Under the influence of Amphetamine Reptile
Illustration by Tom Hazelmyer
Among influential music entities in the Twin Cities, Amphetamine Reptile Records is often criminally forgotten. Run by Tom Hazelmyer, the man also behind our area's three Grumpy's bars, the fiercely independent label has put out hundreds of important underground punk, noise, and rock albums over the past 27 years. Though the Twin/Tone record label got a lot more local headlines for its ties to the Replacements, Amphetamine Reptile — or just AmRep — has long been just a few crucial degrees removed from Nirvana.
Two of the tightest ties to the Seattle college rock, and later grunge, scene are the respective frontmen for seminal alt-rock acts Mudhoney and the Melvins, Mark Arm and Buzz Osborne. Whether AmRep made the bands, the bands made the label, or both, a near-immediate synergy began three decades ago. Hazelmyer encountered them both while he was serving in the Marines in Seattle in the mid-'80s. By 1986, AmRep was born in a crate under his Marines barracks bunk. Initially it was to give his new band Halo of Flies credibility, but friends increasingly wanted Hazelmyer's intense artwork and scene respectability associated with their bands too.
Hazelmyer moved back to Minneapolis following his discharge in 1987. The following year, he featured Mudhoney on the first volume of the salaciously titled 7-inch series, Dope-Guns-'N-Fucking in the Streets. The Melvins were on Dope-Guns' fifth volume in 1990. In the ensuing decades, Mudhoney and the Melvins have endured while churning out commercially overlooked critical successes. Meanwhile, their Pacific Northwest bretheren formed bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam. Ever the underdogs, Arm and Osborne's bands maintained untamed creative energy and acerbic attitudes over the years, and they always kept in touch with the irrepressible Hazelmyer.
AmRep's Bash 13 on Saturday marks the latest in a semi-annual series of Grumpy's music extravaganzas — the kind of shows that can only happen in Minneapolis with Hazelmyer's input. This one features the first Minneapolis Mudhoney performance in over a decade, legendary Milwaukee band Die Kruezen's return after 20 years, and the first-ever local performance by Negative Approach. Plus, there are anticipated sets by the Melvins, Honky, Gay Witch Abortion, and the closest we are going to get to a Cows reunion when Kevin Rutmanis and Shannon Selberg perform together with Hepa/Titus.
Ahead of Saturday's event, City Pages spoke with the oft-hilarious Buzz Osborne, Mark Arm, and Tom Hazelmyer regarding their storied history with one another and Amphetamine Reptile, and what we can expect at Bash 13. As it turns out, mutual appreciation of yet another Twin Cities band first brought everyone together.
Tom Hazelmyer: Buzz and I first met when the Melvins were opening for Hüsker Dü in '84 in Seattle. I was at the show to see hometown friends Hüskers, and was blown away by them. We didn't start hanging out until a couple years later, as the Melvins high-tailed it out of Seattle pretty quickly. That and they didn't hang out in Seattle when they lived in Washington.
Buzz Osborne: Seattle at the time [early '80s] didn't have that big of a music scene, so a big show was a couple hundred people, max. We came from a long ways from Seattle [Montesano, Washington], and it was nice when we were finally able to wrangle a way to drive ourselves to Seattle, because we certainly didn't have parents who were willing to drive us up there.
Mark Arm: It seemed like while the Metropolis [a legendary but short-lived Seattle club that closed in '84] was going, you guys were playing here like almost every weekend.
Osborne: [laughs] Yep. Every weekend. Yeah. What was weird is that we lived this sort of transient, sleeping-in-cars type of existence, because had I stayed in that town for too much longer I probably would have just blown my brains out. I don't know if you remember it this way, Mark, but when I first started going to shows around there in the early '80s, it was a lot of leather, older people, punk rockers that disappeared relatively quickly after that. They looked really fucking scary.
Hazelmyer: Mark and I met in '85 at a Wipers show. The singer of the opening band U-Men said there were these guys in a band called [Arm's previous band] Green River that want to meet me because I was in [seminal Twin Cities punk act] Otto's Chemical Lounge and they were fans. It was weird hearing that, as Otto's was unknown outside the Twin Cities and only had one single out. I was pretty flattered. What I didn't know was that Mark and [future Mudhoney bandmate] Steve Turner were both pretty fanatical record collectors.
Arm: Tom was stationed in Whidbey Island and Steve went to school in Bellingham, and so they would just hang out in Bellingham and shop for records and stuff. Steve and I were in a band that put out our singles and all of our records on Amphetamine Reptile pretty early on called the Thrown Ups.
As the '80s went on, Mudhoney and the Melvins found themselves lumped into the grunge movement, but they didn't reap the commercial and financial benefits that others received. Similarly, while the Replacements and Soul Asylum picked up steam in the Twin Cities, AmRep bands such as the Cows and Hammerhead remained on the fringes. Both locally and around the country, Hazelmyer was building a roster of disenfranchised and overlooked talent.
