In 1982, I had just split from a 'new wave' band called Norman & the Rockwells. We were doing a strange mix of Devo, Ramones, Frank Zappa and Utopia! It was great fun and it made me want to go further and start a new band that would play music that reflected my main musical interests at the time, which were David Sylvian, YMO, Peter Gabriel and Cocteau Twins.
I put an ad looking for musicians in local record and music stores listing the above influences. The only person that called was Steve. It turns out that I had actually met Steve very briefly before that and he knew that I had musical interests beyond those I had stated. We got together and jammed; Steve couldn't play very well but he had neat energy. We got to talking about Joy Division, The Cure, Wire, Comsat Angels and the like.
Steve suggested I try and start a band reflecting those tastes since noone was calling in response to the original idea. I said why not. I was already in another band called Disco Ranch and got the drummer (Greg Tsichlis) to try out. Tingle was living with me (he & his wife were fighting at the time) and wanted to get his own band together to do jam rock (Allman Brothers) but was getting nowhere; he had no interest in the post punk stuff but did it just to play. That's how it all got started anyway.
I came up with the name because I wanted to use the word sex (everybody remembers that word) and I wanted to reflect something of the moment (digital technology).
We reformed several times, the last time being in 1994. At that time I was also playing in a punk rock band called RAF. Actually, this band existed in tandem with D.Sex in our heyday (mid-80's). RAF released a tape locally and opened for people like The Dead Kennedys, Descendants & Toxic Reasons. I had a lot of fun with this band.
Right about the time that Randy released Essence & Rarities I was invited to Japan to write music for a television production company. I went, I wrote and I got paid. I still haven't seen any shows using my music. I still have a connection to the company but am not doing anything for them currently.
I also played with Tom Ware. He engineered and co-produced the Sex album. He is also an amazing drummer and composer. He was in Norman & The Rockwells with me. Tom put out a solo cd in 1996. I play bass on a track and co-created three other tracks. The music is an eclectic mix of influences. I love eclecticism. :-) We also performed live a few times under the name Binary Race.
By the end of 1996 I thought I was done with the music business. But in early '97 an old friend called and asked if I would do a coffeehouse gig with him. His name is Steve Stacy, he is a Native American flute maker. I played on a cd he released in 1993. The one gig turned into a band called Akita Mani Yo. The instrumentation was wooden flute, viola, didjeridoo, djembes and me on guitar. I thought this band had real potential and was very let down when Steve Stacy simply disappeared last December. I knew he was having some hard times but he never said he was leaving. Life is strange.
Besides that, I was involved in a local electronic music compilation tape called Quasiproto. Two of my songs are on the tape. I'm not sure how you can get a copy.
Presently, I have helped start a new band. A reggae band! I am really enjoying playing and listening to this music as though I had never heard it before. The group has much potential. Just this week, Melvin 'Mellow' Reid joined us. He is from Jamaica and was an original member of The Gladiators, reggae legends. Mane Badiane, from Senegal also joined. he is a master percussionist who has played with Peter Gabriel among others. I am very pleased to be working with these musicians and am rearranging some of my songs to be played in the rock steady style. I'll keep you posted.
Besides all that, I am an avid music fan and record collector. Some of my favorites are Ryuichi-Sakamoto, Julian Cope, Can, Faust, Gong, Miles Davis and Dead Can Dance. I have over 2,000 cd's and over 6,000 albums, not to mention all of the singles and cassettes and 8-tracks. I have attached a picture of myself with one of my heroes, Daevid Allen of Soft Machine/Gong fame. I have been listening to and collecting Daevid's music since 1973. I finally got to see the original Gong play in 1996. It was very special.
Regarding the future, I hope the reggae band does well. It feels very positive so far. I never say never to anything so doing another round of Digital Sex is always possible.
I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. My father was a musician in the Air Force, my mother was a Tupperware saleswoman! I grew up with a lot of weird music in the house...exotica, jazz, classical, traditional Hawaiian, John Philip Sousa... My father played sax and clarinet; he was first chair in both simultaneously while in college, and went on to direct the Strategic Air Command band for about 12 years. I remember watching him painstakingly practice the same riffs for hours, over and over again until they were perfect. My parents divorced when I was 4, so although my father was a role model for me, he wasn't my teacher until only a couple of years ago, when I got to know him.
My mom taught piano lessons in our house, but she told me I couldn't play the piano until I was "old enough". I remember her students practicing "Hanon's Studies" (a series of mind-numbingly BORING fingering exercises, consisting of repetitive scales). One day she came home and heard the exercises from the music room, and thought it was one of her students who had arrived for class early, but it was me...I didn't know how to read, but I had a damn good ear!! (I was 4 years old then...) I taught myself music by listening and imitating, and am a proud graduate of the "School of Hard Knocks", but I also learned to read and write music, you know, those little black dots on the page.
