"Hello ! David has done a lot of typing and organizing to put all this together. There are notes for 1996 - 2006 in progress," says Jean.
The Early Years:
In the 60s, Jean messes around with 1/4" reel to reel tape recorder and sings in school choir. In the 70s Jean is a ski instructor -- she paints self-portraits in watercolour and takes some acoustic guitar lessons. Graduating from high school, Jean receives scholarship to attend art school. In the early 80s Jean co-owns a 37' sailboat and travels in Europe for 6 months in a VW van. Jean takes the last name Smith in a marriage ceremony at Vancouver's Unitarian Church on Oak Street -- the church where the name Green Peace was coined years earlier. In the mid 80s Jean starts publishing a zine called Smarten Up! -- copies are delivered free to record and book stores every three weeks -- the zine turns into the a record label to release the first Mecca Normal LP.
The backyard -- Jean painting in foreground.(1962)
Jean at about age 8.
David Lester, "I'd just graduated from high school when reports from England started to appear in the music papers -- punk rock seemed too bizarre to comprehend. I believe I attended the first punk rock show in Vancouver, Canada. It would have been late ’76 or early ’77 at the Japanese Hall. The musicians still had longish 70s hair and wide-leg pants, but the punk energy was new and very exciting. Hundreds of Vancouver punk shows followed with line-ups including Moral Lepers, The Dishrags, The K-Tels (legally forced to change their name to Young Canadians), the Subhumans, and D.O.A. – who are still playing.
Vancouver was ready for the politically-fuelled punk rock ethic. This region's radical perspective comes from the very active labor movement of the 1920s and 30s (logging, fishing and longshoring). My grandfather, an immigrant from Scotland, was involved with the Industrial Workers of the World (known as Wobblies); he played a horn in the IWW band, and travelled around the Pacific Northwest organizing unions. In the 60s, the counter-culture flourished as Americans dodging the war in Vietnam arrived in Canada. Political concerns and cultural events were expressed in Vancouver's underground paper The Georgia Straight.
In the late 70s, when punk rock hit, I was the art director at The Georgia Straight – which was by then turning into a more conventional entertainment paper. I put the PMT (photo mechanical transfer) camera to use in my designs for gig posters.
From 1976 into the 80s I worked on the collectively-run international anarchist newspaper Open Road. My artwork – color portraits of anarchists Mikhail Bakunin, Sacco and Vanzetti, and the anarcha-feminist Emma Goldman -- were featured as pull-out posters.
Vancouver’s original punk rock scene coincided with a wide-spread opposition to the right-wing government of the day. In 1983, the erosion of labor rights culminated in a dramatically staged, province-wide general strike. The labor-funded Solidarity Times began publishing, and I was hired as its designer.
Punk bands played benefits for End The Arms Race, Prison Justice Day, anti-poverty campaigns, Rape Relief, funding for teen centers, legal defense funds for activists, opposition to apartheid in South Africa etc. Of all the musical genres, punk rockers were the most consistent supporters of radical causes. Although youth and style oriented, there were occasions for general audiences, when D.O.A. played a benefit show with Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, for example.
My brother, Ken Lester, was D.O.A.’s manager in the 80s. I was drawn into their sphere to design the band’s album covers, posters, T-shirts, and stickers.
Posters were the main method of letting people know about shows and political rallies. Today the battle for poster space is fierce, an anti-poster bylaw makes postering somewhat risky. Teams of youths who look like punk rockers are employed to strip posters off lamp standards. Communication at street level has become a politicized issue."
1982 - Jean and David meet while working in the production department of a weekly community newspaper in Vancouver, Canada.
Mecca Normal play their first show with D.O.A. at the punk club Smilin' Buddha in Vancouver. Photo Ian Smith.
Jean at the first Mecca Normal show. Photo Ian Smith.
1984-85: Mecca Normal play countless hardcore shows around Vancouver.
1985: self-record first album. Writing many of the songs as they were being recorded.
1985 rehearsal version of the first song Mecca Normal wrote. Photos of Jean Smith and David Lester from various sources, mostly the mid-80s. Credits -- Oraf, Ian Smith. Video by Jean Smith, 2010.
January 25: First Mecca Normal album released on their own label Smarten Up!
Jean designs and creates the cover art, just as she will for every Mecca Normal release.
We recorded most of the album at Sounds Fine To Me Studio (our rehearsal space, Bob and Joyce’s garage) on our cassette 4 track. The songs marked * were recorded as we wrote them, on the first time through. It was originally released on our label, Smarten Up! Records. – Jean Smith on the first Mecca Normal album
Jean’s favorite songs on the first Mecca Normal album: Not With You was the first time I ever tried vocal harmonies. I played it for my boyfriend, but he wasn’t as excited due to the content of the song. "I won’t live your life, not with you." I Walk Alone is special because we’ve done it at almost every show. Are You Hungry Joe? was written while I listened to a radio interview with a guy in a food bank line-up.
David’s favorite songs on the first Mecca Normal album: Beaten Down. I Walk Alone.
I Walk Alone
I go downtown
I go out alone
I walk alone
This city’s my home
I walk alone
I’m not alone in my home.
Ya you fight the system
When you’re 22,
But we all grow up
To be beaten down.
Mecca Normal fly to Montreal for their first tour (with Rhythm Activism) of 3 cities. During a radio interview on CBC’s Brave New Waves, the two bands decide to create the Black Wedge. A group of travelling poets and minimalist musicians.
My old pal Norman Nawrocki is coming to Vancouver January 3 to perform at Rhizome.
I met Norman at the Mecca Normal first LP release party (1986) at my apartment where I think I was rolling sushi. I remember talking with Norman -- an old friend of Dave's -- about his Montreal-based project Rhythm Activism who were also an anarchist guitar and voice duo. We started making plans to play together in the spring. Norman organized Spring Uprising -- two sold out shows at Montreal's Cafe Commune, a national radio interview with Brent Bambury on CBC's Brave New Waves and a show in Ottawa where we did some sort of improvised piece at the end of the night and I recall listening to it in the car after the show and we all laughed so hard we were crying. We stayed at Sylvain's -- Norman's guitar player -- and went to some clubs and it was a totally amazing time for us. Sylvain's friend Natalie looked pretty much exactly like me. She didn't really speak English and I don't speak French, but we laughed a lot and went roller skating around the city stopping a various bars. She's a singer and a painter and she's still going -- we reconnected a few years back and she came to our last Montreal show. We sat outside and smiled at each other and muddled our way through in French and English, but really, it's a lovely connection because, well, we're look-a-likes -- same stature, similar mannerisms and the same smile... it's strange.
Montreal 1986 -- look-a-likes Natalie Dion and Jean take a break from rollerskating between nightclubs to smile the same way for the camera.
MN first album goes #1 at CJSR in Edmonton, Alberta. While the college newspaper says: “… Need to find this article for actual quote… basically that this is the worst record ever made and that David should kill Jean...
The Vancouver Province reviews the album: “What they reveal is an unvarnished, unpremeditated, wholly natural songwriting skill. This is a naked and very close musical relationship.”
The Nerve (Toronto) says of the album: “THIS IS ABSOLUTELY THE WORST THING I’VE EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE.”
“GO AWAY, FIND SOMETHING TO SAY, AND GET SOMEONE ELSE TO SAY IT!!”—Airtight (Edmonton)
David’s D.O.A. album cover is nominated for best design at the west coast music awards.
MN participate in anti-Expo 86 activities by making a t-shirt, bumper sticker, painting anti-Expo slogans on the Mexican pavilion and an EP with D.O.A. called Expo Hurts Everyone. The exposition involved evicting tenants in poor areas to make way for tourists.
Jean writes, "The only time I got on Expo site was when the Mexican pavilion invited Vancouver artists to come and do graffiti ...somehow calls were made around the art community and a bunch of artist / activists went down to participate... in Mexico, evidently, graffiti is viewed differently than here... or so we believed at the time (I should research this)... that our work was somehow protected, as it is in Mexico, as part of culture... we got there and they showed us where to do our work and we let loose and spray painted anti-expo slogans all over the place until tussles with security broke up the party... fleeing artists, dufflebags of spraypaint cans clunking as we ran... looking over our shoulders for Expo Ernie."
D.O.A. manager Ken Lester organizes the first Black Wedge tour down the west coast to Los Angeles in an old school bus borrowed from D.O.A. -- anti-authoritarian, poets, minimalist musicians. Ken Lester, Bryan James, David L Pritchett, Norman, Sylvain, Dave and I and our driver Gary Taylor who did his first poetry reading on the tour. Dave's brother Ken was D.O.A.'s manager at the time -- that's how we got the bus. Ken was a 1960s radical and inspiration to Dave as a kid. He's ten years older than Dave. Ken put the group together and it was really our first tour after the few shows in the east with Norman. Notice it was all guys except for me. -- Jean
David Lester, "In 1985 I formed the anarchist guitar and voice duo Mecca Normal with singer Jean Smith. We organized a series of tours in Canada, the U.S. and England called The Black Wedge – we kicked off our first tour by selling out two nights in a Vancouver nightclub. Political poetry? Nightclub? Sold-out? No one had heard of such a thing. As the poster stated, “We are anti-authoritarian poets and minimalist musicians reclaiming our voices, taking back culture, setting our wild hearts free!"
We borrowed D.O.A.’s school bus and drove the west coast playing clubs, a soup kitchen, an alternative school, radio stations, parties, and a bookstore. These tours continued for a few years – the name, The Black Wedge, is up for grabs. Take the name and create a tour! Like those bicycles in Holland -- you just take them and leave them for the next rider."
Touring the west coast in 1986 opened our eyes to a whole different underground, a whole new "punk rock". Everywhere we visited we met artists, writers, musicians and activists with a DIY aesthetic and their own methods for making things happen. It was a challenge for us, could these berry-picking, pie-baking kids organizing dance parties and swimming hole picnics be political? Everyone happy, picking up instruments to join in the fun. Us with our smash the state ferocity, and them with a bag of marshmallows and some extra sticks."
“We want to set some wild hearts and imaginations free. We want to release a riot of emotion – opening up a new arena for activist resistance culture. Disintegrate CONFORMITY. And hey, it’s going to be fun too.” – Black Wedge poster, Ken Lester quote... maybe the part about "fun" was me -- Jea
Jean designs all the posters, t-shirts and booklets for the Black Wedge tour.
They play a sold out show at a club in Vancouver, as well as a free school, soup kitchen, anarchist bookstore and art gallery during the tour.
During the tour, instead of changing his t-shirt, Ken Lester simply cuts the smelly bits out.
Bob Dylan's old friend David Whitaker jumps aboard the bus and attends several Bay Area Black WQedge events. Later in the summer Whitaker makes his way to Vancouver to hang out with Black Wedge participants.
August 1, 1986.
"I remember the date because it was my birthday. Driving into town with Bob Dylan's old pal David Whitaker -- no dentures, a bandaid holding his glasses together. Dylan was playing that night at BC Place – a white marshmallow dome -- and we got a flat on the viaduct, not half a mile from where Dylan was probably doing soundcheck. Whitaker, unable to loosen the lug nuts, was standing on the sidewalk looking at BC Place -- soon to fill with Dylan fans -- while I changed the tire on my white Toyota Corolla. Whitaker took Dylan to his first political demonstration -- he's credited with being an important influence in Dylan's early evolution in terms of poetry, self-expression and philosophy." -- Jean Smith
Option Magazine (Los Angeles) review of first album: “Everyone tells them to ‘Get a drummer’, I get the feeling these two don’t need to listen to everyone.”
