- Mammoth Records
Founded by Jay Faires in 1989 in Carrboro, North Carolina, Mammoth Records was one of the premiere independent record labels of the 1990s. Its roster featured such diverse talent as Antenna, Blake Babies, Chainsaw Kittens, Dash Rip Rock, Dillon Fence, Far Too Jones, Frente!, Fun-Da-Mental, Fu Manchu, Jason & the Scorchers, Joe Henry, Juliana Hatfield, Kill Creek, Machines of Loving Grace, The Melvins, My Friend Steve, Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Sidewinders, Vanilla Trainwreck, Velo-Deluxe, and Victoria Williams.
The label went from a stand-alone company to being a part of a joint venture with Atlantic Records in 1993. The label hit the open market again in 1997.
The Sidewinders (1989–90, two albums) – Faires was blown away by this Tucson, Arizona, band—which soon thereafter became Mammoth’s first signing—while checking them out at Liberty Lunch during the second SXSW fest in 1988. He liked them so much that “I helped load out the equipment the next day, after they played an in-store, as I met the guys for the first time. They then routed a tour through Chapel Hill to meet my small staff.” Guitarist Rich Hopkins fondly remembers staying with his bandmates at Faires’ house and being introduced to the local sights and sounds. “Jay took us to a Durham Bulls baseball game, which is where we made a handshake deal,” Hopkins recalls. “After we delivered the record [Witchdoctor, 1989], we got a call from Jay telling us he’d met with Bob Feiden at RCA and played him one minute of ‘Witch Doctor’ before Feiden told him he loved the song and wanted to sign us. It was staggering—we were barely even on Mammoth and suddenly we were on RCA.” Faires remembers the coup just as fondly. “We made the first album for $3,000 and sold it to RCA for $100,000 when Mammoth was three weeks old,” he says. “It went Top 5 alternative on Gavin’s chart, and we sold 40,000 copies. I was like, ‘OK, this is easy. That’s a good return on investment.’” When the follow-up LP, 1990’s Auntie Ramos’ Pool Hall, went Top 5 and sold 40,000 as well, Faires had no reason to modify his initial viewpoint on what a snap it was to move units and make money; he would later learn that it was much harder than he’d first believed. Sounding like John Mellencamp’s kid brother, frontman David Slutes shines on “Witch Doctor,” which drove sales on the first album. Hopkins also had his own label, signing Tempe’s Gin Blossoms to their initial deal and producing their first album, which contained the original versions of their subsequent hits. Business often led to friendship during those days of rampant optimism and DIY camaraderie; Faires served as best man at Hopkins’ wedding.
Dash Rip Rock (1989–91, three albums) – This veteran bar band from Baton Rouge, Louisiana was legendary in the South, thanks to the prodigious energy and infectious enthusiasm of the players. As Faires recalls, “Steve Balcom [who rose from intern to general manager of the label] and I found that getting wasted with everyone and watching the moshpits was a great way to vent from the pressures of building the label.” The legendary Jim Dickinson (Big Star, The Replacements) produced the band’s second LP for Mammoth, 1990’s Not of This World, which sold 10,000. Bass player Ned "Hoaky" Hickel' is now a charter-dive instructor in Florida, and lead guitarist/vocalist Bill Davis is a schoolteacher outside of Nashville. “If his students only knew,” says Faires with a laugh.
Blake Babies (1989–91, two albums) – Formed by Berklee School of Music students John Strohm (guitar) and Juliana Hatfield (vocals, bass), along with Strohm’s drummer girlfriend, Freda Love (born Freda Boner), the Boston, Massachusetts-based Blake Babies were DIY personified. Although Hatfield had been writing songs since high school, she’d never performed them because she’d never found anyone to play with—this youngster didn’t see herself on a stool strumming an acoustic. “I wanted to be a rocker,” she says. “I didn’t realize at the time that I had this thin, childish voice. But John and Freda accepted me as I was.” Hatfield and Love learned to play their instruments on the fly, and early on the bandmembers’ loftiest ambition was simply to become a big enough draw to snag a Saturday night club gig. Early on, the Blakes worked as a four-piece, joined by Evan Dando, who invited Strohm to play drums (John’s original instrument) for his band The Lemonheads. Yup, it was an incestuous little scene, but brimming with raw talent. The fledgling band recorded a set of demos, self-releasing them as Nicely, Nicely, but after striking out in their initial attempts to score a record deal, they hooked up with Gary Smith (the Pixies, Throwing Muses) and engineer Paul Kolderie at Fort Apache, the producer’s Boston studio and Petri dish. Strohm picks up the narrative in an illuminating and highly entertaining blog recounting his adventures in the music biz: “Early in the fall of 1988, Steve Balcom, the Chapel Hill DJ who had interviewed the Lemonheads, contacted the band. He worked for a new label, Mammoth Records, and wanted us to meet the Mammoth partners to discuss a contract. We'd really hoped to be on one of the established, cool indie labels such as Homestead or Twin/Tone, but we were interested in the Mammoth prospect. At least they would give us some money to pay Gary and Paul, who had been working entirely on spec. It’s hard to get into the mindset, but the initial advance of $6,000 just seemed like an enormous amount of money.” With the 6 grand, the Blake Babies finished their first proper LP. “The final recordings for the Mammoth debut, arbitrarily titled Earwig, ‘Dead and Gone,’ ‘Cesspool’ and ‘You Don’t Give Up,’ were all recorded as a trio,” Strohm writes. “They are easily the strongest productions on the record. The album came out in the spring of 1989 with a great deal of momentum following a great setup and a healthy promotional push. In the weeks following the release, I called Steve Balcom daily from a Harvard Square pay phone to hear the good news about the album’s chart positions and press commitments. Primarily because of Mammoth’s efforts, things were finally happening for the band on a national level.” So it was that the Blakes became the upstart label’s flagship band. “With the relative success of Earwig and the growing major label interest in the band, Mammoth and Gary encouraged us to think in terms of bona fide mainstream success with the songs we were writing for the new album,” Strohm continues. “Sunburn came out in the early fall of 1990 to immediate and widespread acclaim. Our years of constant work paid off; we weren’t big [Sunburn sold only 20,000 at the time—not many units for what’s now considered an indie-rock classic], but we could depend on audiences in every town, and we started to see the same faces in town after town. Shortly thereafter, Juliana announced that she planned to record a solo album and didn’t plan to continue with the band. Mammoth resisted the band breaking up and asked that we continue to tour through the first half of the year. We relented and agreed to support the forthcoming release of the Rosy Jack World EP. In a way it felt great to be playing to our own packed headlining shows every night, but in another way we just wanted to get on with our lives. The Blake Babies felt like what it had become: a lame duck band. Breaking Juliana’s career in Europe remained Mammoth’s priority, and in late summer we learned that Nirvana had invited us to open the European leg of their tour to promote their new album scheduled to be released in the fall. I’d heard rumors about the album, and I’d convinced a DJ in Missouri to play me the advance of the new single, ‘Smells like Teen Spirit.’ I just had a feeling we should do the tour. Freda, however, refused to go. She felt loyal to Jake and to the new band. She simply refused to do any more Blake Babies shows under any circumstances. With little time to find a replacement drummer, we had to pass on the Nirvana tour. I couldn’t take a hard-line stance, because Freda had the moral high ground. I felt a crushing disappointment that has only sharpened and increased in the intervening years.”