Arm: [deadpan] I think the best thing that came out of the grunge movement was Creed and Nickelback. They really captured what we were trying to do but couldn't pull off.
Osborne: At the time, the big bands were like Cinderella and Winger. So, I don't know how you could look at the grunge thing as anything other than better than that. But, you really can't say, "Mudhoney, Melvins, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam." That's just bullshit. There's no comparison, because Melvins and Mudhoney didn't sell any records.
Arm: The thing that sparked both our bands was punk rock. And I felt like when we started our band, we were a punk band, in the mid/late-'80s American tradition. On one hand, you'd have a band like the Butthole Surfers who were doing weird psychedelic stuff, then you'd have a straight-up rock band like the Replacements, but they all seemed like they were punk bands. It felt like we were all in that same underground rock sort of thing.
Osborne: Absolutely. And both Mudhoney and the Melvins kind of grew a little beyond that, but not compared to the monster bands that came out of that whole era. I mean, I knew that people would like our bands, but it wouldn't be millions of people.
Arm: [laughs] Yeah, millions of people won't come to our music, and we know that.
Even if it would be only thousands of people coming to their music, Mudhoney and the Melvins' popularity extended beyond the Seattle border in part due to support from Hazelmyer and early releases on Amphetamine Reptile. Eventually, a string of releases by a couple of New York acts — blues punks Boss Hog and alt-metal band Helmet — in the early '90s earned AmRep recognition and commercial success. Although the label started to slow down at the end of the '90s, it escaped with its reputation and relationships with many of its core acts intact. Its notorious Bash shows started cropping up, including a 25th anniversary show at Grumpy's in 2010 featuring the Melvins, the Thrown Ups, Boss Hog, Hammerhead, and more.
Osborne: [Tom's] one of the few people who you can actually trust in the music industry, incredibly enough. That doesn't happen very often. Plus, he's really artistic and he understands any of the bullshit things that we might want to come up with, and has no problem with it. And he's one of those guys who, if he's saying something, I'm generally listening to what he's saying because he'll have a take on it that I haven't thought of. We've done a lot of shows at Grumpy's where we come in and do special things there — and that's only because of him. If he lived in Dallas, we'd be doing it in Dallas.
Arm: Oh, come on! [both of them laugh]
Osborne: No, we love Minneapolis. Obviously, it's a great music city and has been for a long time. It's a great place — one of the main stops on any tour, for any band I'm sure.
Earlier this year, Mudhoney and the Melvins came together as part of AmRep's Sugar Daddy Live Split Series, a collector-oriented run of 700 clear-splatter vinyl 12-inches. It is among countless collaborations that Hazelmyer has arranged that puts uniqueness far above mass production. Initially, his drive to create came as he recovered from a month-long coma from meningitis. Now, Hazelmyer's artwork (including this City Pages cover) is one of the central reasons artists keep coming back to AmRep.
Hazelmyer: My oldest daughter was doing a linocut for school and I decided to join her. They had wanted me to go to therapy and sit there and do sudoku puzzles and shit. I latched onto it. I had to work on regaining my drawing skills, which had been dormant for 20 years while I did computer graphics, but what better time to relearn 'em than when your brain is a bit scrambled.
Osborne: We're really focused now on playing small-ball — doing hyper-limited 7-inches of covers and shit like that, stuff that I know we would appreciate, especially with Tom. We're more do-it-yourself now than we've ever been. It's almost like going backwards to go forwards — do the silkscreen covers, stuff all the records yourself, make the extra letter-pressed CD covers and all the extra stuff that you can't get on a download, you know, and just try to focus on that. I never want to listen to criticism where people are telling me how expensive something is, when I know the most important thing is the music itself — which is typically available for free somewhere online. Then I'm like, "Blow me!" What do you want? You want the music for free and you don't want to pay dick for some really cool packaging? Well, great.
For Bash 13, AmRep created a limited-edition 10-inch record with exclusive songs from each of the bands on the bill, with linocuts done for the cover by Hazelmyer. Both Osborne and Arm talked over each other excitedly when talking about how much they are looking forward to the show.
Hazelmyer: To be honest, I've been too busy to get excited. The whole crew has to kick it out as we're not normally a music venue, so things like Bash 13 has us scrambling to get everything done — like order Porta Pottys and wristbands and the 4,000 other details. On top of that, I feel compelled to do six special releases and prints and T-shirt designs, which is ball-busting to say the least. Kind of a nice break though for the bars and all involved, and it shakes things up around here, which we like to do.
Osborne: Our normal bass player, Jared [Warren, from Big Business], is on paternity leave, so he's not going to be there with us. So we got the bass player from the Butthole Surfers to play with us, Jeff Pinkus. I'm going to see if we can't work in a Butthole Surfers cover — it would make sense, you know. You know, honestly, it was great to think back about the first time we met Mark and how long ago that was — and then to still be able to make music and have our bands play together in 2013? That's pretty fucking amazing.
Arm: I just wanted to say it's going to be a great show and I'm looking forward to it. That's it. I'm done [laughs].
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