The Saga of The Not Quite
(and it's quite a saga)
The tale of The Not Quite begins, as so many tales do, at the beginning. In Junior High, circa 1977, Dark Lord Rob, then simply "Rob", formed a band with a few acquaintances. Purpose: to have some fun playing Beatles tunes and eventually (he hoped) original material. Membership was comprised of any and every body that he could convince to give it a shot, regardless of whether or not anyone had ever picked up an instrument before. Well, results were predictably inept, and a few members came and went over that first summer, but the nucleus of what would shortly become the proto- proto- proto Not Quite (then called "Future")('cause we were the band of the...) was formed. Rob played bass, and in keeping with the "Beatles" theme he took up the instrument because there was no one else available to play it (similar to Paul's motive for picking up the four-stringed axe); the then-guitarist was one Bruce Johnston (not the sometime Beach Boy). That was it for a bit; but by high school we picked up a few new members: a friend of Bruce's from his new school (hoity-toity prep school Loomis Chafee) named Rob Wilson, who took up drums and another friend of his from Boy Scouts, rhythm guitarist Dave Lauben.
These two were a good personality match, though somewhere along the line the Beatles faded out, replaced by Classic Rock, or, as we called it then, Rock. The band became "Dagger" (still a damn cool name) and "Smoke on the Water", "Cat Scratch Fever", and "Sympathy for the Devil" were our best songs. As such, they were none too good. For a brief time there was another drummer, and Rob "Wils" Wilson ("Stop calling me 'Wils'") switched to bass and Rob Darklord switched to lead vocals (listen to his voice on the song "Crisis" from about a year later and imagine that voice applied to those hard-drivin' rockers listed above. Makes you think, hmmm?). This didn't last very long and soon everybody was back where they should be. DLR was still singing, while bassing, and though this mightn't have been a good thing it was an important thing.
(Mention should be made at this point of one party played when Bruce was unavailable and Dork Lord Rob solved said problem by playing both bass and lead guitar simultaneously. Those who say it can't be done should be silenced by the fact that it was done; those who say it can't be done well have a better case. Though the case could be made that the qualitative difference between Rob D'arklourde's lead guitar playing with and without his attempts to intersperse bass lines is negligible to begin with).
Those were the times! We were living That 70's Show; late nights at Wils' place, watching Saturday Night Live with the Classic Cast, then Don Kirshner's Rock Concert (Tonight: the Eagles, and Journey, and RamJam!), then Twiggy's Juke Box (Tonight: Sailor, and Pilot, and Gary Glitter!), then the test pattern, and falling asleep on the floor.
Some things seem never to end, but all things do, and some members of the band began to grow tired of the tired hard rock we were playing. His Darkness Rob had been discovering the vast reservoir of 60' sounds that existed beyond the Beatles, particularly the Who and Kinks, and wanted to explore that sort of sound; meanwhile Bruce had bought a Les Paul and was exploring sounds pioneered by Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, and Robin Trower. There was conflict, both artistically and personally (hardly the last time in this band), and soon Bruce left or was eased out; the details are lost to time.
By this point DLR was a sophomore in high school, and Bruce's replacement was a guitarist R met in shop class, Rich Steg. Rich, like Dave, was a Junior at Simsbury High School, in posh Simsbury, Connecticut (though both Rich and Dark Rob came from less-than-posh backgrounds); interestingly Dave had autoshop at that same time period (Rich and Rob were in Woodworking) so band convocations could be had before and after class. Anyhow, Rich was heavily into the 60's sounds and had a large record collection (acquired mostly at garage sales) and, as it turned out, the ability to learn songs rapidly by ear. He took over as lead guitar, and the Dagger repertoir suddenly became top-heavy with Kinks and Who and, once again, Beatles; and the Dagger name became retired, replaced by the name under which the band would first begin to gain a bit of statewide notoriety, The Starship Troopers.
The Starship Troopers Live 1980
Rob, Wils, Dave, Rich
With the new sound came another novelty: three-part harmonies. Dave had a solid deep voice and a great harmonic sense; Rich had a bit of Joe Cocker to his voice but had a great high range, and a strong harmonic sense as well; Dark Lordlet Rob managed to stay on key most of the time on the melody. The results were very cool, very unique for a high school band of that time, and, when things clicked, even breathtaking (our three-part harmony arrangement of "I'm So Tired" was a knockout, on a good day). We had some other things going for us, as well -for one thing, Dave had a knack for electronics, and we were able to build a lot of equipment from (nearly) scratch, or modify pieces picked up on the cheap (speaker cabs courtesy of Rob's Woodworking class); the speed which Rich and Dave were able to learn songs enabled us to put together three-plus sets of songs in record time; Rob's "go for it" inability to take "can't be done" for an answer led us to attempt songs that were too challenging for a band as green as we were, and even to pull some of them off (such as the Who's "A Quick One While He's Away" and "Riders on the Storm" by the Doors). Most importantly, we began to write some original material. Some damned good original material.
