Monday, May 31, 2010

Mal Thursday's Victory Lap

Mal Thursday's Victory Lap by Vincent Bator

Once upon a time in the early ‘90s, the western Mass. indie music scene was a vibrant, buzzing place to be. Rumors floated through the air (and in the “industry” thanks to a Billboard article in 1992) constantly that the next big scene after Seattle was Northampton.

To a degree, that hype was well-founded: Bands like Sebadoh, New Radiant Storm King, and Scud Mountain Boys were attracting the attention of the music business. All of those bands (or their collective members) were widely hailed by the critics and hugely influential on a new crop of artists.

But there was a great local music scene prior to those halcyon days, and one individual who both participated in it, and then later promoted it, is returning to Massachusetts to get his due.

In 1984, a Hampshire College student on the seven-year plan, formed a garage-rock band heavily steeped in the music of The Seeds, The Sonics, DMZ, Lyres, and Roky Erickson, that decades later would be influential on a whole new generation of like-minded musicians. The band was The Malarians, and that guy was the snappily-monikered Mal Thursday. In 1986, the group released its seminal recording In the Cool Room (Chunk Records) and the rest as they say, is history.

While not a huge record in its time, In the Cool Room (remixed and remastered in 2009) defines an era, a genre, and ultimately The Malarians. The band recorded a CMJ charting EP, Know, in 1988, and recorded an unreleased LP, Malarians for Mothers and Daughters a/k/a Heavy Hits during that time. In 1989, after a series of line-up defections, the latest incarnation of the band recorded a live LP, Finished in This Town. And a year later, the band was indeed done.

The Malarians/Courtesy of Chunk Archives

Life After The Malarians

Mal went on to form Mal Thursday and the Cheetahs in the ‘90s, working in the same vein as The Malarians.

What really cemented Thursday’s stature in the local scene was the label that he ran, Chunk Records, and the Bay State Hotel where he booked bands from 1992-1995.

Chunk Records released more than two dozen records (mostly 45s and compilations on vinyl), many of them by local bands such as Zeke Fiddler, Steve Westfield, Tizzy, Queer, and The Veronica Cartwrights. The complete story of the label is lovingly re-created by Thursday at his blog.

Thursday was partly responsible for growing a music scene in Northampton while booking the Bay State Hotel with local and national indie music groups. The Bay State Hotel had a comfy “living room” atmosphere that was both intimate and conducive to experiencing up-and-coming bands or bands that were breaking. For all that’s exciting about Northampton’s current music scene, nothing compares to those times.

Mal Thursday Returns

On June 3rd, Mal Thursday & The Cheetahs return to the Bay State (or the Sierra Grille if you prefer), and The Malarians as well on June 10th. A sort of victory lap, The Cheetahs and The Malarians will also play a date each in Boston, while the Malarians play Worcester and Amherst (part of Hampshire College’s 40th anniversary).

Never one to be inactive, Thursday, now a family man living in Austin, TX, has been busy with numerous musical projects, most recently overseeing the re-releases of both of his old bands’ recording output, hosting a show on GaragePunk Podcast Network and writing a film column.

In a recent e-mail exchange with Northampton Media, Thursday (real name: J.M. Dobies) talks retrospectively about his career, the Bay State Hotel, and why he’s touring again.

NM: How did a kid from Massena, NY, of all backwater ‘burgs, turn out like you?

MT: Growing up in Massena was sort of like growing up in Canada, in that it was 10 miles from the border, and an hour from Montreal. We got to enjoy the cultural benefits of Canadian television and radio. My parents were pretty cosmopolitan, my father being the young doctor who moved to the North Country because of the area’s Eisenhower-era boom economy with the St. Lawrence Seaway and the aluminum industry.

I always read a lot. I loved rock ‘n’ roll. I went to boarding school in 1977, where I first dabbled in music, and tried to sing with a band. In the Fall of 1980, I went to Hampshire College which was where I really got into music, much to the detriment of my studies (although I did eventually graduate seven years later)...


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