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Members includeKurtBloch, guitar, songwriting; LuluGargiulo, guitar, vocals; MikeMusburger (joined band in 1992), drums;KimWarnick, vocals, bass guitar. Addresses: Record company--SpinART Records, P.O. Box 1798, New York City, NY 10156 Phone: (212) 343-9644.
Since their inception more than 20 years ago, the Seattle-based punk group the Fastbacks have watched many bands rise and fall in their hometown. Perhaps one explanation for the Fastbacks' longevity in the wake of so many failures is the group's apparent disregard for trends or fashion, always refining their own brand of punk rock--amazingly with the same intensity and excitement of their youth--while never falling prey to music industry hype or self-parody. Arguably one of the best punk bands in America, the Fastbacks have enjoyed a long, yet not always commercially fruitful career, one that stemmed not from the want of monetary gain, but from a deep-seeded friendship and a strong desire to make music. As chief songwriter Kurt Bloch explained, as quoted by Sub Pop Records, the quartet's former label, "there's nothing better than having an idea for a song take over your life."
Throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and beyond, the Fastbacks, in the tradition of other long-haul Seattle bands like the Walkabouts, Young Fresh Fellows, and Green Pajamas, endured like an old married couple secure in their relationship. In a true test of the band's commitment, they emerged unscathed by the grunge scene that swept across the Northwest in the early 1990s. Although bystanders to the firestorm, the Fastbacks claim that the music-industry and mainstream frenzy over grunge actually benefited the group in a sense. "The whole movement helped the Fastbacks," explained bandmember Lulu Gargiulo to Jud Cost in Magnet. "We got a lot more local exposure because of grunge. There was an explosion of people coming out to see any Seattle band. Before that, we had absolutely nobody come to see us."
Despite the growing audiences, the Ramones-inspired Fastbacks nevertheless missed out on the celebrity offered to Seattle's grunge-era acts. However, the lack of popular recognition never bothered Bloch. "At the end of the day, all of the bands who were big back then--except for Pearl Jam--aren't even around any more," he noted. "You'd watch most of those groups after they'd made it big," added Gargiulo, "and they didn't even look like they were having a good time." Thus, to many Seattle natives, bands like the Fastbacks represent the city's real music scene. Even Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam's lead singer and songwriter who invited the Fastbacks to open some stadium-sized shows for his group, counts the Fastbacks among his personal favorites.
The Fastbacks formed in 1979 when Kurt Bloch, a guitarist who was already in a group called the Cheaters, enlisted his friends from Seattle's Nathan Hale High School, vocalist and bass guitarist Kim Warnick and second guitarist and vocalist Lulu Gargiulo, to play in a side project. In the beginning, Bloch served as the Fastbacks' drummer in addition to writing songs. However, he soon switched to guitar after talking a 15-year-old neighbor boy into sitting in on drums. That neighbor, Duff McKagan, would later move to Los Angeles and join a group called Guns N' Roses. Since McKagan's departure, the Fastbacks went through approximately 15 drummers before finding Mike Musburger, the group's current drummer who joined in 1992.
Consistent with their long-time friendship and disregard for industry trends, the Fastbacks' music--largely the result of Bloch's songwriting prowess--likewise maintained an unfaltering energy over the years. "We're still doing this because Kurt writes such good songs," said Warnick to Cost. "Kurt lives and breathes music," Gargiulo further noted. "His only fault may be that he's a musical junkie." Bloch began feeding his addiction with the Fastbacks with the group's debut EP, The Fastbacks Play Five of Their Favorites, released in 1982, and the Every Day Is Saturday EP, released in 1984. Both of these EPs were compiled on the Fastback's debut, 1987's ...and His Orchestra, an album loaded with melodies and casually unpretentious songs.
In 1989, Bloch took on another job serving as a guitarist for the Young Fresh Fellows after that band's Chuck Caroll departed, but continued to focus on his primary concern, the Fastbacks. In 1990, the band released a second album, Very Very Powerful, which was rated at number 93 on the Alternative Press list of "Top 99 of `85-'95." That same year, both Warnick and Gargiulo took time off from the Fastbacks as well to play guitar and drums, respectively, for Motorhoney. Resuming work with the Fastbacks in 1991, Bloch continued to split his time between his own band and the Young Fresh Fellows, two bands that Warnick said can easily co-exist. "The Fellows don't play that often," she explained to Cost, "and even though we've been around a long time, neither do we. You might think by now we've been to every club in America, but we really haven't toured all that much."