The Bats (1989-95, four albums) – Faires and Balcom worshipped New Zealand’s Chills and Gary Smith’s crisp, clean production. While Faires was unable to nail down a U.S. distribution deal with Flying Nun Records, he did get the Bats, who were one of the Kiwi label’s two best acts, the Chills being the other. “Maybe it’s because they’re from New Zealand, but it feels like the songs and their shimmery guitar sound could work in some alternate Lord of the Rings,” says Faires. “They toured with Belly behind the record, and the tour went great, but it was always a critics’ darling and college fave we couldn’t break.”
Blackgirls (1989-91, two albums) – The second album recorded on Mammoth’s tab was Procedure, the debut of a Chapel Hill-based female trio (none of them African-American) that sounded like a British folk group from the ’70s—which is why Faires contacted Joe Boyd (Fairport Convention, Nick Drake) to produce it. “I had gotten way into Joe Boyd and all the genius records he had produced, some of them on Joe’s own legendary Hannibal label,” Faires recalled. “And somehow I pulled off getting Joe to do both their albums. We made the first one for $6,000; on the second we went crazy and spent $10,000.” The gossamer, cello-accented “Charleston” is one of Faires’ favorite Blackgirls tracks. “The vocal take Joe got from Dana [Kletter] is just beautiful,” he marvels.
Antenna (1991–93, two albums) – In early 1991, after the success of Sunburn, and just before Juliana Hatfield announced she was quitting the Blake Babies Faires invited John Strohm to record a solo album based on four-track demos of his songs. He and Love then returned to their native Indiana and put together a band to play the new material. After starting as Sway, they were threatened with litigation by another band with the same moniker, so they decided to call themselves Antenna and title the album Sway. Fatefully, the record came out the same day as Nirvana’s Nevermind. “We played dates throughout the fall,” Strohm remembers, “but it became clear that Antenna would not benefit much from the Blake Babies’ momentum. Sway is very, very different from Sunburn; not necessarily a far worse record, but not really comparable in any way. Many Blake Babies fans felt alienated by the radically different sound. We essentially had to start our new career from scratch.” After Love and second guitarist Vess Ruhtenberg quit, Strohm and bassist Jacob Smith soldiered on with a shifting lineup of players, recording the longplayer Hideout and the swan song EP For Now in’93 before calling it a day, leading Strohm to form the short-lived Velo-Deluxe before embarking on a solo career. He’s now a prominent music attorney based in Birmingham, with an indie-centric clientele that includes Of Montréal, Bon Iver and, yes, Juliana Hatfield.
Dillon Fence (1991-95, three albums) – The first Chapel Hill band signed to Mammoth came up through the college circuit on the heels of the Connells, doing their share of frat parties at UNC (where singer/guitarist Greg Humphreys and lead guitarist Kent Alphin were going to college) and around the region. Before long they were selling out 1,000-capacity clubs up and down the East Coast, but the major labels showed no interest in signing them or their fellow southern bands. “The perception was that bands on the circuit that we were on, including Dave Matthews and Hootie, were never gonna be a big deal,” Humphreys recalls. But Dillon Fence had more than enough going for them to get Mammoth’s full attention. “Jay was a smart guy who had a vision,” Humphreys acknowledges. “He was right in the middle of the Triangle and could see what was going on in the Chapel Hill scene. Jay was into it, and so was Steve Balcom, who had also gone to UNC. They recognized what we were doing and gave us a chance.” Further tightening the Tar Heel connection, Humphreys had been a college intern at Mammoth soon after the label first formed. The band’s early songs (“about life in college, which is where they all were then,” says Faires) were heavily influenced by British pop in general and the Smiths and Housemartins in particular. “Those bands were into classic American pop,” Humphreys points out, “so it was one of those back-and-forth-across-the-pond things. I loved the songwriting of Morrissey and Johnny Marr, but I was also really into soul music and funk, which I’d grown up listening to. That was part of the Dillon Fence thing that didn’t really fit the template of most bands at that time.” You can hear the Britpop influence interweaving around Humphreys’ soul roots on “Francis” from the band’s self-titled 1993 EP—the guitars shimmer, his voice seeming to float above them. While their first full-length Rosemary (1992) was rough around the edges, the band took a significant step forward a year later with the Outside In, which overflowed with crisp, hooky, Beatles-inspired guitar pop. But Dillon Fence could handle balladry as well, as the intimate, silky “Any Other Way” so captivatingly indicates, with Humphreys’ soulful vocal foreshadowing the direction he’d take later in the decade with Hobex. Living Room Scene (1994) boasts a beefed-up sound, akin to Matthew Sweet circa Girlfriend, a touchstone for the group, underscored by the solid production of Mark Freegard (the Breeders, Del Amitri). They were a great live band, with Humphreys’ rich vocals and Alphin’s smoking guitar solos, which took staples like “She’s the Queen of the In-Between” into the stratosphere. “We put their first album out at the same time as Nevermind,” says Faires, “and it was caught in the tidal wave of crunch—clean alt-pop songs released at the completely wrong historic moment, just as folks were getting fed up with Bush the Elder.” From there, grunge steamrollered everything in sight well into the ’90s. So Dillon Fence never broke, despite their superior songs and sound, a criminally underrated band. These days, Humphreys continues to do occasional shows with both Dillon Fence and Hobex, but he performs primarily in what he calls “my acoustic troubadour mode.”
Chainsaw Kittens (1990–94, four albums) – Allmusic.com calls these Oklahoma-based neo-glam rebels fronted by Tyson Mead and featuring lead guitarist Trent Bell, “Arguably the best American band who never made it when alternative music suddenly became a huge proposition in the early ’90s,” and they will get no argument from Faires on that score. “I have a special place in my heart for Tyson,” he says. “Being gay in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1990 was likely not the easiest thing to do. He was always turning me on to great authors early—Michael Chabon’s first novel Mysteries of Pittsburgh comes to mind. We got Butch Vig to produce Flipped Out in Singapore as he was coming off Nirvana’s Nevermind. Butch did the whole album in 10 days, and it still sounds awesome—big and beefy. Best guitar sound Trent ever got, and Tyson’s screams brought into the right range. Tyson’s lyrics obliquely dealt with where he was coming from on ‘Connie, I’ve found the Door’—his screams would probably be labeled as emocore today—combined with these powerful riffs coming from Trent Bell. Those riffs are just monstrous at the start of ‘She Gets,’ and so are his leads. In fact, his playing may be what first hooked me on the band—that and the way it’s juxtaposed with Tyson’s vocals. We thought ‘High in High School’ was going to be this teen anthem like the Ramones’ ‘Rock ’n’ Roll High School.’ The title was genius, but maybe it was too much. We knew we were on to something when we found out that the Smashing Pumpkins [another Vig client] were some of their biggest fans.”
Machines of Loving Grace (1991–95, three albums) – Mammoth’s second Tucson-based band was stylistically a world away from the Sidewinders, whose Rich Hopkins played middleman, sending MLG’s demos to the label, which picked up the group and promptly put out their self-titled debut, surprising those observers who’d assumed Mammoth was a dedicated guitar-pop haven. “When I worked at Poindexter’s,” says Faires, “I’d buy records by the Jesus & Mary Chain, Fishbone, Guadalcanal Diary, etc. I didn’t listen to just one kind of music, and I wanted the label to reflect that eclecticism.” Influenced by industrial-rock trailblazers like Nine Inch Nails (whose Trent Reznor remixed a track on their 1992 EP Burn Like Brilliant Trash), Machines of Loving Grace fashioned precise, aggressive and muscular music mating played and programmed parts, with Scott Benzel singing, Mike Fisher handling the keyboard parts and guitarist/bassist Stuart Kupers coming up with the hooks. “Butterfly Wings,” from the subsequent Concentration (1993), produced by Roli Mosimann, got a lot of 120 Minutes play on MTV, while the song went Top 5 at KROQ L.A. and hit the Top 5 in total airplay at alternative radio, but by the time the other stations came on, KROQ had faded. Nonetheless, the LP sold north of 70,000 copies. “Suicide King” and the rest of 1995’s Gilt continued the band’s evolution sonically, with in-your-face production from Sylvia Massy (Tool), but by then Kupers had split, leaving a big hole. The band broke up in ’97.
Juliana Hatfield (1992-95, three albums) – After Sunburn, Hatfield began to get restless. “I’m a person who acts on instinct, and some part of me felt I needed to break up the band to move forward,” she says now. “I also felt the need for autonomy; democracy was becoming draining, and I wanted to play guitar.” Barely pausing to take a breath, she started banging out the songs that would appear on her first solo album, Hey Babe (1992), maintaining her relationship with producer Gary Smith, while Evan Dando contributed guitar and Mike Watt from the Minutemen and Blakes touring mates Firehose played bass. “I was just a songwriting machine at the time,” she recalls with a soft laugh. “I never worried about running out of ideas.” Continuing in the style she’d developed with her former band—personal songs presented in melodic and hooky but aggressive settings—Hatfield came up with some gems, including “I See You” and “Everybody Loves Me but You.” That little-girl voice of hers proved irresistible to males, while females found her lyrics intensely relatable to the point of identification. This combination of qualities brought Mammoth its biggest hit to date, hitting the 50,000 plateau. To Hatfield, that stood as a triumph, but in fact she was just getting started. The performance of Hey Babe got the attention of Atlantic Records’ Danny Goldberg, who went into partnership with Mammoth in large part to get Hatfield. When she was asked whom she’d like to produce the follow-up, she readily named Scott Litt because of his work with R.E.M., and 1993’s fittingly titled Become What You Are, which marked the debut of the Juliana Hatfield Three, her first for Mammoth Atlantic, sold a whopping 250,000 units, powered by her zeitgeist-capturing hit “My Sister.” “When they picked ‘My Sister’ as the single, I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I mean, it doesn’t even have a chorus. And it became my biggest hit.” When the follow-up LP, 1995’s Only Everything, failed to outsell Become What You Are, Faires was disappointed, but Hatfield was fine with it. “I knew I was a ‘developing artist,’ and not at the top of my game as a singer,” she says with typical candor. “I wasn’t aiming for anything other than my own creative satisfaction.” By the time she delivered her fourth album under the working title God’s Foot, Faires had left the building, and the record was never released. The resilient Hatfield returned to the indie sector from which she’d sprung, continuing a career that’s now more than two decades long. “I still feel like the luckiest girl in the world,” she says. “Mammoth was the only label that wrote back when we sent out the Blake Babies demos, and I’m just so glad that someone wanted to take a chance on us. They introduced us to a bigger audience and started my so-called ‘career.’ I think it’s pretty amazing that I’ve been able to make a living this long.” That remark—at once self-deprecating and defiant—is quintessential Juliana Hatfield. “I reconnected with Jules through John Strohm in the last year or so,” says Faires. “We started emailing, and she sent me a copy of When I Grow Up, this book she’d written about that time period. A couple days later, she emails me, ‘Holy shit, I forgot I totally trashed you in the book.’ I died laughing. Said I was pretty sure I had said things that put her off in the day, to say the least. I found it hilarious. Time and distance help, I guess.”
