|Patrick Mata of Kommunity FK (left) and Johnny Indovina of Human Drama (right), two unsung heroes of LA goth.|
In my last post I discussed the rise of Jane’s Addiction from the point of view of someone who was there almost from the beginning and got to see them live very early on in their career. As mentioned in that post, Perry Farrell had a band prior to Jane’s Addiction known as Psi Com. I never saw them live as they broke up before Jane’s Addiction got started in fall of ’85 just when I was arriving up in LA to attend college at UCLA, about 15 months before I first saw Jane’s A live. But I recently tracked down some of their music; unfortunately none of it is commercially available via iTunes or Amazon.com but their first demos, recorded in March of ‘84 (a collection known in the Jane’s A world as “Worktape 1”) are uploaded to YouTube, as are all of the songs from their self-titled 1985 album. These paint a very interesting picture of Perry’s pre-Jane’s musical inspirations and influences. Perry has stated in interviews that during this time he was listening heavily to Joy Division, and there are definitely elements of their music to be found in that of Psi Com, most notably the pulsing bass lines and the introspective, almost morose tone of most of the songs. The music definitely sounds post-punk with gothic overtones, but to me, Joy Division is less directly an inspiration here than other post-punk bands. Specifically, the shimmering, down-tuned guitars really remind me of John McGeoch’s work with Siouxsie and the Banshees (such as songs like “Monitor” and “Arabian Knights”) as well as Keith Levine’s on the first P.I.L. album, most notably on songs like “Theme” and “Public Image”. The first song on Worktape 1 is “Hopeful”, which lopes along at a brisk pace and has the catchiest beat of the Psi Com songs I’ve heard. Perry’s vocals are kind of echoey—in the early days of Jane’s Addiction he also used a lot of vocal effects, especially live—and mostly sung in a lower register. This song and it’s grinding, high register guitar lines and pounding drums sounds like classic post-punk to me, a natural extension of songs like “Into the Light” by Siouxsie and the Banshees, but with a dash of “Into You Like a Train” by the Psychedelic Furs. “Hopeful” is by far my favorite Psi Com song. “Them” is rawer, darker, and slower but retains that sludgy post-punk feel of “Hopeful” while “Psi Com Theme” is more atmospheric; here Joy Division’s influence can be more keenly felt.
Psi Com’s self-titled 1985 mini-album continued in a similar vein. “Ho Ka Hey” also has that shimmering, McGeoch-like guitar sound and a throbbing bass line, with Perry’s ululating vocals over everything; this has an almost tribal feel to it and a frantic pace that makes it pretty compelling to listen to. The other thing this evokes for me is “Antonin Artaud” by Bauhaus in its shimmery, grinding wildness. “Human Condition” is more ponderous and its down-scaling guitar line after the chorus reminds me of “New Dawn Fades” by Joy Division. Perhaps the centerpiece of the album is the surging, lurching “Xiola”, yet another tribute by Perry to his then-lover, the underage trust fund artist Xiola Blue. Perry’s alternately shrieking and howling vocals ride the swells and recessions of the music like a surfer cruising a wave; this is as passionate as he seemed to get with this band. The final two songs of this album, “City of Gates” and “Winds” are long and turgid and don’t really go anywhere, especially the slow, meandering “Winds”, but show that he clearly was never shy about writing songs that broke the five minute barrier (both songs exceed seven minutes in length).
Overall I’d have to say that I’m not a huge fan of Psi Com; they never seem to break out of the post-punk sonic ghetto, and all of the songs just sound too similar—too shimmery, too minor key. Nothing really sticks out here, except perhaps “Hopeful”.
