The night I saw the Grays for the first time, Jason told me that they would be playing a noontime show at Cal Berkeley just two days later. It was minutes from my work and both of my roommates and another San Diego friend could come along. This time I’d have a posse instead of rolling solo.
In late 1993 as I was about to graduate college without a plan, I befriended the girls running Jellyfish’s fanclub and agreed to move to the Bay Area to help out and do something… different. Luckily, two of my best friends wanted to make the same move. I’d done college radio at SDSU’s KCR in my freshman year of college with Sam, though we had no memory of meeting. A few years later, he heard me guest hosting a show on 91X playing my favorite music. I had such good taste that he called in to say hey. After I’d played a few more of his favorite bands (Ride, Matthew Sweet, Stone Roses), he called back wanting to hang out. We became fast friends and since his girlfriend had been planning to move to the East Bay, it was easy for him to pack up and leave.
I met Pat when he was just a teenager, working at Wherehouse Records in Poway where I once sold Eddie Vedder a Mudhoney cd but didn’t recognize him. Pat was wise beyond his years and one of the youngest managers in the history of the company. In wanting to get more involved in the music world, he started a label to record his highschool friends’ punk band without a contract and agreed to split tape sales 50/50. I went over to his house the night they recorded their first real album and we quietly listened to the breakneck speed tunes with the bassist. Not really my cup of tea but it was cute to see them both so excited.
Pat was hoping to win the heart of a girl up north and easily transferred to a store in Berkeley. Meanwhile, the band was still selling hundreds of copies of the tapes. We’d get them printed up and fold cassette inserts while we watched tv to send down to San Diego. At some point, it was logical to finally put the album out on cd but the band was getting involved with a real label and since there was never a contract, they stalled. When they got a little more popular, they sold the recordings to a lawyer friend’s label, who sold 350,000 or so copies. Fuck Blink 182. Seriously.
We found an amazing flat above some businesses in El Cerrito and in the first two weeks we were there, excited by the amazing Bay Area scene, had already been to a few shows. My friend Shari, who I’d met at a San Diego Jellyfish show, was attending Cal and we all met at Sproul Plaza on campus just before noon on February 2nd, 1994, twenty days before the Grays album Ro Sham Bo was released.
It was deserted so we talked to the band for awhile. Since Jellyfish’s post-Jason Spilt Milk album was almost a year old, I asked him what he thought and, surprisingly, he hadn’t heard much of it. What little he had heard, he didn’t like, though he was curious about how “Bye Bye Bye” sounded since they’d played it while he was in the band. He admitted that he really liked how it came out. It was no more than a month or so before he heard that Jellyfish had split up due to musical differences. “It’s ironic,” he laughed in a 1994 interview. “Let’s just say that I didn’t have a moment of silence when I heard about it.”
I asked about the Grays’ last song from the show two nights before because it was amazingly thunderous, reminding me a little of Jellyfish’s “All Is Forgiven”. I could even remember some cool anti-church lyrics. Turns out that it was “Blessed” by Simon & Garfunkel. Nothing like telling someone that their band’s best song is a cover. It was even more fitting to do it on the campus they filmed The Graduate. Foot….mouth. Still, Jason agreed to let me interview him afterwards for our friend’s San Diego magazine, 360.
Sam moved in with our mutual KCR friend Jeff Motch and they ran the zine out of their house with decent distribution, real deal ads and everything. Sam had interviewed tons of our favorite bands and had offered to let me write too. Before moving up north, I interviewed Damon Albarn from Bluh and felt like a real rock writer for a few minutes. Reading it now is cringeworthy. I’m not sure if I thought I was any good but I couldn’t wait to do more and the Grays would be my next feature.
As long as I had my cheap cassette recorder for the interview, I thought it couldn’t hurt to record the show too. It’s a good thing I did because, as terrible as it sounds, only a handful of live recordings have ever surfaced. The band got up for a last minute check to find that the school’s PA didn’t seem to be working too well but it got better throughout the set. They didn’t attract a big crowd but those that watched were suitably impressed. The band sounded incredible in that big, open space. You can tell, even on the lo-fi bootleg.
SETLIST (with links to videos from a Denver show shot by guitar god Patrick Goodwin of Pansy Division/Dirty Power plus I finally figured out how to transfer cassettes to digital to share the songs that aren’t already online!):
EVERYBODY’S WORLD, a Buddy song that always ended with him singing a bit of “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands”. I cannot stress enough how much better this song was live. On the record, it sounds like a drum machine. Live, Dan was always amazing and this song CHUGGED.
SAME THING, Jon
ELOQUENCE, a Jason song he later recorded for his second solo album, Can You Still Feel?
VERY BEST YEARS, a Jason song that was picked as the first single (& only video). The way he plays the beginning of the chorus along with his vocal line made me think of some AM radio song from my youth but, in 18 years, I still haven’t been able to figure out what. “Summer Breeze”? I’ll never know.
HE’S FRANK, Jason singing a Monochrome Set cover. At least 10 years later, I saw Brendan Benson (who hired Buddy & Dan in his first touring band) cover it and talking to him after, he was shocked the Grays had done it too. He had no idea Jason was a fan. One of many bands he turned me onto either by covering them or by recommending. Guided By Voices, the LIlys, the Left Banke, Apples In Stereo….thanks, man.
Jason also sang lead when the band recorded Wire’s “Outdoor Miner” as a b-side. He was surprised to hear that Evan Dando played it not long after but it’s also been covered by Lush, Jarvis Cocker, the Lightning Seeds, Mary Lou Lord, Luna, the Feelies, Adam Franklin, the Blue Aeroplanes, True Stories and many more folks since then.
I’M NOT READY YET, a slow Jon burner later recorded by the Eels that let him blow guitar minds, usually to the obvious boredom of the rest of the band.
A HOME IS NOT A HOUSE, another Jason tune. A demo of the song was first released on Jason’s solo album Necessity in 2001.
After the show, we all walked down the street to Larry Blake’s (RIP!?) and I pulled Jason aside for a quick chat, even though we were all starving. At one point, I mentioned a band covering the Kinks’ “Picture Book”. I must’ve told Jason that I’d randomly met Matt Winegar from the band the Spent Poets a couple of weeks before at a Morphine show. The Poets produced a pretty great record that Jack Joseph Puig engineered in between Jellyfish and Grays records. They’d just finished their second (unreleased record), Steve, an incredible raw mix of Beatles & Appetite For Destruction and he’d just told me how they’d also “Picture Book”. Off mic, Pat mentions Roger Manning telling him that Jason’s new band was called Me at a 1993 San Diego Jellyfish show (opening for Tears For Fears) and then looking them up and finding someone that wasn’t the group that became the Grays. Also, I mention having heard they might tour with Blind Melon, which didn’t happen (though they did do dates with Toad The Wet Sprocket & The Smithereens).
Jeff actually stopped doing 360 Magazine not too long after so I never got to write the article on the Grays. I also interviewed Patrick from Sloan, whose interview suffered the same fate. At least I learned how to digitize cassettes just so I could share the interview for this blog! It was amazing to see the few things I recorded make the rounds worldwide when I first started trading tapes. Mom always taught me to share so…..
We bid the band adieu and went off to have lunch somewhere else on Telegraph Ave. After wandering around for awhile, we spent some time in the amazing Amoeba Records before heading back to work. Just as we were leaving, Jason showed up so we played paparazzi.