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“A great time to be alive and own a guitar”: Chicago’s 1990s alt-rock explosion

Scott Lucas of Local H performs in 1998 (Photo: Mark Peterman/WireImage/Getty Images)
Scott Lucas of Local H performs in 1998 (Photo: Mark Peterman/WireImage/Getty Images)

Nirvana’s Nevermind came out in 1991 and became a veritable sensation, selling millions of albums and signifying to labels, music fans, and the world, that there was much success to be found in alternative rock—music that until that time was not heard much on the radio. In an effort to find Nirvana’s successor/gold mine, major record labels then knocked themselves out in an attempt to sniff out the next big scene. For a short while, spurred on by an August 1993 Billboard cover story called “Cutting Edge’s New Capital,” that scene was based in Chicago. The article covered recently signed major-label local artists Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, and Liz Phair. Right behind them were names like Veruca Salt, Material Issue, and many other bands that were just as good, but for whatever reason are now only remembered by diehard fans.

For a brief period in the mid-’90s, the city famous for blues but not much in the way of rock was swarmed by A&R reps looking for talent to sign. Bands that had been playing garages a few months previous were thrown five- and six-figure signing bonuses. Three-piece outfits that fans used to be able to see for almost free were showing up on MTV. The boom spread to clubs, recording studios, and indie labels as well as the bands themselves. And then, as the decade neared its end, just as quickly as the scene swept in, it was suddenly over. Some artists—like the Pumpkins, Liz Phair, and Local H—continued to tour and record. But Veruca Salt broke up soon after its second album was released. Urge Overkill also dissolved after the Saturation followup Exit The Dragon, and drummer Blackie Onassis eventually entered rehab. Material Issue’s Jim Ellison committed suicide in 1996, only two years after Kurt Cobain did. And the majority of Chicago bands who signed major-label deals soon found themselves dropped when those debut releases failed to make much of an impact.

For Chicago Week, The A.V. Club decided to try to chronicle this lost chapter of Chicago history. We talked to some of the major players—legendary Metro and Double Door club owner Joe Shanahan; Idful Music’s Brad Wood, producer of Liz Phair’s Exile In Guyville, Veruca Salt’s American Thighs, and too many other classic records to list; Chicago Tribune rock critic Greg Kot; as well as many of the musicians themselves—to revisit the moment when Chicago became the home of a brief but vital alt-rock boom.


Before the boom

Greg Kot (Chicago Tribune): I started living in Chicago in 1980, and I was going to shows all the time. I remember, one of my first big pieces was about Eleventh Dream Day, in ’87, ’88. They were like the first wave of bands that started to get notice and started getting signed to major label deals, and that was before the big alt-rock explosion. I think at that point, Eleventh Dream Day actually was about as big of a band as there was in the city. I saw them headline a show at Metro with Nirvana as the opening band.

I think the story of Chicago music prior to that era was one of accomplishment, but at the same time, bands and artists who just weren’t of a mindset of “come and exploit us.” It was more of, “We’re difficult artists, we’re tough to work with. We make these great records, but you wouldn’t know how to sell it.” Those kind of things.

You had Wax Trax!, which was really percolating with Ministry and the Revolting Cocks, [Al] Jorgensen. Then you add on top of it the whole house scene in Chicago. I remember talking to people, “Oh, house music, that’s that English thing.” Well, actually, it’s not. It’s a Chicago thing that all these U.K. DJs appropriated. These major movements: You’ve got house, you’ve got industrial, genre inventors who are living in this town, and then you have the noise-rock thing with [Steve] Albini. So all those bands, Nirvana on down, any of those bands playing overdriven guitar and writing these kind of very pushy rock songs were really admired: Big Black, and a lot of the Chicago bands. I mean, Naked Raygun’s influence on the whole pop-punk thing. Look at Screeching Weasel in the suburbs. There would be no Green Day without Screeching Weasel.

This was the Chicago legacy. We create stuff here, but then it gets appropriated by other people, and they turn it into multimillion-dollar properties. The way that rave became house music in Europe and turned into this huge industry. The way that Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails took what was happening at Wax Trax! and turned it into commercial music. The way Nirvana took what Big Black was doing and turned it into pop songs that were being sold to millions of suburban teenagers. So Chicago had this rep as being this incredibly fertile music territory with really incorrigible artists that couldn’t be tamed by major labels. A lot of that changed in the ’90s, obviously, because of the wave of signings.

The first wave crests

Brad Wood (Idful Music Corporation): Idful opened officially [in Wicker Park] in 1989. It sort of pre-dated all that by just a few years.

I really don’t think I was very good at [recording], with some exceptions, until later on in the ’90s. But I’m a pretty hard critic of my own work, I guess. I really, really like the engineering and the production and the sound of Exile In Guyville. I think that that was the first time where I worked with somebody who was writing really great lyrics and great songs, but also was not encumbered with a band. It was just her and her guitar. Eventually, it was just her and her guitar and myself and eventually Casey Rice. Between the three of us, we pretty much did whatever we felt like. It was a different role than I had traditionally been doing, which is more or less a glorified engineer, where a band hires me to come into a studio, set up microphones, and record. There’s not usually a need for input. So, working with Liz was the first time where I was doing things musically that I had been thinking about for a long time, or that I hadn’t done since I was in college with my cassette four-track and a delay line and a couple of microphones, just goofing around.

Some of that stuff is specifically used, extensively, on Exile In Guyville. Literally things that I had been doing six, seven, eight years earlier in my early 20s, in college, experimenting and pitching delays and making percussion out of countertops and water bottles, hitting things with mallets. “Dance Of The Seven Veils” has a lot of that. I used an old sampler that I found in college and used samples that I recorded of a musician in the music department and I was recycling that stuff, pitching it and changing it and putting it on that record. And that’s the first time I was able to integrate what I had been doing alone by myself just for fun into a recording of somebody else. I guess that’s what production would be for me. It took me a while longer to find a way to integrate more of that personality into other people’s recordings. And sometimes, people don’t want that. So I would say that Exile In Guyville was for me, a really personal statement. That, to me, feels like the first time I actually produced something. Instead of just engineering.

It was like a bomb went off. There was everything before Exile In Guyville and then there was life after that. Nothing’s been the same since.

