Tuesday, August 28, 2012

These Needles

These Needles was an art punk band from Iowa City.  The band was formed in early 2009 and, at the end of its run, consisted of Pat Larkin and Joe Ross on guitars, Joe Milik on drums, Brendan Wells on bass, and John Nagel on throat.

It was September of 2008 and I, Joe Milik, needed a change of pace.  I lived in Des Moines at the time, at the Haunted Basement, one of the city's last truly DIY spots.  I played in bands and booked shows at the spot, but over time I had grown a bit weary of the local Des Moines scene, attendance, attitudes, and all.  I needed to move.  I knew a few people that would let me sleep on their floor in Iowa City so, after wrapping up my bands and my time with the Haunted Basement, I caught the Greyhound east on I-80 with just my backpack full of some clothes and a toothbrush, and crashlanded on my friend Charles Free's carpeted floor.  I was now a resident of Iowa City.

I didn't know much about the local scene outside of the few bands that would come and play Des Moines every once in awhile (The Tanks is all, really), so I started going to house shows at places like the Exo Space and the Molded Nug.  I would see the likes of Supersonic Piss, Viking Fuck, and Warmorgan play (alongside a ton of noise acts coming through town) and seeing the warm support for weirder bands got me stoked to start a band of my own in new territory for me.  All I needed were some like minded folks to get on board.

Besides crashing on Charles' floor, I would also pass out on my friend Darrin Ling's couch from time to time.  This is how I ended up meeting Darrin's roommate Pat Larkin.  I think I was initially drawn to Pat because, well, he played guitar and he was weird.  And him being weird led to weird guitar playing, which I liked a lot.  Pat had heard me talk from time to time about wanting to start a punk band, and Pat himself had wanted to start a band himself, so one day we made it happen.  We went down into his basement in March of 2009 and started writing songs for our new "punk" band.  Props to Joe Scott for letting me use his drum set.  Thanks Joe!

We really didn't have a sound we were aiming for, we just knew we wanted it to be "punk" and that's all we went on.  Initially the first few songs Pat and I wrote at the time were a bit more offkilter and different than what I had been used to playing (which was thrash, straightforward hardcore punk), and I totally embraced that. What happened from trying to keep up with Pat's weirdo guitar work turned into some cool and interesting drum playing.  There were fast and hard punk parts, but all these parts were juxtaposed with a cool breakdown here or a nuts spazzy blastbeat there.  I liked where this was going. 

So, after we had a few songs written, four of them, we needed a bass player.  I never really had anyone else in mind to play bass in the band other than Brendan Wells.  I had known Brendan for awhile at the time, playing in bands with him when we both lived in Des Moines.  With he himself being a recent transplant to Iowa City as well, it only felt natural to ask him.  At first, he refused.  I don't know why, but it took a lot of pushing to get him to play in the band.  It was after asking no less than three times and then having him sit in on a practice that he finally said yes.

We were a three piece, had a few songs, and we were asked to play our first show.  I think the initial plans for the band were to have Pat do vocals and play guitar, but that wasn't really panning out at that moment in time, so we asked Pat's roommate Colin Kraemmer to do vocals for that show.  The show was with Loser Life from California, Warmorgan, and maybe one other band I can't remember, and it was at Public Space One.  We played 5 songs and a cover of the Ramone's 'Blitzkreig Bop'.  Yeah baby.  I don't really remember much about this show, so we probably sucked, who knows?  Brendan's amp might've went out, and Colin lost his voice, but that's about all I can recall.

Colin was only down to do the one show, so we needed to find another vocalist.  We had practiced a bit with Peter Tomka doing vocals, but that didn't work out (sorry dude!).  After brainstorming it over with Brendan, we both came to the conclusion that John Nagel, another kid we knew from back in the Des Moines days, would probably be the perfect choice.  He was smart and he knew how to write.  We asked him to come check our new band out at the Picador for our next show, the only show we ever played as a three piece, and after our set, we asked John what he thought about the band.  It was pretty good, he said.  We then asked if he'd want to do vocals in the band, and he said yes.

Having John in the band was the turning point of having the band being a pretty okay thing to being something rad that I had a ton of fun playing in.  He was a great frontman, had a great voice, and really knew what he was doing, so all-in-all, he really made the band more of a weird and fucked up presence.  That all became aparent during his first show with us at the Molded Nug with Supersonic Piss and Total Abuse (who never showed up): he showed up right as we finished setting up, got on the mic and killed it.  This was the first show that I remember the band sounding way good and having lots of mosh happen.