Though Rob wrote some decent tunes, the best material at this point was by Rich Steg. Steg's songs were first-rate pop rockers with a 60's basis, featuring strong hooks, classic riffs, and sing-along melodies which leant themselves to nifty harmonies. Lyrically, Steg was writing songs which can only be described as "quirky"; full of witty lines which dealt with the history of Italian-American cuisine or Rich's dissatisfaction with the state of affairs at local oriental eateries (if you're starting to sense a theme here you're not the first; as some wag put it, "The first Rich solo album will be titled "More Songs about Food and Food")(and that's "Dark Lord Some Wag" to you!) Meanwhile Dark Lord Roblet was pursuing a similarly singular lyrical agenda, albeit with more scattershot results. By the second year of the Troopers' existence the Dark Lord would have made tentative stabs at Rock Operae, at punk rock, at Kinks-style satire, and at all of the above at once. It's interesting to conjecture at this late date that, had we stayed at that level of development, we could have become a successful cult band along the lines of XTC. I think we were that good; the musicianship could have stood some improvement, but the material was first rate and the sound was fresh and unique.
Our first recording session was accomplished in Wils' basement using the "poor man's four track" - two cassette decks. Backing tracks were recorded on one deck, then played back as overdubs were recorded and mixed live onto the second deck. Crude, but effective; I think this tape still sounds pretty good. The engineer for the session was Kevin Reardon, who was briefly our manager; he was a smart guy and a decent person but there were personality issues - the fact that the tape included one of his songs should give an idea where the conflict arose from. The session included four Rich tunes, a Rob tune, and the Kevin/Dave tune. One of the Rich tunes was the terrific "Roman Conquest", a hit that coulda been. Rob kicked in strong as well with "Crisis". Download Crisis.
Around this time (fall '78 - spring '79) we began to get some gigs. A local church was sponsoring "Coffee Houses" for local youth (you know, keep 'em off the mean streets of Simsbury) and our ability to play three sets (or more) made us unique among high school bands, plus our sound was "clean", so we were a natural fit. Playing these shows really enabled us to grow and develop a bit of a stage presence, and we experimented with a bit of a "look" (Rob and Dave wore 60's style suit jackets, and we had some British flag motifs). Casey McKibben joined the band briefly on keyboards at this point (Dave had purchased a wurlitzer electric piano, which had a good sound for "Riders on the Storm" but not for everything); after he left Dave resumed keyboard duties, and sets would be split half-and-half between songs with him on guitar and on keyboards. Live tapes from this era show a band with a lot of enthusiasm, capable of playing really impressively, and equally lamely, even in the space of the same song.
A second demo-style tape was made at this time. It was recorded on 8-track, and no, I don't mean an 8-track, studio style recorder, I mean an 8-track cartridge tape. This tape is now either lost or scattered in a box somewhere. Most of the material duplicates songs on other tapes, and it's cover-heavy (odd choices, too - "Live Life" by the Kinks?)
We also got a high school gig at this point, playing some sort of football-related event. Basically we played and nobody listened, but it was fun. At some similar point we also played our one-and only sock hop - a Junior High dance that actually paid cash money! As you might expect we didn't exactly light the place on fire (even when we played "Light My Fire").
The Starship Troopers live at Simsbury High.
(L to R) Ken G. (not in band), Rob, Rich, Wils (w/hat)
Rob's old Pinto Wagon, Dave
The Starship Troopers and The Look -1980
(L to R) Rob, Bob Aucoin, Tad (see below), Morrie McCarthy
Mike Claire, Wayne Legasse, Dave, Lynn Maiaco
Jerry (aka Melch - not in either band but quite a character)
A bit more about The Look is necessary here. First, they didn't stay The Look for long - a group from England had the same name, so they became The Modern Look. Now, my unbiased opinion is this: of all the groups I saw over the next decade and a half of club gigging, these guys (and gal) had the best shot at the Big Time. They had the right sound, the right look, and the right attitude, at the right time. Moreover, they had killer material, which worked especially well live (sadly, their one single, "Romance Minus One", lacked the edge that their live sound packed). Rhythm Guitarist/Frontman Wayne LeGasse was a spiffy combination of Elvis Costello and Chandler Bing (sound of one, look and personality of the other); the rhythm section of Bob Aucoin (drums) and Lynne Maiaco (bass) was brittle and propulsive; and lead guitarist Morrie McCarthy, well, he was a character. He came from a more standard rock background (and had been playing since the 60's - which wasn't as long ago then as it is now - come to think of it, then was halfway from now) and was a treasure-lode of stories (Irished up from the truth, no doubt). He brought the Look a garage edge (and a psychedelic lead style on certain tunes) as well as some first-rate originals. Like I said, they really had a good shot, and they approached the music with both professionalism and a good work ethic. Things didn't add up, alas, but sometimes things that seem meant to happen never do occur, leaving us mortals baffled.
