Although I’ve slowed down quite a bit, I still make and give away “mixtapes.” It’s always been a part of my love of music. A few years back I made a Columbus mix, with the self-imposed restriction of using only songs I either had or could buy on iTunes. Many of the albums I’ve written about had songs on that mix and one of the songs I discovered while making the mix was Scrawl’s 11:59 (It’s January) from Nature Film. With the new year here, give it a listen. It’s sad, but it’s easy to relate as we inch towards year three of the pandemic. Originally recorded for Simple Machines' Working Holiday 7" series, it’s just a beautiful song.
Elektra - 62186-2
While opinions vary on the benefit of streaming services to the music industry, and artists, in particular, the great thing for a voracious music fan like myself is the ability to do a deep dive on almost any artist. You hear about people binge-watching TV series on streaming services all the time, but binge-listening is less talked about, if not less common. Anyway, I like to binge listen occasionally and after getting into their version of Do You Hear What I Hear on The Gift, that’s what I’ve been doing with Scrawl. Coming through that, Nature Film emerged as my clear favorite of their catalog.
I wasn’t unaware of Scrawl growing up, it’s just that they were pretty outside of my wheelhouse. They were a Stache’s band, I was a South Berg guy. What little I heard of their music didn’t do much for me. I thought of them as a punk band, although punk-influenced or post-punk I guess is more accurate. Regardless of what you think about major labels though, their signing to Elektra turned some heads. It’s a pretty big deal - you can still count on your hands the number of Columbus bands that have done it. Of course, a lot of their fans were nonplussed, indie ethos being what they are.
When I started this blog, I decided that I'd begin by focusing on label (although not necessarily major label) records. This wasn’t so much because I place much importance on it, or think these bands are better or more deserving, but because it helps narrow my focus on a topic that is so wide-ranging and yet so obscure. Still, I have friends who’ve never heard of anyone I’ve written about (don’t worry, I’ll get to Lil’ Bow Wow eventually). It’s proved useful to me, though I’m not being strict about it. That said, and knowing that many fans prefer Scrawl’s early stuff, I planned to start with an album with the original line-up of Marcy Mays, Sue Harshe, and Carolyn O'Leary.
I ordered the CD of drummer O'Leary's final effort with Scrawl, Bloodsucker, directly from Dischord Records - the label that took over the Simple Machines inventory. Even though you pay a little more, I like to do this because a) it supports a smaller label and b) you tend to get cool stuff like a thank you note written on the back of a piece of the cover of Scream’s Fumble album. I dig Bloodsucker quite a bit - the heaviness, the songs, the melancholy - but had trouble with the production. Recorded by Steve Albini not long after his influential work on The Breeders debut, Pod, my tastes and philosophies on music production tend towards the opposite pole.
Scrawl's final album and second on Elektra, Nature Film, sounds fantastic. Rot starts with a distorted guitar riff and when the drums and bass come in - whoa. The mix is just right, with everything seated perfectly. Everything sounds great, but Dana Marshall's drums, in particular, sound fantastic. The vocals are where they can be heard without dominating. Mays' and Harshe's melodies are a strength and their unique and sometimes dissonant harmonies are a trademark. By the time you get to Charles, you’re scratching your head about how this album didn’t hit - particularly in the context of 1998. Not to say the album doesn’t hold up. It not only holds up but serves as an excellent entry point to the band. Every version of previously recorded songs is superior here. Many fans may disagree with that but, at least sonically, there’s no argument. Nature Film is essentially a “best of” and a damn good one at that. Clock Song manages to turn anxiety and procrastination into a catchy rocker.
So what happened? Elektra’s best-selling act in 1998 was Metallica, who had to sue the label a few years earlier to get a decent royalty rate. So, you can imagine how most bands were treated. Scrawl was dropped while touring the record. I have no idea if Elektra properly promoted this album, but several of their artists took to calling them Neglektra, so…
There's nothing critics like more than unpretentiousness, and Scrawl is definitely that. Nature Film was well received critically. Unfortunately, some critics seem to feel that the re-recorded songs make this a tossed-off or lesser album. Everyone seems to have a theory. They knew they were gonna be dropped and shrewdly held back some of their new songs. They wanted to get some of their older songs available to fans since many of their earlier albums were out of print and hard to find. Robert Christgau speculated that they figured the older songs would top their new ones. And he gave the album an A-. Who knows, maybe the muse was just elusive at the time? The reason doesn’t matter, and the fact doesn’t diminish the album at all. It’s just a great rock and roll record. And Scrawl is a seminal Columbus rock band. Nature Film doesn't have to be their swan song. Maybe they have another album in them yet?
Written-By – P.I.L.
10 Nature Film
Music By – Mays
Phonographic Copyright ℗ – Elektra Entertainment Group
Copyright © – Elektra Entertainment Group
Recorded At – John Schwab Recording
Recorded At – Dreamland Recording Studios
Mixed At – Dreamland Recording Studios
Mixed At – Fort Apache
Mastered At – Gateway Mastering Studios, Inc.
A&R – Nina Ritter
Artwork By [Art Host] – Jen
Artwork By [Concept] – Marcy Mays
Bass, Keyboards, Vocals – Sue Harshe
Booking [Touring] – Steve Kaul
Drums, Percussion – Dana Marshall
Engineer [Assistant - Dreamland Recording Studios] – Sue Kappa
Engineer [Assistant - John Schwab Studio] – Joe Viers
Legal – Gendler, Codikow & Carroll
Lyrics By – M. Mays (tracks: 1 to 5, 7 to 13)
Mastered By – Bob Ludwig
Mixed By [Assistant] – Matt Ellard (tracks: 3, 5, 9)
Photography By – Sue Harshe
Photography By [Inside Band Photo] – Michael McLauglin
Producer, Engineer – Tim O'Heir
Vocals, Guitar – Marcy Mays