Joe Henry (1992–2001, five albums) – The following recollection was written by the iconoclastic artist in a Paris hotel room in February 2010. “Just before my discovery of Mammoth Records and what I believe they were uniquely trying to foster down in North Carolina, I had been signed to A&M and had made two records for them. This did not prove to be a fruitful relationship, and though I did some good work there—helped identify something for myself about what I did and didn’t want to do—suffice to say that, once free of them, I began to look for different ways to work. I threw in with the Jayhawks for a tour together (the band opening the shows as themselves, then acting as my backing band for the second half). I marveled at the raw energy and spirit that conjured together, but my songs (mostly from Shuffletown, my last for A&M) didn't fall very comfortably into their bag. We had some good nights, but I thought my segment of the show claustrophobic and brooding, compared to the spirit of theirs...felt like swimming not surfing, as I had invariably just seen them do. In response, I went home from that tour and very quickly wrote songs for them specifically—like a screenwriter/director writing for a particular ensemble of actors. I wanted to speak their language so we could sing—literally and metaphorically—together. I returned to Minneapolis one bitterly cold winter weekend, and we recorded Short Man’s Room  live to 8-track tape over two days. I had arrived thinking we'd be making demos, but once in the can, the performances and the recording just seemed very much to the point of something: it was immediate and wiry and terse and reflected something about our brotherhood, which I was enjoying tremendously. The result was that instead of shopping it as an idea, I shopped it as a finished piece: take it or leave it. I didn't realize then how significant that attitude would later prove, but it sort of became my ethos. I met Steve Balcom and Jay Faires after hearing about what they were doing in N.C. with their label—hearing from them what their greater ambitions were—and we decided to work together very quickly. That said, I never intended for that particular musical stance—that sonic dress code—to permanently define me. I was interested in all kinds of music and method, and curious what different musicians and different approaches might do to my writing and my songs. I followed Short Man’s Room with Kindness of the World  and must honestly say I was tired of it before it came out. I don't mean to suggest I am not proud of it; I just mean by that point I could really see that I was working in the studio like a primitive—or worse, like someone who didn’t love what the studio offers—and was embarrassed that I’d limited myself. I came away from touring Kindness of the World believing that if I didn't find a different way to work as a recording artist, then I would stop being one. Some on that was road fatigue talking, but certainly not all of it. I noticed that the music I kept going back to was so deep, dark and rhythm-oriented—not self-conscious lyrics propped up by only a folk-country conceit. I was digging into Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye (Here, My Dear specifically) and most notably Sly and the Family Stone. My friend from Ireland, the great recording engineer (now also producer) Pat McCarthy, turned me on to Dr. Dre's The Chronic, and I flipped. I didn't know how to approach this working sensibility, but I knew I was determined to find my own way to respond to the impulse to do so. As my luck would have it, Mammoth Records in total, but Steve Balcom in particular, not only did not scoff at my attempts to rethink my tableau, but were in fact wildly encouraging of it. Trampoline  is the sound of a blind man trying to put an alarm together for the first time. Fuse  sounds to me now like someone doing deliberately what he had been doing only instinctively before. Using loops and samples (some of which I’d replace later or augment with live musicians), I began creating whole tracks save lyric and melody—completely backwards from the previous album, where the songs had all began with lyrics. It was terribly liberating and exciting, to work alone in my garage, and for the first time allow the recording process to be a part of the writing process. I swore I’d never go back to recording with a band circled together in a room. But never say never. I believed that what would follow Fuse would be something even more fractured and dark...something like I heard the Roots doing on Things Fall Apart. But the songs that arrived next were wholly different than I’d expected, and influenced, I now see, by my obsession with jazz of a certain variety but also in particular the ’67 duet record between Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim. I knew the jig was up at Mammoth. They’d sold to Disney and Jay and Steve had departed. but given how far I was into my deal at this point, Disney owed me a pretty decent chunk of money to make a record; so I decided if I wanted to do something with a more sprawling band—and a bunch of heavyweights to boot—and I wanted to incorporate an orchestral element, I believed it was time to do it. Thus, for Scar , I pulled together some of the musicians I most admired in the world at that moment: Marc Ribot, Brian Blade, Meshell Ndegeocello, Brad Mehldau, David Piltch, Abe Laboriel Jr., arranger Stephen Barber and, of course, Ornette Coleman. I also brought in friend/producer Craig Street to help me manage the new circus. It was the most fun I’d ever had working, and it was the most ambitious thing I’d done. But what it really was the end of me thinking in any kind of genre terms. My records had been so varied to that point, I stopped identifying myself as belonging to any camp. I was just going to write the best songs I could and then follow wherever they took me.” In the nine years since Scar, Henry has released three more critically acclaimed albums, while also establishing himself as a remarkably sensitive producer, helming modern-day classics from the likes of Solomon Burke, Bettye LaVette, Ani DiFranco, Allen Toussaint and Mose Allison.
