In Essential Albums our favourite artists dig up five records that they consider “Essential” by any definition they like. This week, Jarvis Taveniere of Brooklyn psych stalwarts Woods gives us five mammoth albums from his teenage years that gave him new perspective and blow his mind to this day.
Saturday, 3 PM, the mall. The lead singer of Mindless Self Indulgence is signing autographs at Hot Topic. You've dragged your best friend, the one who secretly listens to Velvet Underground demos in class. She will cover her ears for the entire thing. Then you will both make easy journeys to your smooth hamlets, and plan to see a noise show later that night.
For a teenager, loud music — even the stuff you might cringe at later — can dampen the white noise of suburban life, perhaps more effectively than travel. Especially when you combine it with drugs. This cocktail really helped out Jarvis Taveniere, future Woods multi-instrumentalist, as a teenager marooned in Hawthorne, New York. "[We were] pretty isolated. Even when we had the balls to skateboard down and explore [New York City] we were very much outsiders." If he wanted to feel welcome in a new place, he'd drop acid, get far away from his home, then sneak back in while he was coming down and listen to music.
His selections for Essential Albums are the records he heard then that still break new ground for him today. It's worth noting that the uniformly heavy LPs are a stretch from the heady, high-noon psych that dominates Woods and their seventh album With Light and With Love. While thoroughly unsettled, this feeling is hidden behind titles like "With Light and With Love," and "New Light," with singer/guitarist Jeremy Earl's honeyed vocals leading the merry medley, burning with the heat of a hundred roasting draft cards.
I regret not asking what teenage Jarvis would have made of the record. At that age music that shakes us violently is what twists our head in new perspectives. But his selections are a tribute to the musical dissonance that clashes with our situational and sonic awarenesses well into our lives.
Sonic Youth, Goo (1990)
Jarvis Taveniere: Coming at [Goo] head on with no expectations, that was a pretty big game changer to me, and one that I didn’t understand the first time I heard it. I had to sit with it. I couldn’t understand any aspect of it, as a teenager with no context for that stuff. “Who are these lunatics? What are these people?” Even if it’s not immediately satisfying, there’s just something intriguing. A whole other world and I don’t get it.
I had to stay with it. In those days I had so little money I couldn’t give up on it. I remember reading reviews of the record and someone totally dismissed it, something like “I don’t get this record and I guess I’ll wait here for the band to come over and explain it to me. Until then I’ll be listening to something a little more easy-listening.” And I thought “This person sucks.”
A friend of mine in high school was a really good artist, and there was this competition to put a mural in the cafeteria. So we got our friend John to sign up to paint a mural of Goo, and we got the most signatures. No one really voted, though. There was this big mural of Goo that was sitting in the cafeteria for like two years. He had to change the cigarette to a lollipop.
Television, Marquee Moon (1977)
I was in Grade 10, I think. My brother bought it and I didn't know what it was. Normally I’d bring him indie rock stuff and he’d bring me punk stuff and we’d trade. [In the] post-Nirvana boom we were on a quest together, trying to figure out ways to find new music. There were a few scattered record stores but I was such an awkward teenager I’d go in there and get intimidated by the record store guys.
I’d taken acid before I’d listened to it [and] went to some friends’ house. I don't know if they were as into it as I was, or if it was just me being annoying, like "Let's play music and soundtrack everything that happens!" I think it was maybe too classic rock for me at the time, but there were a couple songs that stood out, like "Venus" and "Marquee Moon." They were unlike anything I’d ever heard before. I keep coming back to that record every few months and break it out and little by little decode it. It revealed itself to me over time.
It altered the way I looked at guitar playing. Like, “Venus” sounds more complicated than it is, once you stop and look at all the parts. Not that I’m saying it’s easy. It’s something that I’ve adopted into my own playing as I’ve gotten older, the classic rock element prevalent on that album. Halfway through “Marquee Moon” it calms down and the guitar makes the sound like chirping birds. It’s something I do every night when we play “Bend Beyond,” or my version of what that is.
Bikini Kill, Pussy Whipped (1993)
This was the first album I bought on vinyl. I remember sitting in the car with my dad on the drive home from the record store thinking "This is the beginning of my new life."
This record really opened me up to a whole new world. The Kill Rock Stars label, and lots of killer all-women bands like Heavens to Betsy, Bratmobile, which was heavily lacking in my life. It was the first time music or a record conveyed to me that there was a community that I could be part of. I really wanted to be friends with the people making the music.
Unwound, Repetition (1996)
This was Grade 11. I’d been into Kill Rock Stars for awhile. It just seemed so dark, I didn’t know how to approach it. I don’t even remember buying it. I remember getting it and being like “This is when I get into this. I’m gonna figure this out.” I remember getting it and going right home and listening to 15 seconds of each song before dinner.
I think it was one of the first records where I really got into the bass playing, where I figured out the basslines. They seemed as interesting [as the guitar].
Nobody else [I knew] was really having it. In high school, music was something I did at home. I tried to play with people but I didn’t know many who played. I’d just be at home listening to records then I would go skateboard and hang out all day.
Did you ever write music by yourself?
All the time. I would do that till one or two, just recording on four track. [After Repetition] is when I finally graduated and came out of my shell a bit. Before it was just kind of like indie rock. Not just Pavement, but the one-off 7” Pavement wannabees [as well]. The more things trickled in, the more I could see the bigger picture of what I thought was good music, and still think is good music. At first it's just kind of take what you can get.
What was the name of your act?
That’s such a high school band name.
You’re just looking around the house [for names]. Something toxic but also just there.
Sex Pistols, Never Mind The Bollocks (1977)
Me and my brother would call the college radio stations and ask them to play “a” Sex Pistols song, because we didn’t know any. Then we’d call back the next day and ask them to play Sex Pistols again, any song except the one they’d played the day before.
Then we taped the radio shows and made mixtapes based on what we thought the album was. We did that every day for two years but with different bands. Pre-Google, had to be creative.
It was a similar thing to the first time I heard Nirvana, after listening to MTV rock music for years. It’s this indescribable feeling. It makes me want to destroy, but in the best way. The anger that’s captured in that record, it’s less punk and more big guitar rock and roll. That combination caught me off guard.
I always come back to it and I always forget that I actually like it. Of that era, The Clash was probably a much better band. As a whole. Multiple songwriters, good live show, relative longevity and styles they can do well. But when [Bollocks] comes on, it’s still the best.