What a superb document of a top flight crazy complex band. Love you cats! This has made my 50th birthday a fabulous day. ❤️🤟🏼 Thank you for the great memories. A fun read.
Favorite track: Hunter-Gatherer (Kerman).
Dave Kerman: 30 years have gone by. I remember much of it as if it were yesterday, whilst some of it now seems utterly alien to memory. I’ll try to recollect accurately, but the others could have a different say.
Bob Drake: In 1992 Maggie, Chris (Cutler) and I were driving past Pilsen in the Czech Republic during a tour with Hail (a band with Susanne Lewis, me, Chris, and Maggie doing sound). I can still see the scene—we were driving past the lake used by the Pilsner Urquell brewery! Just talking about this and that, I casually mentioned that one of my "goals in life" was to live in a house in the middle of nowhere with some recording gear in it, to record friends' bands and my own stuff. It's then they told me they owned a farmhouse in the south of France and nobody lived there. We decided right then we would do it. Maggie was about to move from Rotterdam to Barcelona and Chris ran ReR in London, so no one expected that anyone would go and fix up—let alone live in—the old house in France anytime soon until then.
I suggested that Dave and I go there, buy an ADAT, use Maggie's mics and desk, and record a new uu’s album. During the few months of recording, I'd decide if I wanted to stay, or carry on living and working in LA. (It was no contest really.) I told Dave about the plan, he liked it, and I remember the two of us going to a library in Torrance to look at a map and find Caudeval!
Dave: I recall being skeptical, as our lives in California were then pretty comfy. Bob was working as an engineer at a famous recording studio in North Hollywood, with some big-name talents, and I was the CEO of an architectural glazing firm. In the end, we realized that the move would be a great opportunity to work on music in Europe, and to play there live. So in 1993, I left for France.
Bob: It must have been a year later that I was on tour doing the sound for Peter Sellers' The Merchant of Venice, which was to finish in Paris. Dave and Maggie had already gone to the house and got the phone and electricity on, patched up the worst of the holes, etc. Since the Merchant tour finished in Paris, Maggie met me there and we drove back down to the house, did some more patching up, then she went back to Rotterdam to finish up there, and Dave and I had a wonderful time making Crisis in Clay.
Dave: Maggie had arranged for everything. She and I drove down from Rotterdam with our friend Andy Hopton and a bunch of necessities: stoves, furnishings, and the Recommended Records delivery van, lovingly referred to as “Jump Sturdy.” She had also asked our friends from Dull Schicksall, the Dutch band, to loan some instruments and tape decks, and Jan Smagge loaned us his drums. In about three months’ time, we had demo’d most of the Crisis in Clay album on a Fostex 4-track machine, bouncing sub-mixes from a 4-track reel-to-reel. At some point Bob and Maggie started putting a proper studio in place. There was a Russian-made mixing desk, two ADAT machines, and Maggie’s slew of microphones. Bob engineered everything, played bass, the majority of the guitars, and God remembers what else.
At the time we didn’t have much in the way of effects, so we got some pretty big sounds acoustically, using tiled farm rooms, a very large brick barn, and a vegetable storage space. We knew we wanted the band to sound big on stage as well, but didn’t wish to use a bunch of effects. So to do this live, we would have to play big. And we did. It was fierce, lively and loud. Bob’s bass was especially enormous, and just a blast to play to.
Before the tour, Sanjay Kumar, our dear friend and long-time UU, came to play the keyboard parts on the album, and to add a lot of his own touches, talents and finesse. But when it came to touring, he wasn’t able to get away. So I called our old buddy, Scott Brazieal, who was game to play with us live. There was no question who should be the touring guitarist: Mike Johnson! No one can play like him, or learn tunes as quickly. Also, we had a history, having been together in Thinking Plague, and could extend the program to include some of that band’s repertoire. Maggie was the obvious choice, as well, for doing live sound. Nobody else mixes shows so well, and no one else knows us like she does, both as musicians and as friends.
The tour rehearsals commenced (I think) in March of 1994. Scott came to France for three weeks, and Mike for the last ten days or so, and then we were off. So, that was probably April of that year.
