By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Last year, Peter Case sat holed up in a tiny studio in Santa Monica, California, finishing work on the third Plimsouls album--the band's first in 14 years, and one Case didn't think you would ever hear. Clad all in black--from his faded T-shirt and leather vest to his jeans and suede boots--Case listened to playbacks of a handful of already mixed songs and considered a few more still in their unpolished form. As he did, he sang to himself, mouthing the words to such songs as "Playing with Jack," "Pile Up," and "Feeling Strange." A smile crossed a bearded face that looked not much older than it did 15 years ago.
At the time, these songs were two years old, recorded shortly after the band returned from a less than amicable breakup in 1984, but they sounded of tomorrow--and of yesterday. They were sturdy rock-and-roll anthems and ballads built upon Case's gruff holler, Eddie Munoz's wiry guitar lines, and bassist Dave Pahoa and drummer Clem Burke's rock-and-roll-solid backbeat. They sounded as though they were recorded a decade ago or next week in a garage by a band weaned on the Outsiders, Mouse and the Traps, and Chuck Berry, as catchy as pop but as potent as punk.
Time has indeed treated the Plimsouls well, left them not a nostalgia act relegated to Rhino new-wave compilations but a relevant band that has something left in the tank and a few more miles to go. And so, on October 20, the Plimsouls will release Kool Trash, the follow-up to 1983's Everywhere at Once--the band's first for Geffen, and its farewell.
"There just seemed to be some unfinished business with the Plimsouls," Case said during a break from mixing. "The way we broke up was...not great. But for one thing, the band had only made a couple of albums, and the band played tons of these live shows that had been exciting. I always felt our strong suit was playing live, and you can't really explain why the Plimsouls were that great if you just put on the records.
"I mean, you can almost kinda get that from 'A Million Miles Away' or 'Oldest Story in the World' or 'Magic Touch' or some of the stuff on the second record [Everywhere at Once]. It seemed for people who were into the Plimsouls, we'd make another record or two. We had broken a sound and a style during the thousands of gigs we did, and then we never did anything with it."
Not too long ago, Case was ready to ditch these new recordings; he had written them off as a series of failed demos for a label deal that never came to fruition. Recorded in a matter of days, born in the studio during a few late-night sessions, they were almost abandoned there as well, forgotten and unwanted. Most of the tracks were originally cut for Epitaph Records owner (and Bad Religion's founding guitarist) Brett Gurewitz, a longtime fan of the Plimsouls who flirted with the idea of signing them to his label a while back. But Gurewitz ultimately passed, Case said, because the Plimsouls' sound didn't mesh with that of Epitaph's "new punk" ideology. "Brett's got a corporate identity," Case said, "and I guess we didn't fit with that."
Case was left holding the tapes (which also feature Gurewitz on vocals and Sam Phillips-Aimee Mann sideman Jon Brion on organ), forgetting about them and caring less about them every day. He had his own solo career to worry about, and the Plimsouls still seemed a thing of the distant past. Case was torn between writing material for his own albums and touring behind the greatest of the so-called power-pop bands to emerge from Los Angeles, or anywhere, during the early 1980s.
In retrospect, he said with a shrug, balancing his career and that of the Plimsouls "might not have been the right way to do things, to have it all jammed into one season. It was confusing." Indeed, after garnering massive press in Los Angeles, much of it loaded with the stored-up affection bestowed on old soldiers returned home from war, the Plimsouls seemed to let opportunity slip away. The momentum they carried with them even into the spring of 1996, when they played a triumphant show at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, dissipated like late-morning fog. They were forgotten even faster the second time around, and they hadn't even broken up again.
"I've never been so much for good career planning," Case said, smiling. "When we came back, we had some press and all this kinda stuff, but it's hard to say whether we really connected. We didn't get a record out. We did play some cool shows, and some were really strong, but we did this recording and never finished. We just went right by it. We blew it off." Case also became busy booking and hosting his monthly First Flight series at the now-defunct Ash Grove nightclub on the Santa Monica Pier, where such guest performers as John Doe, Austin's Kathy McCarty, Dave Alvin, John Wesley Harding, and Amy Rigby performed in an intimate, round-robin setting.