Stymie | Interview | 90s Seattle Unreleased Album, ‘Toil & Folly’

Uncategorized December 14, 2023

Stymie | Interview | 90s Seattle Unreleased Album, ‘Toil & Folly’

Exclusive premiere of unreleased album, ‘Toil & Folly’ by this fantastic 90s Seattle band Stymie, out December 15th via New Rage Records.

Stymie is a heavy, hook-minded sextet (sometimes comprising three guitars and one bass, sometimes two guitars and two basses) that was formed in the 90s Seattle. They were one of the only acts — likely the only one — at home sharing stages with bands as sonically wide-ranging as Buffalo Tom, Sleep, Everclear, Gruntruck, Flop, Treepeople and even the Spaceman himself, Ace Frehley.

Stymie’s own diverse musical influences — Black Sabbath, Black Flag and Black Francis are all reasonable reference points — allowed them to slot into a variety of bills but made them hard for label suitors to pigeonhole. There were flirtations, but no one put a ring on it, with the band self-releasing a handful of singles and showing up on the occasional compilation, including C/Z’s Teriyaki Asthma Volume IX. Stymie’s brief three-year run ended in late ’94 without acrimony or messy interventions, leaving behind a solid resume and a cache of unreleased material.

Now, nearly 30 years after the band’s conscious uncoupling, those tunes are ready to have the basement dust blown off them. The 13 tracks on ‘Toil & Folly’ were drawn from five sessions and represent the many ways the band could bring the heavy. Largely recorded and mixed by noted Seattle producer Phil Ek (Built to Spill, Truly, Big Business), ‘Toil & Folly’ is an unearthed gem for flannel-flying Seattle Sound obsessives always digging through crates for that band they never heard of but can’t wait to tell everyone they discovered. Fans of Treepeople, Buffalo Tom, Screaming Trees, and Seaweed will love Stymie.

The band consisted of Patrick Barber on bass and vocals, Shane Bastian on vocals, James Halada on drums, Jeff Kleinsmith on guitar and vocals, Brian Taylor on bass and guitar, and Adem Tepedelen on guitar.

“We primarily played in Seattle area clubs”

It’s always very exciting when something lost finds its way on the table. Are you excited to have your unreleased album finally available worldwide?

Adem Tepedelen: Yeah, we’re all super gratified that this material is finally seeing the light of day. It would have been a shame if it just sat in a closet and was never heard. We’re proud of the songs and feel like they still stand up 30 years later.

Jeff Kleinsmith: It’s amazing! A great end cap to a wonderful experience together as a band! I really love and respect these guys as humans. They are all very creative and collaborative people so working on Stymie stuff is always 100% fun.

Patrick Barber: Very excited! The new mastering sounds great. I’m really thrilled that the music is available on streaming platforms, so that it’s truly available for everyone.

Where was the master tape stored and how come it was shelved back then?

Adem: I was just thinking about this. We pretty much have all the original tapes from our recordings—2” masters, 1/4” mixes, DATs, masters, et cetera—and Jeff had the big ones in his storage or basement and I had the small ones in a shoe box in my closet. Everything was in good shape.

As for why it was shelved, the short answer is that our label, New Rage, sort of ran out of money around the same time that Stymie ran out of steam. We had a very friendly break up. We realized that none of us was super ambitious about “making it” in the music world. So even though Stymie stopped, we remained very close friends ever since and have in some instances even made music together.

Jeff: In a weird way what re-ignited the album project was my move out of the Seattle area to the North Cascade foothills at the beginning of COVID. As happens with a move like that, things are shuffled around and somehow I found myself with every Stymie / New Rage Records master tape sitting on shelves across from me in my home office. I would stare over at them lovingly while working at my regular day job stuff for Sub Pop. One day it occurred to me that there is no reason not to try to finally put this record out. I reached out to Adem/the guys, and we began the process of picking songs and getting it mastered into a final record. With that, we were able to engage with other local labels who we felt might be interested. That process was elongated by COVID and general industry production woes. A year passed with no real traction on the label front, so we decided to put it out on our own label, New Rage Records. We already had the catalog number from 30 years before so it felt right. 

