Starting in the 90s I’ve been really into a band called Silkworm. They were originally from my hometown of Missoula, Montana and during the late 80s or possibly 1990, they moved to Seattle. During their time there, they refined their distinctive sound. I was always a fan of their energy, their lyrical style, their melodies and absolutely loved their tone. Later, the band moved to Chicago and came to a grinding halt in 2005 when Michael Dahlquist, their drummer, was killed along with 2 others in a bizarre car crash/murder. The surviving members of the band later formed Bottomless Pit, which is absolutely fantastic, and you check it out.
January 2000, I had an opportunity to interview the band (via email) for a online zine titled Morph that never happened. That interview has been sitting on a backup file server for almost 10 years, and I thought it would be cool to bust it out on Effects Bay!
MORPH: What was your experience living and playing in Missoula in the early days? Where did you play? How was the local reception to early silkworm / Ein Heit?
SKWM: We were young and dumb and excited about the rock, so the marginal interest with which we were greeted wasn’t dispiriting.
Being in a weirdo rock band was something of a novelty at that point. We didn’t get many interesting rock groups coming through Missoula. This was very pre-Nirvana, after all. Our friends who weren’t big into the rock thought the whole thing was sort of alien, which made them curious.
We built up a following over years of playing, first EH and then SKWM. EH had a rougher time of it. There were no places to play for EH, and that band was just kind of ahead of its time, in Missoula at least. Silkworm was at that time a little more accessible than EH, and we had a smattering of the old EH crowd to spur us on. Most shows for both bands involved renting halls (the Moose, Elks, Valley Dance Studio) and p.a. equipment and doing the whole shebang ourselves. Luckily for SKWM, Crickets (all-ages place) appeared at a certain point, and we did some less labor-intensive shows there.
Mostly we just depended on ourselves for sustenance, a pattern that continues to this day.
MORPH: What was the final driving force to get the band out of Missoula.
SKWM: Well, we’d done all we could there. You can only play the Moose Lodge basement so many times before you start to feel like you’re going in circles.
Joel and I kind of forced the issue with Ben Koostra, the group’s original drummer, and he quit, not wanting to travel out-of-state, much less move. Andy came back to MSLA one summer, the three of us rocked out with a drum machine, and we all decided to throw caution to the wind and set out for the Big City.
MORPH: What were the early days like in Seattle for you.
SKWM: We ate copious amounts of shit. I mean, really, we were excited to be here, so we didn’t mind at the time, but it took us four years to find a label willing to release our records! We played every dump in town. It was insane. I can’t imagine how we did it. We would play in Bellingham every goddamn month, Seattle a couple times a month, practice three or four times a week. We cut our teeth very thoroughly those first few years. THEN we started to tour.
MOPRH: Did you go through many drummers before finding Michael Dahlquist??
SKWM: Zero, after Ben. We lucked out, but we also had the good sense to realize that Michael was the right fit as a guy and had everything necessary to kick ass as a drummer.
MORPH: How was the reception in the Seattle scene. Was it good or bad and could you point out as to why.
SKWM: General indifference. Crowds were very small and all that. But places were always willing to book us, for some reason, and a little cadre of fans would show up to each show. It definitely was not a ‘good’ reception, but we felt that we were making progress as a musical entity and that our music of the moment was worthy of an airing.
MORPH: Were there ever doubts that you would succeed as a band then, or did you always feel confident that you would produce albums and tour. If there were any doubts, please explain.
SKWM: I always knew we would do what we wanted to do, which was make records we really liked, with minimal hassle, and play a lot of shows. The other guys may have had doubts, but if I had any, I’ve conveniently blocked them out. My memories are of a solid conviction that we were the real thing, and that we would outlast every other flavor-of-the-month band as long as we didn’t allow external factors–audience size, reviews, etc.–to influence us.
MORPH: Was the separation of Joel Phelps and Silkworm a mutual decision, and did it go smoothly?
SKWM: Ah, it was a fuckin’ mess. Joel hated the touring life, and that’s the life we all lived from mid-’92 until he quit in late ’94. The whole thing just got on his nerves, including us and our sub-juvenile banter.
The last two weeks of our last tour together were a total nightmare for everybody. Joel quit in San Francisco; undoubtedly, we would have had some kind of showdown if he hadn’t done so. It was a painful separation at that time.
Now, we get along rather well. Water under the bridge.
MORPH: Was this before signing to Matador, also, how did signing to matador come about?
SKWM: We signed to Matador a few months after Joel quit. We had played footsie with a couple majors before that, but the whole big label scene grossed us out. The trio made some recordings in Missoula with Steve Albini, and we were dithering about what we were going to do. Steve asked us what we _wanted_ to do. We said the only labels we liked were Matador and Touch and Go. He said that if we wanted to be on those labels, we’d have to ask, ’cause both labels had plenty on their plates without having to recruit ‘talent.’ So we asked: voila.
