When Tom and I joined the band in the summer of 1981, we were practicing at a garage storage space near Northgate. There were a lot of bands there, and the garages opened up on a big central parking lot, so there would sometimes be opportunities to chat with other bands. I had the impression most of them were rock cover bands, so we were oddballs, even in that environment. John had a TEAC 4 track reel to reel and a Tapco 6 channel rotary dial mixer that we also used for live mixing of shows. We recorded a number of things there, but the only one I definitively remember is Colonies, because I brought my toy piano, and have a clear memory of Tom playing it during the solo break in the song. Because of the limited tracks, almost all this recording was done live, with the band all playing, probably mixed and recorded in stereo, to leave two tracks open for vocals and/or overdubs.
Most of the recordings went from John’s master mix – I have no idea what he was mixing down onto – and then I brought over this very used Ampex dinosaur reel to reel I’d acquired, and copied. Some years later, I would have transferred these to a “high quality” cassette, and then eventually to a DAT recorder I got around 1988, and then digitized around 2000.
John was the first person I knew to get into home recording and underground music trading, which took off as the 80's progressed. He graduated from a TEAC 4 track reel to a Tascam 8 track half inch machine. The last 3 recordings on this 2021 release are almost certainly done on eight tracks. John did a lot of recording on his own, writing and producing as "Sunworm". And he recorded a lot of other folks, and eventually had his own recording studio up on Queen Anne Hill. In 1988, we all miraculously happned to be in Seattle at the same time, and we recorded the unreleased-till-now tracks that are part of the EXTRAS we're offering to any hard-core fans for free HERE.
Three of the songs in this set arrived in 2021, during the Covid pandemic from Stephen Rabow. Rabow was a DJ on KZAM, a short-lived commercial AM radio experiment that played "new wave". Most of their playlist was cult status at the time, but would eventually blossom into arena status, like The Police. Rabow would host occasional weekend marathons where he'd play something from EVERY music submission. Most of what he got in the snailmail were cassettes, and we must have sent him one, because he still had it, even after 40 years and at least one move to Florida. It had some stuff on it that I no longer had copies of: Sperm Bank For The New Order, Mr & Mrs Everywhere, and Letters. I saw his post on Facebook, (although mostly now he shitposts about AOC), and he was kind enough to digitize it for this project. Thanks, Steve.
Somewhere shortly before I joined Student Nurse, I made Steve's acquaintance through the local Evergreen State College alumni mafia (if there were cool artsy young people in Seattle, they a) Usually found each other and b) had an ESC background. He had a goofball "band" called the Corrective Lenses, and my pal Deran & I ended up doing a one-off performance with them at WREX. I think Deran sat on a stool and pushed the start/stop button on his TR 808 drum machine, and I played the "Particle Board", a goofy electric string instrument I'd made from scrap. The cable plugged into the forehead of Reagan's face (a xerox from one of our posters glued to masonite) and the tuning machines were loose blots in big holes, so they could be rapidly tuned from slack and low to tight and howling. I think the Particle Board is the bonging noise heard at the beginning to Colonies. And I did a lot of exciting things with it in Student Nurse on a goofy instrumental called Surf Tuna.
A note on other instruments.
John played an antique drumset, a Rogers, I think, with a HUUGE kickdrum and blond pearl finish. Beautiful kit.
Helena played a brown walnut understated finish Les Paul studio guitar, using a Rat distortion and sometimes a Morley pedal flanger. She had a great sounding but heavy Fender Reverb deluxe, but I don’t recall her using the reverb. She liked doing “noise” solos running the guitar back and forth across her microphone stand, so she insisted on a straight stand without a boom. Although I wasn’t there, I’m pretty sure this is what she’s up to on the “Encounter” track. I knew she was a pro when she pulled out the special spray lubricant for strings and fingers.
I think at the very first, Tom used Eric’s 1958 Fender Duo-Sonic guitar (in spite of the vintage, it was a very cheap guitar) and Eric’s Pignose 30/60 amplifier (a solid-state plug in amp with a single 12 inch speaker, not the more famous battery -powered mini amp that put Pignose on the map. When he came back from summer vacation in 1981, he brought a sunburst Les Paul custom (3 humbucking pickups) that’s worth a LOT of money now. He decorated it with some stickers, most notably Reagan waving a couple of US flags. But he eventually bought the amp from Eric for a hundred bucks - he said he probably had to fast for a week to gather the money. And he continued to use the same Pignose amp, because, like I said, we were soooo broke. Tom used an MXR Phase-90 phase shifter on the floor – you can hear it particularly on Stihl De Nacht. For leads, he’d just flip the rhythm/treble switch on the Les Paul. Tom mentioned recently that this heavy guitar combined with a lifetime problem with one leg, plus huge stagefright, prevented him from moving very much while playing. And, it would have been great to have a serious amp: he felt like the amp put him in the rear, always.
