Old school 

Jeff Ament resurrects pre-Pearl Jam hardcore band

“It was a different time,” ventures Jeff Ament, reflecting on the state of public acceptance for dyed hair, torn and scrawled-on clothing and the other outward trappings of punk rock in Missoula, circa 1982. “It was definitely a time when you’d be walking down the street and people would yell, ‘Hey Devo!’ out their car windows.”

Same thing when Ament and his friends went to watch cover bands at places like the long-gone Trading Post and the Forum. They were often befriended by the bands—a boon to young punks just getting to grips with their instruments—but around midnight things might start getting ugly with the other patrons.

“First someone might flick a cigarette butt at our table,” Ament recalls. “Then maybe throw a couple of bottles. There were confrontations. There comes a point where you have to stand up for yourself.”

Indeed. Ament channeled his own aggression into Deranged Diction, a hardcore band that started with a chance skateboarding encounter on the University of Montana campus. At home on the Hi-Line, the Big Sandy native had caught his first whiff of punk in skateboarding magazines and ambitious rock glossies like Creem and eventually discovered Maximumrocknroll, a kind of smudgy, bimonthly newsprint Bible to a growing international network of punks trying to find each other. By the time he got to college, he remembers, there was no looking back.

“It was incredible,” he enthuses. “You could send a dollar and a tape to someone you found in MRR and two weeks later you’d get your tape back full of new music. It was like you joined this fraternity, this network of like-minded people listening to the same thing in other parts of the country.”

Galvanized, Ament and pals started playing Black Flag and Dead Kennedys covers before giving themselves the “summer assignment” of writing original songs. Three members—Ament, singer Tom Kipp and guitarist Bruce Fairweather—were avid hardcore listeners who incorporated their disparate influences into the mix; Sergio Avenia, who replaced original drummer Jon Donahue, was new to the sound and required special corrupting.    

“Sergio was a jazz drummer,” Ament explains. “I gave him [Poison Idea’s] Pick Your King and Pay to Cum by the Bad Brains and said, ‘This is what we’re after.’ Two days later he came back asking, ‘Um, are there other bands like this?’”

Ament hurled himself into bass-playing and songwriting duties. He contributed Rocky Mountain scene reports to MRR. Per hardcore convention, he took the extra gung-ho step of signing his punk rock correspondence and reportage as “Jeff Diction.”

“I was having more fun doing this than I’d ever had doing anything,” he says. “Just the energy of four guys plugging in, letting it all hang out, cooperating to somehow create some kind of art. There were times when it just felt ferocious to me, tapping into that energy, like when 50 people would show up at one of our shows and all start slam-dancing. That’s always been the thing for me with music—the energy, when it all just happens.”

Inevitably, Missoula started feeling smaller and more remote. In late 1982, Ament, Avenia and Fairweather were encouraged to move to Seattle by the emergence of a tight-knit hardcore scene that revolved around a new venue called the Metropolis, which Ament describes as a punk clubhouse owned by a benevolent French bohemian. It was in this freewheeling milieu, circa summer of 1983, that he first crossed paths with a roster of future bandmates that reads, 25 years later, like a who’s-who of Seattle rock extending well into the present.

The transplanted DD briefly thrived, procuring the services of vocalist number three, Rod Moody, through a “singer wanted” ad in the classifieds and opening up for quasi-national punk bands like Hüsker Dü and the Butthole Surfers. But the fraternal vibe dissipated when the Metropolis closed, and by 1984 the sound of hardcore had begun to change as well. “Way more metallic,” says Ament, who recalls his astonishment at the sight of Rollins-era Black Flag members warming up offstage for their Seattle show by banging their heads furiously to Ronnie James Dio-era Black Sabbath.

With Moody on the mike, Deranged Diction wrote a batch of slower and dirgier songs but never got around to recording them in the studio. Weeks and months went by with no practices or shows, and, like many a burned-out band before and since, Deranged Diction quietly stopped being in early 1984.

At this point in our story, we enter an era familiar to millions as the murky prehistory of Ament’s slightly more famous band, Pearl Jam. After Deranged Diction came the proto-grunge Green River (whose lineup included Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard and future Mudhoney members Mark Arm and Steve Turner), then Mother Love Bone, Temple of the Dog, and, well, you know the rest.

The idea for resurrecting Deranged Diction came from a chance meeting between Ament and Moody at a Seattle record shop and Ament’s suggestion that they properly record the Seattle-era songs that never made it past practice tapes. Fairweather and Avenia were soon aboard. Special effort was given to retain the spirit of the original material, Ament insists, set to be released with a pair of vintage Missoula sessions as a two-disc set on Feedback Records.

The Missoula sessions were recorded in October, 1982, and May, 1983 by someone whom Ament knows only as John the Greek, who had an eight-track Fostex reel-to-reel and an apartment somewhere near Greenough Park. Ament says he’s been meaning to drive around looking for it again. It’s been over 25 years, after all, which is also why the bassist has been diligently woodshedding Deranged Diction songs to get ready for reunion shows in Missoula and Seattle.

“It might sound cheesy,” Ament ventures, “but I feel lucky to still be friends with these guys and have the chance to finally tie a bow around this thing that fell apart without us even knowing why. It’s great.”

Deranged Diction plays the Palace Saturday, May 16, at 9 PM, with Reptile Dysfunction and Rooster Sauce. $10.
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