The Softies Then and Now: Jen Sbragia on 30 Years Together

Happy 30th anniversary, Rose and Jen! Photo: Alicia J. Rose

Earlier this year, The Softies (two California girls / singer-songwriter-guitarists Rose Melberg + Jen Sbragia) celebrated 30 years as a band and as BFFs. They are not a band that just reformed after not doing anything since the 1990s! They have been playing shows here and there over the years (including chickfactor 20 and 25 shows in New York, London, SF and Portland), even as they lived in different PacNW towns, had kids, jobs, played music with others and so on. Still, as they just announced their brand-new album, The Bed I Made (on Father/Daughter Records and Lost Sound Tapes), upcoming tour and new single, we wanted to check in about how things were then versus how they are now! Read our post from yesterday about the new album, the vinyl reissues of their previous work and more, and then read on to hear from Jen about how things have changed. Interview by Gail

Jen in Portland, 2023. Photo: Gail O’Hara

CF: What are you up to today?
Jen Sbragia: Working on some freelance design stuff, making dinner, hopefully practicing guitar later
What would you have been up to on a day like this in 1994?
Very similar except I didn’t have Adobe Creative Suite!
Tell us about how your songwriting process worked in 1994 vs. 2024.
In the past, I would write and present a whole song of mine to Rose, she would then write a lead guitar part and a vocal harmony. For the new album, I had song ideas but also a few half-baked ideas and riffs, which we worked on together to make whole songs. It was pretty fun to do that, because Rose has studied the art of songwriting so much more than me. She inspires me to do better, all the time.
Both of you have been undergoing major life shifts in recent years; how did grief, loss, change play into the songs? How is that different from your trials and tribulations of 30 years ago?
I always used to write songs about unrequited love back in the day. This is still true for me! At this point in my life I have experienced more loss, so that is tied in too. But crushes not working out is my favorite songwriting topic, apparently.

Cover of The Bed I Made by Fumi Yanagimoto

What was a typical day in the studio like making The Bed I Made? And how does that differ from the 1990s sessions?
Analog is lovely and all, but recording digitally is fantastic. Rose and I used Garage Band to make demos for each other we could email back and forth. When it came time to record in the studio, we felt so lucky to work with Nich (Nicholas Wilbur). He has an amazing ear, is endlessly chill and patient, makes the perfect cappuccino, and belongs to the funniest and best dog, Cathy. I heard my first ever ghostly footsteps in the (haunted) studio! Rose and I slept there at night – it was a little spooky, which I loved.

Softies’ studio still-life, courtesy of Rose

What are some of your most important studio accoutrements? Snacks, tea, special instruments or accessories?
Lots of Juanita’s tortilla chips, peanut butter, strong coffee, maybe a touch of psilocybin. Anacortes Unknown has a vibraphone… it may make an appearance.
How long have you been working on this one?
I took a trip to Vancouver in January of 2023 and we ended up with the beginnings of 8 songs, and just excitedly continued from there, meeting every month or so. Sometimes we would meet in Seattle, sometimes I would make the full trek to Vancouver. I love long drives so it really didn’t seem too difficult.
How has the touring and show playing ecosystem changed from then to now?
Well, it is much better now that we don’t have to have an Atlas and a Thomas Guide! One time on tour we caravanned with walkie talkies.
We prefer that more days off need to be built in. We need ease and calm. The less stress, the better. There is a low key goal of being able to stay somewhere with a hot tub. Can we always have a hot tub? A girl can dream.

Jen in Portland. Photo: Gail O’Hara

What can fans to do help musicians have better lives?
Vote. Buy merch. Come to live shows.
Do you have a sense of how big your audience is now vs 1994? Do you hear from fans?
We used to get fan letters back in the day. I have a box of them. These days, it’s much quicker and easier with social media. But also it can feel overwhelming because everything is so immediate.
What about the vinyl reissues on K: are those all out now or coming soon?
Out now: Holiday in Rhode Island [KLP119]
Out July 26: Winter Pageant [KLP061]
Out Sept. 6: It’s Love [KLP043]

Where all will you be touring?
Glas Goes Pop festival on Friday, July 26.
Two record release shows at the end of August in Vancouver and Portland, followed by two more shows in early September in Anacortes and Seattle

East coast shows in late Sept/early October

California shows in late October

What else are you up to apart from the Softies?
Always trying to balance freelance design work, hoping for more hours but grateful when I have free time for music. I have some new song ideas for All Girl Summer Fun Band but we haven’t had time to work on them yet. I would like to get back into drawing comics and/or making prints of some kind.

What are you eating, cooking, watching, reading lately?
FOOD: I’m on a mission to sample every single non-dairy cream cheese on the market. I could eat the Moderno Bowl at Tacovore every day. Peanut butter filled chocolate covered pretzels from Trader Joe’s are my favorite food group.

COOKING: Lately I have been avoiding cooking as much as possible! I’m giving in to convenience whenever possible, although throwing a sweet potato in the oven is very easy and I love the edible sugar goo that comes out of them.

WATCHING: I’m re-watching Killing Eve because Jodie Comer is a goddess. Also watching the new season of Bridgerton. I will re-watch Broad City for the rest of my life. Listening to Rebel Girl by Kathleen Hanna. Reading Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski. Books do tend to stack up and collect dust. I’m trying!