Blake Smith (Fig Dish, Caviar): Material Issue had kind of hit and then their subsequent records weren’t fading. Urge Overkill was doing Saturation, that was pretty big. Liz Phair was a big deal. People were kind of sniffing around for like a year, but nothing was really coming out of the town. And then all of a sudden you had Triple Fast Action and Local H and Loud Lucy and Menthol and all of these bands, and Jesus, a fucking hundred others I can’t even remember right now. Everybody just came out of the place just at once. You could go out seven nights a week and see somebody that was writing great guitar-pop songs. Everything was pretty much guitar bands and gritty, great melodies, great Cheap Trick- and Urge Overkill-influenced bands. It was an amazing time.

Joe Shanahan (Metro, Double Door): I was out every single night and seeing band after band, visiting studios, rehearsal spaces, on a daily and certainly weekly basis. It was such an explosive time creatively for the city of Chicago, whether it was the producers, the bands themselves. It was as exciting as it could be, because of the fact that we had a great nightclub network or community, where every night, there were two or three bands playing in two or three different clubs, and it was all bands that kind of more than just mattered. The live musical experience had a real pulse, and it was supported by the music fans and the people like myself going out every night.

Liz Phair with Nash Kato of Urge Overkill during KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas in 1994. (Photo: Jeff Kraavitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images)

We would just go out. I can remember getting something started at Metro and shooting over to Lounge Ax, or shooting over to, I don’t know, sometimes Phyllis’ [Musical Inn]. I think really between Lounge Ax, Metro, I suppose Schuba’s, that was all in the mix there. Brown Betty, Fig Dish, Liz Phair, Local H, Menthol, Pumpkins, Veruca Salt, and there was the Red Red Meat kind of scene. There were certainly other bands that were part of it and around it, like Triple Fast Action, Material Issue, Urge Overkill. That was a real, very important time. Studios were busy, the rehearsal spaces were busy. It was, for a lack of a better term—it was a music industry.

Greg Kot: The Pumpkins were percolating for a long time. You’d hear a lot of whispering going on—and sometimes it wasn’t whispering, sometimes it was just very loud protests—like, “Who are these guys? How dare they get these slots on these Metro shows?” But Corgan was writing songs. What was it about these certain bands? It was all about getting radio songs. The mainstream music industry really hadn’t changed that much. It was still about getting a single on commercial radio. What changed was, Corgan could write songs that could get on the radio. He was writing very well-produced, single-ready type of music. He was also making very accomplished albums. I’m not one of those Pumpkins nay-sayers. I think the music was extremely evolved and well-done, and the singles were quite good. They deserved to be hits.

But the difference between a Smashing Pumpkins and a great band like Eleventh Dream Day is that Corgan knew how to play the game. He knew how to deliver singles. He was perfectly willing to work with a big label to help him move that along, whereas some of these more indie-oriented bands, I mean, Eleventh Dream Day and bands of that ilk were coming out of the whole punk and post-punk scenes and they were very much skeptical. They admired bands like The Minutemen and Hüsker Dü. Those were their role models. They weren’t looking to be commercial hits; they just assumed they would be playing clubs, and it was kind of a surprise that they were signed to a label.

Whereas Billy Corgan—that was his ambition all along and he made no bones about it and it was pilloried for it. He was blatantly ambitious and blatantly wanted to be signed to a major label and blatantly wanted his songs on the radio. And that was anathema to a lot of Chicagoans, who said, “It’s not cool, you’re not indie.” So there was that tension in Chicago all through this, like, “How much do we sell out? Do we sell out at all? Are we selling out if we do this?” You’d have those arguments all the time.

Joe Shanahan: Billy Corgan is one of the great guitar players of our time. Period. That’s it. That kid can play guitar. He still can. You layer that with Jimmy Chamberlin—the first time I saw him play drums I was slack-jawed. I was like, “Wait a second, how did he do that?” Then it goes, [James] Iha, with his beautiful ability to layer in quiet soft kind of lyrical guitar, and the juxtaposition of that was great. They looked great. D’Arcy was amazing. That band played, I don’t know—I’d have to say [counts in twos] 18 times. They certainly made Metro their laboratory, their hub. I think that pushed open a big, big door, and they were able to step through it. But you know something, everyone thought that was an overnight success, and it wasn’t. That band worked harder than people actually ever thought they did. All the shows in Milwaukee and all the shows in Madison where they would pack up the truck and go. It was super hard work.

Liz Phair was exactly the same way. I remember when we put the New Year’s Eve show together, she wanted to do the flyer. I still have the original flyer. She did a really nice job, except she didn’t put the important information on it. The day, the date, you know. The address of the club, the name of the club. We still have a laugh about it. But my point is this, all of those artists at that time were really intricately involved in their personal and their public persona. I remember Liz took soundcheck really seriously. It almost like a full rehearsal. And I think that that’s what makes the difference. The same with Veruca Salt; I remember them playing Double Door on New Year’s, and they just took a really generous amount of time to make sure that everything sounded and everything was going to be right. And that’s a lot of respect that they have, bands like Veruca, packed for their audience, for their fans. They weren’t just going to phone in it, so to speak, and just slap it together.

The second wave hits

Blake Smith: In high school, we made fake IDs, so we’d come down to go to clubs whose names I don’t want to say because some of them are still open, and we’d see bands like Green, The Slugs, Big Black, Naked Raygun. All these great bands. We were underage, and we were like, we’re going to do all this. Back then, Chicago was kind of a dark and cold place musically. People would get drunk onstage, which they don’t really do anymore. We just decided that’s what we wanted to do. We’d just run up to people in bars as kids, underage, and talk to them.

I remember talking to Jim Ellison one night at a Cheap Trick show on my birthday, and I was like, “I love ‘Renee Remains The Same.’” He was like, “You should, it’s the greatest pop song written in the last 10 years.“

So I said, “But it sounds exactly like ‘Downed’ by Cheap Trick. It’s actually sort of an homage, is it not?” And he grabbed me by the shirt and said, “There’s only so many chords on a guitar neck, man!” We adored Material Issue and The Slugs and Green. We wanted to go in and cut a single with Phil Bonet; everybody saved their lawn mowing money and their paper route money to do that, and then that went nowhere.

We came back to the city after college and started playing again. Then we made our own 7-inch that got put on a compilation. People kind of started paying attention, and we were slugging it out at some of the bars. We got a gig at Lounge Ax early on, like a Tuesday night. There were six people there. We’d play Batteries Not Included in front of six people. We could draw six people to almost any club on Earth.

After a year or two of this, we wanted to make another demo, and Brad Wood was getting hot. He had done Exile In Guyville and everybody was intimidated by that. We just called Idful one day and were surprised to get Casey Rice on the phone and said we wanted to book some time. It was $300 a day or whatever it was, and you went in, and they’d just record anybody. And that’s how we did that first demo with those guys.

