After nearly 25 years, the short-lived punk greats come roaring back to Seattle.
Doug Martsch didn’t care much for grunge when he came to Seattle in 1989. Years before the indie guitar hero became one of the Northwest’s most influential alt-rockers (with band Built to Spill), he was a teenage punk itching to get out of Boise. Martsch had hooked up with his Idaho hardcore elders from State of Confusion, forming the less abrasive Treepeople, and soon relocated to the musically fertile grounds of Seattle.
Like many great punk bands, Treepeople — one of Seattle’s underappreciated gems from the late ’80s and early ’90s — wasn’t long for this earth. But nearly 25 years since calling it quits, the short-lived band has reunited for a small run of shows, including Seattle dates at Neumos (March 28) and the Crocodile (March 29, sold out).
“It was so fun and exciting, that time of my life, playing with those guys,” Martsch recalls. “Just even being around them, they were kinda my heroes, anyway.”
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Their melodically grinding punk tunes, laced with scorching guitar solos, never fit neatly into just one genre, and upon arriving in Seattle, they quickly fell in with several scenes. Fellow Boise transplant Tad Doyle was an instant grunge connection and Treepeople played everywhere from Capitol Hill’s Squid Row to DIY punk shows in Bremerton.
“We somehow met some straight-edge kids from Bremerton and played a party out there in someone’s garage in the first week or two we moved there,” says Martsch, guitarist and co-frontman. “Somehow these kids had gotten a hold of our demo tape and were singing along to our songs.”
The band hoped to parlay several Sub Pop connections into a record deal, though the venerable label took a pass. After releasing three albums on C/Z Records, Martsch followed a girlfriend back to Boise and left the band for reasons too “trite” to rehash. Scott Schmaljohn, who also played guitar and sang, briefly kept the band afloat, releasing one more album (1994’s “Actual Re-enactment”) before disbanding. “When it fell apart I was pretty bummed and it took me a little bit of time before I was able to put something together and make that first Built to Spill record,” Martsch says.
Talk of revisiting those formative Seattle years started bubbling five years ago when Martsch joined Schmaljohn’s current band, the Hand, at Boise’s Treefort Music Fest for a few Treepeople songs. “It was pretty fun, but I also had this nagging feeling that it would be cool to do it right, because we barely practiced and it wasn’t really the whole band,” he says.
Timing was never quite right until drummer Wayne Flower, who now lives in Portland, put out a now-or-never call last year fearing his health was slipping. The reassembled Treepeople started rehearsing in Boise last June for the reunion shows, which begin next week at Treefort. The three surviving founders are joined by Troy Wright, filling in for Schmaljohn’s brother and original bassist Pat “Brown” Schmaljohn, who died in 1999. (Martsch penned a tribute to his late friend on Built to Spill’s “There is No Enemy.”) Expect the reinvigorated quartet to draw heavily from its 1991 debut, “Guilt, Regret, Embarrassment” — the only album that featured all original members.
“I definitely think it was our best record,” Martsch says. “It was all written when we moved to Seattle and we were practicing like crazy. To me that’s Treepeople.”
Treepeople’s doubleheader isn’t the last we’ll see of Martsch this spring, as Built to Spill returns in May for a sold-out gig at the Showbox. But fans eagerly awaiting a follow-up to 2015’s “Untethered Moon” will probably have to wait a while. Martsch, whose creative bursts ebb and flow, has about a dozen new songs, some of which are only half finished. After the tours, he hopes to find the inspiration to complete them and hunt for a new indie label (paging Sub Pop) after splitting with Warner Bros. last year.
“It used to scare me,” Martsch says of the creative lulls, during which he doesn’t want to hear himself play. “I’d be like, ‘Oh shoot I’m all done, I’m all used up or burned out.’ But I keep finding that I keep coming back to it. … So, I assume at some point it’ll come back. If not, that sucks but that’s life. Stuff ends.”
Treepeople reunion shows. 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 28; Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $25-$28, 206-709-9442, neumos.com. 8 p.m. Thursday, March 29; Crocodile, 2200 Second Ave., Seattle; $25, 206-441-4618, thecrocodile.com.
This story has been updated to include the correct death year of Pat “Brown” Schmaljohn.