Royal Zen Arcade: Feverjaw And The Cymru Hüsker Dü Post-Hardcore Connection
Words: Jeremy Gluck
Guest Writer (Director, Welsh Connections/SWND Records – Musician – Artist)
Cultural Context Ambassador’s note: ‘Cymru’ is ‘Wales’, in Welsh! Beat that, lingo-nerds!
- My excuse for a hyperventilated Hüsker Dü fanboy rant disguised as a Feverjaw feature.
One of my chief regrets regarding my high-octane hack halcyon days – my greatest being having not safeguarded in a vault the photograph of me with Brian Wilson taken after my first interview with him in 1988 (is that when?) – is not having recorded for posterity how Bob Mould created mid-western ‘80s alt-rock titans Hüsker Dü’s signature, post-hardcore guitar sound, the precious formula for which he divulged to me in detail in 1986 upon the release of the band’s ‘Flip Your Wig’.
‘New Day Rising’, 1985’s relentless, game-changing Hüsker Dü release on the seminal Midwestern SST label, having blown the top of my head off and also having blown my mind, saw my Damascene conversion to Du well underway when ‘Flip Your Wig’ hit the racks. It is a collision-driven punk power pop masterpiece many consider the outfit’s high watermark.
When Iggy Pop sang about “cold metal”, Minneapolis trio Hüsker Dü was what he really meant. Bands that “played tag in the auto graveyard” (one of which, weirdly and aptly is the setting for Dü’s 1984 meta-throwdown double album ‘Zen Arcade’), born and raised, as Dylan put it, where it is “too cold to rebel” but seething all the more with a deep need to exorcise their demons with drums and guitars.
And I mean, loud guitars: worthy of The Who at their ear-bleeding live peak, making it no coincidence either that one of Mould’s favourite things is the former’s ‘Armenia City In The Sky’, several minutes of psychedelic mayhem Hüsker Dü would make one touchstone in their mission to sculpt and torch their influences.
Even the uneasy punk-ethical transition to a major, WEA, did not dim their heavy light, though beyond SST and through some band crises the potential for mainstream success was never fulfilled. Along with their similarly brilliant, major-mashed Minneapolis brethren The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, having flown too close to the commercial sun, suddenly crashed and burned out, with Mould subsequently taking his revenge on some nations’ dizzy chart regions using his next band Sugar, his songwriting reaching heights of melody and power enough to instantly render even Hüsker Dü dim in memory.
(N.B. Incidentally, for those of you wondering when Feverjaw make their entrance to this opus, please exercise some patience, and remember that not all of us have had their attention span segmented like an orange by the internet.)
But before I bonded with Dü for real, I just knew they were hardcore, when hardcore still meant something. My first exposure to hardcore was a little gig I witnessed on a visit home to Ottawa in – what? – 1983? Featuring a local ‘core celebrity, one “D.C”, made Mafia-style by virtue of having arrived in town from Washington D.C., a hardcore incubator and hotbed, the band I witnessed rejoiced in a racket that at the time I was both astounded by, endeared to, and bemused by.
D.C., bellowing madly about God-knows-what, capered around the stage like a flea on meth, while behind him his fellows hammered at their instruments with the enthusiasm of a demolition crew. Punk, but not as up that point I knew it. So, when I heard of Hüsker Dü, I just thought, ‘yeah, another hardcore band making a stink in a good way’, but hardcore was happening.
Then I got ‘New Day Rising’ to review; I’d never even heard the band before. One play and I didn’t hear anything else for about a month. ‘New Day Rising’ had it all, and when say “all” I am not referring merely to its melody, ferocity, lyrical intelligence, wit, and dark charm; it had the meaning of life. Few albums have that. The Ramones debut, sure. The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’, supremely. ABBA’s ‘Greatest Hits’ deathlessly. And, um, ‘New Day Rising’.
Where was I? Where am I? After an interval of decades, an excuse to write about Hüsker Dü again has quite unhinged me! Focus, you dope, focus!
- That thing where you get around to writing about the subject of the feature.
So, when I started exploring Feverjaw, the first thing I noticed: ‘Landspeed Record’ as a title. I am not inured to conspiracy theory but the hairs on the back of my neck (of which there are many, so that even a sample would suffice as signposting) stood on end. Was I in the presence of Hüsker Dü diaspora?
My instincts, frankly always correct, (when it comes to determining bands influenced by Hüsker Dü. Otherwise, if I had two brains one would be lost and the other would be looking for it) led me then to question Feverjaw founder Dales Hawkins on his band’s deference to Dü and all points beyond.
