One of last year’s nicest surprises was a deluxe double-CD reissue of Absolute Grey’s 1985 debut album, Greenhouse. Absolute Grey was a four-piece from Rochester, a small city in upstate New York known mostly for its colleges and Eastman Kodak’s world headquarters. The Greenhouse reissue collects the original LP’s eight tracks and adds a bonus disc of live material. What’s fascinating is how dated it sounds now. I don’t mean this in a negative way. Some LPs are timeless; they could have been recorded any time in the past forty years and sounded fresh and new. Other albums end up date-stamped—you can tell exactly when they were recorded and what their probable influences were. Listening to Greenhouse, it’s easy to guess Absolute Grey’s influences: R.E.M., Dream Syndicate, Sandy Denny-era Fairport Convention, perhaps a little Bay Area ‘60s psychedelia. In other words, the typical things smart kids from small college towns were listening to in the mid-1980s. The guitar tones are jangly, and lead singer Beth Brown has clearly been influenced by Michael Stipe’s early moaning vocals. Many bands of the time had the same influences, but precious few took them out of the realm of imitation. Absolute Grey were one of those few. Rather than sounding embarrassingly derivative, Greenhouse sounds like a welcome dispatch from an earlier era.
The live tracks add a new dimension as well. Songs that were moody and pensive on record take on a much more raucous, discordant tone. They don’t sound like psych-pop avatars at all in person, but rather excited kids playing rock music for local friends and fans. It’s also nice to hear so many songs that previously existed on demos if at all.
Greenhouse remains Absolute Grey’s most celebrated release. The band continued on for a few more years, releasing the What Remains LP and Painted Post EP on Midnight and Sand Down The Moon LP for the Greek label Di-Di. The former members are now scattered between the East and West coasts. However, it looks like their story’s not done yet. Three of the former band members (minus guitarist Matt Kitchen) are planning to record new material under the Absolute Grey moniker. There are also plans afoot to issue Sand Down The Moon domestically.
Vocalist Beth Brown, drummer Pat Thomas, and bassist Mitch Rasor were kind enough to answer some questions about their early days. I have been wanting to do this interview for almost twenty years, when I first fell in love with Greenhouse via college radio¦
Scram: Let’s get the basics out of the way first. How did the four of you get together?
Beth Brown: We were from Pittsford, one of the nicer, more sheltered suburbs of Rochester. I had been in a new wave band right out of high school in 1979 called Hit & Run. We did originals and some covers: Blondie, *Pat*ti Smith, the Cars, Tom Petty and Talking Heads. We did some recording, and one of our songs was chosen to be on a Homegrown record. Homegrown was a radio show on rock station WCMF in Rochester, which interviewed and promoted local bands. We played a record release party and were introduced to all the “cool” musicians from the city. Nobody knew who we were, but when we played all eyes were on us and we got a really good reception. Hit & Run only lasted a year. Some of the guys went off to college.
A few years later, I was living at my parents’ house when I met Matt and Mitch. I came home one night from working at the record store, and my younger brother was playing Dungeons and Dragons with a bunch of guys. Matt and Mitch were among them and I thought they were really cool right off the bat. They were in a band called the Cads (what a great name) with Matt’s older brother, Will. They were doing their own material and although they weren’t that great, there was something so artistic and intriguing about them. They knew I had been a singer in a band, and we decided to start playing together. They were seven years younger than me, but I didn’t care in the least. We tried out a few drummers and that’s when we found Pat.
Pat Thomas: Matt, Mitch and Beth had already been doing a bit of rehearsing when I met them. They had one original song. I saw an ad that Beth had put up in the record store where she worked. At the very least I thought I’d check out what Beth was all about, as I’d noticed her strutting through the record store.
Mitch Rasor: We made these stupid arty posters and put them around the city. They showed a frog playing lily pads and we said we were looking for a lily pad player. Some of the lily pad players we auditioned before Pat were truly bad. Pat came in with these tight mod striped London pants and a very 1970s porn star mustache. It was love at first sight.
