Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Option Magazine, Jan/Feb 1988

( Here's a transcript of an article from Option...lot's of interesting facts (and a few spelling mistakes!) from the early days of the band.)

Trial Basses – HUGO LARGO’S Ongoing Experiment

Given enough loud voices clamouring for your attention, you will eventually hear none of them. The voices become a dull roar, and the roar becomes a blur, and sooner or later the blur becomes an unheard tension just below the threshold of awareness, like the rumble of the subway under my apartment, which I never hear anymore, though it’s constant enough to keep the place cockroach-free. Or more to the point, like Noise Rock, which can be exhilarating one band at a time, but when taken en masse becomes as toothless and boring as the music it is supposedly blasting out against.

Now imagine a quiet voice, a voice that insinuates itself into your head not with bluster and volume but with an edgy nervousness - all velvet and razorblades. While the other voices can shout and spit until the veins on the necks bulge, this worried little voice can drown them out with a whisper. If you were to meet this voice, you might find that it called itself Hugo Largo.

Coming from New York - the country’s self-appointed noise capital -Hugo have built a following by refusing to rage and roar like everyone else. Instead, they have developed a unique two bass and electric violin sound that serves as a constantly shifting setting for the slippery, slithering voice of Mimi Goese. If they’re “in yo’ face," it’s because you’re only halfway to where they want to be.

Hugo Largo began in early 1984 as the brainchild of punk bassist and Glenn Branca alumnus Tim Sommer who was also well-known locally as a journalist. Bored with playing bass for Even Worse, which he calls "real primitive punk rock of no distinguished quality, (tough all you Thurston Moore completists out there may want to track down their single), Tim began putting together embryonic instrumental tracks with his bass and a boombox cassette deck, which soon evolved into working with fellow Branca alumnus Greg Lutz, who just happened to have a four track machine.”l had told him some ideas I had," Sommer explains, “and I told him I wanted to form a band with two basses and a woman singer. He had a four-track machine, and my original idea was to do a tape of some stuff to give to Mimi."

Mimi Goese, a veteran of the “Down-Town" performance art and dance scene, was originally enlisted to put wordless melodic lines over the twin bass parts -a "very arty" premise that appealed to her performance instincts without demanding that she be a Female Rock Singer. "Singing wasn’t something I was excited about at all. . . " Mimi is quick to point out. "I was doing a hundred other things · it wasn’t anywhere near like ‘This is the next big thing!’ It was just something else I was going to try. Actu- ally, originally it was another woman speaking and maybe I’d do little melodic lines behind her, but she was going to be the speaker and I wasn’t going to use words. So the very beginning of it was pretty mushy idea"

No sooner had the three of them begun, they received an offer to open a club   Rick Rubin’s sludge-metal outfit, Hose who Tim knew from his DJ days. Though the gig was only 10 days away, and they had  very little material, Tim jumped at the chance   "We only did four songs," Tim   "Mimi had never sung into a mike before  soundchecking for that very first show and there weren’t words for the songs yet - she just kind of hummed them, or sang melody lines without singing words."

Needless to say, the gig was a real Beauty- and-the-Beast pairing, and a lot of the fans there to see Hose, "haven’t seen us since" (as Sommer diplomatically puts it). Among the small percentage who liked what they heard, though, was Adam Peacock, a London-born journalist/ photographer who had also played in a few bands himself.

"I was a fan," he states with a note of pride. "I saw the first gig, I saw four out of the first five, something like that, and I wanted to be the THIRD bass player! That was my big offer. And then when Greg quit I think there was a gig in about two weeks after he quit, there was a whole string of gigs — and they didn’t have someone, and I finally succeeded in persuading them to let me show them that I knew all the songs pretty good!" "He learned them in one 45 minute rehearsal," Sommer admits. "Adam had all the songs down! He really did. I was incredibly impressed.”