It is on the Black Wedge tour stop in Olympia that Mecca Normal meets and exchanges albums with Calvin Johnson of K Records. A beat happening LP for a Mecca Normal LP.
The Black Wedge on MySpace
Pollution Control (Cleveland) distributes our first album to radio stations for free.
“I guarantee you will never find anything remotely like this on a major label—it virtually defies description.”—Rock Express (Toronto)
“Mecca Normal is more like an insect that, once landed, can be distastefully but easily disposed of.”—The Rocket (Seattle)
“Smith uses her voice much like a harmonica, sweeping between soft and smooth to loud and raw.”—Pollution Control (Cleveland)
Strong White Male is recorded and mixed at Fiasco Brothers just outside of Vancouver.
Calvin Johnson of K Records writes to ask for a contribution to a compilation cassette he is putting out on K called “Let’s Sea”. Mecca Normal writes and records Smile Baby for it.
Mecca Normal plays Bellingham with Beat Happening, Screaming Trees and Girl Trouble. Slim Moon is in the audience.
Jean starts new zine “The Yap”.
Mecca Normal records and releases 3 song 7” EP on K Records called “Oh Yes You Can.” The songs are: Strong White Male, Man Thinks Woman and More, More, More. It is the 4th 7” released as part of the International Pop Underground series.
Strong White Male
Strong white male
here’s a world for you
Most of us are the one’s to lose,
To lose, To lose.
My cup is empty,
Man Thinks ‘Woman’
Man thinks ‘woman’ when he talks to me – ‘something not quite right.’
I talk to men and the ground turns to rolling sea.
The world is a wave tossing back whatever I throw in.
Jean organizes 2nd Black Wedge tour (across Canada) with Peter Plate (San Francisco), Mourning Sickness (Toronto); Rhythm Activism (Montreal) and Bryan James (Vancouver).
“The BLACK WEDGE is spreading the word of how to combine poetry, music and politics and have a good time doing it. The BLACK WEDGE wants to inspire people to reclaim their voices and speak out against oppression. If you fight for a little, you don’t get a lot.”—Black Wedge poster
Mecca Normal attend Peace March and a massive demonstration protesting anti-labour code changes. They also do a pro-labour art exhibit in the Window for Non-Commercial Culture (Vancouver). It is their first exhibit.
“It (first Mecca Normal album) is the radical LP of the year, and the most listened to here at the swinging bachelor pad.”—Puncture (San Francisco
Mecca Normal goes on west coast tour of K Records bands (Spook and the Zombies, Rich Jensen and Go Team).
Jean makes her first chapbook: Hot Pink -- the history of a situation.
David designs Canada’s largest book publication called BC BookWorld. This continues for 20 years and counting…
In his review of “Oh Yes You Can” in The Rocket, Bruce Pavitt (Sup Pop co-founder) writes a Dear Jean letter: “The next time you and your guitar friend David come south from Vancouver, you should stop by my apartment. We can drink papaya nectar and talk about why America has so many serial killers.”
David quits his 4-day a week job at a Vancouver magazine in order to tour. He decides to go freelance doing graphic design for the next 11 years.
Black Wedge, Vancouver to Montreal on the same bus the included more women -- Nellie Bolt was our driver and Mourning Sickness -- a feminist trio from Toronto who I'd never met or even heard before I booked them across the country -- their tape got lost in the mail so they simply got on the god damned Greyhound and met up with jingle man Bryan James, also en route from Toronto.
I recall them phoning the prairies saying the bus had broken down and they'd carried their instruments across a farmer's field... oh god. -- Jean
Record “Calico Kills the Cat” in 2 days at Yo Yo Studios (a former chicken coop) in Olympia with Calvin Johnson.
NME (New Musical Express) in England lists the “Oh Yes You Can” EP as a single of the week, saying “Oh… what a lovely sparse sound.”
David designs his first book cover “Nuclear Empire.”
MN tours eastern US using public transit (planes, trains and buses). Sleep one night in a place called the Manson hostel where an urn sits at the base of the bed.
May 13, 1988
Anarchist Switchboard, New York City
A cassette tape of our show exists. Bob Z of Bad Newz punkzine helped us get this show in a small cellar.
Here's a description from Dan Sabater, who became an anarchist in the 9th grade:
"The first spot I stumbled onto was the Anarchist Switchboard located in the basement of 324 East 9th Street between 1st and 2nd. I think it was opened in 1986 by a guy from the Libertarian (aka Anarchist) Book Club. A girl from my high school took me down there. It was a dingy one-room spot with couches, exposed lightbulbs and red concrete walls. I liked it a lot, and gave them my birthday money to help out with the rent. "
MN tours UK with Peter Plate. The first show is with Vi Subversa of Poison Girls. Most of the shows are of a cabaret type, with comedians, dancers and poets which take place in pubs, castle tower, Labour Party club, an opera house and by the wall where the Humpty Dumpty story came from. Tour set up by English ranting poet Nick Toczek.
After the tour Jean stays in Huddersfield doing solo performances and runs a writing workshop. David takes a trip through Eurpoe before going back to Vancouver.
“Calico Kills the Cat” album is released on K. It is only the third album K has ever released.
Jean’s favorite songs on the album: Smile Baby. Ancient Fire.
David’s favorite song on the album: One Woman because musically it revolves around two chords. One rises, one falls. The struggle between the two worked perfectly with the lyric content: one person's efforts for change.
Mecca Normal cross America on a K Records tour with Go Team, and Some Velvet Sidewalk.
Joelle is 18 in her parents' house.
Joelle – washing a frying pan.
Her boyfriend is around two corners watching TV.
The frying pan comes out of the water
and flies through the air.
The frying pan flies through the air
And hits the wall.
All the energy of the history of a situation.
Jean organizes 3rd Black Wedge tour that will cover the west and east coasts of America and eastern Canada. The tour includes Sang (bassist Rachel Melas from Toronto and poet sax-player Keith Jafrate from England) and Peter Plate.
“This is quite powerful stuff. Jokers like Bono and Bruce could certainly learn a few lessons from this.” – reviewing Calico album in Vicious Hippies from Panda Hell (Portland zine)
“Jean’s the one with ‘that voice’, a completely riveting presence that’s only more powerful when backed solely by Lester’s guitar. Zero star potential, they’d sound totally incongruous coming out of your radio, but so would Woody Guthrie, so don’t worry about it.” – Gerard Cosloy (reviewing Calico album in Conflict, New York)
Gerard Cosloy would go on to co-found Matador Records.
Anarchist poster show in Vancouver featuring 30 posters by Jean and David.
Mecca Normal Pacific Northwest tour with Mudhoney and Beat Happening.
Mecca Normal plays music with friends Cyndee and Argon from Seattle that results in the second release on their Smarten Up! record label. The band is called Bright Like Ice. David plays bass in it.
Tour diary: On the return leg of a west coast tour from San Francisco, we drive with Calvin Johnson to play a show in Eugene, Oregon (we listen to Uncle Charley perform one of our songs at soundcheck), after we play we head to play a show in Portland. During the long drive Calvin is pulled over by police and given many tasks to perform. The night ends at Calvin’s place in Olympia. So in one day we have travelled in 3 states, covering 640 miles and given 2 shows.
Mecca Normal records and mix “He Didn’t Say” and “Forlorn” in Olympia for a second K 7”. Jean plays guitar for the first time on a recording.
David takes a full time job working the night shift at a daily newspaper writing photo captions and cropping photos. It is a union position, paying a ton of money -- most people who ever get such a job stay there for life. David decides to quit in order to play music.
David designs his first theatre poster.
Jean co-founds weekly poetry series (Vancouver)
“Cardboard Box House of Love” 7” is released on K Records.
Jean moves to Tucson, Arizona.
Jean’s video for “20 Years / No Escape” wins the experimental video award at Pima Community College (Tucson, Arizona).
Mecca Normal sign contract with K/Matador Records while in Seattle.
Mecca Normal plays CBGBs in New York with Lubricated Goat.
Mecca Normal plays Seattle with Chumbawamba and Eve Libertine (Ex-Crass)
Mecca Normal plays with Fugazi in Olympia.
Mecca Normal plays with Viva Knieval (Kathleen Hanna’s first band) in Olympia.
Jean designs cover for Ottawa band Scarlet Drops 7” (Harriet Records, Boston).
Record “Water Cuts My Hands” album with Calvin and Patrick Maley in Olympia (January).
Jean’s favorite songs on the album: 20 Years/No Escape. The Dogs.
David’s favorite song on the album: Water Cuts My Hands.
Kathleen Hanna’s Bikini Kill fanzine (Olympia) features an interview with Jean headlined: “Mecca Normal: it makes me wanna cry, I am so glad they exist.”
Mecca Normal play Evergreen State College with Beat Happening and Bikini Kill.
“The stuff you recorded in Jan. has changed the quality of my life.” –postcard to David from Kathleen Hanna
“I Can Hear Me Fine” and “Bright Like Ice” 7”s released on Smarten Up! Jean hand painted every one of the “Bright Like Ice” sleeves.
“Bear with me, I’m going out on a limb here… the Melvins are the most revolutionary, thus under appreciated, band in the world today. (Let’s get ‘em on a bill with Mecca Normal – now that would be hardcore).”— The Rocket (Seattle)
“To me, Mecca Normal is one of the only true punk bands around, in that way they are totally subversive. Maybe that is why so many of today’s young white males and their friends enjoy telling me how much they suck. I can’t think of anyone else who writes more powerful songs about what it feels like to be a woman in a world of violence against women.” – Jigsaw fanzine by Tobi Vail (Olympia)
“Smith’s most telling new refrain: “In my mind my body aches.’ This music resonates with feminism’s understanding of the body as a locus of political meaning, a knowledge difficult for any woman walking down a city street to escape... I don’t know of any other rock ‘n’ roll so closely attuned to the realities of women’s rage.” –Village Voice
“Water Cuts My Hands” is a K/Matador co-release. It is only Matador’s 11th release. It is also Mecca Normal’s first album in the CD format.
Lois Wrote About The Farm
America has named its chickens
two of them are called The Twins
America strings its words together
it is hiding something
The check out girl says she can’t
she’d have nothing else to do
America -- instigator of the dream
in my mind
my body aches
David designs a benefit poster for Kurdish refugees using a drawing by Jean.
“A very interesting two-piece outfit (Mecca Normal), combining a single heavily distorted electric guitar played at times with karate chops, mike stand and the stage floor and at others doing straight ahead power chords with bitterly intense vocals. They’d make an amazing full band, I think; ‘We are a band’, they responded when I said so.” – Noise (Vancouver)
Tour diary: After playing 3 shows in one day in Portland, Oregon on a Saturday, we can’t find a hotel with vacancies so we sleep in the car by a diner.
“This is even sparser and way more chilling than Mecca Normal’s last LP.”—Crank (Virginia) on “Water Cuts My Hands”
Mecca Normal plays at the 6 day International Pop Underground Convention (Olympia) put on by K Records Calvin Johnson and Candace Pederson. Jean also performs solo as part of the women only “Revolution Girl Style Now” opening night show. A guy from Rolling Stone stops us in the street to get the correct spelling of our names.
Nirvana sends out newsletter to their fan club members claiming that Kurt will be doing a duet with Jean -- "Islands in the Stream"
The Kill Rock Stars label created by Slim Moon releases its first album, a comp containing tracks by Mecca Normal, Bratmobile, Bikini Kill, Kicking Giant and Nirvana among many others. The album cover is designed and hand printed by Tinúviel.
