Monday, August 1, 2011

Mark Holcomb - Undertow part IV

Mark and John with Undertow at the 2009 reunion, Photo: Nathan

At Both Ends was recorded in '93, and the guitar player for Seaweed was the producer? Or the engineer?

Yeah, yeah. We played a bunch of shows with Seaweed, and Clint. Ron from Overkill was their tour manager, so we were all closely kind of connected in this underground scene that was becoming pretty big. And Seaweed used to put us on shows. And I remember one thing I thought was really cool was that Clint used to wear an Undertow shirt on a whole tour with Green Day.


He was like, "You guys are my friends and I want to support your band." That's how Seattle felt - that everybody was trying to help each other out, that there wasn't a big competition. We recorded with him three times. And he hates the Fender M-80 (laughs). He's the one who turned me onto tube amps actually. He was like, "You're out of your mind listening to this fucking . . . it hurts my ears to listen to this shit! Just try . . ." He's was the first person that ever introduced me to the [Mesa Boogie] Dual Rectifier.

Mark and his dreads, Photo: Dave Mandel

Oh okay. So what did you use on At Both Ends?

I ran it through a Marshall and an M-80 simultaneously. And looking back, I don't really like the sound very much. It's way better than the Stalemate 7", but I don't like my guitar, the tones on it I think through all the recordings. We split it through a Marshall [JCM] 800 kind of dry, and then a Fender M-80, and when we tried to blend them together, it just sounded like two totally different tones, and it just didn't work. But the Marshall had more balls.

You had some pretty gnarly dreads back then. Did people hit you up for weed a lot?

No. No. I don't think I ever got offered weed.

Kent McClard told me that when he had dreadlocks in the early 90s, people would ask him for weed, or would think he was selling weed, ALL the time. Cops and people trying to buy it from him.

I'm trying to think of a good story that would apply to that. I dreaded my hair right before we went on tour and then cut it off. I had dreads for maybe six months. The whole first U.S. tour with Sparkmarker, and then I came back. I had a job at a movie theater and quit that job, and just couldn't find work at all. Nobody wanted to give me a job. So I had to cut them. Although they were disgusting. They were the worst dreads I'VE ever seen. (laughter) I think I had two H.R. dreads in the back, but they were flat from sleeping on them. And I had kind of kinky, curly hair, or wavy hair, so the two dreads in the back weren't straight. One looked like a Z. It just happened so fast, because I was so fucking filthy. Everybody in Undertow kind of had their own style of what they liked about hardcore. John was pretty slick, Murph was definitely a tough dude, Demian is a fucking crust punk, and I was somewhere in between. I was more with the Ebullition "I listen to Rites of Spring" emo kid, growing my hair out. So there were definitely four different personalities going on in the band, and my dreads came out of just probably wearing patchouli. At that time it was CK ONE! Yeah, I was just a filthy fuck.

Demian with Undertow

And Undertow was among the first generation of straight edge kids to completely sleeve themselves - get tattoos head to toe, right? I wouldn't say head to toe, but . . .

Yeah. If you had money you got tattooed. I remember before our second tour, everybody in Undertow went and got tattooed, and Murph and John both got "Undertow" tattooed, and I regret not getting that, but I don't know where to put it. And Demian might have gotten his first tattoo. I remember dudes being sleeved in Seattle when I first moved to New York, and it was early on. Dudes were getting shit on their hands. I feel like Seattle is kind of a badass place. I saw it move forward real fast up there. And all my friends started getting sleeved up. That was a little bit after Undertow. Once I joined Shift I had more money, so I was getting like half sleeves, but I never thought I'd go past that. It just progressed.

Run through real quickly all the tours Undertow went on, with what bands, and approximately when they happened.

I guess we consider touring coming down to California for three days, because it was like a 20 hour drive, and we'd come and play four shows. The original tours were Jawbreaker and Samiam, and was without Joel. Different dude singing. You know what? We played the fucking Red Barn with Downcast. And Kent McClard was there. And I think that was the first time we met him. And he was super cool. And then through the next generation, when it was still Joel singing, we came down and played with Unbroken and Strife. I can't remember all the shows, but Unbroken and Strife at Spanky's with Joel in the band. We came down with Joel once, so it must have been John on bass. Then we came down again every Christmas break or spring break. If we had a week off from school, we'd try to come down, so it must have happened like eight or nine times. I remember one time we came down and it was John singing, James on bass, Seth on guitar. There's an image that keeps coming up where Seth is playing a Les Paul at it says, "NO GOD" across his chest. We were all 16 or 17. Those were all California trips. I remember an early trip with Joel singing, we played with Outspoken. We became friends with those guys, so there's a connection there as well. And all those guys seemed to like us. Everybody got along. It was really easy to come down, if we had a break, to get shows with the bigger straight edge bands. And then in '93, Demian had just graduated high school, me and Murph were a year out, and John was a couple more years out. We did a U.S. tour with Sparkmarker for two and a half months. All across the U.S. We booked it all through Maximum Rocknroll. They had done a U.S. tour before, so we kind of piggy backed with them. If it was a straight edge show, we headlined. If it was just a regular show, they headlined. So it was a fair thing.

