Greg Gilmore Shares Tales Of Seattle’s Early Punk Scene As Revealed On ‘The Living: 1982’ (INTERVIEW)

The never-before released debut album of Seattle Early Punk band, The Living, has been released as The Living: 1982 by Loosgroove Records (run by Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam and Regan Hagar of Satchel and Brad). The release is remarkable for a number of reasons. First of all, members of the short-lived band The Living went on to notable musical careers, including Duff McKagan of Guns ‘n’ Roses and Greg Gilmore of Mother Love Bone and the label First World Music. Secondly, the debut was recorded in a live style, capturing the sound of typical performance, and has great sound quality. Lastly, this era of early Punk in Seattle is little documented and is something that’s still only gradually pieced together through oral histories. To add to the context of the release, The Living 1982 Podcast has also been launched, featuring band members and other members of the Seattle Punk scene. 

All in all, it’s a really significant release that broadens our understanding and appreciation for the era right before the Pacific Northwest became a major player in Punk, Grunge, and Metal music and is, for the most part, getting the attention it deserves. Drummer Greg Gilmore kindly joined us to dig through his memories and give a first-hand account of making this record, playing with The Living, and was also very patient when I asked him about the connections between his later band Mother Love Bone and Alice in Chains. 

Hannah Means-Shannon: I was wondering about the live performance aspect of the songs we hear on this recording. Had the band been performing those songs in concert before the recording was made?

Greg Gilmore: The last two tracks on the record including, “Life is a Terror”, were pretty new at the time and there’s a chance that we had not played those live. Duff is singing on those two tunes. I’m pretty certain that we recorded the first batch of five songs and then within a couple weeks, we recorded the next two. I don’t remember how near the end of the band that was, so those last two may not have been performed live.

HMS: It seems like the recording process was quick on this music, so either way, you must have known the songs pretty well. 

GG: Very. There were actually more songs too. We had enough to flesh out at least a 30 or 40 minute live set. 

HMS: Was your recording process entirely live, playing as you would on stage?

GG: Vocals were overdubbed and some second guitar parts, too. But that kind of recording is less common now, I guess. It’s commonly lamented that that’s how people used to record, pretty much. Yes, that’s how we did it. It was real fast. All the recording was done in an afternoon.

HMS: The sound is remarkably good, though. I guess it depends on the circumstances, but it’s possible that recording live so quickly might not have turned out this well. Have you felt, over the years, that the sound quality on this recording was pretty great?

GG: Yes, for sure. Even from the day it was done. I’ve always thought it was really a great recording. 

HMS: What did you actually have for this new release, the masters?

GG: Yes, the original 8-track multi-track. John has it and when it came time to mix, we had them digitally transferred to track files. I want to add that the studio where we did that was the typical small studio of the time. It was one room and we were all set up in it. The bass amp was down the hall. I think the guitar amp was probably stuck in a closet somewhere. But we were all in the room with the drums. And just a decent engineer who knew how to capture it.

HMS: How common was it for other bands who were peers of yours to be able to go into a studio and record like that? Was it expensive? 

GG: Cost was a factor. It wasn’t prohibitively expensive but you kind of had to have it together and know what you were going in there to do so you could get it done in a few hours. Unlike today, tape costs were a consideration. So price mattered, but smaller little studios like that served that purpose. That was their whole reason to be.

HMS: Did the band play covers as well as original music?

GG: We played “Ballroom Blitz” by The Sweet, and we might have played Bowie’s “Cracked Actor”, come to think of it. But that was about it. It was mostly originals for pretty much all the bands. Playing covers was not as much a part of that scene, that movement. We weren’t playing in bars or clubs so there was not that sort of motivation to play covers.

HMS: Where did you play?

GG: These shows were all in some kind of improvised space. There were little independent art galleries down in Pioneer Square, in the old part of Seattle, and we played a couple of those. There was a dance studio, which was a little bigger space, where some shows were held, but not a lot. That’s where the show was that we played with DOA. 

