doing a gruelling round of press interviews to promote her new record. She sounds confident, more mature and maybe a lot wiser, though far from enjoying her brief trip to London, "It's very difficult. I'm not happy to ever be in cities". We exchange pleasantries, and despite all these years in the wilderness, I sense the presence of a professional. I swallow hard and get down to brass tacks. I hate phone interviews so try to keep it short and sweet. Nowadays, if she ever did before, Ms. Smith doesn't suffer fools gladly!
Kendra spends most of her time with constant companion Alex Uberman up in the rugged Sierras with a bunch of cats and a donkey; she's training to carry kindling. Music's no longer the most central component of her life - following the Voltairean notion of "il faut cultiver notre jardin" - she tends a 15-acre vegetable and herb plot. It'd be a full-time job for even the best of us, but Kendra somehow found the time to fit in some musical activities, too. Life in isolation obviously suits her Piscean soul - since '87 and the parting of the ways with Roback, her talents have blossomed, and spectacularly so. It's hard to reconcile the singer on
Happy Nightmare Baby, the most contrived, artificial
album of both her and David's careers, with the artist creating such transcendental sounds in
I start by asking her about that last Opal album. "Dismal", she retorts, "I was very frustrated. David and I were going in two very different directions. He wanted to work from formula and towards a commercial end". Kendra flew the coop midway through a US winter tour, even nominating her replacement, Hope Sandoval, half of Going Home (see HB 6), the duo she and Roback had been producing. Whilst Roback, Sandoval & co. carried on the Opal name for a while, eventually metamorphosing into the fast-rising Mazzy Star, Smith hailed it for the hills! Her exit from the music biz became more than a retreat, "It turned into a major renovation on how you should live", she observes, "It encourages self-sufficiency, which is part of the intrigue".
However the pioneer life still allowed her to play music - she and A. Phillip Uberman met on the very cusp of her departure from Opal and they found an immediate rapport, which soon led to the formation of The Guild Of Temporal Adventurers. "It's funny how it happened", she says, "The other members of the Guild (Uberman and Jonah Corey) voiced my dissatisfaction with Opal. I met them just after I left the band - they were interested in doing music in an ego-less fashion - we wanted to get out of the way of the music the energy between the three of us was very focussed".
The Guild's debut and only release to date, a magnificent 10" with complex, enigmatic sleeve was put out by a fan on her Fiasco label in 1992. It had taken four full years to produce, but was, Kendra attests, "A happy event, the first record I had complete satisfaction with". Total understatement. It's one of the purest, most organic records I've ever come across, touching on the same kind of integrity her 1984
The Sun 45 (as part of Clay Allison) exuded - here at last was somebody doing it completely
on her own terms. Six songs with no pretensions - take 'em or leave 'em! "With the Guild,
there was a strict purpose to do devotional music to the goddess, in the form of lyrical pop
music. It was intended to sneak up on people and give them some psychic nutrition". When
they came into LA to record it, rumours abounded that
Roback kept phoning the studio trying to dissuade her from the sessions. "No, not at all",
she laughingly counters, "Maybe on a certain level he was trying to do that
psychic level. He maybe felt threatened".
Aside from a lovingly rendered
She Brings The Rain (originally done by The Can), the
other five songs are originals, haunting, ethereal, particularly the almost instrumental
31, which features the magical pump organ that has since become a cornerstone of Kendra's
current music: "It's a great instrument - I was on a road trip and wandered into this
antique store/junk shop - I'd been before but it had never been open - I saw the organ, touched
it once and knew it would open musical doors for me. It had all the potential for drones and
dissonance. It's a field organ for military religious services, manufactured by Estey, it folds
up to the size of an amplifier, with two foot pedals". (She's since acquired an Indian
The Guild release was very much like a despatch from the wild frontier - the lines of communication from the redwood forest immediately went dead again, but the buzz created by the record, had the A&R men a-scurryin'. Ha! Kendra held all the cards - would you desert one of the last paradises on Earth for 20 pieces of silver? Not a prayer!
