Friday, September 16th, 1994 (the day after I arrived too late to see Blur and Pulp at Venus de Milo). My roommate/best friend of 5 years and I headed to The Middle East (Downstairs) club. It was all so exciting this first week in Boston, and SO MUCH going on, as it would continue to be at this time of year, when the universities were back in session. Sonic Boom, whose spacey blissed-out drones I was quite fond of, was playing and with E.A.R. (Experimental Audio Research) as well. It was amazing that you could so easily see stuff like this. We got there when doors opened, not wanting to miss a thing. As the first band, The Elevator Drops, took the stage, little did I know how much this was going to change my life and continue to 17 years – a whole lifespan then – in the future.
It hit like pure magic, that weightless trance-like state where you feel alive with sound. And we were only at the first verse of the first song. This was the music I had been waiting for, the music I heard in my head when I could tap into what I felt music should be, the music I’d occasionally get to, playing guitar in my Mary Chain-postered bedroom. Huge waves of spacenoise, melodic bass, precision percussion with just the right feel, warm to the point of gooey analogue synths, and that voice. And all this with such killer pop sensibilities. “Elevator To Heaven” being a perfect example of this. Even now I can conjure up the shivers of experiencing this for the first time that night, as well as the bursting deranged rock of “Seeking Transport”. They were strange onstage – robotic movements and detached expressions that never came close to addressing the audience – but always cool. Garvy J with his green and white striped trousers, orange polka-dot shirt and accompanying ascot, Fitts in his orange jumpsuit, and I could never tell what Goolkasian was supposed to be with his dreadlocks that hung to his knees. All wearing theatrical facepaint. As Garvy J recently said in a Tape Op magazine interview, “What would it be like if you had a band like Kiss that had good songs?” And that’s what it was, a proper show, miles ahead of what anybody else was doing, even at a national level. I fell in love that night, buying everything they had to offer – both 7”s and even a t-shirt – on my way out, and went to every show they played after that.
They had quite a following in Boston and the shows were always excellent, you left feeling like you’d stumbled into this bizarre, secret universe where pop held real meaning and wonder and excitement. But they were perhaps a bit too weird for wide mainstream appeal. And it didn’t help that they were a band of merry pranksters as well. When local Boston label, Cherry Disc, were putting out a Van Halen tribute cd, the Drops sent in a cover of The Police’s “Invisible Sun” labeled “Van Halen – Hot For Teacher”. The cd was mastered before anyone spotted the joke. And they were thrown off Blur’s The Great Escape US tour after only 2 dates, allegedly for the Oasis sticker on Fitts’ kick drum. As well as targeting fellow Bostonians The Drop Nineteens in “Drop 19 (I Wanna Be A)”, their first single was about Evan Dando, entitled “Be A Lemonhead (Beautiful Junkie)” :
I fondly remember going to Tower Records on Newbury Street at midnight to buy their full-length debut Pop Bus the moment it was released. And LOVING it. Those songs made so many appearances on mixtapes for girls ; ) And when my little sister Jaime moved up to Boston later that year, one of her first nights in town I took her to see the Drops play at Bill’s Bar. She loved it too and I bought her Pop Bus for her birthday the following month. At that gig I remember a lovely, incredibly poppy slow number that took a minute for you to realize it was a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark”. They went on to tour with Pulp, Garbage and Electrafixion. In this Q & A from the first Pulp website, Mark Webber, speaking of their support acts on the 1996 US tour, says “The Elevator Drops were the most interesting – they dressed up kind’ve Devo (and their make-up had a bit of a (Russell) Senior influence!) and did actually have a few good songs and many good sounds.”
1997 saw the release of People Mover, recorded in Detroit, and sticking to their theme of transport titles (named after that city’s light rail system). It kicks off with “Sentimental Love”, a long-time live favourite and with more than a little nod to Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass”:
The record is full of references and fun like this – the Led Zep intro to “Coke & Amphetamines”, the songs “March Of The Kraftwerk Replicants” & “Theme To The Gary Newman Show” (sic), lyrics such as ‘I feel run down, just like Eddie Vedder’ from “Right Back Home”. And taking in all its quirks, it makes up quite the perfect record – from the POP! masterpiece of “Proto” through the slinky oddity of “Rats” to one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, “Starlight”. This song makes you feel like floating through space watching everything you’ve ever dreamed of, surrounded by stars sparkling with the flicker of joy in the sadness and the touch of sadness in the joy and that despite the enormous feeling of something, unidentifiable, everything is going to be okay; like those first teenage rushes of freedom.