Pat: My memory of that first rehearsal was that Beth was high-strung and intense, Matt was kinda shy yet friendly at the same time and Mitch had a certain charming confidence. For whatever reason I was into making music with these three people, even though they had no real songs yet.
Scram: I didn’t know until reading the Greenhouse liner notes that Matt and Mitch were so young. What was it like being in a professional band at that age? What did your parents/classmates think of the project?
Mitch: My parents were completely supportive. We practiced in their basement; they came to many shows. My mother and I had a ritual of going out to lunch downtown and buying a new set of Rotosound bass strings the day before every gig. The band was the antithesis of the conformity, geographic isolation and intellectual frostbite of high school. Because of the band, most my friends were older, more educated and better medicated. People in school were not aware of the band; it was a different world based in the city compared to the suburbs. Ironically, after the freedom of the band, the travel, attention and camaraderie, I found my first year at Oberlin to be restrictive and confining, even though it was a place of incredible musical experimentation, politics and intense friendships.
Scram: Pat,where are you from originally, and when did you hit town? What was your musical background prior to the move? Did you have designs on forming a band in Rochester?
Pat: Like Beth, I was a few years older than Matt and Mitch. I grew up in Corning, NY, and moved to Rochester in June 1982 to work at Kodak. Before Absolute Grey, I was in many garage and cover bands. I’d also written and recorded some of my own songs, which had a strong Lou Reed/Bob Dylan vibe. When I first moved to Rochester, I was actually searching for a prog-rock band to join. I wanted something more along the lines of early King Crimson and Brian Eno. My taste has always been all over the map, but just before I hooked up with Absolute Grey, I’d gotten a bit tired of prog and really started getting into the Dream Syndicate as they reminded me of my big faves, the Velvet Underground.
Scram: Please describe the Rochester music scene of the time. It sounds like a friendly, close-knit scene. Did touring bands make it through town often? Did you have a supportive radio station or club scene? A good record store?
Mitch: I look back on the scene with some nostalgia because in hindsight, Absolute Grey was very hip in one area code. The scene was a close group of bands, friends and weirdoes brought together by the music. Rochester did not have real artistic depth, but it was an important stop on the national tour circuit between Cleveland/Chicago and New York.
Pat: There was a great record store, the Record Archive, where Beth worked. They stocked a lot of indie-rock, etc. (Now the store is kinda lame.) There were two great college radio stations, WITR and WRUR. A club called Scorgies, where we often played, had tons of great touring bands—Dream Syndicate, Long Ryders, Rain Parade, dBs, the Neats, Love Tractor, Let’s Active, Lyres, the Three O’clock, Game Theory, Alex Chilton, True West. We often opened up for these bands and/or hung out with them. Most of the local bands were cool to hang with; we had a special relationship with Invisible Party. They made one hard-to-find seven-inch single, but later split into two separate bands called Lotus STP and the Ferrets.
Beth: The Replacements graced the Rochester stage with their presence several times.
Mitch: Rochester was not Los Angeles, but in our isolation we created something cool, which in some ways makes it actually more meaningful and culturally critical. Our critical mass was always about to unravel. It was more like fending off extinction than trying on a lifestyle for size. I prefer the edge of things.
Scram: Did you feel naive or isolated in Rochester?
Pat: I felt very isolated. I knew in my heart that if the band was based in New York or Boston, we’d have gotten much more press, a better record deal, etc. This is why I begged the others to do more touring. We did a few mini-tours, but everyone (well, at least Matt and Mitch) had other things they wanted to do with their time.
Mitch: I did not feel as naive then as I do now. I thought we could do anything. That is the attitude you have to have. Listening back through our veil of influences I can hear the naivete, but we were 15, 16, 17 years old, and most kids at this age can’t even masturbate properly. As I like to say, we somehow rose above all the opportunities handed to us in life to make meaningful music.