Living miles from even a pay-phone helped keep the jackals at bay. However, she did keep the door sufficiently ajar, and the upshot was a hopefully symbiotic deal with 4AD Records, a label known for its quality and comparative lack of hype. Her first solo album,
Five Ways Of Disappearing,
not, she assures me, a reference to her withdrawal from the commercial world, was released in
May. If the Guild was your cup of camomile,
Five Ways will refresh your senses like a
mountain stream. There's an overwhelming serenity to proceedings - that strong, yet gentle voice
has never sounded more natural or unforced. Aided and abetted by Uberman, the album moves from
outer space to inner space - "We spent some time thinking about the running order, it's
a journey". You'd be forgiven for thinking you'd stepped into a Kraut Rock convention, as
your ears are washed by layers of fizzy, swirling synthesizers in the opening shot,
but slowly, like a kaleidoscope, things become more focussed - everything becomes clear, there's
humor, adventure, drama, exhilaration along the way.
The Michael Moorcock motifs started in the Guild are still there - you can imagine Uberman at home of an evening - the moths battering the tiffany lamp, Kendra on the porch weaving eerie spells from her harmonium - reading out loud large chunks of Jerry Cornelius. Indeed Alex's
Of The Morning Sun is one of the record's true highs - Kendra sings with a real air of
authority and as it touches down, you feel as if you've spent the last 8 minutes aboard an
Five Ways ends with an intense version of Dick & Mimi Farina's
Bold Marauder, a folk chestnut, Kendra squeezes for all its dangerous, dramatic qualities:
"I only heard the song about a year and a half ago when a friend played it me. I thought
it was brilliant. It was so stark, so bloody with the Celtic drone effect". It's arousing,
fitting end to an album that explodes with great head music. In a scene so rave 'n' techno
obsessed, it's a f***ing relief to say, no, you can't dance to it!
Kendra played a one-show in New York recently but there are no plans for any other live performances. I find that distressing. As articulate as Kendra is, it's her music that's her ultimate eloquence if she plans on withdrawing "for a long time" on her return home, it's tragic that she and Uberman couldn't have pulled off at least one low-key appearance whilst here in Europe. No end of interviews are ever going to put across the essence of what she does better than she and Alex onstage with a hand organ and a couple of guitars.
As a parting quip, I quizzed her about a recent publicity photo, which depicts her, rather Native Indian-like, with a sprig of rosemary in one hand and a pistol in the other. Was the gun for self-defense, I wondered? "Yeah there are some wild types out where I live", she offered and then as an afterthought added, "There's a logo on the butt of the gun, it says 'Don't tread on me!'" And somehow that motto seems to say everything about her uncompromising approach so well. A little more respect might make the rock 'n' roll scene and the world, for that matter, a better place!
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by Jud Cost
issued on The Bob #51 Fall 1995
Firecrackers and M-80's are exploding everywhere tonight, their smoke blown up the crooked
streets of Chinatown by a nasty wind that keeps the tourists, underdressed for the occasion,
huddled together. Even though Mark Twain's famous quote, "The coldest winter I ever spent
was a summer in San Francisco", has more than a germ of truth in it, this isn't summer,
and it's not the Fourth of July. It's the night before Chinese New Year, and the celebration
ushering in the Year of the Rat has attracted busloads of visitors for tomorrow's parade.
I'm here to speak to one of them, in fact. Kendra Smith has agreed to do a handful of interviews to talk about her mesmerizing new 4AD album,
Five Ways Of Disappearing, while she's in
town for her annual spiritual rejuvenation. Smith is the former bass player for the Dream Syndicate;
and Opal's vocalist before Hope Sandoval replaced her, and David Roback changed the name to
Mazzy Star. Smith bailed out of both bands for many reasons and, fed up with the L.A. grind, migrated to the northernmost reaches of California,
where she found peace without electricity and replaced her musical passion with one for organic
farming. Until recently.
If Smith hadn't changed upon an army surplus acoustic organ and begun dabbling in music again, the story might have ended there. Intrigued by the wheezy sound of the contraption, however, she began writing songs again. Two former ambient/trance musical pals from L.A., Jonah Corey and Phillip Uberman, helped her write and record her comeback (she'd snicker at that) album,
The Guild Of Temporal Adventurers, a couple of years ago. Since 4AD has
agreed to pretty much let her do what she wants, Smith is back, but she's doing it her way
this time. The label understands she won't tour to support the album, so for Smith it's a couple
of as yet unscheduled live shows, and then she's back on the farm.