The cassette tape is on Lost Sound Tapes

Records Jen Cannot Live Without:

Tiger Trap – S/T & Sour Grass
Lightheaded – Good Good Great
Henry’s Dress – Bust ‘em Green
Girl Ray – Prestige
Pretenders – S/T
Fastbacks – Very, Very Powerful Motor
Young Guv – I, II, III, IIII (basically anything he does)
Dolly Mixture – Demonstration Tapes
Kids on a Crime Spree – Fall in Love Not in Line
Of Montreal – Cherry Peel
Best of 1994: Boyracer – More Songs About Frustration & Self Hate
Best of 2024: Lightheaded – Combustible Gems

Preorder the Softies’ The Bed I Made, out August 23 on vinyl/etc.

Preorder the Softies’ The Bed I Made, out August 23 on cassette tape.

Order/preorder all the vinyl reissues on K Records here

Check out All Girl Summer Fun Band here

Listen to other Rose Melberg music here

Listen to Knife Pleats here

The Softies. Photo: C. Doughty
Set list from the Softies’ June 2023 show at Polaris Hall.
Vinyl reissue out now on K Records
Vinyl reissue out July 26 on K Records
Vinyl reissue out Sept. 6 on K Records
Grab a ticket ASAP, Glasgow!

 

The Softies Announce New Album, Tour, Reissues

The Softies (Rose Melberg and Jen Sbragia) have a new album, The Bed I Made, coming out on August 23!  Preorder the new album here on vinyl. Get the cassette tape here!

Watch the video here “I Said What I Said”

Read our 2023 interview with the Softies

Read our 2023 interview with All Girl Summer Fun Band

Get a copy of chickfactor 18, 2018, with a massive interview filled with memories and great photos

Read our 1993 interview with Tiger Trap here

Order the reissues of their first three albums on K Records here

The Softies by Alicia Rose

Tour dates: BUY TICKETS

July 27: Glas Goes Pop (Glasgow)
August 23: Record Release Show at Fox Cabaret, Vancouver BC (with Lake, Adrian Teacher)
August 24: Record Release Show at Polaris Hall, Portland OR (with Phone Voice + New Issue)
September 6: Record Release Show at Fremont Abbey, Seattle (with Seapony + Lisa Prank)
September 7: Record Release Show at Unknown, Anacortes (with New Issue)
Sept. 29: AS220, Providence, RI (with Zowy + Courtney & Brad + In Glove With Bach)
Sept 30: Crystal Ballroom, Boston, MA (with Jeanines + Zowy)
Oct. 2: Public Records, Brooklyn (with Rebecca Schiffman)
Oct. 3: PhilaMOCA, Philly (with Lightheaded + 22″ Halo)
Oct. 4: Songbyrd, Washington, D.C. (with Linda Smith + Emotional World)
Oct. 24: The Starlet Room, Sacramento, CA (with Anna Hillburg)
Oct. 25: Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, CA (with Anna Hillburg + Stephen Steinbrink)
Oct. 28: Vine, Long Beach, CA (with Barbara Manning)
Oct. 29: Scribble, Los Angeles, CA (with Badlands + Rebecca Schiffman)
Oct. 30: SubRosa, Santa Cruz, CA (with Eve’s Peach)

Freshly reissued on vinyl by K Records, out Sept. 6
Freshly reissued on vinyl by K Records, out July 26
Freshly reissued on vinyl by K Records, available now

Linda Smith Interviews the Smashing Times

From left:  Thee Jasmine Monk, Alex Florence, Britta Leijonflycht, Blake Douglas, Linda Smith, and Paul Krolian. Photograph by Rupert Wondolowski, who runs Normals Books and Records, outside the shop after we played there.

This Sporting Life: An Interview with The Smashing Times by Linda Smith
It’s 2024 and all over the world people are once again picking up their guitars, keyboards, and drumsticks in pursuit of the heavenly pop hit for those who still want it. One such group of people is called The Smashing Times. Based in Baltimore, MD, The Smashing Times have released two albums (on Meritorio and K Records) and several singles of infectious Rickenbacker driven songs that evoke the sights and sounds of swinging ’60s London. They also tour as time permits. Thee Jasmine Monk writes the songs, sings, and plays 12 string; Alex sings and plays recorder; Blake sings and plays guitar; Britta sings and plays bass; Paul plays drums. Recently, I had the opportunity to accompany the band on a short east coast tour and had a smashing time (especially in Philadelphia). Below, Jaz and Alex answer some of my burning questions. —Linda Smith (whose Nothing Else Matters and I So Liked Spring were reissued/made available on vinyl/streaming platforms in March)

Linda Smith: English Breakfast or Earl Grey? (Or something else?)
JAZ: The’ Au Jasmine! And I like Rooibos, it tastes to me how pipe tobacco smells. But nothing pretentious, just stuff off the supermarket shelf. English Breakfast, Earl Grey, I like those too. Teas all seem good to me.
ALEX: Coffee and biscuits in the morning and then herbal tea all day long!

Do your parents support your musical activities?
JAZ: They did but never really financially. Though I had some piano lessons when I was a young sprout.
ALEX: My parents don’t believe I’m in a band. They want photo proof.

The Smashing Times / Photo: Kevin Daniel

Are The Smashing Times a “jangle pop” band? What do you think of that category?
JAZ: We are a freakbeat band. I like some of the jangly Cleaners stuff. I’m not sure what bands fall into that category. I like the Beatles and I also like The Creation. We’ve gotten references to the Byrds—I like them but they aren’t a band that I would consider an influence. That guitar player rips but he’s a little bit annoying. Gene Clark is cool. So handsome … have you heard the band Now? Their singer Young William gives me a bit of a Gene Clark vibe. Nice fellow, bought us drinks last time we were down there. I recommend that readers dig up a copy of And Blue Space is Burning Noon.
ALEX: Jangle away! I love the category.

