Can you go home again?
Back in high school, I distinctly remember vowing to leave Providence and never come back.
Since then, I’ve ping-ponged back and forth so many times it’s a wonder I don’t have whiplash. And yet — there’s something about this town that’s magic. Weird magic, but magic nonetheless.
And for me, the town’s allure was solidified through music.
Two bands in particular formed the soundtrack to my Providence adolescence: Throwing Muses and Coat of Arms.
Keeping Providence Weird
Mid-80s Providence was your typical post-industrial city — economically downtrodden and pretty damn culture-deprived. But, like anywhere, there were beacons of hope around if you took the time to look for ‘em. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that comics and music got me through high school.
I’ve seen the Muses enough, and in such far-flung venues, that I no longer even truly associate them with Providence (or Newport), or think of them necessarily as being a local band. Coat of Arms, on the other hand, bring me right back to Providence, c. 1987.I’d just moved back here from California. I’d started to get into weird comics (the weirdest I got at the time was Love & Rockets —I know, NOT WEIRD. But, context is everything, and I lived in a tiny cultural wasteland) and I figured it was time to branch out into music.
Somewhere along the way I bought a slew of cassettes by local bands like Sleep that Burns, Stained Rug Theory, and Coat of Arms.
Coat of Arms: Party Band for Weirdos
Coat of Arms stood out. They had a rep as a party band, but they also weren’t afraid to use instruments not seen in your typical 4/4 lineup (flute, banjo, violin).
And their sound was comparatively sunny-sounding and all-American, fitting in nicely with their contemporaries (fIREHOSE, Pixies, Muses, Lemonheads). Songs like “Common Ground” and “Indoor Poolz” were giddy and effervescent, equal parts power-pop and kitchen-sink glam. (“(When I) Touch You There” went all jangle-pop on us.)The band’s reach often exceeded their grasp, but that was part of the fun. Thankfully, their one-off reunion in 2006 didn’t add any gloss to the proceedings. (And no, the cheekily earnest cover of “Borderline” didn’t count.)
Throwing Muses: Fearless + Beautiful
Back in the socially awkward years of late high school, Throwing Muses’ first album and the subsequent Chains Changed EP were the most cathartic albums I owned.
Although I was also a big Joy Division fan, I preferred the conversational, open-ended quality of singer/songwriter Kristin Hersh’s often harrowing narratives — they were fearless but also approachable, humane, sharp. They felt like real life to me.
I don’t think I’d ever seen a songwriter write so matter-of-factly, and so un-self-pityingly, about some of the bleakest experiences of her life — or with such wry humor.
The Muses didn’t really fit in to the Providence scene, and maybe that’s why I loved (love) them so much. But then, I’ve always loved the outliers, the outsiders and the oddballs.
Coat of Arms singer Pip Everett’s got a couple of bands going right now: The Hope Anchor + Everett Bros. Moving Co. Follow The Hope Anchor.
Pip also just recorded a track (or two?) for Tanya Donelly’s next Swan Song series. Not sure when it’s coming out — check Tanya’s website for release dates.
IMAGES: THROWING MUSES IN 1985 (PHOTO BY J NARCIZO) / COAT OF ARMS’ ROUST! CASSETTE (1987) / COAT OF ARMS + SUBJECT TO CHANGE FLYER, 1985 (COURTESY OF CHRISTIAN PUFFER / 1987 MUSES PIC CREDIT UNKNOWN — GET IN TOUCH IF IT’S YOURS!