“We were a little pretentious,” laughs Mark Cline of Love Tractor. “But the members of Squalls weren’t. They were just regular people making great music with no pretense or expectations. They weren’t trying to create ‘art rock,’ but they actually made some of the best music of the scene. We had a practice space next to theirs in a big warehouse down by the train tracks. The building had what must’ve been these old meat lockers and bands would practice in there. We rehearsed a lot and so did they. Sometimes I’d just leave the door open and listen to these great songs coming alive. Then I’d go see them at the 40 Watt or wherever and those same songs just went to the next level. It was always a blast to see them play live.”
“It seemed like there were only about five bands around here when we started,” laughs founder-songwriter Bob Hay. But the scene grew quickly with Squalls becoming one of the city’s most popular live acts. Every few months, the band would pack ‘em in for energetic, pop-injected psychedelic dance-parties at a number of local venues, with a specific fondness for the 40 Watt Club.
The celebratory feel of a Squalls concert is wonderfully captured in the new release “Live From The 40 Watt.” Coming next week from Strolling Bones Records, the double-LP package captures highlights from five different shows at the iconic Athens nightclub, produced, recorded and mixed by legendary soundboard wizard T. Patton Biddle.
“I’d just gotten back into town from a recording project,” remembers Biddle, “and we went to this vegetarian restaurant called the Eldorado, which was later the Bluebird. I met this guy who looked just like John Lennon, with the glasses and the hair and everything. He introduced himself and said his name was Bob Hay and he might need my services soon to record some songs with his new band. I ended up running sound for them probably every time they played the 40 Watt and I always enjoyed working with them. At first it was a little difficult, because they’d all switch instruments so much, but pretty soon I got the hang of what they were doing and I really liked it. I’ve seen a lot of musicians in my time, but I’d have to say, Bob Hay is one of the best and most prolific songwriters I’ve ever known.”
The collection is the first new product from the band since 1988. “Yeah, I guess it’s been a little while,” chuckles the soft-spoken Hay. “But I think it’s time to sort of look back on all those 40 Watt shows. We played there over 60 times and I remember how much fun it was to play that place. The first time we ever played on a real stage - and not just in the corner of a room somewhere - was at the 40 Watt. That was in December of 1981. It’s hard to believe it’s been over 40 years now since we started. Where does the time go?”
The classic Squalls lineup — led by Hay with multi-instrumentalists Diana Torell, “Big Al” Walsh, Mark Cooper Smith and Ken Starratt — toured the country and released a number of independent releases throughout the ‘80s before splintering off into new projects. For the past two decades, Hay has explored the songs and poems of Robert Burns in solo and group performances.
Next Thursday, Aug. 18, the night before the album is officially released, Hay and an all-star line-up of veteran scenesters and guests will gather at the 40 Watt to play a rollicking set of classic Squalls tunes as well as a batch of Robert Burns material — with a special appearance by the Pylon Reenactment Society.
In advance of the album, Strolling Bones is releasing a series of digital singles from the 24-track collection. To kick things off, the company issued “Na Nanana”, perhaps the group’s best-known song, originally featured in the 1986 cult-classic film “Athens Ga: Inside / Out.” A kaleidoscopic video for “Crickets” was distributed last month. Recently, the AJC presented the official world premiere of “Cindy,” a unique word video collage assembled by Hay’s partner, singer-songwriter-artist Vanessa Briscoe-Hay, co-founder of Pylon.
Today, we’re proud to present the world premiere video of another memorable Squalls track, “Bride Of Frankenstein.” An audience favorite that alternately opened or closed the band’s historic sets, the selection is fondly remembered by its creator. “It’s a good one, I think,” says Hay. “It might be my best song ever.”
When pressed to describe his inspiration for the tune, he explains, “It was an early philosophical take on our strange relationship with technology. It has become even more pronounced here in the 21st century, so maybe I was on to something back in 1984.”
Squalls Live From The 40 Watt will be issued on August 19 via Strolling Bones Records. To purchase or stream “Bride Of Frankenstein”: https://lnk.to/bride-of-frankensteinPR or www.strollingbonesrecords.com. For more information about Squalls, see www.squalls.band and www.facebook.com/Squallsband.
Squalls Album Release Party
8 p.m. Aug. 18. $10 in advance. 40 Watt Club, 285 W. Washington St., Athens. 706-549-7871, 40watt.com.