The last member to join was Hahn Rowe, whose searing violin lines elevate the band’s sound out of the realm of potential preciousness and into a whole new dimension. Yet another Branca graduate (”Branca is like the John Mayall of the New York Scene,” observes Sommer), Hahn had been working mainly as a recording engineer (his credits to date include projects for the Golden Palominos, Live Skull, Wiseblood, John Zorn, Deep Six, and more), and actually started as Hugo Largo’s soundman. In fact, his first contributions on violin were made from behind the mixing board, a la Roxy Music/ Eno.

"It turned out that I was playing on too many songs, and l couldn’t mix the sound at the same time. Uh, ‘and the rest is history. . ." is Hahn’s explanation of his move to full-time musician status. "Actually, I had recorded the EP, and I still wasn’t officially in the band. I still hadn’t played on stage until after we more or less finished the EP."

If there’s one thing people seem to know about Hugo Largo, it’s that they’re the ‘band without a drummer,’ which has led to various new age references and charges that they’re just a novelty of sorts. But Tim points out that as far as he was concerned; drums were just never part of the picture from the very first. “In 1982 and I983 I was listening to a lot of things that were really driven by the bass, whether that be New Order, or Jah Wobble, or Oh Ok, who were a real bass-driven band, and Ruts DC, their Rhythm Collision album, which was all bass."

If one bass can propel a band, then two basses — weaving, harmonizing, intertwining and creating a skeletal architecture of sound — can be almost a band in them- selves. And yet, contrary to what you might expect, Hugo Largo is far from bottom- heavy. "I always thought of the way we’d use bass as more like the way a viola and a violin play together in a chamber group," remarks Sommer, "rather than if you had Busta Jones and Adam Clayton up there thudding away."

The air of mystery and grace the new group could conjure up was unique enough to attract the attention of R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, who was quick to offer his services as their producer on their ironically titled EP, Drum (Relativity). It was an arrangement the band claims to be very happy with, although they’ve since found that the Stipe stigma has had its drawbacks as well as good points.

“It’s a lot stronger than I had any idea it would be,” muses Mimi. “There’s a lot of people out there that are crazy about Michael Stipe, and who are interested in this band because of him," Sommer is quick to agree, noting that “sometimes we forget that Michael is. . . Bono, or whatever he is. . . He’s created that mystery about himself, he really has, and I suppose we’ve become part of that myth, that mystery. But I trust the people who he’s turned on to us. He wanted to turn people on to us”.

"It’s sort of reassuring to know we’ll never be as big as R.E.M.," Hahn chimes in. "I mean, I’d never even listened to R.E.M. before we worked with Michael. . . " "I know!" Mimi exclaims. "There are people who say. ‘Did you learn how to sing by listening to Michael Stipe?’ I mean, come on! I don’t have a hero, and if I did it wouldn’t be Michael Stipe. He’s great — but so are a lot of other people.”

For the record, Sommer points out that as an experienced engineer and soundman, Hahn Rowe was responsible for most of the hands-on recording decisions, and that Stipe’s role was more ephemeral -something of a spiritual cheerleader, from the sound of it. "He just put us in a room and got a really good performance out of us — got us to play well on tape -which is, I think, an underrated thing that a producer does. And in doing so, in making a really extraordinary performance possible, he definitely earned his production credit.   Not to say that he was completely out of the picture in terms of terms of arranging sounds and in terms of arranging instruments because he did contribute really wise little things which I hear when I listen to the record. I hear them."

"I think he’s especially good at sitting on the couch and waiting for the moments to happen," is Hahn’s typically candid analysis, "and then he’ll jump up and say ‘Yeah! Keep that, I like that!’ I think that’s probably one of his strengths. You see him ready to jump up and say, ‘Oh, wow!’ — and he does."

The EP was recorded over a span of a year-and-a—half, and its earliest tracks are by now two-and-a-half years old, so the band is understandably anxious to get to work on the forthcoming LP — if only to show how far they’ve come. "I think our own criticism of the first record," Sommer says, "would be that it doesn’t show our sense of humour, and it doesn’t show the power that we can get live, that has very little to do with the ambient music, say, that we some- times get compared to. I think on the full- length album there will be stuff that’s stranger, and stuff that’s funnier, and stuff that’s louder, and stuff that’s quieter."