MORPH: After releasing 2 albums (Firewater / Developer) under Matador, Silkworm was let go from the label. Did you think this was the end of Silkworm?
SKWM: Oh, shit no. Matador is a very nice record label, but it’s still just a record label. Record labels mean absolutely nothing to me artistically. We liked being on Matador because the staff was (is) real cool and we liked some of the other bands on the label.
But we as Silkworm are no more wed to our record label than we are to our accountant.
MORPH: How is it working with Steve Albini?
SKWM: It’s lucky. He’s the best.
MORPH: Did you (Tim and Andy) know Steve while you were living in Missoula?
SKWM: No, we didn’t. We had a friend or two in MSLA who had been acquainted with Steve in high school. Also, a couple of teachers in common.
MORPH: What was the main decision to go to Touch and Go. Was it on recommendation by Albini?
SKWM: We had to choose between Matador and T&G when we signed with Matador. Since we were 25 grand in debt at the time, and Matador was pretending we were going to sell some records, we went with them and wiped out our credit card debts instantly. T&G was at least equal to Matador in every other way, but they didn’t throw money around like that, and we needed someone to throw some money at us.
We had heard nothing but good things about T&G from anybody, incl. Steve, and it’s all true, as it turns out.
MORPH: Since the band members now live in different cities…. what is the future for silkworm?
SKWM: Things are going very well. Our timeline is just stretched out a bit. We’re pretty much on the Shellac plan: every year of old SKWM activity takes two years now.
MORPH: (Question for Andy… how was it playing with Bush and how did that come about)…follow up….what was it like to lay down the “rock” in a stadium setting. Any female underwear on the stage stories???[Andy]: Yes, a little female underwear on the stage, but it sure wasn’t up there for me. Gavin’s the source of any attention like that.
Playing with Bush was nothing but fun. They’re really good guys and their music is really fun to play, especially when there are 30,000 screaming people there who are into it. Different reaction than I am used to from the Silkworm crowd. Laying down the rock in a stadium setting is a lot like laying down the rock in a big club. Since the venue is so big, you don’t get any acoustic feedback from the PA, so all you hear is the monitors and the stage sound, so from the perspective on stage, you can’t tell you’re playing anywhere especially big. Unless you look at the crowd.
I got the gig because I’m friends with their guitarist Nigel, and because Steve A. was kind enough to second Nigel’s recommendation when Gavin called him for advice about who to use.
MORPH: Out of all of the albums and songs recorded…are there any that stand out in particular? (translation—- what album do you like best….what song do you like best)…and why?
SKWM: I always like the new one best. We keep getting better. The new one we just finished is my favorite.
MORPH: What albums / bands do you like listening to now, other than your own… and why?
SKWM: I like the Black Cat Orchestra, this really great kind of Weimar Germany dancehall-type band. They play all this pre-WWII Eastern European kind of stuff, but it’s done in a really supple, rollicking fashion, not like a rock band and not like a bunch of
slacker cocktail freaks. For some reason, I think they’d go over like gangbusters in Missoula. I like Goatsnake, this super-heavy band from L.A. I like Shellac a lot. I like the new Cobra Verde album. I like Kinski, Germanic droner people from out here. I liked Pavement. Other than that, I only like old stuff because I’m old myself. The last record I listened to was a Dolly Parton best-of. Besides Goatsnake.
MORPH: What can we expect from the upcoming album (what is the title and when is the expected release date)
SKWM: We haven’t settled absolutely on a title yet. Should be out in June.
MORPH: Where was it recorded / and who engineered it?
SKWM: We recorded it at Steve’s beautiful studio, Electrical Audio of Chicago. Steve recorded it, of course.
MORPH: will it be released on Touch and Go
MORPH: You have a well maintained and visited web site, how long has it been running?
Tim: Uh, at the moment it’s down, actually.
Michael: …but it’s back up now, by Christ, and it will be as long as I can stand it. It’s been running for about two years now, I think. Just about two years exactly. A guy named Brian Eck ran one before we took it over, but he’s probably forgotten all about it by now.
MORPH: Will you be offering any MP3 downloads at this site in the future.
Tim: I hate MP3s. I think they sound like poo. I’m lobbying against them being forced into a position of preeminence as a digital audio format. They THROW AWAY even more shit than CDs! That you supposedly ‘can’t hear!’ CDs are bad enough already!
So, I doubt it.
Michael: I’ve put some Real Audio shit on the web site, and it sounds incredibly awful, even next to MP3s, which make everyone, and everything, sound like they’ve got a gob of spit in their waddle. That’s the appealing thing about Real Audio, in a way – it’s meant to give you an idea of what something sounds like, as opposed to MP3s, which people somehow think can serve as an actual source of good-sounding music.