By this time it was getting the be the end of Summer.  Pat moved (back) to Minneapolis, but that didn't stop him from driving down to Iowa City all the time to practice and play shows.  We played some more shows, some at the White Lightning Warehouse (which is, in my opinion, one of the most important DIY spots that Iowa has ever had, and it was a pleasure to have a hand in making it all happen) and we decided to record our first demo tape.  At this point the band really had it's sound going.  Strange and snazzy songs firmly in the realm of "hardcore punk" but with a weirdo twist thanks to Pat's jangly, noisy guitar playing and my deliberate attempt at playing something "different" than what I was used to playing on the drums; bits of a blast beat here, a weird drum fill there.  With all the details ironed out, John, Brendan, and I drove up to Minneapolis to meet up with Pat and record in his basement with the help of his roommate Ali Jafar.  We recorded 8 tracks, put them on cassette, and headed out on a short midwest tour at the end of Novemeber of 2009, with dates in Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska.  I like this tape a lot, it really shows off the band's sound as a four piece.

1.  Abductor
2.  Cover to Cover
3.  Another Night's Dread
4.  Indebted
5.  The Demand for Him
6.  When Consumption Assumes Disposition
7.  Gutted
8.  Labored Breathing

Click to download.

Before our little midwest tour, I went on a Tanks tour out to the east coast and back (I met Jeff Nelson on this tour and he gave us a personal tour of his house!) and Joe Ross, the drummer of the Tanks, had been bugging me about letting him join These Needles on second guitar.  By bugging I don't really mean bugging, but he did ask a lot!  We had talked about it before with the rest of the band dudes, and everyone seemed down, so why not?  When These Needles had gotten back from the midwest tour at the end of November, Joe Ross officially joined the band on second guitar.  The addition of Joe made the band sound harsher, noisier, even more on the verge of falling apart, and definitely solidified the sound as "hardcore punk".  I loved it.

Joe learned the songs, we played shows, and Dan Davis, then of Be Kind To Yr Neighbor and formerly of Weather is Happening and Ricky Fitts, asked if he could put out a 7" for us on his new label he was starting called You Touch Us You Die Records.  Of course we were down.  I don't remember the exact conditions that these songs were recorded under, but I do remember they were recorded at my house I was living in at the time, 649 S. Governor, by Pat to four track.  These were the first recordings to feature Joe and, until now, have been unreleased, which is a shame as this version of "I Have the Power..." is my favorite.  I wonder if anyone else from the band remembers recording this?

1.  When Consumption Assumes Disposition
2.  The Demand for Him
3.  Cover to Cover
4.  I Have the Power... To Change the Channel

Click to download.

By this point in time, we had made good friends with other local freaks Supersonic Piss, so we planned a two week tour with them out to the east coast and back when the weather started to get warmer.  Before that though, both bands needed to record their own respective sides of a planned split 7" between the two of us with enough time to press it before tour started.  Guess what?  Neither band finished in time, so we opted for a split tape instead.  These tracks were recorded in one long day by Pat at my house again.  Joe Heuermann did the killer art for it, and when the end of May 2010 came, we took this tape on the road with us.  The newer songs on this tape really show the band becoming more chaotic and fucked up. 

These Needles Side
1. Six Pack
2. I Have the Power... To Change the Channel
3. Protoculture Ooze
4. Old & Die Phase
5. When Consumption Assumes Disposition
6. Gutted
7. Indeed I Am My Brother's Keeper
8. Overripe
9. Sleepwalk

Supersonic Piss Side
1. Toilet Death
2. Father Bother
3. Buck Angel of Death
4. Rape Farm
5. Skate
6. Oh, the Nut Sack

Click to download.

Pat documented the trip and you can view his amazing photos of the trip here.  It was a fun tour for sure.  Highlights include meeting the lovely Sharon and her crackhead lesbian companion in an alley in Baltimore, floating through a steamy Jason Voorhees style swamp at 3AM outside of Horseheads, NY, playing with an ex-Verse (straight edge hardcore band, if you didn't know) band in Providence and watching all the kids that showed up get bummed when the band got really drunk and played so sloppy, hanging out in a haunted nunnery in Toledo, and doing the feats of strength every night that would determine which band played first and which band played second.  Some of the shows were WACK (like playing with Cottonball Man in Pittsburgh, what the fuck was that shit?) but I look back on this tour fondly and I'm glad we did it.

When we got home from the tour, we were invited by our friend Travis Nordahl to come up to McNally Smith recording college in St. Paul where he was studying so he could record us on their sick equipment for free.  Some would argue "not punk" but free sounds good to me.  Travis recorded all the songs we had written up to that point onto 2" analog tape.  I was totally stoked because what we recorded sounded a lot better than the tapes we had been putting out.  These recordings sounded a lot cleaner than what we sounded like live, so it really gave a different perspective on our music.  The recording took a single session and mixing took another, and we had it wrapped up outside of level tweaks within two days.  We were planning on putting out our own 7" with some of these songs and saving the rest for later.

