Ten Bright Spikes

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Ten Bright Spikes was formed in April 1991 by Jason Honea (ex-Social Unrest vocalist) and Nicky Garratt (ex-UK Subs guitarist) via the US mail when Garratt, searching for a new creative outlet, was put onto Honea's musical trail by a fellow label-mate. After many long distance exchanges that revealed their similar aspirations, Garratt sent a tape of four songs to Honea. Feeling they were on to something, they quickly pulled in Jacek Ostoya (ex -Orange bassist/violist), Mario Pietryga (ex- Upright Citizens drummer), and Ron Isa (ex-Social Unrest bassist) for a recording session in San Francisco. It was during that session at Peter Miller Studios that most of the musicians met for the first time.
The second session - two months later, again in San Francisco - further solidified the band line-up. Ostoya, who had played viola on the April tracks, stepped in on bass in Isa's absence. Now doubling on bass and viola, Ostoya became a key member of the spikes. This summer session laid down 12 more tracks for the evolving band.
The third studio session, held in the fall of 1991, saw the drumming of David Ayer (formerly of Samiam) on two more songs, in Pietryga's stead. Following this session Ten Bright Spikes played live on the greater San Francisco Bay Area college radio station KALX, Berkeley.
In the spring of 1992, the band went into the studio for a fourth session, bringing in Lovely Previn on violin. Previn (daughter of conductor Andre Previn) quickly became another central figure in the band, adding a strong second vocal to the XBS sound.Xbsb.JPG (35728 bytes)
July of 1992 saw the first live gig for XBS at the Chameleon Club in San Francisco, and was shortly followed by a gig at San Francisco's I-Beam in September that same year.
A fifth recording session of Honea and Garratt alone produced the third song in the trilogy "Plumflower" - titled "Waterghost" - which overlayed the ephemeral, aural wind of 2,500 bells to the track.
In October, the full band was asked to appear on a Grass Records (Dutch East India) compilation of Frank Sinatra's best titled "Chairman of the Board" (XBS appear on vinyl only). For this project, Pietryga was brought back in to duet with Ayer on percussion. XBS covered "Brazil.”
In the Spring of 1993 XBS collected select recordings to date on their debut CD "Astro Stukas". This release gained extraordinary press, making it the most highly praised album in the history of the label (New Red Archives). It also introduced the collaboration between Honea and Ostoya on the album design. Ostoya, an architect by trade, is influenced by Swiss modernism, Dali, Russian Constructivism and 20th century architecture, making him the perfect artistic foil for Honea’s raw post-punk imagery.
Swiftly on the back of the first CD and interviews in several magazines, XBS returned to the studio to record the second CD titled "Blueland.” Here Garratt works mostly on piano and the songs feature expanded female backing vocals, string, and brass sections. Artwork is again by Ostoya & Honea. “Blueland” also features Hans Cronkeit on drums in place of Ayer. Selections from this release can be heard on the independent film “Family Values in the Goddess Years” 
1994 to 1995 Ten Bright Spikes recorded several more sessions with another new drummer Neil Stapell for the third CD “Crime Map”. These recordings have remained shelved while Jason Honea has worked on the Social Unrest re-union and Nicky Garratt did the same with UK Subs. New songs include a cover of Doris Day’s “Move Over Darling” featuring Lovely on lead vocals, and Honea’s tribute to Brian Wilson titled “Rush To The Sea”.
2004 and 2005 saw some further recordings which await a suitable release plan. These recordings feature Honea, Garratt, Ostoya and Stapell and were recorded at Wally Sound in Oakland.
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The Music

 