Which is a particularly Midwest thing. Where in L.A., they’d say, “I’d rather not work for two weeks,” and wait for the right band. People like Albini and Brad and Casey would just say “Fuck it, we’re open for business if you want to come in and record.” But the only reason we got two days in there is because L7 had canceled and it was the record that they did with Butch Vig, so we got in. And that’s really funny because if you go back and listen to those records, like the Butch Vig stuff, I think his stuff is amazing and honestly very important, but it sounds very ’90s. The Idful stuff is timeless. It’s a little bit primitive, it’s a little bit lo-fi, but you listen to those records now and they still sound great. The [Seattle band] Sunny Day Real Estate record [Diary] sounds great.

Joel Spencer (Menthol): We picked Brad. We messed around with a few other people first, but Brad ended up being our choice. How do I put it? He really helped us focus, but he also let us work. He had that great Midwestern taste that we also had. So he wasn’t trying to turn us into something that we weren’t. And he grew up on a lot of the same music that we did. So we were all versed in Cheap Trick. We were all into more of the Midwestern idea of what punk rock was, and that kind of stuff. He just seemed, culturally, he made a lot of sense. We liked what he did. We liked how he made records. It just seemed like a natural choice.

Our first record had that whole sort of southern boogie thing going. And we were still just trying to figure out how to write songs and play our instruments, really. Just figuring out what we were going to be. Once we got a better handle on that, it ended up being something completely different. I think that Brad helped us with that a lot, too.

Brad Wood: Idful was busy pretty much right away in 1989. We didn’t really have much trouble. But we definitely had trouble paying the bills. That was always the struggle. I think it has more to do with my lack of business mind than anything else. But when Casey started working there in ‘91, I don’t think we ever pitched ourselves as a team. It just happened to be what happened with Liz’s record. I think the goal, in my mind, was always to let whoever was working at the studio book the room and get as busy as they can be. So Casey and John McEntire were encouraged to book their own projects. There’s whole bands that I don’t know who worked there, who have their own memories of their time at Idful. I’ve got Polaroids of bands who I still don’t know who they are. They look really happy. They were making records. And that was kind of cool. That was what that studio was meant to be, was a place to make records with the people who worked there. I got busy first, Brian [Deck, of Red Red Meat] left in 1992 and did his own thing. Casey came on board and I think his schedule filled up. But we never had a problem booking that room. It was just a single recording studio, there wasn’t a second control room. So it was booked months in advance. It just got a little harder to book after [Veruca Salt’s] American Thighs came out.

Joe Shanahan: I remember calling Idful, I wanted to see Brad or Brian or Casey, who were all running that studio. Just go over and see who they were working with. I’d go over and fly on the wall kind of stuff. You never knew who was going to be there. And yeah, it was about going out to the Rainbow for a drink after or going to those kinds of things. Gold Star or something like that, because it was neighborhood. It was the birth of what was going on in Wicker Park as well. Sort of like, hence, why my partner Sean and I opened up the Double Door in the mid-’90s. That’s where everyone lived and worked.

Scott Lucas (Local H): I was looking at it from the outside, because I wasn’t living in Chicago at that time. I’d be reading about these bands in the Reader, and we’d go to see these shows, and we’d be in the audience; we weren’t on anybody’s list or anything. We pay for tickets, and we’d go to see Liz Phair. And we’d listen to all these people in the audience, like, “Aw, she’s not that good,” and it’s just kind of like, “Why the fuck are you here?” Full of people who just wanted to be seen they wanted to be a part of it, but they wanted to pretend they were above it. I saw a lot of that, and I really hated it. I hated that kind of attitude where rock was passé, all that nonsense. And it just didn’t make sense, in a town like Chicago.

Brad Wood: We definitely got more phone calls. We weren’t shy about advertising our phone number. Most of us didn’t have home phones. I know I didn’t. So it was the way to get in touch with me. For a while, when Liz didn’t have a phone, we would tell people from Matador and Atlantic in upper management, they’d try to get in touch with her, they’d call our studio. We had a lot of phone calls, and I have most of those messages. We got a lot of phone calls from major labels, but I don’t know if that much ever came of it. Gary Gersh, when he was Head A&R at Geffen, his assistant called. He was at O’Hare waiting for a flight to New Orleans, and this was before everything took off, around ’91, ’92. The assistant said, “Can I get a copy of the Shrimp Boat album?” I said sure, but I don’t give the record away. We can’t afford to give it away. And they’re like, “Oh, we’ll pay for it!” So a guy came by the studio and bought a copy. That was when I first met him, and after that, I said, “All right, I’ve listened to their records, they’re interesting.” That started a relationship with him that lasted a couple years. But I wasn’t really very good at telling people to come work with me. Brian and I both figured the best thing to do was to just make records and then hopefully the bands put the albums out and the singles out and just got the name out.

I did have Gene Simmons call. That was a funny conversation. Gene Simmons called and wasted my time for about half an hour. But he was hilarious and said a bunch of really stupid stuff. He was just a misogynist. But I got a lot of laughs out of it. Eventually, he got upset and he said, “Go ahead, finish laughing. I’ll wait.” So my manager at the time said afterward, “Absolutely you’re not allowed to record KISS. It’s not going to happen.” But I wasn’t interested in recording KISS. Not then, not now. I hadn’t really had a lot of overly famous rock people contact me, to be honest.

The label invasion

Wes Kidd (Triple Fast Action): I think our first show was at Cubby Bear, and we told our bass player that if he screwed up, if he had to restart a song, he had to smash his bass—and that actually ended up happening. Then we played at Elbo Room and Thurston’s and that world, and then I felt like something was going on when we headlined Double Door and sold it out. It felt like, “Hey there’s a lot of people here. Something more than just a local bar band.”

Triple Fast Action

All of a sudden we had people coming to our shows that didn’t before. And other people did too, people were getting record deals, and were putting out records, and none of that happened before. It was a blast, because everybody was having fun, everybody was taking each other on tour. It was probably way too much fun.

Blake Smith: It was a drunken, wild time, everybody was out five, six nights a week until 4 in the morning, and we were always the band that took that further than you should. But the problem was, all the other bands used to be able to pull it together live, and we were famously a sprawling mess.

I’ll never forget the first time—not the small labels, because everybody had an imprint at that time—but the real labels like Geffen and Capitol were coming out and we were playing Avalon. It was Fig Dish, Triple Fact Action, Hush Drops, and Nectarine, and everybody was supposed to play one side of Hot August Nights by Neil Diamond, just to fuck with the A&R people. And they all flew in, and our rider was like 50 Little Caesar’s pizzas and two kegs of beer. And we all ended up getting super drunk and we got up there and we were the only band that played a side of Neil Diamond and everybody else played their own songs. I think Triple Fast Action got signed out of that show. Some of the bigger labels wouldn’t talk to us ever again after that.

