Chapter 1: Louisville (Crain)
I climb the stairs to the front porch and glance back to my car in the driveway. I press the doorbell slowly, and step back from the door. The porch is covered with children’s toys and chalk, cigarette butts and a single gold beer cap. After a minute or so I step forward and I ring the doorbell again, and do not hear a sound from inside the house. I ring it again. There is a black-and-white photo of a baby’s head peering out through the window on the door. I knock lightly on the door and there is no response. After another few moments I open the screen door and bang the knocker four times. I hear footsteps, and a tall, black-haired man answers. He’s wearing shorts and a collared shirt.
“Were you waiting long?” Tim Furnish asks, in a low, soft voice.
“Oh, no. I just got here,” I lie.
Tim leads me inside, through a foyer, and into a living room crowded with furniture. We move past a kitchen and what looks like a workstation, or small office, with a computer sitting on a desk. The floor in the living room is covered with children’s toys spilling out of large, colorful plastic containers. As we walk around the ground floor, Tim turns to me and asks, “So—tell me again about what you’re doing?” As he speaks, he ducks his head to pass through from one room to the next. I can tell this question and answer session is going to become an everyday routine.
“Well, the book, basically, is like…well, I’m not really interested in something like what Azzerad has done, because I don’t think I’m capable of replicating his profiles of the ‘underground scene’ or whatever. I’m more interested in approaching the project as a travel book, where I use—who I feel are—important bands as a lens for understanding the different places where they live.”
“Are you a writer or…”
“No, not really,” I admit. “Not professionally.”
“So is this for a book, or a magazine?”
“I’d like to somehow turn all the different interviews into a book, but, it would probably make sense to submit some of them as articles first, to maybe build myself credibility and show publishers that there’s interest in the topic.”
“Do you have any places to publish articles?”
“No, I guess I’ll worry about that part later,” I say, not wanting to focus on it just now. “I just want to survive my trip and conduct good interviews.”
“Oh, okay,” he says, adding, “I only ask because I do some writing.”
“Freelance. I get to work out of my house.”
We ascend a staircase to his attic. A mess of antiquated effects pedals and other gear is piled outside the door. I point to a Maestro Fuzztain pedal and comment, “I’ve got one of these, it sounded nice until it stopped working.”
“Yeah, that one doesn’t work either.” He says.
He opens the door to a dimly lit home studio. Some natural sunlight creeps in from a window on the far side of the room. Various amplifiers line the left-hand wall, and there is a full drum kit set up in the front corner of this space, just inside the door. In the back of the room, beneath the window, sits an Apple computer and some rack-mounted pre-amps and other outboard gear. Opposite this workstation there is a keyboard or two. Tim offers me a chair and grabs another for himself from behind the synthesizers. We sit opposite one another in the small space, and I set up the tape recorder between us.
“I essentially grew up here,” he tells me. “I was born in Lexington when my parents were in college at the University of Kentucky, and lived briefly in Memphis, Tennessee, when my dad was in the Navy. Um, I guess mostly lived here since about ’74, or around then.”
“So you met Will Chatham and Joe Mudd and all those guys soon after you came here?”
“Will went to…actually, Brown School—which is a public school here in town—I started in third grade and went all through twelfth grade. Will was a couple years younger than me at the same school—the same year as my brother, I guess.”
“When did you start playing music?”
“I started when I was sixteen. I was in a local punk band called Spot, but it’s not easy to remember.” He laughs and shifts in his seat. “I played along with friends associated with Spot, and then a couple guys I went to school with were the founders of Squirrel Bait, and Slint, and stuff like that.”
“Did you run in social circles with those guys?”
“Only peripherally at school. Most of the time I…we weren’t better friends until later in life.”
“Like, after Speed came out,” I suggest.
“Yeah,” Tim agrees. The album came out in 1992. We recorded it the year before, with Steve Albini in Chicago. Our bassist, John Cook, ran a small label called Automatic Wreckords and we released a thousand copies on vinyl. We took it on tour with us and it sold out pretty quickly.”
“By that time in your life, after being in Louisville for eighteen years or so, you were pretty firmly rooted in the area. Do you think there was any reason why you chose to stick around here, as opposed to trying to make music somewhere else?”