By the time I was 10 I had very good ear training and could "fake" a lot of stuff, top-40 and that... I enrolled in band as a clarinet player and was pretty good, did All-City Honor Band in grade school, State, Regional, and National Championships in High School. But I liked piano better, and continued playing, in spite of my mother's protests!! I took Music Theory class in High School, got straight perfect scores on every assignment and every test, completed a full hour's work in 5 minutes, and spent the rest of my time helping my classmates. The teacher eventually had to enlist me as his assistant (probably to keep me out of trouble as much as anything).
Music is still my main passion in life, and I've been at it for 33 years now. I have also earned a great deal of respect as a visual artist as well (I designed The World's logo which was used on their band posters, and hand-lettered each one). I have earned a living as a life drawing model (10 years), fine jewelry finisher and assistant designer (8 years), seamstress for theatrical supply companies (5 1/2 years), and most recently as an administrator in sales (computer programmer, marketing, meeting planner, etc.) I desparately wish I could make a living being a musician, but... commercial jingles? Consumers would probably either stare slackjawed at the radio, or run screaming!
I used to think that all musicians shared a common thread, a common passion... but alas, I have found that musicians are as diverse from each other as insurance salesmen from tie-dye hippies. As you have probably gathered by now, I have a somewhat militaristic sense of discipline about music, and working with other musicians frustrates them just as much as it frustrates me. So for the time being, I am a loner musician, an odd bird indeed... but at least, if the music sucks, there's no one to hold accountable but me. And, if it doesn't suck, then maybe it'll be me this time that gets the pat on the back.
On Innocence at Will the track Mother's Leatherflesh is a soundtrack to a multi-media piece I did on speciesim, which is the belief that humans are somehow separate or superior to other species. The visual aspect of this piece involved the synchonization of 12 slide projectors casting images on a screen the size of a typical movie house.
Mother's Leatherflesh was part of a Collaborative Arts Project known as Ten Visions and was shown twice in 1987 at the Emmy Gifford Theater in Omaha. It was from that experience with Robert Greenberg, executive director of CAP, that Power In The House came to be in the following year.
The track Innocence At Will is from my Recovery EP and is still one of my favorite tracks, desperate and sparse.
Although the Innocence at Will disc is a step up in mastering from previous CDs, it is the Essence and Rarities and Eyes of the Wilderness reissue discs that set the standard for me. I hope to one day re-release the track Innocence at Will in a form that matches the sonic depth of the song.
Digital Sex began by my answering an ad in the fall of 1982 that I had no business answering. A sign in a local record store announced: "Wanted, keyboard player into Japan and Genesis willing to form band." I recognized one of the names on the sign; Dereck. I had met Dereck Higgins a few years before but remembered seeing him on the scene for several years before that. Dereck was always easy to spot in a crowd, a tall, skinny black guy in a sea of white, usually pressed up against the front of a concert stage. A real fan. I didn't know he was a musician.
Arriving at Dereck's house the first day was like walking onto the stage of some weird theater. Literally thousands of records. Music playing constantly. People coming and going from the smoke-filled living room as though there was a revolving door and some sort of relay going on from inside to outside. Musicians, rogues and hangers-on populated this world, and everyone seemed to know each other. I explained to Dereck in a phone call that I was not a keyboardist and I didn't care much for Japan or Genesis, but could I come over anyway? I brought with me on those first visits a Monet, a plastic toy organ that was powered by an electric fan that blew air through the reeds underneath the keyboard. It sounded like an electric harmonica or a very cheap harmonium. We jammed for awhile and started to hang out as friends.
At this time Dereck had finished his second EP, on which he played all the instruments. I heard a test pressing of this record and it really blew me away. It was all instrumental, with simple arrangements, lots of beauty, and no shortage of emotion and sincerity. I could hear influences from Durutti Column to European progressive rock (one of the cuts, "Dream Music," is included here). After hearing this music and knowing that he had no outlet for it, I popped the question of starting a band together. My idea was to begin by learning obscure songs from obscure groups with a few originals thrown in. Gradually the balance would shift to mostly originals with only a few covers.
Dereck said he was interested. His roommate at the time, guitarist John Tingle, was trying to start his own band but agreed to join until something else came along. We easily recruited drummer Greg Tsichlis who, along with Higgins, was part of the band Disco Ranch. Since Disco Ranch had a following and gigs already booked, the thought was to quickly build one set of songs and open the Disco Ranch shows. We didn't have much time so we learned some easy, punky songs and included a few long, droning dirges like Joy Division's "Heart And Soul," New Order's "Chosen Time," and Velvet Underground's "Lady Godiva's Operation." Dereck picked the name Digital Sex from a collection of imaginary band names that he kept in a notebook. I've never asked him what it meant.