Would you like to share about your upbringing? Where did you all grow up? Tell us about daily life back in your teenage years.

Adem: We’re all basically from the Pacific Northwest, except for our bassist/vocalist Patrick who is from Colorado. Three of us are from Oregon and two are from Washington. I was pretty obsessed with heavy metal as a teenager and still am. I had my own metal fanzine when I was in high school and was able to interview King Diamond of Mercyful Fate and Kirk Hammett of Metallica in the early days of their careers. I think the members of Stymie bonded over a love of heavy music of various types. We’re all big fans, but we didn’t necessarily want to be a metal band. It was definitely an influence, though.

Jeff: I grew up in Corvallis, Oregon which is a small college town between Eugene and Portland, slightly west of the I-5 corridor. In many ways it was just a normal middle class upbringing. My parents were pretty young and were still trying to finish college when I was little so we weren’t particularly well off but I had enough. I had to work for anything I needed outside of the basics so I’ve literally had a job in one way or another since I was 10 years old. I had ADHD so I was impulsive and curious which did get me in some trouble from time to time. This resulted in me being grounded in my room for a lot of my childhood. Sadly. Two things got me through: art and music. In 7th grade my best friend’s older brother couldn’t stand us singing along to AM radio Top 40 hits, so he tried to scare us with Black Sabbath and Judas Priest records, but for us, the reverse happened. I could never listen to music the same way ever again after ‘Faeries Wear Boots’ and ‘Victim of Changes’ was planted in my imagination. I began collecting records at our one used record store (Happy Trails). I went nuts. Every dollar I earned on my paper route or lawn mowing gigs went to looking for heavy metal records. Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden. Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe had just put out their very first albums. I voraciously purchased everything I could find. Once in high school I started to expand my scope to punk rock. Oregon State University tends to be more of an “ag school” but weirdly had this anomaly of a college radio station, which was one of most progressive and award-winning at the time. Among many incredible DJS and radio shows I listened to, every Sunday night there was a radio show by a guy named Brandon Lieberman called Radio Hardcorvallis. Just incredible! Four hours every week of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, Fear, Suicidal, Angry Samoans, Minor Threat, et cetera. Suddenly there were other record stores popping up and I could find almost anything! In particular Earth River records had imports of all the best goth from the UK and I ate that up. Smiths were brand new, Cure, Death Cult, Gene Loves Jezebel!! Grounded in my room with all of these incredible records and all of the art that came with it, had me dreaming of album art and starting bands… It’s honestly what got me through those younger years. University of Oregon sits in between LA and Seattle on I-5 so we had every great band touring up the West Coast stop there to play in clubs, basements and cafeterias. I saw Back Flag and DOA numerous times in neighborhood basement parties. REM stopped by my house once (I was doing laundry so we never met). The local bands were exceedingly good and varied because of it. College opened my mind even more and it’s where I first started buying Kate Bush albums and listening to Sonic Youth, Scratch Acid and grunge.

Patrick: I grew up in Colorado. As a teenager I was in a punk band and also was an avid photographer, making pictures at shows, and at one point creating a photo documentary of Denver area punk bands. This was the 80s so it was all film, processed by hand. 

Was there a certain scene you were part of, maybe you had some favourite hangout places? Did you attend a lot of gigs back then?

Adem: I went to as many gigs as I could as a teenager, but I lived in a very rural area, so the opportunities were few and far between. I saw some of my favorite bands of the day back then, though—everyone from Dio to Judas Priest to Metallica to Queensrÿche to Kiss. I was also really into underground metal.

Jeff: Once I got to Seattle after college, I did go to a lot of shows, and our band Fireclown went on some tours, but I was pretty focused on trying to get a job as a designer at The Rocket Magazine (my dream coming out of the design program at University of Oregon)! I also moved up with my then-girlfriend and now-wife so we ended up moving into the quiet neighborhoods and we got a dog and started talking about marriage. I had stopped drinking in college (allergic) so that curbed my desire to go out to clubs. 

Patrick: In high school I helped organize all-ages shows for my band and touring bands. I went on to book shows in Denver, and run a distro and a magazine called The Pit. And went to lots of shows! 1987 through 1990, lots of metal and punk coming through Denver. 