“At the North Shore Surf Club, guitarist David Lester erected a complex one-man wall of sound, while singer-poet Jean Smith dramatically demonstrated her superb range and control, finishing off with a feedback dance (literally) on guitar.” – Ira Robbins on the International Pop Underground Convention (Rolling Stone)
Tour diary: 129 miles to Pittsburgh. Tire blow out (probably because of that muffler we ran over back in New York). Jean changes it on the side of the highway.
Sub Pop writes to ask us if we want to release a 7” as part of their SINGLES CLUB series.
Tour diary: After a show in DC we stay at the Pirate House talking with Ian of Nation of Ulysses. It is 3am and Jean asks, “Got any coffee” to a shocked Ian, “You want coffee?”. “Just kidding” says Jean.
Tour diary: Meet with Gerard at Matador in New York, who asks us if we want to do another album.
“David Lester could make a fortune giving guitar lessons to Thurston and Lee.” – Puncture review of IPU Convention show (Olympia)
Dirk Hugsam -- a German fan -- sends us a bag of Canadian money and a pack of Roth-Handle cigarettes. He says he wants us to send him what we can of our music. We will tour Eupoe about half a dozen times with Dirk as our manager, driver, booking agent, promoter and dear friend.
Dovetail -- Mecca Normal's third album -- is released on K. It reaches #5 on Canada’s national radio chart. The album includes the song “Throw Silver.”
Jean’s favorite songs on the album: I love the simple imagery of Cherry Flowers, and it is satisfying to sing. We’ve recently put it back into the live set; David plays it better than ever and I add some guitar accents.
David’s favorite song on the album: Clatter.
I really like the first line of This Machine: "making it anything so it isn’t nothing now" -- the idea of making things happening, taking action, going forward rather than waiting for things to take place.
Jean named one of 10 people who matter in the world by the SF Weekly in a profile called: “Hard visionary, Mecca Normal’s Jean Smith blends fear and clarity into a decidedly unromantic courage.”
Jean sings backing vocals on Colours with Vancouver band Superconductor for a Donovan tribute album.
Orange 7” released on Harriet (Boston)
Armchairs Fit Through Doorways 7” EP released on K Records.
Mecca Normal record and mix 17 songs at Yo Yo (Olympia) with Calvin Johnson and Pat Maley. 11 of these songs will become the Dovetail album.
A split SubPop 7” (Singles Club) is released with Mecca Normal and Vancouver’s Kreviss.
North Carolina band Blue Green Gods release 7” cover versions of “Water Cuts My Hands” and “Lois Wrote About The Farm.”
The first release by Yo Yo Studios contains a Mecca Normal song.
Jean release a solo spoken word/guitar 7” (Kill Rock Stars Wordcore series).
Jean does cover art for New York band Chia Pet 7” (KokoPop).
Tour Diary (west coast): Jean smashes her guitar during a performance in Pomona, CA at Munchies. Our 72 Impala dies when we reach Los Angeles. A really tall guy gives us joke slimy stuff called 'guk' at a radio station we are playing. We do not know why. During our radio performance an earthquake occurs. At a show in San Francisco, a large black man tells us he played “Strong White Male” over and over again on his radio show for an hour. At Jabberjaw (Los Angeles) a guy buys one of everything we have and offers to also buy us an oil change. Our car’s radiator keeps boiling over. Jean must drive down hills in neutral with the heater on. On the way home to Vancouver, the car stalls late at night in Bellingham, WA. We wait.
Jean produces a 7” EP by Vancouver band Cub.
Jean flies to Boston to tape ABC’s Night Talk with Jane Whitney in a show about Women In Rock. A message comes through that Maury Povich also wants to talk to Jean.
Jean interviewed about riot grrrl and women in rock by USA Today, Seventeen Magazine and LA Times.
there was the soft glow
of a flare sent
knocking out the sky
Then there was
after too much light
wading through the snow
Find the steel
Fire in a half plan
shimmer up the cold
“From The Surface” & “Upside Down Flame” 7” released on (Dionysus, Burbank)
The German guy who sent us a bag of money books us our first tour of Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, France). The German guy's name is Dirk Hugsam. This is his first attempt at booking. He would later go on to found his own successful agency booking bands like godspeed you black emperor
“I wouldn’t be in a band if I hadn’t heard of Jean. She’s shown me through her lyrics that you can be a feminist and still be whoever you want to be. You don’t have to lose contact with the world.” -- Kathleen Hanna (Network, Toronto)
Rose 7” (K Records) released.
Jean’s favorite song on the album: He Didn’t Say: We recorded this with Calvin in Olympia. I made a video on my Fisher Price PXL camera of Dave playing the acoustic part. I loved doing the wild electric part. The song gives a structure to an elementary problem in a relationship: "I never knew what he thought, he didn’t say". It’s Important. Fan Of Sparks. Narrow
David’s favorite songs on the album: Man Thinks Woman. Narrow. Armchairs Fit (through doorways)
Jean’s favorite song on the album: Waiting For Rudy: we used to stay in an old building in San Francisco, Barbara Manning’s place. Downstairs Rudy ran his video and bookstore. He was ancient. The real estate people couldn’t touch this valuable property until Rudy died. So much hinged on Rudy’s longevity.
David’s favorite songs on the album: Waiting For Rudy
Waiting For Rudy -- by Pat Maley
David Lester Becomes a Publisher
David Lester, "In 1993 I started Get To The Point, to publish Jean Smith's first novel "I Can Hear Me Fine". Jean became the editor of Smarten Up! & Get To The Point and we’ve published a series of chapbooks of poetry, politics and artwork by community activists. One book won a major award, another was selected as one of the top 5 poetry chapbooks in Canada, and one of my book designs was featured in Zines, a large format book published in England."
NY Times phones to set up an interview with Jean.
Sonic Youth calls to ask us to play a show with them in Seattle.
Jean referred to as a “goddess of the underground” on Canadian national radio (CBC’s Brave New Waves).
Shows with Spinnanes, Unwound, Tattletale.
Two page feature article in Alternative Press (Cleveland).
“After these hicks where I live beat me up because I dress & act different and think for myself. I put on one of your records and it makes me proud of who I am.” – Robert (Oklahoma) in a letter to Mecca Normal
“In Smith’s mouth, the line ‘He is the thing he hates’ (from “Trapped Against”) becomes a frightening indictment of gender-based injustice.” – Washington City Paper (DC) reviewing “Dovetail”
“Vancouver, Canada’s Mecca Normal is an electric guitar and female voice duo. The resulting juxtaposition makes the music seem a little less rock and more like art.” – Rebecca Odes reviewing “Dovetail” (SPIN, New York)
“This is an absolutely beautiful and (dare I use the word) enchanting collection.” -- Option Magazine reviewing “Dovetail” (Los Angeles)
“Mecca Normal is definitely my fave band for year 92. Best show, best LP, best song, best everything.” – Quentin (La Rochette, France) in a letter to Mecca Normal
“Seven years on, Mecca Normal have become less vitriolic. Smith sings instead of rants, and David Lester’s fretwork is more subtle than slashing. And Dovetail is uncommonly graceful, spare but never primitive. More often then not, though, they sound like no one else.” – Jason Anderson (Eye, Toronto)
“Mecca Normal green flowers on a brown background, looking sort of like their first LP cover, art by Jean Smith. Just a beautiful tee shirt, wisely possessed and proudly displayed by lots of local hipsters. One day I was proudly displaying it when I dropped in unplanned on a colloquium being given by my friend Elaheh, an Iranian woman who studies the history of Islamic mathematics. I thought I wasn’t dressed for the occasion, but I forgot the ‘Mecca’ part of Mecca Normal. Elaheh’s advisor came up to me after the talk and asked me, over plastic glasses of champagne, ‘what does your shirt mean?’, with keen interest honed by years of Islamic scholarship. I mumbled something about a rock band, leaving him puzzled. But in his own way, of course, he had gotten into the Swing of Things.” –Unknown source
David's West Coast Tour Diary:
Feb 4: Drive to Stanford for a radio interview with Tiffany. Sleep in our clothes at Kevin Thompson’s house.
Feb 5: Sold out show with Barbara Manning and Tiger Trap at the Chameleon in San Francisco. So crowed we have to use the bathroom in the Mexican restaurant next door. Play live on KUSF. Eat burgers at Red’s Java Hut on the waterfront. Eat pancakes.
Feb 6: Play Kresege College in Santa Cruz. Big slippery stage. Stay the night at Ritchie’s damp, cobwebbed, haunted basement. 2am.
Feb 9: Noon hour concert at UCLA. Free sandwiches, pop and chips.
Feb 10: Munchies in Pomona, CA -- during "I Walk Alone” a woman in the audience starts harmonizing with Jean.
Feb 11: Irvine (Pietro’s Pub, U of C). Play with Nothing Painted Blue (Franklin Bruno does an imitation of David). Sleep at promoters.
Feb 12: Sold out show with Distorted Pony and Morning Champ at Jabberjaw. The power goes out during our set. It is a tough night.
Feb 13: Play Casbah (San Diego). It is President’s Weekend so we can’t find a motel with any vacancies. Sleep in car, it is cold night. Cross the border and visit Tijuana the next morning.
Feb 18-20: Record 18 songs at Avast Studio in Seattle with Calvin Johnson and Stuart. These recordings will become our next album Flood Plain. Also do a photo session, eat Indian food and Jean sings a duet with Calvin.
“Mecca Normal played at Jabberjaw February 12, and the set, though uneven, was not as weak as the Los Angeles Times said. Its peak, which went unmentioned in that review, was ballad called ‘I Walk Alone’, which twisted the typical loner creed into a feminist manifesto, a complaint about how women defy the ubiquitous threat of physical violence to keep their personal autonomy. Smith left the mic onstage and jumped to the floor in the middle of the song, stomping through the crowd, still singing while the guitarist continued in front, surprising the folks dozing in the dressing room before leaping back onstage. ‘I Walk Alone’ she shouted, ‘because I can walk wherever I want with whoever I want whenever I fucking want.’ The woman beside me was cheering.
It’s a delicate task for any rocker to make political statements work. Unlike Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna’s didactic lectures on date rape, Smith’s gesture flew on the strength of its first-person immediacy. (Individualism is a time-tested rock stance.) So why was Mecca Normal’s best moment lost on the Times reviewer? Because Smith’s statement addressed an experience – defying fears of rape – specific to women. And the Times reviewer was a man. This is not to say that men don’t ever fear for their safety, but that their fear is not as pervasive. This is not to say that a man could never appreciate Mecca Normal; only that, after a life’s worth of movies with male leads, it is he, not I, who must be the mental transvestite at a Mecca Normal show, who must stretch his gender imagination to empathize with Jean Smith.
