A wee history of the Band of Susans

"Ghosts and angels in my bed....."

The Band of Susans, from 1986 to 1995, were one of the most innovative, groundbreaking, and flat-out loud bands ever to destroy speakers in clubs across the planet. An "art rock" band who never forgot that the primary purpose of a rock band is to rock, they pioneered a style of sonic architecture that is still being imitated today. First and foremost a guitar band (this was a band who, during the "Young Elvs vs. Old, Fat Elvis" postal campaign, suggested that they'd rather have Leo Fender on a postage stamp instead), they forged a sound built on three interlocked, droning guitars underpinned by a thunderous rhythm section, and emerged with an overwhelming ocean of hypnotic distortion that owed just as much to AC/DC as to Rhys Chatham.

"For the living and the dead...."

So what were the Band of Susans all about, then? They were about sound. Not just songs (although they did have those), but the actual sound of guitars. They were also about minimalism; oddly enough, for a band with so many guitarists, they firmly believed in the "less is more" ethic. Robert Poss can probably play the entire Albert King catalog note for note, and guitar instruction writer Mark Lonergan is no slouch himself in the guitar-wrangling department, but you'd never know it from listening to them in this band. Instead, they favored crafting simple guitar parts that all locked together with the bass and drums to form a monstrous, hypnotic, swirling juggernaut of... you guessed it... sound. They were also heavily entranced with the possibilities of feedback -- this was one band that would never, ever work with acoustic instruments. Their approach to guitar parts and fascination for droning, wailing feedback meant that quite often their songs built to the point where it sounded like there weren't just three guitars going, but a dozen or more. Where i come from, we have a definition for this: Godhead.

"Who fill my dreams...."

So now i guess you'll want to know who was in the band and how they got started and all that stuff... hey, i thought you'd never ask....

A wee bit of history:

Band of Susans was originally formed in New York City in 1986, with Robert Poss on guitar, Ron Spitzer on drums, and three Susans in the ring as well (hence the name) -- Susan Lyall and Susan Tallman on guitar and Susan Stenger on bass. All came from wildly divergent backgrounds -- founder Robert Poss came from pop/rock bands Tot Rocket and Western Eyes; Susan Stenger studied flute under Czech flautist and composer Petr Kotik (and appeared on his album FOUR FLUTES), and also performed with John Cage; the other two Susans had careers in theater art and costume design, and in fact had never even played guitar before. They released their first self-financed ep, BLESSING AND CURSE, in January of the following year just to see what would happen; what happened was that a lot of people liked it (it was eventually chosen by MELODY MAKER as their Number 17 single of the year), so they played their first live show at the Lismar Lounge's Love Club the same month it was released and began building their reputation as one of the loudest acts on earth.

Contemporaries of such bands as Glenn Branca (with whom future member Page Hamilton played at one point) and Sonic Youth, they nevertheless had little to do with the art-rock/noise movement happening at t he time and certainly sounded nothing like the bands around them (with the possible exception of Rhys Chatham's ensemble, with whom Robert Poss and future BOS guitarist Karen Haglof had played earlier; they appear on Chatham's stunning album DIE D ONNERGOTTER). In 1987 they released their first full album, HOPE AGAINST HOPE and stepped up their touring schedule; in January 1988, unable to reconcile the increased touring demands with their careers in art and costume design, Susan Tallman and Susan Lyall left the band. They were replaced shortly thereafter by Karen Haglof and Page Hamilton, after which they toured the US, Holland, UK, and Germany. While in London, they recorded four songs in a John Peel BBC session that would later result in an ep.

Page Hamilton's tenure in the band didn't last long; he left the band almost immediately after the release of LOVE AGENDA in 1989 to form his own band, Helmet. Mark Lonergan replaced him in time for another tour of the UK, during which they recorded another session at the BBC with John Peel; upon returing to the states, Karen Haglof left the band and was subsequently replaced by Anne Husick, cementing a lineup that has not changed since (although it has occasionally been augmented on the road).

The rest of the story is pretty consistent: Albums and tours. Somewhere along the way, they became one of the most influential -- and yet unheralded -- bands in modern rock. Sadly to say, they disbanded in 1995, upon the completion of their final album, HERE COMES SUCCESS. (wah!) :( Apparently they decided to quit while they were ahead after releasing what may have been their most fully-realized record, the aforementioned HERE COMES SUCCESS. While I can't blame them for wanting to avoid sullying a flawless chain of godlike releases, they will be sorely missed....

However! Robert has worked on and recorded new solo material; he has also been performing solo (and with Nicolas Collins and David Dramm) in the Netherlands. Susan Stenger now calls London home, where she is working on stuff of her own. The two of them also joined Wire's Bruce Gilbert at one show to perform as the trio GilbertPossStenger in Manchester and London (in October). Their last formal recording session as Band of Susans resulted in covers of the Wire songs "Ahead" (available on the WHORE CD; see the discography) and "Drill" (which will appear on a forthcoming WMO release of artists doing their interpretations of -- duh -- "Drill").

Robert produced the latest record by Tone (from Washington, D.C.), which was released in the fall of 1996 on Dischord/Independent Project; he also produced the debut CD for Combine, who had a song on their latest release called "Robert Poss (American Guitar Hero)"... a fact Robert probably finds somewhat amusing and mildly embarassing....

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