By Steve Stav, for the Ballard News-Tribune, Seattle, 2000.
Every once in a while, you come across a CD that's so addictive, you eventually have to ration the spins in order to relieve pressure on the cranium and the delicate hearing instruments contained within.
Brent "Dorkweed" Amacher's last album, "No. 2 - Send These Shoes To Hell," was not one of those CDs. A loose, promising bundle of "experimental" electronic noise and an even more promising display of unorthodox songwriting, "No. 2" won over a substantial number of fans, but it was an effort that the mainstream might have politely described as "odd."'
Oklahoma native Amacher, known in certain Jet City circles as a mildly eccentric sound tinkerer, has been very busy in the garage since then. With three veteran mechanics -- Martin the drummer, Forrest the bass player, and J6ff Saltzman the producer -- and a stethoscope on the block, he's been tapping, twisting, fine-tuning the precision parts, smoothing errant hiccups into a low, throaty roar. Last week, Amacher and company turned their bombastic creation, "My Motor," loose on the public -- and, after rationing became a necessity, I corralled this unassuming band into an interview at the Sunset Tavern.
The conversation's first topic was Saltzman, who until recently was one of the driving forces behind Portland's Sunset Valley.
"He's a drill sergeant, the guy's brilliant," Amacher asserted. "It took a strong ego [to work with him]... he would come in and say, 'Why are you playing that? Is there a reason you're putting that part in there, or is that just to show off?'"
"'I don't hear that' -- he would say that all the time," interjected Memphis-born Forrest (no last name).
Guitarist Amacher continued, "I think it worked because I was such a big Sunset Valley fan to begin with, I listened to their last record, and thought, that style could work with the songs we're doing... these guys were a little skeptical."
"I was very skeptical, but it soon became apparent that he's a pro," Martin (the only Seattle native; also, no last name) said.
"I think we were lucky to share some of the same visions of the finished product ... we just happened to be on the same page," concluded Forrest.
Until a year ago, Dorkweed was a solo act, which began shortly after Amacher moved here from Dallas four years ago. He had kickstarted his foray into the Seattle scene by performing at the OK Hotel's open mic nights and
doing some guerrilla marketing, slapping up stickers in bathrooms across town. Shortly after releasing "No. 2" he placed an ad in The Rocket, searching for bandmates. After exhaustive tryouts, he decided upon Forrest and Martin, a rhythm section that had struggled with a previous group.
"The key thing with these guys was personality and bond," Amacher remembered. "I auditioned a lot of people, it was a pain in the ass... people could play well, but they had an attitude -- 'Hey, I'm cool.'"
Forrest said, "The first time I heard the CD ["No. 2"], I thought, this is pretty good, I could do this for a while."
"You had that attitude for a while," the guitarist interjected, laughing.
"But the more I listened to it, the more I liked it," the mild-mannered bassist responded. "After he explained to me how he comes up with some of the songs, it made sense, some of the songs write themselves."
"Did I explain that?" Amacher asked. "Forrest, how do I come up with songs?"
Playing along, the bassist explained, "Well, you sit home and practice guitar, and since you don't know anybody else's songs, you make up your own." Turning to me, Forrest intimated, "He really doesn't know how to play other people's songs."
"Yeah, that's true," the songwriter confirmed from across the table.
"His dad came to see us rehearse, he's probably in his 70s, and it the end of 'Pipe Bomb,' he said, 'is that about the time you blew the fish up in the back yard?' and Brent said, 'Yeah.'"
"The older he gets, the more he's gotten into the music thing," Amacher says of his retired father. "It's funny, because he's my artistic influence... when I was a little kid, we'd sing along into a microphone along with Jim Croce records -- that's who he was into -- I remember singing with him into a microphone, singing 'Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown.'"
One of the brilliant aspects of "My Motor" is the memorable, off-kilter lyrics that Amacher has somehow channeled into song. The man would give a psychiatrist fits playing the old word-association game.
"The songs come from either childhood or chicks," he said with a shrug. I brought up the dark-as-an-attic, deep-as-a-well feel to the new approach, which Amacher's low voice pulls off with great flair.
"I was tired of being the good guy, the 'good guy syndrome,' and it's worked so well," Amacher replied.
"Women really like that," Martin quipped.
"But have you really had your heart stepped on so much?" I asked. "It seems like you're drawing from a lot of turmoil."
"Well, I've had a lot of relationship issues," the songwriter said.
In one number, "Laundry Song," Amacher likens a relationship to underthings mixing in the dryer. His motivation for writing it?
"Girls keep leaving their underwear at my house," he explained with a straight face. "I'll find something and wonder whose it is, and sometimes I'll just throw it away, because you can't ask... you either throw it away or you collect it."
And "Starfish," a commentary on people paying a high price for success, wherein he likens someone to a starfish waiting to die in the sun?
"I'm surprised that people like that song. One of the things I liked about it was the stupid simplicity of it," Amacher said. "I remember being in the studio, I've got the headphones on and singing, and Jeff said, 'Brent, is there any more lyrics or is it just 'It sucks to be you' over and over? and I said, 'It's just 'It sucks to be you,' that's the humor of it,' and he just said, 'Okay.'
"The beginning part of that song, the noise, comes from the nursing home where Curtis (Andreen -- friend and the Tremens' drummer extraordinaire) works," he continued, "I walked around with him carrying a DAT and recording background sounds. I like to just hang around, town, carrying my DAT, and just record stuff, and then when I record a CD, I have all of these sounds to work with."
"My Motor" has resurrected Shaky Records, which is operated by another member of the Tremens power trio, bassist John Mitchell (the third, Quentin Ertel, will be joining Amacher on guitar for a few shows). Shaky hasn't been active for a while, but is currently planning to re-release Dorkweed's last two CDs. Besides his admiration for Mitchell's business savvy, Amacher is delighted to be working with a good friend.
"Mitchell really knows what he's doing ... when he speaks, people listen," the guitarist/songwriter asserted.
Dorkweed has just begun to play around town in support of the new album, and is in the planning stages of a West Coast tour, as well as short jaunts around the Northwest. In just a couple of weeks, "My Motor" has received an enthusiastic response (it's starting to get airplay on band-making KCMU; the band will perform in "The Live Room" Dec. 9). and it's just beginning to sink in to Amacher and his genteel cohorts that their refined-yet-muscular, slight departure from "experimentation" might just become a huge success.
"['My Motor'] doesn't have nearly the weird sounds that the last one did," Amacher admits. "It's smoother, but that's because we had a really great producer. I'm excited, there seems to be a 'buzz' about it, which is great, because we all worked so, hard on it."
Dorkweed is in the middle slot of a Tractor Tavern show Oct. 26 that features Thee Heathen as well as Jason Trachtenburg, whose "Family Slideshow" incorporates estate-sale slides and his 6-year old daughter's drumming skills.
At press time, it was unknown whether his daughter will be able to perform at the Tractor but check it out, regardless. Trachtenburg has been getting a lot of attention lately.
Dorkweed • My Motor • 2000 • Dorkweed Records
Originally published in the Ballard News-Tribune, Seattle, Wash., 2000.
copyright 1997-2011, Steve Stav