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Hello, welcome to Cameleon Records, a division of VinylVidiVici Rds, whose goal is to reissue previously published LPs or unreleased tracks, but not found or too expensive. Punk, hard, garage, new wave, soul, folk .... just listen dominant in the choice. In collaboration
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CAME 23 / DLR-007, THE DEGRADS
“Out of the lab and into the home” came a bunch of smart-ass U.S. college kids in 1982—moving in with suburban Rochester, NY parents for the summer, and deciding to gather their guitars and French horns and referee whistles and form a band. Soon a quintet stabilized: David Cohen, Mitchell Mutz, Alfred Woo, Jonathan Elwitt, and high-schooler Sam Elwitt.
It was all for fun, but an industrious kind of fun, with everyone churning out songs and “rehearsals” (for what?) taking place on many a night. The repertoire ranged from send-ups of various genres to exuberant punk tunes inspired by bands like the Buzzcocks. Comedy abounded in the lyrics, and silliness reared its silly head at every turn. They switched instruments a lot, taking turns on the “drums” (a snare and lone cymbal) and lead vocals. Yet alongside the irreverent attitude lurked a dedication to writing good material and performing it well.
By August, the band craved an audience and a permanent record of its creations. They borrowed a proper drum set. They played at a friend’s party and a nightclub’s “open” night. They made a 90-minute stereo (cassette) recording in Alfred’s parents’ living room, and a two-song video in the driveway. David dubbed the band the Degrads (“like degradation and graduation”).
In Trouser Press.
By the time they reunited for winter break and summer of ’83, the Degrads had begun to take themselves more seriously and nurse ambitions. They added a drummer (eventually Philip Michael Brown), booked gigs at downtown-Rochester “new wave” clubs, and reserved studio time to record a 7-inch. The comedy that persisted in the songs became secondary to the musical elements—more consistently now in a punk-pop or “new music” style—and some songs weren’t humorous at all. The band got local college-radio airplay, performed on local TV, and sent their single to John Peel and Trouser Press (in both cases with good results).
Lyrics "What's my problem ?"
The group disbanded in early ’84, leaving a 20-month trail of over 40 original songs on various live and rehearsal tapes. Some members graduated to other bands (THE SILLY PILLOWS)... but once you’ve de-graduated, you’re a Degrad forever.
WIKIPEDIA : THE SILLY PILLOWS
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IN MAXIMUM ROCK'N'ROLL DECEMBER 2015.
The mag says, "Anyone is welcome to reprint anything from MRR, but only if it's not-for-profit." So I think it will be OK for me to transcribe the entire Degrads write-up here: *** "The World of Punk is Actually Really Small" file: Sometime back in the spring, I had stumbled upon this 1983 single from an upstate New York band called the Degrads that one power pop blog or another that I occasionally browse had posted. I wound up putting the snotty, class of '77-indebted B-side ("I Saw Bobbie Sobbing in the Lobby") on my radio show/podcast thing, and got a message a few days later from my friend Jonathan thanking me for playing it--as it turns out, he had been their front person, which I had somehow completely missed despite having watched footage of them playing a very local access-looking TV program in Rochester right before the 7" came out (let this be a lesson to everyone that you never know which of your friends and neighbors could have been semi-secretly responsible for knocking out subterranean DIY gold 30 years ago). Now here we are a few months later, and there's a brand new Degrads compilation LP courtesy of the French label Cameleon that collects both sides of their lone 45, plus eight previously unreleased tracks drawn from tapes of home recordings that the band did before they splintered in 1984. While there's an obvious Buzzcocks influence present in the single's balance of punk sneer, pure pop hooks and smart-assed lyrical wordplay, the archival material takes cues from a whole spectrum of late'-60s to early-'80s underground noise--the Swellmaps' freewheeling UKDIY messthetic guiding the lo-fi punk bash of "What's My Problem," the thread of primitive proto-punk running from the Velvet Underground to the Modern Lovers that gets picked up on organ-accented rave-up "Don't Listen to Rock and Roll," or the post-punk paranoia of "Transposable DNA" (if "I Saw Bobbie Sobbing in the Lobby" is /Singles Going Steady/, this one is Magazine's /Secondhand Daylight/). And they pull it all off! (Cameleon, cameleonrecords.bandcamp.com)
IN UGLY THINGS JANUARY 2016
The Degrads - s/t (Cameleon Records/Double Legs Records, France) LP Rochester, NY circa 1983. A bunch of youngsters get together to make some joyful noises. Bits of punk, bits of power pop, bits of cheap art, a touch of Chuck Berry, and many tongues stuck deep into cheeks, all stapled together in pure DIY mode. They sing about science ("Transposable DNA"), politics ("Car Conspiracy"), society decadence ("Don't Play Rock'n'Roll Music") and love ("I Don't Care if She Smells"). "I Saw Bobby Sobbing in the Lobby" would have been at home on Bomp. "What's My Problem?" belongs to the same world as Swell Maps' "Read about Seymour". "Fun with a Porpoise" shows a strong Doors influence. "Do I Sound like This?" even deserves a garage tag. The Degrads' sound was a patchwork, but remains coherent. They wrote forty originals in the two years they were together: now ten of them are graved in wax to be enjoyed on your home hi-fi. The band later evolved into The Silly Pillows, before guitarist Sam Elwitt turn up in the Sea Monkeys (among others). His latest work is producing and backing up Miriam Linna on her excellent solo material.
