Sometime way back in 1992 a co-worker of mine at DialAmerica, a freaky long-haired nipple-ringed Mormon dude named Rob, told me that he and another guy were trying to get band together. Next thing I knew I was in his basement with a mic in my hand. Rob was a drummer; he had a double-bass setup and wasn’t afraid to use it. And that’s how I met Jeff, a shaggy genius guitarist with some seriously heavy riffs. His daughter Alex was there running around the basement too, something like four years old and cute as a button.
I guess they liked what I was laying down because they asked me to come back fro more. Soon I was Alex’s newest “boyfriend.” Jeff and Rob and I started working up some songs. We advertised for a bassist: Jeff made a freaky, colorful, psychedelic sign and posted it in the window of his apartment in the Allen Building overlooking Kirkwood, above the Uptown Café. That’s how we met up with Marc, a kid fresh out of high school who had just arrived in Bloomington to study at the Big University, an insanely talented devotee of the Stuart Hamm school.
Before I knew it we were playing the clubs around Bloomington. (Marc was underage for most of the places we played, but apparently that’s legal if you’re in a band.) I think the first gig we played might have been a short set at ER Night at Second Story. I took the mic off the stand, jumped off the stage and paced back and forth on the dance floor ranting like a madman for all three songs.
We had a pretty aggressive sound. As for my vocals, I was mostly rapping. This may seem like a strange thing for a white boy in small town in the Midwest in the early 90s. And indeed it was a strange thing. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. I did not listen to a great deal of hip-hop, but what I’d heard I liked — De La Soul and Eazy-E, mainly. But I’d been rapping since the late 80s, mostly for my own amusement and the chagrin of my friends. I don’t know where I picked that up or what I thought I was doing. I can only say that rapping seemed so fresh and cool. Rap was virtually unheard on stages around Bloomington at the time, especially in combination with rock music. I had not heard Rage Against the Machine at the time; when I finally did a few years later, I was overawed. But by that time, our band was breaking up.
We called ourselves The Submersibles. The band name was probably Jeff’s idea, he had a peculiar sense of humor. As it turned out Jeff and I were the core of the band, because Rob soon dropped out. He cited religious differences; he was a sincere Latter-Day Saint and claimed to be offended by my lyrics, but I think it was really because he got a real job. (He also tried to save me with a team of other Mormons but that’s another story.) We got another drummer, a guy named Hans who played with a jazzier feel. But then Marc transferred to another school and had to say goodbye. We found a great but very different bassist in Mike. (He was also a bit more responsible and organized than the rest of us, which was hugely helpful.) I forget what happened to Hans, but eventually he departed and Bevan took his place. The lineup changes were challenging but at every turn we were fortunate to find such immensely talented people to play with that it didn’t slow us down as much as one might think.
We played mostly in Bloomington (here’s some video Sean taped at Second Story) but did a few gigs around the state. The most memorable of these, to me, was when we played to a huge audience at a warehouse in Evansville. I think it was an all-ages show. The kids there seemed incredibly turned on by our music, in fact they seemed almost rabid. I was a little freaked out by some of them, like the guy with a swastika carved in the side of his head. “I’m not a Nazi but I do believe in racial heritage,” he said after the show, or something like that. He loved my performance. That gave me the creeps.
Not everyone was a fan. Mostly I heard from friends and fans who loved us, but of course that’s the nature of showbiz. I’m sure there were plenty of people who hated us. When we got a track on Live from Bloomington 1993, we garnered the following review from Bill Zink:
You can read the complete article. It’s a hoot. I thought maybe I could get a song out of there somehow — “The Defunkifier” — but it never came to pass.
I’m connected with Bill on Facebook these days, and he reminded me that we managed to quote him on a flyer advertising a Submersibles show. The choice quote comes from later in the article — “Sorry, Submersibles. I take back everything I said. You guys rock.” Apparently we excerpted only the last three words, and put his name on it. I think that’s hilarious, and I wish I had a copy. All I could find in my files was the following collage:
We mostly did our own flyers, manged ourselves, booked our own shows. We recorded a number of times, but despite embracing a general DIY ethic, we never released any of these recordings. Jeff was something of a perfectionist, and I think he felt we could do better. After the band broke up, I put together a tape of some of our tracks for a couple friends, and he was not entirely happy about that.
I was never actually clear on why we broke up. It seemed to be a decision between Mike and Jeff. They just called me and let me know. I wasn’t too upset because I was increasingly preoccupied with ROX which had become a full time job for me at that point. I was also a very ambivalent performer. I liked making music, but performing live could sometimes be a drag. It was physically demanding, and my voice often was not up to performing an entire set. Also, being more of an introvert, I felt extremely awkward up on stage. And of course, since I didn’t have any equipment of my own, I always felt obliged to help our various drummers carry their stuff — and man, did they have a lot of gear. It’s a lot of work to move and set up and tear down and remove a full-size drum kit.
I lost touch with Jeff over the years. We connected once maybe eight years ago. He still was reluctant to share our music. Then I lost track of him again. When Musical Family Tree launched, I really wanted to publish those old Submersibles recordings, but I remembered Jeff’s reticence. I had too much respect for Jeff to do it without his blessing.
All that changed a month or two ago when Jeff appeared on Facebook. I broached the topic once again, and this time he was more receptive. We e-mailed back and forth a hundred times, sorting through our three studio sessions and one live performance recorded straight from the sound board, trying to determine which tracks were worthy of sharing with the world, and which should be consigned to the dark musty cellars of oblivion, never to see the light of day.
And so it is that The Submersibles have finally released a record, a compilation of a couple dozen tracks, most of which have never been available to the public before. (“Splinter” was on Live from Bloomington 1993, remember?) We’re calling it Totally Submerged: A Watery Grave. You can listen to the album (downloads enabled) via our band listing at Musical Family Tree. Important note to Mom and Dad: Do not, repeat do not listen! I love y’all, but you would not enjoy this music and would probably find it offensive on every level.
I apologize to the world at large for the muffed vocals on some of the live tracks. For the stupidity of the lyrics I must take full blame. Listening to this music takes me back to another time and has engendered many thoughts about how I’ve changed and grown over the years. Most of all I feel immensely fortunate to have collaborated with such talented and committed musicians.
Where are they now? Jeff is in Florida transforming himself into a manatee. Alex is in the Navy. Marc is playing in Mindwarp Chamber. Bevan is in The Very Foundation. I’ve totally lost track of Hans and Rob. Mike is still in Bloomington doing great things in the theater scene which appears to be thriving. Thanks, guys, I wish you all well and hope you enjoy listening to this music as much as I have.