Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners
A 20th Anniversary Retrospective
By Stuart Goodwin
Corey Brennan: I met the Lemonheads right at the beginning of their career, in June 1986, when I was working as a DJ on WHRB, one of the four major Boston college radio stations. There I was hanging out with Evan’s high school classmate Patrick "Amory Arms" Amory (who later put out the first Lemonheads EP and now works for Matador), and folks like Jim Barber (recent ex-manager and ex-lover and ex-attackee of Courtney Love).
Tom Hamilton: A guy named John Fields [producer of artists including Pink, Har Mar Superstar, Semisonic and Andrew WK], introduced them to me. They were young kids right out of high school. It was surprising and refreshing to hear what they were up to. They knew, understood and appreciated old school punk rock and its roots, which impressed me.
Patrick Amory: We [me and the Lemonheads] went to the same high school - Commonwealth School in Boston. It's a small private school with only 135 kids so everyone knows everyone else. I had graduated a couple years earlier and was on the radio station at Harvard - locally. A few friends of mine from CWS joined me on the air there, and Jesse eventually came to Harvard too and also joined WHRB. He was a good friend of mine. Meanwhile, I was playing guitar in a ridiculously bad band called Useless with Ben Deily, George Boulukos (also from CWS), Kate Tews (another WHRB person) and, eventually, Evan Dando. Evan and Ben then formed the Lemonheads with Jesse. They played a show with a band called Meltdown that also featured Corey Brennan, a classics grad student and mean metal guitar soloist who was also on WHRB, and after that Jesse wanted to put a record out.
Everett True: The Lemonheads, The Illustrated Story: 'Why make a record?' asks Jesse now. 'Why not? Someone was playing some songs.' Throughout their early history, The Lemonheads were totally unmotivated. Things just seemed to happen. The main reason behind writing songs appeared to be, 'Well, we have to play something!' Cover versions were decided upon by what was popular at the time (Luka) or what the band had just heard on the radio (I Am A Rabbit).
Someone suggested they should go into a studio to make a single, so they did. A fellow waiter at Rebecca's in Boston (where Jesse was working as a busboy) told the bassist about someone who could record groups cheaply, so the band thought they'd take advantage of the opportunity.
Jesse Peretz: We were super excited, but we had no clue whether we were going to get the band to work or not.
Patrick Amory: Jesse and I went to Cambridge City Hall and registered one of our companies as a company - I can't remember whether it was his label (Huh-Bag) or mine (Amory Arms). Basically they wanted to put my name on the single 'cause I was known around town and had a couple of friends at distributors etc. Jesse did pretty much all the work.
Jesse Peretz: I think Patrick was the guy that had the connection to who was going to press up the single. We booked the recording, recorded stuff and the three of us in the band scraped together the cost of pressing it - $600, or something like that. Patrick was the one who had the ideas of how to get the records out there. It was all super homegrown.
Ben Deily: While I don't know what Patrick did behind the scenes, I can attest that Jesse heroically worked his proverbial butt off to make the thing happen. (He routinely and consistently did that for the band.) While ol' malingerer me? Shortly after the recording, I contributed most of the (highly questionable) artwork on the sleeve and the disc itself, then headed to Brazil to be a production assistant on a some weird documentary about an afro-Brazillian folk festival. I'm not making this up. By the time I got back, as I recall, presto, there was a record!
Patrick was really perhaps more a kind of "spiritual midwife" than a hands-on producer or anything. I mean, he had turned us and our friends on to punk rock and was the more-or-less ultimate official arbiter of all cool and "unheard" music. (Still is, I have no doubt.)
Tom Hamilton: Walkworth was a basement 8 track 1/2" studio in the house I lived at in Newton, MA. At that time the mixing board was set up on a workbench and the recording room was a small cave - an ex coal bin. We later rebuilt the basement and put in an Otari 16 track 1" with a Trident board. I recorded half of Hate Your Friends there and I think all of Creator, as well as other bands such as Bullet LaVolta and Jerry's Kids.
Ben Deily: Tom! Hambone! What a great, grinning, fiendishly lovable fellah! I can still see him in his Offbeats T-shirt and Sperry top-siders. He really treated us really well, knowing we had not a clue about what we were doing (our previous recording experience had been: me and Evan and a four track).
Walkworth was actually pretty sweet, in the basement of some dude's house in Brookline, MA. I mean, we must have liked it - we went back there to do many of our next sessions, I seem to recall. Much of the stuff that ended up on the next three records, actually.
When we recorded the EP, we had never actually played a live show. In fact, it was (significantly, I suppose) just a few days after High School graduation, as I recall, like in May or June? We didn't play our first real show to the public until August 19, 1986.
Everett True: The four-song seven-inch EP was recorded in just one day, early June 1986. It contained the band's first version of Glad I Don't Know (later re-recorded for Lick), the adrenaline-driven I Like To and - possibly the best song Ben Deily ever wrote - the passionate and surly So I Fucked Up. The fourth song on the single was the cover version of Proud Scum's I Am A Rabbit. Its inclusion came about because of the direct influence of the Harvard University radio station, WHRB. All through May it was the station's habit to broadcast what they called their 'orgy period', where the DJs would examine a genre of music in the minutest detail.