Rather than simply ask him about Feverjaw, therefore, I chose to interview him about Hüsker Dü. Sly? Yes. But I sense from ‘Jaw’s definitely cool music that such a strategy would pay rich dividends. The clues? ‘Brightburn’, the ‘Jaw’s new EP, primed to drop January 29th on SWND, comprising four new tracks plus a fifth track – an acoustic version of the title track, on the CD version – is quintessential popcore.
Its title track – a highly contemporary, post-post-punk, non-punk, power-driving proposition, multiple guitars slam dancing into each other – is a heart punch worthy of Hüsker Dü on wig-flipping form. ‘Wolverines’, and the other songs comprising the EP, all harken one to primo post-hardcore, when, through some sort of twisted transubstantiation, heavy water was turned into heady wine. And now, my indulgent friends, let us adjourn to El Hawkins and his much more calm and considered discourse…
Based on your comments, and those of Mahouts’ Dorian Richard Holmes, in your Valley there is something of a cult there around Hüsker Dü, Sugar, and Bob Mould? Talk me through its origins?
While I wouldn’t necessarily call it a cult. I would definitely say that the sound of bands like Husker Du and Pixies engrained themselves onto myself and Dorian as well as several others in the area. The usage of great melodies pierced by feedback and loud guitar hooked itself to me very early on. And through these bands and the genre of alt-rock itself, it helped form the basis of great friendships like mine and Dorian’s. Vital yes. Cult? Er…no!
I got hipped to your interest when I saw a track of yours named ‘Landspeed Record’, which happens to also be the name of a certain, now-renowned, hardcore period Hüsker Dü live album. Is this a mere coincidence or are my detective skills as peerless as I assume?
Pure coincidence, I’m afraid. The words “landspeed record” found their way into the lyrics quite early on and it just worked as a title so well that I couldn’t not keep it. The track itself is quite a departure from the other tracks and from many of its influences with its string-laden base, so perhaps subconsciously I called it ‘Landspeed Record’ to hook it back to its alternative roots.
If you reject the assertion above, then please explain how a song of yours, ‘Arcade’, is one half of the title of Hüsker Dü’s 1984 classic double album ‘Zen Arcade’? On the other hand, ‘Arcade’ could also refer to the arcades of Cardiff, roughly your ‘hood. Are the two things connected? Is everything connected? Is Feverjaw at the centre of a Hüsker Dü-related conspiracy???
Tin foil hats are not needed here my friend. There’s no Hüsker conspiracy afoot. In fact, the title ‘Arcade’ was derived from my childhood (and even now) love of the British seaside. Numerous holidays at places like Burnham on Sea and Paignton where I would spend hours a day playing at, you guessed it, Arcade & Amusements more often than not located at the end of piers. The artwork itself was taken in Tenby down the street from an arcade near its seafront. So, far from a very American-rooted conspiracy it’s something far more British.
Or, indeed, is Feverjaw a Feverjaw-centred conspiracy? Enlighten me as to plans you make, reoccurring dreams, and so forth?
Not sure about conspiracies but I certainly do spend many hours planning and dreaming in equal measure. I kinda work three steps ahead of whatever release is next out. So, while we have the EP landing in January, I’m already on writing, demoing and general conception of the following three releases. My brain never stops!
You are stuck in a lift between floors with Bob Mould. What three questions do you ask him?
I’d ask about song writing, a compilation, and pro wrestling (a non-music love we share!)
- The Twist.
And now, the twist. Movies have it, lemons have it, my personality totally has it. Let’s have a twist! You didn’t see this coming. Number one in…Qatar! No, no, not Hüsker Dü, dunderheads! Not even Feverjaw. Almost Feverjaw. Jets To Zurich.
The who? We’ve covered The Who connection. I honestly didn’t know where to put the following information. My hundred-dollar course on online music journalism tanked, and I am not a good enough writer to join it all up gracefully, but… Before Dale “Hüsker Don’t” Hawkins was of the ‘Jaw, he had a band, Jets to Zurich.
Like, everybody has bands before their band, but not every band before their band has a number one single in Qatar. Twice. I really wish I were making this up, but even my imagination, vast in depth and breadth, couldn’t make this reach! #srsly in Qatar! Just putting it out there.
Tempting though it was to hammer Hawkins on this arcana and celebrate its fabulous factuality and genesis, I leave it to you, dear readers, depleted as I am by what even by my high standards has been a heady flight of psycho-musical mania, to discover the backstory for yourselves. In the exact words of the salty black cop in my favourite movie ‘Heat’: “You don’t have to sell this shit, this here shit sells itself!”
Brightburn is released on SWND Records on January 29th: https://feverjaw.bandcamp.com/album/brightburn-ep