Psi Com were part of a pretty large goth/post-punk scene that thrived in LA in the 80’s, and many of these other bands both influenced and played with both Psi Com and Jane’s Addiction. Perry Farrell has mentioned (most recently in Brendan Mullen’s oral history of Jane’s Addiction, Whores) that one of the performers who most impressed him with both his look and his sound when he first started getting into the LA music scene was Patrick Mata of the band Kommunity FK. Mata definitely had a distinctive look, equal parts goth punk shock and New Ro Blitz Kid glamour. And his voice truly was evocative, not that that is particularly easy to tell from Kommunity FK’s first album, 1983’s The Vision and the Voice, which would be apt if only Mata’s vocals weren’t buried beneath layers of muddy production. On this earlier work the band hews very closely to the goth punk of progenitors like Bauhaus; songs like the appropriately named “Anti-Pop” and “Bullets” snarl with raw guitar much like “Dark Entries” or “Stigmata Martyr” off Bauhaus’ first album. “Unknown To You” melds this slashing guitar sound to a meandering bass and ominous vocals in a way that evokes the epileptic post-punk funk of Gang of Four. Their “theme song”, “Fuck the Kommunity” is an out-and-out punk song, sounding like the emotional hardcore of bands like the Flower Leperds or Dr. Know. “No Fear” again has a prominent, brooding bass line and sustained synth drone that sets a gloomy tone; Mata’s vocals, though buried in the mix, give one of the best examples from this album at least of how powerful and emotive his voice could be. But to me, the standout track on this album is the monolithic “We Will Not Fall”, which builds on the somber emotionality of “No Fear” but is an even more effective song because of the catchy, repetitive guitar riff offsetting the throbbing bass; to me this song brings to mind some of the gloomy sludge of of the Stooges’ first album, notably songs like “Ann”, the similarly named “We Will Fall”, and especially “Little Doll” (which is actually one of my favorite Stooges songs). This song is saved from being merely dirge-y by the propulsive percussion and driving guitar riff, as well as the shared chorus. The industrial touches remind me of some of the music that was being made in the Bay Area in the early 80’s by acts such as Chrome and Factrix. I’ll bet this song was a swirling punk-goth miasma live. Unfortunately the mix on this entire album is just too dense, and arguably their greatest weapon, Mata’s emotive vocals, is buried too deep in the mix to raise this material enough to notice or appreciate.
By their second and final studio album, 1985’s Close One Sad Eye, the production problems had been solved and Mata’s voice is refreshingly forward in the mix. By this point the band had evolved beyond their goth-punk beginnings toward a lusher, New Romantic new wave synth sound, where the synthesizers are the most prominent sonic element and the guitars have been scaled back and mostly used for effect. “The Other World” has a staccato rhythm and rumbling bass but starts with a synth flourish before highlighting Mata’s almost drag-queen like vocals, but the song just kind of meanders and never really goes anywhere. “Something Inside Me Has Died” is a step in a better direction, beginning with a morose bass line before the guitars flash and slash into the song. Mata here sounds almost eerily like Phil Oakey of Human League, his voice highly dramatic and quavering with emotion. This song seems perfectly balanced between their punkier beginnings and their New Ro leanings on the rest of this album.
The two best songs on this album are really just pure new wave synth music. “Trollops” is catchy and has clever lyrics with evocative imagery (“I love your hair it’s black as tires”) and the almost perfect mix of smooth synths and highly processed guitar here reminds me of the stuff Berlin was doing at around this same time. I always had really extreme feelings about Berlin; I almost uniformly detest their better known songs but love the stuff nobody ever heard or saw on MTV. For example, I can’t stand the Euro-wannabe song (and video) “Metro”, which seems to be striving for a kind of continental sophistication and ennui that it doesn’t quite attain. And I consider “Sex” (I’m a . . .)” to be one of the lamest songs of the entire new wave era; Terri Nunn is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and sexy women to emerge from the new wave era (I actually find her more attractive now as a woman over 50 than I did then), but the lame sexual moans and cheesily blatant sexual lyrics and entendres of this song just leave me stone cold. I vastly prefer songs like the perky, percolating “Masquerade” off their first album as well as the darker (yet sexier to me) songs “Now It’s My Turn”, “Touch”, and “When We Make Love” off their 1984 album Love Life. I’m also a fan of “Rumor of Love”, where John Crawford takes the lead and Terri provides sweet backing vocals. My two all-time favorite Berlin songs are the harder, faster, more guitar-driven “Pictures of You”, with Terri’s magnificently triumphant vocals on the chorus, as well as the slower, lusher, super romantic ballad “Fall”, particularly the end where Nunn repeatedly sings “Your star will shine again”. Love Life is one of those albums I’ve loved since the very moment it first came out and continue to treasure to this day. It has aged really well, unlike a lot of synth music from that era.
Patrick Mata’s vocals on this album also remind me of another phenomenal singer from the 80’s new wave scene, Alison Moyet. Moyet was of course the lead singer for Vince Clarke’s post-Depeche Mode band Yaz. Yaz was quite popular at my high school though to my knowledge they never toured America before Alison went solo just two short years later in 1983. Moyet went on to have a modestly successful solo career (I like the song “Weak In The Presence of Beauty” off her second album, 1988’s Raindancing). Years after they’d broken up, around 1987, I roomed for a summer in a frat house at UCLA because it was dirt cheap and my roommate was this guy Paul from England who spent the entire summer working at some film poster factor in Hollywood and partying insanely hard every night; he was the only person I’d ever met who saw Yaz live in concert, although “live” might be something of a misnomer since all the music was preprogrammed by Vince Clarke; Paul knew this because at one point Clarke walked away from his synth and spent part of the concert taking photos of the crowd! Anyway I was never as huge fan of Yaz’s big club hits like “Don’t Go”, “Situation”, and “Goodbye 70’s” as I was of their more romantic torch songs and ballads; my favorite Yaz songs are “Too Pieces” off their album Upstairs at Eric’s and “Nobody’s Diary” off You And Me Both. I’m also partial to “Only You”, “In My Room”, “Mr. Blue”, “Softly Over”, and “Ode To Boy”, but it’s the quavering romanticism of Moyet’s contralto on “Too Pieces” coupled with Clarke’s lush, optimistic synths that really gets me, and Mata’s vocal work, particularly on the songs off Close One Sad Eye come close to this in my opinion.
