Fuzzy memories: Timothy Gassen and the Marshmallow Overcoat
Once upon a time in the 1980s, when your friendly neighborhood music columnist was just a wee cub, too young to go to 21 and over shows but old enough to know the names of local bands, she was keenly aware of the fact that certain Tucson acts transcended the borders of our dusty desert homestead. Many bands toured coast to coast or tried their luck for a while in places like L.A. or Portland. Some had small record deals and minor followings on far-flung college radio stations.
And then there was that special contingent known as "big in Europe." Mostly, these were the proverbial "desert rockers" such as Howe Gelb's Giant Sand and the late great desert blues rock maven Rainer Ptacek. But one of the biggest little "big in Europe" bands was a group that didn't fit the desert rock template by any stretch of the imagination. In an era of big hair and skinny ties, and bar-band anthems, the Marshmallow Overcoat brought psychedelic reverence and pure garage fuzz back front and center. And three decades later, Overcoat frontman Timothy Gassen is still at the helm.
Gassen, also a garage rock historian and music journalist, recently documented the band's 30-year odyssey in the documentary "All You Need Is Fuzz: 30 Years in a Garage Band," now available for streaming on Vimeo and at the band's website www.allyouneedisfuzz.com. One imagines the man spends his downtime listening to long-lost fuzz and drone-soaked garage rock rarities on limited edition vinyl over 7.1 surround sound, but maybe he just chills and binge watches Netflix like the rest of us. Either way, he kindly took some time this week to talk to me about the film, the Overcoat, and the state of music today.
TucsonSentinel.com: How did this film project come about?
Timothy Gassen: "I have been a journalist and filmmaker documenting rock music or many decades, and I was looking for a subject for a feature documentary about underground musicians. Since I had all the vintage footage, photos, music and a 30th anniversary coming up for the Marshmallow Overcoat it seemed like the right time!"
TS: These days, there are a ton of psychedelia steeped and garage infused bands, but back when the Marshmallow Overcoat started, it seems like even though there were all these 60s influenced and "Paisley Underground" kind of bands around, playing in a "pure" garage band was an anomaly. What pushed you to take the path you did rather than adapt to the zeitgeist?
TG: "We never did fit in completely with the 1980s "Paisley Underground" scene. The band has always infused punk energy, pop sensibilities, and '60s fuzz into our musical stew and surviving for three decades means that thousands of other bands have come and gone in all kinds of associated genres. In many ways we've become our own genre of garage rock by surviving this long!
TS: Over three decades in the same band you've had more than your share of adventures I'd imagine. What are a couple anecdotes that stick out?
TG: "In Europe, on tour, a very excited fan came backstage to meet us in Italy, and when I shook her hand she fainted. Everyone turned to look, and for a split second I thought she was dead and I would spend my life in an Italian prison. Thankfully she woke up, and we all had a great laugh. I kept my distance from her, though!"
TS: Talk about some of the folks who've been in your band over the years. For instance, I know our mutual friend Matt Rendon of the Resonars was part of the lineup for a while, as well as Al Perry.
TG: "The extremely talented folks who have been in this band is the actual reason I made this film — I wanted to thank them for the decades of this musical journey. Originally I didn't want to be in the film at all, but we found I had to be in order to help tell the story, since I'm the only one who has been in the band for the entire 30 years!"
"Arizona guitar legend Al Perry is our original guitarist, and he re-joined for this film and the 30th-anniversary concert. The band would have never gotten off the ground, or made its first record, without Al Perry. I will always be grateful to him for that."
"My older brother Scot Gassen has been our drummer on and off since the late 1980s, and it was always my dream to be in a band with him. Longtime keyboardist Debra Dickey (now Harms) also made the band possible. This film is my love letter to all who have made our sounds. By the way, Tucson Sentinel's own Dylan Smith played drums on a 45 by one of our garage offshoot bands, the Purple Merkins!"
TS: The things one doesn't realize about one's editor. Speaking of fine journalists, I understand that your wife is a pretty brilliant one. Care to give her a shout out?
TG: "Sarah Garrecht Gassen is the kick-ass editorial page editor at the Arizona Daily Star (where I was a staffer and where now I am a hockey columnist.)"
TS: Back to the music nerd questions now. What are your thoughts on the state of both psych and garage inspired music today and the music scene in general? What about local music?
TG: "The Tucson scene will always be strong because this is such a unique place to be an artist, and underground music always flourishes here. The definition of how kids use 'garage' and 'psych' as a description has changed so much in recent years that, to me, most bands which use those labels are not actually in the genre. I've written several books on the neo-garage-psych movement, so I've seen it evolve."
TS: You took a genre you loved, formed a band around it and got some recognition for it and then kept it going for three decades. That's pretty punk rock for a psychedelic grage outfit! What would be your advice to musicians wrestling with the question of continuing to do what they live vs. playing ball with the conventional music industry?