Pop can ask an audience to make this leap across lines of gender, race, religion or sexual preference. Whoever agrees begins a difficult home-study course in identity politics. That leap is the reason rap fans of every colour weren’t surprised by the riots last spring; they had felt the anger long before in the music. In this way, the Simi Valley jurors could have heard ‘Cop Killer’ as a young black male. Clarence Thomas could have heard Sonic Youth’s ‘Swimsuit Issue’ as a secretary. In reality, I appreciate the way feminists like Jean Smith include me, and am confounded by how and why hardcore rap leaves me out.” –Sue Cummings (LA Weekly)
“There’s such a wide gulf between establishment rock and what Mecca Normal and other bands with the same spirit are doing. Corporate rockers write all these love songs about women, while keeping them absent from any creative role.” —Jean interviewed by Ned Raggett (New University, Irvine, CA). 1993
“I’ve met plenty of people who act like pins were just stuck in their eyeballs at the mere mention of Mecca Normal.” –SF Weekly
“Mecca Normal’s Jean Smith would be a heroine in any age: her beautiful harsh voice, her uncompromising lyrics, her sheer performing dignity guarantee her that. But until you see her face down a crowd of hypocritical and uninterested punk rockers, you don’t know what true heroism is. Smith’s music is dissonant, deeply felt, feminist, courageous.” – Gina Arnold (San Diego Weekly)
On the International Pop Underground Convention live album, Bratmobile can be heard introducing their set saying Mecca Normal is “my punk rock dream come true.”
“Your voice, your lyrics, Dave’s guitar have made me cry and hope over and over and over again. You are beautiful, brave and very strong people and you have touched my life tremendously.” Cathee (Los Angeles) in a letter to Mecca Normal
Mecca Normal plays a benefit for Rape Relief.
Fly to Europe for another tour with Dirk: “This is a former racecar driver and metal sculptor. He did all the driving, organizing, translating of menus, managing, selling stuff after shows, our tour poster, and everything else.” – Jean in Mecca Normal Newsletter
Kaufbeuren, Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Paris (opening band plays one of our songs: Held), Colmar (muffler falls off), Berlin, Nurnburg (with Half Japanese), Regansburg, Munster, Cologne, Stuttgart, Karlsruhle, Hamburg, Groningen, Holland (Vera).
In Europe we learn many new sayings: Talking through the flower. Owls to Athens.
“We demanded to be accepted within what originally was the hardcore scene and now seems to be a punk rock ethic, but a very limited one where it usually is four guys and a very regular sort of instrumentation. You know, I think there are some ideas out there worth exploring that don’t fit into that framework, but it’s very difficult to take up that decision. I mean, where do you get the energy to create something that is outside of a normal system? And I think that whole concept follows into our lives everywhere. To create a relationship between a man and a woman that isn’t totally what is expected or the stereotype of what that situation has to be, I think it’s very difficult to be outside of the system of going to work and being an avid consumer.” – Jean Smith (interviewed by Bill Meyer in Moe) 1993
"Going to Seattle to open for Fugazi. Our '72 Impala begins to grind metal on metal somewhere deep in the engine. We pull out of line before we get to customs, and call a tow truck. The guy arrives. Cowboy boots, huge belt buckle and mirrored sunglasses. He gets the Impala on the hook and we head back. I'm squeezed between Dave and the driver, asking if the guy knows where we can get a car. Dave is whispering, "You're not going to buy a car off this guy." The driver says he knows just the car. We take the plates off the Impala, and leave it, never to be seen again. An hour later we're back at the border in my new '84 Grand Marquis with cheap stick-on window tinting and a badly peeling roof. At customs, I realize my automatic window only goes down three inches, and my frayed seatbelt has no give. I appear to be totally unwilling to deal with the official, who is peering in through the gap, all else obscured behind pimpishly tinted windows. The customs official says, "You seem very nervous." Which I suppose I was. I said, "That was me with the car that got towed. I just bought this car." He says, "Why are you so determined to get into the US?" "I just don't like to have things like that ruin my plans." We made it to sound check." -- Jean
King TV 5 films us playing and interviews Jean. Kurt and Courtney are in the audience. After the show Courtney slaps Calvin Johnson in the face and storms out. Kurt trails after her. We drive Calvin to Olympia, eat at Denny’s, sleep at Calvin’s new, very cold house.
Play with Fugazi in Vancouver in front of 3,000 people. Someone throws a shoe at Dave.
Photo shoot for Rolling Stone.
“Echo” / “Fan of Sparks” 7” released on Jettison (North Carolina).
“International Hip Swing” comp CD (K Records) released with “Man Thinks Woman” on it.
Jean interviewed by Rolling Stone and Billboard.
“After your French tour I received a lot of letters from people who write: ‘Mecca Normal is the best gig I saw in my life, strong and amazing.’” – Quentin (La Rochelle, France)
“I will promote the show to the utmost. There won’t be any danger of boring people drinking café au lait, or espresso at this show, there may be people drinking the afore mentioned products, but they won’t be boring, I guarantee it. I will work my feet down to mere stubs as I canvas this mighty metropolis letting people know of your arrival.” –Sarah, a fan trying to convince us to play in Minnesota. I think we played there once in 20 years.
“For a long time, there were not many women in bands, and even fewer who were speaking aggressively about being a woman in this society,” says Jean Smith, the fiery singer-poet in the group Mecca Normal and an inspiration to many Grrrls. “Now young women are getting together to play with other women, rather than being thrown into the whole boy’s world sort of thing.” – Seventeen Magazine
“Jarred Up” album released in June (K Records). It is a collection of 7” and comp tracks.
He Didn’t Say:
I never knew
what he thought
he didn’t say
I never knew
what to say.
walking for the door.
into the eyes
of the next person you meet.
Don’t keep looking back
She’s hurt and wondering why
he hurt her
she’s wondering why
this rough carpet
we women lie on
too close to the fire
in the cardboard box house
“David Lester is usually spazzing in patterns Peter Buck only dreams about.” – Sweet Portable You, zine (McLean, VA)
“We don’t do what we do to specifically get a reaction. People can get out of it what they like, whether it’s a tone or literal ideas; ideas that I hope are evocative. We would like people to see what we’re doing, which isn’t necessarily part of any establishment way of doing things, and use it as a parallel for their own lives.” –Jean Smith (Rocket, Seattle) 1993
“I’m in a band because I have something to say. I don’t think of this as a privileged position. I’m 33 myself, I’m not living at home with Mommy and Daddy. This is fuckin’ hard work, it’s tough to pay rent."–Jean Smith (Rocket, Seattle) 1993
“I don’t listen to bands like Mecca Normal everyday and I don’t think we should all start adhering to some new weird standard of two-pieces or something.” All those rhythm sections would be out of work. “And then there’d be all these bands with four drummers and three bass players. Smith looks over at what was once the stage of the restaurant. “Though that might be interesting.” –Jean Smith interviewed by Shawn Connor, 1993 (Rocket, Seattle)
Ray Gun magazine (Los Angeles) runs a one-page feature on Mecca Normal. It is designed by David Carson to subversively look like an exact page out of Rolling Stone. Carson will later include the page in his book “The End of Print”, a retrospective of his best designs.
“When asked how long the pair can imagine their productivity lasting, Smith says she sees no limit: ‘I’m sure we’ll be working together when we’re in our eighties. It’s that kind of relationship. We understand each other and have a similar desire to inspire other people to do something or feel something.’” – Jean Smith interviewed by Denise Sheppard (Ray Gun Magazine, Los Angeles) 1993
“We pretty much cleared rooms,” says Smith, speaking of the band’s early performances. “That was our main function. So if that happened we knew we were on the right track.” – Jean Smith interviewed by Denise Sheppard (Ray Gun Magazine, Los Angeles) 1993
“Jarred Up” is #1 at radio stations:
CHRY (Toronto, ON)
CKUT (Montreal, PQ)
KUOI (Moscow, ID)
CFRU (Guelph, ON)
KAOS (Olympia, WA)
Mecca Normal is featured in Rolling Stone’s Guide to the Coolest music and Artists making it. The page is shared with newcomers Liz Phair and Radiohead.
“Onstage, Lester is a sonic weed whacker throwing off a frenzy of fuzz, while Smith, a dynamo capable of raw power and somber beauty, adapts her limber voice like a wind instrument.” – Rolling Stone (New York) 1993
“I don’t see us as vying for mainstream attention. This is exactly how I want to live my life. We’re not waiting for our lives to begin.” – Jean Smith (Rolling Stone) 1993
“I’ve been more interested in images and evoking emotions through words. I’ve worked through the idea of being literal and worrying if other people are going to get a message. I have more faith that people will get it. Also, you know, people have a definite opinion on what I’m about, and it comes up relentlessly – ‘This woman is an adamant feminist and there’s no humour here and this is all vicious and acidic.’ People think that already. I don’t have to keep reaffirming the essence. It’s just the way a period of writing worked out. Once you get a train of thought you keep on exploring it; that’s what makes a body of work. The songs were written over a couple of months, and they are similar in some ways.” – Jean Smith interviewed by Bill Meyer (Puncture, San Francisco) 1993
“As a woman in a band, you could be one of three variations: singing backup, a sex-bomb front-piece, or something that for the most part is a pleasing thing…. To have women talking about things that are important to them, and coming across passionately and aggressively, is what I’ve always looked for.” – Jean Smith interviewed by Bill Meyer (Puncture, San Francisco) 1993
Jean is invited to appear on the television talk show Jane Whitney (NBC). The theme is “Women In Rock”. Jean flies to Boston for the taping.
Jean Smith’s first novel “I Can Hear Me Fine” is published (August, 1993) by David’s new publishing venture Get To The Point. Distribution by Arsenal Pulp Press. Jean’s book contains an index to all nouns in the book -- an innovative twist for a work of fiction.
“It’s a story about relationships and the dynamics of power in relationships and how repression works and the response to repression.” – Jean Smith interviewed by Mark Andrews (Vancouver Sun) 1993
“There isn’t a lot of overt stereotyping, I tried to make the characters more fluid. People will create things for themselves, rather than be directed to conclusive character traits. The stereotypes for women are all so carefully defined at this point in history that it’s valuable to leave these personalities fairly open-ended.” – Jean Smith interviewed by Mark Andrews (Vancouver Sun) 1993
“… a perspective that it is possible to do things outside of what is traditionally acceptable in music or literature. Of not consciously thinking of how you can appeal to a mass market, of trying to be true to yourself.” – Jean Smith interviewed by Mark Andrews (Vancouver Sun) 1993
“I don’t know if labels are breaking down doors to Barbara Manning and Jean Smith.” –Gerard Cosloy interviewed in Billboard (New York) 1993
“Look at the music we do, is anybody really going to consider this a marketable phenomenon? If it ever did come to that, it would be time to do something different.” – Jean Smith interviewed in Billboard (New York) 1993
“Female punk rock fans become united by the feminist messages shouted by bands such as Mecca Normal.” –USA Today, 1993
“I can’t think of anyone else who writes more powerful songs about what it’s like to be a woman in a world of violence against women.” –LA Weekly (Los Angeles) 1993
“Mecca Normal has inspired a larger movement of feminists in their teens and early 20s who call themselves Riot Grrrls.” –NY Times, 1993
“I don’t really know of any other rock band so closely attuned to the reality of women’s rage.” – Village Voice (New York) 1993
“Smith is damn near visionary.” – SF Weekly, 1993
Mecca Normal plays Roseland (New York) with Fugazi and Jawbox in front of 4,000 people. Jean gets Ian to go out and buy her a six pack of Rolling Rock.
Waiting For Rudy video completed by Pat Maley of Yo Yo Studios.
