Graded on a Curve: Treepeople Something Vicious for Tomorrow / Time Whore

Everybody who recognizes the name Doug Martsch knows the man from his long and fruitful tenure as leader of Built to Spill, but that’s not the only notch on his guitar strap.

And if asked to cite Martsch’s “other band,” a considerable number of those who know him would likely offer up the name Halo Benders like the total smarties they fancied themselves to be. And they’d not be incorrect. But in addition to Martsch’s involvement, that fine group also featured ex-Beat Happening/K Records honcho Calvin Johnson and longtime producer, solo artist and ex-Pell Mell member Steve Fisk; Halo Benders are in fact most accurately described as an indie supergroup/side-project that sorta dwindled out not long after Martsch’s principal unit made the big jump to Warner Brothers.

But back before Built to Spill trod the soil of this globe on endless tours Sir Doug played guitar and shared vocals in Treepeople, a Seattle via Boise Idaho four-piece that strangely lacks the retrospective attention they deserve.

A big part of the band’s appeal then and now is how they simultaneously were part of and yet didn’t really fit the profile of the then burgeoning Northwest scene, a fact that somewhat limited their popularity while extant. To elaborate, before Nirvana’s big breakthrough they were a top-notch regional band that managed to appeal to a variety fans, from hardcores to defiant Olympian indies to early-grungemeisters to garage heads, all without having a segment of the scene to really call their own. But post-Sub Pop explosion, Treepeople simply seemed to get lost in the frenzy. By ’93 Martsch had left the band and bailed on the tumult of Seattle for the calmer environs of Boise and the formation of the outfit that’s since made his rep. That said Treepeople shouldn’t be forgotten. They were thankfully a fairly prolific unit, so there are numerous points of entry into their worthwhile oeuvre, with one of the best choices being 1992’s Something Vicious for Tomorrow/Time Whore LP released by C/Z Records.

The six songs on the record’s second side were originally issued by the Silence label in 1990 on the 12-inch EP Time Whore; the first side’s seven tracks were new to this disc at the time of its release and they comprise the other part of the title. Listening now, with knowledge of Martsch’s estimable body of work being inescapable, it’s extremely difficult to not think of Treepeople as simply his band, but that was very much not the case while they were active. To wit, I stumbled onto Time Whore as a freebie from Tuscon, AZ record store/mail order company/record label Toxic Shock, the folks that released Treepeople’s 1991 full-length debut LP Guilt Regret Embarrassment (later reissued by Cal J’s K concern). If they were notable at the time for anything beyond being just another in an groundswell of Pac-NW bands, it was for members Pat Brown, Scott Schmaljohn, and Wayne Rhino Flower having graduated from the area’s noteworthy punk band State of Confusion. And enough creative equality existed in Treepeople that after first hearing Built to Spill’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, I didn’t immediately make the connection to Martsch’s former group, which is funny since his early writing is very much in the style that subsequently made his name.

For instance, “Liquid Boy” the opener from Something Vicious for Tomorrow feels very much like a BtS effort, mainly due to the endearingly whiny trademark vocal style. But for that matter “Tongues on Thrones,” the second track from this LP’s Time Whore side sounds so close to what Martsch was doing nearly a decade later that it could easily fool a newbie into believing that it’s an unreleased cut from around Keep it Like A Secret. It might not be quite as developed instrumentally, but it is certainly in the ballpark.

But years of pleasant revisits to Something/Time has revealed more than just Martsch possessing his song chops at this fresh stage. Treepeople are also revealed as holding wider influences then the average Seattle band of the period. Yes, Built to Spill’s Dino Jr. side is in evidence, but “Party” opens with a nice bit of Sonic Youth-like atmospherics, and “Size of a Quarter” combines tape loops ala Butthole Surfers with crunchy instrumental flailing reminiscent of Flaming Lips circa In A Priest Driven Ambulance. But most interestingly of all there’s the cover of The Smith’s “Big Mouth Strikes Again”, which succeeds with flying colors and against strong odds since in my estimation nearly all loud/heavy adaptations of Smith’s material trample the essence of the source material. Instead, the qualities of “Big Mouth…” points to Martsch’s later proclivity for indulging in wide ranging and unexpected cover material. The other observation is that the Treepeople songs not written/sung by Doug toe a much closer line to the grunge norm. At the time this surely helped to vary the band’s sound, and it also offers the possibility that a hypothetical version of Treepeople as a Martsch-less trio could’ve rode the wave of Seattle hype to greater commercial success. But if more widely known at the time they’d ultimately be much less interesting today.

Something Vicious for Tomorrow/Time Whore might fall short of classic status, but it’s still a record of high quality that spotlights not only the depth of the Northwest’s gallery of under appreciated bands but also provides numerous examples of the first stabs from one of the ‘90s indie scene’s most successful and enduring figures.

Graded on a Curve: B

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text