BIG BROWN HOUSE was an Antioch College band in the late '80s. I think OXYMORONS did a show with them once, but I don't remember.
And that's the full extent of my first hand BIG BROWN HOUSE knowledge.
However, Gail always liked these guys and was friends with at least one. She tells me that they often traded members back and forth with THE GITS, another Antioch band at the time that you might have heard of. Apparently, just about every member of BIG BROWN HOUSE played in THE GITS and vice-versa at one time or another -- except for Mia Zapata.
For the uninitiated, Antioch College is located in Yellow Springs, about ten miles outside of Dayton. In THE HIGHWAYMEN post, I'll be writing more about Yellow Springs and why Yellow Springs is considered part of the Dayton music scene (at least by everyone who does not live in Yellow Springs). But today I'll just talk about BIG BROWN HOUSE.
At the time Scrappy James was recorded (1987), BIG BROWN HOUSE was:
Benjamin London - guitars, vocals
Steve Moriarty - drums, vocals
Adrian Garver - bass
Roger Garufi - vocals
The music here is great just as music, but it's also interesting in sort of a historical sense. It's definitely post-punk, and with a hint of goth in the vocals -- very much late-'80s Miami Valley. But there's also the definite flavor of something we'd all start calling "emo" a few years later. This is music in transition. Considering that and THE GITS connection, this stuff deserves some kind of limited run CD rerelease (then again, I think you could say the same thing about TOOBA BLOOZE, THE HIGHWAYMEN, and a number of others on this blog).
This tape was recorded at Studio 716 in Ann Arbor, Michigan but subsequently remastered at SoundSpace in Yellow Springs. Chris Hertzler, who engineered the remastering, also engineered THE GITS cassette Private Lubs in 1988 (re-released in 1996 as Kings & Queens) and has since worked with DRY BRANCH FIRE SQUAD, THE CHRISTMAS JUG BAND, CRAZY JOE & THE MAD RIVER OUTLAWS, and THE CINCINNATI WOMEN'S CHORUS.
Years after this was recorded (1996, I think) when I was living in Yellow Springs and Larry Kampf was working at SoundSpace (which I'm pretty sure still exists today), my band HEIKE recorded a couple of songs out there. I must say that Larry somehow got the most powerful guitar sound I've ever heard out of that studio. Unfortunately, I've no idea what became of those tapes. Maybe Larry's still got 'em somewhere.
I know a lot of other local bands recorded things at SoundSpace but for the life of me I can't name a single one right now (except THE GITS, of course). It's a nice studio: a nice big room with separate booths attached -- good separation. SoundSpace used to do cassette duplication too, and they had a massive set-up for that. Before I saw it, I had never really thought about how cassettes were mass produced. You can't stamp them out like vinyl records or CDs. You have to basically record them all individually. At SoundSpace there was a big room with something like fifty individual cassette decks all linked to one master deck. You put in the master, and then I guess you loaded all the other machines with blanks and then you hit "play." I don't know why, but there was something eerie about that room. Grog liked it though. He saw all those decks lined up and couldn't help comparing it to the process he normally used to make all those OXYMORONS cassettes, which was exactly the process you'd think it was: he did them all one-by-one on his home stereo. I don't know about you, but that would've driven me batshit right around tape number thirty-four (and Grog made hundreds -- no wonder he's super-batshit).
I wonder what happened to all those cassette decks at SoundSpace. Probably sitting in a storage room somewhere -- or perhaps unloaded for cheap and written off their taxes as a business loss at some point (doubtful, though, since the tax code would've already allowed them to deduct the basis at a standard rate over the statutory life of the asset which was probably used up long before final disposition of the equipment -- then again, maybe section 2433 would have allowed them to... fuck! see what tax class does to you? don't ever go to law school...).
In 1989 BIG BROWN HOUSE and THE GITS moved to Seattle. I'll let BIG BROWN HOUSE guitar player/vocalist Ben London take it from here:
Ben: That's when I was in college . I went to Antioch College and I was in that band with a couple of guys who are in the Gits . We all went to school together and moved out to Seattle together in '89, when we graduated.You can read the rest of the interview here if you'd like. It's in PDF form, so you'll have to have Adobe Acrobat installed.
SY: Why Seattle?