One other group of note comes to mind in the Hartford "new wave" circuit circa 1980: Billy and the Buttons, who had an eclectic sound and a very Fred Schneider-esque lead singer. They were a fun band with some cool originals in a very whimsical style. The best thing about the band was their sense of humor and spirit of fun - live shows might include skits with costumes, and some shows were entire vaudeville-esque revues. Very Bonzo Dog Band in that sense. They were never well thought of by Hartford's "hip" culturistas (both of them) because there was something very nerdy-hippie-kitschy about the whole thing. Typically for Hartford bands, their one single (of which I'm aware), "Black and White Work Better" wasn't one of their better numbers.
More on some other bands as this narrative progresses; right now we're only up to 1980.
Okay, before I shoot too far into the future for this narrative, we have to (new) wave goodbye to one of the founding members of the Starship Troopers, as Rob Wilson graduated high school and headed south for college. Eventually he wound up an officer in the air force, and for all I know he could be plotting sorties over Baghdad as we speak. Or he had a mystic experience, quit the military and now runs a buddhist monastery in Cleveland. Whatever, Wils was a great guy and I hope he's getting what he wanted out of life.
So we needed a new drummer. If you've ever had to replace musicians you know what a pain that can be. I don't remember anything about the process at that time, I guess we must have auditioned a few people. Anyway, we decided on Brian "Tad" Siedor, who was a progressive-rock style drummer (fave band: Genesis) and not at all familiar with the sort of garage-rock style we played. But he was a good personality fit, and we thought the stylistic gnarl might produce some solid music. We were right, but there were some growing pains. It took a while for Tad to develop a playing style that combined the sort of experimental rhythms of prog rock with the straightforward driving beat that worked with our stuff; but he did it and the result was quite good.
We had a fairly busy schedule back then, playing out several times a month. At that point I was the only one still in high school (in an odd coincidence, Tad, who lived a good distance away, drove a bus for my school!) and also working - and keeping a full schedule of practices, concerts, and movies. How did I find the time? Damned if I know. Regular venues for us included Ron's Place in New Haven, a punk dive where cockroaches would crawl into your drinks when you weren't looking, and where the audience for one show was comprised of a sixty year-old businessman/wino and three hookers who came in to get out of the February cold; Cell Block Eleven in Hartford, which was a former gay bar converted into a "new wave" club; Shaboo, in Willimantic, which served the UConn crowd; the Lit Club, which was the ballroom on the third floor of Hartford's Lithuanian Club, an enormous room with a real stage and balconies; and, best of all, Stage West/Agora Ballroom, in New Britain, which was a Rock club that hosted touring acts major and minor (I saw Alice Cooper, Three Dog Night, Squeeze, Talking Heads, the Animals, the Ramones [several times], Dead Kennedys, U2, and the Teardrop Explodes there) and which featured local acts on Wednesday nights. There were two stages/rooms there, and we only ever played the small stage - but even the small stage was huge, and the room had a big sound. (Footnote: U2 played the small stage - it was their first tour).
Live at Cell Block Eleven ca. 1980
Hey Ho Let's Go!
Gig poster designed by Rob (note slogans)
Somewhere along this point we made a pretty decent basement tape of cool originals. It's now lost. But some of the songs we did at the time included Rich's "Thin Man" (a slam at slim and trim folks like Dave and Rob); "Life's a Joke"; "Spirit" (about ghosts), and "Angel", a romantic piece with a nifty beat; Rob songs, as usual more eclectic, included "Bagboy", a punkish ode to said career choice; "Insane" ("Thoughts echo flaming/ through my brain/ I'm frenzied shcizo nuts/ I'm goin' insane"); "1984" ("You're turnin' into robots from your head down to your toes/ your brains all turn to mucous and they leak out through your nose"); "Nuclear Annihilation" (a 50's style rock/punk number); and "Spider Blues", the sole recorded remnant of a long "Celebration of the Lizard" imitation unfortunately lost to time.
