Powerful, Melodic Gorilla Rises Above A Sea Of Grunge

Music preview

Gorilla, Cockpit and Supersuckers, tonight, 9:30 p.m., Three B's Tavern, 1226 N. State St. $5. 734-1881. -------------------------------------------------------------------

BELLINGHAM - Believe it or not, grunge and guitars are not necessarily what makes a Seattle band fast, furious and fun. Add to that formula tuneful melodies, crunching power chords, a souped-up vintage keyboard and a vocalist who sounds like he's swallowed a handful of marbles and you've got a band that rises above the sea of noise.

Seattle-based band Gorilla has been both chastised and praised for its nonconformist approach to thrash-and-burn, power-punk rock. It seems that some hardcore purists feel the need to take issue with the 1960s garage punk-styled Vox organ/ guitar combination while others, including the band members, believe it's what gives the band its distinctive sound.

"The Seattle sound can be so focused on guitars," says vocalist-bassist Dan Merrick. "We don't all need to sound the same . . . we need variety."

"I think as the Seattle sound has become more defined, we've gone the other way," adds guitarist Curtis Clark. "We don't get caught up in super-technical guitar leads."

And what does the band's keyboardist have to say about the controversy: "I think it's cool people notice the keyboards," says Peter FitzGerald. "Why is it an issue?"

Why indeed. After four years, four singles, a full-length compact disc and cassette, and appearances on various independent compilations, Gorilla has held its own and amassed a solid and devoted following, Vox organ and all. The group is celebrating the release of its new compact disc, "Meconium, the Squid Row Days," a compilation of the group's previously released singles plus three new tracks on Seattle's Bag of Hammers label. Aside from paying homage to their favorite, long-gone Capitol Hill venue, the disc will give the band some of the recognition that has evaded it.

When Sub Pop was content with small sales and a thriving stable of local artists, Gorilla was supported alongside bands like Mudhoney, Nirvana and Tad. But when the local scene exploded and other Sub Pop guitar-heavy bands were being sought after by every major label in the industry, Gorilla got lost in all the excitement.

"We're not really a commercial band," says drummer/producer Brian Nelson. "It's probably good that things have gone slowly for us."

"We've seen some bands who have come along after us and have taken off quickly and they never got the chance to develop a sound that's really their own," Merrick says. "Our sound has evolved and changed a lot, we've taken our time to do that."

Though the Vox organ instantly evokes a "retro" feel, the band's flailing intensity and good-time song titles (i.e., "Psycho Trash," "8 Day Drunk," "This Shot's For You") makes them the right party band for almost any decade. Merrick and original keyboard player/singer Drew McRoberts met at the University of Washington medical school and found that they both had a taste for loud, vicious punk rock. They hooked up with musicians and night owls Nelson and guitarist Jon Hale at Squid Row, and the band was formed.

Hale left the group, leaving the gear-grinding guitar work to Clark. And McRoberts, who is now much in demand as a surgeon, has handed over the "cheesy keyboard sound" to FitzGerald, even though he still sits in with the band when he can. Luckily, Merrick does cancer research and has a less erratic work schedule.

"Early on Gorilla was described as "music to fall down to," Merrick says. "And though we still have that harsh, party-all-night edge to our sound the melodies and the keyboards are like our link to reality."