"It's Not A Genre, It's A Scene"
3 X 4 Documents the Origins of L.A.'s Paisley Underground

By Lee Valentine Smith

Most music or art movements are like a small, often tempestuous family. Creative differences or infighting usually splinters the core, leaving factions of the original concept. Not so with the legendary Paisley Underground of Los Angeles. The original four bands harmoniously supported and promoted each other then and now.

From their early '80s beginnings, the founding groups went on to differing degrees of international success. Then after two reunion shows a few years ago, a unique tribute was born. The result, 3 x 4: The Bangles, The Three O'Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade features each band covering three classic songs by each of the others and will be widely released this month on Yep Roc.

INsite recently spoke with album coordinators Danny Benair (The Three O'Clock), Vicki Peterson (The Bangles) and Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate) for an oral history of the project and the scene.

Danny: We did two shows together in 2013 - at the Fonda in L.A. and the Fillmore in San Francisco. At some point, Vicki, Steve and myself started talking about the idea of what this is. For two months we texted each other a lot, 'Let's do something.' Then we kind of went back to our lives, which is to be expected.
Steve: A lot of us hadn't seen each other in decades. We wanted to do something more, but what could it be at that point? The idea of touring was impossible because it's just too many people. Then Danny, Vicki and I said, 'Let's do a record.' Maybe a bunch of covers, because that's where we all intersect.

Vicki: We were trying to find a way to repeat the fun that didn't involve touring, which would be logistically very difficult for all twelve-thousand or so of us. At first, it was like, maybe we can write some new songs and play them together. But we realized that was also probably not logistically possible, either. We decided to do a little self-tribute because the intrigue of it was that we were all huge fans of each other. The idea of being able to grab a song by the Three O'Clock or the Dream Syndicate, get inside of it and change it or to just inhabit it was exciting.

Danny: About a year ago, I had lunch with Glenn Dicker of Yep Roc and I said, 'Ok, I have this idea…' He said, 'All right, I want to do it.' I think it kinda just came from good timing and a good lunch. Then we proceeded to start recording.

Vicki: I had most of the records here at the house and it was only a little contentious as to who wanted what songs. I knew the Dream Syndicate's Days of Wine And Roses by heart. There was a little bit of arm-wrestling over a couple of the songs but it was really very easy as to who got what song. As it turned out, we got most of our requests. For us, Debbi [Peterson] really liked "Jetfighter" so there was an easy way to decide who was gonna lead which song. Susanna [Hoffs] was very close with the Rain Parade. But there were no real rules as to who did what. We were setting the rules as we went along.

Danny: I never wanted it to be a traditional tribute package. You can find those anywhere. I don't think any of us had ever heard of a record where the key people of a music scene covered their own songs. But it was perfect for us because we've always been friends and fans.

Steve: In the old days, it was often hard to get something going, so we'd do our own shows together to see what worked and to build a following.

Danny: All of a sudden, the UK press started talking about the style of the new 'Paisley Underground,' and then bands from New Zealand or bands from anywhere started being included in that term. It always kind of bothered me. It's like, why do you want to sit at a dinner table that you weren't invited to? It was really a tiny thing with a small group of people that were part of something special. Then a few extra people got included. We're really not talking about something like Mersey Beat in Liverpool in 1963. It still hurts me that people tried to turn the idea of the Paisley Underground into a genre. It's not.

Vicki: We'd share bills and even if we weren't on the bill, we'd go to the shows because we really enjoyed the music. The good thing about it not being a genre is we don't sound alike. We're not like, 'Oh let's all use the same effects pedals.' We weren't alike at all but we were all digging the same trenches basically, but finding different things.

Steve: I think we all shared one thing in common and that was we didn't feel like we were a part of anything else going on in the city. It wasn't the kind of music that was really happening at the time. I think Dream Syndicate was more of a punk-noise band who loved '60s guitar rock and the Bangles were more of a pristine garage rock band and the Three O'Clock came from The Salvation Army who were a full-on punk band. We all had different ways of looking at it.

Vicki: It was absolutely post-punk because of the energy and spirit behind it all. When I first saw the Dream Syndicate, I went, 'Whoah, you mean it's actually ok to just stand up there and create soundscapes with squealing feedback for twelve minutes?' I'm really proud of the 'punk side' of Los Angeles because I think we did a good version of it. By the time The Bangs were together and ready to play, that was pretty much over. The punk scene had changed a lot and it had sort of moved to the suburbs. The other bands in town were rockabilly and the creeping-in of hair bands was on the horizon. But we were looking at another time, another flavor. Mid-to-late '60s was our beloved golden era. I think it's the same for all of us, we were just looking at different parts of the painting or whatever it's called. Ours got called the Paisley Underground.

Danny: We were at Denny's on Sunset doing an interview for LA Weekly and I might have thought about for maybe ten seconds when [bassist/vocalist] Michael Quercio first said it. He has a very colorful imagination so when described it as the Paisley Underground, I thought it was just another phrase coming out of his mouth. But then it caught on. I think it was really meant in jest at first, but it could have been a lot worse. Everybody gets named something, even if it's ten or fifteen years down the line. It wasn't like we were walking down the street and people were like, 'Hey, you! You're the Paisley Underground!' and they threw rocks. So I'm ok with it.

Vicki: When you put it in the context of our lives as humans, it really was a tiny little moment. But it was a very sweet moment and we all cherish it. At some point, you go back and just want to feel what it was like, that first time. What started this whole thing and where were we as early 20-somethings? What were we thinking and feeling and how were we playing? Why did I write that song? It's exciting to look back and feel that again. I think that's the truest form of what we were. Yes, we all developed and changed and made beautiful music later on, but from a truly emotional level, I still connect best with the early stuff.

Steve: We were all music fans and playing this music was a way to get closer to the music we loved. So I think that made that us all appreciative to not only the attention we were getting but to the fact that we were doing it well. I can see us reflected in the music we were doing. But then, once we all had our albums out, there wasn't a lot of hanging out anymore. After everyone's first album, we all just scattered to the wind. Maybe in six months' time, we all went from being completely unknown to headlining pretty big shows, having a following and being on the radio. It was kind of heady stuff. There was that period for a few years where you'd pick up a magazine and you'd read articles about your friends. You begin to think that's the way life is and will always be - and then it's not. But at time it was mind-blowing.

3x4 is available this month from most music retailers or directly from yeproc.com.



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