All of these dimensions are more readily apparent live, where a typical set might include Hugo-ized covers of anything from Bon Jovi to Syd Barrett, Led Zeppelin, or Elvis. One thing that will be hard to transfer to vinyl, though, will be Mimi’s unique and captivating stage presence.

Mimi’s been our  secret weapon for a long time." Adam states though this is no secret to anyone who’s seen the band recently on one of their cross country tours with The Feelies. Her remarkable voice matches Hahn Rowe’s liquid violin glide-for-glide and swoop-for-swoop, inviting the inevitable comparisons to a couple of arty chanteuses named Liz and Kate. She’s a mesmerizing performer – one who sings with her hands as well as her voice and who possesses a gaze that can veer from the wide eyed wonder of a little girl with the wild eyed terror of a cornered animal in mid song - though there’s also been more than a few accusations that she’s, well you know…weird.

‘Actually’, she laughs, "what’s especially great  is I have to have to be more like that”   Before they jelled as a band, she explains ‘the music didn’t feel like music to me, so I felt like I had to hold everybody’s attention the whole time. We were playing in rock ‘n’ roll clubs and they’re used to having this real HEAVY band up there, so I had to   make them pay attention to this little band"

“...with their plinky little basses and the high woman’s voice,” Sommer interjects.

Continues Mimi  "The ‘weirdness’ is  something I don’t understand, ‘cause I’ll go up on stage and I think ‘OK, I’m going to  play that really straight - I’m going to do  this as a normal singer and people still say, “Ohh, you’re so weeeiird!" You’ll have to wear sunglasses to be not construed as weird” Adam suggests. "Your eyes give you away- people think you’re insane!"   

“It’s a true in Japan, though," Mimi offers- “there’s a word for it, when you can get white all around your eyes . . . you’re insane if you can do that"

“Sampaku` Hahn exclaims. “You’re sampaku!`

Joking aside, Hahn is soon tackling the weirdness question again from a more serious angle. ‘I think were always surprised that people can think that we’re strange, be- cause we’ve been doing it so much that it’s definitely natural for us -we’re doing some- thing that we enjoy doing and that we believe in  and do naturally?

"There’s a conception that maybe this is a gimmick.' Tim adds. "and maybe a long, long time ago at the birth of this thing maybe there was an element of that in it, but a long time ago it stopped being a gimmick and it started being a band that the four of us wanted to be in — not just a novelty. I mean, people say. ‘Where do you go from here?’ The misconception to me is that people think that’s a question, because we are four musicians who can write songs and produce them, and who are not limited by other people’s conceptions of what a rock band should be!"

"It’s much more interesting," Adam quips, "to ask a band with two guitars, a bass, and a drummer, ‘Where can you go from here?"

Monday, 7 February 2011

Contrast Issue 3 Fall 1987

Here is a transcript of an interview by Philip Drucker with Adam Peacock - surprisingly, it's quite damning of the (then) current NY scene. it's a fascinating read.

No York No More

By Philip Drucker
Photography by Monica Stevenson

New York is a strange city. It is a city in which a boring little man named Bernard Goetz can become a cause célèbre for little more than attempted murder. It is a city in which any juvenile delinquent with a spraycan and a number for a name can be glorified as a serious artist. Most cities have the good sense to paint over graffiti; in New York, defacements of public property hang on gallery walls.
What is this beast which, although in the twilight of its influence (which, with the shift of world politics to the Pacific Basin area, New York as the traditional trading centre between the U.S. and Europe can no longer maintain a competitive edge merely due to geography alone), continues to dominate our creative consciousness? What deity still commands we lift our aesthetic voice in prayer toward the great altar in New York? Media. New York is still unarguably the media capital of the world.
Meaning: if it happens in New York, it happens in books, movies, records and television. Meaning: we hear a great deal about New York simply due to its ability to export its native products. Meaning: although its reservoir of natural talent is dwindling, New York still gets first crack at creating THE NEXT BIG THING.