Scram: How soon after forming did you start recording? At what point did you feel ready to make an album?
Mitch: This question is really for Pat. He brought both musicianship and professionalism to the band.
Pat: The basic time line goes amazingly quickly. Band forms in October 1983 with no songs. In January 1984, we play our first shows with all original material; in April 1984 we record our first demo tape in a home studio; in July 1984 we record Greenhouse. In December 1984, Greenhouse is released. Pretty amazing when I look back on it. I guess it was all that youthful energy.
Mitch: I cannot see how we could have recorded and proceeded more quickly than we did. We really saw ourselves as musicians at varying degrees of the tortured artist scale. Pat was probably the most tortured, but also the most professionally ambitious. It was almost as if Matt and I couldn’t be bothered with commerce. That was naive, but then again I was living at home, my father was an executive, I belonged to not one but three tennis clubs. I mean, why would I have to think about commerce in practical terms? I could master my serve and volley game and compose music.
Pat: It was the members of [local band] Personal Effects who suggested we make a record. I think they were talking about a single, and I quickly decided that wasn’t good enough—I wanted a whole LP! I tracked down a decent studio run by Dave Anderson, raised some money and we went for it. We didn’t have any idea exactly what were doing in that studio and Dave knew just a bit more than us. Somehow it worked.
Scram: How did the songwriting process work? Did everyone bring in songs, or were you more into jamming?
Beth: Mitch did the majority of writing and introduced a lot of ideas and we would build upon them. I wrote the melodies and lyrics. Mitch wrote a lot of lyrics, too.
Pat: Beth and Mitch were a good songwriting team. We were all a good support to that.
Mitch: Each song was a bit different, but to my recollection I wrote most songs on the guitar and bass and Beth and I split the lyrics. Of course, the same songs or ideas could have been a total disaster if Pat and Matt did not flesh them out through hours of rehearsals. The songs are not that unique, but Beth brought real feeling to them. She made the band in many ways.
Pat: Early on, both Matt and Mitch seemed to come forward with song ideas, but after awhile, Matt brought less ideas to the table and Mitch brought more. The key thing, as I remember, was the whole band worked on the arrangements of the songs and whipped them into shape. It was rare that someone would walk in with the whole song totally mapped out from start to finish. We didn’t jam much, but we certainly jammed on actual song ideas and structures to finalize the song arrangement.
Scram: Were you trying to emulate a specific sound or approach? Who did you feel your peers were?
Beth: As a singer I was not trying to sound like anybody else, but I’m sure we alI had our influences. Our peers were local bands like Invisible Party and Personal Effects.
Pat: When the band started, none of us had really heard the Paisley Underground bands. We didn’t map out a sound in advance; we just plugged in and started playing. As time went on, we seemed to discover bands that we felt sounded similar to us. People would point out bands that they thought we sounded like, from the Jefferson Airplane to Echo and the Bunnymen to various Paisley Undergrounders. I think R.E.M. was a strong influence on us all. I certainly felt we had something in common with other East Coast bands such as Dumptruck or Salem 66, but mostly I looked towards the West: Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, True West, Clay Allison and others. I was pleased when I found out that 28th Day were listening a lot to Greenhouse as they started developing their own sound and songs.
Mitch: I don’t think we were trying to emulate any bands in specific, besides maybe churning through secondary source influences like Chronic Town, Heaven Up Here, Entertainment! and Seventeen Seconds. We knew we had something that was ours. The bass had a melody role along the lines of Joy Division/New Order, rather than holding the bottom with the kick drum. The guitar often sounded like Echo and the Bunnymen. Thank god Pat and Beth had better taste in music and introduced us to Fairport Convention, Big Star and Suicide. I remember Pat doing this solo Suicide type thing at a 24-dance marathon, of all things, and people were dropping like flies.
Scram: Please describe the sessions at Saxon Recording.
