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Looking forward to THE LONG WINTERS

Unpop.com, Fall 2001?, by Michael Hukin

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In 1999 the greatest band in Seattle was the Western State Hurricanes. From their first live show to their last, all within the space of one year, WSH captivated and excited a city full of jaded music fans in a way that is still talked about in hushed tones today. A gang of four, WSH meshed immaculate musicianship with heart-stopping melody, anger-driven guitars, blistering male/female co-vocals and an intense stage presence of deeply personal exhibitionism from their frontman, tall Seattleite/Alaskan John Roderick. Every show ended with Roderick either sprawled on the stage amidst a ruined guitar or looking for his glasses, which always flew from his head during the pivotal touchstone of the set, a devastating and very unsettling ex-girlfriend song called "Nora." The crowds were in awe, the hype was rolling, Sub Pop tried to sign them, and then, for reasons there isn't time to go into here, Western State Hurricanes imploded and left a hole in a collective heart. Not even an official recording marked their time here.

Now John Roderick is back, armed with a new band, The Long Winters, a new outlook on life (after the WSH split he spent six months walking across Europe and sending journal entries via email to a magazine at the University of Washington) and, most importantly, a new record containing a lot of those incredible songs from Hurricane days.

"Seven or eight of these twelve songs are Western State songs," explains Roderick from his Seattle home, "I wanted to move on, but I was haunted by that music, I loved it and wanted to see it have a life."

Roderick admits that his new band members -- Sean Nelson of Harvey Danger and Chris Walla of Death-Cab For Cutie -- helped persuade him that these were songs that had to be recorded, finally.

Nelson seems to have been a pivotal force in bringing Roderick back to the stage -- it was Nelson who persuaded Roderick to join his band Harvey Danger in the last year of that underrated band's existence and, in a recent local interview, Nelson claims this was all done mainly so Roderick would start playing (and recording) his own music again.

Roderick on Nelson:

"The most obvious thing that Sean brings is his voice and his melodic gift. But, he is also an astute student and fan of music in a way that I am definitely not, so he is a great critic and foil. I went from being a frontman in my own band to a sideman in his band and I learned a ton about being a musician and being a human being, so I'm conscious of the challenges and pitfalls inherent in making that transition. Now that he's free from all the pressure of fronting the band, he's surprising himself and us with the depths of his musicianship. In the studio we did a lot of off the cuff harmonies and he works great that way."

One of the things inherent in The Long Winters on first listen is the beautiful ambiguity of the unreal/real lyrics. Roderick has the rare gift of emoting real feelings and situations through strange, surreal images and scenarios. My favorite Long Winters line is from "Mimi" where Roderick sings "The babies were flaming, I had to run 'em down. When I saw you Mimi, well I had to get into you."

Roderick on lyrics:

"Lyrics are really important to me. I work hard at them. I'm not one of those people who can write a really good, straightforward song about Ventura Boulevard, or about having no place to stay when a Levee breaks. I think it's because I don't remember my own relationships as having been very clear-cut or neat. And it seems like the more complex a relationship is the more that a totally mundane event from that time will come to stand for it. Those mundane events are always at the center of the songs. And those mundane events sometimes hurt as much as car wrecks and gunshots so that's what I call them."

For anyone who knew The Western State Hurricanes, it's important to point out that the old songs that made it into Long Winters country have been completely overhauled, reinvented, almost rewritten. The album begins with the brand new "Give Me A Moment," an introduction of sorts with it's chorus of "I've been away and I've been out of my head" overlaying a dramatic, funeral paced musical backdrop that ignites into a hardcore swaggering Roderick guitar freak-out before falling back into the grave. The next five songs are all WSH originals -- first my personal favorite, "Car Parts," a rollicking blast built around a chorus to die for with the world's greatest line ever written ("Baby wasn't down with the heist") that evolves each time you hear it, with some wonderful backing la-la-la's that recall all your favorite classic pop moments. This is The Long Winters at their swashing and buckling best. "Car Parts" is followed by "Samaritan" (a morality tale in three minutes,) the already-mentioned "Mimi" (a tragedy in three minutes done at a Waltz pace,) then "Medicine Cabinet Pirate," an acely titled piece of outright rock stomp (with yet another classic line: "Your new math is treason"). Last in the line of Hurricane Five, the absolutely stunning keyboard-driven "Unsalted Butter," the melody and the delivery will stick in your head for days. "If you think you're gonna be here, wrong," croons Roderick. "I'm gonna miss you so much when you're gone." Deliciously cold, all your evil ex's will be two feet tall and weeping razor blades when you play this one.

Live, The Long Winters let it all bust out. The album may have a restrained quality to it musically, but if you ever get the chance, catch these cats live and see what Star Power really means. Hey, look, Roderick on Star Power:

"There's so much detachment in music. Rock "artists" are so conscious of being watched, and of being pretty, that at best they muster up some fake, soft-core swagger. Indie-rockers try to counter this by inhabiting their detachment and, for the most part, they've all earned a good slap. Self-consciousness makes for bad lovemaking and bad rock music. There's a large part of me that wants to be wrestling mountain lions instead of searching for my bus transfer and it comes out on stage because I've been successfully discouraged from hissing and spitting at people on the bus."

This is all you need to know, for now. The Long Winter's album, The Worst You Can Do Is Harm is released on Bellingham, WA label Barsuk (home of Death Cab For Cutie) any day now. Find it, play it, love it, talk about it.


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