I remember we did another show when I was at the New Music Festival in New York with them like two months later. Again, we got so drunk that at least two of us fell off the stage, and then that was the night I think that Triple Fast Action actually signed with Capitol. They were just super tight. And also, out of all the bands in that scene, I think they were the best band.

It was a really Midwestern thing. I think it was very much a fear of success for a lot of bands in the Midwest. Which is why I think Jim Ellison, like, Material Issue and Urge Overkill, people either loved them or hated them, because for a lot of people, it was like, “These guys are cocky and confident and clearly want stardom,” and people mistrusted that. I don’t know why they would. If you pick up a guitar and you get on stage, secretly you want people to like you. Or not so secretly.

Greg Kot: I remember walking into a club and being cornered by Jim Ellison right away. The next thing I know I was backed up against a wall, this guy’s in my face telling me how great his band is. But it wasn’t all that different from Kanye West giving me a cassette tape of his music at the House Of Blues. That kind of bold ambition was frowned upon in Chicago, but at the same time, these are the guys that sort of broke out of Chicago and became huge. Material Issue, I thought they got so much stick for being so blatantly ambitious, but at the same time, he backed it up with a work ethic and wrote really good songs. It wasn’t like they were pulling the wool over someone’s eyes. They worked their butts off to get there. I think people confuse commercialism and ambition with a lack of talent. In the case of Corgan and Ellison, clearly there was talent there. It was just that people didn’t like the way they went about pushing it out into the world. They weren’t cool enough. They weren’t playing by the rules, the pay-your-dues model that had existed in Chicago for so long.

Joe Shanahan: I have lots of fond memories of Jim showing up at Metro on Wednesday nights. He’d come and check bands out on a pretty regular basis. I was really always moved by his dedication to his band, his guys. Guys like him don’t come along every day, and I still miss him. There were other things that were going to happen for him, because of his dedication to his craft, and to his overall work and stuff.

Brad Wood: What I was trying to achieve was the ability to make a living. I wanted to quit my job as a janitor. I wanted to just make enough money to work in a studio and get paid for it. That was it. I got that plus more. It was great. The record label people and bands and managers contacted me all the time. I was able to find a manager as a result of that, and that was really helpful, too.

Joe Shanahan: I would have to say that I was on speed dial for a handful of people in New York and L.A., and it was great. There was things that would be happening, little splinter bands of some of the more established artists that would slide up and people would come and check them out. But, you know, Minneapolis went through its thing with The Replacements and Hüsker Dü, and Trip Shakespeare and all those bands being signed. Athens, Georgia went through its moment. Seattle and Chicago almost simultaneously had that moment.

Blake Smith: [Bassist] Mike Willison and I produced a band from Minneapolis while we were in Caviar when we were getting major label interest. And they were telling stories about Minneapolis—this is in the 2000s—and they were like, “This band fucking sucks, and that guy’s a dick, and this guy’s an asshole,” and asked us, “Did you guys go through this?” And we’re like, “No, we all barbecued at each other’s houses and got drunk together.” Maybe one of the reasons that seems really good is the whole rising tide lifts all boats thing. Not that there weren’t dicks in bands, but for the most part, everybody’s friends. I still talk to Wes. Scott and I talk all the time. We’re all still friends.

Blake Smith and Scott Lucas play Metro in 2004 (Photo: Matt Carmichael/Getty Images)

Greg Kot: Yeah, I got a different take on that. There was a certain amount of that. It was a guys’ club. If you were Liz Phair, you weren’t feeling really communal. Jim Ellison was hated by a lot of people in this town. Corgan was hated. Nobody was barbecuing at Billy Corgan’s house or vice versa. There was a lot of in-fighting, especially the bands that made it really big.

Joel Spencer: There was definitely almost like a punk rock ethos, even though we weren’t really making hardcore punk or whatever. There was definitely that idea that community was more important than, it’s definitely not L.A. where everyone’s trying to one-up each other. We toured with everybody. We played a lot of shows with Veruca Salt. I remember meeting Billy Corgan at the height of their fame, and Louise [Post] from Veruca Salt introduced us, and she said, “This is Billy from Smashing Pumpkins.” As if we didn’t know. I remember Billy saying, “You don’t have to introduce me that way, I’m just Billy.” And so there was definitely this idea. It seems to me, yeah, we all wanted to have enough success to keep going, and yeah there were egos, and yeah there was definitely sort of high-flying, it seemed like everybody was on a big wave. But the community was a big deal. I remember being so surprised at how well accepted we were. Because we weren’t from Chicago. We were kind of downstate hicks, and that never came up. That was never an issue. It was solely about the music that we made and how we were live. Everybody was into it.

Menthol

I remember being at Lounge Ax and Jeff Tweedy showing up with his son, and we were sound-checking, and he came up and asked [drummer] Colin [Koteles] if he could let his little boy get behind the drums for a second. Colin’s like, “Sure.” Even though we weren’t friends with him, I think he knew who we were. There just wasn’t any weirdness. It was all supportive. We’d go to each other’s shows; we’d hang out together. Any competition that there would have been was really in the healthiest sense. It was more about, “Wow, those guys made a really great record, and we got to up our game.”

I remember hearing, when I lived with Wes from Triple Fast, he’d come home and played rough mixes that they had just done in the studio. It’s like, wow, two guitars, that’s so cool. We better be thinking about harmonies. Balty [DeLay, the guitarist] and I would do vocal practices without our instruments, or with our instruments turned way down, because the Veruca Salt ladies, their vocal harmonies were just insane, and it inspired us to try. I remember Brad laughing at us like, “You guys will never be that.” Those guys are surgeons when it comes to that. They’re really good at moving around and changing intervals and stuff. We would pretty much try one interval for a song, and maybe switch to another one, but that was about it.

Veruca Salt in 1997 (Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images)

We would play, and Veruca Salt would get on stage. I remember singing with Louise, sharing a mic. It was like a laser beam coming out of her face. It was incredible. She was just so loud and so pitch-perfect. But that’s the thing, they would come to our shows and they would get up and play with us. We’d do that with Triple Fast. It was just great.

The best bands you never heard of

Greg Kot: Obviously these bands crossed paths a lot and shared bills, but to me, there were so many great bands in that era that nobody paid attention to, bands that just slid under that radar and were never really appreciated for what they were, because they were deemed uncommercial.