From the balcony of her hotel room, she looks frail enough that a strong gust might blow her over the railing. It's soon apparent, however, that, rock fashion aside, this is no waif in the wind. On a whim, I've brought along photocopies of 1979 pictures of her first band, Suspects. A chirpy new wave outfit from Davis, California, it boasted Smith's Debbie Harryish vocals, the guitar of Steve Wynn - later to form Dream Syndicate with Smith - as well as guitarist Russ Tolman, soon to start up True West with the band's drummer, Gavin Blair. For all that talent, the only recorded evidence, a forgettable single, can best be described as "pretty average".
Here's one band your bio sheet omitted, Kendra - Suspects.
I didn't much like being a girl singer - too weird. I showed this picture (a boyish Steve Wynn wearing Adidas) to my friends who are in love with him, to show them that, "See, Steve actually used to be a geek". The band wasn't very memorable musically. The best thing that happened in Suspects was that I picked up Steve Suchil's bass after the band broke up. Bass was the way to go.
Did you already have plans to play with someone else?
I thought after Suspects I'd never play music again with Steve Wynn. Then we got together on a lark and did a German version ofAll Tomorrow's Parties. I saw that he was going in a different direction that I could live with, so we got back together.
Why did you bail out on Opal in 1987, and for that matter, the Dream Syndicate before
I don't really believe in bands as institutions, but that's what they end up becoming. Doing music that way devitalizes it. I'm a fanatic about music, but I don't want to be a touring machine. I left Opal for the same reason I left the Dream Syndicate. And, for me, the Dream Syndicate was the ultimate band to be in. When I left I had experienced what I needed to experience. Even though I really enjoyed every minute of it, I'd had enough. I wanted to start writing, and it was really Steve's songwriting trip. It was originally based on all four members, but I could see it going more into a singer/songwriter thing. Steve and Karl (Precoda) were starting to slug it out, and I didn't want to slug it out with Steve, so I left.
What about Opal? Your departure was pretty abrupt, as I recall.
David and I were just going in different directions. It wasn't free enough. It was a little bit uptight for me. It got to the point where I wanted out at all costs on that East Coast tour. I told David to call Hope and have her come out. I thought she'd be good for them.
Any perspective on those L.A. bands loosely
The Paisley Underground from ten years down the road?
(Chuckling) We were pretty much lumped together after the fact. What we all had in common was that none of us was really hip to the punk rock scene. The Dream Syndicate liked playing really long songs as opposed to short and fast - lots of jams and feedback. When it comes to psychedelic music, I think my version of it is different from other people's versions. It can be certain jazz, like Pharoah Sanders, or the Jou Jouka musicians of Morocco. It's just something that rips my brain open in one way or another.
What got you back into music again with
The Guild Of Temporal Adventurers album
after being "retired" for so long?
I was living up near Eureka (close to the California/Oregon border) in a place without electricity, so I had stashed my instruments. But I found this acoustic organ in a junkstore in Eureka that had only been open three days. It's a chaplain's field service organ from World War II that opens up and has foot pedals. I'd known Phillip Uberman and Jonah Corey for a long time, doing ambient music and found-art music in L.A. I met them again when I was in Opal, and I was inspired by their approach to music, using it for magical purposes. Plus Jonah Corey's just a great pop songwriter.
Who are these people at Fiasco Records who put out the
Temporal Adventurers album?
It's this woman named Sunshine in L.A. She found me at the moment I was starting to think about doing something again. She'd written me a letter, saying she wanted to put it out on ten-inch vinyl only. I told her that sounded great. I really love vinyl. So she won the lottery. She was the one who got me, through her persistence and her energy. And she wasn't too "L.A." of a person. She was willing to let us just do our thing. We said we'd go down there, and if we liked her we'd do it. And we cut the whole thing in two weeks. We already had a couple of Corey's songs, and we wrote a couple together, and I wrote one in a trailer. The idea was to keep it really simple, just to get out of the way and let the music make itself. They may seem at one look like love songs, but they're strictly devotional music.
Where did you grow up, Kendra?
My dad was in the military. We lived in Germany until 1974. We went straight from there to Southern California, and I really hated it. I went to UC Davis just to get out of there. My brothers and I were always Rolling Stones fans back when kids would split into Stones versus Beatles factions. Then I saw the Stones in the '70s and was totally disappointed. As a kid there weren't many female vocal role models until Nico and Patti Smith. And I always liked Al Green and West Coast Jazz.
Was your move to the outback, way up in Northern California, partially prompted by
your dislike of L.A.?
There were about four years, before I finally left, where I was already screaming. You can really feel it in the air down there. You're bombarded with so much. All my music comes from silence - in through my head and then out again.