Media is a curious god. It bestows great wealth upon those we mere mortals consider undeserving. And, by tacitly ignoring the talented among us, leaves them to the purgatory to end all purgatories: obscure poverty. Fortunately, this is not always the case, for, along with the glorification of murderers and vandals which invariably happens in a typical New York media blitzkrieg, a few blessed souls slip into the spotlight they so richly deserve.

Yes, only in New York can such soulless hacks as Keith Haring and David
Salle receive the same (if not more) recognition as the immensely talented Robert Motherwill or the sublime Eric Fischel. Musically, and much to its credit, New York is the land which spawned rap, scratch, hip-hop, lockjaw, Whooping Cough and any other name you wish to attach to that curious music (and dance) which glorifies the virtues of the metronome. Yet in its infinite wisdom, the Big Apple has chosen as its musical rap ambassadors the engaging Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys, a band as insipid as Run-D.M.C. is inspiring. Which brings us to another stronghold of New Yorkian culture. Avant—garde music. Cerebral music. This end of the musical spectrum has always been occupied by its share of New Yorkers. Surely few people will argue the contributions to "minimal" music of Philip Glass and Steven Reich. When rock became the vehicle of the progressively- minded, there are even fewer who would argue the import of the famed "Class of '77." CBGB‘s, the Mudd Club. Max's Kansas City. Talking Heads. Television. Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Patti Smith. Essential music which changed the face of rock. Since '77 the tradition has somewhat continued. Glenn Branca has notably gained a foothold in the world's awareness, as has Laurie Anderson. I place their achievements on a similar level since Mr. Branca has had nowhere near the monetary backing Ms. Anderson receives from Warner Brothers. Money is not an accurate measure of talent, only of mass marketing.

Conversely, l do riot hold mass acceptance against an artist either. Laurie
Anderson is every bit as brilliant in her own right.

Then came the murderers. The inevitable despoilers, the musicians whose music, not unlike the art of graffiti artist, was born not of creation, but of dismemberment and destruction. The NoWave Movement. James White (Chance) and The Contortions (The Blacks). (Take your pick; same guy, same schtick.) Mars. DNA. Lydia Lunch and the rest of the ZEE gang. If they weren't from New York, you and I would have never heard of 'em. Recently, Sonic Youth, the Swans, Jim Thirwell (Foetus), Nail, Wheel, whatever). These bands revel in their ability to contradict, to be the antithesis of what they see and hear. However, to merely oppose without building a reasonable alternative is tantamount to chaining yourself to a prison door, for the work is forever tied to that which it seeks to oppose. Without that which it attacks, the music loses its purpose. It dies. This reactionary rather than revelatory approach has virtually killed the New York music scene.

However, help is on the way. There is a band as cerebral as they are melodic as they are intent on building a sound of lasting beauty and importance. Hugo Largo consists of a singer (Mimi Goese), two bass players (Adam Peacock, Tim Sommers) and a violinist (Hahn Rowe). While they play a brand of music which at times bears a striking resemblance to both classical chamber music and English folk songs, a modern rock foundation remains as the band's core. Make no mistake, this band is revising the rock songbook. As opposed to most of their New York contemporaries, Hugo Largo eschews rhythmic noise in favour of a quiet (that is not to say mellow) introspective sound which grows on the listener with each repeated listening. As evident on their debut EP Drum (produced by Michael Stipe of R.E.M.), the dual bass approach sets up a warm atmosphere in which various minimal but well-placed instruments (violin, mandolin, pump organ) swoop, flutter and wrap themselves around the often soaring and always breathtaking vocals of Mimi Goese. The effect is akin to a straight shot of vodka. Clear, simple, with a hell of a kick.

I recently chatted with bassist Adam Peacock, a transplanted Londoner who now makes his home in New York. We discussed his band's unique sound and approach to music, and its reception within the scene surrounding it.