Scott Brazieal: The 1995 Hunger’s Teeth tour invitation was a lifeline for me. At the time, I was amidst recovering from several years of recreational and self-medicational drug use, and in a deep transition.
In the early 1990s I had played some shows in LA with my (Cuneiform) band PFS, alongside Motor Totemist Guild. When I first met Dave, we became fast friends. I always admired his drumming and compositions on records, as well as Sanjay’s exceptional keyboard work.
Back to 1994…I no longer had experimental “rock” bands to play with, I had no musical inspiration moving me forward, and I was completely adrift, lost, and, frankly, very sad. I’d done a geographical “detox” from San Francisco to Portland in ’94 and was nine months clean/sober. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my music life. I had lost any kind of artistic definition as self, and had absolutely nothing inspiring me.
Somehow Dave tracked me down in Portland. This was the early days of nascent email—no cell phones, instant messaging, etc. I can’t exactly recall today how we connected to discuss doing the Hunger’s Teeth/Crisis in Clay tour substituting for Sanjay.… But I was all in.
So Dave’s invitation to me was a kind of miraculous gift that I felt would help better/save my life. And so I said YES immediately. Without thinking twice.
As it was, I made no preparations of learning the Hunger’s Teeth musical material in advance, or did much of anything other than the basics of just getting me and a single keyboard to France.
Upon my arrival in Toulouse, I spent the next weeks with Dave and Bob in the old Caudeval farmhouse figuring out my parts and rehearsing. I clearly remember the house was still very old and raw/rough, and very cold. Dave and I slept in an adjacent, large room shivering many of those February nights. I also remember drifting off to sleep listening to Bob’s stunning solo records for the first time, which really blew me away.
I remember Maggie giving me a self-made DIY 1/4”-to-XLR connection that was made out of an old (cookie?) tin.
Dave: Our first show was in Torino, where there was a good turnout, but the audience stared nonplussed and blank-faced at us during the entire, longish opening number, “Well, Not Chickenshit.” As the last note faded out, there was dead silence in the room. But when Giovanni Venosta leaped into the air, began whistling, whoo-hooing, and clapping heartily, the rest of the audience followed suit. A few even rose to their feet in ovation, which was both a relief and a joy. We were now officially on our way and, as these things do, the band got better with every gig.
Scott: It took us a few shows to figure out a proper setlist. Some of the UU songs were too overwhelming to start out with. “Equus” was the answer after a handful of shows. The setlist order was key.
The Montepulciano show was a highlight for me. Many of the folks in this small Tuscan village showed up in an old church, on top of a hill, with wine and food, great happiness and energy…and they were dancing to our complex rhythms. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. At least it was for me.
I remember the harrowing Czech one-lane roads, where oncoming drivers would suddenly be passing in our lane, inducing us to clutch whatever was at hand, in sheer terror, as our driver attempted to avoid an impending head-on collision. It happened so often that Bob started reacting to this terror by acting with complete disinterest. One particularly close call, he was pretending to be more concerned with something stuck in his teeth, which he was trying to extricate. I laughed for 15 minutes.
Mike Johnson: We had a show in what had fairly recently been East Berlin when much of it was still somewhat of a grim urban wasteland. The gig was at a type of club-restaurant with a somewhat surreal sculpture park in back. There was an entire graffiti-covered bus that was buried in the ground at about a 45° angle. (It seemed graffiti was everywhere in the former Soviet bloc.) I can't recall the name of the place, but perhaps one of the other guys does.
We were slated to go on at 1am, and not because there were lots of bands before us. We were first (and only, I think). That was when bands played, apparently. We didn't get to sound-check until 7 or 8 pm, smack in the middle of dinnertime, and the place was full of customers eating. The stage was stuck right in the big dining room, elevated about five feet above the floor, and tucked right up against the tall storefront windows. It was as if we were some kind of oversized toy store display. Really weird. Our dinnertime mini-concert did not seem to add to the diners’ enjoyment!