The second album seems to spring directly from the first one. How would you describe
I'm really interested in mental frontiers. Being not too much in tune with what's going on today, I'm not really sure what people will think of it. I count on the good stuff from today floating to the surface and somebody turning me on to it. But I'm not really interested in writing about my daily difficulties. I don't think anyone wants to hear about it, and I don't want to hear about anyone else's.
You're singing now in what sounds like your natural register, unlike that high-end
sound from your Suspects days.
I sang in the church choir when I was a kid. I hated singing about someone else's unrequited love in a high register. I found out eventually that you have to find your own thing.
I love that wheezy organ sound that permeates your work.
I just hear a lot of that sound in my head.Get Therewas a melody that came into my head while I was observing eagles. With that particular organ I'll sit down and start making sounds, and I'll just create a song right on the spot. I've actually joined the Reed Organ Society, and their magazine had an article by (jazz kayboardist) Keith Jarrett saying that particular instrument was the best there is for improvisation. There's just something about it. It almost floats under your hands. I can sit down and write song after song.
The Syd Barrett influences are pretty obvious in your work, but I also hear some
(Elated) Yeah, wow, you noticed. I love Brian Wilson. He kind of invented that intense multi-tracking, but he was always on top of the technology and never let it swamp him down. The techno never mastered him. It's that art-versus-science thing. I went through a binge of listening to theSmilestuff, the collaboration with Van Dyke Parks. I've played with ideas like bringing in a producer like that, but so far I've resisted. I don't know if I could bring someone else in without having a major battle. I'm into collaboration, but it would have to be someone simpatico.
What about the more exotic elements in your music? Where do they come from?
I'm very interested in music coming from tribal cultures, where it has a social function or a magical function - like Middle Eastern coffee grinding music, or the Jou Jouka music to raise the spirits, which is what I think music is really for. We have a musical overlap of influences from China, Siberia, and the Middle East. And we've used Tibetan instruments, like temple bells and a horn made from a legbone. This friend sent me a tape of Gregorian chants eight years ago, and that's whereBohemian Zebuloncame from. I'm also interested in time travel that you can do in your mind. TheTemporal Adventurersconcept comes from a Michael Moorcock book.
You and I share one stress reducer for a hobby - gardening.
It feels so good working in the dirt. I spent the first few years up there working on a big organic farm. I don't have refrigeration, so I grow as much as I can eat. I'm a vegetarian, so it's right from the garden to my dish. Just the activity of gardening is the best medicine. I think it should be mandatory. I sort of shy away from the "nature" word and the music oriented towards it. Ecology sometimes bugs me, and that save-the-world eco/folk music. But nature can show you things beyond words.
Any chances of seeing you live in the near future?
(Laughing) Well, since you live west of the Rockies you'll have a better chance than people back east. I'll just play it by ear. I did a show last October (at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica) for that 4AD showcase. That was the first time I'd played live in front of people in seven years, and I really enjoyed it. But I still have to deal with whether the music's going to be powerful and fresh for me. And I feel a large responsibility to my homestead. I can't really leave it without a big disruption. I don't feel I really need to travel. I think a lot of it's just distraction. And I'm really against airplanes. Maybe I should go everywhere in my own private railroad car, like Jackie Gleason did. But I've got a lot of animals, and I'd always feel I had to get back to my burros.
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by Sergio D'Alesio
issued on Rockstar #46 (July 1984)
What can you do in LA on a rare rainy day when
drive-ins are closed and there is no one on the beaches? You can combine for singing and
recording the finest songs of the past in fun! That's the point of the matter and the reason
for this amusing session from young musicians such as Will Glenn, David Roback, Matthew
Piucci, Kendra Smith, Michael Quercio, Steven Roback, Susanna Hoffs and lots of other members
of Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate, Bangles and Three O'Clock.
Rainy Day escapes all the rules, proving an excellent collection of covers in
every way. So here flow, together in an acoustic whirl, Holocaust by Alex Chilton, On The
Way Home and Flying On The Ground Is Wrong by Neil Young, I'll Keep It With Mine by Bob
Dylan, I'll Be Your Mirror by Lou Reed, Rainy Day Dream Away by Jimi Hendrix and the very
pleasant supplement of a handful of traditional like Sloop John B. (without Beach Boys
interfering) and Soon Be Home. Listen to the remaking of John Riley by Gibson-Neff that
has been sung and explored in every dimension, between Baez and Byrds.