Curtis Casella: WHRB was the biggest influence for the Lemonheads, and the shaping of their opinions about music. It was a really exciting station - the stuff they were playing was really influential. Bands like Bullet Lavolta and the Lemonheads came from WHRB.
They would always do things to an extreme. They would do an 'Only Ones Orgy', or a 'Boston Orgy'. There was an eight-hour orgy of the Soft Boys. It was really out of control, and it was great to see that.
Ben Deily: I listened to WHRB a fair amount. In fact, come to think of it, I was in a pre-Lemonheads band called Useless with Patrick Amory, our friend George and an WHRB DJ named Kate, that used to rehearse in the basement at WHRB, in among the stacks of vinyl.
Patrick Amory: We broke up without playing any gigs.
Ben Deily: Wow - Useless. I reckon we're probably due for a reunion/comeback tour of some kind, doncha think?
Everett True: In 1986, WHRB had their biggest orgy period ever - a solid week, 168-hour breakdown of punk rock, starting with 1960s punk and going all the way round the world.
Patrick Amory: I was particularly into the fact they did the Proud Scum cover - at the time a completely obscure New Zealand punk band that we had featured on our station in a 'punk rock orgy' - a complete history of punk rock that Corey Brennan and I put together.
Jesse Peretz: In high school, we listened all night long from like 10 at night to 6 in the morning. During our exam period, I guess the second to last week of school, Harvard would stop their normal programming and have these 'orgies', where they would just specialise in one sub-group of music and have a six hour thing of, say, Bach cello concertos.
Just as the band was forming in our senior year, they had a history of punk rock that was a week long, going from pre-punk garage bands all the way through to the present. We skipped a lot of high school to listen to it, and I - and I think Evan and Ben also - particularly had a taste at that point in time for the Australian punk rock stuff, and so I taped an eight hour portion of contemporary Aussie stuff, and I Am A Rabbit was one of the songs.
Ben Deily: Whose idea was the Proud Scum cover? That was prolly all Evan and/or Jesse. Patrick, for all I know. Was just a rousing great song, and a celebration of libido with a bit of an adolescent twist. I mean, what could be better for three teenage punks? Fun for me to drum on, too.
Corey Brennan: [The orgy] was the 5000 (literally) greatest punk rock records. Even weeks later I was still buzzed from this massive radio show when these three kids from Boston’s Commonwealth High show up at the station - Evan Dando, Jesse Peretz and Ben Deily - with the tape of their Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners EP. We went to listen to it in Jesse’s car, and it sounded to me like the best 70s style punk I had ever heard.
Curtis Casella: The EP was a real natural punk rock record for the guys. The songs are influenced by the records they were listening to. It was unique because it sounds nothing like The Lemonheads do now. There was a just out of high school; very 'punk rock' attitude in all the members. It was like growing up with them at that point. It was pretty amazing. They were discovering '77 punk rock at that time - they were just into really obscure punk rock records.
Tom Hamilton: As with most the bands I record, they were a lot of work - diamonds in the rough so to speak. And, I think I recall tension between them all even at this early point, so there was a bit of babysitting involved. I liked the songs - I thought it sounded pretty crappy though. I grew to like the sound after it came out on vinyl.
Ben Deily: I imagine I was rather pleased with my 17-year-old self. I also remember thinking, jeez, it's too bad that the sound quality sucks more and more as you get towards the centre.
Jesse Peretz: We were all psyched that we had vinyl and that there were people that were gonna try and help us figure out how to get it in stores. Somehow we managed to start a little bit of buzz happening in our microcosm in Boston.
Patrick Amory: After Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners, I did a very limited-edition Sorry cassette, 'The Way It Was' (40 numbered copies), and a very limited-edition 7" by an obscure but fantastic Boston hardcore band called Deathwish (300 numbered copies). Catalogue numbers and tapes also exist for two further 7"s that were never released: one by Moving Targets and one by Sorry.
I was good friends with Curtis from Taang! and hooked the band up with him... Curtis also did a show on WHRB (without being a Harvard student - I argued him in)... of course financially this may not have been the best course for the band, I'm not sure.
Jesse Peretz: I guess I last listened to it four or five years ago... it's like a time capsule. I like the rawness of it. One of the reasons I pulled it out was to prove to my wife that we really were a punk band in that moment in time, because in her estimation we were just a sleazy pop band trying to pull girls.
Tom Hamilton: By the way, I forgot to mention that Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners was MY very first vinyl ever... so I guess it's my 20th anniversary too.
With thanks to Ben Deily, Jesse Peretz, Patrick Amory and Tom Hamilton.
Additional interviews by Roo Simpson
Everett True quotes taken from "The Lemonheads: The Illustrated Story"
Curtis Casella quotes taken from Ralph Heibutzki's "Wig Out At Dando's", from DISCoveries, Dec 1994.
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