When we finally went on in the wee hours, we just dutifully plowed into our set. At some point a woman somewhere in the audience yelled "Scheisse!" (“crap”). And as I recall she yelled it a few more times as we worked through the set. I don't recall any applause, but there could have been. But all I remember is "Scheisse!"
Bob: I remember that for a while, she stood right in front of me, glaring at me and shouting “Scheisse!” over and over.
Mike: After the show at something like 3 am, we wandered our way up a long flight of backroom stairs up to the dark "green room" above the restaurant, with our tails a little between our legs. Bob, Dave and I were up there wondering who the hell was that crazy woman in the audience, when Scott came in the door, looking sheepish, and said, "Sorry about my mom!" We all fell on the floor laughing, after which we packed up our stuff and headed for our grim cold war accommodations.
Dave: Almost all of the evenings were a bit like Spinal Tap, and looking back, I remember them all with affection, if not humor. After one gig in Slovenia, in a long, narrow, dark, indoor, pistol-firing range, some of the audience invited us outside to critique the performance. Their opinion was that we were “old” and “out-of-touch.” Bob remembers that the same guy bellowed during the show, “Your music says NOTHING!”
Scott: In Slovenia I remember the phrase as “you are old and tired, and must step down.”
Dave: “How’s that?,” I wondered, as we were playing on the same circuit as Uz Jsme Doma, Jabalkon, Dunaj, Ne Zhadali, and their very own Quatabriga, and Zoambo Zoet Workestrao. I soon realized it was probably an Eastern European preference on their part, and we, as Americans, could not expect to impress them. It was the first time I felt slighted for being a musician from the USA, and that was both weird and memorable. But one must remember the special relationship that Yugoslavia had with both the Soviets and the Americans. Anyway, I don’t get to speak with Scott very often these days, but when one of us asks the other how he’s doing, the answer is invariably, “I am old, and out-of-touch.” Heh heh.
Also in Slovenia…by this time, Scott and I, being the carnivores of the entourage, were dying for animal protein. The concert promoter in Ljubljana, Zorko Skvor, took the two of us out for a “meat boat.” This was a huge dish made totally of beef, in the shape of a boat: the hull was comprised of two steaks. The deck was formed by filling the steak hull with ground beef. The masts were two Frankfurters, standing upright in the ground beef. The sails were thinly sliced roast beef. And the portholes were made from more slices of beef franks. As we were creating a storm with Ajvar sauce, and devouring everything like slobbering, hungry wolves, Zorko looked at us, and said, “I’ve got some weird news. There will probably not be many people at your show tonight, because Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are playing in town (their tour bus had passed us on the motorway, but I had no idea that they were headed to the same city as we were). “Aw, damn...OK. But, yeah…this meat boat is sublime. Can we come back tomorrow?!” And there were, indeed, few attendees. I was disappointed, but Bob and Mike kept my spirits high, with good-naturedness, and both performed fantastically. We got a nice write-up in the newspaper, but about 1/6 the size of “Unledded.” Ha.
A gig in another squat, either Slovenia or Czech…a very dark and dingy room with low ceiling, a bare light bulb or two dangling on their wires, as were the electrical sockets on the "stage." In the dimness one could make out perhaps 30 or 40 youngish people, which is quite a good turnout for a band of our obscurity level, all standing along the walls, silently watching as we got ready to play.
We got started, and after the first song came complete silence. No one in the audience moved or made a sound. Another few songs and the same reaction; I was starting to wonder if we ought to call it a night and pack up. After the fourth or fifth song, there was again the complete silence, when someone standing along the wall near the stage spoke very softly: "You guys ruuuule." A general murmur of agreement and affirmative nodding of heads spread across the whole audience. It turned out they were all flabbergasted by what we were doing and absolutely loved it.
In Maribor, Slovenia, Scott altered the letters of an empty Marlboro box to spell out the name of the city. It was a boon of genius, and perhaps the last good-natured thing of the evening. The gig was OK. It was in an old fire station that had been turned into a alternative club. Our accommodation was the squat across the street, and we went there pretty early to get some sleep. At 3 or 4 am, BOOM, the doors open, and a few of the inebriated audience shook us awake: “WAKE UP AND DRINK WITH US, YOU AMERICANS!!” We politely declined, and found some floor space elsewhere in the building. Bob slept in the stairwell.