After the tour and the recording sessions, we wrote a few more songs and did another tiny midwest tour which included my personal favorite show we ever played, in Omaha at The Manor, a weird one that involved having a bunch of mosh bands whose show got cancelled across town come and "open" for us.  There were a bunch of mosh kids there that left as soon as the last e-string was chugged.  It was weird, but we still ruled that night!  We played ICT Fest the next day in Wichita, where they cut us off after playing 10 minutes but then mistakenly paid us twice, suckers.  Another stand out show at this point was the AIDS Wolf show at the White Lightning Warehouse, which was Supersonic Piss' first show with Joe Ross on drums after Jason Miller moved away to Lincoln.   This time period was the best the band ever sounded to me...

...And it's also the time period that the band seemed to, at least in my eyes, lose it's momentum.  It's hard having a crucial member of the band live 5 hours away.  It makes song writing difficult and it was getting to be a pain to play local shows without having to plan things out way in advance.  It's kind of a bummer realizing deep down that you know something cool, like this band, might be coming to an end sooner than you would like, before you could really fully appreciate what you had done with it.

It was reaching the end of the year now, and Jason Miller had asked us to come play a show with his new band in Lincoln.  It was a good show, in the basement of a record shop that was going out of business.  Jason's band, Moistoid and the Dumps (or maybe it was The Duke of the Hazardous Wastepool?) killed it I thought; Jason had gotten really good at drumming.  We also played with Violator X, Acid Mouth, and Diamonds R 4Eva, who were all good.  It was a sick show, definitely, with a lot of mosh.  Afterwards, while staying at Jason's, we had the talk and, long story short, we decided to end the band after our show the next day in Iowa City, an all local fest at the White Lightning Warehouse.

The show, called Santa Fest, turned out to be a wild one.  Our set consisted of tons of mosh and John removing his belt and whipping the crowd with it.  My bass pedal broke for a little bit, but outside of that, it was a great way to go out.  The only actual video that exists of the band comes from this show (although I do know someone taped us in Chicago!  Who are you dude?  I'd love to see that footage too!) and is just 26 seconds long.  Oh well, at least you get to see my good friend Aaron Barger barrel through the crowd at the beginning of the video:

So, on December 17th, 2010, These Needles ceased to be.  We died.  We're dead.  RIP.  But you may be wondering what happened to those tracks we recorded in St. Paul?  We still had plans for those.  Eventually Brendan, John, and I drove up to St. Paul again, met up with Pat and Travis, and recorded our 4 final songs that we had written after the initial recording session.  After a long and arduous mixing and mastering process that took nearly 9 months, the songs from both of these sessions were pressed to LP.  Due to a huge misunderstanding at the plant, two of the songs were left off the LP, but I've included them as the final two tracks in the download below.  Brendan and I did the art for the release and compiled a big booklet that comes with the record documenting the band's existence through flier scans and photos.  We put a lot of work into this, so please enjoy:

1.  Overripe
2.  Another Night's Dread
3.  I Was Ingenue
4.  The Demand for Him
5.  Cover to Cover
6.  Indebted
7.  Abductor
8.  I Have the Power... To Change the Channel
9.  Indeed I Am Not My Brother's Keeper
10.  Old & Die Phase
11.  Gutted
12.  Protoculture Ooze
13.  When Consumption Assumes Disposition
14.  A New Kind of Voyeurism
15.  Labored Breathing
16.  Preacher of Whim
17.  Freak Out Squares

Click to download.

So, there it is.  That's all, folks.  That was the history of my little band, and there's all of our recorded output.  We played shows and had fun.  Sometimes I think back and wonder if maybe we should have done things a bit differently.  Maybe we should've tried to work out the problems that band was having instead of ending it so quickly?  Maybe not.  It was definitely a learning experience and I'm glad I was apart of it.  I'm glad I made the music I did and I'm glad I met the people I did.  Maybe it was the time and the place, but if it wasn't, These Needles helped me realize that, even if you don't know many people in a music scene, with some heart and some hard work, others will accept and encourage the art you create. 

Everyone from the band went on to play in other bands.  Currently Pat plays guitar in the Miami Dolphins in Minneapolis, Brendan plays bass in Solid Attitude and does vocals for NERV, Joe Ross plays drums in Supersonic Piss, Slut River, and the Tanks, John does vocals in Error, and I play drums for NERV, Big Box, and Error.  Check all of those bands out if you have the time.  They're all excellent. 

If you would like a copy of the LP, I have around 15 left, so shoot me an e-mail: eatapes@gmail.com

Stay punk, folks.