“Other places definitely interested me,” Tim admits, “but I was too grounded here in Louisville at the time. I went to college here, and my dad is a faculty member at the University—I received free schooling here, and stuff like that. Sometimes I regret not going elsewhere.”
“Well, one of the things I was just talking about with Stephen George was that there seems to be an immense sense of pride in the area. Do you think that played into your decision to stay here?”
“I have a certain amount of pride I guess, like with the city and the parks and the stuff like that.”
“Well,” I venture, “when you toured, you got to see other cities and leave town for a while.”
“Yeah, we did a couple cross-country tours. The history of the band goes from, like, 1989 to 1996, and there were several different incarnations through those years—but Speed, that line-up did a European tour and then…I don’t know, it was a roller-coaster ride.” Tim looks up at me and starts to laugh, and then looks down at the floor and adds, “When we toured outside of Louisville I found everything quite receptive a lot of the time.” He glances outside briefly. “I traveled to other cities to see shows and stuff, too, and I really felt like people were digging what we were doing at the time. They were cool, continually. There were certainly certain spots that were cooler than others. I loved playing the west coast.”
“Did the crowds latch onto your and other bands because of a shared ethos? Or was it something else?”
“The bands we played with were similar to us in that…” He stops himself for a moment before continuing, “I guess we were touring with Circus Lupis, a Washington, D.C. band—that kind of already had a connection with Dischord Records. That connection seemed like something tangible for people to latch onto.”
“I get the impression—and maybe this is because I’m not from the area—that being a Louisville band at that time, once you really get outside the region the reception might have been a little different. A lot of what bands were doing is now—retrospectively—linked to shared roots in Louisville,” I comment.
Tim thinks about it for a second before asking, “When was that Rodan record? When did that come out?”
“I think it was ’93.”
“Yeah, they were all riding on that, at that point.”
“At that time—when your album was out, and Rodan’s album was out, and Slint had two albums out—did you find that your bands were being grouped together much by the press?”
“It seemed more like…Rodan…well, I guess it was after Slint came out with Spiderland—when did that come out?”
“’In ’91,” I answer, beginning to feel smug.
“Yeah, so that was the first release to really make a statement. Uh, I guess there was a lot more press written about Rodan, and that kind of changed things for Louisville—but a couple years before, the press was really not paying attention at all. With bands like Crain, and Rodan, and Slint, people thought they were mostly out of Chicago, I think. The bands had similar aesthetics, and that’s what would be, like, what the national press picked up on. That’s…yeah.” He looks down at the carpet and laughs softly.
Behind us, the attic door creaks as it opens. A woman’s face appears. She looks slightly confused by what she sees.
Tim glances at me and says, “Excuse me for a second,” and then turns to the woman and said, “We’re doing an interview…”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she says.
“No, no. It’s okay. It’s fine,” I try to retort, forgetting I’m supposed to be silent for a second.
The head quickly disappears and the door shuts.
Momentarily confused, I search my memory for what it was we were talking about. “So…alright, I guess the general history of Crain—on a relative scale—it was a lot of short pieces that, together, make up a much longer timeline?”
“Yeah, I mean, Crain lasted a long time, and each incarnation is almost like a totally new band. The problem was, we had a troublemaker band-member that I kept sticking with over the years and then I kind of had a moment where—alright, I’d had enough. I said, ‘Goodbye, thanks.’ Towards the end of the last incarnation of Crain, I was already onto something different. I had gotten a keyboard workstation, and I started working on textured stuff and sequenced music. That’s kind of what Parlour is. I did some other work, too—I played with other bands in the meantime. I picked up an extra instrument here and there…” he trails off.
“In all your different projects, was there ever a moment when fear crept into your mind that this lifestyle—being a musician—might not work?”
“Mmm…” Tim considers it, “Not really, as I never really had high hopes for it. I mean, I just took it as entertainment and creativity, and enjoyed it from day to day. Various people over the years have given me that feeling like, ‘This is someone I want and need to keep working with.’ So, I was sad to lose some people, and happy to gain others. There have always been lineups that I felt were strong—that could probably go further as far as gaining wider recognition and stuff like that is concerned. It seems that they’ve always…fizzled.”
“In the modern era, do you see anything that you like happening in Louisville now?”
