Merchandise w/ Wet Hair, Xerox
If there’s one universal statement that could be made about local music, it’s “Never say never.” With that being said, you’ll never get a chance to see Wet Hair again after they play their last show Tuesday at Gabe’s, with Merchandise headlining and additional local support by local rock & rollers Xerox. It will be a fond farewell for Wet Hair’s Shawn Reed, who is leaving Iowa City along with bassist Justin Thye for Minneapolis, MN, where they will no doubt continue to make music and art, perhaps under a different moniker.
For the past year Reed, who started Wet Hair in 2007 and soon added Ryan Garbes on drums and keys and eventually Thye on bass, has been hard at work preparing the new Merchandise EP release on his Night People record label. Totale Nite, an obviously powerful album without the pointless affirmation of record reviewers, has received high marks from all the usual suspects, Pitchfork, NME et al. But, more importantly, it was dissed with a “Worst New Music” tag by SPIN magazine. As a musician myself, and I’m sure many of you feel the same way, I could only dream of earning that direction-affirming accolade from such a magazine as SPIN.
Like Wet Hair, Merchandise has gone through great changes in the past few years. The main brains behind the band have been vocalist Carson Cox and guitarist Dave Vassalotti. They’ve been tagged with various influences from krautrock, to the Manchester sound, to an Echo & the Bunnymen/Smiths vibe on later stuff. Totale Nite, however, was produced by Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom and it has the sound of a record produced by an insane gearhound and modern synth/drone pioneer like Peter Kember aka Sonic Boom. Merchandise has used synths and drum machines extensively over the years, but the more recent addition of drummer Elsner Nino on their new record — not to mention the current tour — is a marked impact on the Merchandise sound. They don’t necessarily want to be called a rock band, but Totale Nite is rockin.’
Tuesday’s show will be a preview of material from Wet Hair’s upcoming (and possibly last?) record, titled Floating World, a nod to the visual and cultural impact of Japanese “Yukio” printmaking. They finished recording and mixing last weekend at Flat Black Studio, just in time to finish two dates with Merchandise before heading to Minneapolis.
“The band is not going to officially end,” said Shawn. “If there are opportunities that arise after finishing this record, we’ll do them.”
But Reed views his move to Minneapolis as a method of growth.
“I can forge my own situation there, transition there into a new space,” said Reed, who bought a house there with Thye and spoke of Lee Perry’s Black Ark studio in terms of a brick and mortar idea and a spiritual idea as well.
After entertaining opportunities to relocate to Australia, New York and Los Angeles, Reed quickly settled on Minneapolis, partly because of it’s similarities to Iowa City and partly because of it’s closeness to home.
“[Minneapolis] is like Iowa City, it’s just doing the same thing on a bigger level. Right now the label is the backbone of my life. It’s the foundation. So I needed to have something to carry over,” said Reed. “Minneapolis afforded me this potential where it’s literally like Iowa City upgraded. I value being able to record with Luke at Flat Black. It’s a special situation that we’ve developed with him over the years. So proximity to family, friends and stuff like that is cool.”
The remaining member of Wet Hair, Ryan Garbes, who himself has a stack of mind-melting releases on labels like Night People, Blackest Rainbow and Arbor, will certainly remain active on the art and music scene. And the scene should count itself lucky. Garbes is one of the best drummers in town, and his songwriting style comes from the depths of Sonny Sharrock’s mind, Lou Reed’s burnt out cool and the L.A. Palomino bar country-western scene. Just run down to the Record Collector and pick up a copy of Garbes’ Sweet Hassle LP from 2011 on the Hello Sunshine label. The proof is in the pudding — and, Garbes has been playing drums and recording with back-alley shaman Tim Wehrle lately, which will certainly become a record to kill for.
This may be neither time nor space for a career biography or an obituary for Shawn Reed and Wet Hair. Although I may “never” get a chance to write about them again, heh heh. I am sure that collaboration will continue between Reed, Thye and Garbes in some capacity, with geography being the chief obstacle. But the sense of pride in knowing that Iowa City hosts one of the most creative and original labels in its history will no longer be valid. I suppose that now we can be proud that Night People Records was born and bred in Iowa City.
Merchandise “Rush of Blood” short film
Head shaving, gravedigging, snails & salt, synth/guitar landscapes. Directed by Merchandise frontman Carson Cox. Music by guitarist Dave Vassalotti: