Words by Hazy Lazer | Intro by David C. Obenour
Just as we’re all a sum of the people and art we surround ourselves with, Pittsburgh’s The Gotobeds have a wealth of influences to acknowledge on Debt Begins at 30, their latest album on Sub Pop. Featuring outside help on every track from players as varied as members of Protomartyr, Silkworm, Downtown Boys, as well as Bobs Weston and Nastanovich (and a bunch more), their getting “by with a little help from their friends” would equal a peerless indie label.
But the musical roots run deeper than just contemporaries, friends, tour and label mates. Like most of us, they’ve got bowing album shelves. So with that, here are Hazy Lazer’s favorite ‘DEBT’ era Pittsburgh Singles.
The new Gotobeds one-sheet advertising the cultural capital that we’ve built up over the years in the form of Debt Begins at 30 was humorously written by Bob Nastanovich. One thing I failed to mention to him was the provenance of the title. Debt Begins at 20 was a seminal film from Stephanie Beroes, made in Pittsburgh in 1980. It depicts a scene more varied and less exalted than the bands that would rise to prominence in the decade(s) to follow. I’m correcting this error now and listing my top ten Pittsburgh punk/indie/weirdo records from that era that informed our new LP. I still need that Dress Up As Natives if yr holding. In no particular order, happy hunting:
1. Dress Up As Natives – Had To Be There 7”
Released in 1982, this is still the high water mark for Rough Trade inspired art pop from Pittsburgh. Diverse and weird in a way that Pittsburgh wouldn’t revisit until fairly recently. The Rough Trade or Fast Product (see The Flowers) tag barely existed, and DUAN were on the wrong side of the pond to fully reap those benefits. If only.
2. Carsickness – Police Dog 7”
The earlier Carsickness stuff was a little further away from the arty/skronk Clash worship stuff they’d later turn out in droves (and is all good to great) but the early stuff dripping with attitude is my favorite. The message in “Bill Wilkinson” still resonates, and I love that the track sounds like it’s flying by at 78rpm.
3. 24 minutes – Who Am I Sleeping With?
Pilfered the mp3’s from the old yinzer.net site which proved endlessly entertaining for these nascent ears. I’m told these folks share members with Carboards and Carsickness, but this more than stands on its own with a firm post-punk chug and manages to avoid sounding like either of those bands. I’d fact check this but I’m back from tour and this article is late.
4. Cardboards – Greatest Hits Vol. II
Some of earth’s greatest weirdos here. Love the sense of humor in the title too (still searching for vol. 1 which doesn’t exist). This 12” is more in line with Cleveland art weirdos than Pittsburgh, and that’s why it stands out so much. Like Devo fucking Pere Ubu, but still not right (neither would that offspring be!). If yr lucky or rich enough to have the 12”, mind peeling off the photo on the cover and letting me know if there is really a secret message behind it?
5. The Bats – Demo
Ok, ok, this is a posthumous release and I designed the cover but this article ain’t about me. This is the finest slab of art-infused Pittsburgh weirdness, if the demo tape didn’t exist I’d have thought I dreamed it up. Perfect in every way, guitar that sounds like a synth, a singer that sounds like a guitar feedback, long melodic songs – wish Michael Chabons writing career failed so he could’ve lived in a Pittsburgh basement and made several hundred more records like this one here. Wonder Boys everywhere I’m sure would disagree.
6. Cold Warrior and The Mercenary Band – s/t
I asked Sam Matthews about them once but I was drunk and I can’t remember what he said. Great 12” which sounds informed by nothing within the city limits at the time or in any time. They must’ve shopped exclusively in the Jim’s Records import bin. Great political rants without ever sounding harsh.
7. Story of Failure – Negative Fulfillment of the “83” Spitting Circuit
I first read about this single that it was one of the earliest Pittsburgh bands to sound influenced from The Fall. That would make sense, because I didn’t like either when I first heard them. Lookit me now! “Harvard Bing-bong” is so repetitive and infectious, it’s hard to remember how prescient the lyrics are as well.
8. The Five – Act of Contrition
Before Frank Black beat down his door, people in Pittsburgh knew how great this band was. Dark, heavy punk influenced more from the gothic LA Gun Club/Flesh Eaters camp. Wish there was a thousand more bands like this in town.
9. Half Life – Under the Knife
If I’m half in the bag and playing this loud it could be #1 on the list, even if this list isn’t in any order. A true steamroller and gateway drug for all Pittsburgh punks, Half Life’s contribution to the scene cannot be overstated. It makes visiting an old Italian restaurant with no vegan options to see where they played with countless more famous bands worth it!
10. Boystown – s/t
I’ll carry the card as the sole champion of this band. They seem less covered than some of the other bands on this list. I’m sure having proto-new-wave-vibes was the cause, but a mix between proto-indie and Blondie puts this in a class of its own. ‘Shattered illusions’ is dying for the right coming of age flick to call so it can be blasted out of 100,000 heartbroken teenagers phones.