Five questions with: The Lassie Foundation, on their new ‘Cave Sessions’ EP
Kevin Bronson on
The Lassie Foundation were birthed in Orange County in the mid-1990s, California dudes through and through, but forging an aesthetic as beholden to the ’80s and ’90s underground as anything regarded as the West Coast sound.
Some called their popgazing “pink noise” — equal parts My Bloody Valentine/Medicine and the Beach Boys. It earned TLF a small but devout following, but after three full-lengths (their last in 2004), a split album and a couple of EPs, the members moved on to day jobs/careers, families and, in general, life outside of grinding it out as an indie act. The 2006 “Through and Through” compilation hit the high points of the band’s catalog, and a trio of now-hard-to-find singles were released in 2008).
Recently, the Lassie Foundation has been taking care of old business — they released remastered versions of their “California” EP and “Pacifico” album last year, and finally they are on streaming services. There is more to do.
How they ended up in Josiah Mazzaschi’s studio, The Cave, to make the “Cave Sessions” EP (released today) is an interesting sidebar. The four-song release re-imagines four early Lassie Foundation songs, as played by the “Pacifico”-era lineup of the band: Eric Campuzano, Wayne Everett, Jeff Schroeder (who has been a member of Smashing Pumpkins since 2007), Jason71 and Frank Lenz. They turned out bigger and bolder than even the remastered tracks.
We played “5 Questions” with Everett about the release — find our conversation below — but first, one a favorite (take it from us, don’t try this falsetto at home):
||| Watch: The video for “Crown of the Sea” (Cave Sessions)
Buzz Bands LA: Besides the obviously different mix, what were the band’s artistic intentions entering this project? Considering “Pacifico” and the “California” EP were remastered and released just last year, why take this on at all?
Wayne Everett: Late last year we did a Kickstarter to put “California” and “Pacifico” on vinyl. It was an amazing response — way beyond what any of us expected for a somewhat obscure L.A. band that hadn’t seen the light of day in a really long time. After we found out it was going to take about a year to get the vinyl delivered, we thought maybe it would be good to record some of those songs quickly and put it out to give folks something new to listen to in the interim. We wanted the lineup to be the live lineup from that era — basically the first iteration of the full band — to record the songs together live in-studio. Luckily everyone was into doing it, and I think it turned out much better than I had hoped.
What are some of the things you remember about the original writing and recording of these songs?
Everett: When we started the band around ’96, we were inspired by bands like Medicine, Curve and My Bloody Valentine, but we also liked the vocal stylings of the Beach Boys, too. Anyone who’s driven into the state of Texas knows that the second you hit the border, every sign is “Texas Auto Supply,” “Texas Air Conditioning,” etc. Campuzano and I thought this was hilarious because nobody in California did that. So we thought maybe it would be funny/cool for our band to show a kind of half-tongue-in-cheek pride for California and just go full-on West Coast with it. So in the early years of the band we put that stuff into song titles, imagery, whatever seemed to make sense without seeming like a theme band like GWAR or something (no offense to GWAR — they do it well). For example, one of the towns I lived in as a kid was Corona Del Mar, so we thought maybe “Crown of the Sea” would be a cool title. And then it seemed like every state or city became “[Name of State] Strong” with airport malls full of merch, so it stopped being funny after a while.
One of the things I remember most about writing the songs was how free and unencumbered it felt, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because, when Campuzano and I started the band, we were both playing out of position (he’s a bass player playing guitar; I’m a drummer playing the lead singer). If we’d totally failed it wouldn’t have been a big deal, because we were just experimenting with stuff we didn’t have a lot of experience with. I think we were both excited by how our first EP “California” came together and how people responded to it. So when we started doing “Pacifico” and formed a proper band, we all felt like we had a good sound and decent framework to work with. So the writing and recording was pretty fearless, because we felt like we were all together doing something cool and fun. We believed in it, whatever that was going to be. We recorded both albums on 8-track reel-to-reel tape, so our biggest fear was whether the tape machines were going to work that day (they often didn’t).
How did these sessions materialize and what was the vibe? Did any of you guys find yourself feeling different about these songs, twenty-some years later?
Everett: Once we agreed on which songs to do in the studio, we just showed up. No rehearsals. No discussion about a concept or direction. We hadn’t played together in this iteration of the band in almost 20 years — I wonder if maybe that time apart doing other projects gave us each enough confidence to come to the studio with our homework done and ready to show the class. We recorded at The Cave, where Josiah quickly dialed in the sounds, and we just ran with it and finished the music in one short session. There’s a great energy to these recordings — to me they feel like a band that believes in itself the way we did going into those first two albums.
Even after all these years, those “Crown of the Sea” lyrics [Marrying salt to sand / with your rolling consoling hand / if the colorwinds run, colorwinds come / find me / remind me”] are especially painterly … Are we to imagine the Lassies staring into a Pacific sunset, wind in your face?
Everett: If that’s the way you see it, that sounds beautiful. It’s a bummer when an artist tries to force an interpretation onto a song. I totally get the desire to write a song about an important and meaningful thing, but once the song is out there, it doesn’t belong solely to the artist anymore. Some of my favorite songs have such unintelligible lyrics that I really don’t want to know what the real ones are — or what they mean, because they already mean so much to me. They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, and I would add that you should be careful which of your favorite songs you want to demystify.
It’s been 14 years since the Lassie Foundation released the three-song EP [“Three Wheels” / “Jetstreams” / “Under the Moon”] — and even that is difficult to find now. Any plans to release new material, and get other material on streaming services?
Everett: We’ve been amazed by and thankful for the response to our first remasters and the vinyl Kickstarter. Right now we’re in the process of getting the rest of the catalog remastered and made available everywhere. But we are a family operation with day jobs and all that, so it’s going more slowly than we want. The next vinyl thing happening is our 2001 album “The El Dorado LP” will be getting a remastered vinyl release for the first time (it was originally released on CD, which makes the “LP” in the title finally unironic). Details are still being figured out, but it will be a Japanese release with a limited number of copies available in the U.S.
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