Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Drawing Flies

History of Trench Records Part 3

It was a big deal when the Flies swarmed on the Spokane scene in 1993. Loaded with local luminaries, the Flies were a punk rock super group of sorts. Original vocalist Pat Smick was the town’s punk rock mascot, haunting the bars, all the shows and the one record store that carried his beloved Maximumrocknroll and punk singles. Guitarist Jon Swanstrom had cut his teeth in a promising hardcore outfit called TFL—a band which lasted long enough to record one hard-to-find 1990 single and a stillborn album shelved by the band’s label following the group’s implosion. On bass was Brian Young, formerly of the much-loved power-pop band the Young Brians—they, too, recorded a single and an album. Rounding out the Flies was drummer Dan Ellis, who had played in a couple bands—none of which I recall.

Smick was sacked early on, though, after just a handful of shows (I think), and the Flies buzzed on as a trio. Truth be told, I thought Pat made an excellent frontman. He certainly looked the part of 1970s-era New York punk, resembling a nerdy Ramone with his black-rimmed Buddy Holly glasses and requisite black leather jacket, black Converse All-Stars and blue denim jeans. He even played the part well—he was as animated as they come. The problem was, well, who knows what the problem was? Pat was simply dismissed and the remaining Flies took it upon themselves man the microphone.

Naturally, as is the case with just about every band, the Flies recorded some songs and circulated them amongst friends in the form of demo tape. However, as is not the case with just about every band, the Flies’ 12-song demo failed to suck. It was outstanding and merited a proper vinyl release. (See for yourself; download the original demo here.) Soon after securing my copy, I found myself interviewing the band for Spokane’s daily paper, The Spokesman-Review. That’s when I shook hands with Mr. Conflict of Interest: Following the interview and before the resulting article was published I asked the band if they would record a single for my label. I guess Jon, Brian and Dan didn’t hate the story I wrote (that or they didn’t read it) because they soon agreed to the project.

Months later, in the summer of 1994, the Flies convened at a friend’s home studio and knocked out an EP’s worth of material—a mixture of songs from their demo and recent staples of their live set. The result was six songs—six short exuberant bursts of punk rock bliss, clocking in at break-neck 10 minutes—just short enough that I could cram all six songs onto a 33-RPM 7-inch record. Sure, the mix was rough (perhaps even hastily done), and the fidelity low: Dan’s snare snaps and pops like popcorn, but the bass drum is muffled and barely makes a thud; the guitar sounds thin and spiny, and is often out-muscled by the bass; and the vocals all sound like first takes. Had the Flies used a decent studio, the songs might have come out better, but I can’t imagine this record any other way. It’s captures the band’s essence—spunk and spontaneity wrapped in guts and grit.

Titled Venus Man Trap, the Flies’ debut EP emerged in the fall of 1994. Five hundred copies of this record were pressed on burgundy red vinyl. The cover was screen printed by hand. One hundred copies went to the band in lieu of royalties, and within a couple years, the record had sold out (though I squirreled away a dozen copies—just in case someone offers me a suitcase of cash for them).

The Flies made a couple more records following Venus Man Trap, most notably Alternatoid, a full-length album on Too Many Records (1995), and Teen Challenge (1996), a 7-inch EP on Empty Records. A second full-length album was planned for Empty, but it never came to be.

Where are the Flies today? Pat Smick still haunts Spokane, presumably from the audience. Jon Swanstrom went on to form a fine band called Seawolf, and currently keeps time in Ze Krau. Brian Young plays in an insurgent country-rock combo called Burns Like Hellfire with his former Young Brians cohort Jamie Nebel (also of the Makers). Dan Ellis, meanwhile, is tapping on his high hat somewhere out there in the ether; sadly, he succumbed to brain cancer some years ago.

You can download Venus Man Trap, ripped from the actual vinyl, here.

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