This week, Grumpy's Downtown hosts a celebration of one of Minneapolis's most influential labels, Amphetamine Reptile. Bash 13 features a wealth of artists associated with the label over the years, including Mudhoney and the Melvins (who play an album release show on Friday, as well). This week's City Pages cover story goes in-depth into the label's beginnings, and includes plenty of commentary from Mudhoney's Mark Arm, Melvins frontman Buzz Osborne, and AmRep founder Tom Hazelmyer.
It was fitting that we gather some of the best AmRep has had to offer from the past 27 years. While most of these releases are long out of print, especially the limited-edition 7-inches and small-batch LPs, they all helped establish AmRep as a viable, reputable record label that wasn't afraid to take risks. The raucous, untamed music AmRep consistently released challenged listeners to expand their tastes, while introducing fans to many bands that would eventually make their distinctive mark on the national music scene. Here are 15 essential releases from the back catalog, and please note that some of these covers are NSFW.
• The Thrown Ups -- Felch 7-inch (1987)
The facetious musical attitudes and approach of both the Thrown Ups and Amphetamine Reptile Records as a whole is easily summed up by both the title and album art featured on Mark Arm and Steve Turner's debut AmRep single. This 7-inch was the first non-Halo of Flies release from AmRep, and helped launch the label as more than just a vanity project of Tom and HoF, as well as establish a creative partnership with Mark and Steve that continues to this day.
• Dope-Guns-'N-Fucking in the Streets Vol. 1-11 (1988-97):
These legendary compilations started out as double 7-inches featuring emerging new bands on the label, but eventually grew to include Mudhoney's first official release, as well as Helmet, Melvins, Jesus Lizard, Superchunk, Rocket From the Crypt, and many more. If you ever find any of these available on vinyl or CD, snatch them up quick -- you won't be disappointed.
• Boss Hog -- Drinkin', Letchin', & Lyin' EP (1989)
While the decidedly NSFW cover art gets a lot of the attention (and deservedly so), the songs on this EP from the ex-Pussy Galore bandmates rocks with the best of them. Jon Spencer and his future wife Christina Martinez (who appears naked on the memorable cover art) formed this raucous outfit out of the ashes of Pussy Galore, and this untamed initial offering from Boss Hog served notice that this wasn't just going to be a meaningless side project, they were going to rock our faces (and clothes) off right from the start.
• Surgery -- Nationwide LP (1990)
Surgery were the type of band who seemingly weren't built to last -- the Hartford, Connecticut quartet's tempestuous, noise-laden songs blazed with an urgency that sadly didn't last long, as frontman Sean McDonnell died just five short years after their full-length debut, Nationwide, was released on AmRep. Despite their all-too-brief career, Surgery still managed to leave a potent, incendiary back catalog in their wake, while clearly making their mark on the music industry of the early '90s as well as influencing countless noise rock bands in the future.
• Helmet -- Strap It On LP (1990)
This debut full-length from the punishing New York math-metal band followed AmRep's earlier release of their blistering initial single, "Born Annoying." Strap It On helped bring the musical splendor of AmRep to the attention of the rest of the country, a reputation that was only strengthened when the band broke into the mainstream with their vaunted follow-up, Meantime, which AmRep originally released on vinyl.
• Halo of Flies -- Music for Insect Minds CD (1991)
Tom Hazelmyer founded AmRep simply as a way to release music from his own band, Halo of Flies. And while the initial singles that helped launch the label are all crucial AmRep releases, Music For Insect Minds collects all of those releases in one convenient disc. After briefly breaking up in 1989 with the appropriately titled, "Death of a Fly" 7-inch, HoF regrouped in early '91 and released the "Big Mod Hate Trip" 7-inch, which coincided with a tour of Europe then another quick breakup. All their early work is collected on Insect Minds, and is well worth picking up for raucous proof that HoF weren't just a typical vanity project run by a label-head, they were for real.
• Hammerhead -- Ethereal Killer LP (1992)
While Duh, the Big City get most of the acclaim from Hammerhead's blistering back catalog, their unrelenting, rage-fueled debut LP, Ethereal Killer, put them on the local map in 1993. The heavy rock trio formed in Fargo, North Dakota, but it wasn't until they moved to Minneapolis before they really gained a following as well as a hard charging momentum that only lasted a few short years. Some of the members of Hammerhead went on to form Vaz, another beloved Minneapolis band who eventually relocated to New York.