Our first gigs solidified our sound and we quickly gained a curious but interested following. And what an unexpected sound it was then; punk rock influences next to those droning dirges. We projected a bulbous, compressed nervousness that was melodic, atmospheric and usually minor-keyed. John's guitar stood out because of his whooshy, phasey, wall-of-sound approach, thanks to his homemade effects and influences from Hendrix, Steve Hillage and Daevid Allen. Greg's metronomic drumming locked tightly into Dereck's seamless bass grooves. I just sort of crooned, kept my eyes closed, and walked off the stage during the long instrumental passages. I was an unknown and inexperienced frontman working with three seasoned veterans. I'm sure we looked rather odd to the casual observer. And keep in mind we're in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1982, playing in local taverns.
Six months after we started, we recorded our first 7" single, "Dervish Dance," backed with "How Many More Times." One thousand copies were pressed on my Post-Ambient Motion label. The covers were silkscreened in black with gold lettering. But things were beginning to change within the band. John announced he would be leaving for personal reasons, so we pushed our soundman, John Miller, into Tingle's vacant stage space.
In the middle of 1984, I started work on a solo EP called Recovery. I wanted to record songs that I thought wouldn't work in a bar, like "The Romance Isn't Over" and "Innocence At Will." So I asked Tingle back into the band long enough to record him and Miller playing together. You can hear their understated chemistry on "Quiet The Longing," "Red Girl," "Self Interest," and "Theory Of Games." But more changes were coming. Greg announced that he would be leaving, and soon thereafter, the band broke up. The first time.
Frustrated that we did not reach what I thought could be our full potential, I proposed that John Tingle, Dereck and I go into the studio and record the songs we had learned just before we disbanded. Dereck played most of the instruments on Essence, while John contributed guitar to about half the tracks, and Greg played drums on one song. Then John, Dereck and I each recorded a solo instrumental piece to offset the usual song-song-song pattern of a typical album. Dereck and I tried mixing the album together with engineer Tom Ware but it wasn't working. Dereck eventually bowed out, leaving it up to Tom and myself. The making of Essence took almost exactly one year, from the first day in the studio to the selection of paper stock for the album sleeve. But when it was finally finished, there was one small problem. There was no band!
Released on Post-Ambient Motion, Essence was distributed and promoted through the channels I had created from earlier efforts with Recovery and the "Dervish Dance" single. Reviews started coming in, mostly positive and sometimes ecstatic endorsements. We were getting airplay across the U.S. and Canada thanks to the record pools of Pollution Control and Rockpool.
Then I spotted an ad in Unsound magazine for a French radio show called "Oxygene," which had ties to the legendary underground label Sordide Sentimental. I would never have sent our album directly to Sordide, knowing its amazing history of releases with Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle, Savage Republic, Durutti Column and many more. I just couldn't imagine us fitting in with all those thoroughbreds. I sent two copies of Essence to the radio show and asked that one copy be forwarded to the label.
About two weeks later, we received a playlist from "Oxygene" that listed "Essence" in its top five. The following week, a letter arrived from Sordide Sentimental. Written by Jean-Pierre Turmel, he expressed immense enthusiasm for the album and wanted to release it with other tracks onto Compact Disc, on the Sordide Sentimental label. We were floored.
The shock of his offer lasted several days. No one was prepared for it. In fact, no one in the band even owned a CD layer! This was 1986 when CDs were regarded as interesting but probably the next 8-track. And it proved to be both a blessing and a hindrance to have our first CD published so early on. It took time for people to relate to it. John, Dereck and I wanted to promote the French disc, entitled Essence & Charm, so we regrouped and added drummer Kevin Kennedy and keyboardist Maureen Evans-Hansen.
Although this lineup was extremely proficient, something was different. The crowds were smaller and turmoil within the band was high. Personality clashes were common and were often expressed on stage with volume wars between musicians. Add to that each individual's personal drama with drugs, ego, religion, and delusional thinking, and you get a huge mess. It really sucked. Then a mutinous movement began to replace me, with the belief that earlier popularity would then return. I had no support from anyone at this time so I left before I was ousted. What hurt the most was the loss of my close friendship with Dereck, who was also my collaborator. A new singer took my place but it only lasted three gigs. I was invited up on stage for that infamous third gig but not everyone in the band was informed of my cameo return. I sang a few songs, left the stage, then got a call the next day that Digital Sex had broken up for what would be the last time. Glad I wasn't there. That was 1987.
Two years had passed and everyone had gone on to other things. But there was still a lot of unresolved anger and lots of hurt feelings. Not much communication at this point. Then I got a call from a friend who was our biggest fan. He said he was getting married and wondered if the band would play at his wedding. I told him I'd do anything for him BUT reform the band. So he said to just do something. I wasn't ready to work again with Dereck but I asked John and Maureen to join me as part of a pseudo-Sex band to play the wedding.
