Up until a certain juvenile point in my music education, I was of the stern belief that the slide guitar was a restrictive medium, narrowed only for the purpose of adding texture to an otherwise dull country ballad or a standard and repetitive blues tune. Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved the warming effect the slide has on one’s soul; Ry Cooder’s “Paris, Texas” soundtrack, Johnny Winter’s insanity on his perverted version of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” and of course, anything by bottleneck master Son House. But still, to me there can’t have been a hell of a lot more to really discover of such a confined playing style that for the better part of a century had been done to absolute death.
Shit was I wrong.
The word was out. From the decades-old piss stench of an inner city degenerate’s bar, all the way down the train line to my mediocre world of suburban wet dreams and mind-numbing household chores for Mother, the name feedtime -the band simply refuses to use a capital “F” in front of their name, something that to this day still makes this writer squirm in his sweaty chair- had hit me like a savage brick to the back of the head.
Thank god for older, cooler kids.
Listening to feedtime for the first time, one can’t help but feel super squeamish and, if I was to be completely honest, a tad petrified. That first listen to their utterly contemptuous for anything structured and oblique self-titled album was a complete nauseating blur. Several listens later, my aching head surmised this: Listening to feedtime is not unlike drowning in a bucket of quicksand lined with rusty nails that poke, prod and pierce the skin in such a manner that is not only violating, but also just downright ill-mannered.
Born out of the frenetic Stooges-influenced Sydney punk movement of the late 1970s, feedtime -Rick Johnson (guitar/vocals) Allen Larkin (bass/vocals) and Tom Sturm (drums)- rip roared onto the scene with a series of raw and nasty live shows before releasing their seminal self-titled debut. From the opening mental-patient-trapped-underwater refrain of “Ha Ha”, the listener knows that they’re in for one wild ‘n’ swampy ride. It’s like a tantric torture; slow teasing, painful yet enjoyable, but so excruciatingly uncomfortable to put up with, that you just want to jump up and hump the speakers.
Above all else though, what “feedtime” shows is that slide guitar most certainly has a place in punk and sludge rock. Coupled with Larkin’s gut churning chug-a-lug bass and Sturm’s thumping tom-heavy drums, Johnson’s slide sounds almost otherworldly in its omnipresence, yet doesn’t seem to be really there at all. It’s tangible, yet untouchable.
At a time when the Australian east coast punk rock scene was becoming somewhat stale with its Radio Birdman ripoffs in Sydney, and jock-drenched hardcore scene in Melbourne, feedtime were a breath of fresh air. So much so, that a goofy young fella by the name of Mark Arm (then fronting proto-grungers Green River) thanks to future Sub Pop moguls Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman’s college radio station, picked up on feedtime’s treacle rock and promptly went about incorporating something similar in the mix of his new project Mudhoney. feedtime had cracked the U.S. market, particularly Seattle, and without Johnson, Larkin and Strom (sounds like a dissolved law firm) realising for many years after the fact, had a major influence on what would be later known as grunge. Perhaps grunge-lite and Nickelback are all feedtime’s fault. Bastards.
By the mid 1980s a brand new scene was forming along Australia’s east and southern coasts, and by the late eighties, that scene was well and truly entrenched in the counter culture. feedtime from Sydney, Adelaide’s King Snake Roost and Melbourne’s Venom P. Stinger took their respective cities by storm, introducing elements of jazz, art rock, heavy metal and the avant-garde into the punk world and pissing off a whole lotta hardcore loving jocks in the process. Thanks to the now defunct, but truly legendary Aussie record labels Aberrant and Black Eye Records (a subsidiary of Sydney label Red Eye) the scuzz scene grew to include ex-Scientists/Beasts of Bourbon member Kim Salmon’s new band the Surrealists, Australia’s answer to the Butthole Surfers, Lubricated Goat, and incredible punk-jazzsters Bloodloss. It truly was a nationwide effort, but a closer-knit and more incestuous scene you will not find. Although feedtime had wound down their cycle of live shows by the late eighties, they most certainly didn’t slow down their creative output, releasing 1986’s “Shovel”, 1989’s Kurt Cobain favourite “Suction”, as well as an album made up entirely of covers called “Cooper S” after one of the band member’s preferred choice of motor vehicle. Although potentially problematic and disastrous, the notion of recording a covers album didn’t faze feedtime in the slightest, somehow recording such classic rock and pop songs like the Beach Boy’s “Fun, Fun, Fun”, Rolling Stone’s “The Last Time”, Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra’s “Lightning Girl” and the Stooges early sonic blisterer “Ann” in their own formidable, take no prisoners style. Recording the album only seemed to hone and strengthen the band’s musicianship and pop sensibilities with the almost melodic and extremely catchy “Suction” coming soon after.
Sadly, in a very well executed effort of horrible timing, feedtime called it quits just prior to their release of “Suction” and in a Rodriguez-resembling consequence of events, remained completely oblivious to the influence their music was having overseas, and thus missed out entirely on a potential world of adulation and hipster-cred. Seattle to feedtime is what South Africa was to Rodriguez.
In 1995, the band reformed to play a few shows -this time with Larkin’s younger brother John stomping away behind the kit- and subsequently released a brand new album “Billy” in 1996 on Minneapolis’ Amphetamine Reptile label. By then though, in that old cliche, the scene was dead. Sure, the “grey-hairs” went to the shows and bought the album, and yes, once again the old boys of the now hideously stale Seattle scene lapped up the reformation, but things weren’t quite the same and before long, the band called it quits once more.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, I myself never once got to see the band I still cherish to this day, I was either way too young or completely ignorant of the fact that they had reformed. But, if one lives right, does unto others blah blah bullshit, then one is more often than not repaid kindly.
In 2012, Sub Pop released the rather incredible package of those four original albums, quite rightly titling their final tilt at relevancy -geez I’m cynical- “The Aberrant Years”. With the release came a complete feedtime resurgence with the band very quickly realising the power of this thing we call the internet. Suddenly, fans popped up from all over the world, and finally the members realised the indirect, nonetheless huge influence that they had over modern day rock.
Thanks to this highly unlikely resurgence, feedtime are still well alive and kicking, and just this year have released a brand spanker entitled “Gas” on Los Angeles’ In the Red Records. And finally, thanks to the newly found interest in this incredible band of innovative inner-suburban misfits, the chance to see them live is once again upon me, and as an extension, you. From September 28th-October 1st 2017, Memphis label Goner Records is set to hold their annual Gonerfest, where none other than feedtime will be headlining. Headlining! My how we’ve all grown up. From the band that that fabled night made its way from the piss stench of inner city Melbourne to my tender, young earholes, to influencing an entire generation of flannel wearing barberphobes, to heading a goddamn festival in the home of rock ‘n’ roll, Memphis, feedtime have been on one wild ride, something that is truly symbolic of their raucous and unforgiving style of music. Just a word of warning; pop some anxiety medication, listen with care and hold on bloody tight!
See you in Memphis.