Pell Mell - Interstate
Vinyl and CD | FN337 | 1995
I left New Zealand to run Flying Nun Europe out of London in 1994. The idea was to sell more of our releases across Europe. There was press and publicity to be generated in the UK and unrealised sales to be had for the catalogue across the whole of Europe. I got on with it.
Over the next few years, David Kilgour, Chris Knox, Tall Dwarfs, Loves Ugly Children, the Bats, JPS Experience, Straitjacket Fits, Bailter Space, Garageland, Martin Phillipps, and The 3Ds all came over and played gigs and festivals and did tours and endlessly talked to curious music journalists in support of their record releases. It was exciting and exhausting.
I also got a touch distracted. There was something going on around the fringe of popular music making that I could not quite put my finger on. The guys who ran the Rough Trade shop in Covert Garden wouldn’t stop talking about this new music. Music that was hard to find let alone categorise: angular but accessible guitar instrumentals, albums of endlessly spacey seemingly songless noodling, minimal and precise mathematical electronic offerings made by boffins, anthemic layers of massed guitars played loud, soft, loud (a new idea then, a cliché now). One I identified as being by a band called Mogwai, but Glasgow seemed a long way away and before I worked it out, they were signed to Matador in the US. Something was certainly going on.
This was not conventional music as we understood it at the time. This was not music made by rock bands; the instrumental setups were unconventional, song structures could be unusual, vocalists were often absent and rock postures and attitudes were most certainly out. It took me a while to get my head around it. This was a reaction to what rock music had become. A sad and stale music genre that was becoming increasingly irrelevant and often laughable. The reaction against its tired excesses was a loose, amorphous and hard to define attitude rather than a genre or musical subculture. Bands from around the world were doing their own individualistic things with just enough interconnectivity with others that it quietly registered as being a thing. A hard to define rock aftermath thing loosely labelled Post Rock.
What we had as a set up in Europe could manage more capacity (a crude record business word like “volume” and “units” that we don’t need to discuss any further here). I thought we could do with the extra business and Flying Nun had a bit of a name for being adventurous. The opportunity came up, so I licensed a record I really liked, Pell Mell’s Interstate, off a US company called CDG for European release.
DGC was Geffen Records alternative music subsidiary. David Geffen was a total mover and shaker who very quickly grew Geffen into a huge multi-national record company. DGC was set up in 1991 and released the likes of Sonic Youth’s Goo in its first year of operation, and cracked the jackpot the following year with Nirvana’s Nevermind. There were some good music people at DGC and the signing of Pell Mell a few years down the line is proof of that. But it must have been obvious that Pell Mell were not going to generate any key and critical music press in the UK or reach their potential audience in Europe through the usual multinational major record company sales channels. That was our job and with it, the opportunity to do some extra business.
There were comings and goings of band members in Pell Mell’s 17-year life span from their 1980 inception in pre hipster Portland, Oregon. The accepted core line up is the one that made Interstate: David Spalding, Robert Beerman, Greg Freeman and Steve Fisk (who also worked production with North Eastern combos like Beat Happening, Nirvana, Screaming Trees, Sound Garden and more). The Pell Mell guys were regular unassuming but friendly types who just liked playing their music and occasionally making records and for whom any sort of audience was an astonishing bonus. A new breed.
Interstate is instrumental music built on understated but insistently propulsive grooves of interlocking drums, guitar and organ. It is languid freeway soundscape music that gently invokes the work of Booker T and the MG’s; there is an ensemble feel. It is a record that drives effortlessly, with subtle gear changes, towards a shimmering shifting never arriving musical horizon. I was thinking Post Rock was going somewhere.
Along with other early bits and bobs, Pell Mell released an earlier album, Flow (1991), incredibly enough, on quality LA hard-core label SST (in 1991). The band went on to make one more record, Star City (1997), which they released on New York’s Matador Records. Matador had an excellent set up in Europe selling US indie music and we were never in the mix to release that record. But Interstate is the best and most satisfying record of the three. Timeless.