Rank Your Records: Seaweed’s Aaron Stauffer Rates the (Mostly Dormant) Band's Six Albums
A look back on the catalog of the Seattle band who missed the Seattle wave.
In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
“I can rank with the best of them. Whatever anybody wants me to rank, I will fucking rank that shit.” Those are the words of Aaron Stauffer, frontman for the now mostly dormant Tacoma punk band Seaweed. Now a nurse at a Northern California hospital, Stauffer has mostly left behind his career of jumping around on stage and screaming along to his band’s cranked melodies. But get him on the horn and he will gladly share his feelings about all six of Seaweed’s records.
Formed in 1989 just as grunge was coming to life about 40 minutes up the I-5, Seaweed never quite belonged in Seattle’s famous music scene, but found a kinship with many of the city’s bands, as well as a home with its groundbreaking label. They weren’t grunge, nor were they straight up pop punk or hardcore or metal—all of which they were called at some point—but a little of each. Seaweed had a pretty good run in their first decade, playing the first instalment of the Warped Tour, earning indifferent comments from Beavis & Butt-head, and seeing their Fleetwood Mac cover become a single from the Clerks soundtrack. They also released three albums on Sub Pop before they knowingly made the ultimate clichéd decision to sign to a major label—one owned by Mickey Mouse himself. Of course, it didn’t take long for that to go bust, but thankfully a pre-existing bond with the folks at Merge Records gave them a shot at redeeming themselves.
It’s their Merge album, Actions and Indications, that has brought Seaweed back into public consciousness after only a handful of gigs since unofficially reuniting back in 2007. Originally released in 1999, the band’s final album is now getting a long overdue reissue by the label, making it the only Seaweed long-player that will physically be in print. Stauffer is definitely excited to have an album all of his co-workers can tangibly own, but he doesn’t see it leading to a full-blown reunion tour.
“It could happen, but I wouldn’t hold your breath,” Stauffer says. “I kind of feel like, if the right location comes up, sure. It’s hard to play a show because it hurts me physically. I only have one show in me. I can’t do two. And I only want to do it if it’s right. I don’t need the money. I have a career. We all do. To me, it’s something special, and to not do it right is to disrespect the band and the fans.”
6. Weak (1992)
Noisey: Why is this your least favorite album?
Aaron Stauffer: Weak is the worst one. I kind of like that era of Seaweed. I think of it as a positive, fun time. But when I listen to that record it all sounds too same-y, and we were playing too fast. And I feel like the production on the album is really poor. It’s my least favorite, as far as production quality.
That was Jack Endino who produced it.
It was. And I like what he did with Despised. But for Weak, Sub Pop wanted us to go into a nicer studio, and it just didn’t work with Jack Endino’s methodology. His recordings that are good come from that one studio, where we did Despised [Reciprocal Recording]. It’s the “grunge studio.” I think Death Cab For Cutie bought it, or something. [Death Cab’s Chris Walla temporarily used the building for his Hall of Justice studio.] So I like some songs on there, but I would never, ever listen to that record.
I love the album Weak album cover.
Well that was a fun show. Do you know who played that show? The Tree People. Doug Martsch’s old band. It was the back stage at the Capitol Theater in Olympia. I also like that album cover because I can pick out a lot of people I know in the photo. I suspect that Charles Peterson took that photo, but I don’t know. [He did.]
For Weak you guys played the second Lollapalooza, right?
No. We were asked to. We were too tired. We did the epic European tour: 69 shows in 71 days. It was crazy, and the first time I experienced back pain in my life. It was in the middle of that whole thing where Jonathan Poneman of Sub Pop said they wanted us to play the side stage on Lollapalooza. And we were just like, “Y’know, we just need to go home and rest up a bit. We need to make Four.” We needed to make a good record and we did.
Did you regret not playing Lollapalooza?
