100% Seattle rock. Great songs. Great singer. Freakazoid monster guitar player. Great band.
The music sounds better then ever ByJC88on February 21, 2017 the life debut album is an absolute stunning example of power pop done right! it's edgy but not over produced. not sure what happened but for one reason or another never quite made it. it's not the musicians or the materials fault which is top notch. this disc collects both a remastered version of their first vinyl album plus their 2nd previously unreleased album. the music sounds better then ever. it really is shame that most folks never even heard of these because they deserved so much better!
From The Life - "Alone" deluxe edition on Green Monkey Records. http://www.greenmonkeyrecords.com/catalog_the_life.php Special thanks to: Darrell Fowler for ...
Part 1: The Story of The Life as told by Casey Allen with some interjections from Eric, Jimm and Tom
CASEY: Eric, Jimm, and Tony met by backing up some musician at a recording studio session. They decided to move on and form a band. The guys found a bass player through a friend of a friend of an in-law, and started working in the basement of the big house I had just moved into. The bass player was my on-and-off high school/college girlfriend, Diana Swisher.
Eric: The Life came together in the spring of ‘84. Jimm, Tony and I were the nucleus. We went through a series of band names and bass players until we finally settled on the name and personnel. Weaving our way through the 80's was the task. With various rehearsal space challenges, trying to get gigs with limited venues to play, we were truly a startup/ self-made band. We promoted ourselves as any band did prior to the internet: postering in the blistering rain, advertising shows with Jimm on a bull horn on the back of my scooter, stunts like walking onto the UW campus carrying a coffin with a live body to promote our record.
CASEY: My band at the time, the Wild Debbies, was also practicing there. The Debs had started in Pullman, WA, playing frat parties, 10-cent beer night at local taverns, dorm mixers, and play-till-the-cops-show-up house keggers. When half the band graduated and moved to Seattle, I took a break from school and followed. I moved in to the big house in Wallingford.
A few months passed, and Diana and the guys decided to part ways. The band knew I was a bassist (and had a van), and invited me to join. I pretty much knew the songs already through osmosis, the music coming up through the floor and lodging in my head. Our first show at the Hall of Fame, January ’86 went well, and we were off and running.
We played just about any gig we could get, like 2-3 gigs a month, sometimes even more. I don't recall turning down any shows; we played just about anything we could get. The opportunity to play in front of people outweighed the pain-in-the-ass aspects of gigging: loading and unloading equipment up and down the stairs of the rehearsal room, jerk soundmen and club bouncers, parking, etc. We started to build a following: our loyal friends and housemates (we knew they were loyal because they always wanted to be on the guest list), then other bands and their friends.
Some of our fave clubs: The Central (it was cool to see the growth in the number of fans over time), the Hall of Fame (sentimental favorite, not necessarily a great club, but played there a lot at first), Squid Row (didn't take many people to pack the place, hot and crowded and beer-slick floors), the Ditto (my dad helped me sneak in my then-underage girlfriend, I locked the keys in my car while parked on the sidewalk in front).
We did manage to travel out of town a number of times, too. Bellingham, Spokane (where people looked at us as if we were freaks when we walked down the street), Walla Walla, Portland a few times, and one memorable show in Oak Harbor where we played with Variant Cause in a beautiful old theater to about four audience members.
We were rehearsing at the Band House in the Roosevelt District, sharing the space with Variant Cause, some painters, and a population of large rats. We got together two or three times a week in (again) the basement, writing new songs, polishing current ones, and generally hanging out.
We had enough material by 1987 to start thinking about recording some songs and becoming rock stars. We got hooked up with Tom Dyer of Green Monkey Records and producer Keith Livingston. I think we had played with Keith Livingston's band at the Hall of Fame, and he also ran sound there. He introduced us to TD, who had his own recording studio and record label, and before we knew it, we signed on with Green Monkey. Green Monkey (and Keith) provided the studio time; we got a bank loan (!) to pay for tape, cover art, pressing, and all the other incidentals.
The sessions for Alone were an exciting time for me: one of my few goals in life at the time was to have an album out by the time I was 25. I was doing what I was meant to do, we had a bunch of songs I thought were really good, and entering the studio felt great (unless you forgot to duck and hit your head on the doorjamb). We were (mostly) young, (sometimes) dumb, and full of … great rock songs, that featured triumphant choruses, brilliant chiming guitars, and heartfelt, soaring vocals.
The best part? It was fun. It was hard work, but the good kind of hard work, because we believed in what we were doing and wanted it to be the best we could make it. But hanging out in our little gang, sweating in Tom's tiny basement, cigs and beers between takes, and hearing our parts come together was fantastic. I don't remember how long it took to record, but the other stuff (art, photos, color separations (whatever that means), test pressings) seemed to take forever.
We arranged a record release party at the Central Tavern, with Jimm and the records arriving from Canada barely in time for the show.
1987 was cool, we won the Northwest Area Music Association award for best new band and as a result made the cover of The Rocket.
ERIC: It kind of happened quite unknowingly. Jimm, as I recall was in New Orleans at the time, so Casey and I went to Parkers, where they were hosting the NAMA awards to kind of "just be there." We really weren't expecting to win. There were other bands in the running like Pure Joy, The Walkabouts, etc. When we heard our name, we were kind of stunned. Managed to utter a few un-intelligible words and get off stage. Several weeks later we were on The Rocket cover. We were on a high note.