Anyway, the other song I love by Kommunity FK off Close One Sad Eye is “the Vision and the Voice”. This song starts with a susurrating synth line yanked straight off “Living on Video” by Trans X before moving into a gloomy, descending bass line that sounds like Scott Alexander’s bass line from the Stooges’ “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog”. Mata’s vocals on the initial verses are sung in this odd, flat-affect, sing-songy method but this works as an effective counterpoint to the smooth lushness of his voice on the chorus. The synth flourishes in the place of guitar solos give this song a very new wave-y feel; as my wife recently said, “This sounds like it was playing on the sound system at ‘Tech Noir’ right before Linda Hamilton walked in to use the phone in ‘The Terminator’”, and she’s absolutely right, and it’s why I love this song. This song is extremely catchy and had it been released in 1982 or 1983 it might have been a hit along the lines of “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, but by 1985 synth-driven new wave was falling more and more swiftly out of favor. This lack of success probably contributed to the breakup of Kommunity FK in the summer of ’85, supposedly right after a show they played at the O.N. Club with Psi Com; their drummer Matt Chaikin actually drummed for Jane’s Addiction in their first months before Stephen Perkins joined in March of ’86.
Another band that gigged around with Psi Com in the goth/post-punk community was Screams For Tina. Their sound leaned much more toward the so-called “darkwave” end of goth/post-punk; more ominous and, well, dark than even typical goth, which could often be kind of lush, romantic and even optimistic. I can recall seeing ads and fliers for Screams For Tina around LA in the mid-80’s and they seemed to have a decent buzz about them; indeed, according to Wikipedia they were voted as among the top five vote-getters in the “Best New Band” and “Best Underground Band” categories in the LA Weekly’s annual readers’ poll a couple of times in the 80’s. Unfortunately their recorded output in their heyday is scanty, with just the 1986 EP Stobelight Funeral coming out during the 80’s. Alas, this EP is not available via commercial MP3 sites though someone has put some songs up on YouTube. “Fool’s Gold” captures their atmospheric, ominous sound, which like Psi Com owes much to Juju-era Siouxsie; unlike Psi Com, however, their sound isn’t as homogeneous in terms of the guitar, and the production is definitely a notch or three higher. On this song, the ominous, repeated guitar picking actually reminds me of the main guitar line in the Bryan Adams song “Run To You”. “Nightmare”, also off this same EP, starts with a grinding, feeding back guitar line and heavy percussion that eventually resolves into a lurching rhythm and swirling wall of noise punctuated by occasional slashes of guitar. “Simple Addictions” almost reminds me of a slowed-down version of Bauhaus’ cover of Brian Eno’s “Third Uncle” only with a down-tuned variant of the guitar from the Clash’s “Police On My Back”. The vocals here sound really processed too, another thing they seemed to share with Psi Com.
Screams For Tina didn’t release their first full-length album until 1994’s Screams For Tina. It has more of the grinding buzz of “Dark Entries” by Bauhaus, especially on songs like “Judgment Day” and “In Her House”. The latter is probably my favorite song by this group; the vocals here bring to my mind some of the “new wave revival” bands of the last 10 years, people like the Editors. Its driving rhythm sets it apart from some of the other songs, which like Psi Com’s tend to kind of run together for me.
Savage Republic is another LA post-punk band that focused more on atmospheric soundscapes and near-drone sonics. Unlike Screams For Tina, Savage Republic was prolific in the studio, and several of their early albums are available on iTunes and elsewhere commercially. I’m not a huge fan of 1982’s Tragic Figures; this album is too intentionally strident and arty, sounding like a weird cross between the dark post-punk meanderings of Killing Joke, the angular funk of Gang of Four, and the harsh industrial clamor of Einsturzende Neubauten, especially on songs like “Machinery”. I actually like all three of these bands a lot, but Savage Republic’s take on this same territory just doesn’t strike my fancy. Songs like “Real Men” remind me of some of the stuff Sonic Youth were doing early in their career, or Kerosene-era Big Black.
Much more to my liking is their smoother, more polished sound on 1985’s Ceremonial, particularly on instrumentals like “Andalusia”, “1000 Days”, and “Walking Backwards”. The title song and “Year of Exile” almost sound like the post-rock of bands like Rachel’s and Mogwai. Their 1988 album Customs never really moved beyond what they accomplished here, and the band broke up soon afterward.