Not one bit. I have regrets about Seaweed, but not playing Lollapalooza is not one of them. I tried going to the ’92 Lollapalooza, and actually, it’s a pretty good story. On that European tour we played two shows with Pavement, during the Slanted & Enchanted era, and they were fucking amazing. Mark Ibold, their bass player, had been in this band called the Dust Devils, and they stayed at my apartment for a long period of time. Bands always stayed at my apartment. So I knew Ibold, and called him up when my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, and I went to New York. And one day he called me up and said, “Hey, you can drive, right? Because I’ve got a car and all of these Lollapalooza tickets. Wanna go?” And I was this huge Lush fan. So I was like, “Totally. All I wanna do is go see Lush.” But going to Lollapalooza is like going to Disneyland. You’ve gotta go hours before and line up. Or else in this case you’re in a traffic jam with a bunch of Red Hot Chili Peppers fans, while you wanna be seeing Lush—which is exactly what happened. So I missed Lush and don’t remember seeing any band I liked.
A lot of people out there feel that Weak is your best album.
Isn’t that funny? I think it’s ironic. The people probably know better than me! It’s always questionable when you listen to your own records anyway. But I like the Seaweed pop songs. And I don’t think Weak is much of a pop song record to me.
5. Seaweed (1990)
I think that’s a pretty solid release. I like those singles, but they do sound pretty grunge-y. And if someone asked me what kind of music I played as a kid, I’d say we were punk. Because my spectrum of punk, even before Seaweed when I was a teenager, was broad. I think of Beat Happening as punk. I started going to shows in ’85, when punk had already progressed. But I think part of it was that we were from Tacoma, and there weren’t many bands from there. We grew up in both the punk scene and the indie rock scene.
Well yeah, you toured with Superchunk and Geek around this time on the Wet Behind the Ears tour.
What I remember about that tour is that I love Jim Wilbur. I love that man. Superchunk, they’re just great people. If I could rank the Superchunk records, I’d say the best one is No Pocky For Kitty. I feel like people never call it their best though.
What made you compile your singles and release it as this album?
That was actually before Sub Pop, and Tupelo just asked us. And we were like, “Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s have a record.” Some of those songs are on Despised, and some of our singles were spare-parted onto different records. But the cover for the self-titled record features artwork by Nikki McClure. I’ve known her forever, but I think she’s a fantastic artist. I’m proud to have her work on a Seaweed record, though I understand that she was never huge on us selling these shirts with her art and not giving her money. And I like how the cover is embossed. But it’s another one of our albums that I probably wouldn’t listen to. I’d just look at it. I hear a band that is amateurish, for sure. But it was a fun time.
4. Despised (1991)
This was your first release on Sub Pop. Was Seaweed signing to Sub Pop inevitable because you were a Washington band?
I’ve known Bruce Pavitt for a long time. He wrote about my old band Spook & The Zombies, which was really just me. We had a few songs on a K Records cassette. It was a bit like Jonathan Richman, Jad Fair-esque in a certain way. So Pavitt had seen me and written about my band a few times so I knew him from that. And we had so many mutual friends, too. But then Jonathan Poneman said he was the one who wanted to sign us, so maybe I’m wrong. Calvin Johnson had told us to just keep releasing singles and eventually we could choose whatever label we wanted. And on that Wet Behind The Ears tour, Twin/Tone wanted to put out a record. But we did a seven-inch with Sub Pop and they wanted another one, but we just said, “Either let us do an album or we’ll go somewhere else.”
Why is it number four for you?
I like it. There are certain songs like “Selfish” and “Stale” and “Sit in Glass,” which are all good. I hear “Selfish” and think “this sounds like The Misfits.” And I’m a huge Misfits fan. And the deal with Despised was, Sub Pop said, “If you guys want to do an album and we want to do a single then why we just do an EP.” So we recorded those six songs and Caroline the distributor said they couldn’t sell and EP like they could an album, so they asked to put some of our singles on it. We said “fine” and remixed them, but Tupelo was super pissed about that. Understandably. But we were just high school kids, basically.
So when you listen to Despised, do you listen to the whole thing or just the six songs?
