Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Music Compilation That Never Was

Save Mt. Sacramento was supposed to be the 40-song compilation that could have potentially earned Sacramento some much needed national respectability (foolhardy-har-har!) It was supposed to compliment the only other compilation of all-Sacramento bands produced thus far: Sacramento: City Beer. It featured up-and-coming local bands and musicians that, at the time, were getting some notice outside the city limits. This compilation could have been a contender ...if only it actually came out.

If you follow the hype (and who doesn't?), Sacramento, California wants to be a "world class city" (whatever that  means). According to most locals you talk to, Sacramento also wants to be a small, sleepy and unfussy little town. So, "world renowned" without providing visitors with world renowned stuff to do. They don't want things getting too exciting around here, I suppose.

In reality, Sacramento is California's "hella classy" capital city. It's the place where the gears of politics in the "Golden State" turn. Or don't. It's hard to tell if anything gets done in that arena these days, actually. The people doing and not doing their jobs still bring home considerable paychecks, despite the city's freeways being littered with garbage and auto accident remnants.

In addition, every building in Sacramento is some shade of beige. It's as if the city planners were bamboozled by a snake oil salesman who needed to unload gallons of baby shit-hued paint, and Sacramento was just the sucker he was looking for. And while this bland paint scheme may be great for pseudo-yuppie wives who dream of schtupping Fabio in a villa in Tuscany painted in soothing colors that compliment vanilla scented candles, it leaves Sacramento looking kinda boring and banal.

Mayyors (photo courtesy of Last.FM)
One of Sacramento's many saving graces (and it has quite a few--you just need to dig them out) is it's music scene. While live music venues in this town are scant (thank you, City of Sacramento and your red tape, hoop-jumping-through-ing micromanagement!), the bevy of talented musicians and bands that make up this town are not. Sacramento has given rise to a host of great bands over the years/decades: The New Breed, The Twinkeys, Tiger Trap, !!!, and Mayyors (to name but a very few). It's an ever evolving, ever revolving scene in "The City of Trees." Sacramento might not be the most entertaining city in the world, but it's not for a lack of highly-entertaining and talented musicians.

So it was on a trip to Portland in 2009 that I found myself in the boutique store for the record label Tender Loving Empire. Among the stacks LPs and CDs of local bands and musicians on the label's roster in the sale bin I discovered a locally sourced 2XCD compilation titled PDX Pop Now! This compilation series, which started in 2004, features 40 Portland-based bands, each of which is hand-picked by a committee of keen-eared volunteers. Housed in a hand silk-screened chipboard case, this annually produced compilation series gleefully radiates hometown pride.

My first thought just looking at this collection was, "Why doesn't Sacramento have something like this?"

It wasn't as if the bands weren't there. In some ways, Sacramento's music scene easily contended with the greatness of Portland's. Sure, that town that gave the world The Kingsmen, The Wipers, Sleater-Kinney, etc. And Portland's current roster of talent such as Menomena, The Thermals and The Helio Sequence are nothing to sneeze at. But Sacramento, on the other hand, features a much more grittier field of play from Portland's rain-slick streets. This is a town that celebrates it's "janky"-ness, and the music made here tends to be more interesting for it.

I give this over to the fact that creative things are harder to do successfully in Sacramento than they are in other places. There's a stratum of by-design tedium that has to be punched-through in order to get anything (music, art, literature, Peep-eating contests, etc.) off the ground in this town. Fueled more often than not by cheap beer, musicians in Sacramento usually start bands because they are talented, bored and mischievous.

The old Phono Select storefront, R.I.P.
Phono Select was an independent record shop in the heart of Sacramento's midtown. Owned and operated by former Tower Records vets Dal Basi and Nich Lujan, Phono catered to mostly punk and indie audiophiles, housing enough affordable and used vinyl to keep a record collector fat and happy for a fortnight or so. They carried local bands on local labels, and hosted cramped shows whenever touring indie bands like, say, King Tuff, blew through town. Phono Select was a refuge in a town that practically celebrates mainstream mediocrity. So, who better than them to put out a Sacramento-centric music compilation, right?

At the time, there were several bands taking off and getting blips on the national radar. Sea of Bees signed to a major label. Ganglians were getting approving nods from Pitchfork. Pregnant had their song "Selling Records" used as bumper music on the radio program Market Place. Chelsea Wolfe was scarring the libidos of he new-found fans. Sacramento's music scene was ripe for a compilation to document the scene as it was at that moment.

Dal and Nich were game to make this local compilation, and I set about cajoling 40 bands and musicians to appear on our compilation. Sometimes it was easy, and bands registered everything from "That would be awesome to "Sure, go for it" when solicited for a song. Sometimes, it was a bit more tricky. Sea of Bees appearance, for instance, came with the caveat from their new major label overlords that we could only produce CDs; no electronic sales via iTunes or Amazon (which would have been the antithesis of this record shop-born endeavor anyway, so okay). Then there was this one local heretofore unnamed jazz musician, dubious of the whole enterprise. After hearing my pitch, he actually asked, "What's your angle, man? How much you makin' off this?"

(Not planning on making jack shit back on this comp, we simply hoped to break even, if at all. Needless to say, this musician didn't submit a song).

After all 40 bands (including legendary high energy street busker Downtown James Brown) submitted their songs, we set about to get this thing--which we would title Save Mt. Sacramento (that we nicked from Scott Miller)--properly produced. Raleigh Moncreif would master both discs for a nominal price, while local scribe/musician Dennis Yudt wrote a clever little ditty introducing Sacramento's music scene to anyone who cared to learn about it. Up-and-coming local graphic designer and show poster artist Laura Matranga at Asbestos Press create the cover art and graphics. We were good to go. Soon Sacramento would have a music compilation it could rally around and be proud of. 