“I started reading a lot as a teenager ‘cause I was always getting grounded. In high school the only place I was allowed to go was the library, and I just started to read a lot. I got involved in visual arts for a while, but always kept a journal and wrote stories.” –Jean Smith interviewed by Andrew Sun, Now (Toronto) 1993
“We aren’t, and don’t want to be on a major label. As a result we have created a community – a network of friends and people we want to work with – and have tried to build that into something that will sustain various musicians who don’t really want to be part of the corporate sphere of the rock world.” – Jean Smith interview, Hour (Montreal) 1993
“When we get negative reviews, all it really serves to do is make me more determined to do more of whatever bugs people.” –Jean Smith interviewed by Chris Yurkiw, Mirror (Montreal) 1993
“I ended up listening to quite a few bands who were making music in England in the late ‘70s like the Slits, the Raincoats, Au Pairs, X-Ray Specs and the Poison Girls.” –Jean Smith interviewed by Winston Sin, Exclaim (Toronto) 1993
“…then we got together with a bunch of other minimalist musicians and poets and went down to L.A. on a school bus, and that’s when we made a stop in Olympia. We traded our first LP with Calvin of Beat Happening and K for their first LP, and stuffed it under the seat of the bus – and it totally melted! But don’t tell him that.” –Jean Smith interviewed by Winston Sin, Exclaim (Toronto) 1993
“Strong but far from flowery, a wonderful read.”—CMJ (New York) review of Jean’s book. 1993
“Gritty, blunt and sensitive at once, the book rails against the banal at every turn, developing a strident and important voice.” – BC Library Reporter (Vancouver) review of Jean’s book.
“…a literary jigsaw puzzle, one that might have been designed by David Lynch and Sylvia Plath.” – BC BookWorld (Vancouver) review of Jean’s book.
Meryn Cadell (The Sweater) plays one of her favorite songs, Mecca Normal’s “Throw Silver” on Peter Gzowski’s legendary CBC national radio show “Morningside.”
Jean Smith performs solo 2 nights at a benefit for a women’s shelter in Seattle. Excene Cervenka also appears. The second night, Jean is backed by Calvin Johnson on guitar.
”Waiting For Rudy” video aired on national TV in Canada.
Flood Plain (K Records) released, September, 1993
Waiting For Rudy
Waiting for Rudy to die
in a microcosm
on a corner
where gas was sold
the pumps were shut down
Museum Of Open Windows:
It’s a truly
that treats medical care
as a commodity to be sold.
“A lot of times I meet people who seem like going to school has taken four years off their life rather than added to it.” –Jean Smith interviewed by Kirsty Smith, Discorder (Vancouver) 1993
Jean performs at the Knitting Factory (New York) with Gerard Cosloy on guitar as part of her solo tour to support her novel.
“Mecca Normal makes records I can see myself listening to twenty years from now with no loss of interest.” – Terry Dawes reviewing ‘Flood Plain’ in Planet of The Arts (Vancouver) 1993
“I guess I was 21 or 22 when I met this person who lived around here (East Vancouver). She was so strong politically. It was a very interesting time for me. She was kind of a turning point in my life. Actually, it’s Jean Smith from Mecca Normal. I’ve learned so much and I’ve taken so much from her. It turned something over in my brain because I could see injustice more clearly. I guess because she’s an artist she helped me to start seeing colours differently.” –John Mann of Spirit of The West interviewed about the source of his activism (Impact, Vancouver) 1993
Photo of Mecca Normal at Yo Yo Festival by Jeff Smith.
Matador Records (New York) contacts us about releasing our records.
“Flood Plain” peaks at #46 on the CMJ Top 200 chart.
Jean joins Superconductor as a guitar player. The band's main songwriter, Carl Newman, would go on to form the New Pornographers 3 years later.
Jean interviews Calvin Johnson for a 2-page feature in Raygun (Los Angeles). The spread runs with a photo taken by David.
“Seeing Mecca Normal live is an entirely different experience from listening to their two newest albums…. Live, they invest their music with a raw vitality that simply cannot be captured on disc, and turn each evening into a memorable piece of performance art, rather than merely a concert.” -- Warped Reality (Boston, MA) review of Mecca Normal at the Middle East Café, 1994
“Jean played guitar on two songs. She rubbed it all over her body, back to the audience, then threw it on the ground and stepped on it, playing it while it was still on the ground.” -- Warped Reality (Boston, MA) review of Mecca Normal at the Middle East Café, 1994
“This is about as punk as it gets kids.” – Slot review of “Jarred Up”
“You never miss the drums or bass, the effect is intense enough. To add anything would be diminishing.” – Sarah Kestle reviewing “Jarred Up” in Melody Maker (England) 1994
“…careful song-by-song inspections prove how complete each one actually is, a compact little world.” – review of “Jarred Up” in Butt Rag, 1994
“When Smith takes the stage that night before a packed house, lunging back and forth on her heels like a prize fighter as she spits out her words, she’s in full command. ‘I have this terrible feeling I’m going to light my hair on fire. Get those cameras ready, guys. It’s the photo opportunity of a lifetime,’ she jokes.” – from a profile by Gillian Gaar in Option (Los Angeles). Gillian Gaar wrote “She's A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll, originally published in 1992, and reissued in 2002
“Evocative, soothing, worth it just to hear her say the word ‘out.’” – review in Snipehunt (Portland) of “Carboni Angel” 7” by Jean Smith (Kill Rock Stars Wordcore series). The series included 7”s by Slim Moon, Peter Plate, Juliana Luecking and Kathleen Hanna. 1992
Mecca Normal contributes a track to an “Anti-War Action Foundation for Former Yugoslavia” comp CD. 1994
“Their gig at Die Insel (Berlin) was one of the most intense experiences one could imagine.” -- Wahrschauer (Germany) 1994
“Take something you care about and make it your life.” – Mecca Normal interview in Wahrschauer (Germany) 1994
European winter tour diary excerpts by David:
We tour in a borrowed Citron running on diesel.
Feb 2: Kaufbeuren (in Bavaria). Four and half-hour photo shoot with Wolfgang for Germany’s biggest magazine, Der Spiegal. The photographer only has 10% vision in one eye. Wolfgang interviews Jean, not David -- “have you written a book?”
Feb 3: Konstanz (Kulturladen). Two hour set with two encores in a building built by Hitler in 1937. Heidi interviews us, asking Jean “Why does a feminist play in a band with a guy?” Stay in the Graf Zeppelin hotel where Jean polishes her boots a lot.
Feb 10: Driving from Wurzburg to Berlin, we stop in Munich to be interviewed and play on Bavarian State radio. All night drive to Berlin, snow, ice, traffic jams, accidents until we arrive at 4:30 AM, just by chance a guy is leaving the venue, so we are let in to rest for the day, until the evening's show.
Feb 12: Drive through what was East Germany. Skeletal trees covered with snow. Small old East German cars. Nightmare soundcheck. Arrive for the show in Hannover. Fall asleep behind stage during Dutch band's opening set. Trapped behind stage, we must crawl through a window to get to the car and change clothes for the performance.
Feb 14: Spend day in Hamburg. Sleep at another Wolfgang’s apartment. In the morning Jean asks Dirk (tour manager) if he could tell Wolfgang to put some pants on.
Feb 15: Hamburg (Kunst). Two photo sessions. Wear glasses worn by famous people, Joni Mitchell, Nirvana etc. Radio interview. Jean sick from eating some canned dalmades.
Feb 16: Frankfurt (Intem-Bar). A former brothel. Lots of plush red colours in this venue.
Feb 17: Karlsruhe (Subway). An actual subway station. 2 encores and 6 monitors. Old guy in an orange jumpsuit spins like a helicopter and tells David he was in high rotation during our set. He also claims to be a famous leftist who had all his inventions stolen. Two “brunos” from Heidelberg ask for a kiss from Jean. Eat spaghetti afterwards.
Feb 20: Tour car broken into. Interview with Klause who asks us about Snoop Doggy Dog and Tonya Harding.
Feb 23: Day off in Vienna, Austria. See paintings by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Eat chocolate cake.
Feb 24: Linz, Austria (Posthof). Jean says the mic is stinky. Jean buys Robert Musil book for Dirk.
Feb 25: Ebensee, Austria (Kino). Old theatre. Jean develops new guitar technique, play a note and then drop the guitar to the floor, repeat several times. Stay in a villa by a huge lake. Winding drive through little villages to Regensberg.
Feb 26: Regensberg, Germany (Alte Malzerei). Medieval city. Everything is closed. 2 hour set, 2 encores. Opening band drinks all our beer and eats most of our chocolate. Jean interviewed for television by a nervous Ursula: “Do you shave your legs?” and “Don’t your big eyes scare women in the audience?”
Learn new German terms: Let’s crank gas. Spargel fields.
“I find it completely therapeutic to look at well photographed food. Actually, if I had to choose another course in life, it would be one of two other things: the person who composes food for photography or a builder of fabulous fountains.” – Jean interviewed by Keith Parry in Chart (Toronto) 1994
“I’m plagued with only being able to do what I want to do every day.” – Jean interviewed by Keith Parry in Chart (Toronto) 1994
“It’s important to keep taking risks, not the same risk, but a re-inventing of your life on a regular basis.” – Jean interviewed by Keith Parry in Chart (Toronto) 1994
The room we’re sitting in is almost empty. Milk crates and cardboard boxes are stacked against the walls. Several accordion files are shoved into one corner. “Did you just move in?” Jean: “No. I’ve been here a couple of years.” – Jean interviewed by Keith Parry in Chart (Toronto) 1994
“I’m not going to stop making music because it’s not completely appealing to every person who is walking through a mall.” – Jean interviewed by Thomas Reimel in Magnet (Philly) 1994
“It seems that people either don’t feel empowered themselves, or they can’t make a dent in what we have going as a culture here. Or they simply are afraid of failing, so they do nothing. But it’s actually relatively easy to start doing something past the initial stages of whatever fear you have about it.” – Jean interviewed by Thomas Reimel in Magnet (Philly) 1994
David designs a bus shelter poster commemorating Vancouver anarchist George Woodcock. It can be seen at a dozen bus shelters.
A German publisher writes expressing interest in publishing a translation of Jean’s novel “I Can Hear Me Fine.”
“I Can Hear Me Fine” excerpt:
Joelle is listening to a phone-in radio show. The host of the show says the switchboard is jammed.
"I'm thirty-five, my name is Helen, actually that is my middle name. I want a guy who is sensitive, honest, likes the outdoors, movies, going for walks. I was married once, ten years ago. I haven't met anyone, you know, really met anyone since. I guess I just want a guy to call my own. Maybe we'll have kids one day."
"OK, that was Helen," says the host. "She wants a guy who likes the outdoors, she's a lonely gal who hasn't met anyone for ten years. OK, here's our next caller. Hi, go ahead."
Joelle is twenty and the ball is coming right at her. The guy from third base is running towards her yelling, "I'll get it, I'll get it."
The example is walking towards Joelle. He is talking about health. Complaints. He is talking about his wife. Divorce. He is talking about money. Taxes. He is talking about his plans. Grandiose.
Joelle is dancing with the example, she stops to listen to how much his legs hurt. He is spitting in her eyes. He should be quiet for ten years.
It is dark out. Joelle walks across the parking lot and meows at a small white bag of garbage. She opens the door to her apartment. From the living room she hears, "I feel like balling."
He has been sitting on her couch for two days wrapped in a yellow sheet. He has great hair.
"Bowling?" Joelle goes into the bathroom. Her whizzing pee sounds exactly like the Flight of the Bumblebee. She pulls up her pants, leans across the sink towards the mirror and spreads lip gloss over her mouth, turning her lips into slices of roast beef. They shimmer that same blue-green as the roast beef at a deli, like oil on wet pavement.
Joelle goes into the bedroom to find dry socks. One foot is wet. She tried on a cowboy boot at Value Village. It was soaking wet inside. Joelle goes back to the bathroom, draws black lines around her eyes and puts on her brown leather jacket.