The New York music scene.
Yeah, it's awful. It's very burned out. Everybody here in the music scene is still living in the shadow of CBGB's in 1977. And thank God I don’t feel we’re living in that shadow. We don't have to live up to the expectations of people who want to try to re-create or make a scene. Yes, there's problems with the New York scene. Real estate is a tremendous problem here, because it dictates basically where and when and how people are going to operate a club. Coupled with the incessant need for people to "shake their booty” on a disco floor, all of a sudden you have a situation where people don't feel they have to promote live music. I think for people coming up, trying to get ahead, it's terribly depressing. It seems very bleak. You're supposed to suddenly make this transition from playing little places on  Bleecker Street to the Ritz. And the in-between places just don't exist, because they're the ones that get shut down.

Admission fees?

That may be just as well…
But there are some really good bands here, some very uncommercial stuff which is really good. The Ordinaires are a real hot band. In the same vein, the Microscopic Septet, a large group of people playing interesting music that isn't funk-based or isn't rock-based necessarily. I'm sure you‘ve heard of They Might Be Giants...

Yes, I have. But where do you fit in?
When we first started out I think it would have been hard to take us as a rock band as much as we are now, and we do consider ourselves a rock band now. We don't think of ourselves as folk or soft rock or whatever. In the beginning there was something a little precious for us to be considered anything other than performance because it was just Tim, Mimi and myself, just two basses playing in little places, even without a P.A. It was very, very folky, musically folky and because (Mimi) comes out of the performance art scene she was not theatrical necessarily, and she was very commanding in a way that she had learned from her own performance, and that is what people's initial perceptions were based on: the fact that Mimi brought some of what she does and what she likes in performance art and modern dance to her stage persona. Now we have musically grown out from there to where we're as big as her onstage. The music demands as much attention as she does. She was very demanding of the audience from the very beginning, which is why the performance-art tag came along.

She’s confrontational. She doesn’t like people to sit there, take it and applaud politely. She tries to get people to respond. It's real important to us and her that people get an opinion on what they’re seeing.

How does she do that?
She's thrown things at the audience before. She's thrown Q-Tips at them with an admonition to "clean out your ears," at a show we did with the Beastie Boys and that was quite a riot. She doesn’t just stand there in the way that woman singers in rock do, that it's enough for them to stand there and either be sexy or look good. She doesn't fall into those types of performing inadvertently because she doesn't have those woman rock singers as models. She didn’t idolize Patti Smith or Debbie Harry or whatever, so she hasn't learned this persona from posters and video and she's much more interesting. I was a fan before I replaced the original bass player. I thought it was tremendous. I had basically given up music and Hugo Largo completely rekindled my interest not only as a bass player but also in seeing live music, because it was so interesting to see someone who could hold your interest without resorting to shaking their butt or whatever.

But two basses, a violin, and singer?
Inherently, bass guitars are very warm and comforting in the sounds that the create. Much of what is strange and new these days involved harsh, loud sounds. We can come along and be strange enough to be taken differently, be familiar enough to be liked immediately. We're not asking anyone to endure a show...Peop|e are generally interested in turning back, away from noisy, loud aggressive music.

Are you happy with your debut EP Drum?
Yes, very. It was all a matter of taking out and putting back in until the balance was right. Appropriate is a very goo word. We wrote all the songs except 'Fancy", which was off an old Kinks record.

Michael Stipe?
He's not a Ioudmouth and he‘s not a rock and roll guy at all. He's not a rock and roll producer and he certainly didn't act like one. He wasn’t heavyhanded. For the month or so total we worked on the record he was a fifth member of the band in the best way possible, which is not forcing his opinions.

So with their first EP and a U.S. tour supporting the Feelies under their belt New York is once again ready to exploit its latest creation. And as I said, sometimes a few deserving souls do slip through…

From Tim Sommer - The early years:

(As I mentioned in my first post, I was delighted to hear from Tim, who has very graciously allowed me to reproduce his fantastic history of the band).

I started fiddling with the idea of a band where the bass would be both the primary rhythmic and melodic instrument around early 1983; shortly thereafter, I started showing some of these rudimentary ideas (which I would work out by playing one bass part into a tape recorder, then playing it back and playing over it) to friends, including Kenny Temkin (who was the singer in a terrible punk band I was in at the time called Even Worse), and three performance artist friends, Lucy Sexton, Annie Iobst, and Mimi Goese. Lucy, Annie, Mimi and I started very loosely talking about doing some kind of performance/music thing based around the ideas we were playing with.