If we would step into your teenage room, what kind of records, fanzines, posters et cetera would we find there?

Adem: A lot of issues of Kerrang! magazine, as well as Metal Forces and anything metal related that I could get my hands on! I had a huge Gene Simmons poster, I think a Mötley Crüe poster and whatever else I cut out of magazines. Metal, metal and more metal.

Patrick: Ya know, I was in a punk band and stuff, but I was crazy for Altered Images, this cheesy Scottish no-wave band, and obsessed with a film called Gregory’s Girl, in which the lead singer of Altered Images had a small part.

Was Stymie your very first band or were you involved with any other bands?

Adem: No, not the first band for any of us, I don’t think. It might have been Shane’s first serious band. Jeff and I were in two previous bands together (The Funeral Party and Fireclown) and James and I were also in two previous bands together (Godbone and Fireclown). Before that I was in a band called Hollow Instinct in high school.

Jeff: Adem and I both went to the University of Oregon which was pretty open and liberal (I took a 400 level class on Bob Dylan lyrics). There was also this great class with the very general title of “The History of Rock and Roll.” It was fun and I learned some things about the birth of rock and roll, but our teacher didn’t know much about metal or punk so we heard a lot of the basic 101s of rock music… The last day of that class was held at my home where we all brought influential records to play for the other classmates. I remember seeing Adem in class with long hair and a leather jacket but we never talked until that day at my house when I showed him my records and he saw my roommates drum kit. That’s the moment that Adem and I started doing almost all of our side projects together for the following 35 years. He moved in with us the next semester and we started a band called The Funeral Party (Cure song). We played a few fun basement shows and that was about it. Fast forward a year or so and we started a band called Fireclown. That’s the band we were in together when we all moved up to Seattle in 1990.

Adem: Before I met Patrick, though, I did own a 7” compilation on Donut Crew Records that had an Expatriate track on it.

Patrick: In the late 80s, in Colorado Springs, I was in a band called Expatriate; we released a couple 7”s and played regionally. Trio with me on bass and vocals. In 1990 I joined Blowhole, a free-noise-fuck-jazz ensemble headed by Jeph Jerman. This was also in Colorado Springs, but in 1991-ish Jeph moved to Tucson and I to Seattle, and we kept the band going through most of the 90s that way, recording in local ensembles and through the mail, releasing a lot of tapes and vinyl. Adem, of Stymie, played guitar in Blowhole for most of that time. The band played one Lollapalooza gig in 1995, and toured the west coast in 1996. We recorded an LP, ‘Ukiah Haiku,’ that (alas) has yet to be released. The quartet for that recording were Adem, myself, Jeph Jerman on drums, and Hyla Willis on violin and percussion. 

Would love to hear about Fireclown. How did that come about? Were you in any bands before that?

Adem: Jeff, James and I formed Fireclown with another dude that Jeff knew from high school when we were at the University of Oregon in Eugene. As I said, I had been in previous bands with both Jeff and James. We were all good friends and we had similar musical tastes. Fireclown actually used to play a Soundgarden cover (‘Hunted Down’) from ‘Screaming Life’. No one really knew who Soundgarden was back then. This was probably early 1988. We were already really keyed into what was going on in Seattle. We loved all those bands: Green River, Swallow, Nirvana, Mudhoney, et cetera.

Jeff: Adem can expand on this but as I remember it, Adem, James and a couple of other guys were in a “metal” band called Godbone. I would hang around with them sometimes and there were a couple of practice sessions when the singer didn’t show up so I hopped in the mic as a goof. Godbone didn’t last long but the desire to make music like that continued. Adem and James and I got together to jam with our old buddy Karl Hornyk on bass, who I went to high school with. I sang but did not play guitar.

Tell us about New Rage Records. What was the concept behind it?

Adem: Jeff and I started that after college. We wanted to put out cool music like Sub Pop and C/Z Records were doing. We felt like there was a lot of great music being made in the PNW and we wanted to do our part to get the word out. It was also a way for us to release our own music, which we did, starting with the Fireclown 7” in 1990. Jeff did all the visual design stuff and I handled most of the administrative stuff and words.