TOM: I was only peripherally involved in recording Alone, having contributed to the final mix of “If it Works (don’t fix it)” as I was sure it was “the hit.” We released Alone and got some decent reviews and airplay, but didn’t take over the world. Not too long thereafter we started to think about a second record. I’d known Michael Lord for a few years and asked him if he would be interested in working with me on their second album at his studio. Michael was a true believer and said yes. It was a “spec deal,” which meant we would only make dough if the band did. Even though Michael’s studio was also in the basement, it was a big step up from mine – 24 tracks! It was a long, but focused, process – taking over six months. We drank lots of Michael’s excellent coffee. You can hear the brilliant results here and now. Having not heard these tracks for twenty years, I was surprised to hear how fresh they sound. However, as the album sessions progressed, the tension in the band escalated. By the end of the recording process, the band had enough. The sessions would remain unheard until today.
CASEY: There are strains in any group of creative people working together, and The Life was no exception. Working with Tony could be more than a little bit daunting. In his motorcycle leathers and boots, he presented a gruff exterior; he could joke around and laugh with the rest of us, but as time passed we found it harder to work together. I think Tony had a vision in his head of how he wanted the band to sound, and if it didn't measure up, he got frustrated. His dissatisfaction was not always expressed in the band’s best interest. A gob of spit on the wrong person's girlfriend served to cut off local airplay.
JIMM: What's on these recordings is Tony's incredible gift. My overall feeling about Tony as it relates to this release is great admiration and thankfulness that I got to play with him.
CASEY: We went to group counseling, for crying out loud, to better understand where everyone was coming from, and work things out so the band could continue. (Eric: We went to a band therapist even before Metallica thought of the idea!) It was definitely helpful and increased communication within the band, but in the end we just couldn't make it work anymore and called it quits.
JIMM: The Life was six years of madness, triumph, creative awakening, paralyzing dysfunction, fierce loyalty, inspiration, desperation, soaring musical joy and heartbreaking failure . . . all of this on a daily basis and in no particular order. I think we were able to survive and thrive through all of this simply because we had great songs, great people supporting us, and we believed in each other as players. We poured our heart and soul into this music and I think because of that it still sounds great twenty odd years later.
And now Part 2 - The Story of Alone from the Producer, Keith L.
The Time: Nineteen eighty-something.
The Place: Tom Dyer’s tiny, basement 8-track studio
The Event: The Life - Alone
Casey Allen--Bass. Solid and matter-of-fact.
Eric Lichter--Drums. Well, you’d just have to know Eric. There’s no way to describe him.
Jimm McIver--Vocals. Wooly, inspired and passionate about his music.
Tony Bortko--Guitar. Creative, paranoid, angry and talented.
Keith Livingston: Producer/engineer. Me.
My job was to help the guys put their songs and performances together into a coherent record and to help them bring forward the best of what they wanted to express artistically. Given the circumstances, it was no small feat.
Tony was everyone’s scary uncle. His searing, melodic guitar lines were woven through every song and provided the plaintive hooks you couldn’t get out of your mind if you wanted to. His guitar provided the unique edge to the powerful pop melodies and driving choruses that made The Life much more than your average power pop band.
And Tony was intimidating as hell. I remember once during a gig, he spit on someone because he thought they looked at him the wrong way. If he was in a good mood, you had the feeling he was just ¬about to smash your face in. And he was a big guy.
Of course, he looked at me with suspicion. “Who the fuck is this guy? He’s going to try to change my music, they always do.” But as we worked together, Tony and I developed an uneasy truce. Tony, I believe, saw that I wanted to help him get his vision on vinyl. And he knew he had to deal with me to do it. And I knew I had to work with him. Having cut my teeth doing punk records, I’d learned to work fast and keep the knucklehead, technical stuff away from the musicians as much as possible. I figured my job with Tony was to make him as comfortable as possible and stay out of his way. And that’s a big accomplishment in a recording studio the size of a bedroom.
I couldn't tell you what it was about but I remember butting heads with Tony. I had some idea that he didn’t like. There he was, standing two feet away from me, glaring. I held my ground. We made a deal. “You listen to what I have to say. Consider if fully, completely and openly. If you think it doesn’t make the song better, we’ll do it your way.” He did. We did.
When I think back on making the record, a series of images flash through my mind. I remember Eric in the control room with me, tapping on the stool as he was listening to playback. I remember Casey laying down bass tracks as if making a record was something he did every day. I remember watching Jimm through the glass as he was cutting vocal tracks, intense concentration etched in his face. I remember waking up on the studio floor after pulling an all-nighter and being too tired to make it home. I remember stumbling out of the studio into a half-light, half-dark world and literally not knowing whether it was dawn or dusk. We worked hard.
I did a lot of records in those days. When I listen back to this one, I want to point my thumb back at my chest and say, “I helped.” I’m proud of this record. And not in a “We managed to do a pretty good job for a basement 8-track studio” way. It’s more of a “This is a damn good rock record” way. And the record holds up after all these years. But I was just helping put on the final touches. It was Eric, Jimm, Casey and Tony that were The Life. And of course, their songs. And for a brief time, I was part of the team. We were brothers with a common goal. Yeah, even you, Tony. Thanks guys, for allowing me to be a part of it, I was, and continue to be honored. And thanks, T.D., for making it all happen.
PS: Tony is dead now, so I can say whatever I want about him. Here goes... “Tony, I’m pretty sure God doesn’t keep you by his side--‘cause you scare the shit out of him. But I’m pretty sure he listens to your music.”
The music sounds better then ever
ByJC88on February 21, 2017
the life debut album is an absolute stunning example of power pop done right! it's edgy but not over produced. not sure what happened but for one reason or another never quite made it. it's not the musicians or the materials fault which is top notch. this disc collects both a remastered version of their first vinyl album plus their 2nd previously unreleased album. the music sounds better then ever. it really is shame that most folks never even heard of these because they deserved so much better!