Frente! (1994–96, two albums) – Buoyed by Hatfield’s success, Mammoth reached all the way to Australia for its next hit band. Like the Blake Babies, Melbourne’s Frente (sometimes spelled with and exclamation point at the end) was powered by a male-female tandem—the potent pairing of singer Angie Hart and guitarist Simon Austin. “In Australia, Frente signified a changing of the guard as the first ‘alternative’ local act to enjoy significant mainstream success,” says current manager Will Larnach-Jones. “It came down to Angie and Simon's musicianship and the songs. Their musical chemistry just worked so well—it was at once naive and knowing, spontaneous and studied. Angie was one of the first Australian vocalists to sing in an Aussie accent, and this changed the musical landscape for many of the Australian female singers who followed. I think Frente and Marvin represented a time of optimism and possibility in Australian music. It sounds sappy, but in many ways they represent more innocent days—the songs remained pretty undressed and largely spoke for themselves.” Frente’s version of New Order’s classic “Bizarre Love Triangle,” a B-side in Australia, exploded after it was played on San Francisco’s Live 105 and the phones lit up. “I talked the band into stripping it onto the Marvin album. It was Doug Morris 101—when a record reacts, chase it,” Faires says, referring to one of his mentors, legendary record man Doug Morris, who was then Atlantic’s chairman. Powered by the radio and MTV hit, Marvin sold a half-million copies in the U.S. and generated big numbers worldwide—including Australia, where it kept Madonna from hitting #1. That was gratifying to the Mammoth gang, considering the band had been offered a far bigger deal by Madge’s Maverick label. “We met with Jay and the Mammoth staff in Chapel Hill right after meeting with Maverick,” Hart recalls. “I was 21, and it was my first trip to the U.S. Although the jet-lag had well kicked in by this point, their hospitality was more than enough to lift my spirits and keep me awake. They worked out of a funky old building, open-plan style, and told me that we would have to work hard touring and writing new material, as they wanted to build us slowly to ensure a solid standing for our future. This appealed to me greatly. They seemed more like a family than a corporate label. My mind was made up without question. After a dinner of BBQ and grits, we played an impromptu performance for everyone in Jay's living room. It felt as if something very special was being forged.” They kept things going via a six-month tour of the States, which helped get follow-up single “Labour of Love” into the top 10 at alternative radio. “Mammoth were true to their word, and we toured like a band possessed,” says Hart. “Those were some of the best and the worst times of our lives. We had amazing opportunities supporting some of the great bands of that era, like Everything but the Girl, Alanis Morissette and Counting Crows. We were featured on all of the college radio festivals with the likes of Pavement[disambiguation needed ], Dinosaur Junior and Beck and performed live at radio stations in every town we went to. It was exhausting and eventually led to the demise of the band, but we forged the path they had talked about. To this day, we still play in major cities in the U.S. to good recognition, due to that 'crusade' that we launched when we signed to Mammoth.” After living in the U.S. for more than a decade, Hart and Austin recently[when?] returned to Australia. Hart has released two well-received solo albums, makes regular appearances on radio and TV and tours a lot. Austin has started a family and does audio technology and production. Frente still plays occasional shows.
Jabberjaw Compilation – Good to the Last Drop (feat. Girls Against Boys, Beck, Hole and Teenage Fanclub; 1994) – The underground Hollywood club Jabberjaw was a go-to place for the bands that went on to happen, including Nirvana, whose first L.A. show went down in the funky venue. A&R man Jim Barber signed Girls vs. Boys to Geffen after hearing their live take of “Magattraction” off of Jabberjaw Compilation. Barber was also “the reason Jason and the Scorchers had a second life with us,” Faires acknowledges, “as well as the reason we did that second great Kevin Kinney acoustic solo record.” He’s referring to 1994’s Down Out Law; Barber managed Drivin n Cryin, the band Kinney fronted.
Victoria Williams (1994–95, two albums) – Atlantic’s Danny Goldberg, who was a fan introduced Faires to the music of this Louisiana-born iconoclast, and once he got his head around Williams’ idiosyncratic vocal delivery and unique cosmology, she became the lone artist jointly signed by both labels. “I liked Jay, Steve and everybody at Mammoth,” she says of her experience. “I thought they were a really cool label because they did things together all the time, like going on retreats in the mountains. I thought, this is the kind of label I like.” Just beforehand, Williams had been diagnosed with MS after coming down with it while on the road opening for Neil Young. She had no health insurance, and her fellow artists rallied around her, leading to the Sweet Relief benefit album, in which an all-star cast tackled her songbook, with memorable results, notably including Pearl Jam’s stirring cover of “Crazy Mary.” Loose, Williams’ Mammoth/Atlantic debut, featured her own version of “Crazy Mary,” marvelously showcasing her one-of-a-kind warble, awash in Paul Fox’s burnished string arrangements. “Vic’s tonality and phrasings around her lyrics make the song,” Faires offers. “I also adore the lines in ‘You R Loved’ where she sings, ‘Jesus walked on the water, he went down to the drunkards and told them everything is fine/you r loved, you r really, really loved’—and those horns at the end are sublime. I don’t know how many times I went up to her beautiful, ramshackle house in Laurel Canyon listening through demos with her as she was making this record.” Next came the live This Moment: In Toronto With the Loose Band. When Mammoth moved to Disney, Williams remained with Atlantic, recording another pair of critically acclaimed LPs in Musings of a Creek Dipper (1998) and Water to Drink (2000). A few years back, on a trip to the desert, Faires happened upon the Joshua Tree village of Pioneertown and local watering hole Pappy and Harriet’s, which Williams had told him about. “What a trip—one third hippies, one third bikers, one third families and everyone’s chilling,” he remembers. “I order a beer and look up, and there’s Vic setting up on stage at 5 in the afternoon on a Sunday to jam with some friends. I hadn’t seen her in seven or eight years, and she was her same beautiful self.” With 14 albums under her belt, seven under her name and another seven under the Creek Dippers nameplate, Williams continues to perform regularly, including those Sunday afternoon jams at Pappy and Harriet’s whenever she’s not on the road.