Downtown, in a club, faces as smooth and dry as sand dunes float past her. Joelle listens, she wants to know what people are talking about. They are motioning above their heads; bursting, twisting, smoothing motions. They are talking about hairdos. – excerpt from “I Can Hear Me Fine” by Jean Smith 1993
“The day have only 10 hours to work, fuck it’s not enough” –Dirk (tour manager) in a fax from Germany
“This tour weights quite heavy on my shoulders, but I think we have to do it.” –Dirk (tour manager) in a fax from Germany
“Ok at last, some good news, Rolf at Semaphore is still selling your records very good and this here is the original size of a record review in the biggest musik press. Underground record of the month!! Great sounds great. Jean David I miss your help in my office, love Dirk”. –Dirk (tour manager) in a fax from Germany
“Thank you very much for writing back. Everything here has been going pretty fast for me. I’m going to be graduating from high school in 3 months. I haven’t even decided where I’m going to go yet. I have a bad case of senioritis. I wake up every morning dreading school. I’m pretty much stressed out sometimes. But I’m hanging on.” – Helen (Los Angeles) in a letter to Mecca Normal
Jean plays a show with Superconductor and breaks her guitar neck.
Spring Tour Diary 1994 excerpts by David:
April 7: Drive from Vancouver to Olympia. Buy a Fender amp on the way out of town. Play Capitol Theatre in Olympia with Lois.
April 8: Hear of Kurt Cobain’s suicide when Calvin gets a call while we're at the K office in Olympia. Play Seattle (Weathered Wall) with Jasmine, Juned and Railroad Jerk. The guy from Jasmine gives Jean a beautiful metal book he made. David’s s strap breaks. Sleep on the booker’s office floor.
April 9: Portland (X-Ray). Some audience member’s cry during “I Walk Alone” and “Not With You.”
April 19-22: Fly to Europe. Drive from Germany to Holland in 8 hours to play Fast Forward festival in Nijmagen. Jean meets Peter Jefferies -- who she advised, a month or so earlier, to take a chance and tour Europe with Dirk. We played with Eugene Chadbourne, Tall Dwarfs and Smog. Arrived at venue with only 10 minutes to spare. During our performance Jean knocks her face into a drum mic stand and rips the back of her dress. David’s guitar strap breaks. All of this is filmed by 3 cameras. Afterwards meet Sebadoh, Alistair Galbrath and James of Yo La Tengo.
April 25-27: Write songs at Dirk’s.
May 1: On the way to a recording studio in Augsburg, Bavaria, Dirk drives head on into another car. We walk the rest of the way. Record 6 songs in 12 hours. Peter Jefferies plays piano on “Vacant Night Sky” and Dirk plays acoustic guitar on another one. Chinese food afterwards. New Zealand saying: “We are rogered.”
May 3: A show in Ansbach. Our host falls down drunk. Our photo is taken by a guy who keeps waving his hand in front of the lens. Kasper Hauser was killed here.
May 4: Munster (Gleis). David breaks 3 strings. In the car ride we listen to the billionth playing of Wean singing about not pressing the weasel and “Push The Little Daisies" and “Little Birdie”.
“It’s good to hear you’re ok. I am not in the best mood. I’m a bit sad after you leaved, anyway that’s always the same after you’re tour.” –Dirk (tour manager) in a fax from Germany
Much Music television (Canada) screens film of Jean doing “The Dogs” as part of Word Up -- a spoken word series.
“I always thought there was a drummer in this band.” – review of “Flood Plain” in Rebel Sound zine (Dalton, MA) 1994
“In the same way that I think Mecca Normal tries to challenge what already exists in our band’s format, I hope ‘I Can Hear Me Fine’ challenges, to a degree, what we anticipate in reading a novel.” –Jean Smith in an interview with Mark Woodlief, Warp Magazine (Los Angeles) 1994
“The image of Mecca Normal’s Jean Smith destroying a guitar – stomping its guts out on an Olympia, Washington stage – remains vivid, burned into my consciousness, although it happened over two years ago.” – book review of ‘I Can Hear Me Fine’ by Mark Woodlief, Warp Magazine (Los Angeles) 1994
23-page contract arrives from Matador Records (New York).
Eastern tour diary excerpts (on a tour booked by Tom Windish) by David:
May 26: Drive Vancouver to Olympia, see Calvin, Candice, Kathleen and back up to SeaTac. Drop car off at airport. We are the last to get on the plane, it is a total panic. In NYC the amp doesn’t arrive. We wait for another plane to arrive. Amp arrives. Group shuttle ride into NYC. Check into Paramount Hotel.
May 27: Work out contract with Gerard and Chris at Matador. They agree to all Jean's changes. Then off to perform for a group of German Futurists -- late afternoon, 90 minute set, on the 43rd floor of a Manhattan skyscraper. Johan (of Matador) shows up in a bulletproof vest to shoot footage for a Beastie Boys video. In the evening go to the multi-leveled USA Disco with German Futurists.
June 2: Providence, RI (Last Call) Flat tire. Problem finding club. The sound guy says Dunkin Donuts make good coffee.
June 3: Heading into NYC we almost hit a stalled car on the freeway. Jean manages to swerve into the next lane at the last moment. Drive around forever in Manhattan trying to find a parking spot. Play Knitting Factory with Truman’s Water. Afterward haul all our stuff up 5 flights to Vicki’s. In bed by 4:30 am.
June 6: Write and record “Something To Be Said” at a studio in Worcester, MA.
June 7: Up at 7 AM. Pass through 8 states on way to Baltimore. 94 degrees. Jean plays her guitar on a stripper’s pole on the stage in this old bar. Sleep on booker’s couch.
June 8: Get lost leaving Baltimore. Stop in Laurel, Maryland at a diner, where a guy approaches us with the story of his tortured life and hopes we can turn it into a top 10 hit. Play Black Cat in DC.
June 9: Philly (Khyber Pass) with the Tindersticks. 16 year old Laura invites us to stay at her parent’s mansion in the suburbs. Her parents are away and although there are empty beds, we must sleep on the floor so the parents don't find out we were there. Laura bakes us biscuits in the morning.
June 13: A stranger puts money in our parking meter in Hoboken, NJ.
“We have to say that your performance was one of the highlights. For us you managed to create the same strong feeling than you did at the concert at Marquee in Hamburg sometime in summer ’93. It was the first concert that we saw of yours. We are still thinking that we passed through a ‘magic moment’ – that’s how we feel about it.” – Jutta, in a letter from Hamburg, 1994
Jean interviewed by Clifton Joseph for Imprint Ontario TV.
Candice Petersen, co-owner of K Records, from an article in Rolling Stone (New York) 1994 -- “When I talk to indie labels, I’m always speaking to women who make decisions, but at majors, the women I speak to are usually publicists or sales people,” says the 28-year-old, who works with the bands Mecca Normal and Halo Benders. “One of the reasons the indie scene exists is because people don’t want to follow the rules. One of the ways you don’t follow the rules is to choose the best person to work for you and not base the decision on preconceived ideas of which gender knows more about rock. Or, as women, you start up your own company.”
Excerpt of Jean’s interview with K Record’s Calvin Johnson in Raygun Magazine (Los Angeles) 1994:
Jean: When you're interested in a band, is it the idea of working with somebody who has a similar method or vision and not necessarily a particular sound?
Calvin: Right, for instance, Mecca Normal. The first time I saw them was on the Black Wedge tour where they got together with their friends and said, "hey, this is important, let's do it." It wasn't as if they were saying, "How can we sell this new album?" It was a tour of people and half of them weren't even bands.
Jean: You know, when I think of K, it doesn't exist in the realm of "isms." I don't think of an interest in overly politicized dogma. I see you doing things that follow some of those sentiments, like putting out a lot of music by women and being a do-it-yourself label, but the word from K isn't put together in a literal way. It's interesting that you were attracted to the Black Wedge, because it was very literal.
Calvin: One of my ideas, in the back of my mind, is that instead of saying that we're smashing sexism, we're trying hard not to be a macho rock 'n' roll label.
Jean: Does it ever bug you how much Mecca Normal talks about these things in literal terms?
Calvin: No, I think it's great. For me, the idea is, we're trying to create an environment where those negative things don't exist. I think for a lot of people who are making music in a political way... one criticism I might have is that they don't allow for a dialogue. If you disagree with them they just turn off. I've encountered a lot of people in music who have strong political views who don't have a strong tolerance for other people's views.
Jean: They need to get out more.
Calvin: It's hard for things to change if people aren't going to exchange ideas. If they're only going to say, "If you disagree with me, then you're the enemy." One thing that's really useful when discussing issues, especially issues of repression, is to see all the different points of views and try to understand why someone would look at something as oppressive and someone else doesn't. Not to say that one person is right or wrong but to understand why they can exist.
Play Yo-Yo Festival (1994) in Olympia. Introduced to Beck while Jean sets up her tent in Calvin’s backyard.
“Such innocence and enthusiasm are the guiding principles of the Olympia genre called love rock. At Yo Yo, bands throw candy to the audience, and the festival organizers hand out yo-yos. Homemade and vintage instruments proliferate, as do two-and three-piece groups, a minimalism exemplified by the Saturday night performances of Mecca Normal and Spinanes.” – Evelyn McDonnell, Rolling Stone (New York) 1994
Record with Calvin and Steve in Seattle. These tracks plus ones we’d recorded in Germany and Worcester would become “Sitting On Snaps.”
“There would be no Liz Phair without a Jean Smith.” – Gerard Cosloy interviewed in Spex (major German rock magazine). 1994
West Coast summer tour (with Peter Jefferies) excerpts by David:
Aug 12: Wake up in Pismo Beach at 6 AM. Interview on KXLU (Los Angeles). Write and record two songs including “The Bird That Wouldn’t Fly” with Robert Hammer at the Pony Palace -- Distorted Pony's house in Hollywood. On the way to the show, Robert van overheats. We wait at a gas station for a taxi, while a black guy tells us he is Diana Ross’ manager but just happens to be living in a gas station at the moment. Packed show. In the audience is Excene Cervenka, Sonic Youth members and Franklin Bruno. Charles Brown Superstar opens.
Aug 18: Play small artist space in Oakland called X-Press. Members of Rancid complain we are too loud. Jean sings without a mic and I play with volume totally off. Still too loud says Rancid guy with a Mohawk.
Aug 19: San Francisco (Thirsty Swede). Packed show. A group of guys chant Jean’s name. Stay at Laura’s.
Aug 20: Jean throws her back out. Re-schedule Eugene show.
Aug 22: Eugene (John Henry’s). Because of her back problems, Jean performs sitting in a chair.
“This was beyond any doubt the best live performance I’ve seen all year, and Jean never moved from her seat until the very last song.” – Snipehunt (Portland)
Autumn East Coast tour (booked by Jim Romeo, Twin Towers) with Peter Jefferies and Trash (Robbie Yeats, Bruce Blucher and Paul Cahill) from New Zealand.
Mecca Normal record “The Dogs” and “Don’t Shoot” in Vancouver at Venture Studios with Sheldon for a Virgin/EMI spoken word comp called Word Up.
A new Mecca Normal song called “The Bird That Wouldn’t Fly” is donated to a benefit comp CD called Home Alive. Home Alive is a Seattle based anti-violence non-profit organization that offers affordable self-defense classes and provides public education and awareness for women.
Jean has a piece of fiction published in literary magazine Sub-Terrain (Vancouver).