HMS: Were you playing these independent venues because there was a sense that the bars and clubs were not accessible to your scene? Was there a stratification there?

GG: Yes, completely. It was not a sense, it was a fact. This was a new music at the time and it was not made for the bar and club scene, and those places wouldn’t have it. They had no use for it at the time. If you could finagle a situation, everyone was underage, so it was a hassle at best to sort that out and play those gigs legally. This stuff was not happening in bars, yet, but it came a few years later.

HMS: What were the clubs primarily playing?

GG: It was a little more good time Rock ‘n Roll stuff. Some of those bands were sneaking originals into their sets but it was largely cover bands. It’s that same old bar band music that maybe has hardly changed in all these years. Maybe a lot of radio stuff. Some of those bands were making a go to break out of the bar and club scene, but that’s what they were playing. It was a very different approach, ethos, aesthetic, and sound in every day. We were just getting going, not ready for prime time. It wasn’t until, maybe, Nirvana that this stuff became safe for commercial radio.

HMS: Was there a sense that only the local scene was interested in this music and that there was no wider outside interest? Was there any structure that could move bands from one level to another, or was it just not there yet?

GG: It wasn’t there yet. We made connections with all the resources that we had and that was just not the state of things yet. The Pacific Northwest was still pretty isolated at that time. It was kind of a world unto itself. It had not evolved. From there, things snowballed quickly in terms of the scene overall, but at that point, it wasn’t happening. 

I even remember that when we went to do this recording, we didn’t have any meetings that we were setting out to make a record. We just thought we’d make a recording. Afterwards, there were no plans to do something with these. We realized, once we were done, that this was really great, but that was it. Maybe if the band had not come undone not so long after, maybe then there would have been more of a move towards doing something with it. But it didn’t survive long enough to get that far.

HMS: I know that for you and Duff, you both felt that if you wanted a next step in music, you needed to go somewhere else. You both went to LA, right?

GG: Yes. Which was true and not true. It’s true that we had to get out of here, but it’s also true that once we went there, we both realized, “Huh. Now that we’re here, we realize, from another perspective that, actually, we don’t have to be here.” There was the realization of the basic “grass is always greener”. You get on the other side and look back and realize that. Pretty soon, Duff was more comfortable there than I was, so I did come back. And things did happen here, too.

HMS: Did you find that the Seattle situation was opening up by the time that you came back? Did you see changes that made it more palatable?

GG: Yes, it was remarkable. In the short time that I was away, a lot had changed. It was crazy how different things were in every way. There were places to play, and the way bands were playing and the way bands were writing were different. There was more interaction with the industry. It was evolving really quickly. It was almost a different place that I came back to.

HMS: Two of the songs from this album have been released as videos as well, made by Regan Hagar, which is awesome because he was there. History can become a little artificial when it’s put together later by people who weren’t there. But these two videos definitely create a certain feeling through using original photos and videos from that time. Are you happy with the version of the past you see in the videos? 

GG: Very, yes. That’s an interesting point. It’s understandable how and why it happens, but it gets to be a little frustrating and disappointing that history is written by people who weren’t here. But what Regan did with those videos is not like that, as you say. It’s all stuff that’s real, that’s how it was. He did a fabulous job.

HMS: The first one, “Two Generation Stand” is more of a collage of photos and footage, which is a cool approach. There’s a clip of a young man talking at the end. He’s talking about how you can’t be angry all your life, but then he asks the question, “Can you?” I feel like this music is still relevant, but what’s your opinion on lifespan? Is it fair to say that practitioners of this sort of music will move through a certain lifecycle where they aren’t making the same kind of music when they are older?

GG: [Laughs] For one, I cannot imagine playing like that today, though in some ways I think that would be pretty cool. It is timeless and it is still relevant. Maybe, in the moment, when those things are written and performed in their time, the message is current for the writer and performer. But later, you grow up, and those things are still real, but you just see them from a more wizened perspective. It’s not that those things are then just dismissed. It still is relevant, but you might not have the same perspective on life that you did at the time. 

