This is tough.
Too many funerals for me in the last decade. Death is part of life. The more people around me die, the more I realize I could be next. It hardens my resolve not to waste any more time. I've wasted much.
Ben McMillan, singer of my old band Skin Yard and later of Gruntruck, passed away last week at age 46, from complications of diabetes, kidney failure and a hereditary blood-clotting disease. I was in Germany at the time, playing a gig in Munich at the ISPO convention with my current band Kandi Coded, the band which has restored my personal pleasure in playing semi-warped shred guitar. My cell phone was off-grid. When I got back into the US a few days later and turned my phone back on, there was the terrible message, twelve times from twelve different people, already days old. I was sitting in Washington DC's Dulles airport, just back from Europe after a great time, tired and jet-lagged, waiting to change planes, and the news struck at my heart. People had been calling me, in tears, not knowing why I wasn't calling them back. A day later, still with four days of travel to go, my goddamn cell phone broke, period, inert, done with, and I got home last Friday night and still haven't replaced it, but I haven't really felt like talking anyway. I have no answers, and I'm not looking for any. Dead is dead. Someday we'll all join him.
I'm older than Ben was... in fact, older than most of the other people whose funerals I've attended in the past few years, my own parents excepted of course. So I consider myself lucky to have gotten this far.
Ben was not so lucky. A lifetime of alcohol and other chemical abuse did not help, but that was a red herring. It was ultimately a time bomb in his genes that did him in. A fluke internal blood clot almost killed him several years ago; hospitalized, he was in critical care for a month, totally on life support, the whole deal. I remember seeing him there... in a coma, body bloated and unrecognizable, breathing only with a ventilator. The fact that he survived was a miracle. Credit goes to the fine doctors and nurses of Harborview medical center... but also to his girlfriend Amanda, who fought great battles with the medical bureaucracy on Ben's behalf. I got a taste of it, dealing with that same bureaucracy myself during my own parents' final years, so I know. Ben got a few more years out of it, but they were troubled ones. A major chunk of his internal organs were literally killed by the blood clot and had to be surgically removed. After he recovered, he lost weight and appeared to have aged a decade. I won't go into any more detail but his continuing survival was a constant struggle, marked by one near-death episode after another.
I was in touch with him sometimes, but he was not easy to be close to, in his final years. You could call him for weeks at a time, every day, and never get an answer. He never had a cell phone or voicemail or even a message machine, never used a computer until just a few months ago, and seemingly never answered his land-line phone, and that's when it was not disconnected. There was no way to leave him a message. Then he would call me from out of the blue, with the same plans he had been telling me about since Skin Yard broke up in 1992... he wanted to do some recording with me, have me help him with some solo stuff he was working on. I was going to play drums on it, and in the past year of drumming with Slippage and getting my drum chops back, I always had this in the back of my mind. Ben and I always collaborated well, if we could just get in the same room together and do it. But I never had much faith that it would happen. It didn't. He was always "not quite ready yet". Ben was like that, long on plans, short on execution. A dreamer who was never very good at interacting with the real world.
I'm sad. All the other ex-members of Skin Yard and Gruntruck are sad, those I've spoken to. The family is not going to have a formal funeral, but I believe some of his friends are going to organize an unofficial memorial get-together, maybe just a night somewhere where we can all get together for drinks and memories. I'm out of town a lot, so I can only hope I can be there, whenever it is.
In the meantime... life goes on here in Seattle. Kandi Coded just played a great gig in Munich, followed by a really dumb, strange gig in Las Vegas, and then a really enjoyable gig in Jackson Hole, Wyoming at a bar called (get ready) the Million-Dollar Cowboy Bar. Apparently we were the heaviest and loudest thing that had been there in a while. I almost felt bad about it, like maybe we didn't belong there (a very decent country-hillbilly band opened for us, old guys, genuine players) except that the crowd, largely snowboarders, went nuts for us.
Next week, we will play at Mount Baker, a ski resort north of Seattle, with the Volcom band Valient Thorr... following which, I am going to spend a month in the studio making the next Thorr record. Judging from the demos I've heard, it's going to rage.