No, I don’t listen to all of the six songs because I wouldn’t want to hear “Rethink.” That’s cringe-worthy for me. I would never listen to it. I have an iPod that I listen to with Seaweed songs, because when we played those shows I had to make a set list to remember them. And occasionally a Seaweed song would pop up on there. So if one of the three from Despised that I like came up, I would enjoy it. And with some songs I have to run over and skip over them. But I like that era of Seaweed.
Jack Endino also produced this record. What made you work with him the first time?
We liked all of the records he had made. And he’s a super nice guy. But when I went over and said hi to him at the Sub Pop 25 concert in 2013 he had no idea who I was! I could tell that he had zero concept of who I was.
You want to hear a regret? We could have done Despised with Butch Vig. The label asked us, “Do you want to go to Wisconsin to record with Butch Vig? Or do you want to go to the Reciprocal Studio and record with Jack Endino?” This was before Nirvana made Nevermind with Butch, but after he made the Tad record, 8-Way Santa, which sounds great. I think the guy is solid. I like Garbage’s “Only Happy When It Rains.” I love it! I bought it for a dollar on iTunes. And I feel like I got every penny’s worth.
3. Actions and Indications (1999)
How did the reissue come up?
Wade does all of that stuff because he’s a lawyer. Merge sent me an email saying they wanted to reissue it, and I was like, “Yeah, of course!” There is a part of me that’s sad you cannot get Spanaway. I wish someone would reissue that. The Sub Pop records are digitally available, which is cool. So, I’m a nurse in an ER and it’s leaked out that I was in bands. And I’ve played in bands since I moved to Mendocino, so people knew about it. And I have a picture of me in Seaweed inside my locker. So people have asked me if I’d sign a record if they bought it, and I looked at the Sub Pop site to see if they could buy one, and the only physical Seaweed record you can buy and hold in your hand is the “Go Your Own Way” CD single. It’s too bad, but I guess it doesn’t really matter.
Some of Actions and Indications I love. There are three really good songs – “Antilyrical,” “Thru the Window” and “Steadfast Shrine” – that I feel are three of the best things Seaweed ever did. It’s one of the two records that Clint recorded, which is cool. This is backtracking, but Clint also recorded the demos for Weak and they’re better than the actual version. He’d like to just throw them up on the internet.
How did you end up on Merge? Was it because you were friends with Mac and Laura?
Yeah, they just asked us. Basically we had been dropped from Hollywood. Actually we had asked Hollywood to release us from purgatory. So we were at a Superchunk show in Seattle and they asked, “Can we put out your next record?” And we were like, “Of course!” It was really that simple.
Why did it take so long between Spanaway and Actions and Indications? Four years seemed long for you guys.
Being tied up with Hollywood was part of it, but we also wrote some really shitty music during that period of time. Like doing these bonus tracks for the reissue, Clint went through the whole thing, an album’s worth of stuff. And there were some fucking terrible songs. But I have to say, one of the songs, “Ghosts,” that appears is an awesome song. That can now be added to my fourth great song on this record. The other two I can’t vouch for—I’m not even sure what they are! But I was smoking a lot of pot and had some pretty fucked up ideas about what we were doing with our music that now I don’t particularly agree with.
There was a rumor that you had a follow-up album called Small Engine Repair that was in the works. What happened with that?
We did write close to an album’s worth of songs but they were never really finished. There were parts and we rehearsed them. We did the seven-inch [and there were maybe four other songs were finished. The seven-inch made me realize that I don’t really want to do an album. It was enough for me.
2. Four (1993)
Why is Four two?
I think that’s a really solid record. It’s a tight race between Spanaway and Four. I want to say it comes down to songs, and I think there are more on Spanaway that are spectacular. But Four might be the better record. I don’t know. That was a fun record because it was the first one we recorded in Tacoma, in Clint’s basement. And there was this Vietnamese restaurant that opened up in his neighborhood that was the best! It was the best Vietnamese restaurant ever. We ate there every day. The East & West Café. So when I think about this record I think about eating there, and Ken Stringfellow from the Posies sat in for all of my vocals, because I wanted somebody to make sure everything was right since we were self-producing it. A lot of my favorite Seaweed songs to play are on that record, like “Losing Skin,” which is a hard song to sing but I really like it.