I’m interested in The Smashing Times’ home recording process. Do you all play together live or do you record each track separately? Where do you record? Would you consider going into a so-called recording studio?
JAZ: I have a sort of indeterminacy that I apply to all factors of my life. I try not to apply intent to anything. Thus what many people probably hear as lo-fi is really just a result of my gross incompetence and lack of interest in developing technical skill. I have some SM57s that I plug into whatever computer is around and use free software to record. It’s mostly plug and play. I don’t document anything and I try to ignore any advice I’m given. Paul, Alex and I each played drums on the record we just wrapped up. Usually I play most of the other instruments but everyone in the band is there somewhere. I’d like to include everyone, rehearse and go into a studio but we all have jobs and there simply isn’t time. If that took a week then that is a week that we could not tour that year. I am very grateful and very fortunate that such fine people have chosen to come along on the journey but I’m not sure why? What is their motivation, Linda? It certainly can’t be financial. We get along so well, I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’ll miss them terribly when they eventually do get fed up with me.
ALEX: We record in our basement that we’ve painted in psychedelic colors and has a mural like Granny Takes a Trip mural…pink, blue, yellow, and then some. We have a lava lamp that’s been used so much it turned into a weird wax-like goo and doesn’t work anymore. There’s plastic ivy and string lights hung up on the ceiling pipes. When Jaz is in serious recording mode, we can’t use the sink or flush the toilet anywhere in the house because the water in the pipes will pick up on the track.

The Smashing Times / Photo: Kevin Daniel

Where would you live if you could live anywhere in the world? Do you think that you have a spiritual home where you would feel more at home than where you are?
JAZ: Japan! I want to be buried there, anywhere, even outside a 7-11.
ALEX: Fantasize about living in a cabin in the woods.

What and/or who inspires your songs?
JAZ: Squire, Merton Parkas, Mark E Smith, Martin Newell, The Beatles, The Zombies, Bert Jansch and Pentangle. They will never read this so its ok, I usually don’t tote contemporaries, but the Children Maybe Later album is splendid and definitely inspired me on the record we just finished.
ALEX: Ditto and also Elton John.

When did you write your first song and what was it about?
JAZ: When I was a young they, I can recall composing a blistering trumpet track ala Louis Armstrong while I was in the shower. My sister recorded me singing and the family loved to ridicule me by playing it in social situations around strangers. I’ll admit, it set me back.

When did you buy your first instrument? What was it?
JAZ: I bought a bass! It was a Rickenbacker copy and the brand was Lotus.
ALEX: My first instrument was a keyboard my parents bought in 1999 so I could take piano lessons and practice with. I moved away and left it and Jaz got it from my brother, then we moved in together and I still have that keyboard. I think it’s in the studio. I can’t get rid of it!

Did you always want to be in a band? Who is your main musical inspiration?
JAZ: Always. My current inspiration comes mostly from Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent. But growing up it was at various times Paul, John, George, Cher and Bronski Beat.
ALEX: Girls in bands were always so cool to me! Of course I wanted to be in a band but this came about more organically then, like, joining a band for the sake of that. Jaz and I got a set of drums and set them up in our old apartment and I got started learning! I did not see myself being a singer, but it’s really fun.

Do you prefer recording to playing live? What do you enjoy most about each?
JAZ: They both seem to cause existential dread for me and yet I keep doing it.
ALEX: Both have their moments. Recording is so fun because I can be a goof and we can scat and put in so many doo-doo-doo’s and la-la-la’s and I’m laughing the whole time. Playing live makes me too nervous to enjoy it the same.

What is your favorite British film?
JAZ: Bridget Jones Diary! Err um I mean… I keep watching Alfie over and over. For a while it was Saturday Night and Sunday Morning then Billy Liar…I think If I had to identify with a character, it would be Billy Liar.
ALEX: Bridget Jones 1-3.

Did you like school or did you hate it?
JAZ: Hated it. All the way through grad school. The more I’ve learned about what is really going on the more bitter I’ve become. I had such a sense of wonder when I was young!
ALEX: I have a love/hate relationship with school. I did too much of it!  But I liked the punishment. The best part is when you finally get a winter break or summer break, or the feeling after taking a huge stressful test, or finally being done with your least favorite class! Jaz and I used to take separate evening classes, then meet up afterwards and stop by our fave bodega to pick up 2 packs of heat nuts and 2 big cheap beers for the walk home to Chinatown.

What do you like about Baltimore? Were you born here? If not, where?
JAZ: I like to see old buildings that are covered in Ivy and left to deteriorate. I also like the culture here, you can be a proper dandy and people will celebrate you. I love to get hollered at from a car window for my extravagant dressings. I’m from Seattle. It used to be cool but it’s basically a company town for the online delivery service Amazon now. There’s also nothing old there and no sun. Good riddance!
ALEX: Baltimore has so much sunshine. I need the vitamin D. Also from Seattle where it rains 9 months of every year.

Zombies or Left Banke? 😄
JAZ: Haha ZOMBIES! I have been listening to the second Left Banke record lately and I am falling in love with it. This stems from our conversation, I assume, about how my next goal is to write a baroque pop album? 😉 It’s a good goal, you should do it too!

What was the best band of the ’90s? (If you have a favorite.)
JAZ: The ’90s were horrid! Probably the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Did the Third Rail Power Trip come out in the ’90s? I like that.
ALEX: BJM!

Do you have a favorite chord progression?
JAZ: C maj, A minor, D minor, G maj and anything with a 7th chord.