IN EXPRESSAWAY TO YR SKULL 2016
"The World of Punk is Actually Really Small" file: Sometime back in the spring, I had stumbled upon this 1983 single from an upstate New York band called the Degrads that one power-pop blog or another that I occasionally browse had posted. I wound up putting the snotty, class of '77-indebted B-side ("I Saw Bobbie Sobbing in the Lobby") on my radio show/podcast thing, and got a message a few days later from my friend Jonathan thanking me for playing it - as it turns out, he had been their frontperson, which I had somehow completely missed despite having watched footage of them playing a very local access-looking TV program in Rochester right before the 7" came out (let this be a lesson to everyone that you never know which of your friends and neighbors could have been semi-secretly responsible for knocking out subterranean DIY gold thirty years ago). Now here we are a few months later, and there's a brand new Degrads compilation LP courtesy of the French label Cameleon that collects both sides of their lone 45, plus eight previously unreleased tracks drawn from tapes of home recordings that the band did before they splintered in 1984. While there's an obvious Buzzcocks influence present in the single's balance of punk sneer, pure pop hooks and smart-assed lyrical wordplay, the archival material takes cues from a whole spectrum of late '60s-to-early '80s underground noise - the Swell Maps' freewheeling UK DIY messthetic guiding the lo-fi punk bash of "What's My Problem," the thread of primitive proto-punk running from the Velvet Underground to the Modern Lovers that gets picked up on organ-accented rave-up "Don't Listen to Rock and Roll," or the post-punk paranoia of "Transposable DNA" (if "I Saw Bobbie Sobbing in the Lobby" is Singles Going Steady, this one is Magazine's Secondhand Daylight). And they pull it all off! (Cameleon; cameleonrecords.bandcamp.com/album/degrads)
Read full BIOGRAPHY....
Jonathan Caws-Elwitt remembers
In the spring of '82, I launched a shaky little dorm-based quasi-punk band called the Killer Asparagus, with a friend at Harvard. Then I came home to Rochester for the summer. Soon after my arrival—I think it may have been that very evening—I accompanied Mom and Dad to a jazz-band concert at the high school, where Sam was performing on sax. My old friend Mitchell was there with his French horn (he was also in college now, but the high-school bandleader would hire him sometimes to "horn in"), and he told me that he and some other old friends had been goofing around as an incipient rock band. He encouraged me and Sam to get in on it, and next thing we (and our parents) knew, the band was rehearsing in the Elwitt living room.
Sam and I loved writing, playing, and home-recording songs together, and this was a great extension of that, not to mention a rollicking good time. As a songwriting team, we Elwitt brothers sometimes took inspiration from shtick we'd developed as kids—for example, the "iggit, earl" nonsense words in "Fun with a Porpoise." (The main story line of that song was based on a fanciful analysis of the Derek and the Dominoes LP cover. A later Elwitt–Elwitt song was based, in a similar fashion, on a Chagall painting: "Goat plays cupid for the bride / Purple groom is by her side / Nightgown fiddler, keep your chin up!")
PLAYING IN PUBLIC
For me, the most memorable feature of our first public appearance (at a suburban watering hole) is how much time we squandered between songs. We were still rotating instruments a lot, and we were so unprofessional as to individually review little bits of our parts and discuss things with each other, in front of a tolerant audience of our friends, before we finally signaled each other that we could begin the next song. Since the conciseness of our actual songs stood in stark contrast to this interminable inter-song futzing, it's quite possible that the between-song preparations during that appearance added up to more than the total running time of the repertoire we performed.
That was also the night I told a drummer from another group what we had tentatively decided to call ourselves. It was a whimsical band name that was a mere 70 words long. As my recitation drew to a close and the stranger beat a hasty retreat toward the load-in door, David told me, "Don't ever say that to anyone again." Though David was not always the most industrious member of our group, he soon got busy brainstorming alternate names.
In contrast to what might be a collegiate-rock stereotype, the Degrads weren't silly from drinking (or anything else along those lines). Mitchell and I liked a beer or a gin and tonic; but we didn't down a lot of them, and the band's regular hangout was an ice-cream parlor. We were just silly by nature, and from long practice.
Speaking of which, I'd say the most memorable feature of our other early public appearance, at a friend's backyard party, was Alfred performing his "Eggplants and Venison Stew" with a pair of hand puppets. There's no video, alas, but here's a snapshot.