Rainy Day is merely a little party that, especially through the voice of Kendra Smith,
assumes the import of a candid evidence that now some sonorities and ballads are cemented in
the heart of the youngest keepers of the sound made in USA.
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by Claudio Sorge
issued on Rockerilla #65 (January 1986)
Opal is David Roback's new creature, in practice almost Clay Allison's same line-up,
with Kendra Smith on bass and vocals, and Keith Mitchell on drums. Here, inwardly, according to
me it moves Rain Parade's real soul. Probably a genius such as David didn't fit himself to a band
that nowadays is trying to go in big business and that therefore seems to be inclined to accept
arrangements the Author scorns undoubtedly. More than ever
Northern Line is the outcome of
a restless and romantic soul. I have no words for describing the dazzling beauty of Kendra's voice,
the penetrating and explorative strength of David's guitars. Three pieces, three absolutely masterpieces.
Syd Barrett, John Fahey and Pink Floyd are the possible co-ordinates drawn on the immense mind's
map for understanding Opal's enigma. Even if late there isn't a shadow of a doubt: single of the year.
This translation I did was first released on April's
All Souls website in 1998.
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by Eddy Cilža
issued on Mucchio Selvaggio #109 (February 1987)
This and other magazines have made very broad use for three or four years of labels
such as "new country" and "country-punk". Sometimes abusing them
perhaps: ascribing them badly to decent cowboys who were very little "new" and
even less "punk", however
No more polemics, I must speak of this
Shoot that would have been a weighty manifest of new-country if it'd been released
just its recordings were finished (June 1984), on the contrary coming out nowadays, it
appears "simply" an excellent album.
Don't Shoot lines up eleven of the most well-known names of the new American
rock: from Danny & Dusty (Dan Stuart, Steve Wynn & Co.)
to Divine Horsemen of Chris D., from Julie Christensen (charming wife of aforesaid Chris D.)
to John Doe of X, from Stephen McCarthy of Long Ryders to Jack Waterson of Green On Red,
from Clay Allison to Romans, from Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs to The Band Of Blacky
Ranchette. Some "covers" (Willie Nelson, Hank Williams) and a lot of new pieces of
remarkable worth, nearly all of them unreleased otherwise (with the exception of
Justice by The Band Of Blacky Ranchette and
Freight Train by Clay Allison).
What can I say? If you like the roughest country that has nothing to do with Nashville softness, this LP is what you want. Listen to it, after an "overdose" of Jason & The Scorchers, alternating it with Knitters and with an anthology by Hank Williams.
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by Claudio Sorge
issued on Rockerilla #82 (June 1987)
If today the dark side of L.A. is
represented, whether you like it or not, by bands like Electric Peace, or by the new upsetters
bound to the label SST (however you must select them carefully, in a sea of productions that
aren't always original and new as someone will make you believe), the sweetest and sinuous
side, expression of a vision of life again harmonious and reconciled to the reality of beautiful
things, remaining within the sphere of the creative recovery of neo-psychedelia, of course,
the brightest and positive side, I said, has the shining face of Opal.
Opal is a duet: David Roback, ex-guitarist of the Rain Parade and Kendra Smith, singer and bassist, formerly in the early Dream Syndicate (until the album
The Days Of Wine And Roses)
Happy Nightmare Baby is a masterpiece, there is no doubt about it. Nine pieces in all
for a final work of extraordinary evocative strength; dazzling, at intervals, in its beauty.
Magik Power irradiates skin with the hypnotic warmth of Rain Parade's
No Easy Way
Down, passing through Pink Floyd's doors of
A Saucerful Of Secrets. A striking
example of modern psychedelia, a powerful fresco of lisergic colours and steep perspectives
that shade into an infinite sky-blue
Relevation sees Kendra's faint and throbbing
voice pet our senses with velvet gloves, spurring soft emotions like flocks, while
Star chooses an approach slightly harder (it reminds me the ripe Blue Cheer of
Improved!, mostly for the use of guitar). But we don't feed on psychedelia solely, among
the tracks of this album. The blues approaching triumphs in
She's A Diamond, thanks
to Kendra's smooth voice accompanied by Roback's wah-wah guitar, rival of Leigh Stephens and
Randy Holden (who divided guitar-parts on Blue Cheer's album just mentioned).