(The following 3 questions refer to songs on The Smashing Times’ latest album, THIS SPORTING LIFE.)
Who is Wes?
JAZ: Weston! An old friend, he’s been an expat for a long time and some of the social awakening that has happened here has passed him by.
ALEX: Once in Tokyo we met him for pizza and he flirted with my friend the whole time. It was charming but strange. Pizza was so delicious. I think it might have had bonito flakes on top?

Who is Petey?
JAZ: That’s Paul’s dog. We needed a name for the instrumental and after Paul and I finished tracking drums he was on the phone talking to someone about something and he said “poor Petey” so I named the file that, and it stuck. Incidental but not terribly nostalgic for me.

Who is Rowan Morrison?
JAZ: I think you mean WHERE is Rowan Morrison? it’s a character from The Wicker Man. Actually I think that might be my favorite British film. Alex and I are huge Hammer and folk horror fans.

I love the use of the recorder in the songs. Where or who did that idea come from?
JAZ: I saw Britta playing one in an online video and I had to have one. Alex and I have been discussing getting some flutes for a while but this was much more interesting and accessible I think. Alex found them at a junk shop. We accumulate things like that and then while recording they get involved spontaneously. I have a djembe drum that a neighbor left on the porch when they moved. It’s all over the records.
ALEX: My ultimate goal is to learn to play the flute, but we don’t have one yet. I’m looking for a nicely priced used one. In the meantime, using the recorder is really fun and gives a haunting melody on a few tracks. 

The Smashing Times / Photo: Kevin Daniel

Do you think music is the greatest art form?
JAZ: I quite like books. Music is pretty hit or miss. I used to read under my desk in school. The first book I read was The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander but in the last fifteen years I’ve been devoted to Japanese literature. I like Shiga Naoya, Masuji Ibuse, Kenzaburo Oe, Yu Miri, Yoko Ogawa. lots of writers. I love that Japanese literature is not as tied to predictable conventions. There’s no Chekhov’s Gun assumption and it doesn’t necessarily have to be allegorical or resolve. I have become a devoted acolyte of the poet Santoka Taneda in the last couple of years. I also like that I can enjoy it as an outsider—I don’t consider myself a writer so I’m not trying to get anything out of it from a research standpoint. I can take it at face value as long as it does not have distinguishable patterns or tropes, if it does, it flies across the room and back in the Library sack!
ALEX: Like apples and oranges. I find enjoyment in scissors and paper and glue and crayons, too. I like to paint and sew clothes for me and Jaz and friends. Recently we were coloring the cassette covers with colored pencil and that was super satisfying. To me, that sort of art is the best, when it feels good, and it’s not necessarily planned out, and it just flows, like glorified doodling.

How did everyone in the band meet each other?
JAZ: I met Alex through her brother who I used to make avant-garde organ music with – he has since drifted into a life of Northface Jackets, Subaru cars and respectable kayaking. Paul and Blake came to see The Smashing Times in an earlier incarnation and Britta reached out to us at some point. I’m quite glad. Britta has a band named Children Maybe Later that is quite good. I think Paul and Blake have a project going but it does not have a name yet. I’ve heard some of it, I think people are going to like it. I’m jealous already!
ALEX: First time I met Paul and Blake was at a pizza place. Britta might be a character in The Wicker Man, she’s a legend.

What jobs do you have? How flexible are they in allowing time for music?
JAZ: I don’t like to go to work, and I don’t like my job. To me it’s a place where my surplus labor is taken and used for the gains of others. It takes me away from my partner and children and it makes me too tired to focus on worthwhile endeavors. But on the other hand—maybe it’s the catalyst for all this escapism?

I worked at several movie theaters when I was younger. It was amazing working on the opening night of a movie. Once everyone sits down to Harry Potter 17 or whatever, all of a sudden you are alone in this giant space. I used to eat candy off the ground to save money. And I can recall turning cartwheels and playing badminton in the lobby. My dream job is to buy a Chevy Love, learn how to drive, get a license, then drive to Los Angeles and deliver Pizza. After that I would replace Bruce Campbell as the champion of B-movie horror.
ALEX: Music is the weekend job! It’s way better than the midweek job. 

The Smashing Times. Photo: Kevin Daniel

What has been your favorite venue to play so far?
JAZ: I like the small venues where nothing is mic’d. The shows we played on that tour together were great for this.
ALEX: I agree, I like the small venues best. We had a mythic show in Pamplona, Spain last year that was like a dance party all night long; also I can think of a certain Philly show that might go into the scrapbook, too. 

What is your next recording project?
JAZ: I’d really like to make a baroque pop album. But specifically a baroque pop album that sounds like The Zombies and The Bee Gees’ 1st. I’ll probably be less prolific for a bit but I feel like I’d like to take some time to work on this one. For a while the goal has been to make things as slapdash as possible – the fear is always that if you spend too much time on it the painting will be overworked. The songs are for me and the records are for you. I try to remind myself of that and when I get upset about mixes and so on and so forth, I just shrug and say “well, I think it’s a disaster but maybe someone will find it endearing.”

Go see The Smashing Times: 
May 9 Charleston Pour House Charleston, SC
May 10 Tuffy’s Music Box Sanford, FL
June 6 Thee Stork Club Oakland, CA
June 8 Permanent Records Roadhouse Los Angeles (LA), CA
June 9 GONZO! Carlsbad, CA
June 13 PhilaMOCA Philadelphia, PA
June 14 The Broadway Brooklyn, NY

Listen to their records
Listen to Linda Smith’s records
Read our interview with Linda Smith! 