Pat: Saxon was a friendly goofy guy named Dave Anderson several years older than us, with an 8-track reel to reel, half way decent equipment, located on the third story (the attic) of a large old house. He and we learned as we went along. He was easy to work with and cheap, so other bands like Invisible Party started going there. Without Saxon, I’d say probably less records would have happened—I certainly don’t remember any other local studio trying to get our business. In many ways, our April 1984 demo tape and our final album, Sand Down The Moon, sound the most like Absolute Grey did live, as they were recorded by my pal Bill Groome in his kitchen and living room in Corning, NY with fairly crude equipment (in comparison to the slightly better pro equipment at Saxon). Bill had more of an ear for what we were trying to do, I think, than Dave did.
Mitch: We had no idea what we were doing in the studio, and our “greatness” got lost somewhere between the mics, the mixing board and the compressor of the month. Sometimes I wish a young Jim Dickinson or Joe Boyd was running a studio in Rochester when we were around. Not only would the albums sound better today, but I can imagine our songwriting, as influenced by the recording process, would have been more fine-tuned. Not to be rude, but I think the recording process was an unrecording of our sound. I don’t mean stripped down and direct in the style of Steve Albini, but that when we walked into the studio the band was left at the door.
Scram: What made you decide to re-release Greenhouse? What was it like going through the old live and studio tapes?
Beth: This is a pet project that Pat did on his own. He’s the Keeper of the Absolute Grey Flame.
Pat: Now that we live in all digital world, I felt that if Greenhouse wasn’t put out on CD, there would become a time when it wouldn’t really exist at all, as if it never happened. I remember something John Lennon said about when he heard a Beatles song on the radio: he said it brought him back that session, who was doing what and who said what, just like a time machine back to the actual recording session. It was little bit like that going back to the original reel to reel multi-track tapes of Greenhouse. I’d never done that before, and here I was hearing us talk between songs from 20 years ago. I was hoping to find some outtakes. I knew that there weren’t any unreleased songs, but I was surprised to find no other versions of the same songs. For example, we did record a version of “Memory Of You” in the studio during the Greenhouse recording, but it wasn’t on the master reel. I also found out that we slowed down the tape down when Beth overdubbed her vocals and for the mixing. In other words, we recorded some of the songs very fast in tempo in the studio (probably because we were nervous) and we must have realized later that the tempo was too fast for Beth to sing on top of it. The live stuff was interesting, as again I hadn’t listened to it in years, but I for one was very happy with the overall sound quality and performance.
Beth: I think when you’re in the studio you have a tendency to try to play everything perfectly, so that’s your focus. When we played live it was all about excitement and energy and putting on a good show. You can hear the difference.
Mitch: Thankfully there are live recordings of the band, but to this day I believe live shows and studio recording are very different playing and listening experiences and should be kept that way. The studio is a totally controlled environment, and it is a pretense to think otherwise. In the end, I wish there were better studio recordings of us with less of the direct acoustic guitar sound and more full bass tonesâ€¦ but as I listen to the remastered Greenhouse right now, the recordings were not complete failures.
Pat: Frankly, when we went in to record Greenhouse we had no idea what we were doing from a studio or production point of view, nor did some of the people recording us. I think performance-wise we were successful, soundwise we were not. I remember spending hours trying to capture our live electric guitar sound in the studio; we tried about a dozen different amps and guitars and none of us were ever satisfied. We felt that Greenhouse didn’t really sound like “us”–and “us,” at that point, was our live show. I remember many Rochester fans being disappointed by the sound of Greenhouse because they knew what we really sounded like live. But outside of Rochester it didn’t matter.
Scram: How come there are so many early live tracks that were left unrecorded? How come gems like “Watching Waiting” and “Candy Canes” never made it to official release?