And then in 1998 they called it a day. Which was terribly sad for some of us. Garvy J went on to tour with Matt Sharp, The Rentals and Adam Green and has been lately producing and doing studio work with the likes of Devo, Norah Jones and Del Marquis of Scissor Sisters. He’s also doing his own thing as Garvy J, with Fitts on drums, having recently released the “War Is Over…Again” single . A full-length is due out in January. Goolkasian has been busy with his Texas Governor project, the name partially inspired by his trip home after the Drops ended, releasing two excellent pop albums, The Texas Governor and The Experiment, on the Archenemy Record Company label. Who also put out a Drops prequel album, Epidose One, containing such early classics as “Lennon’s Dead” and “Holly”. In 2007 the Drops released OK Commuter, a collection of songs they recorded post-People Mover. Check out the glorious “Shake It”.
There have been two Elevator Drops reunions (that I know of) since 1998. One was a triumphant Boston homecoming in 2009. And the other was late 2001, which took place simply because the members all happened to be in the same place at the same time – a Lifestyle/Texas Governor gig at the Middle East Upstairs. I had met them all around 1999 and was shocked and delighted to soon find myself in the first incarnation of the Texas Governor band, hoping I didn’t freak Goolkasian out at rehearsals by the amount of Drops songs I knew how to play. I was playing guitar in both bands that night and as I passed it over to Garvy J, I said “Play ‘Starlight’”. Awkwardly, then with more power, they launched into “Hello”. It was a very inebriated evening all around and everyone was LOVING it. Then they played “Starlight”, and I was thrilled. My sister Jaime, who I took to see them in 1996, walked by me on her way to the bar and drunkenly smiled “Starlight on the radio, Aug”, a song we’d both always loved. It was a great night.
Then in the summer of 2002, I decided to make an album, “Always Kisses”, but I didn’t have a band. I thought of who I’d like to play on it and Fitts immediately came to mind as one of the best drummers in the world. I’d only met him a couple of times but he was a nice enough guy and we both shared a love of Van Halen. Luckily, David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar were touring together that summer so I sent him an email to see if he was going, sneaking in at the end “Would you consider playing drums on my solo record?” I was shocked and thrilled when he wrote back saying Yes (to both questions ; ). He was living out in L.A. and vaguely thinking of coming back east. This got the ball rolling and he moved the following year. Garvy J helped produce some of the sessions (getting me into the legendary Fort Apache studios in Boston, now Camp Street) and contributing some excellent guitar work. I wanted to get Goolkasian to record something too so they could all be on it but we couldn’t work it out logistically. (I’d later get him to sing one of my AUNTIE songs, ‘Boulevards in Blume’. It’s a free download if you like; the other singer on this EP being Mikey Georgeson from David Devant & His Spirit Wife, who when I finally got to see them live in 2008 delivered that ENORMOUS rush of ‘THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE!’, the magic of a pop performance that I first felt with the Drops.)
Then in 2005, I was moving back to London. My friends Rick & Judi threw me a goodbye party. There was a blizzard and Garvy J couldn’t make it into the city. But Fitts came. And I introduced him to my sister Jaime, who I’d taken to see the Drops nearly 10 years earlier. And they spent the whole evening chatting in the corner. At the end of the night, Fitts asked me if it would be cool with me if he asked Jaime out sometime. I grinned and replied, “Fitts, that would be awesome.” They got married in 2008 and had a beautiful baby girl, Violet, last year. It has indeed been AWESOME. And I do like to remind them it was my respect for Fitts’ drumming that made all this happen, though my demands for an ice sculpture of myself at their wedding went unheeded ; )
But seriously, everytime I consider all this, I just think WOW! The wonder of pop music, eh?