Ben: We moved out with a large group of people and it was before the big music thing had really exploded. The only band I had ever heard of from Seattle was Soundgarden, and that was just because I was a college DJ at the time and got "Ultramega OK ." We'd done a lot of traveling and we were talking about wanting to be in a big city, after having gone to college in a tiny little town . New York was too expensive, San Francisco's so expensive, Chicago's so cold . Seattle, it seemed like it was really cheap to live out there and it had a nice climate and we had a couple of friends out there . It just happened that we got out there just about the time this whole thing was gearing up . When we first got out there, Mudhoney and a lot of the early Sub Pop bands were just starting . I missed out on the U-Men and Green River.
SY. : How long did Big Brown House stay together when you moved to Seattle?
Ben : About a year. We'd been playing the whole time when I was in college and when you're in college I guess you experiment with a lot of different styles. Once I got out there, I wasn't enjoying what we were doing . I was just playing guitar in that band and Steve and Matt were concentrating more on the Gits and I decided to get my own thing going, so I quit. I was working with Tommy, our bass player, at the time and kind of put the thing together from there.
---Suburban Voice #35 (1993)
If he was a college DJ at Antioch, he was most likely on WYSO, Yellow Springs' public radio station. That station still exists, but I understand they stopped letting Antioch students be DJs some time in the mid-'90s.
After leaving BIG BROWN HOUSE, London formed ALCOHOL FUNNYCAR with then-BIG BROWN HOUSE bass player, Tommy Bonehead.
BIG BROWN HOUSE and THE GITS appeared in the 1987 documentary film, The Antioch Adventure, Part 2. The first Antioch Adventure followed certain Antioch students in 1967. The second did the same thing with then-current Antioch students twenty years later. You can read a little more about these films here. I read somewhere that one could once order both films through The Antioch Bookstore, but I checked their site and that no longer seems to be the case. However, if you go looking for the movies, it's probably a good place to start.
1. Morning's Light
2. Face Down
3. Eight Dead Grandmothers
4. Snacked on by the Bugs from Hell
5. 76 on 70
6. No Ball Games
8. Menudo on the Edge (of Town)
9. Wet Metro Stop
10. Vertical Hold
Download it! (60 MB) (re-upped on 2-2-2013)
The cassette insert contains the lyrics for "Vertical Hold" but none of the other tracks.
The copy I ripped has the labels on the wrong sides. I don't know why I consider that significant enough to mention.
This recording comes to us from the deepest recesses of the Gail Dafler Collection.
UPDATE (2-2-2013): The downloadable file contains only the MP3s. There are no scans of the cover, cassette, or insert. Unfortunately, I can't find those files right now. But so many people have been asking for this one, I thought re-upping without the scans would be okay for now. When I find those scans, I'll add them to the zip-file and re-up this again. But until then, you'll have to be content with just the recordings.
Other than this cassette, BIG BROWN HOUSE had one other release that I know of: a sort of compilation cassette of outtakes, live stuff, and oddities released in 1989, shortly before the band left for Seattle. I will, of course, be sharing that one.
The only other extant recordings by this band are a pair of songs on Bobbing for Pavement, The Rathouse Compilation CD released in 1994 (long after BIG BROWN HOUSE broke up). The two songs are "The Raft" and "Another Drunken Winter," which is also on the other BIG BROWN HOUSE cassette. I haven't heard Bobbing for Pavement, so I don't know if the version on the comp is the same as the one on the cassette. The compilation also features two songs from THE GITS, two songs from HAMMERBOX, and various others. It's out of print, but you can get it dirt cheap ($3.33!) from some Amazon Sellers.
And that's it for now. Enjoy!
ps. If you're unfamiliar with the tragic tale of Mia Zapata, check her Wikipedia entry. Check the links at the bottom too. Apparently, there's a GITS movie in the works.
pps. In case anyone's wondering, I have nothing to share from THE GITS, and unless someone has a taped live show or practice or something to that effect, I won't be sharing anything by them here. I haven't checked thoroughly, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that everything they recorded is still in print and easily available via the web. In fact, the 1996 GITS demos collection Kings & Queens is a re-release of a 1988 cassette Private Lubs, most of which was recorded at SoundSpace, with one track ("Graveyard Blues") recorded at Canal Street Tavern. You can get the CD from CD Universe. You can download the MP3s from e-music.
ppps. Believe it or not, this post really is about BIG BROWN HOUSE.