KCRW Rare on Air (1994–98, four albums); KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic Vol. 1 (1999) – Soon after the Atlantic joint-venture deal went down, Mammoth hooked up with Chris Douridas, host of the hugely influential L.A. NPR station KCRW, opening a treasure trove of performances by the most prestigious left-of-center artists, all recorded live in the station’s tiny Santa Monica studio. “Danny Goldberg had moved me to L.A. to be by him after I did Atlantic deal,” Faires remembers, “and as I commuted between my place in Silver Lake and the Atlantic offices, I’d listen to Chris Douridas’ show every morning, and I was hooked. Those four CDs Chris curated are full of amazing stuff. Air’s ‘Come Away’ is ethereal, timeless and so freakin’ French—like waves crashing. Jeff Buckley’s ‘So Real’ is one of my favorite tracks Douridas ever culled from his extensive sessions; it may even surpass the album version. The first time Radiohead played “Subterranean Homesick Alien” live was on Chris’ show, and as might be expected, it’s beautiful. Evan Dando’s harmonizing with Juliana on the live version of his Lemonheads song ‘My Drug Buddy’ reminds me of how great they were. Jules played bass on It’s a Shame About Ray, and her voice is all over the track. Their harmonizing on the chorus is so innocent and so dark at the same time, which neatly sums up the two of them in their twisted friendship/love connection.”
Seven Mary Three (1995-1998, three albums) – Orlando native Jason Ross formed 7M3 with Virginians Jason Pollock (guitar) and Giti Khalsa (drums) while all three were sophomores at William and Mary. As things got serious, Ross persuaded his high school buddy Casey Daniel (bass) to move from Orlando to Williamsburg in order to complete the lineup. Ross’ taste, shaped by ’80s radio, was heavily impacted by the first blast of grunge coming out of Seattle, which gave him an outlet for his own pent-up anger. “Cumbersome,” the most articulate initial expression of his aggression, got picked up by an Orlando station and spread around the South, getting the attention of all sorts of labels. A showcase was arranged in an Orlando club, and all the majors sent reps—but Mammoth (invited by the band because Dillon Fence was so big in Virginia) took it a step further, as the entire staff of the tiny company showed up at the gig. “I’m still friends with every one of those people,” says Ross, who now lives in the Chapel Hill area because of the relationships he formed during those days. After signing with Mammoth, Seven Mary Three became the subject of what Ross describes as the label’s grand experiment: taking the commercial inroads made by Frente and Hatfield via the Atlantic partnership and knocking one out of the park, which they proceeded to do, selling 1.3 million copies of the band’s debut album, American Standard, fueled by the exploding “Cumbersome,” which went Top 10 alternative and kept AC/DC and the Red Hot Chili Peppers out of the #1 slot on the rock charts. Not only that, but the video went to #3 at MTV. While touring behind the record, Ross somehow managed to maintain a full load at William & Mary while also working part-time. The band followed this breakthrough with the sprawling, ambitious Rock Crown, which stands as case study in how not to follow up a hit; Atlantic had been hoping for “Cumbersome 2” and more tonsil-shredders like “My My,” but the band delivered a 15-song album that aimed higher than the southern grunge they’d become known for, confusing the fan base. By then, Faires had sold the company to Disney, and the exit agreement from Atlantic stipulated that he leave 7M3 behind. The split between the band and its support system coincided with further songwriting growth on the part of Ross, resulting in complete departures like “Over Your Shoulder,” which locates the common ground between R.E.M. and the original Allman Brothers Band, and “Each Little Mystery,” an eloquent, cello-accented ballad that describes in poetic detail the tender moments of a relationship. (Certainly, there was no precedent in 7M3’s body of work for lines like, “She rests her hands on the space between my neckline and my back/I can feel her fingers running through the feeling I didn’t think I had.”) In this case, unfortunately, artistic gains equated to commercial setbacks, because the band’s mainstream following wanted more of the same, and Orange Ave., which contained these and other gems, stiffed, effectively ending the Atlantic relationship. 7M3 recorded a 2001 album released by Hollywood Records after Faires’ departure, and they continue to record and perform on occasion to this day. Ross now works for concert promoter the Bowery Presents, while Khalsa is a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.
Jason & the Scorchers (1995–98, three albums) – This trailblazing, Nashville-based four-piece led by singer Jason Ringenberg and guitarist Warner Hodges was on the forefront of what would later be labeled alt-country, and they blazed through the Southeast during the ’80s like General Sherman’s army. According to Faires, they were the reason he started Mammoth. “I loved their debut record Reckless Country Soul,” he says, “and then, when I saw them live, it took it to another level for me about the transformative power of music. I’ll never forget the intensity of those shows at the 40 Watt in Athens, with Jason playing his harmonica as he ran down the top of the bar and Warner doing 360s with his guitar,” he says. “I even named my first Lab Ringenberg. For me, being from the hills of East Tennessee, Jason’s music always resonated.” The birth of Mammoth coincided with the breakup of the Scorchers, but a half decade later, the lineup reconvened for a one-off show, and they enjoyed it so much that Ringenberg was inspired to write a new batch of tunes, including the rousing “Cry by Night Operator” and the introspective acoustic ballad “Somewhere Within,” and after the band cut A Blazing Grace in a Nashville studio, they sent a cassette of the new work to Mammoth. So began a fruitful relationship and a viable second chapter in the Scorchers’ career. On the subsequent Clear Impetuous Morning, which ranks with their ground-breaking EMI records from the prior decade, the band hotwired the connection between first-generation country rock by twanging out a faithful take of the Gram Parsons-penned Byrds classic “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man.” Following in the footstep of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, Jason & the Scorchers won the Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance in 2008, becoming the first band to be so honored. These days, Ringenberg has a second career making music for kids as Farmer Jason, while he and Hodges recently[when?] dusted off the Scorchers nameplate to cut their first studio LP of new material since 1996.
