If you ask some people, rock is dead in Nashville. These days, apparently, the buzzword is “pop.” Over the past three years, Nashville has spawned an unusual number of tuneful groups who’ve avoided the grunge bandwagon in favor of spiritual forebears like Cheap Trick, the Beatles, Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, and Big Star. More than a dozen of those bands, joined by other like-minded regional and international acts, will perform at the highly touted Monsters of Pop showcase, which commandeers the Exit/In and The End for three consecutive nights starting June 11.
The local pop scene has been simmering for some time, thanks to longtime Nashville music figures such as Bill Lloyd, who continues to straddle the worlds of college radio and major-label country, and the production team of Brad Jones and Robin Eaton, who scored a modern-rock radio hit with Jill Sobule’s “I Kissed a Girl.” They’ve been joined over the years by a steady stream of relocating musicians, including Clive Gregson (from the late-’70s Stiff Records group Any Trouble) and Steve Allen (from the L.A. new wave band 20/20).
Last year, however, the idea of a local pop scene began to coalesce when a Japanese label snapped up Swan Dive, the duo of Molly Felder and Bill DeMain. While touring Japan two years ago with Marshall Crenshaw, whose 1982 debut LP remains a modern pop cornerstone, Brad Jones passed out copies of the Nashville group’s album to journalists and A&R reps. A copy wound up at Japan’s Sony/Tri-Star label, and eventually the record company signed Swan Dive to a multi-album deal. By last fall, Swan Dive had scored two Top 10 Japanese singles, including “Groovy Tuesday,” which rose to the Top 4. Other Nashville acts landed Asian record deals as well, among them Jones, The Shazam, and the now defunct group The Semantics.
The two former Semantics, Will Owsley and Millard Powers, are part of the Monsters of Pop showcase, as are Swan Dive and The Shazam. So is Marshall Crenshaw, who with Bill Lloyd headlines Friday night’s lineup. Local club draws Neilson Hubbard, Who Hit John, Joe Marc’s Brother, Betty Rocker, and Rayon City Quartet play weekend slots, as do former Human Radio frontman Ross Rice, session guitarist Pat Buchanan’s Idle Jets, and the Byrds-influenced Luxury Liners. Joining those performers are several out-of-town acts, including music journalist Paul Myers, the Pennsylvania group Cherry Twister, and Japan’s Hicksville, which is bringing a large contingent of Asian press and TV reporters.
The event was organized by Lee Swartz, who manages the Sony/ATV Tree Publishing library. A former Pittsburgh resident, Swartz moved here in 1993 to work for Sony, which had already signed publishing deals with Owsley, Powers, Rice, and Ben Folds (who briefly had a band, Jody’s Power Bill, here in the early ’90s). “Sony was really a few years ahead of its time,” says Swartz, who has formed his own Nashville pop promotion company, P.O.P. UN Ltd. He says Nashville’s emphasis on the quality of the song makes it a perfect haven for pure pop music.
“These are possibly the standards of the future,” Swartz enthuses. “In 15 or 20 years, there’ll be a Bill DeMain box set the way there is Burt Bacharach now.”
DeMain indeed has a real knack for witty, elegant three-minute songs, but it bears noting that early overhype has killed many a cool local trend. Already, in the last year, the Middle Tennessee pop scene has received two lengthy front-page Billboard tributes without a notable breakout success. The presence of Godzillathe summer’s symbol of backfiring promotionon the Monsters of Pop poster sounds a mild note of caution.
That said, Swartz and the Monsters of Pop bands are making an unusually strong show of unity with this ambitious concert series, and any group that can create an authentic buzz around Nashville’s local music scene deserves some props. A Nashville pop compilation assembled by Swartz will be out this month on Denver’s Not Lame Records. In the meantime, the Monsters of Pop series runs June 11-13.
If a pop fest sounds too bright-eyed, a different kind of mini-festival Saturday night will sock a syringe full of trashy thrills into your rock ’n’ roll heart. Dubbed Sleaze Fest, the event packs some of Nashville’s strangest psychotronic rock bands into the new Victor/Victoria’s for an evening of campy depravity and multimedia dementia. Transvestism, shock theater, improv, electronic noise, Tammy Wynetteyou pays your money, you takes your chances.
Headlining the event is Murfreesboro’s by-now legendary Holtzclaw. We’ve seen Nashville Pussy (the band The Tennessean keeps calling “Nashville P”) and we’ve seen Holtzclaw, and we’re here to tell you Holtzclaw wins the cage match. This band gives you human torches, buzzing chainsaws, and a frontman who delivers crack babies with his teeth. Can they top themselves yet again? The good news for you, the viewer, is they’ll kill themselves trying.
Girls in Action, the glam-bubblegum band that alternates covers of The Stooges, T. Rex, and Loretta Lynn, will be on hand in several incarnations, including a special “Tammy Wynette tribute” by lead singer Jenny G.A. David Cloud, the hardest-working man in show bidness, will preach his Gospel of Power. Murfreesboro’s Trash 9000, an electronic aggregate led by one Max Volume, makes its Nashville club debut, and performance artist/gadfly Russel Brown O’Brien will serve as the Joel Grey-like emcee.
The evening’s centerpiece is “Motordrive,” a montage of 400 to 600 slide-projected images by Sleaze Fest organizer Kathy Brady. The hand-doctored, cut-and-paste images are presented in the low-tech style of a summer-vacation slide show, only they flash to music by Negativland, Electric Hellfire Club, and White Zombieand the photographs tend to feature S&M and goth-industrial themes.
Actually, beneath the Sleaze Fest’s deliberate silliness lie some ambitious ideas about spontaneous creativity. According to Brady, a local photographer who has staged similar multimedia projects for the last 12 years, the show is dedicated to the punk DIY credo that “anyone could do this, provided they’re deranged enough to bother.” By putting together this many offbeat elements, she hopes to provoke the equivalent of a Warhol Factory “happening,” an eruption of ideas and inspiration in a semi-social setting.
The show begins 8:30 p.m. Friday at Victor/Victoria’s, 617 Seventh Ave. S. Thanks to incessant road construction, hardly anyone knows where the new location is, so here goes: Take Eighth Ave. S. toward downtown. Turn right at the Texaco onto Drexel St. and go to the end of the block. Take another right onto Seventh Ave. S. Although it’s a little recessed, the entrance to Victor V’s is literally right around the corner. The club is remodeling, so call 650-2546 or 385-1079 Friday to confirm the show’s location.
Nashville lost one of its best-known rock clubs last week. The Ace of Clubs, which hosted memorable shows by Warren Zevon, Sonny Burgess, Sleepy LaBeef, NRBQ, and more, has closed its doors on Second Ave. S. The club has been purchased by the same investment group that owns Have a Nice Day Café. According to a Nice Day spokesman, the Ace is expected to reopen in late summer as Bar, a “generic” nightclub decorated in black and white that plays dance music from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. The Bar chain has outposts in Atlanta, Tampa, and New York. We’ll miss the old Ace, which wasn’t a bit generic.
Another great work by Hannah Kahn
My name is Eve
Why does joining a cult have to look so pretty, but be so ugly?
I'd say the hats are more BILLY JACK, but that fits into the whole hippy-cult…
Thank you for the write up. We greatly appreciate it! Hope we raise the funds…
Looks like he was a great Artist.......who left his Legacy behind for others to follow.....