I love the video for “Kid Candy.” You must have been flattered when it appeared on Beavis & Butt-head.
Yeah, it’s on the DVD box set that came out about ten years ago. And Butt-head says, “That’s my bike!” Because his bike was stolen. I’m not sure if they talked about the music, but there was nothing negative. It was cool. I remember thinking about my mom doing Butt-head’s laugh. Which is a bad sign when your mom can do that laugh. It’s a fun song to play too.
Around the same time you released a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way,” which was featured on the Clerks soundtrack.
I thought the movie was awesome. Kevin Smith actually called me at my house and asked me to make a video for the song. It was a long conversation and was kinda cool. My favorite of his though is Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. You can’t get any better than the beginning of that movie.
1. Spanaway (1995)
You recorded with Andy Wallace, the big-time producer who had worked with Nirvana, White Zombie, Helmet, and Sonic Youth.
We were up for it. We loved Slayer! What we didn’t want was any producer at all. We wanted to self-produce like we did on Four, and then have Andy Wallace mix it. That was our original plan. But that’s not how it worked out. I would say I have no issue with the way that record sounds. I think it sounds spectacular. Of all the things that went wrong with that record the way it sounds is not one of them. In retrospect I would cut some songs off and make it shorter. But I think it has a lot of good songs on it.
You left Sub Pop for Hollywood.
Sub Pop tried the lamest attempt to sign us and keep us. We were flying back from Japan on this Sub Pop tour with Supersuckers, Fastbacks and this Japanese band Supersnazz, and on the flight back Pavitt sat down next to me and said, “We want to put out your next record…” But you can see through that guy in a second! It was like somebody told him to do this. They didn’t care or cry about us leaving.
So why did you sign with Hollywood?
That was a bad move! But they were willing to put up a lot of money. The A&R guy was the current president, so he would do whatever. We got management during Four and they wanted to do it. Before it we tried to get as much money up front because it was like putting everything on black. We thought what we were really getting into but we didn’t. I was happy when they dropped us though. We were waiting for it to happen. I think it was in 1997, after I’d moved here. Things went south with them by the time our second single had come out. And things had gone south with us. It wasn’t great anymore, and I was like, “Fuck this, I’m moving to Mendocino.” That’s why it took so long to release Actions and Indications, because we had pretty much disbanded. We didn’t say we were broken up but we were and it was on the schedule.
During Spanaway you guys did the first ever Warped Tour, which was actually pretty awesome with Quicksand, L7, No Use For A Name, and Sick Of It All. What do you remember from that tour?
I remember watching the drummer from Sublime beating the shit out of the singer from Sublime. The singer that died. [Bradley Nowell] Our tour manager said to us, “Stay away from Sublime. They are bad! The kind of bad you guys have never been exposed to.” And then one time I was smoking weed on their bus and the next thing I know there was some trouble. The drummer jumped out of the bus, and in the alleyway made by two buses just started beating on the singer. I have no idea what it was about. I remember No Doubt. They played a bunch of shows. Gwen Stefani reminded me of H.R. They totally reminded me of Bad Brains when I saw them! It was like a weird surf version of Bad Brains. And I also really liked Deftones. They were also like Bad Brains in a way. If you had never heard No Doubt and you saw them playing… she had this SoCal-Jamaican thing going for her. And I liked Tilt as well. We hung out a lot with Fluf and Quicksand. I always liked to watch Quicksand.
Will Spanaway ever get a reissue like Actions and Indications?
I have no idea. At one point I asked [Jonathan] Poneman, because we’re friends, to put out a type of greatest hits for Seaweed, because they did that for Supersuckers. And he said, “Well, send me a tracklisting…” And I was like, “Meh, too much work.” I did make a Seaweed compilation though, because I sometimes have to burn a CD for people who ask.
Cam Lindsay is on Twitter.