Clubland: Sebadoh alum Eric Gaffney brings it home at the 13th Floor Music Lounge this Saturday

  • Eric Gaffney

  • Phenomena 256

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Eric Gaffney, ex-Sebadoh music maker and man about town, goes to a lot of local shows but isn’t usually responsible for booking them. 

This weekend he makes an exception. He was inspired to put together a quadruple-bill — “one of the only shows I’ve ever booked in 34 years of playing shows,” he said in an interview last week — featuring his own band Grey Matter, as well as The Journals Kept (from New Hampshire), and locals Phenomena 256 (formerly known as Experimental Audio Damage & Research Control Group) and Spacekase.

It all happens at the 13th Floor Music Lounge in Florence on Saturday at 9 p.m. Clubland spoke to Gaffney via email about the big event.

Clubland: You mentioned this is only the second show you’ve ever booked. What inspired you to curate this show and make it happen? Why did you choose these bands?

Gaffney: I happened upon Phenomena 256 last July 4th at one of those underground house shows. I rode my bicycle to Hadley, found the place, bands were set up outside… I enjoyed the guys, especially as they reminded me of Stereolab, Neu and The Stooges. I played a show with Casey Opal (as “Pronoia") on a bill at the 13th Floor and liked her songs. [Spacekase is her current project.] I met The Journals Kept at a recent show, so asked them to join the bill.

Clubland: When did you move back to the Valley? You have a unique perspective on the Northampton/ local music scene  I feel like you're always out and about, checking things out, and you've been a creative part of this area for decades.

Gaffney: I re-landed here ten years ago. I had moved to San Francisco at the height of the dot.com boom in 2000, started a new band line-up there and played a lot of shows. I lived in Oakland for one year, then did a Sebadoh reunion tour, after which I tried to move back to New York City, but ended up in the Valley again by default.  

I’ve been out seeing local shows since the late 1970s, then starting bands and performing here since 1983. To keep going and to stay afloat I still like to be out seeing shows. I would do that wherever I have lived… Philadelphia, Portland, NYC, San Francisco.

[The Valley] isn’t an easy place to thrive, grow or survive musically, as opposed to say, New York City or Los Angeles, but I just keep recording and playing shows despite any distractions.

Clubland: Your band at this show is Grey Matter, and I know you have lots of other projects that play out (Fields of Gaffney, Animal Friends, Gracefully Aging Hippie Soloists). How are they all different? Are they all unique projects with very different places in your brain, or is it more amorphous than that?

Gaffney: I decided, after ten years of name changing (Chicopee Moose Project, for example), to stick with the first band name that I started, drummed for, wrote songs for and played shows with (Grey Matter). Les has stuck with me on bass, we played in bands together from 1984 through 1989. We've had various drummers join for shows, but it's been the same band since 2007. On the side, I play solo acoustic shows.

Last year I tried busking on the street again to see what that was like — playing to street people, panhandlers, traffic noises, beeping, street and restaurant smells, but also playing “Yellow Submarine” to elderly people and kids, who seemed appreciative — as opposed to playing the same bar/club/cafe circuit.  

Clubland: The last time I saw a band of yours play The Sierra Grille, it was super loose, and I think you even said the band had barely rehearsed before the show. In a good way. There was a kind of electricity in the “how is this song going to end?” energy. What’s your philosophy about performing live? What’s important to you — or not important to you?

Gaffney: We were just talking about this tonight at band practice! In my earlier work — my 4-track cassette songs, early Sebadoh — I did a lot of songs falling apart at the end… unfinished or abandoned ideas, noise sketches, building up and crashing for an end bit, which I liked because it goes against the grain of what is often acceptable, and is noticeably unique. 

However, as time flew by, most of my songs [have] proper endings, like ending on the same note, but still may branch out with improvisation, spontaneous playing. It might be from hearing an overwhelming amount of free jazz as a child in the ’70s.

Clubland: You’re also famous for being a longtime prolific home recorder. Do you prefer the at-home hermit focus or the in-public noisemaking? How often do you record? Is it still analog tape or did you switch to the digital world? What are you working on at the moment?

Gaffney: Well, I’ve been recording on cassette since 1981, performing since 1983; I like both. But when my records aren't selling (nor streaming) nor on any real label, playing out is the most immediate way to remind myself as to what I enjoy doing.

I started opening up to recording digitally with an engineer in San Francisco in 2006. More recently, I recorded three records, two digitally, in a one-year period. “Land of Make Believe,” which was released on limited edition vinyl on an independent label in Italy (I hand-designed 25 of the “blank” white covers and labels, [using] watercolors, acrylics, stamps and ink, and collage); “Ghost of Christmas Future,” a more acoustic based record, doing my sitar-esque approach to slide guitar; and “Lonely Summer Blues.” After all that I took a break.  

Eric Gaffney’s many releases (from all of his various projects) are available now at: bandcamp.com/tag/eric-gaffney