To me, Chicago has always been a city of neighborhoods, and the music scene sort of reflected that diversity. Every neighborhood was different, and there were music scenes, there was a lot of interesting stuff going on here in the early- to mid-’90s where you saw some cross-pollination between the jazz scenes and the indie rock scenes and the avant-garde noise scene. There was this cross-pollination—to me, that was a really interesting scene. A band like The Sea And Cake was a great band that never really became hugely popular, but to me, represented the real creative impulse that was coursing through Chicago at the time.

Brad Wood: Guyville is the most important record of my career, definitely. But there are other ones. I think Jimmywine Majestic by Red Red Meat is probably one of my favorite albums of all time that I worked on. And I still love it, the song “Braindead” just stuns me to this day. I played it just a couple weeks ago, and ended up on a phone call with Brian trying to figure out how we recorded that acoustic guitar. I just love that song. I love that album. I love that band signed to Sub Pop and I love that Sub Pop took a chance on that band, and I love that that band has morphed and changed and become Califone and continues to make music. I have a strong connection to those guys, even though I haven’t recorded them in 20-plus years, and I haven’t seen any of them much at all. But I have really fond memories of making it.

Scott Lucas: I think we all thought the first Menthol record was the shit. And then that second record went through so many problems. You know, we really loved that record too, and they had to keep re-recording it, and it was just kind of heartbreaking. We all also liked Triple Fast Action. But I don’t know who I thought was going to hit it. I am so bad at that. Every band that I thought should be huge was never huge. I gave up on that a long time ago.

Wes Kidd: There were so many good bands. Luckily we got to tour with most of them. I absolutely love Menthol. I love listening to their record still to this day. I play it at least once a month, which is a miracle. And the Smoking Popes, those guys, I still listen to them all the time. Local H, all the time. Urge Overkill, all the time. Veruca Salt, any one of those bands from that era, were all awesome, and any one of them could have gone on and had success. But the ultimately under-appreciated band in that town is Naked Raygun, and that was way before that time. They looked fucking kickass, they sounded even better. That band ruled.

Greg Kot: I always thought that Local H was a great band. But as a songwriter, I thought Scott Lucas really stepped up and just kept getting better and better. I think to this day he’s still one of the best songwriters that Chicago has produced, and I think he’s made a bunch of really great records that people seemed to care less and less about as the years go on, but he still does really strong work. He’s had a very strong two-decade career that I think has flown largely under the radar. He may have been the great young hope at one point, but what he was basically doing was kind of a pseudo-grunge kind of thing that was briefly commercially popular, but he’s evolved and gotten so much better since then.

Wes Kidd: When I first heard Local H’s “Bound For The Floor” on the radio, we were on tour. It was some band, then us, and Local H was opening. But I heard their song on the radio, and it sounded immediately like [something I’d known for a long time.] It just seemed like a hit coming out of the radio. You could just kind of feel it. And then that song just starts blasting to the moon, to become this massive hit, so we had to switch to the opening spot, and they had to move up. We couldn’t go out there anymore; it was their fucking show for sure.

I look at Scott and I see Scott as like a bluesman. He’s fucking doing it and it’s for real and it always has been. And he’s in 20 bands and he comes and he fills in for people and I’m sure it’s a pain in the ass some days, but from my point of view, it’s pretty cool. Listen, that ain’t an easy road, but what is?

Scott Lucas: I think those guys probably have better sense than I do. They were smart enough to figure out when to go home, and I’d be out, going, “Where did everybody go?” They’re much smarter than I am.

I do have that philosophy that there wasn’t anything else that I had in mind. That might have been in the back of my mind, that this should be something I want to do for the rest of my life. But at the same time, I don’t see how you could look ahead at something. I mean, it’s weird to me that that stuff is as long ago as it is. I can’t really get my head around that, and I’m not sure I want to.

Chicago comes alive

Greg Kot: There was one of two disastrous Liz Phair gigs that I saw early on. She was clearly unprepared for the stage, so those kind of stick out. But the songs were really good. I do remember the atmosphere, the Pumpkins playing I think a three-night residency at Metro right around the time of Siamese Dream coming out. It was the day of the release, and the atmosphere was so electric. You could really see, here was a band that probably could have played a venue 10 times that size, but the atmosphere was just so electric in that place. They were in great form that night. The one thing about Chicago is that there were so many places for these bands to play that a lot of these got really good as live acts. They really evolved very quickly, as bands that could deliver a good entertaining show.

Joe Shanahan: It’s interesting, because we did so many Pumpkins shows, we think they’re so synonymous. Local H was right there with them. It was just as robust and quite honestly, Scott still plays here. Which is pretty amazing. Yeah, I remember some of those Wednesday nights. Sometimes there’d be a band from Minneapolis and then there’d be a band from Chicago and maybe a band from St. Louis or Champaign, a lot of the Champaign bands. I loved The Poster Children and The Bowery Boys and Titanic Love Affair, all those bands. And they were thinking, coming to Chicago, some A&R guy would sign them. Because at that time, there actually were A&R people in Chicago that were sort of looking in the clubs. I think certainly that Capitol thought that Jesus Lizard was the next Nirvana.

Greg Kot: I think the best live band of that era was The Jesus Lizard. There was no band that could touch them. They eventually got signed to Capitol and David Yow was very transparent with me. He said, “Hey, I can finally buy a house. That’s the reason I went with Capitol.” But I mean, The Jesus Lizard was an incredible band, and I’ll go my grave saying they were the best live band I saw in Chicago during that era. They were hands down the best live band. And they make great albums, too. Duane Denison is an incredible guitar player. They were really one of the best things in that whole thing as far as I was concerned. I mean, Nirvana worshipped them.

I once saw David Yow pour lighter fluid on his jeans and set himself on fire. It was early on, they had just put out their first EP, and that was the first time I had seen The Jesus Lizard and I went, “Holy shit, who is this man?” Ever since then, it was just a cavalcade of darkly comedic entertainment every time David Yow is on a stage.

Hitting the majors

Joel Spencer: We actually got signed to Capitol when we were still in Champaign. We played a showcase and a cassette demo that we made somehow made it to the desk of an A&R guy at Capitol. This was immediately after the Nirvana explosion, so everybody in Hollywood was trying to figure out where the next Seattle was going to be, and at that point, also the next Minneapolis, I guess, too. And so somehow he got that, and he flew out and saw us in Champaign, and basically right after the show was like, “I want to sign you guys.”

