Clip: Saccharine Trust
Pagan Icons' Second Round
Please welcome back LA noise-punk weirdos Saccharine Trust, though
they never really left.
By Justin Farrar
The early-to-mid-'80s were a volatile, wildly productive time for
underground music all across the Golden State. A new wave of totally
pissed-off sun-soaked youth from up and down the left coast spat out
gobs of screaming hardcore, venomous punk, killer thrash, and
industrial gloom. Twenty-six years later, these middle-aged fogy
rebels refuse to let us young ones forget just how much ass they
really did kick back in the Reagan years. Earlier this month, the
Fillmore hosted a reunion blowout featuring Flipper, the Mutants, the
Avengers, and the Dead Kennedys. More incredibly, the original lineup
of Los Angeles legends the Flesh Eaters is jamming once again, and
jamming hard. So now is as good a time as any for the fellow Angelenos
in Saccharine Trust to head north and grace O-town with a gig at the
Now for the uninitiated, the Trust (as old-school hardcore types
tagged it) was the first group not named Black Flag or the Minutemen
to release a record on the now-legendary indie imprint SST Records.
But here's the surprising thing: The band got back together (and have
remained together) years before this current spate of reunion mania.
After breaking up in the '90s, cryptic and confrontational singer Jack
Brewer and brilliant axeman Joe Baiza re-formed the band in '96 with a
new rhythm section featuring Brian Christophers on skins and Chris
Stein on bass. As Baiza tells me from his Los Angeles crib (after a
hard day's work for an art handling company), the group's "current
lineup has actually been together longer than the original group."
No, the Trust getting back together has zilch to do with some current
hardcore nostalgia trip. And that's only fitting, because this group,
endearingly described by writer Dave Lang as "SST's 'difficult'
outfit," never followed the punk herd, as the jams comprising such LPs
as Pagan Icons ('81), Surviving You, Always ('84), Worldbroken ('85),
and The Great One Is Dead ('01) are not yer cookie-cutter,
onetwothreefour mosh-pit fodder. To the contrary, Sac Trust was one of
the first underground groups in America to fuse fist-to-the-face
hardcore grooves and Captain Beefheart-informed art rock full of
gnarled time changes, heady neo-beat wordplay, and fire-breathing
free-jazz exploration. It's a radically artsy fusion (Baiza calls it
"poetry music" or "mini-theater") that actually helped establish the
modern, international punkified jazz and improvisational noise
traditions that such Bay Area heavies as Total Shutdown and the Flying
Luttenbachers presently honor.
"When we were in the Bay Area last year, I realized there was a lot of
this music [noisy free improv] going on," Baiza explains. "I really
didn't know there were young people interested in this music. And I've
been interested in it a long time, so it was kind of strange."
The Trust's fans return that interest. "I think Joe Baiza is one of
the greatest guitar players ever, and Jack Brewer is a serious poet,"
says Oakland musician Damon Smith, an accomplished double bassist who
has jammed with a long list of sonic mavericks from Cecil Taylor to
Elliott Sharp to John Tchicai to Baiza and Brewer themselves. To prove
his love, he also leaves me a wonderfully rambling voicemail gushing
that Saccharine Trust's Worldbroken LP — a recording of a totally
improvised live gig at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica — forever
altered his views on punk rock, jazz, and free-form jamming. "A lot of
what they're doing deals with the fine arts in a rock music context,"
Smith now jams with Flying Luttenbachers drummer and founder Weasel
Walter in his side project, the Weasel Walter Quartet, which
specializes in a virulent form of death jazz. Walter — who is also a
music scholar, archivist, and writer — echoes Smith's praise and sums
up Sac Trust in just two words: "True modernists."
"We're much older, but we're still doing it," Baiza concludes in his
raspy growl. "Experimentation is natural for us. We're just trying to
do something different, and maybe we've tried a little too hard
sometimes. But it's all about no restrictions. It's wide open."