I suppose my primary initial influence was just how cool it sounded when you played melodies on the G-string of the bass while the D-string droned. I was also influenced by some fairly obvious musical models, including Young Marble Giants, New Order, Beach Boys,Ut, and Stiff Little Fingers (whose energy I always wanted to interject into a 'quiet,' intense band).

Mimi had never ever sung before -- not even in a school choir -- but I hung around with her a lot, and noticed she had an absolutely uncanny ability to mimic noises. I sensed that anyone who could do that had an extraordinary natural singing voice, and I was intrigued by the idea of applying her kind of absolutely wild creativity to a (kind of) rock band. I think the original intention was that Annie and Lucy would dance around and do performance arty things while I played bass and Mimi made vocal noises.

In the fall of '83 I went on the road with the Glenn Branca Ensemble, and became close friends with another member of the group, Greg Letson. I shared my ideas for a two-bass band with him. When the tour ended, we started playing through these ideas together (it was nice not to work with a tape recorder!), and we decided to move forward and formally form a band. Anne and Lucy had decided to form their own performance group, Dance Noise, so we moved forward with Mimi as our vocalist.

From there, it came together pretty quickly. We took a name from a phrase Mimi, Lucy and their friends used to use to refer to oversize thrift-store sweaters, and I knew the next step was getting a gig, because the pressure/reality of an impending gig would force us to rehearse aggressively and actually pull the thing together.

I called my friend Steve Fallon at Maxwells and asked if there was a gig available. He mentioned an early April date opening for the punk/noise band Hose, which worked well for me since Hose were very good friends of mine, and we had a lot of friends in common who could be counted on to come to Hoboken and see the show (history remembers Hose as the band led by Rick Rubin before he became a record mogul; Rick was a great friend of mine from the NYU dorm we both lived in).

We (Tim, Greg, and Mimi) debuted on April 6, 1984. We played four songs, and we went down a storm. Even in that fairly primitive form (only one of those four songs lasted -- we did "Second Skin" at that very first gig), I got the sense that we were on to something that people would respond to.

Throughout the rest of 1984, we played a few gigs -- maybe six or seven? - at places ranging from CBGBs to tiny performance art cellars in the far East Village. These all went very well. I mean really well considering how new we were, and how strange the sound was. I am quite sure Adam Peacock came to all or most of these, as he was Mimi's boyfriend, but I had no idea he would end up in the band. Likewise, I suspect Hahn Rowe came to a lot of these shows, too (I had met Hahn via the Glenn Branca Ensemble, too) -- he may have even done sound for a few of them -- though, again, the idea that he might be in the band one day did not occur to us.

In January of 1985, Greg called me, and totally out of the blue announced he was quitting the band. I didn't see this coming, and I am still not quite sure of the reason. It was a very short, curt, awkward phone call. BIzarrely, I never spoke to him again. We had a gig just a few days later -- at Danceateria, opening for Billy Bragg -- so this left Mimi and I in a bit in a lurch.
Almost effortlessly, I mean almost as if it had been planned, Adam replaced Greg. I hardly remember there being any discussion about it. He was a good musician, and having seen all of our shows (and I think he had been at some of the rehearsals, too), he stepped in with virtually no hesitation or effort.

I'll end Part 1 here, even though we haven't even gotten to Hahn joining!

Okay. We left off in January of 1985. Greg Letson has just suddenly left the band (who had been a three piece of Mimi on vocals, with Greg and Tim on basses) and Mimi’s boyfriend, Adam, had quickly and seamlessly stepped in to replace Greg in time to play a show opening for Billy Bragg at Danceateria.

