Vaporland: The Prequel

On May 29, 2015, Songfacts published an interview with Vaporland, a group comprised of ex-Sub Pop band members. The interview covered the band's current projects, but since Vaporland's members have known each other for years, some wonderful stories surfaced about the "old days." And thus was born Vaporland: the Prequel.

A brief background. Seattle's so-called grunge scene began taking form in early 1986, when a defining compilation called Deep Six was released. Bands within this universe included Bundle of Hiss, Green River, Soundgarden, H-Hour, Room Nine, and Skin Yard. Everyone knew everyone else, played in each other's bands or side projects, and attended each other's shows. In 1987, H-Hour's drummer Tad Doyle decided to switch to guitar and vocals (no, Dave Grohl didn't think of that first) and put out a single on the fledgling Sub Pop label.

On April 1, 1988, Sub Pop Records became a full-time venture when founder Bruce Pavitt joined forces with Jon Poneman, former bassist with a band called the Treeclimbers. Sub Pop signed grunge bands it liked and heavily promoted them (including an obscure band called Nirvana.) Among those was a brand new outfit called TAD, which included Doyle, Bundle of Hiss' Kurt Danielson on bass, and the Treeclimbers' Gary Thorstensen on guitar. Later, Sub Pop would sign its first out-of-town band: the Fluid from Denver, while a new "grunge meets psychedelia" outfit began to take shape called Love Battery. The Sub Pop bands, including TAD, the Fluid, Love Battery, Mudhoney, and Nirvana, became a tight-knit group as they toured and played together.

The members of Vaporland shared some of those grunge era experiences with Songfacts' Stephen Tow. Kevin Whitworth from Love Battery began by talking about those early tours and the conversation veered into the formation of Love Battery and TAD.

Ron Rudzitis, aka Ron Nine (guitar/vocals), Love Battery and Room Nine
Kevin Whitworth (guitar/vocals), Love Battery
Kurt Danielson (bass/vocals), TAD
Katie Scarberry (vocals/percussion), Brother James and the Soul-Vation
Garrett Shavlik (drums/vocals), the Fluid

Kevin: Love Battery had toured with the Fluid quite extensively—

Kurt: We all had these connections.

Ron: Kurt and I and Tad - before Love Battery started — me and Kurt and Tad actually jammed when I was trying to get a band together, but—

Kurt: Yeah, Ron brought a four-track down to the practice space and he had these songs.

Ron: We already had a name: "The Reno Brothers," [with Tad Doyle on drums] 'cause we all had sideburns.

Kurt Danielson with TADKurt Danielson with TAD
Kurt: That was an old Elvis movie.

Ron: It was right when Tad put out his single with Sub Pop, so in his mind there was no way he was playing drums anymore. So it was doomed from the start, but it was a really good time.

Kurt: It was a great time.

Ron: That was the beginning of the genesis of Love Battery.

Kurt: I wanted to do both. I wanted to work with Ron and with Tad, but too much was happening all at once.

Ron: Me and Kurt and Tad were really close. Those guys used to come to my apartment all the time. Kurt and Tad got the TAD thing going. Tad just stopped playing drums and so I was going through many incarnations with people trying to get something together. And when I finally met [drummer] Jason Finn [who would play with Love Battery], he was going through the same thing. And I jammed with him once and we really clicked. The thing that impressed him is I didn't want to just get a 6-pack. I insisted on a 12-pack. [Everyone laughs.] And he goes, "Look, I've already got a guitarist and a bass player living at my house. You should come and play with us." So literally they lived like a block away, and that's when I wheeled my amp up the street and they were all hungover.

Kevin: That's the Ron-centric view of that, which he deserves to have. What I had been trying to do was get a band together, so I thought the best way to do that - was have people move in with me. So Daniel House [of Skin Yard] we have to blame for Jason, because [Jason] had just come back from a year living in England. And when he came back, he needed a place to stay, so Daniel - and actually, Daniel kept bringing people to my house to stay after this - brought Jason. And then [eventual Love Battery bassist] Tommy Bonehead, he was the first person I actually ever met in Seattle and I got him to move in as well. I thought, 'We have a bass player, a drummer.' Unlike Ron, I had no contacts. I just knew I needed personnel before I could go anywhere. So I got that kernel going and the next thing. Jason came home and said, "I ran into Ron Nine and we had the greatest thing…and I got you guys a job." And I think it was like a Sunday and [Ron] wheeled his amp up and we played right there, up on the top floor, so everyone in the world could hear.

Kurt: We were all - all these groups of friends were orbiting around each other and grouping and regrouping all the time. Like on the molecular level, different cell groups breaking apart, coming back together. Kevin had a record store.

Kevin: Yes. That's where I met Tad.

Kurt: Tad was always hanging out with him. So we were old friends, it was just a matter of how things fell out - as to who would play together.

Kevin: It was a musical chairs kind of thing. But that was the charm of Seattle….You'd go to the Vogue [a key club for grunge bands], and there'd be 40 people - some people in the band, some people in the audience - and everyone would just sort of switch.

Kurt: I remember playing with the Treeclimbers and that's when I saw Gary [Thorstensen] play guitar for the first time and Poneman playing bass and singing and [Scott] Vanderpool on drums.

Ron: Vanderpool and Poneman were one of the early [Love Battery] incarnations after I couldn't get Kurt and Tad to play. I jammed with those guys a couple times. But Poneman had other plans. He hadn't gotten together with Bruce [Pavitt] quite yet. I think they were in the middle of talking about it.

Kurt: I remember talking to Jon about that many times, saying, "What about your bass playing? What about your songs?" And he would say, "Right now, I wanna work on getting my friends - you guys - taken care of."

June 18, 2015

Stephen Tow, a professor of history at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, specializes in American popular music and culture. He is the author of The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge. He also contributes to national music blogs, when he finds cool bands to write about.
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