In the morning we found ourselves locked in the squat. The drunkards had left, and there was no way out, as all of the doors were padlocked, and the windows were barred. Someone found one, lone window on the second floor, that we could drop down from, with some difficulty. We had to also drop Mike’s guitar down carefully. The concert promoter was not at the club, as planned, to let us retrieve our instruments, so we drove to his apartment, and banged on the door. We could hear him inside, vomiting up a storm, poor guy. He pushed the keys to the club under the door, and we were on our way to the next gig, in Koper.
Mike: Thought I'd add my $.02 to the above story. The floor, walls and ceiling of that club were all shiny tiles that added a loud slap echo to everything! Yiihhh. The squat was a former Yugoslav army barracks, and our room was empty except for some raunchy old, stained mattresses and a little detritus from some former occupants. The accommodations on that tour ranged from basically none to excellent hotel rooms, and everything in between—organizers’ modest homes; a large, wonderful ancient farmhouse in Tuscany; various squats in old apartment buildings, etc. I couldn't begin to do that now, but it's an experience that I cherish.
Bob: And another thing: it was winter and certainly below freezing. There were icicles on the buildings and frozen mud puddles all around. None of the windows of the (unheated) building we found ourselves padlocked into had glass, or any sort of covering at all.
In the morning we had to climb down from the second-story window onto the roof of the entryway, where it was an easy jump to the ground. Maggie had wisely spent the night in the van!
Dave: Yeah, Koper, Slovenia. The club owner, Marko Brecelj, crazy guy he was (RIP, 2022), took a chance on us, and it was the first time of many for me in Slovenia, with a few different bands. He was a former member of the…get this…Bosnian prog rock band Buldozer and a famous singer-songwriter, in his own right. A very decent man, but a hard nut to crack. We broke the ice by staying after our show, and cleaning up the place. I mopped up gallons of spilled beer, and the other guys washed glasses, cleaned ashtrays, swept, and gave the staff a well-deserved break. We were, by then, good ambassadors, fighting the stereotypical, spoiled American image. But again, the next day we had trouble getting into the club to retrieve our gear for the day’s drive. Marko, taking advantage of a red light at an intersection, jumped out of his car, for just a few seconds mind you, to buy some smokes. Unfortunately his car door locked when he exited. With the motor still running, he ran home to get his spare keys, but when he returned, the police had already towed his car away. His partner Ariana finally came to let us in. So I’m sure we were late for the next gig. Again.
Yours truly fell ill, some days later. The worst was in Prague, where I spent two of our three days off, backstage, rolled up in a mat, feverish, quivering, and doing the technicolor yawn into a waste can, whilst the others played tourist. On the third day we drove to Würzburg, where this very show was recorded. Though the fever had broken, I was quarantined in a friend of Charlie’s costume room, and was brought over to the A.K.W. in time for the sound check.
Mike: Ah…we had had just a few hours sleep for that. I remember sleeping on the concert organizer's floor, couches, etc., the night before in Chemnitz, because he didn't arrange any accommodations for us (Chemnitz is another story!). We got up kinda early, and drove to Würzburg, getting there like mid-afternoon and sleeping on the picnic tables in the back of the club. Started raining as I recall! The club had a big mirror ball, which is really odd considering the music. I think they played Thinking Plague on their club stereo...?.... We were not in Kansas any more....
Scott: I had a predilection for taking short naps before our performance start times. At this Würzburg recording, I happened to lie down behind the thick stage curtain and at show time no one in the band could find me. Eventually Dave shook me awake and I sleepily stumbled on stage and dove into “Equus.” I woke up FAST!
Dave: We did the show, and it was lotsa fun. Charlie Heidenreich, today still a mainstay of music in Würzburg, is/was quite a character! Nowadays he’s opt to meet you in his squash sweats. But that night, the first time we met, he was wearing a beige, 3-piece leisure suit, a big bow-tie, platform shoes, long hair, and the biggest smile one can imagine. The band played well, and the audience was great. Afterwards, things got surreal, in the best of ways, and that’s why it’s affectionately known, even today, as the “Freakshow.”