Things seemed to pick up once Adam joined. Adam and I wrote very well together – usually sitting in his apartment on east 11ith Street (between 1st and A, I think), each of us holding a bass, tossing riffs off of each other; one of us would play some kind of ‘principle’ riff, and the other would play some complimentary of counter-melodic riff. We would then, despite the untraditional instrumentation, shape these into rather traditional songs – intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge and so forth. Working with Greg had been a little different – Greg was less actively interested in writing with me, or rather, the writing with him took a different form; perhaps he took more of a role of working based on my instruction or playing a part based on some primary riff or instruction I gave him. So I think the songwriting kind of really blossomed once Adam and I started working together. There weren’t a lot of songs that ‘lasted’ from the Greg-era of the band, though Second Skin was from the first era of the band, and there was another one called “Lie and Forget” which was quite good and probably should have lasted longer (I don’t think we played it live past mid 1986).

I think Adam and I worked in a surprisingly traditional way, and I think we worked exceptionally well with each other. We would polish each song until it was a complete and arranged piece – this could take a night or it could take weeks – and work very diligently on the complimentary instrumental parts. We would then throw the song onto a cassette, and hand the cassette to Mimi. Mimi would then take anywhere from one hour to two years to come up with a vocal melody and lyrics. I do not remember Mimi once asking us to change or rearrange an instrumental piece, and likewise, I don’t think we even asked her to shift a melody or a lyric. At some other point in this/these essay(s), I will speak a little more about the writing process. But to cut a long story short, Adam and I handed her complete instrumental pieces, and she came back to us with a complete vocal melody and lyrics.
There were a lot of gigs in 1985 and it felt like there was a good deal of positive energy with the band. Also, during 1985 Hahn Rowe started very regularly doing our live sound, and at some point he began playing some violin from the sound board, though he wouldn’t join us on stage until well into 1986 – maybe not even until 1987; despite the minimal line-up, it wasn’t that easy to do live sound for us – most standard club soundmen were actively confused by a band with two bass guitars and very little else – and I think we were afraid to give up Hahn’s prowess as a sound man.

So we played a lot through 1985, again, a mixture of rock clubs (like Peppermint Lounge and Irving Plaza) and performance art spaces.

Sometime towards the beginning of ’86 – I think it was still winter – we decided to cut a proper demo (during the Greg Letson days, we had done something fairly primitive at Wharton Tiers studio – I wonder what happened to that?). Maybe it was even towards the end of 1985? Hahn was working at a fairly decent recording studio then, and he was able to get us an exceptionally good rate on time. We went in a couple of late nights/overnights and cut a handful of songs, including (more or less) the same versions of Country, Fancy, and Second Skin that ended up on the DRUM record.

We started handing out this demo pretty liberally, and I remember it got very good response. But one particular person’s response ended up being especially important.
I had been good friends with Michael Stipe since 1982. I do not remember precisely when, or at what gig, I handed him the Hugo Largo tape. I am fairly sure it was in the spring of 1986. I do know that I didn’t make a very big deal of it – because of my relatively close relationship with Michael, I knew he would listen to it. Michael later told me he had no idea I was making my own music, or had formed a ‘real’ band (Michael did know I was a musician, since he had seen me play a couple of times in 1983 and 1984 with the Glenn Branca ensemble).
Oh! I completely forgot to mention that by this point – the beginning of 1986 – Hahn, Adam, and I were ALL playing with the Glenn Branca Ensemble. I had joined the Branca Ensemble in November of 1983; I was good friends with (then Branca Ensemble members) Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, and when they left the Branca group in mid ’83, one or both of them recommended me to Glenn. From the autumn of 1983 on, I was regularly playing and touring with Branca. I think Hahn joined sometime in mid 1984, and sometime in 1985, when an opening emerged in the ensemble, we both got Adam into the group.
The work with Branca really solidified the personal and working relationship between Adam, Hahn, and I, and allowed us to plot and plan Hugo Largo stuff.

So in the spring of 1986, I slipped a Hugo Largo cassette to Michael Stipe…

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Live at Maxwell's Hoboken 18th July, 1987

(Setlist courtesy of Greg Fasolino) have no idea how exotic 'Live at Maxwell's, Hoboken' sounds to a guy in provincial England....