I played a blond Fender Telecaster bass. It was a beautiful instrument, but I hated it at the time: it had only one pickup at the neck, and was very good at low end. But through the amp I started with, it just sounded flatulent. I think the amp was some goofy Japanese solid state import, with sparkly blue puffy padding on the sides, that I had back east, and maybe my brother put in a box and shipped to me. Fairly quickly, on Helena’s urging, I bought a Fender Dual Showman with a 15 inch from Tracy Rowland, co-proprietor of the Roscoe Louie Gallery, and one of two (!) bass players in Little Bears From Bangkok, another band on our scene. I recall the amp had some internal spray painting showing it once belonged to Bighorn, an even earlier local band.
But the thing back then was to get away from tube amps, and a bit later, I replaced it with a solid-state Peavey Centurion. Everybody wanted solid-state transistor amps then: so much more reliable. I still have both: guess which one is valuable, and which is considered worthless?
The Dual Showman was heavy, and tubes were expensive, and it failed me spectacularly at a summer art performance at Gasworks Park called “A Spaceship Landing”. A washer left floating loose inside the amp bounced into a short circuit during transport, and when I powered up the amp before the show, lots of smoke. I spent a lot of my very limited funds in those days repairing failing gear. The Dual Showman had a vibrato function, which can be heard on C’est Tout. And I sometimes used a wah-wah pedal – you can hear this on Recht Op Staan.
Near the end of Tom’s time in the band, he got a job as a postal carrier, and was suddenly both relatively flush with money and very short on time. But he was kind enough to loan me the dough – maybe 400 bucks – to buy a beautiful Rickenbacker bass. I still have it, and like all good instruments, it elevated my game. It sounded so great with Rotosound roundwounds: muscular and present, and like butter to play. You can see it on Youtube on the public-access TV videos. I sold the Telecaster bass to pay Tom back. Decades later, I came to regret cutting it loose, and I always hoped to run across it again. I bought a similar one a few years back, and I can’t figure out what I didn’t like about it back then. It’s one of my favorite basses for recording: the single pickup gives it a pureness of tone that sounds great, and it plays like any of the great heavy Fender basses from 50 years ago. Near the end, I got hold of a multifunction Ibanez analog delay, and did some echo bass-stuff on a some SN recordings, but those recordings are lost.
Car Crash: Eric wrote this and sings along with Helena. This song sort of existed mostly in my head before joining Student Nurse. I enjoyed doing this one live: it expressed a certain feeling of doom I had about the world, which I suppose I still have. Helena on the super-flanged guitar courtesy of the Morley pedal.
Alcohol & medication
why are we so bored again ?
We need relief from stress & this is our relief from stress.
We are energy, nervous energy.
This is the music scene.
We are loud and times are lean.
We jump around in desperation.
We are getting desperate.
We are loud guitars. We are fucking desperate.
She knows she has no power.
Drugs are a reason for her.
They give her a helpless feeling. Resignation is her feeling
We all are little pills, red & green little pills.
School is something some succeed at,
other ones are not like that.
They rely on little pills. They find their god in little pills.
We are gods in black. We are dust in black.
Few of us are in control.
We must sweat until we’re old and find a way to dull the pain
Find a way to dull the pain.
This is a cul-de-sac. We are in a cul-de-sac.
Let’s get drunk into a stupor, pass out on the floor,
watch all the clubs close down, & watch all the lights go down.
I feel the breath of doom. This is a no-horse town.
Sports For War (available for download): Eric’s song, brought into Student Nurse when he joined. Tom & Eric switched instruments for this one. John helped with the back and forth vocals “No one knows what it’s for...”
It’s My Life (available for download): This recording sounds like Helena and John just having fun in the studio, but we did play it live for a while. It certainly was different than most of our stuff, and I recall even being criticized in a review for “pretending to be hard-core.” !
1929: Tom’s song, with John on backing vocals. There was a Christmas vacation in 1981? 82? where we were all going to be out of commission for several weeks, so everyone was charged with coming back with a song. Either this or Yow! was Tom’s contribution. “No party in my mind”
Colonies: sung by John because he wrote the words, probably music credits to John and Helena. I think this song already was in the live set before Tom and Eric joined, although we were able to give it more of a rave-up. Toy piano played by Tom, and we had fun running Helena’s backup vocal mike in overdub through her Morley flange pedal, which I think I wobbled while she was singing. This was always fun to play live because of the back beat, the goofy science fiction theme, and the opportunities for cacophony. The banging at the beginning artifact is Eric probably knowcking on the particle board, and it’s fun to hear Tom encouraging “Eric, keep going!” This intro artifact was lost until the Stephen Rabow tape resurfaced in 2021.
Garbage: reworked from the EP, with dumspter-tipping instrumental breaks, and Tom’s great riff in the outro.
Yow: This was Tom’s song, and his great guitar break. Helena and I liked to dance around on stage during that part. “Yow” was the catchphrase of Zippy the Pinhead, and absurdist cartoon we liked a lot. Zippy also liked to ask “Are We Having Fun Yet?” which crept into the song as well.
Stihl De Nacht: Eric sang this and created the song. The words are from a song popular with the Polish resistance fighters during World War Two. Eric went to a musical presentation done by a mother/daughter piano duo – the mother was a Holocaust survivor - and came away with the words in a program. The original music is not known to us.
