San Francisco Underground: William York


San Francisco Underground: William York/interview by Heen Katta Ulla


the book your writing about, what was going on in San Francisco music scene in the 80”s what made you really want to do that?

It actually started with some records I first heard in the 1990s. I got really into Gregg Turkington’s label, Amarillo Records, which was active from about 1991 to 1999, and also his zine, Breakfast Without Meat, which I mail-ordered a few issues of before Amarillo closed down in the late ‘90s. I was just really fascinated by some of these records – not just the music and the lyrics, but also the album art. It was baffling and confusing, but something about it resonated with me.

Roughly 1979 to about 1995 or 1996. The idea is that it picks up after the initial wave of punk bands associated with the Mabuhay Gardens (Negative Trend, Crime, Nuns, etc.) but ends before the internet really took hold. Plus, the mid-to-late ’90s seemed to mark the end of an era in San Francisco. Actually, the years I’m covering divide up into two eras: one from about 1979 to 1987, and the other from 1987 until about 1995 or 1996. But there is enough crossover between the eras that it still feels like it fits into one book without being totally incoherent.

After that, I started finding out about some of the earlier San Francisco bands and labels that had influenced Amarillo, especially Flipper and the Pop-O-Pies. Once I got into Flipper, I started to learn more about Subterranean Records as well as the late ’70s punk scene (Negative Trend, the Sleepers, etc.). And I learned about the early Faith No More through the Pop-O-Pies—I had heard FNM’s later stuff but didn’t know much about their history or what they sounded like in the early years. So I started to see all these connections between the bands, and I just kept digging deeper and deeper and going further and further back.



exactly what years are you covering

Roughly 1979 to about 1995 or 1996. The idea is that it picks up after the initial wave of punk bands associated with the Mabuhay Gardens (Negative Trend, Crime, Nuns, etc.) but ends before the internet really took hold. Plus, the mid-to-late ’90s seemed to mark the end of an era in San Francisco. Actually, the years I’m covering divide up into two eras: one from about 1979 to 1987, and the other from 1987 until about 1995 or 1996. But there is enough crossover between the eras that it still feels like it fits into one book without being totally incoherent.



were you here during that time.

No, I moved to San Francisco in 1999 and lived there until 2006. I’m a little bit self-conscious about covering an era that I didn’t witness first-hand, but that’s why I am doing so many interviews and doing so much research – not just tracking down hard-to-find records, but also finding old zines, concert fliers, and whatever video footage exists from this era (before every show was captured on video). I was still in preschool when Flipper put out their first single.


Some of the bands include Flipper, Minimal Man, Factrix, Toiling Midgets, Faith No More, the Pop-O-Pies, Caroliner, Faxed Head, the Easy Goings/Zip Code Rapists/Three Doctors, Mr. Bungle, Dieselhed, Glorious Din, Tragic Mulatto, Frightwig, Housecoat Project, Barbara Manning, World of Pooh, the Thinking Fellers … and then a lot of bands that didn’t record or release much but still have interesting music or interesting stories—bands such as G.O.D., Red Asphalt, the Tanks, the German Shepherds, Hello Kitty on Ice, Job’s Daughters, and the Heavenly Ten Stems.

what are the bands that your covering.

Some of the bands include Flipper, Minimal Man, Factrix, Toiling Midgets, Faith No More, the Pop-O-Pies, Caroliner, Faxed Head, the Easy Goings/Zip Code Rapists/Three Doctors, Mr. Bungle, Dieselhed, Glorious Din, Tragic Mulatto, Frightwig, Housecoat Project, Barbara Manning, World of Pooh, the Thinking Fellers … and then a lot of bands that didn’t record or release much but still have interesting music or interesting stories—bands such as G.O.D., Red Asphalt, the Tanks, the German Shepherds, Hello Kitty on Ice, Job’s Daughters, and the Heavenly Ten Stems.



are you going to have a lot of photos.

I would like to, but I don’t have a personal archive of photos to draw on. I would need to find somebody to collaborate with on that aspect of the book. I am also interested in trying to include images of concert fliers or posters, but I would need to get permission from the right people in order to do that.

has it been hard to track down the bands, cos its been like 30 years now.

It has been hard in some cases. I got to know some of the people I'm writing about in the early 2000s, as a result of some articles I wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. That’s how I met Gregg, Brandan, Trey Spruance, Bill Gould, Joe Pop-O-Pie, Bruce Lose, and some other people who have been really helpful over the years. They have been really helpful in putting me in touch with other people who otherwise might be skeptical about talking to me, since I'm not a big-name writer.



