Sunday 15 June 2014

Choice Cuts : Wellwater Conspiracy - The Scroll and Its Combinations (2001, TVT Records)

Wellwater Conspiracy

“The Scroll And Its Combinations” (2001)

The Band :

  • Matt Cameron |  drums, vocals, guitars, keyboards, photography
  • John Mcbain | guitars, bass guitar, drums, keyboards

Additional musicians and production
  • Gerry Amandes | vocals on "What Becomes of the Clock"
  • Derek Burns | vocals on "Tidepool Telegraph" and "Tick Tock 3 O'Clock"
  • Paul Burback | additional vocals on "Tidepool Telegraph" and "Tick Tock 3 O'Clock"
  • Amy Denio | saxophone on "Tick Tock 3 O'Clock"
  • April Cameron | viola on "Tick Tock 3 O'Clock", "What Becomes of the Clock", and "Felicity's Surprise"
  • Justine Foy | cello on "Tick Tock 3 O'Clock", "What Becomes of the Clock", and "Felicity's Surprise"
  • Eddie Vedder | vocals on "Felicity's Surprise" (credited as "Wes C. Addle")
  • Kim Thayil | additional guitar on "C, Myself and Eye" and "The Scroll"
  • Ben Shepherd | bass guitar on "Keppy's Lament"
  • Gregg Keplinger | additional drums on "Keppy's Lament"
  • Bill Cameron – photography
  • Gary Arnett | layout design
  • Ed Brooks | mastering
  • Adam Kasper | mixing

Review :

Formed from the ashes of 2 seminal Gen-X 90s heavyweights being Soundgarden and Monster Magnet, The former cutting its teeth in the late 80s early 90s Grunge/Alternative Rock revolution which spawned a global phenomenon with Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains, flipping Rock and Pop music on its head over night.

Soundgarden were one of the first bands to be signed to the Seattle indie label Sub Pop but were the last band to find commercial success.  Over the east side of the US during the same period a band making noise around the New Jersey area were Monster Magnet, now proclaimed as one of the pioneers of Stoner Rock, the difference between the 2 scenes was politics.  Seattle was a hot bed for social change where New Jersey was full of drug taking burn outs, and this transcended through the bands' music, although sonically speaking both scene's relied on Punk Rock attitude mixed with early 70s riff laden grooves.

Soundgarden decided to call it a day in 1997, leaving drummer Matt Cameron to focus on other projects he had been dabbling with since the early 1990's, particularly a project called Hater, which featured Cameron himself, Soundgarden bass master Ben Shepherd and recently departed Monster Magnet departed guitarist John Mcbain (Mcbain bailed out on the band during a tour in 92').  Hater would be the catalyst for Wellwater Conspiracy formed by Cameron, Mcbain and Shepherd around the mid 90s

The bands sound generally took from mid-late 60s Garage Rock/Psych nuts like the 13th Floor Elevators, The Sonics and Syd-era Pink Floyd.  The band released 2 albums in the late 90s, being 1997's "Declaration of Conformity" and the 1999 release "Brotherhood of Electric".  Ben Shepherd had bailed out of the band after the first album which led to Matt Cameron handling lead vocal duties, the band showcased their love of 60s acid tinged garage rock on both albums which pre-dated the garage rock revival of the early 2000s by a few years.  It’s really important to note that Cameron and Mcbain were also involved in another new project at around this time, which featured Wellwater Conspiracy collaborate and former Kyuss Guitarist Josh Homme.  This project was called Queens of the Stone Age, which also saw a revolving door of musicians and collaborators like Wellwater Conspiracy.

Cameron and Mcbain were there right from the start, with Cameron playing Drums on their first demo and Mcbain co-writing the Queens classic "Regular John".  Both Mcbain and Cameron played the first ever QOTSA show in December 97 at the Ok Hotel, But Cameron and Mcbain decided to stay focused on WWC for now.  Wellwater entered the studio in late 2000 to record their 3rd album "The Scroll and Its Combinations" for TVT Records.

Produced by the band themselves, the album kicks of with "Tidepool Telegraph” with sweet guitar lines from Mcbain that then descends into a sinister Ron Asheton style guitar riff with Cameron joining in with a steady rock beat, vocals are courtesy of Derek Burns who is the first collaborator on the record, with Byrds esque guitar flourishes and Detroit style muscle this kicks of the album in pure Wellwater fashion. The next track is a cover of Q65's "I Got Nightmares".  Matt Cameron gets the ball rolling with a classic 60s floor tom Rockabilly beat, with Mcbain rolling in with slashing power chords and Cameron's clean tripped out vocals, this song showcases the bands influences, with stop start odd time signatures during the chorus and weird sinister laughs coming from Cameron.  This is a sure sign the band does not take themselves to serious when it come to all out rocking!