Here, chopped into individual songs, is a  45 minute performance at the aforementioned venue. Fortunately for us, this was captured on video by Greg Fasolino and it somehow found its way via the Internet to my pathetically grateful PC. ain't gonna get shown on MTV and you do see quite a lot of the backs of peoples heads (albeit very cool, NY hipsters' heads) and it gets a little bit unintentionally Avant-Garde in places, but the audio is great. You do, however, get to see some of the greatest looking gear ever - just where did they get those ubercool basses? Oh yeah, the tunes are pretty good too -songs from both albums and a rarity or two. There is so little HL stuff on video that, in my world, this footage is a Very Important Thing. 

Thanks again to Greg (who did a great job, joking aside and I am absurdly grateful for it) and everyone who made this available.

Halfway Knowing

Shaking Your Head

Eskimo Song


Turtle Song



Wanted: Dead Or Alive

Jungle Jim


Second Skin

Hugo Largo: Post 'Mettle' recordings, KCRW and more

My unrequited, unhealthy and colossal ultranerd fanboy obsession with REM in the latter half of the 1980s has been documented elsewhere on my other Blog - 'Big Plans For Everybody'....and will be referred back to with nauseating regularity I'm sure. It did lead me to some interesting and inspiring music including Big Star, Game Theory, Let's Active...and Hugo Largo. You can only imagine the joy I felt when I heard that Stipe had produced an album for an NY band. The ArtSchool poseur in me wept with delight that the band consisted of two Bassists, an Electric Violinist, a Vocalist and NO Drummer and the album was called 'Drum'. How postmodern. I ordered it all the way from America, not knowing what to expect. Suffice to say, that album is one of my favourite albums of all time

I began to obsess about the band. In those pre-internet days, I had to trawl through fanzines and lord knows what else to get any kind of info about them -the occasional comment in the UK music press, a review in 'Flipside'...and that was it. The album got a British release (with extra tracks, no less!) and I scooped that up. And then finally, they came to the UK for a gig. Oh my days. They played at the Cambridge Theatre, London on July 9th 1988 and were first on the bill supporting The Durutti Column and David Byrne. ...quite a concert, let me tell you. They played for about 30 minutes and my twentysomething mind turned to jelly. Intense is not the word. I dragged my girlfriend of the time back to London to see them headline at The ICA later that year...she hated every minute but I was in raptures, but that's the effect they had on people.

( 'Fancy' from 'Intruders at the Palace' 1988)
('Eureka' from 'Intruders at the Palace' 1988)
( 'Turtle Song' from 'Intruders at the Palace' 1988)
( 'Scream Tall' from 'Intruders at the Palace' 1988)

Inevitably, they signed to Brian Eno's Land record label for a not-quite-so-transcendant second album ('Mettle') and toured the UK, supporting That Petrol Emotion...a pairing that I couldn't quite understand. And then...nothing. Violinist Hahn Rowe has gone onto sessions and production, Bassist Tim Sommer  was a top-dollar record company executive and is involved in a number of projects including ambient soundscapers Hi Fi Sky. The other Bassist, Adam Peacock...has dissapeared. Vocalist Mimi Goese has done the solo thing as well as collabrating with Dance Music Polymath, Moby.

These recordings came as a trade about 20 years ago from an American fan, whose name I have sadly lost...if you're reading this, please accept my apologies and a million thank-yous. The first part is their Tim Sommer-less third album*, which is sadly unreleased and (IMHO) is better than 'Mettle' but not quite as good as 'Drum'. The rest collects an amazing KCRW session (hosted by the fabulous  Deirdre O'Donoghue ) along with demos and three songs from a live gig from an unknown venue.

The perfect addition to 'Drum' and 'Mettle' .

*Thanks to some information from Hahn Rowe (check the comments in this post), I've since found out that there wasn't actually a 'third' album at all...he says these may be soundboard recordings (?) The links should be working again too...

Oh yeah, a MASSIVE 'Thank You' to Hahn and Tim for being so gracious as to let these recordings remain available to fans.  

Hugo Largo: Unreleased/KCRW/Etc Part1

Hugo Largo: Unreleased/KCRW/Etc Part2