Wednesday, July 08, 2015

LA History: Bug

Life is a joke, so you better start laughing

Tom Murray, in the rehearsal space
where we recorded "One Last Page"
The band I'd been fronting, leading, and focusing my music career on broke up around 1994. I wasn't sure what, if anything, I was going to do next. Maybe quit.

I met Tom Murray at a party in Santa Monica. We got to talking, and he mentioned he was in a punk band, and that he was looking for a new guitar player. He gave me a CD called "Abuse". The band was called "Bug".

Some of it was fairly uninteresting slap-bass Chili Peppers-style silly songs, like "White Ford Bronco". But there were 2 songs that really made me sit up and pay attention. One was called "Rise", featuring acoustic guitars, a slow beat, and yearning vocals. The other was called "Abuse", and had great dynamic shifts and some great stop/starts.

At the first rehearsal, it was clear the current line-up had issues. Tom told me that he'd had problems with the 2 brothers who comprised the rest of the band on drums and guitar -- they'd missed a few shows. As in they didn't show up. My impression wasn't improved by the fact that between the two of them, they killed most of a 12-pack of tallboys before we'd started playing the first song.

Drummer John Montgomery, circa 1996
After the rehearsal was over, I told Tom I'd love to be in his band...but not with those other guys. To my surprise, he called me up a few weeks later. Tom parted ways with the brothers, and added his friend John Montgomery from Bottom 12. Together, the 3 of us were the new Bug, lean and mean.

Look at Me and All My Friends

I worked with Tom on a new batch of songs. He had an interesting personal style, and open, emotional lyrics. Plus, since he was fronting the band, I just had to stand off to the side, play punk rock guitar, and sing backing vocals. I wasn't as technically proficient as the guy I was replacing, but I'd figure out a way to make it work. And John was a great drummer.

We played a few shows, and started talking about doing some recording. I wasn't terribly happy at the time about anything in my life, and was seriously considering giving up music. Those feelings, plus the beginnings of feeling older, plus the rise of Alanis Morrisette and the Sex Pistols selling a song to Mountain Dew added up to a feeling that punk rock was not just ending, it was long dead and rotting.

In 1996, we came up with the idea to record the "last punk rock album". Deliberately raw, lo-fi, and unpolished. We decided to record it mostly live, in my Downtown Rehearsal space. I had a cassette multitrack recorder. I took one of the tapes my old band had used for recording demos and decided to record over it. Symbolism.

My friend (and former bandmate) Chris Fudurich agreed to engineer. John Montgomery brought a giant marching band snare drum. We set up and stared playing through our songs. We recorded the basic tracks for all the songs live, doing multiple takes until we got something we were happy with.

Then Tom overdubbed fresh vocals. Tom and I were furiously scribbling lyrics down to the wire, in between songs. As Tom was recording his vocals for the title track of "One Last Page", I changed the verse, scrawled it on a notepad, and held it up in front of him. On the recording, you can hear him cracking up and laughing as he reads them.

I even let myself sing one song, the Viking punk send-off of "How The Mighty Have Fallen". Not my best vocal take, but I love the F chord on the bridge.

I added backing vocals, and did one guitar overdub on each song. Then we mixed it, down to another used cassette. It turned out more or less how I wanted -- more raw and punk than Bug's previous record, but still hooky and unusual in its own way.

I made the album cover at home. We originally released the album on cassette, and then later on (which got a new, improved, less pornographic cover).

Forget About The #1

I got involved in a few other musical projects, but Bug kept playing shows here and there. I practiced guitar a lot, and was starting to get more confident with it. I really enjoyed it, and loved focusing on just playing. Radiohead's "OK Computer" came out, and reminded me that you could make pop music and still make it weird and interesting. I had a Mesa/Boogie Mark IIC combo amp I bought from my brother for a few hundred bucks, and between that and my familiar Roland GP-8 multi-effects unit and Tom Anderson Pro Am was able to produce most of the sounds I wanted to.

I got to a point where I would use different chord voicings in different parts of the song to keep it sonically interesting, and figured out how to play around and support Tom, or have my parts build up. Even in writing songs, I was thinking about how I'd record them, and where I'd overdub or add parts.

In 1997, we went to someone else's home studio to demo 5 new songs that Tom and I had been working up. But we weren't happy with the results.

On local radio station KROQ, the bands all sounded polished and huge. Bush, Green Day, Blink-182, Sum 41, and countless other bands had nice-sounding records. I figured Bug could take its songs and sounds and make something that sounded just as good.

We were aiming for something decidedly big and commercial, but we were going to do it on the cheap. We recorded in my garage, using electronic drums recorded via MIDI to trigger samples, and a Line 6 Pod mixed with my Mesa/Boogie amp for guitar tones.

John Montgomery played drums on half the record, and Nick Lane played drums on the other half.

We played some shows to work up the material, but by this time I was pretty sure I was leaving L.A. sooner rather than later, and Bug was one of a number of projects I was wrapping up. We had the record mastered at Capitol by Evren Goknar, who made it sound perfect. Not bad for $300, which is what Tom paid me for the several weeks we spent working on the record. He also hired Chris Fudurich to do a set of final mixes, but ended up preferring mine.

Tom told me he wanted to call it "Dropping Some Downers". I shot the cover one day at home, with a glass of fizzy water in front of some pills, and a picture frame into which I photoshopped the photograph from our previous album cover. I tossed in some little bug sculptures I had lying around. I laid out all the typography and made it look nice.

The polished record went up on We even attracted some label attention for a minute. I posted the record to, and in 2000, after I'd moved to San Francisco, a small label contacted us and was interested in signing us. I flew back to L.A. for a long weekend, met up with Tom and John, and we rehearsed for a day before meeting with the label guy. Unsurprisingly, that ended up not working out.


Afew years after I moved to S.F., Tom moved to Florida, and ended up divorcing his wife of many years. In the mid-aughts, Tom returned to L.A. . He recently started a new band called Chill Magnet.

John Montgomery is playing in so many things I can't keep track. He is a full-time, professional musician, with a family.

Technically, Bug never broke up. I still hope we'll reform and play more some day.

The author, having a bad hair day.
Downtown Rehearsal, Los Angeles, around the time of recording "One Last Page" (1996)

1 comment:

John said...

Nicely done, Anu!