The second side offers us too another sight of sounds and colours.
its melody) reminds me the obscure Syd Barrett of
Mad Cap Laughs (the first sensational
album by the great minstrel, released in 1970). I see again that grey striped room and a
lonely man, bare-footed, whose look is the tragic and mysterious mask under that is hidden a
mind peopled with nightmares and woes, that will collapse shortly after
Syd's soul lives
in this murky jewel. Or maybe they're only suggestions
No, indeed! The mystery arises
again in the next piece
Siamese Trap and who is ensnared with no way out is definitively
him, Syd Barrett; this time they aren't fancies: the air and the central guitar riff are
evidently taken from
No Man's Land, a song extracted always from
Mad Cap Laughs.
The whole is blended inside a brand new container, of course, where the ingredients aren't
necessarily the same of Barrett's music. Here there is a woman who sings and you can hear
Rightly I was asking myself, plunged into listening, what has happened to those wonderful
acoustic atmospheres, genuine oneiric musical pictures of a quiet segment cut out from the
American folk universe, that deflagrated calmly in pieces like
Northern Line when
Happy Nightmare appeared and snatched my mind
Now the circle is complete.
Soul Giver (already listened on their last EP)
seals the conclusion of one of the best albums of 1987. Undoubtedly. There are no words, in
fact, for describing the very sweet tangle of sensations recalled by this music, the mantric
flow of these notes, which seem slowly sewing on a very light dress made of marvellous harmonic
arabesques and winding shapes
Not only a masterpiece of neo-psychedelia, but also a record that everybody would have to listen to, at least once in a lifetime.
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by Maurizio Lucenti
issued on Mucchio Selvaggio #117 (October 1987)
A dive into the past. The meeting between a guitarist graduate in Art
History exile from the rain parade finished the emergency, and a charming maiden who hasn't
renewed the membership card to the dream syndicate ended the days of wine and roses. The
mutual understanding between these two fellows is immediate, and during the rainy days their
artistic feelings prove harmonious about the passion for the gentle and ethereal psychedelia.
A dive into the past, I said, and in effect this is the question: the duet draws his store
of sonorities going back at least of twenty years, Grateful Dead, Syd Barrett, Doors and the
whole psychedelia of that period. A dive into the past represented metaphorically by the old
black and white pictures of the Authors on the cover. A fruitful trip, no doubt: we're hanging,
floating upon an indefinite point in time and in space, held up by the impalpable magic of
this astonishing electric flow, produced by David Roback's restless guitar and softened by
Kendra Smith's sweet and winning voice. Stars turn into usual playmates, while mind is lost
in lisergic suggestions and vocal caresses.
Nine pieces, all justly expressive of the worth of the band: from the rhythmical gait of
Machine to the violent sourness of
Magik Power, from the dreaming mysticism of
Relevation to the eclectic veins blues of
A Falling Star and
She's A Diamond,
from the stellar echoes of
Supernova (in which Kendra sings: "She knows the sun
knows the moon
/She knows the rain
/She knows the wind
" and really I
feel like thinking she knows the forces of nature in their inwardness, such is her talent for
bewitching us) to the eastern and winding texture of
Siamese Trap. And in conclusion
the title-track, a pure gem made of acoustic embroideries in the style of the enchanting
Northern Line (included on their debut EP),
which materializes the ghost of The Doors, and the final
Soul Giver whose brightness
we already knew it.
Happy nightmare. Maybe one day we shall awake and laugh at this joke that is our life. In the meanwhile, Opal be with you.
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by Elio Bussolino
issued on Rockerilla #113 (January 1990)
Long introductions are not necessary indeed to present a group that, until a couple of
years ago, symbolized the purest and unpolluted character - someone defined it "mystical" -
of the renaissance or, better still, of the psychedelic reviviscence, nor many circumlocutions
to recognize the remarkableness of its very few, measured apparitions on record.
What David Roback and Kendra Smith were able to create, through a small handful of singles and one album, was a music that had in itself an arcane seduction, an extraordinary evocative power, a transparent and fragile beauty, a strength and a wealth that, paradoxically, arose from the inner weakness, from the precariousness of the complex artistic union founder between its two principal authors, from their indomitable "purity", from the dread of the great audience, of the stage floodlights. Opal handed over very little indeed to the label that took them over the day after
Happy Nightmare Baby, but in that little there are
also the five unreleased episodes that this
Early Recordings shows in the window, a
small treasure that has in the starting
Empty Box Blues, in
Brigit On Sunday -
sung by the unspeakable, exotic keyboard player Suki Ewers - and in
Harriet Brown the
pieces of greater worth.
