Raven + Crow Mixtape: Early-’90s Alt Edition

On printing 20 pages from MapQuest to get to gigs, ironic band names and where old alt rockers go to die

The early ’90s seem farther away than they actually are. Part of the reason for that might be that many of the trappings of our daily lives, cell phones, email, electric scooters, the Internet were so nascent so as to have almost have no effect at all. Some of the recent nostalgia for that time might just be because of that. It certainly wasn’t because of the fashion.

Let’s start out then with this era-appropriate photo of our mixtape maker, Troy.

Brave fashion choices.

You know how in A Clockwork Orange Alex is forced to listen to Beethoven with those clips holding his eyes open? In that photo you look like maybe somebody did that to you but with the Spin Doctors. That’s not really a question. But is that what happened there, Troy?

Troy: Good guess on era—if I remember correctly, that was taken right around the time we were blessed with Pocket Full of Kryptonite in 1991 or ’92 when I was a sophomore or so in high school in southern Virginia. I was never a huge fan of the Doctors of Spin, but do enjoy the occasional “Two Princes,” truth be told. I mean, who doesn’t?

Let’s get to the mixtape.

Can you give a little background on where you might have been and what you were doing when these songs originally came out? 

Troy: Yeah, so, most of these songs came out in the very early ’90s or the tail end of the ’80s, when there were these distinct camps in the alternative music scene—Brit pop, nascent noise pop/shoegaze, and the beginnings of a ton of other sounds like post-punk, proper indie, and, of course, grunge. When my friends and I listened to all of this, it was a liability—something that placed us all squarely in the category of ‘the other’ relative to the mainstream and the cool kids, which was obviously part of the appeal too. But Nirvana’s Nevermind changed that almost overnight in the fall of ’91. Suddenly the cool kids thought all of us were cool somehow. It’s not an exaggeration at all to say that if I were born two years earlier, my high school experience would have been totally different.

Nirvana’s Nevermind changed that almost overnight in the fall of ’91.

Related: What year did you start eating vegan? What was the vegan restaurant where you lived?

Troy: Vegan, not ‘til ’95; before that I’d been vegetarian since, ’91 though. But back then, there weren’t even really vegetarian restaurants where I lived in Roanoke, Virginia. I think the closest might have been Grace Place up in Richmond (R.I.P.). The ’90s were super-rough going for vegans, man. So much carob, so much box falafel mix, so much shelf stable hemp milk.

What unites the songs on this mixtape? Are they in biographical order?

Troy: So the main thing that strings these songs together is that they’re all in this pre-Nevermind era—they were all released or at least recorded before the entire landscape of music—and popular culture—underwent this tectonic shift; they’re the coolest songs, in my opinion, before this music became cool. Most of it’s strictly Brit pop and the American music on there is clearly referencing or at least influenced by the music coming from the UK then. Then we’re focusing on either lesser known bands that fit into that category or rare and lesser heard tracks from the bigger bands of that era. Like, most people know The Cure and Björk and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, but I don’t think everyone’s heard these three tracks and they’re sincerely some of my favorites from those artists. And, no, the order’s mainly aesthetic and flow—what plays best into what comes next.

The Ocean Blue feeling feelings.

The ’90s keep getting further away. So far away that the singer from Gigolo Aunts opened a wine bar in Sherman Oaks where they serve the now-old vintage wine he picked up touring all those years ago. Where do old alt rockers go?

Troy: Yeah, no, we’re old. But it’s just weird to be old enough to see these things, culturally and musically, become cyclical. I mean, Marc Jacobs just re-released his grunge collection last fall! Like, really, man‽ Because that went so well for you last time‽ And so much of what’s breaking through in the indie scene now looks back specifically to this era, which maybe has something to do with so many bands from that time reuniting and touring and even writing and releasing new material. It makes me wonder what the people from the lesser-known bands have been doing in the meantime.

David Schelzel, the frontman of The Ocean Blue, is a copyright lawyer in Minnesota.

I know David Schelzel, the frontman of The Ocean Blue, is a copyright lawyer in Minnesota (no, that band isn’t British, weird, right?); The singer from The Darling Buds had a somewhat successful career in acting before starting a children’s school of theater in Cardiff; Ultra Vivid Scene’s Kurt Ralske—who I know always had really strong visuals at his live shows—went into visual arts and is on the faculty at  the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (another Brit-sounding Yank). It seems like most of the bands either still perform or are active again in one way or another.

I do wonder what Rat, the guitarist from Ned’s Atomic Dustbin is up to these days.

Do you have any particularly strong associations or memories with any of these songs?

Troy: My Bloody Valentine’s Only Shallow is one of my favorite albums of all time. But they recorded a couple little-heard EPs before that album when they were still starting to find their distinctive, seminal sound of layered, noisey guitars that went on to define the shoegaze genre. One—Feed Me with Your Kiss—is great, but I truly love the other—You Made Me Realize—beginning to end. This track, “Drive It All Over Me,” was an anthem of sorts for my small group of friends. We’d drive around our southern little town with it blasting as we (inexplicably) threw pieces of chocolate pie from Waffle House at the sides of a bridge that maligned us somehow. Small town—we had to make our own, very odd fun.

Our band name was  Hippies for Hatred, because irony?

You guys had a band back then. How would you describe your sound?

Troy: This isn’t modest self-deprecation—we were terrible. Truly terrible. I mean, our band name was  Hippies for Hatred, because irony? We were kids. But it was fun and I’d never take a second back of that time dedicated to creating as a group, regardless of the unlistenable product.

There were some really talented musicians in and around our small town though. There was this band called Swank (with two bass players, a la Ned’s) that we played with a lot and all looked up to back then and they hold up pretty well. And between Roanoke and our neighbors in Lynchburg (dear god, the South), a lot of people went on to have careers in music one way or another. Two kids who founded the Lynchburg band Herschel (also pretty good for how young we all were) went on to form the aughts’ emo band Engine Down, who did pretty well for themselves and toured with my old college band, Speedwell. Those guys, Keeley Davis + Jonthan Fuller, still work in the music and creative realms. Another guy from Roanoke we played with a lot started the Texas metal band The Sword, whose lyrics centered around science fiction narratives and actual D+D campaigns the band played, so that’s clearly awesome.

Speed round

Who’s the last person you star 69ed?

Aw. Probably Dave Dalton, friend to this day. I weirdly remember the phone number to his childhood home still. Remember remembering numbers?

Best pager “text message” trick?

I never had a pager. But I remember 143, obvs. And just found this dictionary. I wish it had backstory/explanation

What was your preferred in-car navigation method before Googlemaps?

Roughly 20 printed pages of Map Quest. There’s also this photo from 2002 or so of a Speedwell tour (yes, I am on crutches).

I thought you printed the directions?

Largest cell phone you ever owned…

I didn’t have a cell until I moved to NYC in 2003, so it was a reasonably sized swivel phone that I still kind of wish I had—my only non-iPhone (seen here either second or third from the right; my friend Cheryl had the same phone). My partner Katie has a huge ‘only in emergencies’ phone that her parents gave her in the 90s though. It somehow got stolen from her glove box somewhere between 1995–1998.

Did you ever own a shirt or other garment that changed color when it was warm so that people could leave handprints on your clothes?

100%. It was a blue Hypercolor tee that changed to a nice magenta when touched or sweated upon too much whilst pogo-moshing. Again, kinda wish I still had that thing.

Being a conversation between Whalebone Magazine and Troy Farmer about the series of monthly mixtapes from his Brooklyn-born, Los Angeles-based creative agency, raven + crow studio.