IPUC at 30! The International Pop Underground Convention Remembered by Those Who Were There on its 30th Anniversary

We asked a few folks to look back and try to remember what it felt like attending, organizing, and performing at the very influential International Pop Underground Convention, which took place August 20–25, 1991 in Olympia, Washington, was organized by Calvin and Candice from K Records, and featured a crazy good lineup including Beat Happening, Bratmobile, the Pastels, Jad Fair, Kicking Giant, Some Velvet Sidewalk, Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses, Sleepyhead, Scrawl, Nikki McClure, Rose Melberg and loads more. This type of festival became a blueprint and surely influenced our foray into party throwing a few years later. Some folks remember it as a magical utopian moment in time, others were stressed and disillusioned. Whatever those who attended felt, it was a pivotal moment for independent labels, great pop and punk music, and a spirit and community still with us today.

Convention pass courtesy of Rose Melberg

Did you attend the convention? What made you want to go? 
Nikki McClure: Yes. It felt like it would be the center of the world that week. I had a job in the mountains during the week (field ornithology) and threatened to quit when my boss wouldn’t let me take the week off as promised. He let me go and keep my job. I was willing to risk complete poverty for the Convention. My boyfriend at the time went to Europe with Nirvana to the Reading Festival. That moment felt like a cultural divide. Everything shifted in August 1991.
Erin Smith (Bratmobile): YES!  I was a major K kid from ’87 on, so it was a no-brainer I was going. That was the entire center of my universe—virtually EVERY band I loved at the time was playing IPU.  I was OBSESSED with Beat Happening! Bratmobile were asked by Calvin Johnson to play as well—a total dream come true!  Bratmobile were actually the only band to play 2 shows at IPU—both on Girl Night—8/20, and an early morning show with Kicking Giant and Jad Fair on 8/23.
Michael Galinsky: Sleepyhead got invited to play, largely due to Tae’s suggestion. I don’t think we even had a single out yet, maybe we did… it’s murky, but we had just done our first 10-day, 5-show tour that July. So, we were a little more prepared to play. I might have gone even if we weren’t playing, but I was also pretty broke so it would have been a big reach for me. Thankfully the awesome folks in Treehouse offered us a place to stay, which made it more possible. Allison from Bratmobile lent us her car to go pick up Rachael, our drummer, about two hours before we had to play. All went smoothly until we left the airport and realized we needed gas. She had given us the key to the car but not the gas key, which we discovered when we pulled over to get gas. Thankfully we made it into town and had to jump on stage shortly after we got there.

Memories from Lois Maffeo


Tobi Vail: Yes. I honestly don’t remember if I wanted to go or not. I mostly grew up in Olympia and I was a part of the K scene as a teenager but after I was assaulted by a stranger at 18 (in my first apartment in Eugene) what I perceived to be traditional gender roles and cute 1950s aesthetic of K no longer spoke to me (if it ever really did). I was in a band with Calvin (’85–89) as a teen and I looked up to him but that experience ended on a bad note. The year before IPU I was part of a feminist awakening of young women in the NW music scene, which eventually led to us starting riot grrrl. We were angry and pushing back against male domination and patriarchy and at that point I feel like most men in the Olympia music scene were threatened by us—exceptions were the teenagers in Unwound and the guys in Nirvana, who were super supportive. We had a little trouble communicating with K when they were distributing our self-released demo tape and ended up pulling it from their mail order to distribute on our own and I don’t think they understood why we wanted to control everything but that was really important to us at the time. So it was nice that the festival was organized by a woman (Candice) who became a co-owner of K. In retrospect I do appreciate that K sold our tape through their mail order and I appreciate their support but I wish that we had been able to communicate with them a little better about sales.
Ira Robbins: I was there and wrote about it in Rolling Stone, which earned me a death threat from Ian Svenonius.

Bratmobile photographed by Michael Galinsky

Had there been other festivals like this you’d been to before? What felt different about it? 
Nikki M: It really felt like a Convention and not just some shows. A Convention needed banners! So I made some from dyed sheets with sticks found on the old growth forests I was working in. I made them on the floor of the ranger cabin that I lived at during the week, rolled them up and headed to Oly then unfurled them from the windows of The Martin apartments. There was more happening than music. It was a collection of people forming an international underground community and network. It was important work.
Candice Pedersen (IPUC organizer/formerly K Records): I’d never been to a music festival or conference before. The IPU was designed so that the bands and the audience would come to us! But seriously, the IPU convention was a chance to be at a conference that was designed by the kids for the kids. 
Erin Bratmobile: Festivals for “our” brand of indie were not so commonplace at this point.  Of all things, I’d won tickets to the first Lollapalooza, so attended that in DC the SAME week as IPU, turned 19 that day, then flew to Olympia.
Tobi Bikini Kill: No.
Michael Sleepyhead: We went to a couple of others after this. Lotsa Pop Losers (which wasn’t as big but had a similar inclusive vibe) and Lollipops and Booze, which was more of a schedule of shows with a pass over the course of a week than a festival like this. So, no, this was a truly unique and powerful event.

Scrawl photographed by Rose Melberg

Organizers, what do you remember about putting it together? 
Candice Pedersen: Everything and nothing. I remember being adamant that the design should include blackberries as they are Olympia in August in a nutshell. I remember hand making the badges. I remember when it was proposed (not by us!) that there should be a “girl night” and worrying that if it was the first night no one would be there. Which was exactly what didn’t happen. It was the most electric night of the entire festival. I remember the Sub Pop BBQ—it was great to have them as part of the convention even if there wasn’t any food. 
Nikki M: I made banners. I helped Candice make invites. Calvin had issued a call to action which is still vital and raw. She wanted formal invites mailed to people. I made a blackberry vine image, which now seems fitting for those hot, sweet, thorn-scratched days.