XBS music is a mix of both lead singer Jason Honea’s and Nicky Garratt's influences. Honea’s influences stem mostly from his broad love of pop culture, citing both the work of Brian Wilson and e. e. cummings as central to his creative sensibilities. Honea’s often complex and freely-associative lyrics spring from his love and study of literature and history. Honea’s obsession with Brian Wilson surfaces in his composition “Vertical Brando” and in his vocal treatment on “General Electric”, while his concise pop treatment is most evident on “Spleen” and “Blue Crayon” where the melody hangs on a more traditional structure. Garratt, in contrast, is an avid fan of J. S. Bach, G. Machaut, as well as O. Messiean, Pharoah Sanders, Christian Vander (Magma), and Burt Bacharach (with Hal David and Dionne warwick). On Astro Stukas, Garratt’s jazz influences are particularly noticeable on the “Plum Flower” trilogy and intro to “King of Sweden”. “000,000”, however, was inspired by Johannes Ockeghem’s Rondeau “L’autre d’antan”. Blueland, can be considered as somewhat of a concept album. Musically it ranges from “Pavian”, which starts with a powerful Magma influenced section and terminates with a Bacharach influenced coda (a la Tiujuana Brass), to Garratt’s tribute toXbsa.JPG (17486 bytes) Bacharach titled “Blueland”. Lyrically, it deals with the dark array of feelings in the breakup of a relationship, particularly evident on “Villagers Celebrate Passing Their Exams” (title taken from “The Prisoner”, another of Garratt’s obsessions). Moving backwards against this emotional black velvet is a gold thread “The Lovers Themes” which represent hope. They were written about Garratt’s experience meeting women through the S.F. personal ads. Starting with No. 1 - solo piano, No. 2 - piano and flute, and finally No. 3 - piano, flute, and violin, they employ Lovely (violin), Garratt’s ex-girlfriend from the punk days, Melanie (flute), who ironically met Garratt through the personal ads.
For the third unreleased album "Crime Map" some of the songs fall into the style of the first album (Hey Black Sunshine and Screamer) some are more in the Blueland style (Green Black Heart and Crime Map). There seems to be a couple of new directions forming which were hinted at on the first two CD’s. Firstly the use of ethnic instruments on tracks like New Sport Of Kings and Pomegranate 70996 shows a more mature approach to their use. Pomegranate was previously recorded for Garratt's solo collection, the number after it refers to the recording date, as it was a live take. New Sport of kings features Garratt on Hurdy Gurdy, and Harmonium, Previn on Violin, Ostoya on Bass, Honea on Vocals and Percussion and Stabell on Side drum. The second direction, though not new, more deeply explores the textures created by Burt Bacharach and Hal David featuring some lead vocals by Previn. (Dead Leaves & Move Over Darling). Move Over Darling was originally recorded by Doris Day in the sixties. Ten Bright Spikes version features Previn on lead vocal and Violin, Honea on second vocal, Ostoya on Viola and Stabell on Piano, with two members of the San Francisco Bach Choir on backing vocals. (Another mix has Garratt on Guitar and Stabell on drums but remains unreleased).    
These recordings have remained shelved while Jason Honea has worked on the Social Unrest re-union and Nicky Garratt did the same with UK Subs. In 2004 and 2005 the band returned to the studio and recorded a number of new songs which are also, at this time, unreleased. The highlights of these sessions are, the pop song "Sweet To My Mind" and "While we're apart" a This heat influenced piece in two parts. Also recorded during these sessions are three from a set of eight instrumental shorts written by Garratt based on children on swings. Each uses the swing as a two feel base over which the child's dreams are (musically) interpreted.

 

Ver.JPG (17816 bytes)1991 Vertical Brando ep (10”)    
Vertical Brando          
A Ghost Shirt           
Ten Bright Spikes           
Ode To Pharoah




Lab.JPG (9259 bytes)1991 The La Mancha Candidate ep (10”)            
The La Mancha Candidate           
A Sung Song           
Prayer For The Night           
Spleen



Dera.JPG (9652 bytes)1992 Der Ferngesteuerteschlafanzug ep (10”)            
Dogstar           
General Electric           
King Of Sweden           
Disclaimer

 


Astro.JPG (5514 bytes)1992 Astro Stukas CD           
Norse           
Your Breathing Doll           
Vertical Brando           
Spleen           
King Of Sweden           
Dogstar           
Ten Bright Spikes           
000,000            
                               Plumflower: Prayer For The Night, Ghostshirt, Water Ghost


