Fresh Goods From Perishable | Post No Bills | Chicago Reader

Fresh Goods From Perishable 

Life After Loftus/ Phil Spirito and Doug Scharin

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Fresh Goods From Perishable

When Red Red Meat signed to Sub Pop in May 1993, it looked like Perishable, the label they'd invented to release their debut the year before, was a dead imprint. Even its next release, the 1998 collaboration between Red Red Meat and the New York trio Rex--Loftus--was supposed to be a one-off. But in the last two months, Perishable has quietly issued a string of albums by various groupings of Loftus members, and in the near future plans to release records by people who've never played in Red Red Meat or Rex.

What happened is that Loftus's album (also called Loftus) turned a profit. In the meantime members had begun experimenting with other collaborations. Rex drummer Doug Scharin had moved to Chicago in October 1997, which made things that much easier. Red Red Meat guitarist Tim Rutili and percussionist Ben Massarella, who've played together since the pre-RRM combo Friends of Betty, decided to put the Loftus money--and then some--back into Perishable so that these various projects would have a home. So far they've financed albums by Scharin's ethnic-flavored dub outfit Out in Worship; Drumhead, a mostly percussion project that features sometime Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone as well as Scharin and Massarella; and Rex bassist Phil Spirito's "solo" project, Orso.

Spirito spent several weeks in Chicago last February, recording Orso with Massarella and Red Red Meat drummer Brian Deck. By the time it was finished, every member of Red Red Meat had made a contribution, and the results sound something like a folkier version of that band in its last, most experimental phase. Spirito in turn spent a month touring as a member of Rutili and Massarella's ad hoc combo Califone. He too moved here, in July. "I was breaking up with my girlfriend and I felt that I'd never really hooked in with the music community in New York," he says. "I come here and I know everybody."

"It's really great to have all these projects under one roof," says Scharin, who also plays in the rock band June of 44 (which records for Touch and Go subsidiary Quarterstick) and heads his own "solo" project, Him (with records on three different labels). "It's like how all the old Funkadelic side projects were on the same label or how old jazz labels would use the same musicians on a bunch of different records," he says.

"The whole music community is much more supportive here," Scharin adds. He says he moved here when the Brooklyn loft he shared with the third member of Rex, Curtis Harvey (who's done his own Chicago thing with Bundy Brown, Doug McCombs, and Come's Chris Brokaw in the little-publicized acoustic project Pullman), was condemned by the fire department. He hadn't planned on settling here permanently, but even though bandmates from his various projects are scattered around the globe--Joe Goldring from Out in Worship lives in San Francisco, Jeff Mueller from June of 44 resides in Philadelphia, and Harvey's currently in Vietnam--he's not thinking about leaving anytime soon. "We're making a little bit of money," he says, "so getting around isn't such a big deal anymore."

Spirito and Scharin have faith that Perishable can continue to provide something like a living for its roster. "They're trying to do it right," says Scharin, who's arranged informational meetings between Massarella and employees at Touch and Go to help him learn the business. Like Touch and Go, Perishable does not use written contracts and generously splits net profits with the artists fifty-fifty. "I feel more comfortable doing it with these guys than with any old label because they're my friends," Scharin says. "It might be a struggle for the first couple of years, but I'm willing to work with them because their hearts are in the right place, and I honestly think it's going to be a good thing."

According to Massarella, they're off to a good start: all three new releases have broken even in their first month in stores. Next he plans to release the debut full-length by Califone; a pair of records by a qawwali group called the Warsi Brothers, whom Rutili met while they were recording at Brad Wood's Idful Music in 1996; and an album and two remix EPs by local drone rockers Frontier. Orso--in this incarnation a quartet--plays Saturday at Empty Bottle, and Out in Worship will make its Chicago debut in mid-May, when the group's U.S. tour winds down.

Postscripts

In September, Brian Deck began operating a new recording studio called Clava, largely financed by Ben Massarella. Clava has both analog and digital capability and uses the popular Pro Tools software, but its biggest selling point is that it's mobile: though half the work Deck has done at Clava thus far--including forthcoming records by Chris Mills, Frontier, and Ilium--has been done at a space in Pilsen, every piece of equipment is built into its own wheeled case and the whole shebang can be set up almost anywhere in half a day. For more information and rates call 312-492-8750.

Local country rocker Anna Fermin and her band, Trigger Gospel, just finished recording a new album at Kingsize with Austin-based producer Lloyd Maines (Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Wayne Hancock, Richard Buckner) and guest accordionist Joel Guzman (Los Super Seven).

Last month U.S. Maple recorded Talker--the band's third album and its first for Drag City--with former Swans leader Michael Gira in New York. It's due out in June.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Phil Spirito and Doug Scharin photo by Nathan Mandell.

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