Another band that trod the territory between goth and post-punk was the Abecedarians. Both the Abecedarians and Jane’s Addiction played regularly at the LA’s goth-metal-alternative club Scream, and both bands were chosen to contribute a song to the now-legendary “Scream Album”, a compilation of songs by bands who frequently played the club, which came out in 1987. I can distinctly remember when that album came out, because I was both going to the Scream club fairly frequently at that time and because I absolutely loved the song “Rotten Sunday” by the grungy blues/punk/hard rock band the Hangmen, who I saw play at Scream around that time. The Abecedarian’s song on the Scream compilation, “They Said Tomorrow” is an exemplar of their sound, which was not so much gothic as it was just crisp, tightly played post-punk with a slightly morose edge. The vocals, by singer Chris Manecke, are particularly good; like many of the bands on this post, they owe a debt to Bowie and Peter Murphy but in this case Manecke is not trying too hard to perfectly replicate the stentorian baritone of these singers but instead uses their influences to enhance his own particular talents. Sonically, the Abecedarians remind me a little of a less depressed Joy Division or maybe a less stoned Echo and the Bunnymen, as mentioned less goth per se and really more just atmospheric post-punk. Off their 1987 album Eureka, I particularly like the crisp, driving “Beneath the City of the Hedonistic Bohemians” and the quieter “Misery of Cities” and “The Other Side of the Fence”. Like Savage Republic, they sometimes trade too heavily in textures and moods, like on the perfectly fine but rather bland “Soil” and “I Glide”. “Smiling Monarchs” has a big clapping beat and swirling snyths that make me think of Thompson Twins; this would have made a great dance single to play at LA’s underage dance club 321 around the year 1984. “Benway’s Carnival” is too frenetic; “Switch” sounds too much like a shadow of “Age of Consent” by New Order. I am developing a liking for this band but so far it has been a taste acquired with some effort, they aren’t super accessible or catchy but, like another band I’ve come to like from that place and time, Orange County’s Psychobud, they do a solid job within the confines of their sound.
Another band featured on the Scream compilation, and one that also played that club a lot obviously, are Francis X and the Bushmen. Their sound is a crisp, produced arena post-punk with hints of hard rock. Francis X’s vocals move from deep to keening much like Iggy Pop’s in his 80’s solo work, which is what the band also sounds like to me--I’m thinking of songs like “Power and Freedom” and “Candy” by Ig. Francis also sounds like late era TSOL to me too when he sings, before they went hard rock, like on their album Change Today. Their only recorded foray into the studio was the 1986 EP Soul Incest. “Mirror Church” and “Come With Me” have a polished post-punk sound with a hard rock edge to it. “Harlequin” almost reminds me of Shriekback, with it’s shouted choruses and rangy rhythm. I like this band but want to like them more given how often I remember seeing them advertised back in the day, especially at the Scream club, but so far they just haven’t clicked for me, their sound is a little too sterile. I’ll bet they were way better live.
A band that Francis X and the Bushmen sort of remind me of, only less gothy of course, is the Sisters of Mercy. Indeed, if the Scream club had a patron saint band, SoM would definitely be it; their mix of hardcore old-school goth—Andrew Eldritch’s voice literally SOUNDS skinny and pale, he sounds like an even more cadaverous Low-era David Bowie—with driving arena/hard rock that hits pretty much all of the musical talking points of the Scream culture, so perhaps it is not surprising to hear echoes of their sound and style in many of the 80’s LA goth bands. I recently downloaded a bunch of songs off their 1987 magnum opus Floodland. I can remember when this album came out; I was a big fan of the song “This Corrosion”, partly because it is simply a great, catchy song, and partly because the video extensively featured new member and gorgeous goth pinup Patricia Morrison, formerly of the seminal LA punk band the Bags (and eventually to become Mrs. Dave Vanian as well as a short-term member of his band the Damned). The bouncy synths and booming choruses of this song are still amazingly catchy, but I’ve actually come to like some of the other songs on this incredible album even more, including the sleek “Flood II”, the grinding, tortured ‘Emma”, and currently my favorite is the dark, driving masterpiece “Lucretia My Reflection”, a song that surely represents, along with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus, the apotheosis of goth as an artistic statement. The crisp rhythm, the crypt-y vocals, and the huge guitar riffs bring this song out of the caverns and into the arena in a perfect way. Eldritch continued to explore this harder edged rock sound on 1990’s Vision Thing, and the title track, “Detonation Boulevard”, and “You Could Be The One” are all magnificent.