Blue.JPG (3406 bytes)1993 Blueland CD            
Pavian           
Lovers Theme           
V           
Blue Crayon           
Blueland           
Crush Us Out           
Lovers Theme 2         
Minneola            
                              Villagers Celebrate Passing Their Exams            
                              Lovers Theme 3           
                              Summers End   

1993 Chairman of the Board - Frank Sinatra tribute (LP version only)         
Brazil



Reviews

Astro Stukas. I heard a few obvious if eclectic influences in this group’s three earlier EP’s: Pharoah Sanders (to whom they dedicate a song), the Gun Club (for their modal/punk fusion), and the U.K.Subs (leader Nicky Garratt is an ex-Sub). Actually , this band is a lot more complicated than even that list suggests. Garratt has stated his interest in source material from Magma to medieval music, and displays a fondness for his collection of some 1250 bells. Consequently, Astro Stukas reflects a maddeningly delicious hybrid of punk, progressive, experimental and jazz inclinations, taken in every case from the fringes of even those marginalized styles. The results are amazingly catchy without being the least bit obvious. I think I could isolate Magma as a certain inspiration for the melody, lyrics (no, not in Kobaian) and tricky time signatures of “Norse,” and Coltrane’s spirit pervades “Prayer For The Night,” but where do those poppy “fa-fa-fa-fa’s come from in “Vertical Brando”? Several of these tracks come from the EP’s, while some are new; my only complaint is that at 30 minutes in length this CD had more than enough room for all of TBS’ previous released material. Encore! Andrew Warde - OPTION (August 1993)

Astro Stukas This comp combines, in one handy kit, tracks from the first three TBS EPs and some new stuff. Here’s a band that sound like no other; meshing violas, bells and off-kilter guitar crankings, TBS invent songs as original and intriguing as their namesake. Take to heart the wailing intensity of “King of Sweden”. Step into the almost gothic experience that is “Ten Bright Spikes.” The truly monstrous, 9-minute epic in three parts “Plum Flower: *Prayer for the Night *Ghostshirt *Waterghost” is an environment unto itself: Cascading, descending, sparkling, musing. The song’s midsection, “Ghostshirt,” faintly recalls a whispered Latin situation; imagine a disfigured version of Santana’s music capable of true flight. Fugazi wishes. “Waterghost” features the incredible din of 2,500 bells, feedback, piano and absorbing lyrics. Unlike anything I’ve heard. Astro Stukas is highly recommended for adventurous souls “in search of.” SCRAPE (August 1993)

Astro Stukas. What do you get when you cross the musical mayhem of former U.K.Sub Nicky Garratt with the intellectual stimulation of ex-Social Unrester Jason Honea? A bloody great debut album, that’s what! And with three EP’s under their belt Ten Bright Spikes should already be household names. But if you missed the curtain call, here’s your chance to catch up.Astro Stukas includes seven songs from their earlier efforts, and adds four new compositions to the set. Always surprising, the Spikes flit effortlessly from textured ‘60s pop to jazz-inspired whimsy encircled by an underlying alternative edge that gives the record a depth and aura all its own.But the music provides only part of the Spikes Experience. Because the other half of the equation is Honea’s lyrics. Startling and complex images appear disembodied, within a structure of...I’m not precisely sure. But Honea is not deliberately obtuse; besides providing lyrics. he also imparts the inspiration behind the songs. But if you’re like me, a reference to a quote by Guillaume de Machaut won’t mean much. And if you’re like most people, neither will Magma. Still, it intrigues nonetheless which I’m sure is Honea’s objective.First thing tomorrow, I’ll put on my Walkman, throw in Astro Stukas, and with liner notes in hand, raid the public library. I suggest you all do the same. Who says pop music rots the brain? Jo-Ann Greene - Alternative Press (September 1993)

Astro Stukas CD There’s a lot of creativity and ingenuity here. It won’t fit most people’s definition of punk, though; they’re a little too innovative and unconventional. Ironic, ain’t it? Melodic, beautifully textured songs which employ a violin, a viola, a piano, and tribal drumming. Vocally, they’re treading into Morrisey territory. If you consider them wimpy, you’re missing the whole point. MAXIMUMROCKNROLL (june 1993)

