Tom Price Not ‘Working Out Logarithms On The Blackboard’ For Desert Classic Songs

Mudhoney, Seattle’s undisputed sons of slop-punk-psych, will be headlining what promises to be a rambunctious, fun and fuzz-filled night at Neumos on Friday.

One of the sold-out show’s opening acts will be the Tom Price Desert Classic. If for some reason you do not recognize the name “Tom Price,” odds are you recognize one of the dozens of projects he’s been associated with during the past three decades: the rowdy, matchless four-piece Gas Huffer; the sleazy, punk blues “supergroup” Monkeywrench, or the grimy, hardcore-rooted U-Men (who many declare planted the seeds of “grunge”).

Price’s guitar playing influenced a generation of noise-makers in the Northwest — whether it be those who dug the heavy sludge of the U-Men or the hyperactive riffery of Gas Huffer. Though his acts have varied in sound, Price’s style is consistent: a jazzy guitar from the sewer that borrows the assault of hardcore punk. (I’m not entirely sure that makes sense, but I’m going with it.) The unique blend has survived band breakups, touring — and most importantly Parkinson’s disease, which Price was diagnosed with in the early 2000s.

The Desert Classic released a debut LP Hell earlier this fall, and though health issues may have changed Price’s approach to its creation, its contents have refreshingly familiar guitar work.

Price chatted about the new record, the state of Seattle music and more:

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The Tom Price Desert Classic (photo credit: Jim Tillman)

The Tom Price Desert Classic was one of the first bands I saw after moving to Seattle at the beginning of 2008. I remember being excited at the prospect of owning an album soon after the show — nearly seven years later I got my wish!

Boy, have we been together for that long? It was a very slow process. It’s not like the old days where there were tons of indie labels around and you could get signed by just about anybody. It was just a matter of getting the money together to record [Hell] and get it released. And also I guess we’re not a very goal-oriented band [laughs]. We’re not particularly hard-working, so there was no real pressure to get the record out other than just whenever we felt it was good enough to be released.

So with “no pressure” in that time frame, you got exactly what you wanted?
Well, anytime you make a record you think things like, “next time we’ll do ‘something’ a little differently.” And also, some of the lyrics are maybe a little out of date now …. So to be perfectly honest, the album comes out and that’s exciting for us, but almost immediately you start thinking about the new material. But I think the album came out very well, particularly considering that it was recorded mostly on [recording equipment] that, Martin (Bland) our drummer, found at yard sales and thrift stores.

What are some aspects that differentiate rehearsal sessions with the U-Men, Gas Huffer, Monkeywrench and The Desert Classic?
The U-Men had a reputation of being a sloppy live band, but our songs were actually really complicated. There was a lot involved there and kind of a telepathy that had to be developed. We actually rehearsed very hard.


In Gas Huffer, we were playing fast music, much of it had lots of turns and tricks in it, so we rehearsed pretty hard.


In Monkeywrench, we had limited time to work on a bunch of material so we rehearsed fairly hard. This current band, we definitely do not rehearse very hard at all [laughs]. One of my favorite things about it is, a lot of the time we’ll just play a song on stage not really knowing the song or how it goes or anything…and we’ll just kinda let the song take its own shape …. Part of it is the songs that I write nowadays tend to be simple in structure. And also, I don’t get stage fright anymore like I used to. I guess maybe it’s just part of the aging process or something…I just feel more confident. We just don’t worry about anything too much really. We always have to struggle to find some kind of excuse — a legitimate excuse — to cancel band practice every other Friday. We usually manage to come up with something.

You said Desert Classic songs have a “simple structure,” but the song “It’s a Gas” has really weird timing.
Yeah it’s in 5/4 time, which is a rhythm you don’t hear too often in rock music. It’s pretty common in jazz and stuff. [In writing “It’s a Gas”] I was sitting around at home playing the electric guitar and was playing the song “The Prisoner” by the band DOA, which is a total hardcore, high-speed tune. And so it just kinda slowed down, and shifted into 5/4. It’s funny you mention that. A lot of time we’ll play that song and after the show a drummer in the audience will come up to me and say, “Dude, that one song that was in 5/4, that was so weird!” [Laughs]. It shifts between 5/4 and 4/4, but even then, we weren’t working out logarithms on the blackboard or anything. It just sorta felt natural.


You’ve been a fixture in the regional music community for what many consider at least three different eras. Going back to what you said about indie labels not being as aggressive as they used to, what are some other “exterior” changes you’ve seen?
When I first started playing music around here in the late 70s and early 80s, it was totally “do it yourself,” there wasn’t really any kind of a scene involving people you didn’t really know personally, there weren’t really any labels. Then later on …. I wouldn’t put it entirely up to the “grunge rock explosion,” but for a while there things were building up for a long time, and more and more labels and bigger crowds. And now I’d say it’s more back to the way it was in the earlier days when you had to do a lot of stuff yourself. I don’t know if that’s just a local phenomenon, but from what I can tell, it seems like that’s just the way music industry is these days.

Do you think there is any correlation with Seattle’s rapid growth and the changing culture of the music scene?
I’ve been really curious about that. I’ve definitely seen it in the night clubs and stuff — particularly in certain parts of town, downtown and up north in Ballard and Fremont. There’s definitely a lot more people coming out and it’s crazy. You go downtown or Lake Union and even SoDo and there’s just people everywhere. It’s really booming …. The one thing about the–for lack of a better term–the “grunge explosion” is that some people tend to forget the economy was going pretty strong at that time. People did have some extra money …. And now I’m seeing that again. But I don’t know how much that is gonna affect the actual music or if it’ll change the music local musicians produce here. I do think [the population increase] is already having an effect in terms of being a little encouraging, ya know, bringing more people to the shows and records selling a little better.

You have gone on record saying that you had to change your style of playing after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, taking a “less is more” approach as opposed to fast-changing, up-tempo stuff like that of Gas Huffer. Since that diagnosis, has your new approach evolved at all?
As time has gone by, my condition has deteriorated, but at the same time I’m much better at managing it. I mean, I could never play breakneck hardcore like we did in Gas Huffer again …. Right now we’re working on some stuff that is kind of going in some odd directions but not with Parkinson’s as a main driver behind those decisions.   

Tim Kerr was reportedly asked to perform at the 2012 Portland Bender, but said something along the lines of “I’ll only do Monkeywrench when I’m in the Northwest.”


Does Monkeywrench fall into the category of not being able to do the guitar work?
Oh I could definitely play it. I’d say Monkeywrench is actually pretty similar to what we’re doing now in the Desert Classic. I could hack it. But, Tim, who is one of my greatest friends of all-time, he’s into playing Irish music these days. You know, painting and playing acoustic music. He’s fibbing a little bit there — when he comes up here he plays with some folk musicians and performs in acoustic, Celtic music circles. I’m sure he meant in terms of loud, electric rock music. But I don’t know. Periodically there’s talk of getting back together and doing some Monkeywrench, and maybe at some point it might happen, but I think for now, Tim’s just off in another world.

Chris Coyle

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The Tom Price Desert Classic opens for Mudhoney on Friday, November 14th at Neumos. This show is sold out.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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