Squirrel Nut Zippers (1994-2000, six albums) – This decidedly unconventional band, composed of rock veterans from the Triangle area, signed with Mammoth a week after playing its second show ever at a Chapel Hill restaurant. Debut album Inevitable, produced by Brian Paulson (Uncle Tupelo, Wilco) on a $6,000 budget and released on the first day of spring in 1995, sold modestly, as some skeptics carped that the Zippers were jumping on the lounge bandwagon. “We had no idea of what anyone else was doing,” singer/multi-instrumentalist Tom Maxwell says of the Zippers’ early days. “Combustible Edison or the Royal Crown Review would come into town and people would say, ‘They’re a lounge band.’ After we released our first record, then we too were a ‘lounge band,’ and after we released our second, we were a ‘swing band.’ But what actually informed what we were doing were Fats Waller reissues and bourbon.” Second album Hot, released in January 1997, became a leftfield smash behind Maxwell’s dark but infectious uptempo tune “Hell.” “That song was cool because it was impossible to sing along with, the lyrics are almost impossible to understand, and it’s got a good head riff,” Maxwell says with a laugh. “I was listening to calypso reissues from the ’30s, like Growler, King Radio and Lord Executioner, and I flipped out over the stuff, which was much darker and more aggressive than what Harry Belafonte was doing in the ’50s. And it was a typical Zippers thing—‘OK, I can do that.’” When influential L.A. alternative station KROQ gave the track a shot as a midday change of pace, the phones lit up, leading to more than 100,000 sales of Hot in L.A. alone, and the single spread across the country from there. “MTV saw what was happening at KROQ, and they slammed the ‘Hell’ video into heavy rotation the week after I signed my exit papers with Atlantic,” Faires recalls. At its hottest (pun unavoidable), the album was selling 30,000 a week—pretty mind-blowing for a group inspired by Cab Calloway rather than Kurt Cobain. Says Maxwell, “It was a shocking combination of timing and good fortune. That and an abundance of enthusiasm—we had that in spades.” It certainly wasn’t a result of lavish production—like most Mammoth acts, SNZ recorded on the cheap—“so it had to be about the songs,” Faires points out. Indeed, both “Put a Lid on It” (from Hot) and “Suits Are Picking Up the Bill” (from 1998’s Perennial Favorites) seem utterly timeless now, just as they did on the day they were released. Maxwell couldn’t believe his ears when contestant (and eventual champ) Donnie Osmond cut a rug to “Lid” during the 2009 season of Dancing With the Stars. “I didn’t know whether it was cool or not,” says Maxwell, “and then a friend said, ‘Well, obviously, your song has made it into the canon.’ And that completely blows my mind. You write a song, you think it’s good, you’ve got a little band, you drive around in a van, and if you can keep body and soul together, you’re doing fine. Anything that happens beyond that is extraordinary.” A lot happened beyond that; in all, the Zippers sold north of 3 million albums.
Pure (1996-98, two albums) – Faires credits Balcom for finding this under-appreciated band from Vancouver after they’d made one LP for Warner Bros., and subsequently A&Ring Generation Six Pack, a strong album that was little heard on this side of the Canadian border. “Sonically, the production is so stellar on the whole album,” says Faires, “We went with ‘Denial’ as the single but didn’t really get far. The lack of traction on Pure was actually one of the triggers for me asking to get out of my executive contract at Atlantic and buying my company back, just as the Zippers were starting to break.” After the band broke up in 2000, frontman Jordy Birch embarked on a solo career, forming Guilty About Girls in 2008, while guitarist Todd Simko is now an in-demand Vancouver-based producer.
Fu Manchu (1996-2001, four albums) – The label’s lone purveyors of stoner rock, from SoCal’s Orange County, were tight with Kyuss (whose drummer, Brant Bjork, would join Fu Manchu in 1997) and boasted a shredding sound that both anticipated and influenced Queens of the Stone Age. Faires, a die-hard surfer himself, loved the fact that guitarist Scott Hill surfed every morning, worked as a repo man by day and played in the band at night. While Mammoth couldn’t take them beyond being critics’ darlings, Fu Manchu is still going strong, releasing three albums for as many indie labels since their fourth and last for Mammoth, 2001’s California Crossing.
The Backsliders (1997–99, two albums) – Faires knew he was onto something special when he heard this gifted stone-country band out of Raleigh led by frontman Chip Robinson and guitarist Steve “Howie” Howell. The first album from L.A.-based Dwight Yoakam had brilliantly revisited the classic Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, inspiring Mammoth to tap Yoakam producer Pete Anderson to helm the Backsliders’ debut, Throwing Rocks at the Moon, and it was a marriage made in hillbilly heaven. “Song for song, the writing is phenomenal, on a par with the Zac Brown Band,” says Faires. “It had such classic songs, like ‘If I Was King’ and ‘Broken Wings,’ and “Cowboy Boots” says it all. Pete did an incredible job, but it always came back to Chip’s voice and Howie’s leads. We got it to #1 on Gavin’s alt country chart, ahead of some genius artists. I’m really proud of that record; I’d put it right up there with Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks. God, if we’d been more dialed into Nashville, we could’ve—and should’ve—broken this band.” For the last several years, Robinson has been playing guitar with Keith Urban.
Marcy Playground (1997, one track): The New York band’s modern rock smash “Sex and Candy” initially appeared on Mammoth’s soundtrack to the 1997 Sundance Film Festival hit Hurricane Streets and started breaking at radio before Capitol put out their self-titled album, which then went platinum. “Sex and Candy” spent 15 weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart.
Mark Lizotte (1999, one album) – It was near the end for Faires and Mammoth when he inked this gifted singer/songwriter, who was big in his native Australia. “Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads produced, and you could just feel it coming together in the studio in Sausalito,” says Faires. “Mark never got his due in the States, but the album is great, and ‘Dig’ is such a freakin’ smash.”
The Wiseguys (1998, one album): Mammoth’s final hit act was an electronica group picked up from a U.K. label. “Disney didn’t want me to head to heavy rap, and most U.S. alternative acts had gotten so formulaic and stale by then,” Faires recalls. “So I was digging into U.K. big beat stuff, the Wiseguys were my favorite artist on Mark Jones’ great Wall of Sound label, and we were lucky enough to release their second album, The Antidote, stateside. I still listen to the album, which is chock full of hits. We did the project in partnership with the Dust Brothers’ label, Nickel Bag—the name went over really well with the Disney brass, but I was too obtuse to realize that at the time. ‘Ooh La La’ had been a #2 hit in the U.K., and we made a great video that’s now a genius YouTube mash-up with ‘Grease’”—a hit in its own right. And ‘Start the Commotion’ has it all: great samples, cool horns and sick phat beats. A year after The Antidote came out, Mitsubishi put ‘Start the Commotion’ in a commercial, and the song went to #12 on the U.S. pop charts. They sold about 300,000 copies in the U.S., but by the time that happened, the Mammoth core team was long gone.”
