photo by Douglas Woods
Blue Star Commissary
An Interview with the Seymores by Pete Crigler
The Seymores, out of Richmond, VA are probably one of the most obscure alternative rock bands, let alone one of the most obscure bands in the history of modern music. I'd never even heard of them and I had written a book about VA rock bands. But finding their Piedmont CD in a 99 cent bin, I discovered a hidden track entitled “Drywall” that completely blew my mind. Just lo-fi, really cool and different from all the fast alternative I was listening to. The only thing the band are remembered for outside of Virginia is appearing in a Dockers pants commercial circa 1995. Recording two records for Vernon Yard, a small subsidiary of Virgin that was also home to The Verve, Low and Acetone among others and working with David Lowery of Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven on their second record didn't do much to improve their popularity. The band didn't last very long and all of the members went their separate ways. I'll let frontman/guitarist David Fera tell the story.
PSF: When did you first become interested in music?
Fera: When I was 16. I started my first band psychic void. I wrote songs and we did some covers, cure, smiths, R.E.M.. My first 45 was "Rhinestone Cowboy." I played it everyday. I think that was my introduction to the idea of singing and writing songs
PSF: How did everybody come together to form the Seymores?
Fera: I met Joe [Nio, guitarist] on the street in Richmond. I was playing a Billy Bragg song. We were surprised to learn we lived on the same block, we started noodling around after that. He knew a bunch of great tunes. I remember him playing "Alone Again Or" (by Love), we had some great times playing in that apartment on Grove Ave. EJ and Matt Herczyk were the original bass and drums. We knew each other from high school. We started playing in my unfinished basement on Hanover Street. That's when the band really started and we decided to play some shows. Originally, we named the band Flounder.
PSF: What was the scene like in Richmond when the band started?
Fera: My band Elephant Boy was getting some decent shows at Twisters and the Jade Elephant. I really wasn't into the direction of the band. It was a funk band, similar to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. So I started focusing more on the new project which became the Seymores. I loved Day for Night and Burma Jam. I really thought those bands were on to something. I started going to shows at Twisters every night. I saw some great shows. Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Drive Like Jehu, Jesus Lizard, Ween, Afghan Whigs, Fugazi, etc.. One the Seymores' first shows was with Archers of Loaf. They were just starting. They blew me away. They had crappy little guitar amps at the time. I believe the show was us, Thing King and Archers. I remember the bass player from Thing King saying, "these guys suck" and, I responded, "these guys are incredible." We later played another show with Archers and Polvo. Another great show.
PSF: How did the band hook up with Vernon Yard and how was that experience?
Fera: We played this indie rock festival that Dave Moore put together. I made about 5 cassettes from the recent demo we made at Mark Miley's studio. We had a great time recording that first demo. Liz Brooks, A&R from Vernon Yard, was at the show and picked up a demo tape. They called me the following week. We were pretty blown away by the call and interest. I think we made all the right moves early on. We did a follow up show in Richmond for the record label then we went up to NY and played Brownies (which) pretty much sealed the deal.
PSF: What was it like recording the Piedmont record?
Fera: I think we made a poor decision going to Smart Studio. They really sucked the life out of us. Garbage was making their first record the same time we were there. I think Shirley Manson unintentionally lifted my melody from "Bone Crusher"- she was rehearsing with us to sing on the track and, it was later brought to my attention it's the same melody as "Only Happy When it Rains." She was from Scotland and, we both agreed Jesus and Mary Chain were our favorite Scottish band. I love the tunes on Piedmont. I just feel like, they spent way too much time editing the drums. The edits really took the room sound out of the equation and the lively feel of the songs. Don Fleming mixed the record and ran the bass tracks back through an amp to give the songs some more life. We tried to fuck it up a bit and make it sound less expensive. I'm still proud of the album but I think the songs would've been better if we were allowed to be ourselves in the studio. It was a rude introduction to what we thought to be a fun creative process.
PSF: What's the story behind "Drywall"?
Fera: Joe Nio and I co-wrote this tune. The idea came from many late night trips to the James River through Hollywood Cemetery. I remember one night having to slip by three hobos sleeping. The train was passing so they couldn't hear us. "Drywall" was inspired by the old drifter, train hopping lifestyle. We would pass over the track while the train was passing, requiring us to jump on the train as it was rolling by and passing between cars to the other side. Steve Pletch was playing drums with the band at this point.
PSF: How in the world did the band end up in a Dockers commercial and did it do what you guys wanted it to?
Fera: The Dockers commercial came up, I believe they were thinking of using one of three songs for the ad and we ended up getting selected. It transpired pretty quickly and the next thing we knew, we were on a plane headed to universal studios in L.A.. We didn't find out we would be in the ad until the last minute. We thought they were just going to use the song. We ended up being in the commercial as the band and, we had a great time. The studio was pretty massive and they were filming several different ads at the same time. I'm not sure what it did for the band but, it was a helpful in recouping some costs.
PSF: How did you end up hooking up with Lowery and recording the small EP?
Fera: I always loved the CVB (Camper Van Beethoven) stuff so hooking up with Lowery was a no-brainer. Also he was starting Pitch A Tent records so it was an opportunity to put out an EP on the label with Velena Vego. She was really great in supporting us and, helped us line up the Son Volt tour. We really took advantage of the opportunity the tour was great. I think we played some good shows warming up for them and got to know the guys from the band. We also sold a lot of merch. David Lowery produced the EP we made in conjunction with "Treat Her Like a Showcat," which we gave to Vernon Yard.
PSF: How did you guys get hooked up touring with Son Volt?
Fera: Velena Vego got us on the tour. I wish we could have done more tours like this one. Every night was sold out or close to it. We played some side shows on the tour and, they were fantastic. We played one side show to 10 people in Chapel Hill. We joked it was our best show of the tour- we had a flawless set and felt like we were on auto pilot despite the lack of attendance. Our New Orleans show was a good turnout, same result.
PSF: What was the recording of Showcat like?
Fera: I really enjoyed making Showcat. It was the polar opposite of Smart studio. We were loose and creative. I really like that recording and, we still have a few outtakes from the session. It's crazy to think how much recording has changed. Not much editing and just grabbing the performance with some selective punches on the analogue tape. Steve Pletch and Tony Ammedolia are playing on the record. We recruited Tony from "Fudge." They both played great and Tony added some nice harmonies. David Lowery and John Morand brought some interesting microphone techniques, especially with the vocals. Joe sang through a ten foot PVC pipe on one track. We used micro cassette for some stuff and mellotron is apparent throughout the recording, courtesy of David Lowery.
PSF: What happened, did the band break up or get dropped first?
Fera: The band broke up first but, it was inevitable. The label was changing and becoming Astralwerks. Vernon Yard was already folding their entire roster had shifted to Caroline Records which still had a good number of rock bands at the time. They didn't have any big acts that were taking off and, the record industry was crashing. Joe went to ad school at VCU. I continued playing music. Steve, Joe and I did some cool demos at Sound of Music. Ricky Tubb was there all along too. He made some demos with us and, was our tour manager.
PSF: Any chance the recordings will be available online?
Fera: I think they are out there. I'm not sure if you can purchase them online. I see our stuff on eBay and at record fairs. A friend of mine picked up our single at a record fair in Ithaca, NY and was playing it on college radio oldies show. Ha ha, oldies show.
PSF: How were the reunion shows and are there plans for any closer to VA?
Fera: We played a reunion show in New Orleans we are planning something with the technical Jed, Kneivels in Richmond but, have yet to lock down a date. It's in the works. Joe and Clancy from the Jed were kicking around the idea over Thanksgiving.
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