I’d temper that by saying that you only “kind of” have that perspective, even at the time. Those kinds of sentiments, which you might call, “young person’s issues”, even while they are being expressed by the young, have a little bit of creative license taken for the purposes of writing a good Rock ‘n Roll song. You are experiencing those things, and it’s real and true, but at the same time, you know you’re writing a song. 

HMS: It’s a more stylized version of life’s experiences?

GG: A little bit. I don’t want to dismiss a lot of great art that is real and expressing some real feelings and events, but at the same time I’ve been involved in the writing of a lot of Rock music, and sometimes you just need something to sing. At one extreme, it is like that. It’s legitimate because that is kind of what Rock ‘n Roll music is. But somewhere in between is where I think most music comes from. It’s about real stuff, but you’re working it out and writing a song.

HMS: There’s a lot of talk about “authenticity” these days. It’s reassuring that you’re qualifying the authenticity of this music, since it shows that you’re concerned it shouldn’t be over-valued in that way. But the truth is, just from hearing this music, it’s obviously so much more authentic than a lot of music made at the time, and a lot of music that you hear now. You were clearly being as real with your music as you could be at the time.

GG: Yes, 100 percent. That’s for sure. What you hear there is the four of us being fully present, and fully engaged, and making that music. It’s really happening right then. 

HMS: These two songs are being called “protest songs” and something about the video for “Live By The Gun” with the use of news clips from the time reminded me that there was a lot of fucked up shit going on that people were living through then that had the potential to make people angry or afraid for the future. Do you have a sense of what you were most angry about or scared about at that time? 

GG: There were real concerns, real fears, and real stresses. There was the Reagan administration with a lot of chest-pounding and saber-rattling. There was a lot of tough-guy stuff. For me, a specific issue that I still recall today that still bugs me, was the meddling in Nicaragua with the Contras. That thing was just ugly and awful. I know for all of us [in the band], in general, Reaganism felt like it was getting close to some jingoistic flag-waving stuff. For us, around that time, that might have been where the idea of waving the flag started to become a little bit of a contradiction.

HMS: A possibly suspect thing, rather than just an innocent thing?

GG: Yes, asking, “Wait, what do you mean by that?” 

HMS: I have a side-tracking question about Mother Love Bone. I saw the band being talked about online as some kind of forerunner of Metal music or alternative Metal. Was that even a way of thinking at the time, or are people reading that in later?

GG: I think that might be an interpretation after the fact. 

HMS: I think that people might be assuming influence on Alice Chains, though that would be later.

GG: Not so much later. Alice in Chains recorded that first record within a few months of when Mother Love Bone had come back from recording Apple. That’s possible that we influenced them. I wouldn’t say that I can hear it, necessarily, but we did play quite a few shows with them that I recall. We were pretty familiar. It’s a little known thing that I almost played on their first record. Fortunately, for the world and the band, I didn’t. They were scheduled to record and Sean [Kinney] injured his hand or wrist and looked like he was not able to play. So I started recording with them. We were in a rehearsal space for a little bit, then we moved to a studio where they were going to record to start doing preproduction. Sean was just sitting on the sidelines and I can only imagine the agony of working towards this your whole life, and now your band’s about to record its first record, and you’re not playing on it. 

After a few days of that, he couldn’t take it anymore, and one day he decided that he could play after all. He sat down on my drums and played. I was so fortunate to have seen this moment. It was unbelievable. They all were so frustrated to have to introduce this foreign element and still make a record. As soon as Sean sat down and played, they just exploded with the power of a thousand suns. It was unbelievably awesome, so cool. That was it. I was out of a gig. 

HMS: It was good of you not to feel like, “What a waste of my time!”

GG: Jeez, no! But I know the timing of their recording was not long after Mother Love Bone came back from Sausalito. 


Photo credit: Marty Perez

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