Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Humble beginnings

Written by M. Allison

A brief history:

In March, 1979 I co-founded an experimental musical conspiracy then known as Harlequin. It wasn't exactly a secret society but we were virtually unknown even in our hometown of Modesto California. The point was not to get rich and famous or change the course of popular music (although we would've welcomed that). It was in fact to rid the planet of this infestation known as "Disco music". It was a primal scream of rage against the dark forces of popular culture and the mainstream. We were a ragtag group of societal misfits with really bad equipment. The name of the group was lifted from a Genesis song but it fit our personalities well.

At the start, the group consisted of:

Jeff Baker - Drums, percussion, voice
Tony Carlsen - Electric Guitar
M. Allison - Bass, Drums, Piano and voice
Bruce Thomas - Piano, Saxophone, Voice

on occasion the assistance of:

Brian Penn - Bass
Tom Young - Guitar, voice
Mike Farris - Drums, percussion

Eventually, Jason Peterson on Piano and voice joined and the noisefest was complete.

Most of us lived with our parents and wore our hair down to our shoulders clad in bell-bottomed Levis, hightop sneakers and usually a Genesis, Yes or Zappa concert T-shirt. Polyester was not a part of the usual Harlequin attire. A day job was optional. We were all fresh out of High School and college was out of the question. The sole purpose of Harlequin was to pester and annoy anyone within whispering distance and was a backlash to whatever was "in" during the mid to late 70's.

The thing is, we weren't "punk" and we weren't really radical anti-socialist's. It wasn't political at all. It was in it's pure form an "anti-pop culture" statement. In fact, we were starry-eyed neo-hippies still hanging on to something that never existed in the first place. But music was crucial to our survival. So was smoking pot and dropping acid. Which was practically done on a daily basis. We raised "playing stoned" to a new art-form. Jerry Garcia would be proud.

We were a noisy bunch of guys. Fortunately, we had a tape recorder going during most of the sessions and on these tapes you'll hear a ferocious sound filled with guitar feedback, screaming saxophones the banging of pianos and noisy drums. To stand in the middle of all this sound was a thrilling experience. Sometimes we got around to playing real music. It was only when we took ourselves too seriously that the band began to decline. But the thing is, we were energized by what we were doing.

It inspired our hopes and dreams of becoming something much bigger than what we ever thought we'd accomplish in the beginning. If we could somehow harness this energy and realize that an actual career in music was possible maybe we could expose Harlequin to the rest of the world. But, it wasn't going to happen in Modesto. We were too weird. Nobody would hire us and doing cover songs was out of the question. Besides, our chops were in serious need of an overhaul. The only way we were going to improve was for each of us to join an already established group to gain stage & studio experience then at a later date reform and unleash this monstrosity on an unsuspecting public. As a concept, it worked for me. Within 2 years of it's formation Harlequin regrouped in New York City as Empty House.