TG: "Musicians need to decide early: are you making music to express and fulfill yourself as an artist or do you want to be product? We survived for three decades because we made the music we wanted to. We figured a way to make enough money to make our next album, or go on our next tour, or to make a feature film, but we gave up any commercial pretension, thankfully, very early in our journey. Bands which exist for commercial purposes are boring. Period."
TS: What are some of your all time favorite tracks by other artists?
t: "Essential listening for garage-psych fans: The Seeds first LP, The first three albums by Love, The first two albums by The Electric Prunes, The first album by The Music Machine, 1980s Echo and the Bunnymen, Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Chesterfield Kings. I write about 5,000 of my faves in my "Knights of Fuzz" book."
TS: Tell us some more about the documentary. Where can we see it?
TG: "You don't need to know anything about our band, or indie music, to understand our journey in the film. Hopefully we share the universal struggle of creative people trying to communicate, make art, and keep going. You can stream or download the film at Vimeo, and we have a very limited edition Blu-ray disc available, too.
TS: Any future live Overcoat plans in the works?
TG: "We'll have a new LP out in Italy in November, and the label wants to bring us back to Europe. We'll see if our walkers will fit on the plane!"
TS: Any parting words for the readers?
TG: "Thanks to all who continue to support what we do. Start your own band. Make your own noise!"
Hardest working folks in Tucson music, episode the first: Juju Fontaine/Watercolor drummer John Matzek
Last year, when a local band interview fell apart at the last minute and your humble local rock writer was scrambling to find a column idea, she begged for the aid of some local musicians she knew and put together a little feature called "The hardest working men in Tucson show business" featuring a handful of local rhythm players doing double or sometimes triple duty or more in various local bands. The article was fun to do and turned out great for a last minute brainstorm, but it also generated a list of unofficial nominations for even more "hardest working folks" playing instruments around town.
While almost a year has gone by since that last article, and a lot more talented moonlighters now fit the bill, there's still no shortage of familiar faces on local stages and I intend to document as many as I can in this space in the coming weeks. With that said, it's always best to begin at the beginning.
When I put out the call for more "hardest working folks..." nominees this year, one of the first messages I got was from last year's bassist of the hour, John Read, a monster multitasker who currently plays both electric bass and upright in Juju Fontaine, Shit Knife and Watercolor. His nomination? None other than his rhythm section mate of the last several months in Juju and Watercolor, Mr. John Matzek.
Matzek has been playing in Tucson area bands for over 20 years including the gorgeous noise fest that was How To Build A Rocketship in the early 2000s. His versatile drumming style ranges from Keith Moonesque crashing angst to intricate Steely Dan jazz and subtle, delicate baroque pop chime. He's also a rather good sport and stepped up to be a guinea pig for my first rhythm section profile for 2018 (don't worry, folks, your favorites will be very likely be featured in the coming weeks!)
TucsonSentinel.com: What bands are you currently in in town?
John Matzek: "Juju Fontaine and Watercolor. I play drums in both, and contribute vocals in Watercolor."
TS: What do you love about each band and what's different in each?
JM: "In Juju we have such powerful songs that are accessible to the listener but are complex musically. Watercolor has some similarities with song structures but is very different in that we have multiple songwriters and do more collective song construction as a band."
TS: What makes you "tick" as a rhythm player?
JM: "Rhythm? I’m more of a melody instrument as a drummer."
TS: Touche! You also play guitar, bass, piano...what is your favorite instrument to play and why?
JM: "Drums are my first and favorite and it’s easy for me because after all this time drumming is an extension of my body. I play guitar as a song-writing vessel."
TS: How did you fall in love with music and why did you decide to learn to play?
JM: "My mom, Tink."
TS: What was your first band?
JM: "6th grade concert band at school."
TS: I suppose that counts! Musical influences past and present?
JM: "As a song writer, The Beatles, Pernice Brothers, Wilco, Neil Young, my friend Jason Garthwait (of How to Build A Rocketship.) As a drummer, Ringo, Keith Moon, Nick Mason."
TS: Current and upcoming projects you're working on right now?
JM: "Juju has a ton of shows coming up. In Watercolor we are flirting with recording. I’m open to surprises too!"
TS: Advice to other players about playing in multiple bands or getting started in the local live music scene?
JM: "The Tucson music scene is full of amazing loving people. Meet them and play music with them. You’ll likely find bands to play with and friends for life! Keep an open mind and try new things."
You can listen to Juju Fontaine's Live At Waterworks EP at jujufontaine.bandcamp.com
Some burgers with your psych prog?
What happens when a couple of psychedelia steeped postmodern indie bands pair up with some genre bending prog rockers on a Friday night? Most likely lots of non standard guitar solos, tons of interesting musical intersections...and probably not a lot of dancing, though you never know.
This Friday night join Tucson's La Cerca, fresh from their summer tour, along with recent Northern Arizona transplants Tropical Beach and alternative modern progressive rock bands The Unday and Still Life Telescope at Midtown bands and burgers joint House of Bards.