“Yeah…yeah…there are some really good bands here right now. Sadly, I don’t get out to many shows.”
“Would you consider them to be carrying a torch?” I wonder, “Or, at this point, are they forging new territory?”
“Not so much carrying a torch. I think it’s developed into an entirely new set of talent and aesthetics.”
“Compared to other cities and their aesthetics—or specialized ‘scenes,’ if you want to call them scenes—how would you describe the overall shape of Louisville and the artistic community?”
“There are certain factors that play in,” he answers, “like whether or not you’ve got a viable place to play—that would always shift at times [with] a club that [was] big and really supporting the scene, I guess. Then there would be times when you would just have to make do playing parties, and stuff. It’s always continued—there’s just variations. Having to find parties to play when clubs won’t book you is pretty much universal. There’s still holes in the local scene, of course—but new generations of people come up in a hurry.”
“Do you find yourself listening and enjoying groups that are most similar to your own endeavors, or will you seek out any kind of music?”
“I would say I am still kind of closed-minded as far as what music I will listen to,” he responds, surprisingly blunt. “I’m not so enthused by ‘alternative country’ music and shit like that, but I find myself giving into seeing a lot of younger generations coming up with their new bands that are kind of exciting. Often I’ll pick something up and like it, and see them if they get shows together.”
“Louisville is a place where it’s kind of easy to be here. The cost of living is not that high. It’s cheaper, and the people are all good. I don’t know…”
I get the feeling Tim has told me all he can, so I say, “Well, I don’t want to take too much of your time so if there’s anything else you want to add…any closing statements.”
He shakes his head ‘no,’ and I thank him profusely for his time. I ask if I can look around the studio, and he inquires about whether I’ve heard any of Parlour’s recordings. After admitting that I have not, he tells me about how Temporary Residence—the same label that reissued Speed—has been releasing Parlour albums. He grabs a copy of one album, Googler and hands it to me. I thank him again, and he leads me out of the studio, past the broken gear, and back down the flight of stairs to the ground floor. The woman from before is sitting at the workstation now, typing something into the computer. I apologize to her for the confusion before, and feel compelled to say, “Take care” to her. Tim leads me to the door and we talk briefly before I exit his home.
Crain’s drummer, Will Chatham, was the person who referred me to Tim Furnish. Chatham was also the first person to grant me permission to ask questions for this project. Since he now lives in Ashville, North Carolina we spent time trading e-mails whenever either of us had spare time. Our continual communication offered a different perspective on life in Louisville as a member of Crain.
EL: Why don’t we start with your childhood in Louisville? What was it like?
WC: “I lived in Louisville from 1977 to 1992, which covers from when I was three years old until 19 years old. So, I pretty much grew up there. I am glad I grew up in a relatively big city, and am very glad I went to school downtown, because it exposed me to a wide variety of people ethnically, culturally, and economically. It definitely helped me to develop the ‘world view’ I have today. I was fortunate enough to live in a nice neighborhood and have a good family.”
EL: Was your childhood a musical one?
WC: “Yeah, I started piano lessons at the age of five and continued them off and on until I was 17. Other forms of artistic expression I enjoyed as a child included doing magic and juggling.”
EL: When did you start playing drums?
WC: “In fourth grade band class. Mainly because no other kids were doing it at my school, and I wanted to look cool. I started taking private lessons from a supreme jazz drummer named Sam Harris in fifth or sixth grade, and I continued with him for about six years. I never had the discipline to practice, though, and I progressed slower than I should have. In high school, I was in the band class and played a variety of instruments, but stuck mainly to the drums.”
EL: Would you say living in Louisville influenced you artistically?
WC: “It definitely had an impact on me, largely because of the supportive community in which I lived. I am lucky that my parents exposed me to a lot of arts, and the school I attended—JG Brown School—from third through twelfth grade encouraged creativity. I went to concerts, art galleries, and plays often—and I was able to take music lessons from an early age. Louisville, being a pretty big city with a positive attitude, helped this a lot.”
EL: How did you form your first band?
WC: “Jon Cook, Duncan Barlow, Jeff Mekolites and I formed a band called Substance.”
EL: How did you first meet Jon? It seems like you’ve known him for a long time.