We were definitely honored by the history of the label. We thought that because they had such a big machine that it was going to be probably a better place for us. We really couldn’t believe our luck. I think that when you’re that age, then of course you’re over your head. Very few people are mature enough at that age to know your way around the industry at all. We literally went from a basement to world-class studios. There was a learning curve for sure. And definitely, especially on my part, a certain amount of arrogance, which I think you kind of have to have to think that you’re going to be able to operate on a stage like that. But I think that we thought we could do it, and I think that we were not, I mean, part of the thing with that Midwestern ethic was that we really were not going to compromise. We really didn’t want to be one of those bands. We didn’t want to be Lit or whatever, that had a radio hit and then went down the avenue of fashion. That just wasn’t what we were doing. We wanted to be musicians, and we wanted to make a career out of it.

Looking back, I think maybe it was a pretty quick rise. But it was also, the context was not, they wanted the next Nirvana, essentially. There’s only one. We weren’t going to be Silverchair, we weren’t going to try to sing like Kurt. It just wasn’t us, and we weren’t interested in that. We loved them, but it wasn’t, that’s not who we were. Also, the industry was transitioning, too. If you think about it, what we grew up on were records that we were big that wouldn’t have been big had they been released at that time and certainly would never even be recorded now. Right after all that happened, with what the industry did, I remember immediately after that wave, it’s like, Britney Spears and all the boy bands. It completely swung the other way. We were arrogant enough to think that we were making art. So that was a big motivation.

Scott Lucas: Everybody had their own contract. When we first got signed, we didn’t even live in Chicago, we didn’t know how to play the games. I remember being pretty impressed with Wes and Blake; they knew how to talk to these people and how to get what they wanted. We definitely had that small chunk of change and that was it. We were smart in the fact that we just kept touring all the time, and we used that money or that. And that wound up paying dividends down the line. So in a way, we didn’t want that huge money up front, because in that way, we would never really become a huge pain in the ass. We were able to do what we wanted, and toured as much as we possibly could.

We had some people at Island that really believed in it, but they also kind of shielded us. We were really close to getting dropped. And we were rushed into making our second record [As Good As Dead], and at the time, I was like, “Ah, fuck, why are you cutting and running on the first record?” But they were smart enough to know that it was dead, and if they didn’t ram the second record down their throats, it was all going to be dead. So we made the second record, and that was the one that we were about to get some traction on. When I look back on it, it’s like, “Oh, wow, we were perilously close to being a one-and-done kind of thing.” I think it was just the speed in which we were able to turn around and make another record. And we had just barely enough songs to get by, and it worked out. I think our A&R guy was really busting his balls to make it happen. There are more than a few songs on that second record that were definitely influenced by touring and touring with other bands and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Blake Smith: It was pretty insane. And it’s corrupting. I was bartending Monday nights, I was going to school and bartending at a place that doesn’t exist anymore at Clybourn and Webster, making $20 a night. And all of a sudden people come in and they’re saying, “Oh, we’re going to make you a star,” and they fly you out to L.A., they fly you out to New York. You’re first class, and the limo picks you up, and you’re walking around and famous people are walking around the hallways. It fucks with your head a little bit. And then they start talking numbers with your lawyer and with you. And having a lawyer is even super fucked up. And yeah, it’s like, “What’s Geffen offering? What’s Capitol offering you?” It was just money that would seem like science fiction to everybody at the time. Which we all managed to spend. At least I did.

Fig Dish promotion photo, 1995

We got all that money, and we didn’t sell shit for records. They didn’t even promote us because they signed so many bands for so much money that never got promoted. But that’s neither here nor there. Ultimately, you owe them that money, but only from things that you produce.

Wes Kidd: Oh yeah, it was stupid. One guy took us record-shopping in New York and we basically got to fill up a shopping cart, with hundreds and hundreds of CDs, which was great. And whenever we went to a label, we got to rob their closets of promos, we went to Epic and Atlantic and Capitol and A&M and Interscope, the list goes on and on and on, and made off with a ton of free music. One tine, a guy from a record company came to Chicago to kind of hang out and just be around to try to get us to sign, I guess. I was in line at a grocery store and he ran up out of nowhere and paid for my groceries. Weird. But mostly, it was the normal stuff: Flying you to New York or L.A. to meet with the label, walking you around the label. Lunches, dinners.

We did hire a lawyer, but it was absolutely overwhelming. It was kind of just dumb. You realize that everybody was doing it just because the guy next to him was doing it. So it was hard to wade through that shit, and we probably didn’t do a great job if it, I don’t know if anybody could do a great job of it, you just kind of get lucky. Then you just pick one, find your deal, then you got to go make a record, and you don’t know what you’re doing. It got real murky there pretty quickly. To tell you the truth, I think I did a really stupid mistake which a lot of people do, and now that I manage bands, I tell everybody not to do this: Once you sign a record deal, you kind of think, “Oh, all these people know what they’re doing,” and you kind of step back, which is the opposite of what you should be doing. I put all the blame on myself, allowing the obvious things to happen.

Joe Shanahan: My advice to bands was always the same: Record companies were banks. You were just borrowing the money. There was nothing free about it. You were just borrowing it. If you stayed around long enough, you had to pay them back. That said, there still was such great local labels and regional labels that supported the chemistry of all the Midwest bands, which I thought was so exciting, and really has never been repeated again. Not in the vast quantity that existed back then. Studios were busy, clubs were busy. Now it seems to be you have to be much more established to even go on a tour, but back then you could put a tour together and sleep on friends’ floors. Jump in the econo van and go. The apparatus now is a lot more complicated.

Greg Kot: How many times have you heard that story? Talk to Buddy Guy about working at a label or John Lee Hooker about how long it took him to get paid, or any artist of substance. Chuck Berry. It’s just like, that’s the way labels worked. It’s not to say there weren’t good people working for these labels, but these were such big corporate machines used to working in a certain way. You know, these half-dozen major labels and these couple of big radio chains and they completely dictated what got spin and what didn’t. If you didn’t conform, you were either beaten up and made to conform or you were dropped.

It had nothing to do with art, and had everything to do with making money. Fig Dish is not going to make you a ton of money, being the kind of band that they were. You’ve got to understand, The Melvins and the Butthole Surfers were getting signed to major label deals, too! And those bands all took the money, kind of knowing that this isn’t going to last but I’m going to take this advance and play with it. Who could blame them? What made it great was, and I’m talking about basically music rooted in the punk and post-punk eras that sort of grew into adulthood in the ’80s and early ’90s, was that it was rebellious, and it was different, and it was sort of underground, and it had this vibe that it spoke to misfits and outsiders. Lollapalooza was originally conceived as this outsider festival, and look what it became within a few short years.