The Progadelic Showcase featuring The Unday,Tropical Beach, Still Life Telescope, and La Cerca takes place this Friday night at 8 p.m. at House of Bards in Midtown Tucson.
Accentuate the Negative
In the 1980s and 90s, avant-garde industrial pioneers Negativland made waves often for testing the boundaries of copyright and satire as they skewered pop culture icons, well-known brands and institutions in the name of culture jamming. Taking on giants from organized Christianity to Pepsi to U2, no cow was too sacred.
While time and mortality have certainly taken their toll on the band in recent years, with the deaths of bands members Ian Allen, Don Joyce and most recently Richard Lyons, several of the original members are still active including founding member Mark Hosler, who lives right here in Tucson.
This Saturday night you can hang out with this noisy genius of weird while making a gleeful racket of your own at "A Noisy Night at Xerocraft," an electronic music noise jam at the Downtown makerspace. The event will include a virtual interview between Hosler and fellow Negativlander David Wills via video chat and an all-hands-on-deck noise jam with Hosler and Arizona electronic musicians Gabriella Isaac, Charis Elliot and Confirmation Bias.
The event takes place from 8-10 p.m. at Xerocraft Hackerspace in the Steinfeld Warehouse Arts Building Downtown. A hands on workshop on making your own electronic "blooper" noisemakers precedes the show at 5 p.m. at the space.
The Quarry turns four!
For Tucson music fans in search of a quick day trip or a short excursion to cooler climes, there is no place better than Bisbee and no venue more prolific than the Quarry.
The quirky eatery and live music venue has done well by Tucson and Southern Arizona bands in its short tenure, hosting live music pretty much every weekend and welcoming Tucsonans like old friends every time. This weekend The Quarry celebrates its fourth anniversary in style at the Party of The Summer, featuring Tucson horror punks The Mission Creeps, Larkspurs, and Bisbee's own The Exbats.
The Party of the Summer takes place at 8 p.m. Saturday night at The Quarry in Bisbee, about 90 minutes southeast of Tucson.
Check your local listings...
Friday, August 3
- El Tambó: Yanga & Sister Mantos, DJQ - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- Local Love Tribute Takeove: The Jack/Priest Unleashed/Mr Skynyrd - 7 p.m. Rialto
- The Unday, Still Life Telescope, Tropical Beach, La Cerca - 8 p.m. House of Bards
- Brokedown Palace - 9 p.m. The Parish
- Club Sanctuary Presents: Disco Bloodbath! - 9 p.m. Cans Deli
- Old School Hype, Alexander Re - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
- What's Burlesk - 9 p.m. Surly Wench
Saturday, August 4
- ExoElectric w/ Charis Elliot - 4:30 p.m. XerocraftCochise County All Stars - 6 p.m. Mercado
- Hallow Point Elyzian Tribunus Leo and the Libra Eyes Go Black - 7 p.m. House of Bards
- Santa Pachita - 7 p.m. Playground
- Taco Sauce, Bruja and the Coyote, The Pork Torta - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- The Jits - 7 p.m. Crooked Tooth
- A Noisy Night at Xerocraft: w/ Confirmation Bias, Charis Elliot, Gabriella Isaac and Mark Hosler of Negativland! - 8 p.m. Xerocraft
- Tradiciones Entre Peruanos - 8 p.m. Exo Roast
- Mutiny at the Surly Wench (DJs) - 9 p.m. Surly Wench
- Pushing Buttons - 9 p.m. Cans Deli
- Party of the Summer w/ Larkspurs, The Mission Creeps, The ExBats - 8 p.m. The Quarry (Bisbee, AZ)
Sunday, August 5
- Summer Brunch with The Two Amigos - 11 am Playground
- Brokedown Palace - 5 p.m. Public Brewhouse
- Lola Torch & The Torchbearers (Cabaret) - 8 p.m. Cans Deli
Tuesday, August 7
- Bang Data, Sonido Tambo, Ojala Systems - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- Pete Anderson - 7 p.m. Cans Deli
- Stephen Marley - 7 p.m. Rialto
- Watchdogs, Penalty Box, Crossfire, Construct - 7 p.m. Spark Project Collective
- Sad Baxter, Whispering Wires - 9 p.m. Bar Passe
Wednesday, August 8
- Austin Counts - 7 p.m. Tap & Bottle North
- Little Cloud - 7 p.m. Public Brewhouse
- Rebirth Brass Band - 8 p.m. Rialto
Thursday, August 9
- Kyklo - 7 p.m. The Coronet
- Last Crime, Via Vengeance, Pornohelmut - 7 p.m. Cans Deli
- Let's Talk About Sex, Baby - 7:30 p.m. Club Congress
- Katie Haverly and the Aviary - 8:30 p.m. Tap & Bottle
- The Rifle, Long Neck, Fern Mayo, Logan Greene - 9 p.m. Owl's