Undertow 2009 reunion, Photo: Nathan

What vehicle did you use to tour the country?

We were going to put out a record on Overkill Records, and Ron, like he did across the board, bailed at the last minute. And Dave from Excursion was like, "Well, I've got another company backing me, so I can get you 2,000 dollars. Why don't you buy a van for that? And then I will use my personal money to let you guys record." I think we recorded At Both Ends for a thousand bucks. And he's like, "Just take all the money from the label and buy a van." So we had a van. It has no nicknames or anything like that.

Before that, you were driving around in your 98 Oldsmobile, right?

That comes later.

Oh, that's AFTER that?

Yeah. This guy Curtis Pitts had a van, and he was like a hippie, and was like, "Yeah dude, I'll drive wherever, man. I don't give a fuck." So we were like, "We'll give you as much money as we can." It would probably be like 25 bucks. And these people were like, "Yeah, I'll get out of Seattle. Let's go on a road trip." Everybody in Seattle was like that. One trip, we traveled in a truck with a canopy, and I think it was six of us sleeping in the back while two were up front.


Yeah. When we got that van, we did that tour, and it broke down I think once. Six months later, I think we came to California with it once. Strife asked if they could borrow it. Everybody but John went on the road with Strife as roadies, although we didn't carry equipment. We were like, "You can borrow our van. We'll pay for ourselves, but we're not loading equipment. We're not doing anything. We're just along for the ride." I think there was 11 of us in a van.

Outspoken / Undertow group shot, 1990, Photo: Dave Larson

This was '93?

This was Christmas of '93-'94. So we drove out, and they did a tour with Strife/Snapcase/Earth Crisis. And John flew out for four shows, but there was a snow storm, so I think we ended up playing just two. And then our van really had fucking problems. We barely made it back to Seattle. We kept it running, and I think right around the summertime we were supposed to do the tour with Unbroken, and we bought a new van two days before we were supposed to leave. And it broke down in Seattle on the first night.

Oh my god.

And we spent a week at home while Unbroken started traveling east. And we got about seven days into it, and the mechanic is like, "It's shot. It's going to take me another two weeks." So I said, "Fuck it. Let's all get in my car." Undertow and this guy Korri Sabatini (Ben laughs). Fucking douchebag stole money from us on that tour. We all got in my car and drove 55 hours to meet up with Unbroken in Detroit. And actually when we showed up, we were so psyched to fucking be there, and Eric and Rob were almost in a fist fight - yelling at each other, throwing shit at each other. And I remember there being bulletproof glass in the subway. We did everything we could to just get to this fucking place, and we show up, and it's one of the shittiest shows. Just dicey.

This is the same tour where Eric Allen quit Unbroken and took like a hundred buses back to San Diego, or is that a different tour?

Um, I think there was always kind of friction. I don't know if I can speak on Eric, but he always seemed to run kind of hot and cold. And you're in a band, and you're all 19-20, so everybody's running hot and cold, and it's irritating, and it's summer, and it's hot. The show's good, the show's bad. Just a million things going on. Those were fucking awesome times. I think that was the only weird moment. I think they kind of blew their wad that night getting mad at each other, and the rest [of the tour] was cool, but you'd have to ask those guys what their experience was.

When did you record Control? Sometime after that?

Before that tour, we recorded At Both Ends, and didn't even have enough songs for it. So we used some stuff that had been on like comps before. The [first] 7" as well. I think we redid like three songs just because we didn't have enough time. So when we came back we were like, "Wow, we actually have time now to write. Let's just do a 7"." And we committed to like three comps. "So let's write eight songs and do it right." That was probably the best time I feel about being able to write. That was the perfect time. We were at home. Everybody was fucking chill. We wrote songs for Control and then the ones we didn't think turned out well, we gave to comps. But it all kind of moved around once we actually recorded with the dude from Seaweed again.

Undertow at The Ice House in Fullerton (with Tim DCXX caught in a sing along), CA, 1994, Photo: Pete Reilly

What kind of amp and guitar were you using on that?