Joe Shanahan: Well, format changes. That was one of the big things. I remember when [Chicago alt-rock radio station] Q101 all of a sudden was Mancow. Remember that moment? I was like, “Oh yeah, wait a second, it’s not about the music anymore, it’s about those fucking ratings.” But you know, it’s about those Arbitrons and Neilsen and all that stuff. There were certain DJs and certain program directors and certain music directors that lost their jobs. Once you saw that begin to happen, you knew, “Oh, the bean counters got a hold of it.” It’s just not unlike the sort of inversion of well, why art and commerce can really be adversaries. One eats the other. I’m just glad we were able to be so in that radar, in that sort of canvas. The canvas was Metro, it was a blank canvas for many bands, certainly for Billy and Liz. Not everybody was going to be playing and selling out the United Center like Corgan. Some of it was like, are you happy with playing Saturday night at Metro? You’re in the room with 800 people. Some bands thought that was the best.

Touring the world and elsewhere

Blake Smith: They put us up in our Oakwood apartment in Toluca Lake. There was a Japanese porn factory in the apartment next door, so there were just beds slamming against walls and people screaming in Japanese all night long for three days. They sent us down to one of the very first South By Southwests from there. Because nobody could sleep from all the Japanese porn, so they put us on a plane to go open for Alex Chilton in a parking lot.

They asked if we wanted to play South By Southwest, and nobody knew what that was. We said, “Sure, get us out of the apartment for a couple days, go to Austin, that’s great. Who are we going to play with?” “Oh, you’re going to open for Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens.” And we fucking lost our shit, because that’s Big Star. The next day somebody calls our Oakwood apartment and I pick up the phone and it’s like, “Hi, this is Jody Stephens. Is Blake or [guitarist] Rick [Ness] there?” And I was like, “Get the fuck out!” and hung up the phone. And then they called back right after that, and at that point, we kind of knew it was Jody Stephens. And he said, “Alex wants to use your amps, is that cool?” I said, “Yeah, that’s great.”

And so our big homage to them was we learned how to play “You Can’t Have Me” by Big Star. Like the day before. We flew down there, we’re playing in a tent in a parking lot. And Jody’s all nice, he’s like, “Hey man, Alex is going to use your amps and everything.” I didn’t see Alex anywhere. We get up on stage and play our set. Last song we play is “You Can’t Have Me” by Big Star, thinking this is a great tribute to this guy. We walk off stage and Alex Chilton walks up to us and looks at us and says, “Oh, you played ‘You Can’t Have Me,’” and we’re thinking he’s going to say something nice to us, and he said, “We used to butcher that fucking song, too.” And then he just walked right by us on stage. No, it was great. It was everything we wanted out of that meeting.

Scott Lucas: We would open up for everybody. It was a bunch of opening tours, and then we got that Stone Temple Pilots tour. We were playing the Rosemont Horizon, playing where I saw my first concert; it was freaky. And I tried to enjoy it for what it was. And thinking, when we’re playing Madison Square Garden, “This is never going to happen again. So enjoy yourself.” I think that was one of the few instances in that whole thing when we were able to take it for what it was.

It’s like when we went to Australia, getting off the plane, I was like, “Okay, nobody knows us here. We can be whoever we want to be. We can go nuts, let’s have a good time.” And we wound up terrifying the label and everything and had a great time. I think the one night when we took a bunch of mushrooms and they realized that we were all on mushrooms, they all disappeared pretty quickly after that.

Joel Spencer: We did a short stint with Presidents Of The United States Of America. They were just lovely. Because they had such a young crowd, I remember Colin saying they were the Richard Scarry of rock ’n’ roll. All the shows were early and all ages, which was actually really good for us, because sometimes those tours, up until 3 a.m. every night, it’s not good. So it was nice to have some normalcy. Brad was the same way. He’d want to record at 9 in the morning. It was very Midwestern, wake up, have your cup of tea, put your boots on and go to work. There was never this sort of carpet and incense, Rolling Stones in the south of France vibe at all. It was very, very workaday type of stuff. We also did a short stint with Matthew Sweet. Oh my god, what a great guy. We opened for Alanis Morrisette one day at Grant Park. That was insane. That was just crazy.

And then we did some really weird tours. We did a tour of Florida that was just kind of a nightmare. Nothing says Florida sun like weird Anglophile off-kilter new-wave music in weird time signatures on the beach. It was just not our audience. We did a tour with Everclear, which was weird and fine. That was at the height of their thing. My favorite tour was the Winter Dance Party tour, which was us, Smoking Popes, and Triple Fast Action. It was all of our own soul brothers and we would share gear. It was a lot of fun. That was the good kind of competition, where you’d watch the band play in front of you and just really want to do a good job, because they always did. The Popes sounded exactly the same every night.

Wes Kidd: We did tour: Probably the best one was with Everclear, because their record was blowing up right at that time, like a bazillion people at those shows. But I was probably hitting 30 or close to 30, you start to think about stuff. And then we had just done a tour with Menthol and The Smoking Popes, which was a lot of fun, playing small clubs, and people actually showing up, and we had a blast with those guys. And then at the end of that, we were all like, “Are we really going to do this again?” I can’t even remember of there was an official, “Hey, are we all just gonna stop” meeting, or if we just stopped calling each other, but it just kind of faded.

The beginning of the end

Blake Smith: As soon as the band felt like it wasn’t going upwards, it was going downwards. We just blew it up. Which I think was a good thing. And now it’s like we play once every eight-and-a-half years, and it’s fun.

There’s a time when you’re a band—I almost said the word “artist” but I don’t think you can apply that to us. You start out and you suck and you practice and your songs suck and they get better and they get to a certain level and you go up and more people go to your shows and at a certain point you peak and then you start going down. As soon as we went over that hump, we were like, uhh uhn.

Joel Spencer: Yeah, one of the things that happened was Gary Gersh, who was president of Capitol, left. Very often, when there’s a switch of presidents at a label, one of the things they do is just go through all of the acts and figure out who they want to continue to support. We wanted to continue to stay on a major, or at least have that kind of distribution and radio support and everything, but not necessarily stay on a major. But at that point, that’s kind of what that meant.

But you know, it had been kind of weird up to that point anyway. Those tours that they were booking us on were strange. The A&R guy would show up and literally say, “Well, I just don’t hear a hit.” Could you be any more stereotypical? There was just a certain amount of angst about that. We recorded a second record for them, and they decided not to put it out. We fought with them to get control over it. They wouldn’t give it to us so we re-recorded the whole thing.