Of all the bands playing at clubs like Scream in LA in the mid/late 80’s, I have yet to come across one as interesting as Human Drama. Human Drama was the brainchild of singer Johnny Indovina. Indovina’s first band, which he started in New Orleans in the early 80’s, was the Models; a performance video of their song “Fool To Try” is uploaded on YouTube, and their sound is pretty standard new wave rock in the Fleshtones mold and their look is a very dated early 80’s image similar to that of the Romantics. But the song is catchy and Johnny’s vocals are certainly impressive and hint at better things to come.
Around 1985 Johnny moved to LA and changed the name of his band to Human Drama. Like Kommunity FK, Savage Republic, Abecedarians, and Francis X and the Bushmen, they quickly became regular performers at Scream (they too are featured on the Scream compilation). In 1988 they signed a major label record deal with RCA records and recorded and released both an EP and their debut album, Feel, that same year. The two records are available as a combined album on iTunes and are, to put it simply, staggering. Human Drama lean more toward the romantic, optimistic end of the goth spectrum, and unlike pretty much every other band mentioned in this post, Indovina’s vocals do not hew tightly to the Bowie/Murphy mold. Quite the contrary; Johnny’s vocal range is almost staggering, moving from a emotive whisper to a wild falsetto shriek, often within the same song. At times his voice does evoke a hint of Peter Murphy, especially at quieter moments, but during his more energetic periods he almost reminds me of Meat Loaf, like on his 1993 smash hit “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”, or even British theatrical star Michael Crawford’s work from “The Phantom of the Opera” (like “Music Of The Night”, for example, a song I love because I saw Phantom in LA in the early 90’s). Musically the band sounds like a cross between the hard rock of Sonic Temple-era Cult and the slick, almost over-produced arena rock of bands like the Outfield (I recently scandalized all of my Facebook friends by admitting that I am a HUGE closet Outfield fan; indeed, I would consider the Outfield to be my most shameful secret love. But I can’t help it, I’m addicted to their sleek, over polished Journey wannabe songs, and have been ever since “Your Love”. But I absolutely love “Moving Target”, “All the Love”, “Mystery Man”, “61 Seconds”, “I Don’t Need Her”, “Say It Isn’t So”—probably my second favorite song next to “Your Love”—and Bangin’ On My Heart”.) .
There are definitely times when Human Drama’s arena rock histrionics, and Johnny’s vocals in particular, go catapulting right over the top and become almost satirical. “Never Never” for example, is just too maudlin lyrically and vocally, too emphatic and overwrought, as is “Through My Eyes”; Johnny just sounds too shriek-y here. “Nothing I Judge” is fine, but the atheist in me recoils from the chorus “You’re making me, run from Jesus” (yeah, so?) and I’m also not a fan of the quasi-funky but overly processed guitar on this song. But honestly, these are just a couple of minor low points on what is otherwise an incredible album; usually Johnny’s sense of, for want of a better word, drama, brings his melodic and well-crafted songs right up to the knife edge of emotional resonance. “Death of an Angel”, for example, starts with a gently picking guitar and some orchestral strings that immediately bring to mind “Edie (Ciao Baby)” by the Cult and builds into a magical chorus by Johnny, particularly at the end of the song when Johnny shares the vocals with a magnificent female singer, who perfectly counter-points Johnny’s chorus with her plaintive vocals. “I Wish I Could See” starts out with a strange pulsing synth line but bursts out into another huge bombastic chorus straight out of Meat Loaf territory.
To me the two best songs on this album are “Heaven On Earth” and “Dying In a Moment of Splendor”. “Heaven” is semi-acoustic, and Johnny does a terrific job of working through his tremendous range without ever going over-the-top; in the chorus he sounds a lot like Patrick Mata, lush and emotional in that perfect, goth-y New-Ro-y way. This song has tremendous power for such a relatively quiet song.
But “Dying In A Moment of Splendor” is hands-down the best song on this album, and one of the best songs to come out of LA’s music scene in the 80’s. It certainly starts mellowly enough, semi-acoustic like “Heaven” but building to the most magnificent chorus on an album full of magnificent choruses; here Johnny’s voice veers toward the leather-lunged power of Kevin Dubrow of Quiet Riot (I was always a closet fan of theirs, and particularly loved “Mental Health”). For the life of me I can’t even conceive of hearing such a soaring, magnificent song/chorus in a grungy nightclub like Scream; I’d give anything to see Human Drama there now! But it is a little surprising and disappointing that this song never received its proper due and sufficient promotion by the record company; many bands with goth leanings were breaking into the mainstream by the late 80’s when this came out, including the aforementioned Cult, Depeche Mode, the Cure, and Morrissey. This could and should have been at least a minor hit on KROQ and other “alternative” radio stations.