Jeff: Adem will have a much better answer for this, as it was his idea. But, from my perspective, it was a natural transition from being in bands and running our own (separate) fanzines (Adem did Alternate Scene for years, and I did a couple of issues of FISH) to starting a little record label. I was excited about the music we were finding and considering, but the design part of it was mostly where my head was at, where my strengths lie. 

Can you elaborate on the formation of the STYMiE?

Adem: My recollection is that Jeff and I were looking to do something together after Fireclown broke up. Jeff wanted to play guitar again, after singing in Fireclown, and I liked the idea of a two-guitar band. He and I were always on the same page musically, so that was a no-brainer. In the meantime, after Fireclown’s break up, James ended up jamming this guy he knew named Shane. I remember that Jeff and I (or maybe just me) went to one of their practices and heard Shane sing. He was the perfect fit for what we wanted to do, so we invited him and James to join us. We just needed a bassist, so we asked Brian, who we knew from Unearth. He was into and initially joined on bass. We played for about six months as a five-piece, but then Patrick (who was my roommate at the time and co-worker at Rocket magazine) joined on second bass. We played that way for a bit, until Brian switched to guitar.

Jeff: After Fireclown broke up with Adem, James and I still loved playing together so we started kinda just jamming in Adem’s basement but I went back to guitar where I felt a lot more comfortable. Even though I was the singer in Fireclown, I wrote one of the songs that appears on the only Fireclown single. We were jamming on a few things that Adem had and a few riffs I was playing with and as it solidified into something, James brought Shane Bastian over to see about singing. We invited Brian Taylor from Unearth (who was also my rock poster printer) to join on bass. Adem’s roommate, Patrick, who was also in Expatriate and Blowhole, would just sort of wander down to the practice space and start playing bass with us. At times we were three guitars and bass, or two basses and a guitar… depends on the song. We weren’t always named Stymie. Our first show was at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Second Ave in Seattle (’92) where we opened for C/Z band Gnome and we were KILLJOY. I think we saw another band with that name so one night Brian suggested “Stymie”. We never talked about breaking up, or anything like that, it was really just a fun way for us super good friends to gather, smoke weed, drink some beers and jam on some songs.

“We were also influenced by our metal and punk roots”

What influenced STYMiE’s sound?

Adem: Definitely a lot of the Seattle grunge bands from the late 80s and early 90s, but we were also influenced by our metal and punk roots and the heavier and noisier stuff that was in the underground at the time—Helmet, Sonic Youth, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., et cetera.

Jeff: We met in the middle on a most of our influences so there was enough there to hold us all together with a common language, a common vibe, (Treepeople, Seaweed, metal, punk) but we definitely did all splinter off into our own offerings that shaped the sound of Stymie. Adem can elaborate here. I think Adem probably brought a bit more of the Motörhead, Supersuckers sound while listening to a lot of Silkworm, Afghan Whigs, Codeine at the time. But, Stymie sounds NOTHING like Silkworm, Afghan Whigs or Codeine, but I would smoke weed sometimes and play things in my room that sounded like a spacey Afghan Whigs chord. The beautiful thing about the process of making our songs together, for me, was bringing these chords or riffs in the process and letting the band interpret them as needed. I think if we had stayed together for another year and continued writing, weeding out, and writing more, our sound would have synthesized. With so many influences, two different song writers, writing separately, and not practicing all that much, we didn’t get a chance to really weed out the outliers and coalesce a true Stymie “sound.” The recordings on this record are from numerous sessions with a couple of different producers so I think some true, dedicated recording sessions to really flesh out what these songs could do I the study would have been cool. We were so lucky to have gotten to work with the great Phil Ek before he broke huge with Modest Mouse, Built to Spin and Fleet Foxes, et cetera but we could only afford one day at a time. I love all of it for what it is but, I’m just saying that with time and focus I think these songs had potential to do even more. 

What kind of places did you play? What are some of the bands you shared stages with?