Mitch: I can specifically remember my Spanish teacher (who also played some keyboards on Greenhouse) asking me why “Candy Canes” was not on Greenhouse. I said it was too stupid and obvious. We thought the songs had to be long and minimal, like “Notes.” To a certain extent, we were right. “Watching Waiting” was our first real song, and I think we were sick of it by the time we got around to recording the first record. Also, if I remember, we recorded “Watching Waiting” and “Candy Canes” on our first cassette/demo tape release and we simply wanted to record the latest songs for the first album.
Scram: Give me your memories of the live version of “Getting Me Down.” Beth sounds drunk; true?
Beth: I was often drunk at shows, but so was the audience. It will be a new experience to play out with my new band without imbibing first. I don’t know what I’ll do with my nerves.
Mitch: We were not notorious drunks by any means, but I do remember a show when we were so drunk we kept making mistakes. Finally I dropped my bass and started spray-painting it. I then announced that people could get their money back at the door. Quite a few did.
Scram: Who was Pet Casket, referenced at the end of “Getting Me Down?”
Pat: Alex Chilton hadn’t toured for many years, or least hadn’t come through our neck of the woodsâ€¦ it was a couple of months before Feudalist Tarts. In the meantime, the legend of Big Star had grown, so we (a couple of the bands in Rochester, mainly Absolute Grey and Invisible Party) were all super eager to open for Chilton at Scorgies. We decided the only fair thing to do was to form a one-time-only supergroup with members of both bands, plus Bob Martin from Personal Effects. That way we could all be Chilton’s opening act! Instead of playing our own songs we mainly played covers: Velvet Underground, Beatles, etc.
Scram: Absolute Grey seems to have had a relationship with Dream Syndicate; you covered “Tell Me When It’s Over” live, and Steve Wynn has fond memories of you. When did that begin, and how long-lasting was it?
Mitch: Pat was the Steve Wynn connection, although we all loved Dream Syndicate. One of my favorite concerts of all time was a Dream Syndicate show at Scorgies. At the end of the set, the owner jumped up on stage and yelled “open bar,” and there was this tidal wave of people to the back of the room. Then the band started playing encores. Last week I was eating dinner with the band New Year, and bragging to Chris Brokaw that I saw and knew Steve before he played with him as part of Come. Chris quickly put me in my place and said that he met Steve in 1983. But I have fond memories of being backstage with Steve, smoking pot and studying for a test the next day. I don’t think he remembers anyone in the band but Pat.
Pat: Early on, like a lot of people, I really got hooked on Days of Wine and Roses and sought Steve out. He saw a like-minded soul and welcomed me into his life, giving me his home phone number and really supporting my own projects, such as the solo recordings that I did outside of Absolute Grey. When Steve broke up the Syndicate, that relationship continued with Steve playing on some of my own songs and recordings. We did some shows together in the US and Europe. Most recently, I produced two Dream Syndicate reissues for Rykodisc—digging thru old tapes (I hold a good chunk of the Dream Syndicate tape archives), writing liner notes and picking unreleased songs. Currently I’m co-producing a Best of Steve Wynn solo CD.
Scram: How much touring did you do outside of Rochester?
Pat: In April 1985, we played CBGBs. In July 1985, we went to Albany, New Haven and Boston. In August 1985, we went to Toronto. We did a few other adventures such as Hamilton College and Buffalo. In August 1987, we did Albany, New York and New Haven.
Mitch: I wish we had done a full European and US tour at the time. Maybe a road show with the Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade.
Scram: What were local shows like? What kind of crowds came to see you?
Beth: We had a lot of fans. It was a huge party scene. There were a lot of local bands and we would go to each other’s shows and meet a lot of people. A lot of kids from Matt and Mitch‘s high school would come and see us.
Pat: We’d draw a couple of hundred people easily, mostly between the ages of 16 and 22. We got a lot of local airplay. Then when the drinking age went from 18 to 21, it made it hard for those 21 and under kids to sneak into shows. Scorgies went of business because of that change.
