The Bun Family Players

Background

In 1994 Grunge had passed it's peak and had become a mainstream universal template of sound. Most of the energy of the Seattle scene was draining away, Kurt Cobain was already dead, Soundgarden had a few more records, Alice in Chains was still puttering along and Mudhoney was already kind of evolving into the next thing. 1994/95 was the come-to-Jesus moment in Seattle where they realized it is not going to last forever. In fact: it is already over.

John's first band

At age 28 while working at the magazine shop, John put his first band together was with

  • Kevin, his best friend from High school in Anchorage. He was a very fast and fluid player, a virtuoso and good riff maker who had an unusual sense of time. He had a masters degree, was working his way up the corporate ladder in a variety of places and ended up working in IT at Nordstrom. He had a house with a practice space in the basement and was a real facilitator for John, providing an incubator and structure to interview other musicians for the band. Kevin's impulse was to play in the funk metal corner - not punk funk corner, but more like Jane's Addiction. If Kevin had to pick between Alice in Chains and Pavement, he would always pick Alice in Chains. John on the other hand was more "on the street", listening to Pavement and Built to Spill, bands who were producing a very different sound despite having the same information as they had. Kevin aspired to be a rock musician, but saw it as only one component of his larger life plan. He wanted to be both a professional and a rock musician. He could see himself on the big stage and also being a middle class business person was his version of alternative. Maintaining that life divorced him from the street, unlike John who was still thinking in terms of what was going on on the street.
  • Ian was an aeronautical engineer who worked at Boeing on the 777, yet he would come and play base with them 4 nights a week, just because he wanted to play Rock 'n' Roll. He ended up being the drummer. Ian was most comfortable looking at a bookshelf with 3-ring binders of manuals and was very interested in the technical, mathematical aspect and approached learning a new instrument that way. He had a real job and allegedly did not dream about being a famous musician, so he was mostly slumming it.
  • Luis was one of John's old drinking buddies.
  • Then they had a base player named Jeff, a fantastic musician who lifted all their music into a separate category. He came out of the Jazz culture and was playing a fretless electric base.

John was writing the songs with a lot of chords and a lot of heavy ideas. With Kevin's riffs and John's words and chords they were able to put songs together, they rehearsed and played shows and they were one of the bands. But their style of music was not fashionable. It was riffy, all-genre jumble music and it was never gonna be cool. They wanted to be a tight and together heavy Rock band while all the other music was defiantly lose and out of tune even, which forced you to parse what's happening and the song structure was kind of wilful. Although John was intrigued by it, he did not love how that music evolved into funk metal, rap metal and all different sorts of grungy offshoots, because the rage had been taken out of it and replaced with fake rage: derivative and dull-witted.

The name of the band, "The Bun Family Players", was named in a Red Hot Chilly Peppers fish-boney kind of impulse. In a "college irreverence"-way they were looking for name that communicates nothing and if you are turned off by that name because it sounds stupid to you, it is your own problem. As time went on and nobody in the band liked the name anymore, people wanted to change it to something like Wrench or Carburetor, something that was tough sounding. Lot of other bands had named themselves after their neighborhood, like Linkin Park or Pavement. John would have preferred a clever name like Built to Spill.

It felt like their success was continually growing and they had big dreams because they had seen so many bands out of Seattle go out to fame and fortune, so it seemed entirely possible. They played a lot of shows! John has copies from The Stranger, (the local alternative weekly newspaper) from 1995/96/97 and for any typical week you could find the name of their band in the show listings 5 times. They went completely under the radar, tough, There was never a mention in the editorial section,no show review, nothing. They had not released a record, so there were no reviews, they were just one of the armies of bands in town that was slaving away. They gradually built up a fan base and could bring 200 people as headliner on a Wednesday night and they started to make friends with other bands.

Over time they had built a pretty little scene for themselves. They had girls who liked them and they had jackets with their name on it. There were caf├ęs where all the people were fans, so whenever they would play, all the patrons and staff were at the show and they felt like real heroes and like members of the music scene. They sold cassette-tapes at their shows, they had a dedicated fan base who knew all the words to their songs: Around 1998 it was like an utopian moment. But it was all so small. There was no concept of putting out a record and going national, or even just owning a van and driving to Portland. Instead it was Seattle-centric. They were making 250 dollars at a show, but they were asking themselves "What are we doing?"

First contact with Harvey Danger

Harvey Danger was one of the bands that The Bun Family Players played with from time to time. They were in the exact same position and could maybe get 150 people into a venue until their single Flagpole Sitta went into the charts, which blew everybody's mind. It changed the dynamic of the whole scene, because nobody thought this was going to happen again after The Presidents of the United States of America had at the time been the last big Seattle band to have a hit. It felt that the world had moved on and so everybody was astonished that Harvey Danger all of a sudden had a #1 single. They all had gotten used to the idea that they were just making music in a dark corner of America, but the idea that a band as eclectic as Harvey Danger could have a hit changed the tone.

The Break-up

John had poured his heart and soul into this band that was eclectic and unusual and awkwardly cool, but completely commercially unviable - which was always a point of pride for them. On the other hand, he could write songs by himself and did no longer need someone else to prompt him, so the dynamic began to change. Kevin would try to add guitar parts to the songs, but at that point the gap between their artistic taste started to be exaggerated and there was no room in John's songs for what Kevin's instinct was. Kevin did not like the atonal intricate multi-layers of melodies that John enjoyed, instead he wanted 3 guitar players all playing the same heavy and huge riff.

Eventually John arrived at a place where he wanted to break up the band. It was a tragedy for their friendship, because they were as successful as they'd ever been in their partnership, but John wanted to do his own thing. One member wanting to dismantle a band was quite unusual. Normally, singers get kicked out and the band reforms, but John actually wanted to break up the band and move on. Kevin and John had a song-writing partnership, but there was an imbalance because John could play their songs by himself (sing and play the guitar), but Kevin didn't sing.

John didn't just leave the band, but there wasn't a band anymore as soon as he broke it up. John felt a great relieve, but his relationship with Kevin has never recovered. Kevin didn't go and find another band, because he wasn't part of the street culture anymore and it would have been the end of the road for him anyway, if the band had ever taken it to the next level.

The final turning point came at one of the last shows with an opening band who had a dynamic female lead singer named Stephanie. John was watching her and wanted to collaborate with her, not in the sense of breaking up his band and date another, but she still caught his interest and he went and talked to her. She was in favor of John's ideas, so after John had broken up his band, he did come over to her little 4-track studio and played some songs together, both Bun Family Player-songs and some new ones he was writing at the time.

Into the present

In April of 2017, Ian got a bunch of 8-track tapes with recordings of The Bun Family Players from somebody called Chris and contacted John on his Facebook page about them. John will find a way to listen to those tapes.

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