Indeed, because RCA put little to no promotion into Feel, Johnny requested their release from the label shortly thereafter. Since then Johnny has continued to release exquisitely romantic, emotional albums on independent labels like LA’s Triple-X Records. One of my favorite is 1992’s The World Inside; I especially like the jangly, sweet “This Tangled Web”, which reminds me of “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” by the Smiths with a hint of the lush keyboards of Goldfrapp’s “Number 1” mixed in for good measure. But my second favorite Human Drama song next to “Splendor” is the truly sublime “Fascination and Fear”. Everything about this song is perfect, from the repeating, trebly guitar to the bongo percussion (particularly at the break) to the sweet synth flourishes to the clavichord coming out of the break, and of course it builds to a chorus of staggeringly under-stated power. Patrick Mata of Kommunity FK provides backing vocals on the chorus, perfectly blending with Johnny’s own vocals. It is wonderful to hear these two LA goth luminaries harmonizing together in such perfect sync. Overall the song is sweet, lush, romantic and beautiful, an almost perfect American counterpoint to “Human” by the Human League. Such a fantastic song.
Another magnificent song is “Lost” off 1999’s Solemn Sun Setting, with its martial drumbeat and gently fuzzed out, humming guitar, the soft string accompaniment, and Johnny’s gentle, sweet vocal. My only problem with this song, and much of the rest of Johnny’s work throughout the rest of the 90’s and into the 21st century, is that he kept getting farther and farther from the power and drama of his earlier work. I love this song, but I would absolutely adore it if Johnny just cut loose on it, and belted the final chorus out in his legendarily powerful falsetto. It stays too understated for my tastes, and indeed most of Johnny’s post-Feel work shied away from the arena bombast that characterized his first album, and that’s a shame.
Songs like “Lost” remind me of Peter Murphy’s post-Bauhaus solo work. Like most alternative rock fans, I loved his hit “Cuts You Up” off his third solo effort, 1989’s Deep, especially his rich, textured baritone on the chorus, but only in doing some research for this post did I go back and listen to his solo albums in more detail and discover how many incredible songs he has recorded over the past 25 years. From that same album I love the song “Crystal Wrists”, with its pulsing synth intro and the swirling guitars-and-keyboards wall of sound punctuated by Murphy’s distinctively deep and resonant vocals. I also really love the simple torch song “My Last Two Weeks” and its dramatic piano flourishes, and the delicate, shimmery “Indigo Eyes” off his second solo album, 1988’s Love Hysteria.
Murphy waited three years before recording his follow-up to Deep, spending that time touring on the strength of “Cuts You Up”. In 1992 he released Holy Smoke, which contained another song that became a modest modern rock hit, “The Sweetest Drop”, but my favorite cut off this album is the aptly named “Hit Song”, which, while unabashedly pop in nature, is one of the best showcases for Murphy’s incredible vocal range that he ever recorded. For me it is impossible to listen to this song and not start belting out the big quavery chorus with Peter, this is just such a catchy, singable pop song.
1995’s Cascade represents a high water mark in Murphy’s post-Bauhaus work. The album was bristling with edgy but catchy songs that captured Murphy’s fractured lyrical bent and his magnificent voice at their very best. From the synth-heavy and sweetly melodic “Gliding Like a Whale” to the hard-edged guitar sound of “Wild Birds Flock To Me”, the songwriting here is crisp and stellar. The arty tones of Murphy’s prior work have been ramped down, as have the more nakedly pop aspects of his things like “Hit Song” in favor for a solid alternative rock ambiance that fits Murphy’s beautiful voice perfectly. This album meets, and often exceeds, even his work with Bauhaus, which despite their lionization by goth rockers because of their position as the godfathers of the entire goth movement, was often too harsh or purposely avant garde to be really enjoyable to listen to. “The Scarlet Thing In You” is another standout track, the mix of electric and acoustic guitar and mid-tempo rhythm melding to create a pleasantly rollicking song anchored as always by Murphy’s distinctive vocals. But the standout track here, and easily one of the top songs of Murphy’s long solo career, is “I’ll Fall With Your Knife”, which starts with a percolating synth line but is quickly punctuated by beautiful raw stabs of guitar that almost remind me of “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Murphy’s vocals are exquisite and the song eventually picks up some drive with a crisp drumbeat midway through. This song is just catchy and irresistible.
Murphy’s two subsequent albums, 2002’s Dust and 2004’s Unshattered, did not resonate so well with me. Dust is a side exploration into Eastern and ambient sounds that is too trip-hop, too mellow for my tastes. 2004’s Unshattered veered back into treacly pop and aside from the surging, almost funky “Idle Flow”, none of the songs really reach out and grab me. But in 2011 Murphy released the album Ninth which is a return to the delicate balance between pop, art, and alterna-rock represented by Cascade. I like the propulsive rhythm and chugging guitar of “The Prince & Old Lady Shade”, which has more bite than almost any Murphy song since “Stigmata Martyr”. “Memory Go” also has a tougher edge to it than most of Murphy’s post-Bauhaus solo work. “I Spit Roses” is more delicate, while my favorite song off this album, “Seesaw Sway” combines the mellower aspects of “Roses” in its verse portions with the harder rock edges of “Memory Go” on the chorus. I like this song and find the chorus to be particularly catchy, it reminds me a lot of the propulsive, soaringly optimistic singles U2 has released over the past 20 years or so, stuff like “Zoo Station”, “Beautiful Day” and “Vertigo”.