I've been living right next to a studio here in Seattle called Soundhouse Recording for two years. Unexpectedly the owner, an old friend, just decided to move to LA for a year or so, and has left me to "manage" his studio for him. Since I was already the main client and live right here, it's not such a big change. Other producers use the studio, fortunately. Right now, as I write, Matt Bayles is out there recording a band for Hydra Head. Next week, before I get started with Valient Thorr, Billy Anderson (from SF) will be in there recording a band called Grey. The studio has a vintage Trident 80B 40-channel console, a "vintage" OS9 Protools v5.1 "888-24" system with 32 outs, a Studer 827 24-track that still gets used, and a ton of classic compressors and tube stuff. (www.soundhouserecording.net)
The there's my OTHER band. Drumming in Slippage was taking a toll on my aging joints, tendons and hearing (even with plugs), cuz I play hard and loud, so when we finally made the decision to get a bassist I volunteered, being by far the most qualified for that position. We asked none other than Scott McCullum to play drums, and he agreed heartily. Scott was the drummer for Ben's band Gruntruck, but was originally the drummer for Skin Yard for two years and two albums (Hallowed Ground, 1988, and Fist Sized Chunks, 1990). We are quite amused to be in a band together again, 20 years later. (!!!) I also had to express my sympathy to Scott that once again he is joining a band, with me in it, in which the drum parts to the songs were created by someone else. Only, last time, it was Matt Cameron and Jason Finn whose shoes he was filling; this time it's just me. You can hear my drumming at our Myspace site, myspace.com/slippagemusic. I'm pretty happy with the song "Emptier Things". We have an album's worth of material now with me on drums and occasionally bass too; a year from now we will have another album's worth with Scott drumming. I've missed playing bass since leaving Upwell.
Who, by the way, I just finished a new album for. Upwell is one of the most terrifyingly great bands I have ever known from Seattle; they are so good I had to join them as a temp bassist, for an extended period, on two separate occasions, just because I believed in them so much that I didn't want to see them lose any momentum. And it was fun. Their current drummer, Frank, is a kind of metal-prog monster; he recently did a whole tour as a fill-in drummer for Three Inches Of Blood, and got to show his metal chops, but Upwell is a band that operates on a whole other level, way over most people's heads. Their musicianship and songwriting is monstrous, and Michelle is a powerful singer, who gets her stuff down in one take in the studio. (myspace.com/upwell) They're heavy like Soundgarden or Led Zeppelin with killer female vocals, but with their own unique style.
Kandi Coded is doing a 4-song 33 RPM 7-inch with Seattle's Flotation Records. It will have two songs from our album on Volcom, and two new ones, one of which is our reverent cover of Turbonegro's "Self-Destructo Bust". I had fun with the guitar. I will have copies for sale on my website, by and by.
If you know me, you know that living on past glories is not part of my game plan. But that doesn't mean there's not some fun stuff happening here in Grungeville USA. There is a DVD documentary about TAD that is about to debut, and I think I'm in it of course. There is a great story to be told there, and I can't wait to watch it. I hear there is a Mudhoney documentary in the works also. Another documentary, "Some Hawks, Some Hounds," about the heavy rock/stoner rock/desert rock scene, is coming out soon; I'm in that one too. Whatever. I think filmmakers just like my speaking voice.
Boss Martians' new record "Pressure In The S.O.D.O." is finished, and a German version is out. Strangely enough, Iggy Pop, a Martians fan, gave frontman Evan some lyrics, and they ran with it, recording the song "Mars Is For Martians" with me. Iggy heard it and wanted to sing on it, so Evan flew to Florida with a portable ProTools rig, a mic preamp, a Distressor, and a Beta58 mic, and recorded Iggy's vocal in Ig's own living room. I got to mix the track here a couple weeks ago. Bringing the faders up and hearing fresh Iggy coming out of my speakers was pretty rad. Evan and Iggy trade lines in the song, which will be on the US version of the album, out in May on MuSick Recordings.
Kultur Shock recorded a gig in Sofia, Bulgaria, and brought it to me to mix it... now out on their own label as "Live In Europe". It's so rippin', it's insane.
Lastly... Sub Pop is celebrating their 20-year anniversary this year, and rumor on the street is that Green River and The Fluid will reunite for one show. Hmmm. I expect Mudhoney will play also. Don't take this as gospel truth yet, and I don't know the date, probably this summer sometime. I'll be there... unless Kandi Coded is touring!
Sorry these newsletters are so long. If I only manage one per year, this is what happens. I need to do better.
Everyone, please take care of yourselves.
BEN McMILLAN OFFICIAL MYSPACE: http://myspace.com/benmcmillanmusic