STIHL DE NACHT
(from a Polish Resistance song)
Silence. Starry night.
Frost crackling, fine as sand.
Remember, I taught you :
hold a gun in your hand
In jacket, beret, clutching grenade
A woman, skin velvet
ambushes a train.
Aim fire, shoot and hit
she with her pistol small
halts an autoful, Nazis all.
Morning from the wood,
in her hair snow flower
Proud of her victory
for the free generation !
Somewhere in 1982, John and Helena decided to split up as a couple, and Helena moved out of the house they shared. The house had a large unattached garage, which Helena had been using as a silkscreen studio. John moved in there, and we recored more songs on the Teac 4 track in the same way. At some point, the Teac was retired and replaced with a Tascam 8 track half inch reel to reel (and there must have been a bigger and better mixer), which John started to use to record in a different way, using layering and constructing songs using the studio equipment itself. Tom, Helena, our friend and biggest fan Gretchen, me, and of course John himself all got to do recording there with John engineering and very often playing drums. Some of these “side-project” songs became part of Student Nurse repertoire.
Private Book: Helena’s words. I vaguely remember Tom and Helena developing the guitar riff together. The oppositional bass line is entirely me, and I also added the tambourine. “I don’t want you to look”. There is a completely different version of this - same words, but very different music, Helena playing keys - we recorded after Tom left.
Helena is a Spy: I think this another Tom and Helena jointly developed guitar riff. This and Private Book are relatively later in the Tom-and-Eric edition of the band, and exemplify our developing playing skills. Tom takes the first solo, then Eric, then Helena finishes it off.
HELENA IS A SPY
When I was born, I was young.
I had two legs. I had two lungs.
I would cry when I was mad,
giggle and drool when I was sad.
I had a mom. I had a dad.
I had a grandmother, and brothers, too.
I had a dog. I had a cat.
You could say we were one happy family.
When I was young, my life was fun.
I’d play out in the yard.
My mom would cook my food and clean my clothes.
I’d watch TV and go to bed.
When I grew up, I had to go to school
and learn what they called the golden rule.
I had to learn to dress just right, or
heaven forbid, I’d be the fool.
Now I’m grown up, and things are tough.
I had to find myself a job.
I have to clean my own clothes and cook my own food.
Sometimes the pressure gets too much.
When I was young, and I’d fall down,
my mom would clean and kiss my sores.
It felt so good. Yes, I was glad
to know that someone was around.
I’m older now. I’m on my own.
My family’s moved away.
When I fall down, and I get hurt
I have have to clean my own dirt.
C’est Tout: Tom wrote and sang this, including the basic bass line, which I always thought was masterpiece of simple weirdness. I loved playing it, because I never would have thought of it. Tom’s playing a very basic Casio keyboard, possibly through a Univox tape delay machine. ape delay (actual tape, but the lowest end of these units), and the bass has some vibrato going courtesy of the Fender Dual Showman amp I used. Out of all the recordings we did, this one is my personal favorite, because of that instrumental part in the second half, where the band just takes flight. We just soar. It’s so intuitive.
This photo is from a little house party we played in Seattle around 2000. But it’s just the way Tom looked, and although it’s not the orginal supercheap little casio keyboard on the recording, it is indeed a supercheap little Casio keyboard. So it’s pretty much the same moment.
My eyes, my hair, my lips,
That’s all, that’s me, my hair, my lips,my eyes
Les yeux, les dents, les mains,
C’est tout, c’est moi, les yeus, les dents, les mains
The Roscoe Louie Gallery closed down – we played the last show, which was a mayhem of fun. I came away with a white rectangular display stand for art, and cut it open with a jig saw, and made it into a case (a very heavy case) with a handle for the keyboard, which also became the keyboard stand for performance. A lot of cool things were happening with synthesizers around then, and we were very eager to incorporate more keyboard sounds in the band. Probably a foolish notion. When I listen now, the band is at its best when the guitars are working in counterpoint with the bass & drums. C’est Tout.
" This is my private book.
I don't want you to look."
Above: Cassette tape as discovered in 2021 by former DJ Stephen Rabow of KZAM radio. That's drummer Johnny Rubato's handwriting on it - he must have sent it in to Steve to play on one of his marathon weekend 'I'll play anything you send me" sessions on KZAM. He was kind enough to digitize it and send the tracks from Florida, 3 of which we had NO existing copies of...
Below: Johnny started recording other bands, including Mr. Epp & The Calculations, who also came out on the Pravda label. He'd met the Epp guys because they came into Rubato Records over in Bellevue. I alwys thought this was recorded in his garage, but the credits suggest it was recorded at Triangle Studios. Certainly they recorded in John's garage before getting into Triangle..
" Am I a rock star yet?"
These photos were taken by The ROCKET photographer Cam Garrett. Dennis White was able to get in contact in 2021, and Cam still had the originals! We'd never seen them before, and it almost doubles the size of the archive!