This one-off "tribute" band evolved into The World and included drummer Scott Miller and bassist Craig Crawford who now can be heard as the rhythm section of Mousetrap. I was working on a solo record at the time for New Rose and included The World on a few cuts of Eyes Of The Wilderness. The World performed a sort of quasi-theatrical music with strange time signatures, inventive arrangements, and unlikely melodies, written mostly by Maureen. Our staging of The World included inflated globes hanging from the ceiling, TV monitors playing Burroughs and Eno videos, my Dreamachine, and a World banner that looked like it could have come from a travelling carnival. By contrast, the most Digital Sex ever did was hang a parachute backdrop and John would occasionally wear a papier mache eyeball over his head a la The Residents. The World recorded an album's worth of material that's never been released, then broke up in 1991 due to enthusiastic indifference.
Slowly, the friendship between myself and Dereck began to reconnect. Around this time, acoustic unplugged-style shows were in vogue. I noticed a poster where John and Dereck were each performing solo acoustic shows on the same bill at the same theatre. I called them and suggested the three of us do a few Sex songs but not advertise it. We did it, and it was intense and emotional. But a bridge had been built. We did two more shows like this and even managed an electric reunion with Greg who was visiting Omaha for a few days.
Near the end of 1993, I started talking with Randy LeMasters who, as a DJ, had single-handedly built a sizeable following of Digital Sex fans in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He'd been playing our French CD on his "Modern Times" radio show for several years and would constantly receive phone calls from listeners wanting to know how to find the disc. Pat Smith at Discovery Records in nearby Greensburg kept the record in stock as best he could but would always sell out. The CD became almost impossible to find, but the interest there never waned.
Pat and Randy's combination of self-inspired promotion and true fanaticism takes us to the present day, to this CD you're holding. Randy quit his DJ job and opened his own music store, Randy's Alternative Music. Confident he could fill a void and meet a demand, he offered to release a special Digital Sex CD, one that would be easier to find and easier to afford. We both had almost the same idea for this CD, so Essence And Rarities: 1982-1987 was born. It includes the Essence LP and 10 tracks that have never seen the laser light of day, all digitally remastered for a big sonic improvement. This project inspired John, Dereck and I to reunite again and include drummer Dan Crowell for the 1994 version of Digital Sex. What happens next is anyone's guess but it sure feels good right now.
To Randy, our thanks for your willingness to tackle this project and for giving the band a reason to return to this music with clear heads and open hearts. To Tom Ware, our deepest appreciation for being there for us since day one and helping us shape our sound. To you, the reader and listener, we hope you enjoy the journey into our style of Ambient Pop.
Much of "Nutrition for the Beautician" repeats portions of Stephen's "The Story of Digital Sex." The excerpts below focus mostly on new events and details. I've added a few comments of my own. -- Travis
In the fall of 1982, I answered an ad posted on the bulletin board of Homer's Records. It said something to the effect of, "Keyboardist wanted, must be into Genesis and Japan." There were two names and phone numbers on the ad, one of them I recognized as Dereck Higgins. The other, Gary Foster, I did not know at the time but he ended up being my boss at (where else) Homer's Records many years later.
Not being a keyboardist and not really caring for either Genesis or Japan, I thought I'd give Dereck a call. I did not know him that well, but I always saw him at concerts, record stores, gatherings of any kind where there was music and people. I started hanging out with him... he had an incredible record collection and a lot of interesting people around all the time.
One day, I asked [Dereck] to jam with me while I played a toy organ. He played his little Casio keyboard. The jam went on between the two of us for probably an hour or so. I didn't know what I was doing but it sounded good and felt right.
When I first hung around Dereck, he was putting the finishing touches on his 2nd EP and was also rehearsing with Disco Ranch. When he played me the tape of this latest EP, I was completely blown away. He not only had played all the instruments, but he wrote this instrumental music that had so much feeling, beauty and majesty, that I said to myself, "I gotta do something with this guy." One night, he and I were driving downtown to see The Phones at Howard Street Tavern. On the way down, I asked him what he thought about the idea of starting a band. He said, "Sure, why not?" And thus began Digital Sex.
Check out the groups they covered! More are listed later on...
We worked up a set of covers, "The Old Men" (The Wake), "Killing An Arab" (The Cure), "Heart And Soul" (Joy Division), "Lady Godiva's Operation" (Velvet Underground), "Needles In The Camel's Eye" (Brian Eno), "Chosen Time" (New Order), "The Eye Dance" (Comsat Angels), and a few originals, "The Days Go," "Bright Lights," etc, and we were on our way.
We stretched out a few of these songs to kill time, allowing John to "tingle" the crowd with his phase-shifting, wash of sound. During these passages, I would leave the stage and stand behind a PA stack. When I would sing, I would stand in front of the mike with my eyes closed and sort of croon while the band throbbed behind me, propelled by Dereck's deep bass (and bobbing head), and Greg's precision drumming (I was so shy during rehearsals that I would sing in a separate room!).