Convention pass courtesy of Stephen Pastel

Performers, what did it feel like to be there? What were the fans like? 
Stephen Pastel: From our perspective just being invited was really exciting. It was the first time we’d played in the US and it was the first time we’d played a community type event on that scale. Everything about it seemed thought through, joined up—the groups, the audiences, the spaces, the city. We were so impressed by all the work that Calvin, Candice and their friends had put into it—it was so ahead of its time. I remember the Beat Happening show being incredible, seeing them at their best in a beautiful theatre space with an absolutely packed out audience just going wild for them.  It felt like we were at the epicentre of something new and the world had suddenly changed for the better.   
Rose Melberg: I remember going to my first punk show at 13. all guys of course. it was like Social Distortion and Battalion of Saints and I was standing in the back of the venue in Sacramento. I was tiny. I was up in the top and my first thought was: the safe place is on stage. I was terrified of what was happening in the pit but I wanted to be a part of that and I saw it in my mind. I was having all these ideas of what it would look like and feel like to sing in a punk band, just scream and be above everyone. it was my first punk show and that was the feeling I got. I wanted to be on the stage. partly out of fear and partly out of power but mostly because I wanted to be part of it so bad. I was 19 when got up onstage at IPU. I was terrified. I had a physical reaction to it. my hands shook violently. I wanted to get on that stage so bad but my body wouldn’t even let me. I had to kind of detach because I knew I wanted it so bad—even though my body was telling me “don’t do this”—I couldn’t even hold my guitar pick. I was so desperate to be included. I didn’t want to feel left out. I didn’t want to be in the audience. I wanted to be liked and acknowledged and heard (from chickfactor 18, interview with the Softies).
Nikki M: This was also my first time performing. I sang a few songs at Girl Night, the songs I sang in the woods to ward away bears. It was powerful to hear those songs fill the theater. Those 5 minutes were life altering.The theater was packed. It was the first night and every one was so eager and open to possibility. We were creating our own world.
Michael Sleepyhead: It was wonderful to be there, but no one had even heard of us so it was kind of like going to a film festival with your first film, where you don’t know a lot of folks. Although, this was a little different as we knew a couple of the bands from their visits to NY and we had Tae to make some introductions. It was fun to play for sure, but also kind of hard to do an outdoor show when we had never done anything remotely like that. We were young and excited and it just meant a ton to us to be invited into the community. 

Bikini Kill photographed by Rose Melberg

Tobi Bikini Kill: Bikini Kill got to play the festival but we were added late and had to play an afternoon show on a small stage. I feel like someone from DC got us on the bill at the last minute but I really can’t be sure. I remember feeling kind of bummed that we didn’t get to play with Nation of Ulysses who we had been on tour with and spent the summer with in DC but I was happy that we got to play. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to practice that summer as Kathi, our bass player, had gone to Europe by herself. It was a hard show for us. We weren’t ready and had a lot of equipment trouble but I think some of it was pretty good.
Erin Bratmobile: Girl Night especially was completely intense.  The stuff of legend now!  The launching point for so much.  Heavens 2 Betsy played their first ever show at IPU—Rose Melberg as Tiger Trap, too.  So I got to witness both Corin Tucker and Rose Melberg’s first times on stage.  I remember Corin coming up to me after the show and complimenting me on the Bratmobile set.  It was all so new to me, too—I had no idea how to respond!  

Beat Happening photographed by Rose Melberg

Fans, what do you remember loving about it? 
Nikki M: Probably many Performers were Fans 90% of the time. I remember dancing and responding to the immediacy of sound and to the intimacy of hanging out with those who just made you dance so crazy afterwards. It was a Convention, We were all attendees, not so much fan or performer.
Michael Sleepyhead: As a fan I was blown away by seeing a lot of bands I had only heard about, like Bikini Kill, Jad with the Pastels was amazing. Seeing Beat Happening play to a packed house that was all in was astounding. Nation of Ulysses was on fire. the Bratmobile Kicking Giant show was inspiring. It was also nice that the whole thing felt very community focused.
Erin Bratmobile: Olympia is magic.  Being able to just WALK and see every band I loved over the course of a week was wild. All of my heroes were playing!  When Stephen Pastel asked to borrow my Sears Silvertone amp—well, he was a hero of mine to say the least.  Just a couple years before I was buying my first Pastels album, and now, not only was I playing the same festival of them, Stephen liked my amp?! There was not a whole lot of divide between the bands and the fans. The bands were fans, too!
Tobi Bikini Kill: I lived across the street. It was overwhelming. People kept coming over to my teeny tiny apartment. It was nice to have friends in town but there was no escape. I don’t remember the fans, it seemed like everyone here was in a band and it was just like people in the audience getting up on stage and vice versa. That was pretty cool.
Rich Siegmeister: I was friends with Sleepyhead but they made their own arrangements and I traveled there by myself. I needed a hotel. K records was offering to help and it sounds crazy now but they randomly placed people together. I ended up in a room with a nice guy. We didn’t hang out much together but when it came time to sleep, he came out in silvery silk pajamas. We were each in our single beds but crazy. Also I was hanging outside talking to some nice people from New Zealand. I was telling them how I loved the Clean and the Chills and this all girl group Look Blue Go Purple. They got a look on their faces and then one of them yelled out “Lizzie you got a fan.” A member of the band was there and couldn’t believed I was listening to them.