In 1992, concurrent to signing with the Seattle-based label Sub Pop Records, the group released another album entitled The Question is No., an anthology of 14 songs drawn from singles, compilations, and unreleased material recorded between 1980 and 1992. The following year, the foursome released Zucker, an album that hinted at a mainstream breakthrough with standouts such as "Gone to the Moon" and "Never Heard of Him." "Incorruptible and irresistible," concluded a review in Entertainment Weekly, "this blend of melodious girl-group vocals and furious 3-chord punk rock makes Seattle's illustrious Fastbacks a possible candidate for the next big thing." But the above-mentioned magazine wrongly assumed that the Fastbacks' guitar lines were simplistic by design. In fact, Bloch's songs have so many chord changes that he often puts Warnick and Gargiulo's fingers on their strings for them. "I'm so glad he writes hard songs," Gargiulo, who doesn't mind the allegation, said to LA Weekly's Gina Arnold. "They take forever to learn--but we've got forever to learn them."
In 1994, the Fastbacks released Answer the Phone, Dummy, which included "In the Observatory" and "On the Wall." The sounds on this critically successful album were mined from the same punk-pop territory as its predecessor. In 1996, the Fastbacks returned with New Mansions in Sound, an album that earned even greater acclaim. Three years later, the Fastbacks arrived on a new label, SpinART Records, for The Day that Didn't Exist, released in 1999. Here, "Kurt Bloch continues to pen some of the most infectious, non-wuss choruses known to man," according to CMJ, "executing them with a supercharged strum that alleviates any potentially off-putting cuteness."
Although the Fastbacks have yet to become a huge commercial success, they prefer their low profile to the pressures that accompany major-label support. Gargiulo, for example, still feels a rush when she mingles with the group's small network of devoted followers. "We have this handful of dedicated fans all over the country," she explained to Cost. "They encourage us when we come through town. At the show in L.A. last night, there were these two guys who were so excited to see us that, even though it was a pretty terrible place to play, it made the whole trip worthwhile."
by Laura Hightower
The Fastbacks's Career
Formed band in 1979 in Seattle, WA; released debut EPThe Fastbacks Play Five of Their Favorites, 1982; released Very Very Powerful, 1990; signed with Sub Pop Records, 1992; released Zucker, 1993; released Answer the Phone, Dummy, 1994; released New Mansions in Sound, 1996; signed with SpinART Records, released The Day that Didn't Exist, 1999.
- Selected discography
- The Fastbacks Play Five of Their Favorites (EP), No Threes, 1982.
- Every Day Is Saturday (EP), No Threes, 1984.
- ...and His Orchestra PopLlama, 1987, reissued, 1991.
- Very Very Powerful PopLlama, 1990, reissued, 1992.
- The Question is No. Sub Pop, 1992.
- Zucker Sub Pop, 1993.
- Answer the Phone, Dummy Sub Pop, 1994.
- New Mansions in Sound Sub Pop, 1996.
- The Day that Didn't Exist SpinART, 1999.
- Robbins, Ira A., editor, Trouser Press Guide to `90s Rock, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1997.
- CMJ, November 1, 1999, pp. 20-21.
- Entertainment Weekly, February 26, 1993, p. 56.
- LA Weekly, January 30-February 5, 1998.
- Magnet, January/February 2000, pp. 53-54.
- Rolling Stone, April 29, 1993.
- Fastbacks Frenzy, http://www.accessone.com/~maxima/index.htm (June 14, 2000).
- Fastbacks at SpinART Records, http://www.spinartrecords.com/fastbacks.html (June 14, 2000).
- Sonicnet.com, http://www.sonicnet.com (June 14, 2000).
- Sub Pop Bands--Fastbacks, http://www.subpop.com/bands/fastbacks/website/index.html (June 14, 2000).
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