On a personal note, that first "Degrads summer" brought me something of an epiphany: I realized how important it was to keep creative activities and fun at the center of my life.
KEEPING IT GOING
Over the fall semester in Cambridge, MA, Alfred and (briefly) David joined the Killer Asparagus, and the three of us generally spent a lot of time plotting the further adventures of the Degrads. Alfred and I wrote several songs together that autumn, and those numbers, as well as some others I wrote alone, began as KA songs but became Degrads tunes when we reconvened.
During my brief December break, Sam and I also collaborated on a couple of new ones. "I Wish They'd Move" began as a band idea (the lyrical theme), and the Elwitt bros. churned it out just in time for our first downtown club gig—writing "by the Song Factory" on the chord sheet, as a tribute to our quick work. I think that in this song, as with many of the others Sam and I sat down to write together over the years, Sam carried more of the burden of coming up with the chord structure, with vocal parts and lyrics showing more joint creativity. When I wrote with Alfred, on the other hand, what usually happened was he'd give me a set of lyrics and I'd put them to music.
ANOTHER SUMMER OF ADVENTURES
David and I were in a big psychology class together at Harvard. One day in the lecture hall, we overheard another student say to a friend, "I saw Bobbie [or Bobby or Bobbi] crying in the lobby." David told me to write it down because it would make a great song title. We immediately improved on what we'd heard ("sobbing" instead of "crying"), and back in my dorm I wrote the thing and made a demo—one of three songs that I wrote that spring and brought home with me in June '83 (though I note that the signature guitar riff in "Bobbie" was created by Sam in the rehearsal room).
With our December drummer unavailable, we began the summer by frantically following up leads and scheduling auditions. Then Sam and I saw a young man walking across a parking lot, carrying drums. "Are you a drummer?" we asked. Luckily the young man was Phil, and not Al "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" Jaffee.
And, yes, I did almost anything David told me to. One midsummer morning he phoned our house and told me he'd just seen Eddy Grant on a live TV feed from the local shopping mall, promoting his concert appearance that night. David said we needed to go over there and ask Grant if we could open for him. (Because that's how you get gigs, right? You accost the star the morning of the show.) So I put on my DIY-tie-dyed purple jeans and one of my amateurishly hand-painted pop-art T-shirts, and picked David up in a parental car... and off we went to the mall. Amazingly, Grant was still lingering in the center court, standing around with just a couple of media peeps. I walked up to him and made the pitch; and he put an avuncular hand on my shoulder and said, "We don't use an opening act." He managed to sound sincerely regretful. Later that day we found out he'd canceled the show.
"WE PROMISE TO HAVE RECORDS THERE"
We'd booked our studio session for early July, and we were led to believe this would allow plenty of time for the record to be pressed by the end of the summer. This was all being handled by the studio, whose owner promised to shop our disc to his "friends on the Coast." That offer subsequently became contingent on our re-recording the vocals to both songs—because the original version of "Bobbie" called the insensitive boyfriend a "bloody cock" and a "fucking jerk," and there was also language the studio gent didn't like on "Lobotomy." Thus we have "you only mock" and "stuck-up jerk"—and though we never heard from the "friends on the Coast," we did get played on the BBC, which perhaps mightn't have happened with the "fucking jerk" version.
As August progressed, and there was no sign of the record coming back from the pressing plant, we got worried. We'd scheduled two gigs to coincide with the self-release, we were promoting it on our local TV appearance . . . and, most important, if it didn't arrive before Labor Day most of the Degrads would be gone, with the fall semester starting. The TV host, when we told him on the air about our upcoming record-release party, said, "That sounds promising." "Well, we hope so. We promise to have records there," I quipped—and we all wondered if we really would.
I wasn't sure how much of an effort the studio was making to follow up with the plant. So one morning, feeling desperate and impotent, I drove downtown and sat on the stoop of the studio building until the owner eventually showed up. I guess I made it clear I wasn't leaving until I'd watched him phone the plant and get things moving. I'll never forget sleeving up the records at the nightclub on Friday evening, September 2—they'd arrived, I think, the previous day—to kick off our weekend of record-release gigs.
We weren't an impoverished bunch; but making a record in a studio was quite expensive, and we were helped out by a generous friend who shared our musical tastes. She has our undying gratitude, as do the indulgent parents who let us make a racket in their homes again and again.
Oh, and the black fashion collar thingee around my neck consists of two umbrella sheaths that I snapped together.
COMMANDES / ORDERS
15€ 1 ex + port colissimo : 7,50 €
30€ 2 ex + port colisimo: 7,50€
45€ 3ex + port colissimo : 8,50€
15€ 1 ex + postage with track number 12,15€
30€ 2 ex + postage with track number 14,85€
45€ 3ex + postage with track number 16,50€
15€ 1 ex + postage with registered option 13,20€
30 € 2 ex + postage with track number 26€
45€ 3ex + postage with track number 26€
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