“I really liked your set. I did not know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. Who’d have guessed Dave was so limber? And you too Jean, doing the limbo with that guitar.” – letter to Mecca Normal from Chicago, 1994
In 1994 Mecca Normal did 6 tours and played 71 shows.
Jean flies to New Zealand to live with Peter Jefferies.
December, 2008 (added from Jean's MySpace blog)
When I arrived in Dunedin I was met at the airport by both Peter and my new boss, the owner of the record label IMD. I think that's what happened -- it was the early-90s. I had given up my apartment and I intended to write, but Peter cleverly got me a position at the label, which was really just him and Brendan -- the studio engineer.
So I was the publicity department and back then it was faxes, so I wrote a lot. Peter was A&R. We were working on a Bill Direen CD. I'd had a drunken run in with Bill in Berlin, and now here I was, his label publicist. Downer. Oh well.
The next CD was to be a Sandra Bell -- Peter's ex. Great. Anyway, there we were in the basement of a building several blocks away from where we lived on Liverpool Street. Paul Cahill was away, Bruce Blucher rehearsed downstairs and eventually Peter and I made the first 2 Foot Flame CD there and invited Michael Morley around to add some guitar. When the CD came out on Matador, many reviewers attributed my guitar playing to Morley and likewise, the great sounds Peter got out of his electric piano went the way of Morley in many reviews as Dead C were favoured in the USA.
I hadn't intended to be working and it was summer there, yet I didn't know there was an incredible beach about ten minutes away -- no one told me.
When Cahill and his girlfriend returned from Australia they drummed us out of the Liverpool Street building by being creeps to us. I don't say that lightly -- some of those people were really nasty. I don't think they liked Peter going out with an "American". I think they were jealous of Peter.
Peter worked very hard and made incredible music. He was one of the most enthusiastic amazing people I have ever known. Heaps of energy and a great sense of purpose directed towards his vision. Really, I can't say enough good things about Peter Jefferies. An incredibly supportive, deeply talented and adventurous man.
We moved to St. Clair, near South Dunedin, into a duplex and I had a room with a bit of a sea view in which to write.
At one point I had a stamp made to apply information to the backs of CDs and LPs that Peter was bring into the country to have go out through IMD. He was doing great, working really hard to bring in incredible music. I had a rubber stamp and stickers made that said "Disturbed by IMD" and one day the owner noticed that it said disturbed instead of distributed and he got angry. Guess that's what owners are for -- to squish any creativity that arrives in their work force.
Years later I notice that they made a compilation of IMD releases and guess what they called it?
Disturbed by IMD
Not such a horrid idea after all?
Sitting On Snaps (Matador) released on January 24, 1995.
Jean’s favorite song on the album: The piano (Peter Jefferies) on Vacant Night Sky is the first time we’d had a guest on a Mecca Normal record. It’s one of those songs whose meaning evolves through time and circumstance. It seems to apply to various aspects of life. I love Frozen Rain, Dave plays it so beautifully. Only Heat is something I came up with. I listened to Dub Narcotic and Creedence Clearwater Revival mixed together in my headphones and used a Boeing super-sensitive microphone, something they used to inspect aircraft for structural defects. It picked up creaking floorboards, and pounding bass from a car going by -- we couldn’t hear it in the room, just through the super-sensitive microphone.
David’s favorite songs on the album: Vacant Night Sky. Only Heat. Beppo's Room
"Sitting On Snaps was recorded in various locations, mostly while we were on tour. We had a few days off in the middle of a tour in Europe so we wrote some songs and found a studio. We’d met up with Peter Jefferies at a festival in Holland and he’d come down to southern Germany to hang out so we had to get him to play piano on a couple of songs. We recorded four songs in Montreal for a national broadcast and we ended up using one for this record. While we were on tour in the eastern U.S., we went into a studio in Massachusetts with lyrics I’d written that morning, David came up with the guitar part while the tape rolled. We recorded some more songs in Seattle and put the whole thing together there with Calvin’s help." -- Jean Smith, Matador website, 1995
Vacant Night Sky (excerpt):
This is not what it's supposed to be
a false light on the faces we can see
They’re not really smiling
frozen into shapes
they’re power mixed with pain
And no astronomer can pilot
across a vacant night sky
a solid thing travelling
with a blinding hole
Sometimes this light is called winning
and I really don’t know why
this light contributes nothing
it only allows me to see
a false machine in motion
passing through the clouds
Trapped Inside Your Heart
Trapped inside your heart
You’re trapped inside your own heart
I am a swarm of possibility
that make him feel
good or bad
that’s what he needs to know
Invoking passion with false memories
a publicly manufactured code
The movie runs between my fingers
There’s always trouble
when you have to invent yourself
It’s not love
that I don’t feel
it is the loss
of something that never was
It is the loss
In Dunedin, New Zealand, Jean works at IMD -- a small label.
In New Zealand, Jean Smith and Peter Jefferies (This Kind of Punishment, Nocturnal Projections) and Michael Morley (Dead C, Gate) form 2 Foot Flame. Jean and Michael Morley make a video for Vacant Night Sky.
In Vancouver David designs theatre posters and book covers.
“Straying To Summer” by Mecca Normal is released on a benefit comp CD for battered women’s shelters in B.C. Other bands on the comp include Cub, Art Bergmann, Coal and Spirit of the West.
“What actually stuck in my mind, though, and what will probably stay with me for a long time was a short conversation Jean had with my friend Gomshay after the show. Gomshay introduced himself to you, Jean, and he drunkenly told you about his long-time friend, Jason, who had recently been in a car accident and was in critical condition in intensive care. It looked like Gomshay was going on and on talking about Jason, and I have a feeling it was the first time he let himself really feel anything about the accident. I have to say that when you reached out and gave him a long hug and told him that you had lots of extra power and that he should give some of it to Jason I was very moved. It was one of the sweetest, most caring things I’ve ever seen and I want you to know how much Gomshay appreciated it.” – Christian in a letter to Mecca Normal (Minneapolis, MN) 1994
Jean writes (and takes the photos) for a feature article on Peter Jefferies -- “Tape-Hiss Is A Sign of Life” Raygun Magazine (Los Angeles) 1995
“We drove through beautiful rolling hills (sheep dotting the landscape) to a beach with fine white sand and waves coming up in the wind. You know the type of waves that, as they roll in, the tops of them are blown by the wind creating a beautiful mist. The scenery here is incredible.” – Jean in a fax from New Zealand, 1995
“Few bands poking around the indie scene can be singled out for creating something entirely their own, rather than producing an assemblage or reshuffling borrowed sounds. The beautifully potent songs of guitarist David Lester and vocalist Jean Smith stand clearly in that rare arena.” – Lydia Anderson reviews “Sitting On Snaps” in the CMJ New Music Weekly (New York) 1995
“This time around the two broaden their canvas, including guest pianist Peter Jefferies on two cuts, and take their own raw sound to new, spine tingling levels.” – Lydia Anderson reviews “Sitting On Snaps” in the CMJ New Music Weekly (New York) 1995
“Sitting On Snaps” debuts in the CMJ Top 200 at #61.
“Smith and Lester are so tuned into each other, voice and guitar create a skillful interplay that’s great fun to listen to.” –Gillian Gaar reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” in The Rocket (Seattle) 1995
David flies to New Zealand for a Mecca Normal tour with Peter Jefferies and Gate. Mecca Normal then fly from New Zealand to Los Angeles for an in-store at Rhino Records. A week later they fly to Munich for a European tour. 1995
“‘Trapped Inside Your Heart’ is a fine example of Mecca Normal’s subtle beauties.” –Daily Trojan (Los Angeles) reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” 1995
“Change Is How You Act”, an animated film David made in 1981, gets its first public screening (in Saskatchewan).
Word Up CD (EMI) released with Mecca Normal’s “The Dogs” and “Don’t Shoot”. The CD also contains tracks by Meryn Cadell, Judy Radul, Sheri-D Wilson, John Giorno, Jeannette Armstrong and Lillian Allen.
“God, do these people not believe in drums?” -- Ripple reviews “Sitting On Snaps” 1995
“…eschewing verse-chorus-hook hegemonies in favor of free-flowing structures, and finding a new sonic language for rock…” – Douglas Wolk reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” in the CMJ Monthly (NY) 1995
“Mecca Normal sink further into the depths of gratuitous depressing pretentiousness.” – Christine reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” in Platform 1995
“Sparse, beautiful music.” – review of “Flood Plain” in The Obscuritant (Chicago) 1995
“The eleven songs end up sounding like they were produced by washed-up and sentimental coffee shop regulars, drowning in espresso and lovable morbidity.” – Taylor Antrim reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” in Intermission. 1995
“Never has minimalism sounded so lush, as guitar and voice interact with symphonic intensity in deceptively simple songs like ‘Trapped Inside Your Heart.’” – Sia Michel reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” in SF Weekly (San Francisco) 1995
“To my mind, K. K. Null and David Lester are the most riveting and exciting guitar players alive today.” – review of “Flood Plain” in The Obscuritant (Chicago) 1995
“In the most breathtaking example of ‘less is more’ in recent musical history, Vancouver’s Mecca Normal creates a Byzantine cathedral full of sound…” – Jud Cost reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” in Magnet (Philly) 1995
“Smith’s voice—my god! —is a universe unto itself.” – Jud Cost reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” in Magnet (Philly) 1995
K Records re-issues the first Mecca Normal album on vinyl and on CD (for the first time).
“I’ll be honest in saying that I honestly don’t know what motivates Mecca Normal… all I can say is that it reminds me a lot of what it felt like when I touched a cat’s tongue for the first time.” – Ben reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” in Milkbone 1995
“I don’t think any of their records are less than remarkable.” – Tom Sedlak reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” in Cadenza (St. Louis, MO) 1995
“Don’t expect a chorus to come bubbling up to save your sorry ass and sum things up in a neat package…. This will vex your mind like long buried thoughts, dragged kicking and screaming to the surface only to be poked with a stick and left to go brittle in the harsh light of day.” – review of “Sitting On Snaps” in Factsheet Five, 1995
“As a document of frustration and transcendence, Sitting On Snaps rocks. If The Man takes it in the nutsac, all’s the better.” – Cindy Widner reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” in the Austin Chronicle (Austin) 1995
“Listening to Sitting On Snaps is a multi-layered thrill. Not just because it’s a great record by a great band – it’s the record of a great band re-inventing itself…. How often can you say that nine years into a band’s career?” – Bill Meyer reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” in The Bob (Wilmington, DE) 1995
The Rocket (Seattle) rates “Jarred Up” at #178 in the list of the top 200 albums of all time in the Pacific Northwest. 1995
Excerpts from European tour diary by David. 1995:
Vera at Groningen -- photo by Snorkel.
April 7: In Austria, our tour car is towed, setting us back 300 deutchmarks.
April 8: Eingingen, a small rock club. In the adjoining room to the club I see a group of men stand around a tree stump passing a hammer, each attempting to hit a nail in. At the show I break a few strings, guitar cord breaks, guitar strap breaks. Jean helps by making a guitar strap out of guitar cords.
April 10: Nurnberg, Germany. Totally enthusiastic crowd. Two encores. I break input to guitar. In the audience, I can see a woman singing along to “Throw Silver”. Later she tells Jean about breaking up with her husband and the importance of the song to her. Italian meal. I twisted my ankle a bit, and ache all over after such a long show.
April 11: Koln. Lend Mary Timony of Helium my amp.
April 14: Dirk (tour manager) avoids a car crash.
