UNGOWA:: Ralph Spight back in the day.
Reissue of 'White Bread Blues' showcases Victims Family's longevity
By Leilani Clark
In 1990, as the first Bush era and its "thousand points of light" kicked into full force, Mordam Records released White Bread Blues, the third album by the now-legendary Santa Rosa–bred band Victims Family. Guitarist and singer Ralph Spight's viciously rubbery riffs were flooded with bursts of punk-rock fuzz. Larry Boothroyd's frenetic bass was funk-tinged without crossing the line into the slap-happy cheesiness of other groups of that era. And let's just say that Tim Solyan could have written the phrase "March to the beat of your own drummer." He followed no rules, and we fans—we liked it that way.
White Bread Blues was always the band's most popular album, and this month marks the 20th-anniversary edition, released on Saint Rose Records. The extensive liner notes feature recollections by everyone from Steve Albini to Les Claypool, alongside color replicas of flyers from shows all over the Bay Area. The album itself comes on pristine, blue-marbled vinyl, and with a complete remastering of the original recordings, it has never sounded or looked better.
"The remastering really brings the production out. It originally sounded a little bit choked, but now it sounds more open," says Spight by phone from his Berkeley home. The band had wanted to revive the out-of-print record for a while, but it was at the urging of Gerry Stumbaugh, owner of Saint Rose Records, that the plan actually came to fruition. "He had these really pure motives about it," Spight says, describing how Stumbaugh approached them as someone who had been influenced heavily by their sound.
Plans are in place to reissue the band's first album Voltage and Violets, as well as their second, Things I Hate to Admit. The latter might prove to be a more difficult endeavor, since the master tapes may have been lost to history—possibly ending up in a dumpster after the Los Angeles pressing plant used by Mordam closed down—but Spight is optimistic that the record will find its way into the light.
While the new and improved sound of the album is impressive, what truly stands out on rediscovering White Bread Blues is the prescience of the politically charged lyrics. "Supermarket Nitemare" castigates the fake foods lining grocery store aisles, and "Ungowa" rails against "billboard mazes" and the cluelessness of people caught up in a world mediated by television. Spight says that he made a conscious choice to write about issues that would remain relevant.
"I'm always kind of amazed at how timely certain things remain," Spight says, "In fact, that's somewhat by design. I realized early on, in tackling political subject matter, that the album was going to be out for a long time."
While some might find it sad that, if anything, the world has gotten more apathetic and topsy-turvy since the album's original release, and that while "Bloated Housewives" may not, as the song proclaims, rule the world anymore—the desperate and real ones do—Spight doesn't necessarily see it this way.
"Some things improve, and other things don't change. It's important to keep talking about politics in lyrics and put it out there. I wouldn't be screaming about it if it wasn't depressing, but you can be depressed about it or you can do something about it," he says. "That's one thing about getting older—I don't feel as powerless about those things. I know people can make a difference. Fundamentally, human nature doesn't change. But you can draw attention to it when it's selfish."
Aside from being a delight for fans of Victims Family, the reissue inspired the band to reunite after a hiatus. While they are playing a few shows (including a short European tour), Solyan's schedule as a drum tech for Sheryl Crow and the Beastie Boys, Spight's work with Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine and Boothroyd's commitment to the band Triclops! does not allow for a return to the intensive touring and recording schedule of previous Victims Family iterations. While plans are in store for new material, right now their philosophy is just "to see what happens."
"It gets weird when you're in a band for a long time. By the time we got to the point where Victims Family was all we did, we were so burned out that we couldn't stand it anymore," Spight says. "It's always been a kind of challenge to stay in touch with how passionate we feel about the music that we play and all the things that you get into a band for. It's nice to get back to a point of remembering why we got into it and what we love about it."
The 20th Anniversary Edition of 'White Bread Blues' is available at www.saintroserecords.com.
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