Mitch: The live shows were special events: entertaining, visual, loud and memorable. Two filmmakers/photographers were quasi-band members, which was Pat‘s nod to Andy Warhol’s Factory. We created events. We played in all-white modernist galleries with films projected on every surface. We played in crowded, wonderfully disgusting college living rooms with beer everywhere. We even did a guerilla-style acoustic tour of Rochester laundromats.
Beth: When we had our first record release party there was a blizzard. It was snowing hard with no sign of stopping. I was so worried that no one would venture out to see us, but when we walked into the club it was totally packed!
Scram: After Greenhouse came out, you signed with Midnight Records, at the time more of a garage label. How did that come about? How do you feel about the way they promoted/distributed you?
Beth: I had only met J.D. Martignon one time when Pat and I visited Midnight Records in NYC. He looked like a real creep and didn’t say two words to me. Sure enough, as soon as he had my number, a drunk J.D. called me one day and made several inane and inept passes at me over the phone. I think he thought I was gonna jump up and hop a flight to NY to go sleep with him so he’d actually do some work promoting our record on his small-time, crummy label. What a sleazebag. Being on Midnight was a huge mistake. We could have put the record out ourselves and Pat would have promoted it in spades compared to what J.D. did. Midnight ruined our momentum.
Pat: I think Beth‘s story says it all. Again, it was me networking, this time with the wrong guy, but sadly J.D. was the only one who showed any real interest in signing us.
Mitch: As a business venture it was a fiasco, but at that age and even today there is a certain caché in being signed to a label, no matter how small. Truth is we did a better job promoting ourselves, holding marketing package parties and letting Pat use his phone at Kodak to call anyone who would listen.
Scram: After Midnight, you signed with Di-Di, a Greek label. How did that come about? (I don’t remember ever seeing those records in a US store!)
Pat: Somehow the Greeks liked us freaks. Absolute Grey was popular in the Greek underground from the beginning, due to some crazed fanzine editor. So, this fanzine guy hooked me up with his Greek pals, for better or worse. Mostly worse, as the label in Greece was… I don’t what it was, but it was something, I can tell you.
Scram: In fact, it sometimes seems like Absolute Grey was better-known in parts of Europe than in your own country. Did that bother you, or perhaps amuse you?
Pat: We had support in England via Acid Tapes releases and Bucketful Of Brains magazine reviews, then there was the Greek thing. We seemed to get airplay in France, got reviewed in Italy.
Mitch: We were thrilled, but always wanted or thought we deserved more. The fact that we were better known and respected in Europe is good dinner conversation more than anything. I was in London a couple of months ago for meetings and it did not hurt that the day before there was a review of the Greenhouse reissue in the London Sunday Times!
Scram: You released an album and an EP under the Absolute Grey name. Painted Post, however, is as a two-piece. What happened with the band between What Remains and Painted Post? Was it a “breakup” per se? How did you reconcile for the last album, Sand Down The Moon?
Pat: When the band started, Matt and Mitch were both in high school. As What Remains was being made, they graduated and began making plans to go off to college. Beth and I begged, pleaded for them to delay college for just one year to see if we could make a go of it as a band, do some touring, trying to keep the whole thing rolling. They refused—no surprise, really, from Matt, as his heart was never 100 percent into the band, but without Mitch we didn’t have a band. Mitch was young and headstrong, and felt that going to college was where he wanted to be. So, in my mind, the band was pretty much over. I had left Kodak and had no reason to stay in Rochester without doing the band. When Mitch got to Oberlin, he sort of freaked out and realized how much the band meant to him. He asked me if I’d stay and wait in Rochester for him, doing the band during the summer and school breaks. I had no desire to wait for Mitch to come home for the holidays—plus, as I explained to him, touring schedules and chances to grow don’t fit around school breaks. What if we got offered a tour for the following week after school started again? So I split for Copenhagen for a year of reading Kerouac and William Burroughs, hanging out in Danish cafes, and developing my own songwriting.