I mentioned earlier that the Starship Troopers could have had a solid career writing quirky new wave pop songs a la XTC; "Bagboy" and "Nuclear Annihilation" pointed in a direction of straight-up comedic punk rock, which would have also been a successful path to follow; we were very good at it, and the songwriting (I humbly say) was top-notch. But success at either required a commitment to one or the other, and we were still all over the place stylistically.
About this time another sound reared itself in the form of "This Song Has a Clever Title" by Dave and Rob, which was unlike the rest of our material in that it was a bass and drum-propelled number with swirling keyboards that really sounded like it was on the leading edge of the sort of music that was becoming popular; while the two aforementioned styles could have served us well as a cult band, the "Clever Title" sound, if pursued, could have made us a significant act. But we never pursued said sound, even though we recognized that "Clever Title" was probably our strongest song in terms of making an impact on audiences, and we closed sets with it. Download This Song Has a Clever Title
Speaking of keyboards, I should mention that the swirling keys referenced above were attached to a console organ (the size of a piano) that Dave bought from his church for $20 when they upgraded. It sounded really cool, but was a pain and a half to transport, especially as some of the clubs we played regularly were only accessible by steep stairways.
Live at Cellblock Eleven ca 1982
note the organ at stage left
and the smiley-face armbands worn by
Dave and Rob
Things churn along for a bit, but Tad begins to sense that we aren't really making any progress toward fame and fortune. This is, unfortunately, kind of a disaster; we go through three drummers over the next few months before finally lucking out and finding the hard-hitting, Who-heavy Tom Donnelly.
Originals over the next few months showed a quite dramatic growth; though Rob continued to bring in comic numbers ("Decadent Me", "(Sha la la la) I'm so Depressed") it was on heavier, psychedelic-inspired number that the songwriting began to show a new maturity. Songs like "Father Darklight" and the keyboard-driven "Malevolent Penguins" had a crisp yet literate lyricism and tight attack musically, and pointed the direction that the band would take when it fully realized its potential (interestingly, neither song was even played during the next stage of the band's development).
And then, just when things looked their best - we were better than we'd ever been musically, delivered a good stage act, and even had been offered a management contract - Dave quit to pursue college. He left for Stanford, and currently is a research scientist doing something-or-other sciency. From what I've seen, the most important things in his life now are Jesus and food. I kid!
But when God slams a door on your foot, he opens a window (so that people outside can hear your shrieks of torment). Morrison McCarthy was between bands.
Now, you may recall Morrie as a member of the Modern Look, a band for which Big Things beckoned. Well, Morrie parted ways with said band over personality issues and said Big Things never caught up with the band, which was able to successfully reconstitute itself as a three-piece, but which missed the added personality that Morrie brought to both the band and the music.
Morrie, on the other hand, had formed a band, "The Broken Hearts". This was not the Broken Hearts who eventually released a decent LP in the late eighties; well, in a sense it was, but in a more important sense it wasn't at all. This Broken Hearts was aiming at a New York Dolls/Stooges sort of sound (Morrie was idolizing dissolute Doll Johnny Thunders at the time), but wound up sounding more like AC/DC. This group didn't last long at all, but Morrie resurrected the name when he hooked up with the Mike Mazzarella mentioned above for a band that aimed at a British Invasion sort of sound. This was a Good Idea - Mike wrote nifty Beatle-ish tunes, and Morrie's Modern Look material translated well to the new sound. A four-song tape EP was issued, and it's very good, one of the best things to come out of the Hartford scene (that wasn't connected to the Troopers/Not Quite, I should say). However, there were problems; the bass player wanted to play guitar and was pushing things in a more Marshall Crenshaw direction (this is how I remember the story, anyway). Result: Morrie was between bands.
The eventual vinyl from the Morrie-free Broken Hearts is worth seeking out, if only for a glimpse of what might have been - the three Mazzarella originals are terrific, fun songs and the band might have been able to achieve a Spongetones or Jellyfish level of success if they'd stuck to their original, inspired direction.
However, their loss was our gain. Morrie had an enormous record collection and was a textbook of info on sixties sounds; furthermore, his guitar/amp setup produced an excellent sound and he played solid and authentic garage rock guitar. Joe responded to the new sound with a trove of excellent originals, ones which mostly stuck to a garage-rock structure and benefited from the solid basis this gave them. Rob, tuned in to the more trippy side of garage/psych, delivered songs with a garage edge but a more psychedelic feel; sort of an Electric Prunes to Joe's Standells. For the first time, we were a band with a unified sound and clearly recognizable style, and one with a slate of originals that sounded as good played live as any of our cover tunes.