When we stopped getting the support from Capitol, and we were still trying to keep it together in Chicago. We all had to get jobs and I was taking the L and working in a deli. And at the same time, by that point, we’re almost 30 years old and you start to feel like, how is this even going to continue? Literally, how am I going to pay the rent? Let alone moving in a positive direction. I also think that we had high expectations for ourselves, and if weren’t going to be able to meet them, it was kind of not really feasible.

Triple Fast broke up right around then and Wes moved to New York. Veruca Salt broke up shortly there after. Josh from the Popes left the band for a little while. It just was that time. That kind of stuff doesn’t last forever if you’re not Aerosmith, I guess, or whatever. And even if you are, it’s a hard road. Sometimes that’s just what it was.

We were still a band, and we still loved it. When you first start a band, or at least when we first started that band, and you have that sort of epiphanal moment or series of moments where you realize that this is no longer just a group of friends that are getting together to have fun. But you somehow mesh in a way that’s creating something new. It’s easy, especially at that age, to become almost like a gang. It becomes more than a professional position. We lived together, we practiced every night together. We took it very seriously. It’s difficult to sort of undo that. It can be hard. It meant that maybe this isn’t going to go where you wanted it to go. I think I was the worst of the three in terms of not wanting to stop. I think at that point, all of us had put all of our eggs in that basket. I certainly didn’t have a plan B. There were a couple years after that where it took me a little while to figure out what I wanted to do. But then I did.

Greg Kot: I don’t think we’ve ever had an era where you can say, “Oh, what happened to Chicago music?” I think there’s always great things happening here, because a) there’s a lot of places to play; b) there’s a ton of indie labels ready to support bands. There’s an infrastructure here to support independent music that’s artistically minded. It’s not focused on that sort of commercial, let’s get a song on the radio wave of major label signings that occurred in the early ‘90s. In some ways, that was an aberration. It came and went almost as quickly as it arrived. We may never see that again, and in some ways, I hope we don’t, because I thought it did put this artificial layer on Chicago that in some ways was antithetical to what Chicago’s artistic scene has been all about for so many years.

Brad Wood: I didn’t intend to move to Los Angeles in 2000 and build a recording studio in my backyard. I was looking forward to living in L.A., traveling back to Chicago to make a couple records a year, and also make records out here using the thousands and thousands of recording studios out here. But it didn’t work out that way. The market got really small, the kind that I worked with dried up dramatically. When the final product isn’t desired, the price of it goes down, then the budget to record that diminished product also go down, and I’ve had to deal with that. I built a studio in my backyard. Mostly because I missed having my own recording studio. And that was something about Idful that I had taken for granted for the 10 years. I had a home place that I knew intimately and I could just jump in there when I needed to. I really liked that about Seagrass. It’s my place. I have the things that I want. I know how everything works. I don’t have to ask permission to use it. It’s just there and ready to go. That part’s great.

The other reason is because people pay less money to make records now. At least people like me. Maybe some other people are making piles of dough, but I’m not. And I’ve got a family to support and raise and bills to pay. I just can’t stand still and not adjust to economic change. Technically, it hasn’t changed very much at all, as far as how I record, it hasn’t changed in 30 years, really. Microphones are the same. The mic preamps are the same. How I approach recording drums and guitars and vocals hasn’t changed much at all. I add to it, but I think I’m pretty much doing the same thing now that I was doing in 1991 or 1993.

Wes Kidd: I got offered a gig to go work with a guy who managed my band, at Red Light Management. I tell all the bands I work with, “Don’t do what I did.” I know a lot about what not to do. I always say, management is a great place for failed musicians. Going through that process, you do learn a ton. You also meet a ton of people, so I was able to go into the other side of it knowing a ton of people, A&R people and publishers and radio people and everything else, so that was good. That’s no way to get into this biz; you just do it.

Joe Shanahan: That’s the way scenes come and go. It’s always propelled by the music itself and the cultivation of a music community and the businesses and arteries that support it. So it can come out of a basement, it can come out of the back room of a small bar like Czar Bar or Phyllis’, and then on its way to bigger, more established places like Lounge Ax. Again, coming out of bowling alleys like Fireside. That’s punk rock and an entire do-it-yourself ethos, but it had a supported ecosystem of like-minded business. It was fertile, it was experimental. People took risks. Some nights, you had 10 people show up, and some nights you had 500 people show up. It all depended on the juxtapositions of which bands played together.

Blake Smith: Every music scene goes up and down in every town. The indie rock scene in Chicago, I’d say right now, you’ve got everybody from Chance The Rapper to Joey Purp to Noname to Mick Jenkins. So many great people in town right now doing hip hop and R&B. Jamila Woods. Kweku Collins. So many amazing people. People say, “Oh, that’s not really Chicago.” That’s totally Chicago. Think about Chess Records. Curtis Mayfield in the ’70s. It just kind of goes from genre to genre. I hear from people that are complaining there’s no great guitar bands right now. The city’s got Twin Peaks and The Orwells and Ne-Hi. A lot of great guitar music right now.

I sound like an old guy. But yeah, that was a great time. But also, I’ve got a good job, I’m married and have got great kids. I’m really happy now, too. I think the important thing about playing music or being in a band is be happy when you’re there and don’t cling to it afterward. That’s it. But it was a great time. A great time to be alive and own a guitar.


Wes Kidd was a founding member of Rights Of The Accused and Triple Fast Action. He now manages bands like The Damnwells, Old 97s, and Soul Asylum at Red Light Management in New York.

Greg Kot has been the music critic at the Chicago Tribune since 1990, and co-hosts WBEZ’s Sound Opinions with Jim DeRogatis every Saturday.

Scott Lucas’ band since 1987, Local H, is playing Chicago’s Empty Bottle on May 27 as part of that club’s 25th anniversary concert series. Local H’s eighth studio album, Hey Killer, was released in 2015 on G&P Records.

Joe Shanahan is the founder and owner of Metro Chicago and Smart Bar in Chicago, and was part-owner of the recently closed Double Door.

Blake Smith, founding member of Fig Dish and Caviar, is ‎Director Of Entertainment for Virgin Hotels and lives in Chicago.

Joel Spencer, founding member of Menthol, is the Adult Services Librarian at the Urbana Free Library.

Brad Wood opened Idful Music Corporation in Chicago in 1989 and now owns Seagrass Studio in California. He was the drummer for the band Shrimp Boat and on many of Liz Phair’s recordings. He produced Veruca Salt’s reunion album, Ghost Notes, which was released in 2015.