This version of the band played often (sometimes too much), and we occasionally showed up at some of the strangest places. Besides Howard Street, there was Jasper's, our debut at Saner's with one of Greg's other bands, the Flying Kangaroos, a place on Dodge Street called The Music Box (not the legendary Music Box in downtown), Arthur's (!) opening for R.E.M. at the 20's (!!), UNO, private parties, the Drumstick, the Zoo, and Larry's Showcase, all in Lincoln, the Crow's Nest (Iowa City) and So's Your Mama (Des Moines) opening for The Phones, the infamous gig at 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis... but it was at a place called Don't Drink The Water where I first remember seeing this one kid.
At this point I'd like to point out that "Nutrition for the Beautician" was a letter addressed to Tony, a huge Digital Sex fanatic. Tony is the "kid" repeatedly mentioned in this story, so when Stephen pokes fun at him it is always with affection and humor. The first time I read this story I had no idea why Stephen kept picking on the one kid, so hopefully my comment here will clear things up for you!
I've left the bits about Tony in because they illustrate the extreme dedication that Digital Sex fans had and still have for the group and its music, despite the repeated breakups and reunions...
All I knew about [Tony, the kid] was that he was way too young to be out seeing Euro-druggie bands in bad bars, and that he would usually come up to me during a break and talk about David Bowie or something. At the time, we started doing "Let's Dance" before it broke on the radio, and this kid wouldn't leave us alone. I knew he was in high school and I thought his girlfriend was worth stealing, but besides that he was kind of a pest. Because hindsight is usually 20/20, to that pestiness I say now, thank God. I didn't realize it at the time (obviously) but this kid was a fan, an honest to God FAN. But only because I didn't really think what Digital Sex was doing was really getting through to anyone, and at first I was hard pressed to believe that this guy was anything more than just another talker.
By now, our originals included "Whisper Words," "Second Wind," "Self Interest," "Theory Of Games," "Blue Sidewalks," "Several Seconds Later," "Dervish Dance," "How Many More Times" (the two former being recorded for a single by this lineup), "The Days Go," and "Sex In The Spring." Covers were "Natural's Not In It" (Gang Of Four), "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (Joy Division), "Age Of Consent" (New Order), "Into You Like A Train" (Psychedelic Furs), a couple of Wire songs, and an Oedipal adaptation of "Charade" by The Skids.
John Tingle had to quit the band so he was replaced by our occasional soundman, John Miller. Miller felt awkward stepping into Tingle's role, but his learned approach was another step in the band's growth. Cover material at this point would have been "Dance Godammit" (Sparks), and "Up The Down Staircase" (The Chameleons), and I remember "Quiet The Longing" being one of the originals. This version of the band did not last long (Greg quit this time), and soon there was no more Digital Sex. But I did get some studio sessions out of this group, with the inclusion of Tingle, by way of the Recovery EP.
With no more band, a wealth of good material and so much promise unfulfilled, I approached Dereck with the idea of recording a posthumous album, at my expense... Reviewers responded favorably to the simplicity and beauty of Essence, so it was time to get a band going again.
Tingle agreed to rejoin, we hired the first drummer who auditioned, Kevin Kennedy, and we finally got a keyboardist, Maureen Evans-Hansen, who was a friend of Dereck's brother, James. While this band rehearsed and performed, I was getting more and more into running my Post-Ambient Motion label [and] attending music seminars in New York.
The new band got busy in the studio [recording what were to become the extra tracks on Essence and Charm] but problems developed. In an attempt to facilitate the process, I proposed that we let Tom Ware, our longtime engineer, make mixes of the songs, present them to us for our comments, then go back and mix again with our comments in mind. This worked for a little while, but... the CD sessions went beyond the $2000 advance, the mixes were for the most part rather loud and not in the style of the "Essence" LP... but it was done and we could move on.
Shortly after that, the band was contacted by a new British label called Dead Man's Curve for a track to include on its next compilation album. I weasled an advance out of the label, and we went in and recorded "Astray" live to the two-track master. This time, we did not go over budget.
Even though we were receiving critical acclaim from reviewers and interest (and let's not forget money!) from European labels, the band was in disarray... I was destroying my voice trying to overpower the [loud drums and guitars]. By this time, the band had gone through several personnel changes (Tingle was ready to leave again), and an unpaid studio bill from the LP sessions that continued to swell with interest. Something had to give. John finally left, so I suggested we add Dave Nordin on guitar. Rehearsals were promising but I never got to play with Dave in the band.
Digital Sex performed sans Stephen for a while, with Nordin taking over vocals.
On the first night of a two-night stand at Howard Street, Kevin came up to me at break and asked if I would sit in the next night for a few songs... I said I'd do it. I got up there and roared through about 20 minutes of material and it felt great. It felt even more great knowing I could just jump off the stage and walk away.