Adem: We primarily played in Seattle area clubs, and we played most of the iconic venues of the era at least once: Vogue, RKCNDY, Off-Ramp, Central, OK Hotel. As for bands we played with, it was kind of all over the place—everything from Amphetamine Reptile bands like Janitor Joe and Hammerhead to more college rock bands like Buffalo Tom and Everclear. We played with a lot of cool Seattle/Washington bands of the era like Treepeople, Alcohol Funnycar, Gnome, Flop, Mono Men, Unearth, Sleep Capsule, Silkworm, Engine Kid.

Jeff: Small to medium rock clubs in the Northwest – mostly Seattle. Off Ramp, OK Hotel, Courbox, ReBar, Emerald Diner, Up and Up, RKCNDY, The Vogue, Store Room, John Henry’s.

I would love it if you could tell us about the making of ‘Copycat’, ‘Grocery Bag’ EP, and also about the released 7″. What are some memories from recording those songs and how would you compare it to the material you’re finally releasing?

Adem: We were pretty good about putting any gig money we earned into our band bank account and then using it to record a demo or new batch of songs every six months or so, starting in May 1992. Additionally, a New York label called Thirsty Ear gave us some money to record a demo in 1993. So within about 18 months we had an album’s worth of material. However, we took some songs from the demos and used them on various compilations and singles we were putting out on New Rage. We continued to record new material, even after we broke up. So after all was said and done, we had an album’s worth of material that we had wanted to release while we were still together, but it just never happened. That material was relegated to the closet so to speak. These were sessions that were primarily recorded with producer Phil Ek at the same studio where all the famous Sub Pop grunge albums were recorded. It just had a different name when we were there. Phil did a great job of capturing our sound. Our first demo, when we were a five-piece, was recorded by Rich Hinklin (RIP). I don’t think we were as happy with that one both sonically and material-wise, because I think we were still figuring out our sound at the time.

Jeff: Nothing notable comes to my mind here on the recording side, except that my guitar was buzzing a little and possibly not staying in tune. We had to play a lot of it ‘live’ since we were on a tight budget. Getting that part down was a little nerve-wracking. I was jazzed about sleeve art and printing. The ‘Grocery Bag’ 7 inch was literally printed on groceries bags by Brian. I collected them specifically for the 7”. We also collected used t-shirts from all over for our run of tour shirts.

Where did you record the songs that are being released?

Adem: All of the songs on ‘Toil & Folly’ come from those sessions from the early 90s. They were recorded between 92-95. In putting this album together, we basically assembled what we thought were all the best songs from all of our recording sessions and had them remastered by Adam Gonsalves in Portland.

Jeff: Word of Mouth with Rich Hinklin and John and Stu’s Place (ex Reciprocal) with Phil Ek. Mastered in 2022 by Adam Gonsalves at Telegraph in Portland.

Would love it if you could provide insight on the albums’ tracks?

Adem: ‘Creepy Boss’: One of the last songs we wrote, and we recorded it after we had broken up. We were definitely getting poppier in every way.

‘Arbor Day’: A great riff by Jeff. This was from our last demo when we were still together and I think we were writing our best songs. The original digital master was corrupted, so we had to remaster this from a cassette. It held up well!

‘Faulty Design’: Very Treepeople influenced. Patrick was starting to do some cool vocal stuff with Shane.

‘France’: No idea why this is called “France.” A really cool, moody song from Jeff. We had very different writing styles. Shane’s lyrics are very personal.

‘One Proud Stout’: kind of a quirky, short song. This was included on C/Z’s Teriyaki Asthma IX compilation, which had a lot of bands on it with a lot of guitarists!

‘Sour Apples’: I don’t think we ever played this one live. It just didn’t work well live. It’s also one of a couple tracks to contain some acoustic guitar.

‘Punch & Judy’: A Bitch Magnet cover. We loved Bitch Magnet and other bands from that scene like Squirrel Bait

‘True Thrill’: One of our earliest songs. This was the second (and best) time we recorded it. We opened most shows with this one.

‘Willy’s Gone’: About a dog, I think. People seem to think it sounds like Seaweed. This is from our second demo, and first with Patrick.

‘Squalor’: Reminds me of early 80s SoCal punk/hardcore, with a little bit of Superchunk added in.

