Loopy Rhythms, Slow Disintegration
What caused the breakup of Shrimp Boat? The slightly off-kilter, horns 'n' guitar driven dance band was at heart the pairing of guitarists Ian Schneller and Sam Prekop, onetime schoolmates, always pals, until recently even roommates. Schneller says he was "fired by Richard Milne," the 'XRT DJ who was the band's manager. Prekop, however, says that's "absolutely incorrect," that the band "just dissolved, basically." Onlookers agree that given the essence of the band, it all comes down to Prekop's not wanting to play with Schneller anymore.
The group formed when the pair met as students at the School of the Art Institute in the mid-80s. Schneller was getting a master's in sculpture; Prekop was an undergrad in painting. A painting master's candidate, David Kroll, became the group's bass player, and the incipient Shrimp Boat was filled out with drumming by Schneller's brother Eric, who later changed his last name to Claridge. The group played in local clubs and eventually made the record Speckly; when Claridge moved away he was replaced by producer Brad Wood, of Idful studios, where the band recorded. (Wood left the band last year.) The sound they created--on the independently released Speckly and the Bar/None albums Duende and Cavale--was a sort of intellectual, casual boogie: it was built around sometimes unexpected beats, Schneller and Prekop's twin-guitar picking, and Prekop's sometimes growly, sometimes falsetto vocals. The sound had a tinge of the novelty to it, and Shrimp Boat's fondness for loopy rhythms made it a dance favorite.
While everyone in the group shared the alternative mind-set of art over commerce, the members agreed they should get a manager. The group got together with Milne, an old friend of Wood's and a big fan of their sound. But Schneller and Milne never saw eye to eye on his role; perhaps unrealistically, the guitarist imagined that the manager would be "someone to help put up fliers," says Schneller. Milne, he says, "wanted to take the band in a decidedly more commercial direction. I had a problem with that." He cites the band's support spot at a Park West show last year. "Why should we get paid $250 to sit in a room with rotting vegetables to open for the Subdudes when we could make eight hundred to a thousand playing for a bunch of our friends at a club?" he asks.
Prekop sees it differently. "The Park West gig was a bad idea, but it wasn't necessarily Richard's idea," he says. "He would present situations. We had decided we wanted to play more: uncool gigs, we didn't care. We'd made that decision. It's not like Richard was making us do anything."
Schneller brought matters to a head when he tried to fire Milne. "Ian wanted all the records of the business transactions returned to him," says Milne. "At the behest of the other members of the band, past and present, I still take care of Shrimp Boat's business." Prekop and the other Shrimp Boaters backed Milne. While Schneller goes out of his way to say that at this point he's over the breakup, he still comes up with barbs. "As Oliver North once said, the rest of the band saluted smartly and marched up the hill."
What separated Prekop and Schneller? Even friends of Schneller's concede that he can be a pill. Wood euphemistically refers to "personality differences with some of the guys in the band" as the cause of his departure but notes, "Except for Dave [Kroll] we were all pretty difficult to get along with." Prekop says only that "we weren't able to hang out or work together properly" and alludes to "really pitiful lame stuff on both our parts" involving their living situation. Responds Schneller: "I'm serious about what I do. It may be that their definition of 'difficult' is that I don't cooperate with people who are doing things I don't agree with."
For now Prekop's back painting and Schneller's continuing to build his distinctive custom guitars. Schneller's new band is called Falstaff; they're playing Saturday night at Phyllis' and October 29 at the Empty Bottle. Prekop's new ensemble, the Sea and Cake, includes Claridge, who's back in town, guitar work from the Coctails' Archer Prewitt, and drummer John McEntire. Wood just finished producing sessions for them at Idful, and Milne's shopping around the tape. They're opening for Yo La Tengo at Lounge Ax November 13.
What may or may not be a Time cover story on alternative music scheduled for next week nearly went aground on the shoals of underground rock politics when Nirvana and Pearl Jam agreed that they wouldn't be interviewed for a story that portrayed them as competitors. For now, apparently, Nirvana's out of the picture, but Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder may yet concede to having his mug on the cover. Here are some excerpts from the magazine's memo to bureaus working on the story: "Music planning a three-page [article] for next week on the alternative rock movement. Our main story will describe the alternative sound, style and attitude....The great paradox of alternative rock is that this anti-establishment, maverick, outsider movement has slid ineluctably into the mainstream....Smashing Pumpkins even wrote a hit song about [the] constant struggle for hipness and honor in the independent community ["Cherub Rock"]....MIDWEST: We'd like you to talk to the band Smashing Pumpkins, in particular the group's leader, Bill [sic] Corgan....LONDON: We'd also like to get input from Victoria Clarke and Britt Collins. They've written a book about Nirvana that has the band steaming....This should be approached as quietly as possible because Nirvana really hates this pair....Other sources might stop talking to us..."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Nathan Mandell.