Freestylers (1999-2001) – The brainchild of DJ/producers Aston Harvey and Matt Cantor, this English unit employed a kitchen-sink approach that took it past conventional electronica into the stratosphere. At its peak, the Freestylers’ lineup was 11 strong, including guitar/drums/bass, a turntablist, two MCs and three breakdancers—“and they killed live,” says Faires. “I loved the big beat stuff, and these guys were the best. I go back and listen to We Rock Hard  and get blown away. We let MTV pick the single instead of listening to our gut. They went with ‘Here We Go,’ a cool track that worked for them, but we knew that ‘We Rock Hard,’ which they cut with Soul Sonic Force, was the hit. I didn’t fully appreciate who Soul Sonic Force was at the time—I was so busy building the company and the vision for the label that at times I forgot to step back. We sold 110,000 albums, and it’s weird, I thought it was a failure back then—nowadays it would be considered a success.”
==Other Mammoth Artists:==
A Picture Made – Past EP
Downsiders – All My Friends Are Fish
Frequency – North Carolina Compilation
Vanilla Trainwreck – Sofa Livin' Dreamazine
Big Wheel – Holiday Manor
Vanilla Trainwreck- Sounding To Try Like You
Big Wheel – Slowtown
Transmissions From The Planet Dog - Volume 1 (Mammoth/Planet Dog)
Eat Static – Implant
Kinney[disambiguation needed ] - Down Out Law
Kill Creek – St. Valentine’s Garage
Laundry – Blacktongue (Mammoth/Prawn Song)
Porch (Mammoth/Prawn Song)
Vanilla Trainwreck- Mordecai
Alphabet Soup – Layin Low in the Cut (Mammoth/Prawn Song)
Banco de Gaia – Last Train to Lhasa (Mammoth/Planet Dog)
Banco de Gaia – Maya (Mammoth/Planet Dog)
Bandit Queen – Hormone Hotel
Children of the Bong – Sirius Sounds (Mammoth/Planet Dog)
Eat Static – Abduction (Mammoth/Planet Dog)
Eat Static – Epsylon (Mammoth/Planet Dog)
Eskimo – The Further Adventures of Der Shrimpkin (Mammoth/Prawn Song)
Feed Your Head – Volume 1 (Mammoth/Planet Dog)
Feed Your Head – Volume 2 (Mammoth/Planet Dog)
Fun^Da^Mental – Seize the Time (Mammoth/Beggars Banquet)
Quadruped – Vol 1 (Mammoth/Planet Dog)
Various Artists - Up and Down Club Sessions Vol. 1 (MR0103-2)
Various Artists - Up and Down Club Sessions Vol. 2 (MR0104-2)
Vowel Movement- Vowel Movement (Mammoth/Atlantic)
Clarissa – Silver
Dirty Dozen Brass Band- Ears To The Wall
Future Loop Foundation – Time and Bass (Mammoth/Planet Dog)
Jabberjaw Compilation – Pure Sweet Hell (feat. Everclear, Mary Lou Lord and Jawbreaker)
Jack Drag - Jack Drag (Mammoth/Hep-Cat)
Kill Creek – Proving Winter Cruel
Melvins - Stag (Mammoth/Atlantic)
MTV Buzz Bin - Volume One: The Zen Of Buzz Clips (Mammoth/MTV) (feat. the Dave Matthews Band, Radiohead and the Stone Temple Pilots)
Planet Dub – Planet Dub (Mammoth/Planet Dog)
The Raymond Brake - Never Work Ever (Mammoth/Hep-Cat)
Clarissa – Blood and Commons
Elevate – Interior (Mammoth/Hep-Cat)
Fabric – Woolly Mammoth (Mammoth/Hep-Cat)
Feed Your Head – Volume 3 : Accelerating The Alpha Rhythms (Mammoth/Planet Dog)
Jack Drag –Unisex Headwave (Mammoth/Hep-Cat)
KCRW Rare on Air - Rare On Air Vol. 3 (feat. Fiona Apple, Patti Smith and Ben Folds Five)
MTV Buzz Bin - Volume One: The Future Of Buzz Clips (Mammoth/MTV) (feat. D’Angelo, The Flaming Lips and The Chemical Brothers)
Strangefolk – Weightless in Water
Two Dollar Pistols - On Down the Track (Mammoth/Hep-Cat)
April March – Lessons of April March (Mammoth/Ideal)
Creeper Lagoon – I Become Small and Go (Mammoth/Ideal)
Far Too Jones – Picture Postcard Walls
Jocelyn Montgomery & David Lynch - Lux Vivens: The Music of Holdegard von Bingen
My Friend Steve – Hope and Wait
Natural Calamity – Peach Head (Mammoth/Ideal)
The Hope Blister – Smile’s OK (Mammoth/4AD)
10 Cents - Buggin' Out (Mammoth/Ideal)
Dirty Dozen Brass Band – Buck Jump
James Mathus & His Knockdown Society – Play Songs for Rosetta
Whalen – Jazz Squad
Splendid - Have You Got A Name For It (Unreleased)
Strangefolk – A Great Long While
Styles of Beyond – 2000 Fold (Mammoth/Ideal)
Frankie Machine - One
Hurricane Streets – feat. Marcy Playground, “Sex and Candy”, Xzibit and De La Soul
Jesus' Son – feat. Wilco and Joe Henry
Orgazmo - (Mammoth/ideal) feat. Wu-Tang Clan, Dust Brothers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Smashmouth
Reality Bites - feat. Juliana Hatfield, U2 and Dinosaur Jr.
The Crow - feat. Machines of Loving Grace, RATM and The Cure
The Crow: City of Angels - feat. Seven Mary Three, Iggy Pop and Deftones
Mammoth Classics on You Tube
Mammoth 20th Birthday
Seven Mary Three
Squirrel Nut Zippers
Dash Rip Rock
KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic
John Strohm's Music Blog
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