Then ...well, bupkis.

You see, the business of selling records is dicey prospect these days. More so in a town like Sacramento. This is, after all, where the record peddling behemoth Tower Records was once based. That is, until it fell in 2006. And it's where a small slice sanctuary like Phono Select struggled to stay afloat. Putting out a local compilation of music wasn't high on the priorities list when you're facing bills, low customer turnout and the end of your store front's lease (out with the record shop and in with yet another the women's clothing store!) Needless to say, Phono threw in the towel, and Save Mt. Sacramento couldn't do for itself what it's name suggested. 

Calls and emails to local indie labels to put this comp out went unanswered. No one seemed interested. It languished on the shelf, literally for years, collecting dust and not much else. In those intervening years, some the bands featured on this disc (Pets, Sister Crayon, Agent Ribbons, Chelsea Wolfe, and Flowerss) would move on to bigger cities in an effort to obtain higher profile recognition. New bands like Fine Steps, Gentleman Surfer, Death Grips, RAD, and Trash Talk (who moved to L.A.) stepped in, gained varying degrees of notice and notoriety. Save Mt. Sacramento became an obsolete curiosity: a collection of songs trapped in the amber of its time, locked away in the attic of an old Victorian owned by a serial killer, tossed under an old electric blank with frayed wires that's been repeatedly sprayed with cat piss.

Too bad, too, since it was a compilation that was pretty damned good (if I do say so myself). And that is why, nearly 5 years after it's inception that I decided to post Save Mt. Sacramento up on my 8tracks page for the world to hear. Give it a listen and know that you're enjoying a little slice of a time when Sacramento's music scene had it really, really good. Sure, music in the little town by the river it named after itself is still going strong. But for my lack-of-money, it doesn't get any better than this.

Save Mt. Sacramento track list:

Disc One
  1. Downtown James Brown "Keep Midtown Janky"
  2. Zach Hill "NASDAQ"
  3. Th' Losin Streaks "Fine Line"
  4. Ganglians "Blood On the Sand"
  5. Fancie "The Hill"
  6. The English Singles "Winter"
  7. Agent Ribbons "I'm Alright"
  8. Buk Buk Bigups "Wave Runner"
  9. Sister Crayon "(In) Reverse"
10. MC Ground Chuck "Can You Feel It"
11. Danny Offer "The Sound of Settling Down"
12. Two Sheds "Mind Wrecker"
13. Pregnant "Selling Records"
14. The Alkali Flats "Hogtied Over You (Live)"
15. Brianna Lea Pruitt "The Big Beautiful"
16. Art Lessing and The Flower Vato "Crabdigger"
17. Dead Western "Courageous Eye"
18. Electro Group "Dead Beats"
19. Charles Albright "Headphones"
20. Chelsea Wolfe "Pale On Pale"

Disc Two
  1. The Spiral States "She's A Lover"
  2. Pets Hit By a Wave"
  3. Sea of Bees "Marmalade (G. Caddilac Remix)"
  4. Matt K. Shrugg "Say No"
  5. The New Humans "Estranged Tide"
  6. The Standard Tribesmen "How Rupert Murdoch Don't Got Hip"
  7. Ricky Berger "Une Petite Berceuse"
  8. Waterfoul "Roam"
  9. Ashenden Papers "The Cycle"
10. Flowerss "Drag"
11. G. Green "No Big Deal"
12. Hearts+Horses "Piet"
13. BOATS! "21"
14. The Four Eyes "The One Road"
15. Appetite "Merry Anne"
16. The Bananas "Jus' Folks"
17. Baby Grand "Skyline"
18. Dog Party "Charlie"
19. Darksun Skypilot "Ol' Salt Lick"
20. Knock Knock "I Was Born"


  1. It's "Sacramento: City Of A Beer". Back in the early to mid-90s, Sacramento had an active music scene. People moved here from other cities and states to join in the fun. Of course, the Sacramento City Council found out and put a quick stop to it. They do all they can to keep Sac from being a city. No small natural steps, it's just "We'll bring in Hard Rock Cafe and that'll do it". Same thing they do now with live music and the ban of food trucks. A complete misunderstanding that it has to occur naturally.

    So a Japanese punk rock couple came out to visit San Francisco to see bands. They were super excited that Sacramento was close. A friend of theirs called me (Devon Morf from All You Can Eat), I picked them up and we did an impromptu punk show where the Bananas, Ice Bucketheads, Lil Bunnies and someone else (nar?). All super short sets just for them in the house that Mike R Mike was moving out of. It was summer so plenty of cheap beers were around and it was pretty much bands playing to other bands plus the Japanese couple (Kei and I can't think of his girlfriend's name). Kei ran into me many years later when I was in Tokyo. I didn't recognize him, but luckily he did. He married another girl and told me to never marry punk rock girls.

    They loved Scott Miller's Cassingle label and did The Sacto Apes and recorded "Sacramento: City of a Beer".

  2. Oh, and in Sac, it's "hecka" not "hella". Don't blame me, I don't say either.

  3. Hey Dave, I always thought "hecka" was a Bay Area thing, while "hella" was distinctly Sacramento deal. Ah, what do I know? I'm responding to your comments more than a year after you wrote them. Oy vey!