Seattle has its share of musical legends. Before the “next big thing” tags and arena lights, their stories usually began in a basement or garage somewhere. Too often, they got lost to time.
Such was the case for short-lived Seattle punks The Living, a band consisting of a few local legends before their best-known bands made waves. Led by a teenage Duff McKagan before he joined Guns N’ Roses, the quartet was a blip on Seattle’s pre-grunge radar, ending in an unceremonious burnout before ever releasing an album. For nearly 40 years, the band members — including drummer Greg Gilmore, later of Mother Love Bone fame — had been sitting on the group’s lone recording, a ferocious audio document of the Seattle luminaries’ early days that never saw the light of day. Until now.
At long last, the forgotten EP gets an April 16 release through Loosegroove Records, the recently rebooted label co-founded by Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard.
“When I listened to it, I thought this is so many of the things I loved about 10 Minute Warning,” says Gossard, referring to McKagan and Gilmore’s better-known punk band. “This is so many of the things I loved about Seattle riffing in general. … If this record had come out … this is what would’ve been the biggest record in Seattle.”
Over the past eight years, Gilmore had made a few attempts at getting The Living’s music released, though it never panned out. In 2019, he sent it to Gossard, hoping his former Love Bone mate could help get it in the right people’s ears. After Gossard and label partner Regan Hagar fired up Loosegroove again to release Gossard’s Painted Shield project last fall, they knew they wanted to put out The Living record, too.
The legend of McKagan — the DIY punk-turned-stadium-killer — is pretty well known in Seattle rock circles. But the tale of McKagan’s place in the local punk scene, before his L.A. departure, typically focuses around his stints in more prominent bands like 10 Minute Warning, The Fartz and the seminal Fastbacks, with McKagan at times manning the drums in revolving door situations. The Living finds the GNR bassist on guitar and in the songwriting driver’s seat.
“I don’t know that people really perceive Duff, how much influence he had in Seattle at the time in the punk scene. But it was big,” Gossard says. “And I think this record really epitomizes why.”
The “1982” EP, named for the year of the group’s existence, is a 15-minute scorcher, the cast-iron wall of guitars in-your-face enough to singe eyebrows. Vocalist John Conte wails and sneers with an aggro sense of melody. A hard-blasting Gilmore pummels his kit with teeth-clenching fury, reinforced by bassist Todd Fleischman — an imposing presence physically and sonically.
Not bad for “a bunch of kids” practicing in Fleischman’s mom’s Laurelhurst basement.
“Everybody was all in,” says Gilmore, who (of course) joined the band after responding to a musicians-wanted ad in The Rocket, the city’s quintessential music mag of the era. “Just that simple. A bunch of kids just having fun and going for it, unrestrained.”
During The Living’s brief run, the band played a few gigs with D.O.A., opening for the Vancouver hardcore OGs at Munro’s Dance Palace. In the summer of ’82, Dave Dederer from The Presidents of the United States of America caught The Living’s final performance at a Pioneer Square gallery space. In a 2002 piece published in The Seattle Times, a caps-happy Dederer called it “the GREATEST ROCK SHOW OF ALL TIME.”
“My friend Ben and I and the 30 other people at the show were RIGHT THERE, slam dancing and bumping into the band and sweating,” he wrote. “There was no stage, no differentiation between the band and the crowd. It was just one big steamy ball of energy.”
“At that time, there were no clubs that were supporting this kind of music,” Gilmore says, “so all the shows happened in some sort of improvised space or situation.”
As Gilmore remembers it, The Living fizzled out after Conte split and, despite efforts to carry on as a three-piece, it became “not so much fun anymore.” (According to Conte, he was kicked out of the band.) Gilmore and McKagan later moved to L.A. together, where McKagan joined Guns N’ Roses. Gilmore wound up back in Seattle and joined Gossard in Mother Love Bone, replacing Hagar on drums. Typical small-world Seattle rock scene.
The Living’s posthumous release is a labor of love for Gilmore, whose fresh mixing and mastering give “1982” a crisp and punchy sound. The project also spawned a spinoff podcast primarily hosted by Fastbacks guitarist Kurt Bloch. Debuting April 20, The Living Podcast will explore the band and the early-’80s Seattle music scene, where a fusion of punk and hard rock riffage helped fuel what would come to be known as grunge.
Just a high school sophomore at the time, Gossard never got to catch The Living live. He was still a year away from picking up a guitar himself, inspired by seeing 10 Minute Warning — “one of my all-time favorite Seattle bands,” he says. But after hearing the songs decades later, it became “really really important” to put the record out and tell The Living’s story.
“There’s a lot of the nucleus of what inspired me and countless other people to want to play guitar and go out and play in clubs and get in bands,” Gossard says. “That group of people was hugely instrumental in that. That was a very small nucleus of what ended up being a very influential musical journey, musical genre.”
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