WC: “Through the local skateboarding scene. Some friends of mine said he was looking for a drummer to start up a band, and then the next thing I knew, we set up a practice session at my house for Substance. Jon kept calling me a geek.”
EL: What about Tim, and Drew?
WC: “Actually, first I met Tim’s little brother, Simon. He was a year younger than me. I was three, and we went to the same schools. Somewhere along the line, I met Tim. He also went to JG Brown School, but since he was older, I never really knew him. After Substance and Lead Pennies had disbanded, Tim was looking for a band, and Jon probably asked him to join us in Cerebellum. That’s what I think, at least. I don’t really remember. Drew showed up to a Cerebellum band practice one day with Jon. He picked up the microphone and started singing. He just kept coming to practices and was considered part of the band. Each practice, he would show up with some sort of metal piece of machinery or giant spring or steel pipe that he would use as instruments. He would just bang on them to the rhythm of the music.”
EL: How come, after Cerebellum, the Crain lineup shifted so frequently?
WC: “I think it was a mixture of incongruent egos, goals, and attitudes. Every band is like a relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend, multiplied by the number of people in the band. It is very rare to find a group of people who are all on the same page for a good length of time. Bands that last a while have found ways to recognize, accept, and deal with each other’s differences. As for Crain specifically, there were strong personalities to deal with, which turned some people away.”
EL: Did you have a day job when you weren’t performing?
WC: “Music has never been full-time for me. I never had the aspiration to ‘make it big’ or be able to sustain myself with music, as that sort of work and effort seems to take all the fun out of it. I realized this about myself back in the mid ‘90s, and it has made every band I have been in since then difficult to be in, because the other band members usually have some crazy notion that they can do this full time. The fact of the matter is, 99.9% of musicians do not support themselves through music alone.”
EL: If it was sometimes hard to be in a band with certain people, did you find close friends outside of your bands? Were you good friends with other folks inside or outside of Louisville’s music scene?
WC: “There were definitely members of other bands [that] I was good friends with. The common thread among all of them seemed to be the music scene or skateboarding. I could namedrop a lot of bands and people—there was the Brown School crowd, which included Slint and Squirrel Bait members, the Oldham boys, and Crain. There was the Bardstown Road crowd, which included Endpoint, Sunspring, Metroshifter and others, and then there was the Rocket House crowd, which included Rodan and Crain.”
EL: Jeff Mueller lived with Tim [Furnish] and Jon [Cook] at Rocket House for a while. He said that he used to watch Crain practice, and that it really inspired him to go out and make music. Are you happy with the way Crain left its mark on rock music?
WC: “Okay. First of all, Jeff Mueller is cool, and I have always had a lot of respect for his positive attitude and kind nature. I enjoyed playing music with him the few times I did. To answer your question, I really didn’t know Crain left such a mark until I started reading things online years later. On all the message boards and what not, people would talk about Crain as some sort of legend or something. It kind of blew me away, really, because I thought we were just some high school kids having fun. Not trying to pull the ‘I’m cool because I am so humble’ thing. Now with the re-issue of Speed 14 years later, I am utterly flabbergasted, and I feel honored that this happened at all. I think the best things I took away from Crain were: the experience of recording with Steve Albini, and the nation-wide tour we went on. Both experiences had extreme highs and lows, but both taught me a lot about myself and the world.”
EL: Jeff has also spoken about local house parties–what were those like?
WC: “There were some good ones. Naturally, they happened when there weren’t any good clubs to play at. I remember having a party at the 1919 Bonnycastle house—where I lived with Scott & Greta Ritcher, Breck Pipes, and Joey Mudd. Crain played, Sunspring played, and Rawhide played. That was the first time I got drunk on Mad Dog 20/20—and the last.”
EL: Bonnycastle is in the Bardstown Road area—would you say that’s been like a cultural epicenter for Louisville?
WC: “Yeah. The Bardstown Road area was definitely the biggest influence on local culture. It was Louisville’s version of Haight-Ashbury, for lack of a better analogy. The record stores, the clubs, the unique shops, the hangout spots, and the people made it a cultural center of activity that influenced a lot of bands and artists. I was lucky enough to live a block off of Bardstown Road.”
EL: I’ve also heard about shows on Third Street at the Rocket House.
