Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Low Numbers - Josef Albers

In 1996, Gerhardt Koerner formed the Low Numbers while in college at the University of Pittsburgh. Along with his sister Karola on bass, girlfriend Kara Crombie on guitar, and Jon Vital on drums, Koerner began putting together a set of new wave influenced art pop and playing out in Pittsburgh. As the band lineup changed over the years, Koerner continued to tinker with the band's sound, writing far more songs than they actually played or recorded.

In 1997, The Low Numbers released their debut single "Telekom" b/w "Josef Albers" on their own Instant Tunes label. The single showed big potential and helped to build anticipation for a full length from the band, but it never came. "I work on something every day," Gerhardt told Philadelphia Weekly at the time. "It's about putting a cohesive set together."

The album never materialized, but the band did put out one more single before disbanding sometime around 2002. The final single, on Roof Rack Records, featured "What Good Are Girls For" and "Sunlight Over Detroit." By now, the band was just calling itself The Numbers.

In 2002, Numbers recorded new material with Phil Manley of Trans Am, but Koerner was beginning to devote more time to the Lilys, who he had joined around that time. He eventually formed a new band called the Hi-Soft who released a great four song EP in 2006.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Majosha - Get that Bug Outta Your System

I sure could have used the Internet in 1990. It was around then that I first heard the song "Get That Bug Outta Your System" by Majosha, a curiously named band that absolutely no one seemed to know about. I had discovered them on the late night Jacksonville radio show "Dangerous Exposure" and immediately went out searching for their cassette. However, every record store clerk I asked gave me the same answer: "Never heard of them." Eventually, I just gave up.

Luckily, I always taped Dangerous Exposure, and I had a rough tape dub of the song. I played it occasionally throughout the years and its charms never wore off. Sometime in 2004, I decided to do an Internet search just to see if anything came up. Much to my surprise, I discovered that Ben Folds (yes, the Ben Folds) was the main man behind Majosha. In addition to playing bass, he also played piano and wrote some of the songs, including "Get That Bug Outta Your System."

Folds formed Majosha in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1988 and their first show was at a Duke Battle of the Bands, which they won. Other band members included guitarist Millard Powers and drummer Dave Rich, one of Folds' friends from UNC-Greensboro.

The band played parties in the area and released a self-produced EP called "Party Night: Five Songs About Jesus". I haven't heard the tape, but according to a Ben Folds fan site, "There were 4 songs, and none were about Jesus. The 4 songs were: Get That Bug (Outta Your System), Kalamazoo, Where's Bohemia and Cool Whip."

The band started to get more popular in the area and eventually put out Shut Up and Listen to Majosha on vinyl and cassette. Many of the songs from the earlier cassette were re-recorded, including "Get That Bug Outta Your System." About fifteen years later after my initial search began, I finally found that album on the internet. Actual copies of the cassette and lp are extremely rare, with the vinyl fetching between $200 and $300, so this is probably all I'm ever gonna get.

Majosha broke up in 1990 and Folds went on to a few other short-lived projects before founding Ben Folds Five.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Weeping in Fits and Starts - You Do Everything But Heal Me

Although times have changed now, indie-rockers tended to shun self-promotion in the '90s. In hindsight, this can partially be seen as a reaction against the overt commercialism of the '80s, but it was also ingrained into the ethos of DIY. Wanting it too badly was a faux pas; the music was supposed to stand on its own.

Greg Jacobs, the main songwriter behind Boston band Weeping in Fits and Starts, is a classic example of a talented musician who put enormous thought and creativity to writing and recording music but not nearly enough into getting it heard. Like many others, Jacobs opted to release his music himself.

"Rhubarb Records was my own half-assed attempt to have a record label," Jacobs says. "I quickly discovered I shouldn't be running a record label. I couldn't get any distribution or get any kind of foothold or leeway into the music scene at all. No one could buy it unless they bought one at a show or read a review somewhere and took the effort to write to us and buy one directly."

Growing up in Rochester, NY, Jacobs cut his teeth in the music scene playing drums for the Lynchbugs and later the Lotus Eaters. He started playing guitar in college and eventually began writing his own music with a rotating band of players. He had suggested Weeping in Fits and Starts as an album title for the Lotus Eaters, but ended up using it for his side project when they rejected the name. During the last half of the '90s, Weeping in Fits and Starts released two 45's, an EP, and two LP's. The final album, Blue Funnel World did garner some positive press notices, but sold very poorly.

"My friend Pete Weiss, who ran Zippah Studios where Blue Funnel World was recorded, had a joke that his last album went paper. Meaning that if selling one million is Platinum, and 500K Gold, if you followed that down to selling about 20 records, then hey, you can say it went paper! I have no idea how many sold, but not many at all."

"You Do Everything But Heal Me," possibly Jacobs' finest song, was originally released on an EP in 1998, and also included on the Blue Funnel World CD. Weeping in Fits and Starts dissolved in 2000 as the band members and Jacobs moved on to other projects. However, Jacobs recently decided to do a one-off reunion show in May.