Not as financially and commercially established as Seattle’s top grunge artists, but more experienced in terms of playing, the Fastbacks never amassed an arena-sized audience but really should have. Strangely, in the early ‘90s, the Fastbacks snappy straight-ahead approach went against what the mass media (radio, MTV, ads) gave access to. So as grunge’s popularity went through the roof internationally, efficient power pop bands saw a slight decline.
As a point of fact, it turns out the Fastbacks are one of the most generous and respectful band you’d ever meet. At Roseland Ballroom in ‘96, my friend Al and I spent the entire pre-show backstage hanging out, drinking beers, and eating food with ‘em. Ironically, they were opening for the Presidents Of The United States Of America (whose drummer, Jason Finn, spent time in the Fastbacks). What was surprising about the Presidents was they were a novelty pop band that was also from Seattle and somehow got lucky and bucked the grunge trend and actually still found commercial success with singles like “Kittie” and “Lump.”
The Fastbacks disbanded in 2001, but Bloch continues to put out infrequent Minus 5 records and, by ’08, began playing in Robyn Hitchcock’s touring unit. As you’ll read below, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam kick started the sessions for ‘96s New Mansions In Sound (one of their final recordings). This article originally appeared in HITS magazine.
Seattle’s insouciant Fastbacks were formed way back in ’79, releasing their debut EP, Fastbacks Play 5 Of Their Favorites, in ’82 on then-fledging local label, Sub Pop. Guitarist-composer Kurt Bloch splits time in way-pop combo, Young Fresh Fellows, and recently produced grunge architects, Mudhoney, and hard-driving rockers, Gas Huffer. Along with bassist Kim Warnick, guitarist Lulu Gargiulo, and new drummer, Mike Musberger, the Fastbacks practically invented the indie-pop genre.
The band’s non-stop repertoire at NYC’s spacious Roseland Ballroom included a cutesy cover of the Raspberries frisky ’72 smash, “Go All The Way.’ For three-quarters of an hour, Bloch hopped and bopped across the stage while displaying exuberant guitar riffs that jettisoned from the speakers like lush ear candy.
Opening for close friends and current pop sensations, The Presidents Of The United States Of America, their lubricated lolli-pop recalls the Golden Age of ‘60s AM radio. The bands’ charming new LP, New Mansions In Sound, picks up where the critically acclaimed ’94 set, Answer The Phone, Dummy, left off. The Farfis-dominated “No Information,” and the contagious “Just Say” beg pop lovers to try another flavor as Bloch and Warnick kick up some dust.
What was Seattle’s music scene like before Nirvana broke things wide open?
KIM WARNICK: There was a time in the early ‘80s when nobody cared and venues were limited. Nobody ever imagined major labels would one day start signing up these local bands. But what has happened in Seattle has only helped us, even if we didn’t get mass exposure.
What music did you listen to growing up?
KIM: The Beatles, Sex Pistols, cheesy metal bands. One of my favorite singles was the Archies “Sugar Sugar.” It’s amazingly pure, simple bubblegum similar to 190 Fruitgum Co. I even remember talking to Kenny Laguna about his days with Tommy James & the Shondells. We did a cover of “Ball Of Fire” which remains unreleased. Kenny helped write that song. But my favorite band of all time is the Muffs. Kim Shattuck is a hit machine.
I hear you’re friendly with Hole’s Courtney Love?
KIM: Oh yeah. She showed up unexpectedly at one of our recent shows. I’m always amazed at the Phyllis Diller-like one-liners she uses. Her best line was when she told security, ‘My face is my backstage pass.’
How did the recording sessions for New Mansions In Sound work out?
KIM: Kurt thought the record was too weird. He went over the edge producing other projects and it breaks his heart when he can’t fully invest his heart and soul in something. He stayed up all night trying to get tracks down. But Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder showed up and changed Kurt’s attitude immediately. Almost instantly, we were finishing tracks in one take. Eddie even sang on “Girl’s Eyes.” He’s a big fan of The Who. So we ended up fucking around with some Keith Moon song while we were in a drunken state.
What song do you enjoy most from the new disc?
KIM: I love “Just Say” because it reminds me of Joan Jett. I’ve been a fan of hers since she was in the Runaways. We toured with her during the Bad Reputation days.
You mentioned a documentary film concerning the Seattle scene.
KIM: Doug Pray, this graduate of L.A. film school came up to Seattle in ’91 in order to document the newly discovered scene. In the film, bands like Nirvana, Green River, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, and the Presidents talk offhandedly about their mutual friendships. It’s full of funny stuff. You’ll be rolling on the aisles laughing. But the footage of the Gits’ Mia Zapata, who was brutally murdered a few years ago, will absolutely break your heart.
I heard you met Sean Lennon while you were in New York on your previous tour.
Sean was at one of our concerts talking about his mom and dad. He asked me if I’d like to meet his mom. And I was like, ‘Ohhh, I don’t think I can do that.’ Fuck! It’s hard enough talking to you. But he’s such a well-balanced kid and I think he’s got a great singing voice.
(At this point in our conversation, Kurt walks in with Dave Dederer of The Presidents Of The United States Of America, who have returned from performing on the David Letterman Show.)
KURT BLOCH: People wanted me to sign autographs because they thought I was in the Presidents.
DAVE DEDERER: I had a great rock and roll moment on Letterman. I tried to throw my guitar at the drum set, but as I let go, it got caught in my shoulder and neck and went ‘boing!. There it was just hanging off my back.
KURT: Did you hurt yourself? The other night, I tried to do that and I hit myself on the back of the head.
(As things get back to normal, I talk to Kurt for a few moments)
Tell me some interesting background stuff.
KURT: I went to an alternative private school, where I worked on some electronic projects. I bought 45’s every week until 1973. Then I got excited about ‘70s rock. We had a radio station in high school which allowed us to rock out after 6 o’clock.
What concerts did you attend while you were still in high school?
KURT: The first actual rock concert I saw was Procol Harum’s Grand Hotel tour in ’73. I always liked their pomposity factor. The second concert I went to was Robin Trower – then Blue Oyster Cult. They played in Seattle all the time.
What type of response do you expect to get from your audience?
KURT: We don’t mind if they throw shit at us; as long as we’re getting feedback we’ll be o.k. There are always some ten-year-olds in the front row sitting there saying, ‘Play that one good song.’