WC: “Yeah, the parties and shows at the Rocket House were great too. Sebadoh played there with us a few times. Unwound played with us there, too. The Rocket House shows happened around the time of the Speed tour, in April 1991.”
EL: What about your house? Where’d you live while all this was going on?
WC: “I lived in an apartment with Paul Oldham, on Rufer Avenue. Mike Bucayu—who played bass for Kinghorse and Maurice—lived in the apartment next-door and we shared the top floor of the house between the three of us. This was probably between 1991 and 1992. Our apartments were ‘party central’ for a while, with all sorts of characters showing up. I remember one night Dave Pajo was hanging out in my room, showing me how to play Slint riffs from Spiderland on my guitar. I showed him how I thought he played the riff from ‘Washer’ and he was like, ‘Hmm. I never thought about playing it that way.’ Again, that made me feel really fucking cool.”
EL: How did you get on with the rest of your peers outside of those close circles? Was there healthy competition amongst all the musicians in Louisville?
WC: “In the Louisville scene during the Cerebellum and Crain eras, the drummers who I recall being around included Britt Wolford (Slint), Dave Pajo (King Kong), Lee Fetzer (Endpoint), John Causey (Undermine), Kyle something or other (forgot the band name too), and the redneck guy—that drummer for Kinghorse (Kevin?). Those were the guys I paid the most attention to, anyway. It wasn’t really a competition, although I remember often thinking, ‘what could I play in this part of the song that would make Britt Wolford think I was cool’ to myself. One day, when Crain was playing at Another Place Sandwich Shop with Sebadoh, for the Speed LP release party, Britt was there. He told me he liked the hi-hat thing I was doing in ‘Kneel.’ I actually felt cool that day. Anecdotes like that feel kind of like name-dropping sometimes, which will probably make me sound dumb, but talking to someone who I admired for their music always made me really stoked.”
EL: Feel free to share all the anecdotes you want!
WC: “Well, one of my best memories was hearing parts of Slint’s Tweez on Britt’s jambox before it was ever released. A group of us all used to ride the city bus home from downtown Louisville after school, and Britt often carried this jambox with him. On this particular day, he was playing the demo of Tweez and saying something like, ‘That’s not even a keyboard!’ in reference to Dave Pajo’s guitar work on one of the songs…also, there was one day Jon Cook asked Britt to come by my house and show me how to tune my drums. Mind you, Britt was like a god to me (and still is), so I thought I was the shit when he came into my room and showed me the same process he used.”
EL: Moving outside of the music scene…would you say the city has a localized artistic style?
WC: “I think the city has a general artistic style, but nothing specialized. There always seemed to be a lot of potential for the music scene, but factors—such as a lack of places for budding artists to play—squelched it somewhat. It seems like different genres of art ebb and flow over the years. Since I moved away from Louisville, it seems like there has been a healthy growth in visual arts—especially along Main Street. As the city planners strove to bring life back to the downtown area, art galleries and studios started popping up everywhere.”
EL: If you look solely at the music industry, however, the media would have you believe that there’s an aesthetic similarity between all the bands. So far in my interviews I’ve learned that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
WC: “Right. I don’t think that’s true at all. When I was active in bands, on any given night, you could go to a show and hear bands with widely varying influences—from metal to hardcore punk to ska, or even rap. That’s what made the music scene so good for a long time. I mean, there was always the bar scene with cover bands, blues, jazz, and big hair too, but I wasn’t ever really a part of that.”
EL: What about the press? Did it pay as much attention to local acts then as it does now?
WC: “Not too much back when I was active. Occasionally a band would get written up in the local free independent rag, but that was about it. I think this changed a lot after I left, though—especially with the World Wide Web catching on.”
EL: I’ve also heard a lot about Louisville pride. Do you think a band’s access to a wider audience can be at all attributed to the immense pride that the citizenry have for their hometown artists? Are most Louisville natives that culturally aware?
WC: “Yeah, when I lived there they had a lot of pride. I remember many conversations about the ‘Chicago scene’, the ‘D.C. scene’, and even the scenes of smaller towns in the area, such as Indianapolis and Lexington. People definitely characterized cities by the sounds of their bands, and [in] each city you could trace similar influences from band to band. Louisville, though, seemed to be influenced by all of these other cities—which, in my opinion, gave it the unique sound it had.”
