It might just be that the guitar is too loud because of the proximity of the amp to the camera, but, over the years, I think more than a few soundguys have made a point of turning down my vocals because they don’t like how I sound and what I’m saying.
Dave and I recently spoke about the idea of bolstering live vocal recordings after the fact. Just as an idea. Might be something I will try with this video.
Sex Stains’ Allison Wolfe (formerly of Riot Grrrl band Bratmobile) describes moving from Olympia to DC in the 90s in a new Pitchfork feature on music that has mattered to her.
“I brought all my records over, including this one 7″ by Mecca Normal, this band from Vancouver that was very influential in the Olympia music scene. “Strong White Male” was an anthem of mine. I would play it all the time because all of a sudden I was surrounded by a lot of strong white males who were too entitled, who had grown up with a lot more money than a lot of the Olympia girls. It talks about that privilege that’s invisible to the people who possess it but painfully obvious to the people who don’t.” – Allison Wolfe
Video by David Lester
“Mecca Normal break rules like they never noticed them in the first place. The Vancouver-based duo of singer Jean Smith and guitarist David Lester are anarchist-feminist activists and constant experimentalists, implying a rhythm section with negative space alone. Always an intense presence onstage, they’ve become the most tenacious of D.I.…Y. road warriors, touring and recording for 32 years now. In the early ’90s, they popped up on most of the biggest American indie-rock labels (Sub Pop, K, Matador); by their 25th anniversary, they were on the road with a performance-and-lecture project called “How Art & Music Can Change the World.”
Smith’s lyrics often foreground her political perspective; their anthem “Man Thinks ‘Woman,’” released in 1987, started out as a barbed dissection of gender normativity: “Man thinks ‘woman’ when he talks to me/Something not quite right.” The song kept expanding its radius from there, encompassing both bitter poetics and a disarmingly funny account of a drunken makeout gone weird. Kathleen Hanna has cited Smith as an early inspiration: “When I saw her,” she told The Fader, “I was just like, that’s it. I’m done. I’m sold.” –Douglas Wolk
“Man Thinks Woman” video by David Lester
“Oh Yes You Can” 7″ on K Records (1987)
“Jarred Up” compilation of singles on K Records (1993)
A mess of Mecca Normal songs pulled together from singles and compilations dating to 1992, rounding out the first eight years of their existence. Dunt fear, Mecca Normal are still going strong! Jarred Up reveals the awesome might of their thing; it is the essential Mecca Normal Document.
Strong White Male
Man Thinks Woman
He Didn’t Say
How Many Now?
Horse Heaven Hills
This Is Different
You Heard It All
Fan of Sparks
Upside Down Flames
From The Surface
More More More
One More Safe
Jean Smith and David Lester have been making music together for thirty years as Mecca Normal, they’ve released thirteen albums on a variety of labels, and with Empathy for the Evil they have certainly remained flavorful and fresh.
There’s no real question about quality here, though their 2006 album Observer is eight years old it was proof that they were still going strong, writing and performing interesting and provocative music. Traditional has never been a word that anyone would use to describe the music of Mecca Normal, from the very beginning it was just Jean and David, a voice, and a guitar. There has rarely if ever been a rhythm section, the busiest you’re likely ever to hear their music is the inclusion of a saxophone or some gnarly guitar overdubs. It’s Smith’s voice that has always been the flash and flare, one of the most recognizable voices around it does hand-stands and cartwheels, it back-flips and does handsprings, it’s also totally capable of walking in a simple straight line one foot in front of the next. She can lay out these gorgeous melodies, and in the next breath blast you with poetry slam phrase/phrases.
Often it feels as if the band is getting away with something, things most other bands could never get away with. Take the album’s first song Art Was The Great Leveler, you’re immediately cut by Lester’s slashing guitar, possibly the slight hind of bass, and then Smith’s prose without real melodic inflection at least until you get to the gut punch of “art was the great leveler.” This song, as with all the lyrics on Empathy for the Evil, come straight from Smith’s recent and unpublished novels, it’s a formula that works so well on this album that it forces you to pay attention to what is happening and not what is missing. In fact, the way that Smith and Lester mix their styles together is particular admirable, regardless of the vocal style Smith employs, Lester’s guitar slashes or slow burns, they compliment one another beautifully.
The first time I ever remember hearing Mecca Normal was Narrow on the first Kill Rock Stars compilation, it stands out as one of the stranger songs on the comp, and unlike anything I’d ever really heard before, yet it’s also one of the most appealing, you just don’t know where it’s going to go. This is a trait shared among all the songs on Empathy for the Evil, it’s shrouded in mystery, impossible to predict any trajectory. The album dabbles is various tempo’s, a chasm of emotions, and gnarly and twisted expectations, by the time I came all the way to the end with Odele’s Bath, I felt nostalgic, optimistic, and highly satisfied. It’s not really important that Mecca Normal has hung around for thirty years, what is important is that they’ve weathered the constant assaults on a disabled industry, and the destructive powers of time, which can eat away at your passion and your partnership. You put on Empathy for the Evil, and it’s like your listening to Mecca Normal at the hight of the Riot Grrrl movement, when the Northwest was the center of the music world, when people appreciated the ingenuity and the artistry of artists like Jean Smith and David Lester. The question really isn’t did this wine go bad? It’s just how good did this wine get? Which in this case is delicious.