• Cows -- Cunning Stunts LP (1992):
While it ultimately proved impossible to fully capture the feral creative qualities of Cows' live shows in the studio, the Minneapolis noise-rockers' celebrated fifth LP featured a perfect blend of the band's provocative wild side and their imaginative, inventive musical abilities.
• Chokebore -- Motionless LP (1993)
After releasing their excellent "Nobody/Throats To Hit" 7-inch early in '93, the L.A. by-way-of Honolulu indie rock quartet built on the promise suggested by that single with their fantastic debut LP, Motionless. Chokebore blended the raw energy of other AmRep bands at the time with a brazen shift in both tempo and tone which gave their songs a bristling, experimental quality. The group released their first three LP's on AmRep before heading to another label (and continued success), and even reunited in 2010-11 for a small series of shows.
• Guzzard -- Get a Witness LP (1993)
The thunderous Minneapolis trio Guzzard were frequent tour mates of Chokebore, and both bands proudly carried the incendiary AmRep creative torch throughout the early-to-mid '90s. After releasing the memorable "Glued" 7-inch, Guzzard then put out their untamed debut LP, Get A Witness, which is a breathless, breakneck collection of nine hard rocking tracks that never let up once. The group went on to release a couple more well-received LP's on AmRep before disbanding far too soon in 1996 -- though they did treat their longtime fans to a riotous, memorable reunion show at Grumpy's NE during Art-A-Whirl in 2009.
• Love 666 -- American Revolution LP (1995):
A criminally underappreciated band and album, especially for Tom Hazelmyer himself -- "The one I'm still waiting for the world to catch up to is Love 666. Pretty much anyone I know that's a fan feels the same way." The record is full of crunchy guitar riffs and pounding rhythms, and all it takes is one listen to the infectious anthem, "National," and you're hooked.
• Calvin Krime -- Dress for the Future LP (1997)
Long before Sean Tillmann went on to form Sean Na Na and become his audacious alter ego Har Mar Superstar, he was in the wild punk and noise rock trio, Calvin Krime. The group was signed to AmRep when they were still a young, irrepressible local band, and the urgency of youth courses through their tempestuous debut LP, Dress For The Future, which even launches with a track called "Sean Na Na." The band managed to put out another album on AmRep before briefly making the move to Polyvinyl for their last release, but they never forgot their AmRep roots -- reuniting for the label's 25th Anniversary weekend and also contributing to the final Dope-Guns-'N-Fucking in the Streets compilation.
• The Melvins -- Honky LP (1997):
Recorded immediately after they severed ties with Atlantic Records, Melvins get really fucking weird on Honky, their second full-length released on AmRep (after 1994's Prick). The band are all over the musical map on this adventurous album, perhaps reveling in their newfound freedom from major-label expectations, as sludgy drone experiments sit fitfully alongside creepy electronic numbers and brazen, balls-out punk rock. It's an audacious musical statement from a band who has been making them for years.
• Tad -- Obscene Hand/Kervorkians Holi day 7-inch (1997)
While Tad's lone AmRep contribution is only a single, the Seattle grunge band are included in this list simply because they never really got their proper due, despite kicking all kinds of ass. The "Obscene Hand/Kervorkians Holiday" 7-inch came at the end of Tad's raucous run, but still captures a band at the top of their game. The band dabbled with a few different major labels at a time when seemingly every band in the Pacific Northwest was courted by the big dollars and large scale promotion offered up by the majors, but they always butted heads with authority, and seemed more at home on smaller labels like Sub Pop and, ever so briefly, AmRep. Seriously, people -- go out an listen to more Tad. You will be better off for it.
• Nashville Pussy -- Let Them Eat Pussy LP (1997)
Atlanta's hard-rocking, southern psychometal trio Nashville Pussy came to AmRep in the last fully functioning year for the label, and their 1998 debut full-length, Let Them Eat Pussy, was one of the final big releases of AmRep (until their recent resurgence). It was a fitting way to go out, too, with both title of the album, the cover itself, as well as the unbridled kiss-off nature of the songs themselves all totally capturing the irreverent spirit and reputation of Amphetamine Reptile Records.
Cover Story: Under the influence of Amphetamine Reptile
Melvins Record Release Party. $15, 8 p.m. Friday, July 19 at Grumpy's Bar & Grill. Tickets here.
Bash 13. With Mudhoney, the Melvins, Negative Approach, Die Kreuzen, Hepa-Titus, Honky, and Gay Witch Abortion. $35, 12:30 p.m. Saturday, July 20 at Grumpy's Bar & Grill. Tickets here.