I was grunge before grunge was cool—in Montana, anyway. So were most of my friends, all of us tithing our tip money to the Sub Pop Singles Club and racing each other to the record store to snag the last copy of whatever came in bearing that unmistakable (and later widely imitated) Sub Pop cover format: solid one-color bar with the artist and song titles in modest black sans-serif print up top, blurry Charles Peterson photograph below. Man, how I used to love those records—Mudhoney, Tad, the Screaming Trees double EP with one record on black vinyl and one on white. They still look good when you’re flipping through the collection.
Tad, in particular, always captured the aggressive backwoods vibe of grunge for me: desperately unfashionable schlumpfs weaned on cheap beer, Sabbath and Black Flag. Fronted by onetime butcher and Boise native Tad Doyle, the foursome won the honors for plug-ugliest band in Seattle hands-down and wrote songs that were just as rude and unrefined. The title track of 1991’s “Jack Pepsi” single pretty much sums it up: a thudding two-note bassline plowing through a banshee’s lair of feedback, with the girthsome Doyle recounting a winter night’s drinking misadventure (probably fictional, although it doesn’t take much of a stretch to believe it actually happened to him) over the top of it all: “One night, me and my friend Jack Helton from Nampa, Idaho decided to take his dad’s brand new four-by-four pickup truck out for a ride on Lake Lowell. … Well, we’d had a bellyful of Jack Daniels and some Pepsi too, and we decided: We were going for a ride!”
It’s wicked funny. When the truck crashes through the ice and settles to the bottom of the icy lake, Doyle admonishes his friend: “Hey, man, if we’re gonna make it through this alive, you’re gonna have to settle down and breathe the air off the roof.” That’s “roof” to rhyme with “hoof,” (cf. “creek” and “crick”), to really let you know where he’s coming from. For a hilarious depiction of Doyle in what seems to be his natural habitat, see if you can’t download the video for “Wood Goblins,” the video that MTV once famously refused to air—at least until they realized there might be some money in it for them.
Tad the band never even got a corner on the success that their Seattle contemporaries enjoyed, but founding members Doyle and bassist Kurt Danielson never lost their grip on what made the first Tad albums such noisy pleasures: curtly barked vocals, down-tuned guitars and skulking basslines, and layers of barely tractable feedback massaged back into the music. And they kept at it doggedly long after grunge as some kind of unified movement was discredited—their trend-proof formula for the winning ugly served them well for 10 years and four albums until they called it quits in 1997.
But the good news is that Doyle is back in the saddle with Hog Molly. And better than that: Hog Molly sounds almost exactly like Tad.
Hog Molly goes hog wild with Zeke and the International Playboys, this Friday at Jay’s at 10 PM. Cover TBA.