EL: It seems like—now, at least—the bureaucracy shows some interest in local artists, what with community-centric “gallery crawls,” et cetera. Has it always like that, or has that changed through the years?
WC: “I can’t count how many times we got shut down by police. A few instances were even violent. Then, there were coked-up club owners who would screw the bands over and snort their profits, driving themselves out of business. One of the biggest frustrations for Louisville bands was having a reliable place to play. This hurt the music scene in general, and is part of what kept us from getting the national attention everyone kept saying we were about to get. At one point in time, the press was hailing Louisville as ‘the next Seattle’, which I’m still not sure would have been good or bad.”
EL: You mentioned club owners. How important were venues in promoting local acts and bringing around national bands?
WC: “Venues are very important. I know I keep saying it, but the lack of reliable venues has always been a problem in the city. Without them, it is hard to get heard or go to hear.”
EL: What were the best places to play and see a show when you were still in Louisville?
“What I call the true punk shit was when Tewligan’s Tavern was alive and kicking. That was when Jesus Lizard came on their first tour, and David Yow still did the ‘get buck naked, tuck penis between legs, gyrate pelvis in microphone’ shtick. I took pictures, and the drug store wouldn’t develop them. Fuckers. Cerebellum played Tewligan’s a bunch in 1988 and 1989, with bands like Kinghorse and Endpoint.”
EL: And your personal favorite place to perform was?
WC: “My favorite era was when the Zodiac Club was around. Something about that place seemed really important. I think that was a time in the Louisville music scene when things really came to a head. There was a wide variety of bands that came through, and the kids that attended the shows were all there for the music. It just seemed really positive, and without expectations or bullshit. Also, the fact that we all watched the U.S. go to war one night on TV there (1991) probably helps give me a stronger memory.”
EL: What was Crain’s best show at Zodiac Club?
“I had two favorite shows. One was a night Crain played with 7 More Seconds, a 7 Seconds tribute band I played with. That band included me on drums, Scott Ritcher on bass, Chad Castetter on guitar, and Lee Fetzer singing. It was our only show, and both bands were recorded on DAT that night. I still have the recordings. It was just a lot of fun playing 7 Seconds songs, with the whole crowd joining in and singing. The Crain part of the show was good because it was when I first realized Julie Riggs was really looking at me and smiling the whole time. We went on to date each other for six or seven months. My other favorite show at Zodiac Club was when the Didjits came down from Chicago and played. This was around the time of their third album and I had pretty much memorized all of their songs. They played for a long, long time, and kept going because everyone wouldn’t let them stop playing. At one point, Rick Sims asked who wanted to sing a song. He plucked me out of the crowd and asked what song I wanted to sing. Luckily, they had not played my favorite song yet, ‘Stumpo Knee Grinder’, so I got to sing it. It was awesome. The thing about that club was that it came at just the right time, when the music scene was really starting to attract attention on a national scale, and there were a lot of good bands in the city. It was when bands like Rodan were in their early incarnations (King G and the J Crew), and everyone would come to shows. We had folksy guitarists play, we had metal bands, we had punk, we had all sorts of crap. And everyone loved being there, supporting whoever had the balls to get on stage and try something.”
EL: There was such a great wealth of music coming from Louisville in those years. How do you think the city compared to others in the US during the time period?
WC: “The coolest thing about Louisville is that it is a big city with a small town attitude—at least that was true back in the day. It seems that when I go back now, it has started to get the ‘big city’ feeling, and what once felt like a hometown is now more frigid. Still, I like Louisville more than any big city I have been to, because it still has a unique attitude and style comprised of a wide variety of tastes and influences.”
EL: How did the landscape of Louisville change during your tenure there? Do you think it’s easy to be heard, or garner a fan-base there?
WC: “I haven’t lived there since 1992, but back in the day, anyone could put together some instruments and get in the lineup on any given weekend. For a while, everyone seemed really positive and willing to give any band a chance, as long as there was a place to play. I moved to North Carolina in 1992 to go to Warren Wilson College and never left.”
EL: Would you ever return to Louisville to live?
WC: “While I do miss Louisville a lot, and have often considered moving back there, at this point in my life—with [a] family and [a] job, that’s probably not going to happen. Plus, my parents are moving down here soon.”
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