What Remains came out in spring 1986 while I was in Denmark. I received an official letter from “the band” (now down to Beth and Mitch) telling me that Matt had quit and I was being kicked out, and that the $1,000 that was sitting in the band’s joint bank account was being kept by Mitch and Beth to fund the band’s future. That was the part that pissed me off the most, as I should have received a check for $250 with my kiss-off letter. Ironically, Mitch now said that he was ready to tour. But he and Beth never found anyone they were satisfied with—and the band played no shows without Matt or me.
Beth: Painted Post was a Mitch*/*Beth project. Mitch and I kept in touch when he was going to Oberlin. We made the record one summer when he was home from school in Rochester. I’m not sure where Matt was but I think he was out of town, too, and not available. We happened to all be in town when we made Sand Down the Moon, but it was after we had officially broken up. It was like a short-term reunion album.
Mitch: Basically, Beth and I were the two songwriters from the band and we stuck it out for a while through the mail and then made a record. An overlooked record, fortunately.
Pat: When I got to back to Rochester in early 1987, heads had cooled out a bit and Beth asked me if I could handle playing some percussion; she and Mitch wanted to play acoustic shows to support Painted Post. When Matt heard I was back, he seemed eager to rejoin. The next thing we knew, we were back together for one long summer of 1987, a short tour, writing more songs (or I should say, learning songs that Mitch had already written and a few bits from Beth as well), and to record what I think is our best album (besides Greenhouse), which is called Sand Down The Moon.
Mitch: I wrote the Sand Down the Moon songs during my sophomore year and the following summer we somehow got back together to play. Again, Pat has the complete annotated transcripts. It was a great time. We played some drunk shows that summer after a tour promoter screwed us and then at some point I mixed the album in the town of Painted Post, NY, of all places. I think this record gets closer to what we were like as a band. Not because I mixed it, but because Bill Groome recorded it.
Pat: By this time, we knew what we wanted from a recording. Beth was kinda pissy the whole summer as she knew it was the last go-around, but other than Matt and Mitch getting on my nerves from time to time (and me on theirs), I enjoyed myself for the final fling.
Scram: When did the band break up for good? What circumstances precipitated it? What regrets, if any, remained? Are there any unrecorded/unreleased songs from that time?
Beth: The band’s demise came when it was time for Matt and Mitch to go to college. The band was just something for them to do in high school, but it meant a lot more to me and Pat and we wanted it to continue. We should have agreed to take a long hiatus to do some living and then gotten back together so we had new, fresh ideas to put on the table. I think we had a good chemistry as a band and wrote naturally and easily together. I would have been very interested to regroup, but the others showed no interest. Everyone lives in a different state, two in the east and two in the west, so we can’t easily get together.
Pat: In my mind, the band broke up for good at the tail end of August 1987. We drove in two cars coming back from a short tour–*Mitch* and me in one car, Matt and Beth in the other. When we arrived back in Rochester, Matt and Beth had already gone their separate ways. I never saw Matt and Beth for many years after that. I dropped Mitch off at his house, and didn’t see him in the flesh for awhile either. Mitch and I kept in contact, however, and either argued about old bullshit and tried to torture each other or discussed our own separate music careers. I always respected Mitch as a musician, and I helped get a few of his solo CDs released in Europe. The one thing that the Greenhouse reissue has done has allowed Mitch and me to really drop the old shit and get together again as both friends and artists.
Mitch: It is sort of a blur, but I think Pat started making his own music and found a life in that and I also think he moved out west and got things rolling with his Heyday Records label. I then proceeded to start recording my own records. They did well, and now Pat and I have active lives as musicians (mine has been inactive while raising twin girls the last three years, but I will record with a new band this winter). I also went on to graduate school and got into the arts, and there is only so much time. Pat and I still play music everyday and Beth is working on new material. I could see us making a CD EP, but only if it was about now.