Getting back to 80’s LA post-punk, there is one other band worth discussing here that shares links with Jane’s Addiction, and that’s Lions & Ghosts. Like Jane’s Addiction, Lions & Ghosts were regular performers at Scream, but they also shared a closer connection: vocalist Rick Parker actually lived at the legendary Wilton House, the Hollywood house that Perry Farrell, Casey Nicoli, Eric Avery, Jane Bainter (the inspiration for “Jane Says”) and Carla Bozulich (who would go on to form both the techno rock band Ethyl Meatplow and the countrified Geraldine Fibbers) all shared. Legend has it that Perry broke into Rick’s room and started reading and making fun of some of his lyrics until he and Parker got in a fistfight, then Parker moved out shortly thereafter.
If you were to pick one band out of the stew of bands gigging throughout LA during the mid/late 80’s that would be the best bet to make it big, Lions & Ghosts would almost assuredly be that band. Unlike the other bands on this list, they weren’t even peripherally associated with LA’s goth scene but were instead a straight-ahead, if somewhat earnest college rock/bar band in the vein of the Replacements or the Alarm, with a bit of the jangle-pop sheen of REM and psychedelia-lite of the Church tossed on top for good measure. However, they also remind me of two other bands from about that same time that also share links with Jane’s Addiction. One of them is Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers. At about the same time that Jane’s Addiction was creating a buzz and initiating a bidding war with record companies on the west coast, Tommy Conwell’s hard-edged bar rock was packing ‘em in in clubs in the bars around Philly and eventually he and his band got signed to Columbia Records at about the same time Jane’s Addiction got signed to rival Warner’s. Conwell’s first album, Rumble, was a blast of pure bar band blues and hard rock and spawned a couple of modestly successful singles, the fantastic grinding rocker “I’m Not Your Man” (a song that earned valid comparisons to the best of the Replacements) and the earnest, Jules Shear-penned ballad “If We Never Meet Again”. I remember all of this for two reasons: first, there was a huge article on the respective bidding wars over both Jane’s A and Tommy Conwell at the time in Rolling Stone magazine that I read (and subsequently kept), and second, around this time my then-girlfriend, future wife went to some party at some generic dance club/bar and they gave out promotional copies of Conwell’s album for free and my girlfriend hated it and promptly gave it to me. In addition to the two singles, I also liked “Half A Heart” and “Love’s On Fire” but the rest of the album didn’t break out of its bar band mold enough to move the needle for me.
The other band Lions & Ghosts reminds me of is Divine Weeks, another LA band that gigged around in the 80’s. Originally called the Need and more of a powerpop band, Divine Weeks shifted their sound toward more of a college alternative sound about midway between REM and the Replacements. I was very familiar with Divine Weeks because most of its members, including leader Bill See, went to UCLA, although they were a couple years older than me. However, Bill’s then-girlfriend, and manager of Divine Weeks, Mary, worked at the UCLA college radio station KLA at the same time I did circa ‘86’-’89 and I can distinctly recall seeing her in the offices of KLA many times (I believe at the time she had bright red dyed hair and a nose ring but I could be wrong), and I can also remember her setting up a free concert by them on the A-Level of Ackerman Union sometime around ’88 or ’89. A couple years ago See published 33 Days, a memoir of exactly this period and his band’s first real tour, a self-promoted swing up into the Pacific Northwest then east through Canada before swinging around in a big loop through the Southwest. I greatly enjoyed reading this; in the summer of ’88 I was living up in LA, working part-time on UCLA campus and spending most of the rest of the time laying out at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center and working out at the on-campus gym, so for me that also was a summer of freedom and exploration, and reading Bill’s enjoyable account of his band’s trip was extremely pleasant for me given his band’s close connection to institutions (LA, UCLA, KLA) that were close to me as well. Toward the end of the book Bill claims that Eric Avery and Dave Navarro contacted him shortly around this time to ask if he’d be interested in joining Jane’s Addiction; at the time, lead singer Perry Farrell was alienating the other band members by insisting on a greater share of the writing credits and supposedly Rick Rubin had offered to sign the rest of the band with any other singer fronting them. See passed up the opportunity in order to remain with his own band, which I respect a lot.
