Fans like to play curator with their favorite bands, keen to tell the greenhorns that the reason they haven’t been enveloped by the magic cloud yet is that they bought the wrong record first—Hüsker Dü’s Land Speed Record before New Day Rising, for instance. Or sometimes a record that’s just wrong, period: A bro might not feel like giving Morbid Tales a chance, for example, if he’s been soured on the experience of Cold Lake (Celtic Frost).
With Bellingham’s Federation X, though, you can drop the needle just about anywhere and feel like you’re riding the right wormhole between meat-and-potatoes ‘70s rock and a post-everything deconstruction/annihilation of same, a thick scurf of guitar grime and the industrial solvent that strips it away. Player’s choice: their cover of “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” by British proto-metallists Budgie (the same blokes who cooked up “Breadfan,” Metallica-lovers). Fed X strips what is surely one of the most thuggish riffs ever committed to magnetized particle like a soup-stock carcass with just drums, Delta-timbre vocals and two four-stringed guitars.
“It just happened that way,” says guitarist Ben Wildenhaus of the band’s bassless MO. “Bill had a guitar with only four strings, Beau had one with four strings. We tune really low and only use those four strings so we can focus on single notes and do harmonies with each other. We can make two guitars sound muddy just fine without a bass player to sloppify things even further.”
Released on Missoula label Wäntage USA earlier this year, the “Parachutist Woman” 7-inch is also unusual for the way it’s formatted to vinyl. Half of the song is on one side, the other half is on the other side, with a fade-out/fade-in between—probably about like it sounded on the original Budgie eight-track. The Fed X version is punctured at every joint by banshee squalls of feedback, and underneath the blanket of howls and pounding riffage, there are unexpected slithering surprises lurking in every crevice.
“We all grew up listening to KARP,” says Wildenhaus, citing Olympia’s most ebullient punk-metal fusioneers. “That should be clear. We’re part of the continuum of what we refer to as ‘Northwest power music,’ regardless of the form—blues, punk or metal. Solid rock, but still kind of crooked. We want to make good-sounding songs, just the essence of rock and roll.”
Yeah, um, which is?
“For us,” he says, “it’s about Beau laying down a drum beat and us building on top of it. He doesn’t like to repeat himself or play other things he’s heard, so it’s always something different, with some math involved.”
The band’s third LP, X-Patriot, was released earlier this year on hometown label Estrus. Unfortunately, by the time it came out the band had already moved to their current, intermittent schedule. Members only get together a few times a year now.
“After all the touring and work we did the year before,” Wildenhaus explains, “we all just needed to get on our own shit before we started hurting each other.
“I’ve been learning to play country music and write country songs,” he continues. “And I actually bought a lap steel. There’s a really good country scene in Bellingham, and I’ve been learning how to play a different kind of improvised music. I also bought a pedal steel, so there’s another 10 or 15—maybe more like 30 or 40—years of something to work on. I’d say I’ve done pretty good in a year.”
Drummer Beau Boyd, for his part, spent six months recording what Wildenhaus calls “this amazing pop record.”
“I went to Olympia,” Boyd confirms, “rented a cabin out in the woods and recorded 10 songs that I’d been writing over the past several years. When I get back from this tour, I’m going to put a band together to play them.”
Bill Badgley says he’s “just visiting” Bellingham before the tour that will bring Federation X through Missoula this week. The guitarist moved to New York last year, where he’s enrolled at Brooklyn College studying urban sociology and documentary film. Right now he’s working on an ambitious history of Cleveland from the end of the Ice Age through the present (“I’m going to cover the first 10,850 years pretty quickly,” he says), told through hot dogs. Tastiest discovery so far: Greek-style hot dog chili.
“I didn’t even know the Greeks had chili,” he laughs, adding that the project was partly inspired by a correlation between war and meat-eating he’d begun to notice in his reading. By way of example, Badgley cites vicious campaigns against Native American tribes in the area (downtown Cleveland is supposedly built, as the cliché goes, on an Indian burial ground) and the Bridge War, which pitted Clevelanders against residents of neighboring Ohio City in an ugly internecine battle. “There are so many bizarre aspects of meat-eating and tribal warfare in Cleveland.”
He hopes to have the film done in time to tour with it this fall—probably along the same route as the current Fed X tour and tours past, where at least he knows some people. But right now it’s time to get down to band business.