By Phil Hunt
Even today, it’s hard to find a band that that had more impact on the Fargo’s punk and indie rock scene.
And other than their label mates, Cows, you’d probably have a hard time finding a band that’s more representative of the Amphetamine Reptile aesthetic.
Sure, godheadSilo was a Fargo band that seemed to receive a little more attention. And other bands on the Amphetamine Reptile record label, like Helmet, went on to a major-label deals and some degree of MTV success.
But Hammerhead was most consistent. They were more intense. They always delivered. And they seemed always to be on the road. They also rebuffed the major label offers.
“The interest came from Geffen back in ‘93 when we were touring with Evil Twin,” said Hammerhead’s bass player Paul Erickson. “The general consensus was that it seemed to be a lot of non-music crap we didn’t feel like dealing with at the time. Had we gotten involved with that whole business we certainly wouldn’t have been able to record ‘Into the Vortex’ in a week, and have it come out two months later. By the time ‘Duh, the Big City’ came out, major labels had lost most of their interest in the type of music we were doing. Do you not remember the techno scare of ‘97? Prodigy?”
The trio of Jeff Mooridian, Jr. Paul Erickson and Paul Sanders started out in Fargo. It’s a fact that follows them to this day. Even the popular blog, Brooklyn Vegan, called attention to it in a post about their recent NYC reunion.
Reunion, you say? Yes indeed. Amphetamine Reptile (Amrep for short), is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and Hammerhead—disbanded since 1996 or so when guitarist Paul Sanders left the group—got back together for the label’s upcoming bash in Minneapolis. Leading up to the show are a few additional dates.
Fargo fans that remember seeing them—or wish they did—are in luck. On August 14, Hammerhead is scheduled to come through their original home town…and perform in the same room they originally used as their practice spot: The Aquarium.
“Fargo was my home for the college, college drop-out days, which is always an interesting period of fun and development,” recalls Erickson. “Not only is it where Hammerhead started, but also earlier bands we were in together.”
Hammerhead’s three LPs were essential for any fan of Minneapolis rock in the 1990s— as are their singles, EP and handful of compilation tracks. If someone mentions Amrep, it’s usually only a matter of time before you hear Hammerhead’s name, along with other greats like Melvins, Boss Hog, God Bullies, Unsane, Cosmic Psychos or Today is the Day.
Their aggressive racket, filled with nervous, paranoid energy that tramples over you like a rampaging horde of Vikings, possesses all of the qualities that came to define (or rather stereotype) the influential Minneapolis label.
Like the aforementioned godheadSilo, Hammerhead left Fargo in the early ‘90s. They did it pretty early in the history of their band and quickly made a name for themselves in the Twin Cities. At live shows, it felt and sounded like someone kicked over an amplified hornets’ nest. They lumbered across the stage, guitars swinging, and lunged barking into microphones like hoarse, vicious attack dogs. It was something to behold, and something that many fans in Fargo remember vividly.
Then, after their critically hailed album, “Duh, the Big City,” guitarist Paul Sanders quit.
“The crazy thing is once in a while seeing a review of ‘Duh’ where they talked about the new guitarist on the record,” said Erickson. “Come on people, Paul’s NAME and PICTURE are RIGHT THERE ON THE ALBUM! Some of Sanders’ finest guitar work in my opinion.”
Mooridian and Erickson tried to keep the band up after Sanders’ departure, but it fizzled out after a couple of replacement guitarists.
“I think we convinced ourselves there was an earnest attempt to keep going, Erickson noted. “Mostly we were finishing the job we thought was expected of us. At that time, on our level at least, if you wanted to sell records you had to tour. We only played a couple of dozen shows in ‘95, and those were mainly to get the ‘Duh, the Big City’ material worked out. So between the two other guitarists, we ended up playing almost 200 shows in ‘96. It worked. We ended up selling a lot of records, but of course it was a different animal altogether. One with shorter claws and cleaner fur.”
Tiring of this different animal, it was time for something new. “It was hard when Paul wasn’t involved anymore, but by the time Jeff and I finally pulled the plug for good we were ready to move on,” said Erickson.
Erickson and Mooridian kept their musical partnership and started Vaz, a highly regarded noise duo (and recently a trio with fellow Fargo ex-pat Adam Marx) headquartered in New York. They’ve dabbled in other projects as well. Sanders released a single with More RAM and played for a while with Heroine Sheiks. Eventually, time healed wounds, hatchets were buried and, contact with Sanders resumed.
“There was a pretty huge gap without much contact,” said Erickson, “but we’ve been in communication on and off for the last couple of years. It wasn’t too hard to decide to do it, as the timing felt right for whatever reason.”
Erickson said they’d flirted with a reunion once or twice before.
“There were a couple of times when Jeff and I were playing in the same town as Paul (Sanders) was living, and we would float the idea of him playing a song with us. The problem was no one remembered any Hammerhead songs, so we were just going to do a Flipper cover. This disaster was averted due to Paul’s work commitments.”
As they started up again, Erickson found the process to be second nature, although they weren’t exactly in full command.
“There were some fancy-pants parts that were kind of hard to figure out,” he said. “But it wasn’t too difficult to get back up to speed. It did take some practice just to get the physical part down. Also, none of us had even really listened to that stuff for at least a decade. No surprise. When Jeff and I are at Vaz practice, we practice Vaz. But, if on occasion I would find a bass in my hands at a music store or something, I’d maybe play a few Hammerhead riffs.”
Today, Hammerhead is in Never Say Never mode, going ahead with current plans, and even making tentative plans to keep going if they desire. Paul Sanders left a guitar in New York and Erickson has left a bass with Sanders in Minneapolis, “just in case,” says Erickson. He also mentioned a planned attempt to record two or three songs before their Fargo reunion, and having a CD-R or two for sale at the show.
Still, these guys have other irons in the fire, and there are no guarantees. And since it’s close to 20 years since they left Fargo, you’d better capitalize on their waning affection for our city while there’s still time.
“There’s some nostalgia about the place, but we don’t like to dwell on nostalgia very much. Now that I can’t get free liver and onions at Ralph’s, the appeal of Fargo-Moorhead is somewhat limited.”
If You Go
What: Hammerhead, Animal Lover, The Blind Shake
Where: The Aquarium
When: Sat, Aug 14, 10pm
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