April 16: In Bremen, we play a “Lo-Fi Festival” with Chris Knox and the Mountain Goats.
April 19: In Karlsruhe, Jean gets word that Matador will release a 2 Foot Flame album.
April 20: Eat snail soup.
April 26: Play the Sausage Machine in London and meet Gina of The Raincoats.
May 5: Fly from Germany to New York city and headline a show at Under Acme, with Mad Scene, Cat Power, and Shiva Speedway.
“Yet their music – Lester plays guitar like it's a strange instrument found washed up on a beach, Smith's vocals are glass shards melting and crystallizing – is far from pop-radio sensibilities. By twisting the delivery, they place power in individual interpretation, in the belief that one should be strengthened, not seduced, by melody.” – Evelyn McDonnell in a 4-star review of “Sitting On Snaps” in Rolling Stone (New York) 1995
“As for Smith and Lester? They continue to push the envelope tearing open their souls in search of a new emotion. Sitting On Snaps is simply incredible, but take caution as Mecca Normal is an acquired taste. Nothing but original, anything but crap, and indeed a group that will be overlooked by the sneering Top 40 music seekers.” – Pat Merlihan reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” in Imprint, 1995
“As it is, the raw throat, Tori Amos-on-a-murder-spree caterwauls and lacerating, sparse guitars stand up pretty well in the art rock friendly ‘90s.” – review of “Sitting On Snaps” in the NME (England) 1995
“A quiet hurricane…” – review of “Sitting On Snaps” in RAW (England) 1995
“…it is more unsettling than four Ministry fans with rack samplers could ever be. Extreme in the real sense of the word.” – review of “Sitting On Snaps” in Kerrang (England) 1995
“Smith’s voice can be warm and melodic, as on the gorgeous ‘Trapped Inside Your Heart’” – Dave Jennings reviewing “Sitting On Snaps” in Melody Maker (England) 1995
“Sitting On Snaps” also gets a four star review in the German edition of Rolling Stone.
“I think the same aesthetic basis of everything we do is apparent in whatever form it takes. We’re constantly trying to inspire ourselves and find inspiring things. You know if you can live through the dulled times and realize your work is going to create something exciting, some culmination at the end, whether its booking a tour or the hard times you might be having writing a song or even just getting out of bed some mornings. You know you can keep a sense of direction and not give up just for the sake of taking on a normal lifestyle. You can really take control of your life and point it in a direction and stick with it.” – Jean interviewed by Tiso Ross in Spec (Dunedin, New Zealand) 1995
Record 3 songs at Profile Studios (Vancouver) with Peter Jefferies adding the first drums ever on a Mecca Normal song (Breathing In The Dark).
In Vancouver (Starfish Room), Mecca Normal do a show with Chris Knox (who joins us for one song).
“Sitting On Snaps” peaks on the CMJ Top 200 at #48.
“Afterwards, as the audience leaves, the conversation is nervous, confused, and a little awestruck. People had arrived expecting to see a band. Instead they’d seen a two-person guerrilla campaign against apathy.” – Dave Jennings reviewing a live show at the Laurel Tree, London in Melody Maker (England) 1995
“A neat, bespectacled, studious-looking figure, he windmills his arm to maximize the sonic shock value…” – Dave Jennings reviewing a live show at the Laurel Tree, London in Melody Maker (England) 1995
Gerard Cosloy (Matador Records) attempts to get to the Mecca Normal show in Los Angeles at Jabberjaw but is mugged outside. While Gerard waits for the police to show up, he passes a record contract to David to give to Jean for 2 Foot Flame. At the show, a woman tells David he has given her enough power that she has some to take home.
Eugene, Oregon band Oswald Five-O release a 7” covering the Mecca Normal song “Blue TV”.
“Bird That Wouldn’t Fly” and “Breathing In The Dark” 7” released on Matador.
2 Foot Flame album released on Matador.
Jean does a 2 Foot Flame tour.
Word Up (Key Porter) book published with 3 pages of Jean’s writing.
“Is this album good? You’re damn right it’s good! The Arbitrator, To The Sea and Compass create some of the most disturbing; yet uniquely enjoyable, waves of sound ever put together.” – R.T. Hunter reviewing 2 Foot Flame in the Daily Cardinal, 1995
“… hearing her (Jean’s) voice tear through these other contexts is nothing short of thrilling.” – Gail O’Hara reviewing 2 Foot Flame in Time Out (New York) 1995
Sounding Off: Music as Subversion / Resistance / Revolution (Autonomedia) book is published with Jean’s chapter on the Black Wedge. It was edited by Ron Sakolsky and Fred Wei-han Ho. The book would go on to win an American Book Award.
Excerpt from The Black Wedge Tours by Jean Smith from Sounding Off
In the early part of 1986, Mecca Normal released their first LP on their own label, Smarten Up! Records. Soon thereafter, they flew to Montreal and hooked up with Rhythm Activism; another voice and guitar duo dealing with social concerns from an anti-authoritarian perspective. While the four stood around in the basement of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation building waiting to go on live radio coast to coast, they listened in on the segment prior to their spot--England's Red Wedge was being featured. Formed in the late '80s to support the Labor Party, the Red Wedge presented political ideas within a musical context, a showcase of musicians encouraged people to vote Labor. The Black Wedge, coming into existence that night, would encourage people to reclaim their voices, to speak out against oppression rather than rely on electoral politics as a means to solve social problems.
A phone call was made to Vancouver and a bus was secured for a West Coast tour. The tour line-up included Mecca Normal, Rhythm Activism, Ken Lester (D.O.A.'s manager, activist and poet), Dave Pritchett (longshoreman and poet) and Bryan James (a self-describe "jingle man").
Leaving Vancouver after a sold-out show, the tour headed south, playing nightclubs, a bookstore, an art gallery, a soup kitchen, a record store, universities and as many radio stations as possible along the way. Our preliminary promotional work paid off, and articles appeared in many publications, including mainstream daily papers.
The show, divided into five segments, dealt with a variety of issues. Mecca Normal performed "Strong White Male," "Smile Baby," and "Women Were King"--all of which brought up sexism and male oppression. We also performed "Are You Hungry Joe?", a dialogue between Joe and the guy that stood between him and a bag of groceries at a food bank. Rhythm Activism also addressed poverty in "The Rats." Bryan James' songs were about pornography and the lure of the TV screen. Dave Pritchett's poems were mainly about disenfranchised citizens and lost love. Between songs and poems, we all talked about what we were trying to do with the Black Wedge. Sometimes it sounded dogmatic and rhetorical, other nights it was spontaneous and charming. In Olympia, Rhythm Activism's Norman Nawrocki called for a raid of the Safeway next door--it didn't quite happen, but there was enthusiasm for the plan.
Prior to the Black Wedge, Mecca Normal had not toured at all. That first tour was amazing; we met poets, community activists, anarchists, feminists, people at radio stations, recording label people, fanzine writers and bands. It was incredible to drop into a community and see what was going on and, at the same time, represent ourselves. I don't think we had any idea of what was out there in terms of like-minded people. Since that first time out, Mecca Normal has done about thirty tours in North America and Europe. After the group tours, we became more insulated, preferring to tour by ourselves and play on regular rock bills as a contrast to the four-guys-on-stage syndrome.
In 1987, the Black Wedge got on the same old school bus and drove from Vancouver to Winnipeg. Rhythm Activism, Bryan James and Mecca Normal were on the bill again in addition to Toronto's Mourning Sickness--"committed to destroying all forms of patriarchal power..." and Peter Plate, an agent of the spoken word, who had seen our San Francisco shows the year before and decided to join us. Responding to an ad in Open Road, an anarchist news journal, Nelly Bolt took on the driving and information table with anarchist news, Black Wedge booklets and prisoners' rights information. David Lester set up a display of political posters at every show. Booklets containing a selection of everyone's work and a compilation tape were sent out to secure shows. One promoter in Edmonton canceled our show after hearing Peter Plate's piece "San Bernadino" in which, to paraphrase, Peter jerks off on church door handles Saturday night so his dried seed will glisten on the priest's hand Sunday morning. Konnie Lingus of Mourning Sickness brought up the rights of sex-trade workers, herself being one. Prudence Clearwater and Lynna Landstreet were the other band members. When we met up with Mourning Sickness for a Toronto show, Prudence had been attacked by a man on a street the night before. She was so strong up on stage doing her usual rant against street harassment, "Listen to me, little man," she howled down at the audience. It felt like our introspective world touring had been interrupted by reality.
On a ferry ride across a lake in British Columbia, Peter jumped up on the roof of the bus without warning and began a poem. The other passengers tried to pretend this was not happening; people in cars actually rolled up their windows. Nelly Bolt, our driver, also got up there and did her first public performance of her poetry to a captive audience.
In '88, Peter Plate and Mecca Normal went to England to perform on the cabaret circuit. We were sandwiched between highland dancers, comics, and skits. Peter was dynamic; all his pieces were done from memory. Mecca Normal had always wanted to be either a contrast to a larger, more traditional rock band, or as part of the Black Wedge, an element within a similarly motivated group. In England the other acts were entertainment, something we never wanted to be!
After the tour ended I stayed in the North of England doing solo readings and running a women's writing workshop which was set up for me by Keith Jafrate, a poet, sax player and an employee of the local council. He was running writing workshops at all different levels involving poets and people interested in improving their writing skills. Keith joined the '89 Black Wedge tour in North America. He teamed up with Rachel Melas on bass. We were joined again by Peter Plate. We toured the West Coast and in the East before the thing exploded for financial and personal reasons. That was the last tour that I know of called the Black Wedge. The name is available for other people to use to present anti-authoritarian ideas. It is meant to be an arena for people who might not otherwise be known well enough to bring out an audience. It was never meant to be a closed group that was only active for a short time.
Mecca Normal and 2 Foot Flame play Super Winner’s Summer Rock Academy in Chico, CA.
“From the opening strains of The Birthday Party-esque ‘Lindauer’ to the relentless surf-noise of ‘The Arbitrator’, 2 Foot Flame bravely recovers that remarkable territory where art, poetry, and rock and roll co-exist. You want punk rock, turn off your radio. It’s about opening your heart and dusting off those neglected pieces that refuse to break. It’s about 2 Foot Flame.” –review of 2 Foot Flame album in The Synthesis (Chico, CA) 1995
“Some might find it hard to imagine Smith’s voice split off from the guitar of her longtime playing partner, David Lester, but her very individualistic style – a combination of acrid intensity and deadpan alienation – is in fact the perfect match for Jefferies and Morley’s fuzzy, buzzing mix of noise and near-industrial syncopations.” – Alex Varty, profiling 2 Foot Flame in the Georgia Straight (Vancouver) 1995
“It’s a series of images that I came up with. It’s more like a cinematic voyage into a particular emotion. I think it’s about something that’s hit a critical point, and blown up. I can’t see clearly what it is, and I’m not sure that I want to. It could be trouble.” –Jean talking about the 2 Foot Flame song ‘Cordoned Off’’ to John Chandler in The Rocket (Seattle) 1995
2 Foot Flame album peaks at #60 on the CMJ Top 200.
In December, 1995, Mecca Normal finishes recording and mixing an album at Profile Studios (Vancouver) that will become “The Eagle & The Poodle.” Peter Jefferies produces and plays drums on some of the tracks. Four of the tracks were recorded with Calvin Johnson at his studio in Olympia.
1996 - 2006 -- a Mecca Normal history in point form, tour diary entries and reviews.