I was using The Paul and Marshall [JCM] 800, and Dual Rectifier. And so it's a blend of both those. I listen to it now, and sonically, there's still too much overdrive. It's not a warm sound. My amp now, I love it. Just dry right into the mix. No effects. The idea of mixing two amps sounds fucking great. "I've got this fucking amp, I've got this amp." But, sonically I listen to Control, and like, GOD, it still hurts my ears. Too much mid range.

And this was '94?

Yeah. We did the first tour in '93-'94. So maybe this was spring of '95. I guess we wrote the songs after that tour and then recorded in spring of '95, but that seems late.

It had to be '94. Didn't you break up and then get back together, and come down to California to play that Snapcase/Strife/Ignite show?

You know, we recorded before we went on tour with Unbroken. I'm getting my timelines fucked up.

You recorded for Control before you went on tour with Unbroken?

Yeah, because when we did the first U.S. tour, At Both Ends wasn't even out. Let me get this fucking right. Okay, so we did the first U.S. tour, Stalemate hadn't come out. We didn't even have a record to sell. Then we did the next tour, and we had just put out At Both Ends, but there was no distribution. There was nothing. If people had it, we were kind of shocked. We sold out of everything within the first week and we had another five or six weeks to go. So I guess the tour with Unbroken, the Control 7" was about to come out, and Ron from Overkill was like, "I'm not doing the label anymore. You're on your own." I don't even have the 7", I don't think.

Mark with some behind the back Undertow action, Photo: Nathan

Control came out on what label?


Oh, so he put it out, THEN he gave up on the label.

He put it out, and I remember going over to pick up records from him, and he's like, “You know what? I'm not doing the label anymore. Here's your five CD singles." He had screwed us over A LOT. And we just kept coming back. He had put out the Integrity [LP], and was like, "I'm going to do this label again." He put out No Escape. He was like, "I'm going to give you guys 100% of the profit. I'm going to do this label. I just need to get back on the ground. I think you can help me." So the only reason we did it with him was because he was like, "After I recoup, it's 100% Undertow." And then we go to get our copies of the record and he's like, "I'm not doing the label anymore." So we felt like we're totally fucked. We were not good business people. We don't even know if people are going to get the record. Every tour we did, our record was supposed to come out, but didn't. So we just kind of toured on our reputation.

Around this time, you broke up, right? You broke up in late '94, then got back together in '95?

We came back from the Unbroken tour, then did a west coast thing with Mouthpiece. I think everybody was burned out on each other, and we played a show in Seattle where there's . . . by now we're writing songs about not how we hate the scene, but how it's become . . . there was a lot of violence at the show, and we felt responsible for it. A lot of our friends were beating up kids and it just seemed fucking stupid. We were supposed to take a break. This was September or August. And we’re like, "After we do this tour and we play one last show in Seattle, let's not even practice until December. Do NOTHING. Everybody do your own projects." We played this one show, and a lot of kids got beat up. The barrier got broke, bouncers were beating up kids.

This was where?

In Seattle. We played this place that holds like 1,500 kids. We sold it out. It was not what we wanted to do. After that show, instead of saying, "Let's take this break," I said, "I'm done with it. I want to quit." And there was a lot of friction between the band members too. Nothing that has carried on, but we were all really sick of each other, and certain people were carrying weight, certain people weren't carrying weight. There was just friction. So we said, "Let's not do this anymore at all." And then everybody did their own projects, but the band was fucking broken up.

John in the middle of some mayhem, Photo: Nathan


Anonymous said...

Good dude, good band, right on!

Mike Down said...

one of the coolest cats i ever met...respect to Seattle movement... all those bands, and especially Undertow and Brotherhood really connected with me, and many others. Mark, WHAT UP HOMIE, catch ya round, sooner than later, i

domi said...

mike down (best video ever, by the way)...underho's...fake's all beginning to make sense

Piesay said...

Undertow, outspoken, mouthpiece and other are few important bands for me. Thx for d music and msg most importantly.
P/s those pics were awesome

Anonymous said...

I'm still cashing those huge Undertow checks. I guess I should use some of the money to buy Holcomb an Umbrella as I plan to continue to piss all over his hopes and dreams for years to come.

Ron G

Anonymous said...

Harsh words against somebody who took you under their wings??? ummm...ok. If it wasn't for Ron G Seattle would never have been on the hardcore map!

Anonymous said...

Ask him what it was like to be in the movie "Willow"

mattxmiller said...

quick fyi.
i took the photos marked "photo by nathan."
matt miller

Blogger said...

Did you know that that you can earn dollars by locking special pages of your blog or website?
Simply join Mgcash and run their Content Locking plug-in.