"C, Myself and Eye" penned by Cameron is the closest WWC came to sounding like one of their previous bands, in this case Soundgarden.  The song starts with a lumbering melodic guitar riff backed by mellotron keyboard, and a soft ultra melodic vocal from Cameron, the track is ruled by a weird as hell off beat time signature that any Prog Rocker would be proud of. After a flourish of verses and chorus the band hit middle eight Riff that Tony Iommi would be proud of....kinda sound like if Black Sabbath plugged into Credence Clearwater's Amp rig.  There is also a guest appearance from former Soundgarden Guitarist Kim Thayil adding some lush guitar parts.

"Tick Tock 3 O'clock" is probably one of the albums more bizarre tracks, with a host of guest appearances with Sax and cello and Derrick Burns providing vocals with Paul Burback.  It’s a happy go lucky off beat jangly waltz, with lyrics about god knows what! It is WWC at their most playful.  Next up is "What Becomes of the Clock” which is a dark off shot of "Tick Tock" It has that early Pink Floyd bizarre-ness wrapped up with a dark Middle Eastern feel with Gerry Amandes providing tremolo vox.  This track resembles Mcbain's Monster Magnet Spine of God era song writing with less Distortion.

Track 6 is "Felicity's Surprise" with guest vocals from "Wes C. Addle" real name Eddie Vedder, the Pearl Jam man lends his vocal and writing talents to this Byrds inspired ditty and is one of the albums stand out tracks.  Next is the best song on the album “Now, Invisibly” penned by Cameron.  The song opens with a bombastic sinister fuzz riff that falls into a melodic power chord progression with Cameron’s soft vocals providing a sublime melody, Mcbain anchors the song with his signature spidery fuzz guitar lines.  With a chant chorus the band returns right back to the start, with that sinister riff to be shut down by driving straight into a wall.

Track 8 is "Of Dreams” written by Steve Morgan, a track which resembles The Who, especially with Cameroons vocal phrasing sounding like Roger Daltrey.  "Brotherhood of Electric" is instrumental, and swirls around with a restless beat and Mcbain’s most experimental moment with his signature fuzz guitar lines giving this Lo-Fi album its ongoing bizarre credentials

"The Scroll” is another bizarre ditty written by Mcbain and Cameron.  Mcbain provides us with that Middle Eastern guitar rock and Cameron’s laid back vocals, accompanied by a backing vocal that has been sped up and sounds like Alvin & The Chipmunks, which again shows Wellwater Conspiracy's playfulness.  The last song is the noise ridden "Keppy's Lament" with guitar, organ and drum noises showering this last song in true weird WWC style.

Wellwater Conspiracy released one more album after this which was a lot more polished than its predecessors and lacking in that wacked out WWC vibe but it had its moments.  They also made a national TV appearance on the David Letterman show in 2003,
so the question remains.....Why wasn't WWC a big band??

Maybe because it was always seen as a side project by its party's involved, by the time WWC's second album was released Matt Cameron was a full time member of Pearl Jam, so being in one of the biggest bands in the world and finding time to be a full time member of another band is a tough gig.  Nonetheless, during the time period when WWC were making albums, they were offering another side to the so called Stoner Rock genre that didn't have to be all about down tuned guitars and songs about muscle cars and weed, they proved you can lighten up and still rock hard and be super creative in the process.  Perhaps that’s why they were a little over looked, not just by the mainstream, but by the genre of music they were supposedly born into.

Josh Homme once told an interviewer the reasons why he didn't like the term stoner Rock, was because it was too restricted, he said it excluded bands like Wellwater Conspiracy even though they held the same ideals as bands like QOTSA, Monster Magnet, Acid King and High On Fire.  In many ways WWC can be seen as a predecessor to QOTSA, maybe Homme got the idea of guest musicians playing and swapping instruments from WWC, after all, Cameron and Mcbain helped QOTSA get of off the ground back in the late 1990's.

It is doubtful WWC will be making any new records in the near future with Matt Cameron reunited with Soundgarden and still the full time drum master for Pearl Jam.  John Mcbain has remained pretty quiet since WWC, he did do a splendid solo record in 2007-08 that was all instrumental and briefly joined The Freeks, but not a lot since then.

This is a classic for the so called Stoner/psych genre that has been overlooked, it shows another side to a genre that can step off the gas and indulge in the more bizarre aspects of its kind, without having to worry about the more aggressive nature of the genres mainstays.

With the Stoner/psych/doom movement in fever pitch in the underground at the moment, this album will be a different pill to swallow.....Even though it’s from the same batch!

Words and recommendation by : David Michael Oglesby

Album Details :

The Scroll and Its Combinations is the third album by Wellwater Conspiracy. It was released on May 22, 2001, through TVT Records. This was a CD only release. 

“The Scroll and Its Combinations” track list

1). Tidepool Telegraph 05:01
2). I Got Nightmares 02:17
3). C Myself And Eye 04:04
4). Tick Tock 3 O'clock 01:46
5). What Becomes Of The Clock 04:08
6). Felicity's Surprise 03:42
7). Now, Invisibly 02:38
8). Of Dreams 03:36
9). Brotherhood Of Electric 03:32
10). The Scroll 03:43
11). Keppy's Lament 02:36