Even though I wasn't in a band... I kept busy and did a variety of musical things. I sat in on a set with Jared Alberico and his Doo-Rags playing 70's covers like "Under My Wheels," "Timothy," "Buick McKane," and "Transmission" by Joy Division (somewhere there is a poster to this gig where they placed a head shot of Pat Boone on a stickman body announcing me as special guest). I did a one-off project with Bart Wolfe and Jerry Smith called Missionary Position which did a little recording but experienced some communication problems. I wrote music for a couple theater performances, "Controversy Clears The Air," and "Mother's Leatherflesh," a soundtrack to speciesism that was part of the multi-media extravaganza "Ten Visions." I proposed Power In The House , helped produce the debut album by The Acorns, distributed the Atomic Breathing album, assisted Jeff Clayman and Steve Schneider in their debut recordings, and bought and distributed a couple hundred copies of the Digital Sex CD throughout the United States, even though there was no band.
But remember that pest I told you about earlier? He entered the picture again, this time with an incredibly harebrained scheme. He tells me he's getting married in a few months, and could I get Digital Sex back together to play his wedding. Sure, pal, right after I finish parting the Red Sea. I said, "Ask me anything but that." So he replied, "Well, figure something out."
So I took a huge breath of air and started thinking... Would John or Maureen be interested? John said he would, Maureen took some convincing but finally agreed. I knew this young band in town called Mousetrap with a good rhythm section... I thought that their clear-sperm exuberence would liven up the material through their interpretation and I figured they could be fun to work with, which would make this project enjoyable for everyone. Mike Fratt of The Acorns offered his basement for rehearsal and there we were.
But while this was going on, I was bitten by the studio bug again and thought that I'd give this music biz one more try. So I started cutting demos and sending them around. And while this version of pseudo-Sex was getting ready for the wedding, I had secured a solo CD & LP deal with New Rose Records of Paris, France. The band did one warm up gig before the wedding in front of The Acorns underneath the French Cafe (appropriate, non?). It was amazing. it felt good and it sounded good. We were ready. The wedding gig went well with less fuck-ups than a real Sex gig!
I accepted that that would be it. But the younger guys, Craig Crawford on bass and Scott Miller on drums, thought we were fools to stop here. So we all got together a few days later and agreed to carry on, calling ourselves The World. I told the band I was cutting a record for New Rose, and that I would pay them $10 an hour to play as either individuals or as the group. It was really exciting to release music by a band so young. What a rare time. The finished album, Eyes Of The Wilderness, contained a couple reworked Sex songs, including "Radium Lovers," which came on the prompting of... remember that pest?
But the Sex thing, like many a romance, was not over. Remember that studio bill? It still wasn't getting paid. So the idea came up to organize a Digital Sex reunion concert to help pay the bill. The gig [which consisted of Stephen, Maureen, John, Dereck, and Tom Ware] was at Sokol Hall with For Against as our opener, and it was strange. Very tense but at times very moving.
Sadly, this reunion did not last long...
With the Sex saga finally over, I'm working in a great band with dedicated people... We're all a little older, a little smarter, a bit more sober, and I think a lot better at communicating. Another record deal came to be, this one a compilation CD of Sex and solo material under my name from an new American label called Emigre. At the time of this writing, The World is working on a debut release with the hopes of finding a label to promote it and help us pay off our loan that we secured to make the recording.
Meantime, I'm enjoying my personal life more that I ever have and I'm looking forward to growing within this band. And I owe a lot of this happiness and success to that little pest from Westside, who kept a candle burning in a wind tunnel. Thank you, Tony, for never failing to believe even when there was nothing but memories.
"A Strained Review" was sent by Stephen to The Public Pulse editorial page in the Omaha World-Herald and was published 11 January 1986. It and its much longer follow-up convey some of the difficulties artists face when dealing with unfavorable (or downright antagonistic) reviewers, and show Stephen's highly active, visible role in supporting and promoting his band.
In his strained review of the Digital Sex LP "Essence" (Entertainment Magazine, Jan. 5), Roger Catlin exaggerated demerits and disregarded accomplishments. Caitlin did not mention that the song "Whisper Words" from "Essence" has been chosen for an upcoming compilation album of American music by Thirsty Ear Productions of New York. Or that from our home base of Omaha, the two other core members of Digital Sex and myself have released among us three EPs, one LP and four cassettes and have had our music played across America, in Canada, and in Europe.
Young people who wish to express themselves musically are forced to look outside of Omaha for evaluation and encouragement so long as Catlin writes music reviews for The World-Herald.
I wrote this editorial to the Omaha World-Herald in response to the third time a certain reviewer trashed Digital Sex unfairly. Here's the story.