Sleepyhead photographed by Michael Galinsky

It was a very exciting new fresh time for music and culture: What did the community feel like then and is some of it still intact for you? 
Candice P: The community felt intimate and yet also disparate. Everyone was together but still had their own thing going, which I appreciate. I wouldn’t say the community from then is still intact for me. But, many of the friendships I had then and made then are still the most important friendships I have today. And many faded as they do.
Erin Bratmobile: It’s hard to understand in retrospect, and it might not even be fully understood unless you were there, but IPU was like the big bang and really everything came from that in a lot of ways. It’s all still totally intact. Friendships formed over that week for so many have been life long. It was life changing, and that’s not hyperbole.
Michael Sleepyhead: That community is still foundational for me. Tae drew the cover for our first single and he designed my photo book two years ago. I went on to make films but my foundational community is still the music one. It is wildly more open and supportive than the film world. 
Nikki M: The community was always present then and possibilities were always blooming. Now that spirit is there, but things aren’t nearly as spontaneous or untamed. It feels like it might just be me, but I think we all are thinking that…maybe? We all have embers we carry from that time and still use in our lives.
Tobi Bikini Kill: For me it was a little bit of a sad time. Nirvana wanted to play and they were not allowed because they had signed to a major label. The ’80s were ending and the ’90s were starting. L7 were great. I was confused that they got to play but Nirvana didn’t. I remember wishing that they didn’t sign but understanding why they did. I didn’t think we needed corporations to buy and sell our music and I think that was kind of the main idea of IPU.

Photograph by Michael Galinsky

What performances do you remember? New artists discovered? 
Candice P: I love all my children equally. 
Erin Bratmobile: I STILL hear IPU stage banter replaying in my head.  Thee Headcoats: “Oh, fuck your mother.” L7: “Keep your elbows off the knockers!!” The Bikini Kill set was absolutely revolutionary. The Mummies were incredible! I remember heading straight to the pit—all of Bikini Kill and all of Bratmobile together—to watch the Nation of Ulysses.  After their blistering performance, I remember James Canty coming back out onstage to humbly announce the release of their first record.  I was SO PROUD!  
Tobi Bikini Kill: Bratmobile played two sets I think and they were very good. Heavens To Betsy at girl night were incredible. Mecca Normal were great, as always. I remember being excited The Pastels were going to play but I would have been more excited to have seen them a few years earlier when they were still one of my favorite groups. Nation of Ulysses was my favorite group at the time but I remember Thee Headcoats as being the best group at IPU by far. They had played Olympia the year before and both shows were nuts. I think the band I discovered at the fest is The Mummies—they were so good and fun and funny. Fugazi was great too.
Nikki M: Fugazi. Heavens to Betsy. Rose. Jad Fair. Beat Happening. I Scream Truck. Nation of Ulysses. The Pastels. Cake walk. A picnic with no food.

Slim Kill Rock Stars, Rose Melberg and Al Some Velvet Sidewalk (photo courtesy of Rose)

What was the vibe in general? 
Candice P: For me the vibe was hectic. The Pastels were staying in my apartment, I had to co-host the event, and I was trying to spend time with friends. The time flew by. I was supposed join the Pastels on their west coast tour after the convention but I was too exhausted/sick to go. Chris Jordan so kindly took my place at the last minute. 
Nikki M: Festive. Spontaneous. After this past year, it seems fantastical that we once so freely mingled and danced and ate cake. It was powerful. All dreams became possible.
Tobi Bikini Kill: A little stressful. Like too much going on at once. It was also very odd to have people not from here acting like it was quaint or cute or utopian or something and not really understanding where they were. By 1991, Olympia was no longer a milltown but the brewery was still here. It was still pretty working class, the center of southwest Washington, which was populated by loggers and timber workers. It was a kind of rough place to live if you were nonconformist. The Evergreen State College is a public school and very progressive but it’s very small. Olympia never really was a liberal college town because the population of students has always been just a few thousand and my impression is that most people who end up going there are kids from the NW who couldn’t afford or get into a more expensive school. Local kids who went to punk shows and hippies from Evergreen got targeted and bullied and physically assaulted by guys in pickup trucks downtown. The IPU people didn’t really seem to notice any of that. Also it rains more than 150 days a year in Olympia and it was very sunny that week. It all seemed like a dream.

Tae Kicking Giant photographed by Michael Galinsky

Why do you think there was this link between D.C. and Olympia? Was it down to individuals or was it just a shared ethos? 
Nikki M: Both! Individuals sharing an ethos but with differences between the East and West. Both explored and created cultural freedom. For the Cake Walk, Cynthia Connolly (DC and Dischord) made a vegan chocolate cake topped with freshly picked blackberries, if I remember correctly. That cake seemed the perfect pairing of the 2 sides of the country.
Candice: It’s a shared ethos. 
Erin Bratmobile: I think it began as certain individuals and grew to be a shared ethos.  Calvin Johnson lived in Bethesda, MD, in the late ’70s/early ’80s, so was involved in the DC punk scene before going back to Olympia and Evergreen. Then the cross-pollination of the scenes continued. DC had great record stores like Yesterday & Today that stocked K titles, and Calvin visited family in the DC area all through the ’80s into the early ’90s, always bringing along records and making more connections. I connected with being a K and indie kid before I then grew to intensely love Dischord and the DC underground. Nation of Ulysses and Fugazi were my gateway drug in that regard, if that makes sense!
Tobi Bikini Kill: Olympia is the capital of Washington so there are a lot of natural connections—one of them being that Calvin went to high school in both places.
Michael Sleepyhead: I think it was both the shared ideals and the musical influences created a strong cross current that made sense—I felt like going on tour was like being in the pony express. Bands carried information and ideas from one town to the next and in some ways DC and Oly were kind of the terminuses at the end of the routes.