A new club had opened in New Haven called the Grotto, and quickly we were headlining there on a regular basis. It was a great club, featuring the best local bands as well as small-scale touring outfits, a club remembered with fondness by everyone who was part of the scene. We took our stage presence seriously; we all geared up with 60's -style looks and prided ourselves on professionalism in a milieu where amateurishness was extolled. That professionalism extended off-stage, and club owners quickly learned that we were the Real Deal. We gigged extensively during this period, playing local colleges, and "alternative" clubs across the state. A song we recorded in Morrie's basement, "Paint Me in a Corner", a crunching Prunes-style rocker by Joe, was chosen for ROIR records' comp of the best in modern 60's style garage rock, "Garage Sale", which featured groups like the Fuzztones and the Vipers and the Chesterfield Kings. It's still in print and now on CD, so buy it, dammit! (This is not a plug; I get no royalties). Download Download Paint Me in a Corner (album version)
The Not Quite ca. 1984
Rob, Morrie, Mike, Tom, Joe
The national exposure that the ROIR cassette and subsequent releases garnered us, along with our growing regional reputation, led to a long list of gigs with prominent artists in the garage/psych community over the next few years. These are my favorites from that era: The Vipers (Outta the Nest is my favorite garage-revival LP), Plan 9 (great band, unfortunate gig - we played to an empty house), The Chesterfield Kings, The Lyres, and The Brood (an all-girl group from Portland, ME; I live up there now and still see Chris [lead singer/guitar] occasionally - they never got the press the previously mentioned bands did but their stuff is raw garage, well worth tracking down). We never did gig with the two 'tones, Fuzz- and Flesh-.
Mike Zappulla joined for a time on keyboards, and was present when we recorded our first LP, which was released on the Dutch Resonance label. (Mike quit during recording, however, and his timing was bad on two songs that needed strong keyboards [not his fault - he suffered a wrist injury during the interim between being soundman and being keyboardist] , so Rob overdubbed farfisa).
The album, which got some excellent reviews ("A major band." - Pulsebeat) was a good cross-section of our best material at the time, and (once again, in my opinion, which is a considered opinion that is rarely considered), some of the tracks are among the best in the neo-garage genre. Specifically? Joe's garage-busters "Just Like Us" and a re-recorded "Paint Me in a Corner", Morrie's terrific ballad "I Don't Know How to Tell You" (a holdover from his Modern Look days), and a number by Tom (here's a joke: what was the last thing the drummer said before he was kicked out of the band? "Hey guys I wrote a song.") that Rob added the lyrics to that wound up being called "Get Away" (and which was an amusing [to us] dig at Morrie's then-current romantic situation). However, earlier, rejected lyrics (also by Rob) are worth quoting:
"Went to a party last night/ Woke up face down on the floor/ Nun's habit on the bed post/ Mother Superior at the door/ Now, sometimes I'm really a nice guy/ Sometimes I'm really swell/ But getting caught in bed with a naked nun/ Is a one-way ticket to hell/ (spoken) I may be bad/ But she was good."
Not Quite poster art by Rob
The album did OK overseas, we're told, and even charted in Spain and Greece (we're told), but failed to push us into the forefront of the garage scene. It's long out of print but has a reputation as an underrated classic of the genre (I'm told). To its detriment, I believe, was its crisp production (by us) which was possibly too slick compared to the more raw production then in favor. But that same production makes the material sound much better now than some of its contemporaries.
Keyboards were an intricate part of our sound, and we needed a keyboard player. Gry Kaspersen, an exchange student from Norway, joined for the remainder of her school year, but had to depart for the fjords at summer's end. Fortunately the Dark Lady Colleen, who had friends in the band's orbit, was persuaded to join. Colleen, possessed of an eerie celtic beauty that matched her keyboard style, helped open the group's sound into its next evolution, an emergence into full-out psychedelia.
On some of his more ambitious earlier songs Rob had been aiming to create a lyrical style that would be a direct successor to the work of Jim Morrison - that would be Jim Morrison, the artist who successfully welded poetry and rock, not Jim Morrison, the drunken buffoon (the two are easily confused). The new sound gave Rob a chance to indulge himself; the inspiration Colleen's presence gave him led to spectacular lyrics such as "Hypnosis" and "Or the Beginning", two very apocalyptic love songs. As might have been predicted, the bass player whose bandmates had been calling him Dark Lord Rob and the keyboard player, whose friends called her the Dark Lady long before she joined the group, had fallen in love. And so they remain.
All material on and linked from this page © copyright 1979-2004 by The Not Quite and subsidiaries.