I've gotten in touch with other people directly, either through their band websites or even the dreaded Facebook (I actually reactivated my Facebook account for the sole purpose of getting in touch with people I couldn't get in touch with otherwise). Sometimes people don't answer my emails, and other times, they answer my initial email but don't get back to me when I follow up about trying to set up an interview. That can be discouraging. But a lot of people have been responsive and generous with their time, so I'm thankful for that.


well, the early years of hardcore are kind of the starting point. There are bands like Flipper or even the Toiling Midgets that that might have been considered hardcore in the early 80s, even though they don't sound anything like Minor Threat or the Dead Kennedys. Actually, if you look at the book Hardcore California, which was published in 1983, it includes everything from Flipper and the Toiling Midgets to Factrix, Minimal Man, and even Tuxedomoon and the Residents. This book was published right around the time Maximum Rocknroll was getting started

I know there was a lot going on in San Francisco in the early 80 like all the hardcore punk bands but I think you really writing about what was happening after all that right.

well, the early years of hardcore are kind of the starting point. There are bands like Flipper or even the Toiling Midgets that that might have been considered hardcore in the early 80s, even though they don't sound anything like Minor Threat or the Dead Kennedys. Actually, if you look at the book Hardcore California, which was published in 1983, it includes everything from Flipper and the Toiling Midgets to Factrix, Minimal Man, and even Tuxedomoon and the Residents. This book was published right around the time Maximum Rocknroll was getting started, and obviously MRR was more focused on what people tend to think of as “hardcore” nowadays. And I’m not really interested in that aspect of hardcore—although even if I were, there are other people who are may more qualified to write about it than I am.



I’m more interested in the bands that did their own thing, which usually meant they were too weird or too unorthodox to fit into the hardcore scene, or any other well-defined genre, for that matter. Caroliner is a good example of this. Or the Sun City Girls, for that matter. They weren’t from San Francisco and never lived there, but they were influential in terms of showing what could be done after punk and after hardcore. And they had a lot of interaction with bands I’ve been interviewing for this book.



with what was going on then was there a certain sound or did each band have there own sound.

If you look at old fliers, there are all these amazing bills featuring bands that sound nothing like each other. I've seen a flier for a show at Club Foot in 1984 that had Faith No More, Caroliner, the Pop-O-Pies, and Glorious Din all on the same bill. Also, it’s amazing how many bands mentioned Flipper as an influence, even though they don’t sound anything like Flipper. They were picking up on something more abstract—more like an attitude, or a way of interacting with the audience or of toying with the idea of being a band. They didn’t just give audiences what they wanted or what they expected. I like that. is this book going too be all interviews or are you going to interview the bands and then write.



The interviews will be the foundation of the book, but there will be some of my own writing. That said, I try to keep my writing as transparent as possible. I don't want to draw attention to myself based on my writing style. And I don’t view myself as some kind of great authority or final judge on this subject matter. I just don't think a pure oral history is the best way to present this material. One reason is that there is already one book about SF and Bay Area punk (Gimme Something Better) that was done is that style. Even though there is only a little bit of overlap in terms of the actual bands covered (Flipper being the main band), I don’t want to write a book that feels like a rehash of something that’s already been done.


If you look at old fliers, there are all these amazing bills featuring bands that sound nothing like each other. I've seen a flier for a show at Club Foot in 1984 that had Faith No More, Caroliner, the Pop-O-Pies, and Glorious Din all on the same bill. Also, it’s amazing how many bands mentioned Flipper as an influence, even though they don’t sound anything like Flipper. They were picking up on something more abstract—more like an attitude, or a way of interacting with the audience or of toying with the idea of being a band. They didn’t just give audiences what they wanted or what they expected. I like that.

have you interviewed a lot of bands already?

Yes, I have done about 45 interviews so far. I have about 15 or 20 more that are in the works, but we’ll see. Many of the people I've interviewed played in more than one band, and there are a lot of bands that I’ve interviewed multiple members of. So there is some overlap. I've also interviewed several people who weren't in bands but were involved in other areas, like running record labels, publishing zines, or booking shows. There is also some overlap there, because there were a bunch of people who played in bands and also published zines and/or had their own record labels (e.g., Eric Cope, Brandan Kearney, Gregg Turkington).



who are some of them.

Flipper, Zip Code Rapists, the Three Doctors, the Pop-O-Pies, Faith No More, Factrix, Glorious Din, World of Pooh, Trial, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Toiling Midgets, World of Pooh, SF Seals, Tragic Mulatto, G.O.D., Frightwig, Housecoat Project, Three Day Stubble, Caroliner, Hello Kitty on Ice, Faxed Head, and Mr. Bungle.


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