Rose Melberg, the very first time she ever got onstage or sang into a microphone. (Photo courtesy Rose)

Was it covered by mainstream media then and if so, did they get it? 
Nikki M: Who cared? We were mostly happy to outnumber the logging trucks.
Tobi Bikini Kill: Yes and no.
Candice: I think there was national media outside of indie fanzines. I remember Ira Robbins wrote something. But, if people “got it” or not didn’t concern me. “It” was something for different for everyone. And, I didn’t care if media got what it was to me.  

The Pastels photographed by Rose Melberg

Is there anything else you remember? 
Candice: I don’t remember meeting Scotty but he remembers meeting me (I asked him how old he was!). But, I’m glad we were both there because one year later we started dating and 29 years later we’re still together. 
Nikki M: Driving with Calvin to the Sup Pop picnic but there was no food left. People signing the back of the Kill Rock Stars albums like they were yearbooks with the silkscreen ink still a bit tacky. Melvins at the park. Blueprint posters taped to my door fading over time. Was this the festival that the theater cat peed on the shirts?
Erin Bratmobile: The first Kill Rock stars comp came out on vinyl the week of IPU, all hand silkscreened covers, with no time even to put the art on the back yet. So all of the copies given to the bands that were on the comp had hand done covers and blank backs. Several of us, myself included, got autographs of the other bands on the blank backs, high school yearbook style. 
Tobi Bikini Kill: The first Kill Rock Stars compilation came out at IPU. The front was silkscreened and the back was blank so everyone used the back like a yearbook and signed each other’s records. That was pretty cool. 
Michael Sleepyhead: I don’t have a good tactile memory. Thankfully I have pictures, though not nearly enough from that event. What I do recall was that the whole summer felt the beginning of something for me. It takes a lot of hope to start a band and then commit to it in the way that we felt we needed to. The summer before we had moved to Providence to live together. It wasn’t an easy transition but we muddled through and became more of a band. We started to play out in NY a lot which connected us with NY bands like flying saucer, ruby falls, antietam, and many others. II spent months booking that first tour which we went on a few weeks before IPU. On that trip we met some incredibly creative people and that just changed my life. Then we went out to Olympia and that sense of being part of a community became some much more profound.

See more photos of IPUC by Michael Galinsky here.

Rachel Kicking Giant (photographed by Rose Melberg)
The Pastels with Jad Fair (photographed by Rose Melberg)
Bratmobile with Michelle Noel (photographed by Rose Melberg)
Some Velvet Sidewalk (photographed by Rose Melberg)

Sleepyhead (photographed by Rose Melberg)
Kicking Giant (Photographed by Michael Galinsky)

Remembering Sam Jayne

Sam Jayne (right) with Sonia Manalili. This was taken backstage at Webster Hall, October 2019, when Love As Laughter was opening for Built To Spill. Photograph by Tae Won Yu.

By Lois Maffeo

What I normally remember about touring: great crowds (Detroit dance party! Edgar & Rogilio at Rice University! Fireside Bowl every time!) and the disaster nights with hosts who had 14 cats and creepy collectibles. But one night on tour burns brightest to me for being so exhilarating and fun. Lois and Lync were touring together, and the first leg was pretty grim: $11 at the door in Missoula and maybe those 14 cats in North Dakota. And, even when we got to Minneapolis, the club (NOT the Fireside Bowl!) said Lync couldn’t play because Sam Jayne wasn’t 21 yet.

So Sam and James and Dave sat outside, looking in the picture window to watch Lois & The Hang Ups and then after the show we were all invited to Julie Butterfield’s house for a party. (She had lots of epic parties in Minneapolis and Olympia. I hope she writes her memoir some day.)

Anyhow, it was a fun party and it went on late and nobody left. At some point, several revelers noticed that they had run out of cigarettes and I volunteered to march down to the all-night convenience store, collecting three dollars from each of the smokers-in-need. The real reason I wanted to check out this little market was something I had noticed on the drive to Julie’s—there was a lit sign that advertised Fresh Cotton Candy. I was about to start out when Sam Jayne offered to walk there with me. Sam Jayne was not just a gallant buddy, I’m pretty sure he wanted in on the cotton candy too.

And the convenience market was open and they fired up the cylindrical cotton candy machine and we bought four packs of cigs and three cotton candies that looked like sparkling pink turbans atop long paper cones. We paid up and Sam asked for the change in quarters. I thought he might need them for parking meter change.

And did I mention that this convenience market was located next to a self-service car wash? The kind that has the long jet hoses in holsters in each of four concrete stalls? That was where those quarters were headed. Sam flashed his notorious, snaggle-toothed grin and ran for the nearest jet wand. I knew that I was in for a soaking, so I took up a position in the next stall and I fished a quarter out of my pocket. We ran the hoses out to their ends and sprayed water at each other and cackled and tried to avoid getting hit with water and mostly failed. Then we walked back to Julie’s, utterly drenched, with soggy packages of cigarettes and three wet paper cones. The cotton candy had disintegrated in the first blast of spray.

The party had mostly evaporated by the time we walked back and the smokers had given up on us and gone home, sparing us the contrition of delivering damaged goods. The last guest was about to leave, lacing up his roller skates for the roll home.

It’s a golden memory. I think about it regularly and when I heard Sam Jayne was gone, I knew he would always be with me.  Going for cotton candy.