Roger Catlin was a thorn in the side of Digital Sex during his tenure at the local paper. Because he was the only record reviewer they had, there was little choice but to submit our recordings to him in hopes of receiving some form of free, mass publicity. Omaha radio rarely played any of its local artists at that time, so Roger's column was the sole reference point for the general public. Most people, I found out, believe that a band's music only gets played on radio or TV if it's "good enough." A bad review must mean you're not good enough. After all, critics are experts and their reviews are always correct.
Catlin had reviewed the "Dervish Dance" single, my solo "Recovery" EP, and the "Essence" LP over a 3-year period, and his reviews got increasingly mean and insensitive. He attacked, humiliated and embarrassed us again and again. He made a point of going after me directly by referring to me as "always the weakest link in Digital Sex", and by describing my vocals as "a drone is just a drone." The only good thing Roger Catlin ever did for us was spell our names right.
When a person or group exposes their work to the public, a certain amount of rejection is expected. But one can only take so much "rejection" when it comes in the form of repeated personal attacks. Three years was enough. I had had it. And I wasn't the first person to publicly take Roger to task about his insults.
Two fans, Robin DaFoe and Arlen Lazaroff, each wrote separate editorials to the Public Pulse condemning Catlin's attitude over the years. I was pleasantly surpised that other people noticed Catlin's sarcasm and were compelled to write about it in a public forum. Makes me wonder if Roger received similar mail directly to his cubicle that no one else knew about.
It was painfully obvious that Roger didn't like Digital Sex or my solo work, but it was too much for him to admit that our music wasn't his taste or that he just didn't get it. Roger once compared us to the Duran Duran offshoot Arcadia. That was the best he could come up with. He'd never heard of Fra Lippo Lippi or Durutti Column or Factory Records. He had no idea where we were coming from.
Like most critics, Roger's point of reference was the music he was given by record labels, the contents of his personal record collection, and the shows he attended. He loved Elvis Costello because he looked like him. Other writers on the paper wrote articles describing our progress and successes with various lables around the country and in Europe, and that we were going to be the first Omaha band to release a CD. We were getting radio and TV interviews. Our shows were well-attended and exciting. Momentum was building and we were doing everything ourselves. Then there was Roger the Cranky Curmudgeon, always there to keep us "in check."
I had people ask me constantly, "Who is this Catlin guy? What's his problem?" I knew how to read between the lines. It's been said that a rock critic is simply a repressed musician. But in Roger's case, he was irascible as well as repressed. It wasn't until years later that I realized that Roger's caustic reviews could have damaged us more than I knew.
Our records had been getting mentioned in the L.A. Times, Billboard, Interview and lots of other national and international magazines, including trade publications. We were getting airplay on college stations throughout the U.S. and Canada. It would be natural that a record label might be curious about a band whose name keeps reappearing on the charts and in magazines, particularly a band with a name as odd as ours. Record labels have close relationships with promoters, radio and press. If a label couldn't track down a band directly, it would call one of its contacts in the band's hometown for some inside information. What would a radio person in Omaha (or even Roger, for that matter) tell a record label about Digital Sex if all they knew were those whiny reviews in the World-Herald? I can just imagine: "Digital Sex? Oh, I hear they're not that good. Don't bother."
Well, after all this time, I'd like to say thanks, Roger. Thanks for being a jerk.
Stephen talks about some Digital Sex posters that he mailed me, and their context in the history of the band. Some of these are on the Images page.
The first 3 come from a series of 5 I did in 86/87. They were all on solid color backgrounds. Home computers weren't around then and the words "desktop publishing" meant nothing. Everything was done by hand, cut and paste, and copy machines were part of the manipulation. Knowing that people would first see these at a distance on lamp poles and bulletin boards, an attempt was made to first catch their eye with the color and an undiscernable design. They weren't always obvious or easy to read, but with patience the viewer would be rewarded. I saw this series as pieces of a code; clues or symbols that would lead a person to something interesting.
Next is a poster whose design was used over and over. The "pill-faced men" were created by K.Rae (aka Kathy Madcharo) in 1984. She was the one that came up with the term Post-Ambient Motion to describe our sound from those early days, a kind of a throbbing repetitive pulse that was never really captured on record. We used a bass keyboard called a Moog Rogue that enabled us to flood the room with a deep sonorous wave of low frequencies. I loved that thing. It was so beautiful. Radium Lovers was originally written on the Moog with a vibrating bass line similar to a lot of Euro-disco records of the time but much faster and more urgent. This was the "nervous" part of our sound that contrasted with the pastoral "charm." Back to the poster: as I understand it, Kathy is now in New York designing clothes or working in the fashion industry. She and I once saw The Ramones play at a college in Grinnel, Iowa, inside their gymnasium. It was kind of like a sock hop.