Astro Stukas CD. Ten Bright Spikes sinks a lot of neat stuff into the basic premise of post-punk guitar rock-first and foremost in Lovely Previn’s angling and edgy violin, which undercuts and overreaches Nicky Garratt’s guitars. This gives the whole album a depth and dardness that belies the pretty simple song structure. That is, until the last number, ‘Plumflower,’ where the band breaks out the berets and gets jazzy. Tinkling percussion, repeated vamping and Garrat’s Tyner-esque piano clusters work in a RockGuys Play Jazz in a Non-Embarassing Way. The whole album has a lot going on beneath the surface that will give Astro Stukas a lot of lasting power.”   - Your Flesh #28, 1993

Blueland
After their stunning debut, Astro Stukas, the Ten Bright Spikes return with an even more adventurous album. While the last one had an overall pop feel, Blueland features piano on many of the tracks, qiving the album a smoke-filled cafe veneer that works well with the introspective lyrics. But never ones to do the expected, the Spikes wait till the fourth song, and then start kicking in the pop-drenched ditties. “Minneola” is a virtual hard-rocker, while other songs add a classical feel, jazz, more piano, and violin.An easy comparison would be with “Steppin’ Out” -era Joe Jackson - there’s the same keen ear for melody, a similar experimental stance for adding non-alternative stylings into the alternative genre, a lyrical gift, and the same love of piano. The difference is, once Jackson stepped out, he left the new wave behind, and the Spikes are still riding high on it.The lyrics are as striking as ever. No clues this time, and I’m not ready to even venture a guess. Strange imagery is carefully evoked, and it’s up to you to breathe meaning into it. Sure, I prefer the dark pop of the past, but Blueland is so daring that I couldn’t fault them for the change. Jo-Ann Greene - Alternative Press (September 1994)

Blueland Here’s a band worth watching,, simply because they’re always trying to keep up with their ambitions - occasionally failing in a most fetching way. While their early EPs had them trying to find a common thread between modal jazz, pop-punk and a well-worn collection of Magma records, here they’ve mutated into an alternative rock chamber ensemble. The core Spikes have a standard rock line-up augmented with violin, viola and piano; some of the arrangements here add horns, flute and backing vocalists. Their “failures” - in the limitations of their singing and playing, the simple arrangements, and the minuscule production budget - actually give the results an honest quality that aches for a higher truth. There are a half dozen good songs here (“Minneola” and “Blue Crayon,” especially), careening along on smart post-punk energy like the Mekons hopped up on cognac. But the momentum is repeatedly broken by three variations on a piano etude called “Lovers Theme.” These moody themes might have made OK bookends for the CD, but tossed in between a couple of rockers they only serve as a misplaced use of dynamics. Program ‘em out on your CD player and you’ll find there’s a strong record in here somewhere... Beth L. - OPTION (August 1994)

Blueland An excellent record. This reminds me of some late sixties broadway show music, except that it's not stupid enough. It rocks, but in a very slick way with touches of classical and Jazz, using a variety of instruments, including piano, flute, sax and strings. It's mostly male lead vox, but with some very neat female "background" vox that often dominates. I really like the lyrics, though damned if I know what they mean. In general they may have achieved the unclassifiable, which puts this right in the KZUS zone. - KZSU Stanford (1994)

Der Ferngesteuerteschlafanzug EP “I’m too lazy to spell out the full title of this EP. Suffice to say it’s the best yet from this west coast project, featuring members of UK Subs, Samiam and Social Unrest. “King of Sweden” is a punchy, driving song, “Disclaimer’ takes a post-punkish, drone route while ‘Dogstar’ works off a Smiths-like melodicism. Unpredictable, and that’s why I like it.”  - Suburban Voice #33-34

Vertical Brando In our opinion this is a wonderful record that ranges from jazzy parts to rock always remaining quiet and simply amazing, with the use of cello and violin. And what about the line up? Here is the wonderful voice of Jason Honea of Social Unrest, Nicky Garratt on guitar (former member of UK Subs), plus various other people. Super!! - Nail Records Italy (1994)

Der Ferngesteuerteschlafanzug
EP Another impressive release, this time on colored vinyl! - Nail Records Italy (1994)