Bob: By the way, one of my fave moments is at 2:54 in “Truth, Justice and the American Way” when the sound effect tape comes in so loud. I bust up laughing every time! The whole song shoulda been like that. Haha.
Dave: Within a few minutes of our encore, the chairs were gone, the disco ball was spotlighted, and the audience was freak-dancing to a really loud playback, and singing along, joyously, word for word, to the likes of “Supper’s Ready,” “Long Distance Runaround,” “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers,” etc. They knew all of the words and, for the most part, could dance in time to this stuff. It was bizarre. And I shudder to imagine how Charlie could wear all of those heavy clothes, running up and down between the dance floor and the DJ booth, without breaking a sweat.
Sadly, due to the lingering fever, I can’t remember more of this particular show. I went on to play many “Freakshows” with other bands for Charlie, but that’s another set of stories.
Scott: I will close with the fact that I returned to the US after this tour with about $1500 in my bank. Completely stunning to me and certainly unexpected. It afforded me a chance at existing the next few months (until the next 5uu’s tour, which happened in September) and gave me hope, confidence as an artist/musician, and even gifted providence for my moving forward.
Mr. Drake tells the fascinating tale of why they played “Hunter-Gatherer” as an instrumental!
In 1994 while we were working on the Crisis in Clay album, Dave gave me a demo cassette for this song, which, in the vocal sections, had only a metronome, arpeggiated keyboard part, and vocal melody. As usual, I listened, came up with the bass part, and Dave and I soon recorded the album version.
As with all the songs we planned to perform on the tour, I practiced it a lot myself before the rest of the band arrived, playing bass and singing along with the recorded version, and Dave and I often jammed on that drum/bass groove together for ten minutes at a time, because it was such fun and sounded so massive, the whole room shaking. Everything seemed groovy.
Once the band were assembled and attempted this song together, we’d always stumble and fall apart shortly after arriving at that drum and bass riff. The other parts of the song always went smoothly, so we decided to start right there on the drum/bass groove and figure out what was happening. Dave counted in, 1-2-3-4 , and it seemed to me the band were jumping in something like a half-beat off, while they all said no it was me starting offbeat. It happened every time exactly the same. I said “OK, what’s wrong with you wise guys, let me count in this time,” and that’s when we discovered I heard the “one” in a different place than it actually was, and had done so ever since I learned the song from Dave’s demo a year earlier. I don’t remember exactly, but my “one” was something like their “and” of one, or in musical terms something like a dotted ¼-note away from where it really was.
With me feeling it one way, like a swingy, syncopated shuffle, and the rest of the band feeling it entirely differently, we’d each unintentionally tend to try and pull it to the way we were feeling it, with the result that it didn’t groove at all, and we couldn’t keep it together. Over the next few days I spent hours on my own trying to re-learn and feel it the “right” way, but after having it ingrained into my body and brain for over a year, it was impossible!
But all was not lost—I found I could just manage to play the bass part if I didn’t sing, as long as I didn’t look at any of the other guys who were all nodding heads or tapping feet on what looked to me completely off-beat, so we decided to do it as an instrumental, with Mike playing the vocal part on guitar. That worked! One can hear the vocal version on the Crisis in Clay album.
released October 27, 2023
Scott Brazieal - keyboards
Bob Drake - bass, vocals
Mike Johnson - guitar, lap steel guitar, backing vocals
Dave Kerman - drums, percussion
Maggie Thomas - live sound mixing (which is why this 30-year-old board cassette sounds so good!)
supported by 21 fans who also own “Live at A.K.W. Würzburg, Germany April 8, 1995”
all of it good: the whimsy, the drama, the wild, the cosmic; deftly dancing the line between order and chaos, between the sublime and the vile, between the fathomable and the ineffable. puts the listener in a liminal limbo you don't get to be in (and still enjoy!) often. Tim Patterson