A good opportunity to recover nearly all the material released by the group on singles and EPs - Clay Allison's period included -, a good excuse to write the word "end" sadly at the bottom of Opal's adventure, but also some further good reasons to remember it longer.
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by Nigel Cross
issued on Hartbeat! #10 (1990)
Whither David Roback, reclusive musical genius, enigmatic former Rain Parade star and West
Coast poet? Earlier this year he split his highly regarded Opal combo and set off in search
of new horizons. Opal are no more - various ex-members will regroup in 1990 under a new banner
and release a new record. Meanwhile, aside from their one LP
Nightmare Baby, Opal left behind a huge legacy of unreleased work - most of it never surfacing
because of Roback's all-pervasive self-doubt and over-zealous tendency to self-edit and, even,
self-destruct!! Regarded with much suspicion, even loathing by his contemporaries, David has
constantly refused to conform, steadfastly held back from playing the rock 'n' roll game, knowingly
building himself an image of a megalomaniac, a psychotic figure impossible to work with and,
probably not even he knows where he's ultimately bound! Amidst periods of chemical imbalance,
shattered relationships (I suspect the break up of his longstanding liaison with co-founding
Opal person Kendra Smith had more than a little to do with her sudden departure in Nov. '87) and ill-health, Roback (and Smith) wrote and produced one
of the most impressive bodies of work, the scene has witnessed this decade. Neither of them
were able to capitalize on this in the end - tragically, because Opal (and its earlier incarnation
Clay Allison) offered some of the '80s most personal, most committed music.
I've held off writing anything on David, Kendra and pals for over four years. When she left Opal, I felt the same kind of relief you feel on an oppressive summer afternoon when thunder breaks - whilst, through sporadic contact, I instinctively knew what David was about on
Kendra sounded increasingly uncomfortable, especially the way she had to adapt her vocal mannerisms
to David's then current deranged vision. He was somebody with the most sensuously cool set of
pipes in California being made to perform tricks like a circus animal! If the pair of them had
released their projected album in summer 1984, we may now have had a different outcome to the
story - Kendra is temporarily, at least, lost to the music world. These early recordings are
a mishmash of material from '83 thru '87 - after all Opal was Roback and Smith - David reckons
Opal could no longer exist without Kendra (the soul?) even with Hope's own pretty voice as a
replacement. The music here is beyond question - but the compiler lacks any kind of perspective.
For staunch fans, this has to be a big disappointment; the choice is shortsighted with over
half the tracks already having been available at least once before. There's no
Sailing Boats, no
This Town, no
Lisa's Funeral, no
of Mercy (I could go on) the inner sanctum of early Opal as far as I'm concerned. But songs
Empty Box Blues and
My Only Friend exude that classic country baroque flavour
which the pair made their own, whilst
Brigit On Sunday reaches new frontiers in Opal's
experiments in East/West fusions and, it's honestly great, to finally have
Harriet Brown vinylised:
all drippy slide guitars and Kendra's deliciously lissome singing.
My own (albeit small) personal involvement with Smith and Roback renders it almost impossible to view Opal's achievements objectively but if I had to nominate one starting point from where to try and unscramble the '80s, then I'd wholeheartedly recommend you begin with this record.
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by Pierluigi Bella
issued on Rockerilla #143/144 (July/August 1992)
Kendra Smith is one of those persons who have the qualities to be considered artists,
with that further stylish touch which made mythical a few little rock-geniuses in the
past. She marked with the Dream Syndicate that main point of rock-music in the eighties,
The Days of Wine and Roses; with Clay Allison before and with Opal
later on, she delighted us with melancholy psychedelic ballads and with her beautiful
voice above all.
Today Kendra returns with another phonographic jewel (between Opal and this record, only one 7inch with Keith Levene passed over in silence) in which Velvet Underground's influences, that made great her past, revive. The atmosphere is very sad, no photo given to her audience to prove the absolute concentration on the artistic content of the product, but a very nice package for a 10inch that reveals itself to be a gem from the esthetical point of view too.
