The Resurrection of feedtime

Pub rock goes avant-garde

It takes a mere two words for Aussie avant-garde pub rockers feedtime to explain the crux of why they tacked a lowercase "f" onto their band name when the trio coalesced in Sydney in the late 1970s: "Looks better."

Such pithy spiel is of a piece with the band's down-under econo-dudes' music. Their slide-guitar-driven, fuzzy bass dirt blues is ingeniously simplistic and unapologetically repetitious. And then there's their make-no-bones-about-it aesthetic, as evidenced by their name ("We selected the name 'feedtime' because it had no obvious association with tough, fast, or punk, and it had no other associations or meanings"), their official lack of surnames ("feedtime isn't about the members and being known; it's about the music," as guitarist Rick, bassist Al, and drummer Tom tell it), the band's lack of a "spokesman" (their interview answers came from a single band e-mail), and the adorable, anti-punk "frog" that graces the cover of Sub Pop's recently released four-disc sprawling collection of feedtime's 1980's output, The Aberrant Years.

Formed in 1979, feedtime was neither immersed in nor influenced by the diverse punkscapes of Aussie noisemakers, shrugging off the likes of the Saints and Radio Birdman. "Tom liked the Birthday Party and saw them half a dozen times," they say. "Rick and Al never saw them, but Al loved the feel in their music. They weren't important to the feedtime aesthetic. Various members like the other stuff to various degrees, but none of it factors in feedtime."

feedtime plays Death by Audio on Thursday, Cake Shop on Saturday, and Maxwell's on Sunday.
Caroline Birkett
feedtime plays Death by Audio on Thursday, Cake Shop on Saturday, and Maxwell's on Sunday.

Instead, feedtime's minimalist Americana shred bleeds inspiration from Mississippi Delta blues legends like Mississippi Fred McDowell and Blind Willie Johnson. "Punk rock—American or English—was not that important, really. feedtime wasn't a punk band," they explain. To feedtime, blues was its provocateur. "[The blues] was far more important [than punk rock] to us," they say. "The founding material for feedtime was Cajun, then the Mississippi stuff."

feedtime released its eponymous debut—a killer set loaded with vintage anthemic steamrollers like "haha" and "fastbuck"—in 1985, and the equally awesome Shovel ('87) was followed by the covers record Cooper-S in 1988. The Butch Vig–produced Suction and the end of feedtime's "classic" lineup's end coincided in 1989, though the band (sans Tom) had a brief comeback in 1996, when it released Billy.

As feedtime lay dormant, though, its influence remained alive among bands like the never-say-die LES white-noise bluesmongrels Unsane and Blues Explosion, AmRep's roster of noise-rock iconoclasts, and Pacific Northwest Mudhoney. That band and the folks at Sub Pop coaxed the trio out of retirement with their labor of love, The Aberrant Years. "[Tom's wife] Carmel heard Jonathan [Poneman] from Sub Pop being interviewed on an Australian national radio station discussing the five albums he wished Sub Pop had released," feedtime explains. "Shovel was one of them. Carmel tipped off Bruce [Griffiths] from [the band's old label] Aberrant, who was looking for someone to reissue [and remaster] the Aberrant feedtime albums. Sub Pop was literally his 'dream label,' so he sent Jon an e-mail [saying] 'Would you like to . . .' and immediately received a 'YES.'"

While Mudhoney frontman, longtime label employee, and feedtime addict Mark Arm wasn't involved in bringing the Aussies back from the proverbial dead and to Sub Pop ("Um . . . I was only CC'd on the e-mails," he says), feedtime catalyzed his band's vision. "I liked the reduction—the sonic reduction that was only promised with the Dead Boys, but this was the real deal," Arm says, laughing. "At the time, I was still in [pre-Mudhoney band] Green River, and [feedtime] seemed to speak to me more [than] what I was doing in that band. So when Green River broke up, feedtime was a major touchstone for the beginning of Mudhoney."

Arm can't recall when he first discovered feedtime, but he does admit to ripping them off on some of his band's most iconic hits. "I can definitely point to a particular thing, which is if you listen to [feedtime's] 'Curtains,' there's a lot of delay on the vocals. When we did ['Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More] we kind of modeled the delay on the vocals and maybe even the slide guitar on that."

For now, Arm is pumped to be playing alongside his heroes ("They're a band who I never thought I would ever see but also play with"), and Rick, Al, and Tom are marveling at feedtime's unlikely resurrection. "It was—and still is—hard to believe," they say. "Clearly it's real; it's happening. Amazing." But despite those good feelings, this might be feedtime's last hurrah. "Playing has been great. The feel is still there. It feels good to be making that noise again. But this tour will be pretty much the last feedtime, though."

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