Artist Spotlight: Skin Yard / Gruntruck (or; Where Drummers Come From) [Part 2 of 3]

A music scene, two bands, and six drummers… Part 2 of 3

Skin Yard – (Start at the Top b/w Watch) Fist Sized Chunks / Fist Remixed

After the tour for Hallowed Ground (not affectionally referred to as “The Tour From Hell”), Skin Yard was on edge, and personal tensions ran high. In late 1989, the group recorded “Start at the Top” and “Watch” for the Sub Pop singles club.  People in the scene were constantly complaining that Sub Pop never put out any Skin Yard material, and bassist Daniel House said they did it “Just to shut people up”. Sub Pop apparently didn’t market it at all, I never even knew it existed until 2001. It’s important to note that during this time, House was working for Sub Pop in their marketing department, while also running C/Z records, and since Sub Pop wasn’t putting Skin Yard on their label, House wore a Skin Yard shirt for his photo in their “corporate directory”. 

They’re both great tracks, and closer to the darker goth-tinged stuff from Hallowed Ground.

Commencing with the recording of Fist Sized Chunks, the band pretty much hated each other, and held it together but just barely. On the side, House and drummer Scott McCullum were the rhythm section for Chrome guitarist Hellios Creed on an album which guitarist Jack Endino produced, and Endino had other production duties (*ahem* Bleach *ahem*). While Helios Creed’s album and Skin Yard’s album were almost recorded in tandem, Endino asked Helios Creed to add some guitar to “Gentle Collapse”, and they brought Tom Neimeyer from The Accused for additional guitar on “Slow Runner”.

After the recording was complete, Skin Yard actually broke up for 14 months. However, no one realized because during that time the Sub Pop single and Fist Sized Chunks had been released. During this summer, singer Ben McMillan, McCullum, and Niemeyer started jamming together as Gruntruck, with bassist Tim Paul from Portland hardcore band Final Warning.

This album was the first full album from Skin Yard that I had found. I located it in an independent record store, in Upstate New York. It was not in a long box, but in one of those generic long plastic bubble packs, where they have the CD and jewel case in the bottom, but they take out the booklet and put it in the top part. The plastic was yellowed from who knows how many years under fluorescent lights.

If this was what Sub Pop, or anyone, based their opinion on Skin Yard being too metal, I can understand it, but I still don’t agree with it. This is an incredible, ferocious, and aggressive album. The band here is tearing itself apart at the seams (quite literally since they broke up), and it sounds like it. Even the slower fare just sounds angry and emotional.

In 2012, it was remastered by Endino himself for digital release.  There were many complaints about the original version’s production. Endino always said that Skin Yard was a focus for his production experiments that he didn’t dare do to anyone else’s work. Fist Remixed is even more dynamic, more psychedelic, and more powerful than the original version (which is why the original version only exists on CD).

Gruntruck – Inside Yours

While Skin Yard was broken up, Gruntruck had been working on what would become their debut album, Inside Yours.

The album, which was produced by Endino (he even played guitar on “Crucifunkin’”), was released by Empty Records in 1990, and then re-released on Roadrunner in 1991. The band was decidedly more hard rock and metal, and less angular, than Skin Yard.  The album immediately outsold any individual Skin Yard album.

I was sitting in a friend’s room, and he was listening to this. I was aware of this band, but they were on the peripheral. Then the scream came in, and I said, “Where is the cassette insert?” Just like that, I had a new band to obsess over.

Some of the songs are borderline thrash, like “Flesh Fever”, but my favorite is “Melt”, which is a slow dirge.

The album is fast, and over quick, but every song is a barn burner. Part of the fun is trying to figure out what exactly McMillan is saying, like “these are the beans in Skeletor’s mouth”. Obviously, that’s not correct, but it sure is fun!

(Knuckles / Bulldog 10”) 1000 Smiling Knuckles

There isn’t a lot of info about this era of the band, there’s an oral history book coming out… sometime? But who can wait? Anyway, this is what we have.

After the band regrouped, McCullum did not return. He was replaced by Barrett Martin, who would later go on to work with Screaming Trees, Mad Season, and REM.

Ahead of 1000 Smiling Knuckles, the band released the album version of the title track, with a B-side cover of The Beatles’ “Bulldog”. This version is drastically different than the version that would show up on the B-side collection Start at the Top that would come out a decade later.

The album was considered by the band to be the closest to their ideal sound, and it was their best selling album. In light of that, House decided he would leave the band, he felt that Knuckles was the best possible album Skin Yard could make, so he bowed out.  House was also fired from Sub Pop around this time, they accused him of conducting C/Z Records business while on the clock for Sub Pop. He stated that he did use their phone, but he did it after he clocked out… which is not a great defense, really. He was pretty non-phased, as C/Z Records was taking off at the time.

The album definitely leans toward the more metallic leanings of the band. The band is tight and bombastic here, it still has the atmosphere, but that aspect of the band is dialed back. On the whole, the band plays mid paced, heavy songs with “Psychoriflepowerhypnotized” and “Words On Bone”, a few faster paced numbers such as “River Throat and “Material Freak”, and they bring back the weird, jazzy instrumental with “Nietzsche With a Pizza”. My favorite, however, is the moody, slow dirge “Burn a Hole”, which closes out the album and is cousin to Fist Sized Chunks’ “Gentle Collapse”.

I had a long-distance girlfriend, we met at home, but she went to school out in Michigan. One day I get a surprise package with this album in it. She remembered I didn’t have this one! Immediately, I popped it in and listened on repeat all night. We didn’t last, we were 18 after all, but I got to add another piece to my growing Skin Yard collection.

Gruntruck – Push

Because Push came out in 1992, all media concerning it (which wasn’t much) existed before the internet was easily accessible, and the stuff that did make it to the internet, was presumably deleted from old Geocities sites. There’s next to nothing about this album, as by this time Skin Yard is effectively over (so there’s no connection to Seattle’s Drummer-on-the-job training program). But, Rolling Stone did give the album four stars, which is rare, because they hate everything worth a damn.

Let me paraphrase a story from Endino’s newsletter from October 1998. Someone had wrote in to say that a friend of their had bought a recent cassette of Bad Religion’s Suffer, but there was some other faint music that could be heard in the background, specifically between tracks. Turns out, it was Push, apparently the tapes were wiped (poorly) and resold as blanks to another manufacturer. I can’t think of anything more insulting to a band, “Sorry, blank tape is more valuable than your record.”

After the grueling tour schedule, bassist Tim Paul was replaced by Alex Sibbald of The Accused, and McCullum quit, and was replaced by Josh Snider also of The Accused. For those keeping score at home, the band is now three fourths of The Accused.

This album continues the metallic version of grunge established by Inside Yours, and the album was particularly hard to find, despite being on Roadrunner. I did finally get one from chain record store out of state on a trip, as if it were designed by fate.

I had already heard it several times, however, as my friend had the cassette from Columbia House. When I used to be a DJ at the college radio station, I used to mix “Gentle Collapse” into “Machine Action”. No one listened to my show anyway, except that girl who called every day and asked for The Doors.