The Guild of Temporal Adventurers presents six
splendid acoustic songs, from the starting one, the gentle
Stars Are in Your Eyes to
the harmonium of
Earth Same Breath in which it seems to hear again Nico's magic style;
Waiting in the Rain and
Wheel of the Law we relive Opal's early times and
She Brings the Rain, Kendra plays a wonderful Can's song with intense class. The
whole accompanied by an ethereal atmosphere, by trips and by mystic interludes such as bell's
sounds from Himalayas or from Tibet.
She could become more famous, sell her records very well and travel all over the world with her music but, after all, she wouldn't be the same person and we prefer her so simple and great just like she is
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by Federico Guglielmi
issued on Rumore #34 (December 1994)
Among the myths of the American music of the eighties, that of The Dream Syndicate is
certainly one of the most deeply heart-felt by all who saw in the "creative"
recovery of the roots, the only way out for a rock otherwise condemned to
self-celebration: backed up by a musical inspiration of rare brightness and by an
interpretative disposition, shameless at the right moment, indeed, the LA band
succeeded in praising its devotion to Velvet Underground, blues and acid psychedelia into a
sound quivering with vitality and passion, evocative at its evident calls to past but enough
modern to escape trap of barren revival.
The recordings of this compact, made on Sept. 5th 1982, live at the studio of KPFK Radio, date back to a period in which the quartet still showed the original line-up (Steve Wynn on vocals & guitar, Kendra Smith on bass, Karl Precoda on guitar, Dennis Duck on drums) and assaulted the stalls with a repertoire much more rough and visionary than the one that their next incarnation would have produced;
The Day Before
Wine And Roses probably offers the most exuberant and effective sample of it, aligning
That's What You Always Say,
When You Smile,
Coltrane Stereo Blues (still entitled
Mr. Soul by
Season Of The Witch by Donovan,
Outlaw Blues by Bob Dylan
and a wild, hallucinated
The Days Of Wine And Roses: nine extraordinary episodes (only
three of them already issued on the undiscoverable UK 12inch
Tell Me When It's Over by
now) out of magnetism and violence, and a wonderful concert we wish we were at.
Lost this occasion for ever, it would be really a pity you miss the opportunity of listening to it too.
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by Nigel Cross
issued on Hartbeat! #18 (Summer/Autumn 1995)
They were contenders - more than any other band in 1982, the Dream Syndicate dragged rock
'n' roll screaming and kicking into a new decade. Wrought on the anvil of LA's
thriving punk scene, the Syndicate oozed with a primeval class. They shoulda been bigger than
REM, Nirvana even. But instead, they got side-tracked: leader Steve Wynn just couldn't keep
the group dynamic in fact - their bass player split soon after this, and despite some high
times, later on, they never hit this peak again.
It's hard to believe what pop music consisted of back in September '82. In Britain, we were going through one of those periodic witch-hunts, it was politically correct to say you hated "guitars", it was the era of anti-rock, a time to hibernate, unless limp-wristed synth bands were bagged. And then they came - like a big beautiful comet, and single-handedly they carried the flame. Before Dennis got God, before Kendra Moved to her beloved redwoods, before Karl gave up guitar for script-writing, before Steve moved the goal-posts and dreamed of stadium-rock, this album captures the quintessential Syndicate. Yeah, I know it's been out as a bootleg for years, but now you can buy it in your local store. Full marks to super fan Pat Thomas for releasing his ambitions - Normal oughta give him a bonus. Here it is in all its butt-naked glory - the celebration of a line-up, we never saw here in Europe. Ensemble playing like you never heard its Wynn's song-link banter is flip, a gas, the sky's the f***ing limit. Gasp as they take off into
Open Hours (
John Coltrane Stereo Blues to be). The
Velvets-comparisons that always dogged 'em in those days, now seem totally pointless - to me,
they had the improvisational capabilities of those early San Francisco bands like Quicksilver
or goin' back another generation, those fabulous horn-players like Parker. Precoda is one of
only three living guitarists who tear me to shreds like this (and the other two, Tom Verlaine
and Richard Treece never go off their heads like young Karl!!). Thirteen years on, they're
almost a chimera; it's hard to believe they ever existed
Up on rock 'n' roll boot-hill, this should be their headstone. Yes Pat, I wish I'd been there that night at KPFK - this is the Dream Syndicate, totally elemental, totally inspirational. All the tracks from that first Down There EP, some wacky cover versions and a lot of guitar feedback. Crank up the volume, put the white wine in the freeze, and remember 'em this way.
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