Cerebral Corps - Pam's Purple Spyrograph
Even in this age of hyper awareness and overnight hype, Jeff Saltzman’s story is a rare tale of a humble artist finding an audience solely on the merit of his music. With only a handful of live shows and no self-promotion, Saltzman was able to land a record deal in 1990 with Alias, one of the biggest indie labels at the time. However, by the time his debut came out two years later, all was not right. Despite overwhelming praise from critics, Saltzman was dissatisfied and hampered by self-doubt. He would never release another song again.
A middle-class kid from the suburbs of San Jose, California, Saltzman bought his first four track in 1985 at the age of eighteen. Inspired by Dukes of Stratosphear and British psychedelia, Saltzman coined the name Cerebral Corps and recorded “Pam’s Purple Spyrograph” in 1986. The song stood in stark contrast to the jangly college rock of its day with its overt ‘60s influence, sinister vocals, and driving tambourine rhythm. Saltzman’s friend, Gary Lucy, was impressed with the song and borrowed the tape so he could play it on KSJS, the local college station. To everyone’s surprise, listeners latched on to the song and made it one of the most requested songs of the summer.
Saltzman continued to record for the next few years, eventually releasing Oxide Sox, a homemade tape featuring more of his distinctive four track recordings. Local stores routinely sold out of it, and Saltzman estimates he sold close to 300 copies over the years. By 1989, one of the tapes made its way to the Alias office in San Francisco and quickly became a favorite there. It wasn’t long before they offered him a contract to record an album.
Alias fronted Saltzman enough money to upgrade to a 16-track recorder and plenty of new gear but he took over a year to acquaint himself with the new equipment. The label started to get antsy, especially when Saltzman's recording partner, Robert Vickers, left. Alias finally sent in Bruce Kaphan from American Music Club to make sure Saltzman delivered the album.
In the liner notes, Saltzman claimed that the songs were recorded in one evening. “It was a joke, mostly for the label, since it took so long to record,” Saltzman said. “If it was true, it would be quite impressive. And it certainly would have made my life a lot easier.” Still, the misinformation was often taken as fact and repeated in the press. It still persists today on the Internet.
The album, released under the name Cerebral Corps and titled Attributed to… had many factors working against it. Just before the release date, Alias’ San Francisco office closed. The other office, located in LA, knew little about the album or its reclusive creator. Saltzman didn’t exactly help his cause by refusing to play live or tour in support of the album. At the time, he thought it was a fair request, but looking back now he says, “I was kind of a jerk.” Furthermore, the artwork was high-concept and probably confusing to many people. Saltzman, who was studying art in college at the time, arranged all the graphics to look like an Art History catalog. There was an even a portrait inside of him and Vickers, nude.
Despite ample critical praise, Saltzman was unhappy. He refused to read reviews, even when friends shoved the glowing notices in his face. Saltzman went into what he calls “a sort of post-partum depression” and was unable to begin recording a new album. Eventually, he and Alias parted ways.
Saltzman spent the rest of decade engineering and producing for other bands, and later moved to Portland, Oregon where he still lives and works today. He has worked with Menomena, Sleater Kinney, the Decemberists and many more. However, he has little time for his own projects and says that it would be difficult to do it all himself, especially since it would feel like his day job. But, he adds, “Knowing what I know now, I could still make a great record. I probably should.”
For more, be on Jeff Saltzman, be sure to check out Art into Dust.