If I ever get the feeling that people understand how shitty MP3s sound, I won’t mind them so much. But people using them as a substitute for good sounding music, fuck that noise man! Fuck that shit!
I’m thinking of making some MP3s out of crappy live tapes of weird songs we never play, though. I think that might be fun.
MORPH: Do any of you want to finish with any final thoughts for the Missoulians reading this interview??
Tim: Wear your bike helmet.
Michael: Have a “naked lunch” party. Serve “ecstasy oysters.”
MORPH: Lyrically silk worm is unbelievable!!! How do you all approach song writing? Do you tap into personal events? Do you consciously intend to write about something ..or does it develop on its’ own on the subconscious level?
Tim: A little of everything for me.
Andy: I don’t know because I’ve had ghost writers compose every lyric on our records.
Michael: It’s nice of you to ask. Generally I just whisper ideas into their heads while they’re sleeping, or while Andy and I are spooning and he’s starting to twitch.
MORPH: What bass do you primarily record with?
Tim: Travis Bean Wedge Bass, though I used Steve’s ‘Dumb Bass’ a lot on the new record. He bought it at Electronic Sound and
Percussion in like 1981. It’s basically a crappy knockoff of those Hofner ‘violin basses.’
MORPH: Do you go on tour with Travis Bean basses?
Tim: Travis Beans are all I play live.
MORPH: What kind of amps do you prefer / use (for live and for recording, if different)?
Tim: Live, I’ve been using Ampeg V4s. The baritone guitar sounds killer through it, and it’s also a really good bass amp.
Recording, usually V4 or older Fender Bassman. Or whatever else seems like it might do the job.
MORPH: What kind of fuzz do you use?
Tim: I used to use a Walter Woods solid-state amp for bass. Good amp, but a bit clean. At that time, I used a modified Chandler Tube Driver to dirty it up.
Now, I use no pedals.
MORPH: Do you follow a basic formula when writing songs. (Do you come up with the bass line first then build from there)?
Tim: I generally pick up whatever is lying around and twank on it. Usually what is lying around is an unplugged electric guitar or my crackerbox acoustic.
Occasionally, I will make up a bass line in my head and use it, but not real often.
MORPH: do you have a particular gear nightmare incident? (amp blew up…broken necks, etc)
Our gear is meticulously maintained, so we don’t really have any trouble with it.
MORPH: What guitars do you record with?
Andy: Steve A’s Veleno, a metal guitar from the ’70’s, Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul
MORPH: What amps do you use on tour and recording. (I’ve seen and heard the matchless…are there any others that you use?)
Andy: Recording: Matchless, ’57 Fender Deluxe, have rented a Vox AC 30, our first 3 records were all done with a Rivera half stack I used to have. Tour: I used to use a Rivera stack, to the horror of many people. I’ve been using that 30 watt Matchless for a few years now, but I just bought an old Marshall half stack to use out in Chicago and points East, so I’ll be rocking again in at least part of the country.
MORPH: Are there particular amps that use for specific songs during recording?
Andy: Yes. I remember almost every amp/guitar used on every song, so if there’s one in particular you are curious about, I can probably tell you what I used.
MORPH: The guitar tone sounds refreshingly dry…do you ever use any effects besides distortion
Andy: Yes. I also use room ambiance.
MORPH: Do you have any philosophies when it comes to writing / creating songs?
Andy: No. It’s good to try to write a direct rip off of another song because if you do it right, it will be really good and unrecognizable from the ripped-off song and no one will ever know the source of your inspiration.
MORPH: What drum kit do you use?
Michael: I play a Spoon-Hooter on tour and an old Wangbister in the studio.
MORPH: When recording…. you have a similar drum tones to older albums like zepplin, etc. Did you pick up on this while recording with Albini. The roomy natural drum tone.
Michael: The sound is due in part to Albini’s smarts, in part to the size of the Wangbister kick (28″), and in part to the way that I play. I could never tell you how it is that I play that makes it sound special, but everyone always says that how I play has something to do with it, so at this point, arrogant son of a bitch that I am, I believe them.
MORPH: The kick sounds like its thumping in an abandoned high school gym, what’s the secret?
Michael: I’ve got those Remo “natural” faux-calf-skin heads on all of the Wangbister drums, both front and back heads. That’s one thing – heads on both sides of the kick, and those “retro” Remo heads are great, especially on nice “retro” kits like the Wangbister. On the Spoon-Hooter I just put regular Remo half-wacks, just something that can take the punishment of the road.
It’s definitely odd for me to read this today. This was a interview after their Blueblood release. I really wish the interview could have been released in 2000, but I’m super glad that I held on to it for some reason.
There is currently a feature length documentary in the works for Silkworm title “Couldn’t You Wait?“. Here is the trailer.. It looks amazing.
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