Anyway, Lions & Ghosts had a tremendous buzz around LA from about 1985 or ’86 until the end of the decade, gigging around with bands as disparate as Jane’s Addiction, Faster Pussycat, the Unforgiven, and Guns n’ Roses. In late 1986 they signed with EMI and entered the studio to record their first album, 1987’s Velvet Kiss, Lick of the Lime. The album hits most if not all of the touch points of mid 80’s music: big choruses, jangly Paisley Underground guitars, occasional surging hard rock guitar riffs, a raspy voiced singer, in a competent if not particularly memorable way. Leadoff song “Passion” is mid-tempo and melodic, and the “Live by passion, die by passion” chorus has a sing-songy aspect that actually reminds me of “She Don’t Know Me” by Bon Jovi. “Mary Goes Round” was a modest college radio hit, and has more punch to it, with a driving bass and backbeat, slashing guitars and a catchy chorus; it almost reminds me of a slightly less psychedelic “Reptile” by the Church, but with more of the bite of “Lay It Down Clown” by the Replacements in the guitar solo. “Love and Kisses from the Gutter” almost reminds me of “Alex Chilton” by the ‘mats, it’s got that kind of shiny driving feel. “When the Moon is Full” starts with some lush strings right out of Electric Light Orchestra before a guitar riff straight out of Power Station’s remake of “Bang a Gong” by T. Rex kicks in; the slashing guitar continues to counter-point the sweet strings throughout the song in a very effective way. This is probably my favorite song off this first album by Lions & Ghosts. “Wilton House” is Rick Parker’s nostalgic look back at his time spent in this fertile abode, which launched so many great bands; this is a tight, effective ballad that evokes “Here Comes a Regular” by the Replacements to me. Album closer “One Theme” starts with some backward tape looping before easing into a shimmery guitar piece that brings to mind the work of Rain Parade; Parker’s vocal work here is reminiscent of that of Bono’s to me, but this song lacks the fire or catchiness of most of the other songs on this album, except for the big shiny “Sha na na, na na na, na na na nah-na na” choruses at the end that reminds me of “Rain in the Summertime” by the Alarm.
Aside from some college radio interest, Velvet Kiss didn’t really go anywhere, and in 1989 Lions & Ghosts released their second album, Wild Garden. The title song is another crisp, catchy blast of melodic college alterna-rock that is one of their best songs. The band really captured the feel of late 80’s Replacements, songs like “I.O.U.” and again “Alex Chilton” off the ‘mat’s 1987 album Please To Meet Me. “Arson in Toyland”, however, just kind of lurches along and never really catches fire for me; its not a bad song, but it just doesn’t have much fire in it, unlike the next song, “Five and Dime”, which lopes along nicely. “Farewell in Hell” and “Too Shy” are two other standouts, harnessing the energy and fire of the band effectively. “Flowers of Evil” and “Be Yourself” are a little too introspective for me, but “American Ghost” has a wild rave-up sound close to Tommy Conwell’s, with some good harmonica to boot. “Capture” almost sounds to me like the stuff the Gin Blossoms would take into the top echelons of the charts in the early 90’s, or perhaps “She Don’t Know” by the Bolshoi (I saw that band for free on the A-Level at UCLA around this time too). “Hourglass” is rootsier and acoustic before cranking it up mid-song.
I’m not sure why Lions & Ghosts never made it bigger; they had a sound tailor-made to appeal to several broad musical constituencies, with elements of hard rock, college rock, Paisley Underground pop, and so forth. For whatever reason they weren’t ever able to break through outside of a couple of modest college radio hits and broke up soon after. Guitarist Michael Lockwood arguably went on to the biggest success of any LA 80’s musician, marrying the daughter of the King himself, Lisa Presley in 2006 after playing in her band for a few years.
Bill See and Divine Weeks never made it much past the early 90’s either, though Bill has continued to perform and to write since then. I think that Divine Weeks had two strikes against them that precluded their chance at success: first, they literally WERE college students, so that probably caused some in the music biz to consider them less authentic or street-cred than some of the grungier elements in the LA 80’s music scene, who literally lived on the streets (in his memoir, Duff McKagen of Guns n’ Roses recounts how the band lived in like a storage unit right off Hollywood Blvd. before signing with Geffen). Second, the inability of Lions & Ghosts to break out of the collegiate rock ghetto probably caused other labels to be gun shy about making the same poor investment themselves.
Patrick Mata continues to tour and release music and has become something of an underground goth icon, appearing frequently in goth-centered magazines.
Johnny Indovina has continued to perform into the 2000’s, first as a member of his first post-Human Drama band, Sound of the Blue Heart, and then as a solo artist. His work, particularly with Human Drama, continues to retain a fiercely loyal cult following, and is particularly big in Mexico.