Driving from Yellowstone to Missoula a few years back, Tom Catmull was struck by the inspiration for a song. Absorbed in mental composition, he didn’t notice that he’d entered a construction zone at 70 mph, and was promptly pulled over. This little infraction took place just east of the aptly named town of Opportunity, Montana. Blessed by the Gods of Artistic Coincidence, Catmull scored both a speeding ticket and a name for his new tune.

Photo by Chad Harder
Tom Catmull’s CD release party is Tuesday, June 22 at The Ritz, 9:30 p.m.

“East of Opportunity” didn’t make the final cut on Catmull’s debut CD, but it’s the title of the album. “The title represents a theme that runs through many of the songs,” Catmull says. “I was feeling really nostalgic about Montana that day, and having some revelations about my life as I was driving—the kind that everyone has between the ages of 18 and 23.”

Originally from Houston, Catmull grew up listening to rootsy artists like Lyle Lovett, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, and originally picked up his guitar to play covers. He moved to Missoula five years ago for college, where he met local musician Larry Hirshberg (of Th’ Spectacles), who encouraged him to work on original material. In his early days, Catmull played lonely Sunday open-mics at the Top Hat. “There would be absolutely no one there but the bartenders,” Catmull remembers. “But the owner liked the way we sounded [he played with Larry and Grace Hirshberg back then], and asked us to do regular Sunday night gigs.” Eventually, they acquired an audience, and now Catmull plays his folksy, country-tinged acoustic tunes solo all over town to full houses.

Catmull is not an exhibitionist by nature. On his album jacket, there is a caption next to the first song (“Sandbox”) that reads “1st original work I every let anybody know about.”

“Like a lot of musicians, I’m my own worst critic,” he explains. “When I first started writing my own songs, I’d work all day on one, and the next morning it would seem awful. I’d never want to show it to anyone. But Larry told me, ‘Just write a hundred songs. Of course a lot of them will suck, but you’ll keep getting better.’ So I did. And I do think I’ve gotten much better since ‘Sandbox.’ It only made the album because I’ve played it so much that I felt obligated to include it.”

While Catmull feels a deep connection to Missoula and Montana, he recognizes the danger of complacency. “A friend of mine once said that Missoula is the center point between success and failure. I don’t think he was really right, but I do agree that it’s easy to get too comfortable here. I mean, it’s a great place.” As much as Catmull has appreciated and enjoyed the support of Missoula venues and audiences, he and his fiancee plan to move back to Texas in the next year.

Why leave a good thing? Catmull answers in the music: “She’ll love you in your wild years,” he sings of Missoula in the heartfelt “Dirty Valley Low,” both a tribute and a lament. “But don’t lean on her too hard.”

Tom Catmull’s CD release party is Tuesday, June 22 at The Ritz, 9:30 p.m.


If you’ve got some time to kill at the office, why not amuse yourself and your coworkers for an hour or two with an online English-Japanese dictionary? There’s at least one good server that renders Japanese words into Roman characters. I recently wasted an entire afternoon looking up dirty words and sports terms. A lot of Japanicized English words surfaced (baasukontorooru for birth control; buresutosutorooku for breast-stroke, etc.), as well as a couple of almost winsome fusions of the two languages: sayonarahoomuran, for example, means a game-winning home run. There were also a number of tasty nuggets that seem to have no corresponding terms in English; fans of the morbidly prurient will no doubt be gratified to learn about fukujoushi—death during sexual intercourse.

YaSuKo gets Melt-Banana into a lather at Jay’s this Tuesday.

Another Japanese item that doesn’t seem to have a counterpart anywhere else in the world is Melt-Banana. This two-guy, two-gal Tokyo group has got a fairly typical lineup—bass, drums, guitar, and vocals—but that’s about where any similarity between Melt-Banana and traditional, typical anything comes to an abrupt end. They’re on a mission to erase everything you thought you knew about music. Any attempt at describing the band’s chaotic assault must include the word “noise” somewhere—noise-pop, pop noise, electric noise, straight-up noise. Noisy they certainly are, but also highly-structured, shockingly unique and tight as a duck’s butt. The band is often mentioned in conjunction with the raucous No Wave scene that includes skronkmongerers like UBZUB, the Boy Scouts of Annihilation and Chicago’s Flying Luttenbachers, whose aptly-titled Destroy All Music LP is one of those things you listen to a couple of times purely for the shock value until you notice it’s growing on you like the green fuzz in Tales From the Crypt.

YaSuKo’s unusual vocals draw you into Melt-Banana first—something between a yelp and a screech, definitely an acquired taste, and definitely unlike anything else out there. And her lyrics are something else again. Here’s a sample from “Giggle on the Stretcher” that plainly demonstrates that Dada is alive and well in Tokyo: “Spastic pull-up/spicy pull-out/nail up the crack-head/rip up the egghead/send up the brickbat to mad hepcat/smash them up/wax way out.” This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.

Melt-Banana is currently on a two-month tour of the US to support Charlie, their third and most recent LP, released on the band’s own A-ZAP label. The band also has a ton of tracks on various compilations and a slew of EPs on respectable labels like Tokyo’s HG Fact, Chicago’s Skin Graft and the Scottish imprint Chocolate Monk. Judging from a recent interview, YaSuKo and company are having a great time, eating elk, running amok in Vegas and enjoying warm receptions wherever they play—including a biker bar, where the take-no-guff singer apparently kicked an overeager fan in the head after he jumped onstage and tried to lick her boots. The crowd exploded with glee.

Ah, bootlicking. That quaint American way of saying, “Hey, I’m a great admirer of your work.” Don’t they have that in Japan?

Melt-Banana plays Jay’s Upstairs on Tuesday, June 22 at 10 p.m. Cover TBA.

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