The orange reunion poster you've probably already seen but here is an original. For me, the first and last lineups of DS were the most enjoyable and the most satisfying. We hadn't played with Greg since he moved away and when we heard he would be coming home for Xmas, we put together a one-off at the F.O.E. Hall. We did nearly everything from our early days together, including covers by the ComSat Angels, the Wake, the Names, Joy Division and New Order. This lineup did a particularly great version of NO's "Ceremony," as well as "Natural's Not In It" by Gang of Four. This lineup had a certain chemistry that is rare among bands. I'm grateful to have known it and felt it.
The New Year's poster was a workout for Greg as he played drums in all three bands. Saner's Lounge was a small North Omaha neigborhood bar that was leading the way for original music in Omaha at the time. The year was 1982 and it was probably our 3rd or 4th gig ever. The Flying Kangaroos were a great pop band that included John Miller. Disco Ranch featured Joe Budenholzer, an amazingly talented and versatile musician and performer, along with Dereck. This was one of my favorite DS gigs ever.
The S.A.C. benefit in Lincoln was one of the few benefits that we did but we usually enjoyed playing in Lincoln regardless, particularly at the legendary Drumstick. This show at Larry's Showcase included one of my all-time favorite Lincoln bands, The Click. Sara Kovanda played keyboards, was an incredible singer and had a presence like Siouxsie Sue. The drummer and bassist, Tim Drelicharz and Steve Warsocki, were from one of the best Omaha bands ever, The Rebates. Steve played bass on two studio tracks for me, Red Girl and Innocence At Will. He later went on to join Atomic Breathing, by far my favorite Omaha band of all time (hi, Dickson).
The final poster entitled September Sex shows us at the crazy pace we once kept. There's actually a show missing from the poster, making it 14 shows in 30 days (including a Minneapolis show), 2 to 3 hours per show. This kind of pace, along with my drug use at the time, torched my throat for a few gigs. Now I've noticed most bands play once, maybe twice a month and usually for one set. I don't get it. I can't tell if they're lazy or don't have the material or just don't care. This was probably 1983 or 84, when our sound man was Dean Dobmeier who somehow kept sane (probably by endlessly playing Todd Rundgren between sets.)
Hope you like them!
Here's the email exchange between Randy and me that got me into Digital Sex:
Randy: "Are you a fan of Digital Sex? For Against and Sex are the greatest bands to ever come out of Nebraska!!! Influences on Digital Sex were: Joy Division, Section 25, Comsat Angels, Durutti Column, and The Cure--all music wholeheartedly loved by myself and Jeff Runnings [For Against]!! Jeff plays on a cut on the Digital Sex cd, as well as on the Stephen Sheehan cd. Both discs were released by me thru my Randy's Alternative label."
Travis: "Wow, I'm anxious to hear Digital Sex! Great list of influences! How much does a CD cost? Maybe I'll order it from you..."
Randy: "The cds are $15 a piece. I would LOVE to sell them to you... Those cds mean so very much to me and I love to get them out to people who have never heard them before. Sheehan's vocals are mesmorizing and the music is beautiful! ...Go for both! You NEED them!!!"
I finally got to meet Stephen and Dereck! Stephen's girlfriend Jeanne (or "G-Ne") was nice enough to pick me up from the Amtrak station, and drove me back to their place. I konked out on their comfy spare bed and woke up to incense, exotic wall art, a peaceful jog through town, and a delicious home-cooked breakfast of fruits and grains and things! Very healthy, very yummy!
Stephen and I chatted about music, vegetarianism, Ayurveda, and our journeys in the Pacific NorthWest. When G-Ne got back from her errands, the three of us had lunch (excellent vegetarian burritos!) and drove to a park across the border in Kansas. We had a nice hike through the beautiful autumn trees to what looked like a fairy mound, and then headed back into town.
After a traumatic day at work, Dereck picked me up from Stephen's and drove me to his place, where we pored over his immense music collection! We chilled out, listened to cool tunes (including some of his new songs!) and talked about his job, music, and gigs. Stephen picked me up and we all had dinner at Stephen's. The food was awesome, and it was great to see Stephen and Dereck getting along so well.
After dinner, Dereck headed off to a gig and Stephen and I drove downtown to experience the Omaha nightlife. We watched one of his friends' very strange spoken-word performances, visited G-Ne at her job in a huge Ice Cream shop. We then headed over to a restaurant where Dereck was playing in an utterly chaotic, whoever-wants-to-join-in band. The energy in the place was high, but I was dragging and Stephen looked tired too.
The marathon day came to a close as Stephen dropped me off at the Amtrak station, where I caught my train and headed into the West...
It was an utterly enjoyable 24 hours. I wish I could have stayed there longer. Stephen and Dereck are both considerate, positive, and intelligent people. They have none of the "RockStar" haughtiness, overdrama, and extremism that I was half-expecting. Neither were they depressed, defeatist or forever nostalgic for the "good old days" when Digital Sex was at its most active and popular. This was my first time meeting music heroes, and I was very impressed by how well they were doing as people.