Wire Train are living proof that San Francisco music doesn’t begin and end with Starship’s ‘We Built This City’. Those who felt that the city was still operating in a Grateful Dead / Jefferson Airplane time warp can turn to the single Last Perfect Thing and album Between Two Words for proof that there’s life in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The band – Kevin Hunter (guitar and vocals), Brian MacLeod (drums), Anders Rundblad (bass and vocals) and Kurt Herr (the guitarist who left the band soon after completing the album to be replaced by Jeff Trott) – have gained a huge local reputation for their atmospheric guitar pop that’s invited comparisons with REM, U2 television and Dylan. Their reputation was further enhanced when U2’s Bono cited their debut album In A Chamber as the best album of 1984.
So what makes them different from the many other Californian imports like Green On Red, Long Ryders and the rest?
“Wire Train is different from the rest of Californian music. If the objective is to create a good feeling – feeling with sensitivity, intelligence and maybe some fun in it – the closest thing we’ve had to that was the mid – Sixties pop rock. If you want to recreate that feeling and get hat energy going, then playing music as it was heard then won’t give you that. People are different now. What Wire Train does – and a lot of other Californian bands don’t do – is manage to get that point where you feel Sixties but you don’t hear any Sixties-isms in our music,” says Kevin Hunter.
Already Hunter is pleased with the fact that Wire Train are in the vanguard of a musical renaissance in the city.
“We have no record companies in San Francisco apart from our label 415 Records. Part of the idea was to create an atmosphere where young musicians would try to be good again. When we started in 1981, the punk thing was on its last legs, post-punk didn’t apply but we still had a bunch of nihilists running around trying to give us their post-scrupulous manifesto. It was very un-hip to be good.”
“What Wire Train did was make it clear to everybody that we were going to teach ourselves to be good. We aren’t huge but we’ve made it as local musicians. Now other bands are practising hard to sound good, as opposed to wallowing in the more negative side.”
“It’s made people believe that can have a number one record in America and have it be as cool as ‘Paint It Black’ or ‘Under My Thumb’ because all you need is dedication and fire. So now there’s a thriving underground scene, but because there’s no record companies you won’t hear the of the bands. A lot of people are depending on us to call attention to the bands of San Francisco and become so big that the record companies will flock to the city like buzzards and pick the bones clean like Liverpool or Athens and other cities in the past.”
It seems an interesting side-effect for a band that started life as a project in a conceptual design class. Hunter had to make an album cover for the course. He made up some titles for the sleeve and then wrote songs to go with the titles. The band – then called the Renegades until another band claimed ownership of the name – was a natural progression.
With Kurt Herr and Anders Rundblad (an ex-Swedish conscript who swallowed a tube of toothpaste to prove he wasn’t fit for the army of the second most neutral country in the world), the band made a demo that was picked up by the influential college radio networks. But the band’s survival wasn’t left to the vagaries of benevolence during the early days.
“We all worked in movie theatres. I was manager of the Electric which showed porn or Kung Fu while Kurt managed the Strand which was art and homosexual films. We hired musicians and artists. It wasn’t as altruistic as it sounds now, but we wanted to keep the theatres as the hip and happening places for when you didn’t have anything better to do.”
“The Stones came to town and a journalist wrote that they’d definitely be playing a club show. As soon as I read it I called up the club owner and offered a band to play there. The Stones were playing stadium gigs on Wednesday and Friday, so we booked the show for the Thursday. We called the band Tattoo after the Stones’ current album ‘Tattoo You’. We proceeded to go into a rehearsal studio for 48 hours with a whole bunch of speed and about 10 local musicians. We learned all the Stones covers we could absorb.”
“At seven o’clock on the day of the show we went to do a soundcheck and there were 25,000 people on Broadway Street. The entire block was barricaded by police. The manager of the club was on the balcony with a loudhailer saying that Tattoo was a local band and the Rolling Stones were not playing tonight. He then made a giant banner saying the same thing. He sold tickets at $17.00 but scalpers were getting $100.00”
“We went on stage at 10 o’clock and opened with ‘Satisfaction’. At first the public were appalled but we were exactly how the Stones should have been—I saw them the next day and realised we were a million times better. We got bottles and fruit and vegetables thrown at us at first, but everybody enjoyed it. People must have known what was going on to have brought all that fruit. I made $50 while the manager made $17,000.”