On the Road to Recovery

Motorhome, the local guitar-pop trio that caused a minor sensation with its 1995 debut album, Sex Vehicle (Dirt), never actually signed a major-label contract. But though its dreamy, delightfully low-rent take on shoegazer pop stood out from the catchy but prosaic rock of Fig Dish, Veruca Salt, Triple Fast Action, and Loud Lucy, Motorhome did share bills with those bands and dealt with the same army of A and R people, and bassist Kristen Thiele thinks her band, too, got chewed up in the feeding frenzy of the mid-90s. “I feel like we were tainted by that whole buzz,” says Thiele. “I think there was something attached to us, and once that’s gone, you are past and therefore you’re not going to be received again.”

This week Thiele, 30, guitarist Josiah Mazzaschi, 27, and new drummer Matt Espy, 26, released Man of the Future, the band’s first album in four years. Thiele and Mazzaschi recorded it at home on no budget, found their own distribution, and are doing all their own publicity. It must have been daunting for a group whose debut generated such a mountain of press–including selection by the Tribune’s Greg Kot as the best local release of 1995–to start from square one, but it was the only option. Nearly every other pop band that rode the wave of hype back then had broken up on the rocks just offshore (see the second half of this column for details).

Despite the critical acclaim, by 1996 Motorhome had trouble finding a booking agent to get the band shows out of town, and had begun to wear out its welcome locally. The agent Thiele and Mazzaschi finally found, whose name they say they don’t remember, failed to book the last four weeks of a six-week tour, leaving the band stranded and penniless in Chapel Hill. Thiele says the only people who came to see them there were members of the Chicago band Menthol, who bailed them out by buying one of everything the band was selling. Not long after their return Motorhome replaced original drummer Laura Masura, who went on to join the Prescriptions, with Bill Talsma. “We were good friends with Laura, but we wanted better musicianship,” says Mazzaschi. But even that couldn’t stave off the snowballing lethargy. “We kind of felt mired,” says Thiele.

By the end of 1997 Talsma had left, and Motorhome wouldn’t play another show until early this year. Mazzaschi and Thiele decided to devote their energies to writing and recording a new record. Between April and August of ’98 they used an eight-track reel-to-reel machine and rented microphones to record 14 new songs in the front room of their home, a former bank in the Lincoln-Belmont area. Mazzaschi ran the equipment in addition to tripling up on guitar, keyboards, and drums.

They picked the seven songs they liked best, got the record mastered, and then found Espy, a recent transplant from Dayton, through a Reader classified ad. But there was still one hurdle to overcome: early this year Thiele and Mazzaschi, a couple of six years, decided to “save the band by breaking up,” as Thiele puts it. “Our personal relationship and our musical relationship were so entwined,” Mazzaschi adds. “We would play games in the practice space; it became our arena.”

Neither harbors any illusions about stardom now. “I just hope people will be interested in coming to hear us, and that they won’t dismiss our music before they’ve even heard it,” says Thiele. “I was nervous about playing again, but so far it’s been really good.” Motorhome celebrates the release of Man of the Future at the Empty Bottle on Thursday, May 13.

More From the Dept. of Where Are They Now

And now, as Paul Harvey would say, for the rest of the story: Loud Lucy, avid readers of my predecessor Bill Wyman may recall, released one album, Breathe (DGC), in 1995. But after touring with acts like Alanis Morissette and Elastica, the band split in 1996. Front man Christian Lane now lives in LA, where, a Geffen publicist says, he’s working on a solo album. But if the Internet is an accurate cultural barometer, he’s still more famous for his short-lived romantic entanglement with Morissette than for his music. Bassist Tommy Furar, who lives in New York, plays on one track, “Only Son,” from Liz Phair’s most recent album, Whitechocolatespaceegg. Drummer Mark Doyle played briefly with Verbow.

Following a long tour in support of Veruca Salt’s second album, Eight Arms to Hold You (Outpost), Nina Gordon left the band; she’s currently recording a solo album for Outpost in Hawaii with Bob Rock (the producer responsible for the metallic sheen of Eight Arms) and several former members of the Boston band Letters to Cleo, including former Veruca Salt drummer Stacy Jones. Louise Post will use the Veruca Salt name on a record she recently finished–not for Outpost–with producer Brian Liesegang, formerly half of the band Filter. The band is now rounded out by bassist Kevin Tihista and drummer “Tasty Jimmy,” Matla, formerly of Beer Nuts and the Blind Venetians.

Tihista’s old band Triple Fast Action, whose 1996 album for Capitol, Broadcaster, has already been deleted, put out a second LP, Cattlemen Don’t, on the New York indie Deep Elm. After they split last year, leader Wes Kidd toured as a guitarist for Local H; he’s now working for the GMV Network, a new company that produces footage of live concerts and distributes it via the Web. Drummer Brian St. Clair moved to New York, where he found employment as Liz Phair’s tour-production manager.

In 1997 Fig Dish’s second album for A&M, When Shove Goes Back to Push, failed to give the band’s career a much-needed guess-what, and they too called it quits last year. Singer Blake Smith and bassist Mike Willison have formed a new quartet called Caviar with guitarist Brian Whitman and “Tasty Jimmy” on drums. Caviar opens for Enuff Z’nuff on Saturday at Double Door and Dovetail Joint on May 7 at Metro. Guitarist Rick Ness is fronting a new band called, unfortunately, Ness. Ness performs with the Webb Brothers and the Hushdrops Saturday at Lounge Ax.

Chris Holmes, the brains behind Sabalon Glitz, Yum-Yum, and Ashtar Command, was admittedly in a different league than his power-popster classmates–to start with, he had a band for every interest, from space rock to orchestral pop to electronica. But upon signing to TAG, a subsidiary of Atlantic, he decided to focus on the most salable of the three, the ork-pop ensemble Yum-Yum. TAG released the underwhelming Dan Loves Patti to great fuss but poor sales in 1996, then folded. Two years later cultural critic Tom Frank wrote an article for Harper’s claiming that Holmes’s enthusiastic embrace of the mainstream music industry had been a sophisticated display of irony that whizzed over critics’ heads; meanwhile Holmes’s techno band, Ashtar Command, recorded two songs for the sound track of The Avengers, one with Sinead O’Connor and one with Louise Post (both coproduced with Liesegang). Holmes has since parted ways with both manager Janet Billig (whom he once called his “fairy godmother”) and Atlantic, but his former publicist at the label says she’s heard from several reliable sources that he is currently working with Hanson. How ironic.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Machnik.