Pat: I think Mitch realized how much the band meant to me when I surprised him with the new Greenhouse by sending him a few. I didn’t tell him in advance what I was doing. The CD also showed us how little Matt really cares about his past. He’s not bitter, it’s just not important to him, nor does he play guitar anymore.
Scram: Pat, you moved to San Francisco and formed Heyday. (A belated thanks for releasing Barbara Manning’s Lately I Keep Scissors, by the way.) Where did life take the rest of you after the band—not just musically, but otherwise?
Pat: Just wanted to say I’m working on a Barbara Manning Scissors box set. There’s a ton of out-takes, demos and live material from the Scissors time period.
Beth: I went to art school in Boston. I had a child in 1995 and opened an artists’ cooperative gallery in the Berkshires, Mass. I had a renewed interest in music in 2000 and started playing guitar and writing songs. I’m now pursuing doing a studio project and forming a band.
Mitch: I have a studio and house in Maine and a studio and apartment in Basel, Switzerland. Not Williamsburg and London. There is something liberating being outside of what everyone thinks is important. I mean, people in my town wear trucker caps with absolutely no sense of irony and I am grateful.
Scram: Perhaps the biggest news is that Absolute Grey has reformed to record new material! How is that coming along?
Pat: Well, it’s a two-step process. The first step is that Mitch and I are going to remix Sand Down The Moon and release it on CD, probably under the title of For Some Reason. In my mind, this is like a new album, as pretty much no one outside of Greece has ever heard it. Secondly, Beth has written a batch of songs that I think would be really good with Mitch coming in and helping her finish them off. Beth and Mitch haven’t really spoken much in the past couple of years, so there’s a getting to know each other again process going on, which as I write is moving along nicely. Not because we don’t want him, but Matt won’t be involved in any new recordings (his choice, not ours). It’s a safe bet that Chris Brokaw would be playing guitar, which is totally fine by me.
Scram: Beth, I read that you’re planning to release some solo songs. Please elaborate, and let us know where we can find them.
Beth: I’m living in Ithaca, NY right now, but I plan to move to Rochester in the spring of 2005. I’m working with some musicians there who are old friends and I will be recording my album with Dave at Saxon. It will probably sound quite different from Absolute Grey. My voice still sounds good after all these years, possibly even better because of my life’s experience. The album will be most, if not all, my own material.
Scram: In the 15-odd years since Absolute Grey broke up, there’s always been a small groundswell of interest in what you did. Have you had experiences with people tracking you down or approaching you about the band?
Pat: I often don’t think we made much of an impact, and then I’ll get surprised. A Google search will show a few bands being compared to us, which is cool. One funny experience was in the early 1990s was watching this English indie-folk duo Evergreen Dazed play in San Francisco. I heard a song that seemed oddly familiar; it took me a few minutes to realize they were covering a song from Painted Post. As Byron says in his liner notes, because we never over-hyped, we never wore out our welcome in people’s minds. I certainly was honored that well-known music critics like Byron Coley and Jim DeRogatis still felt Absolute Grey worthy of their time and attention in 2003 to write liner notes.
Beth: There are still people in Rochester who are fans, so I’m looking forward to playing there. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of support.
Mitch: Pat has more connections with people interested in Absolute Grey. He was the most notable member.
Beth: As I said, Pat is the official keeper of the flame. He keeps our memory going.
Mitch: Pat is much more involved with music. My life is consumed with running my urban design/landscape architecture studios (www.mrld.net), teaching, showing my work, writing, raising my daughters and working on a new record every couple years. It is interesting to note the current wave of indie-folk artists would not have been heard through the din of post-rock a couple years ago. I hope now that people are more aware of other music, Absolute Grey might get some more attention. And for me, the music I keep making is just an expansion of the music I wrote with Absolute Grey. I have not really changed styles or instrumentation. I hope the songs are better. My daily life with music and musicians is still very satisfying and recent tours have been fun. I enjoy the process more now than in Absolute Grey because most of the pretense is gone and it is just about making music.