‘Toil & Folly’: I wrote this music and it’s my ode to Drive Like Jehu’s ‘Bullet Train to Vegas’ 7”. I remember having a very specific drum pattern I wanted James to play.

‘Girl’: From our very first demo. Jeff and Shane did some crazy vocal stuff in the studio. We were still finding our footing in the studio and as a band overall.

‘Frogs’: A very Sonic Youth-inspired main riff. The lyrics are kind of bonkers, in a good way. Has an obligatory noise freak-out in the middle. Part of this song was used in a locally made indie movie called Milk of Amnesia. 

When did you stop playing together and what occupied your life later on?

Adem: Our last show was opening for Ace Frehley at RKCNDY in November 1994. Kind of a dream gig for at least a few members of the band who grew up as Kiss fanatics. We have pretty much all gone on to various different creative endeavors. Jeff has been Sub Pop’s art director for 30 years. Brian, Jeff and Shane owned a screen-printing business for years and Shane now owns a mid-century modern furniture store in Seattle. James is a creative director at a prominent local ad agency. I’ve been a full-time freelance writer and author since 2002. Brian is a really accomplished painter. Patrick is also an excellent designer and has been self-employed doing that for decades. Sometimes we even get to collaborate on projects like Steve Turner’s Mud Ride memoir which I wrote, Jeff designed the cover and Patrick designed the interior.

Jeff: Stymie sort of petered out around 1994 at exactly the same time I started the Art Department at Sub Pop Records so that was very much where my head was at. I’m still there! I got married in 1994 as well, and my rock poster career was starting to kind of “takeoff” so I was pretty career and family-focused at that time. I had been in some bands, toured a little, put out a few records so that part of my life felt fulfilled. I was ready to move into the next phase. 

Tell us about the instruments, gear, effects et cetera you had in the band.

Adem: We were pretty basic. I played a patched together Gibson SG with a wah pedal and two distortion boxes, one of which was a Tube Screamer. Can’t remember what the other was. I used a Sunn Solarus 2 x 12” combo amp.

Jeff: ‘70s-era Gibson SG and vintage Fender Pro Amp.

Patrick: When I came on as second bass player, bassist Brian soon opted to play guitar. He sold me his beautiful strat-shaped fretless bass (a Yamaha?), and I used it playing in Stymie and Blowhole. I think I also bought his cabinet, and I had a good Ampeg head. Once, at a gig with Maxi Badd, the bass player Tess and I bi-amped our bass amps together so that we could each use the resulting wall of bass for our sets. A fond memory for sure. 

Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?

Adem: I just really loved playing in a band with such great friends, people I’m still super close with today. We definitely played some cool gigs: Bumbershoot, Pain in the Grass and opened for some rad bands, but sometimes the best gigs are just the ones with the most receptive crowd, small or large. It’s hard to beat sharing the stage with Ace Frehley, though. He was my guitar hero growing up.

Jeff: Opening for Ace Frehely was wild!!! The 6th grade me was freaking out, and I don’t even love KISS the way three others do in Stymie (James, Adem, Brian) but it was a pretty magical experience. Some good stories from that night. Treepeople, Silkworm and Sleep are personal faves of all the bands we played with. Treepeople and Silkworm happen to be 2 of my all-time fave Seattle bands anyway so I had to pinch myself a little back then when we opened for them. Unearth Vs. Stymie at the Store Room was super fun and the night we opened for Sick & Wrong at Re-Bar was crazy! 

Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.

Adem: Thanks for the interview and the interest in Stymie!

Jeff: Thank YOU!! Those were great questions. 

Klemen Breznikar

V/A Things That Are Heavy compilation 7″ (New Rage) 1992
V/A Choice Bovine Cuts compilation CD (Choice Bovine Cuts) 1992
Grocery Bag 7″ 3-song EP (New Rage) 1993
Stymie/Lab Rat split 7″ (New Rage/Apraxia) 1993
Stymie/Control Freak split 7″ (New Rage/Cavity Search) 1994
V/A Teriyaki Asthma IX compilation 7″ (C/Z) 1994
Debut Posthumous 7″ (New Rage) 1995

STYMiE Instagram  / Bandcamp
New Rage Records Bandcamp

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