Idaho Arts Quarterly » Noteworthy

Filling the Void

"Hard Math Radio" plays Idaho's alternative evolution

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Anyone who's been in Idaho long enough to witness the evolution of the local alternative music scene knows how much it has grown and diversified. In the '80s, few venues offered live music or featured local musicians. Influenced by '70s punk rock, a number of Idaho youths embraced the subculture, politics and music of the time. They picked up guitars, formed bands with their friends and played gigs on such unconventional stages as the American Legion Hall in West Boise and Brass Lamp Pizza. While the Rubik's Cube was keeping the masses puzzled and Back to the Future was making its debut, these spiky-haired kids were moving things in a different direction. The opportunity for a more diverse music scene was ripening in Idaho, and they were taking advantage of it.

Patrick Perkins, drummer and vocalist of the band The Universal, remembers the days when finding a venue to play was a struggle. "Back then, there wasn't really the Nirvana breakout yet so things were in kind of an 'us vs. them' sort of state for a long time," he says. "People rented grange halls and threw shows wherever they could."

Over the next few years, the local music scene exploded. Clubs like The Crazy Horse and The Zoo became pit stops for touring bands who would take the stage for five bucks a ticket. Some of those bands have become well known: The Flaming Lips, Nirvana, Black Flag. They brought inspiration to those gig-starved kids, some of whom traveled from Nampa, Emmett and Moscow just to see the shows.

With the grunge era of the '90s right around the corner, new clubs continued to open and more bands toured through Idaho. The opportunity for musical expansion was at a prime. Soon, local bands started opening for larger touring acts and touring themselves. The music that was coming out of Idaho seemed to be in perfect synch with the zeitgeist. The music was new, the venues were new and the era was new. During this period, some Idaho bands were signed to labels such as CZ Records and Up Records. Butterfly Train, Caustic Resin and Built to Spill made names for themselves, not only in the local scene, but in the Northwest and national scenes as well.

Today, with those "kids" in their mid 30s and 40s, Jason Sievers is bringing their memories back with a radio show called "Hard Math Radio" that Web casts on Radio Boise at www.radioboise.org.

Sievers attended high school in Lewiston in the early '90s. During that time, he became a fan of the Northwest rock scene and fed off anything produced by Seattle's Sub Pop Records. He was one of those kids who gathered all of his friends to listen to the latest cassette from a newly discovered band. "Every time someone was over at my house," says Sievers, "I would say, 'Here, you've got to hear this.'"

In 1994, after two years at a community college in Montana, Sievers transferred to Boise State. Once arriving in Boise, The Record Exchange quickly became his favorite "after-paycheck" pit stop as he continued to discover more alternative music from Idaho. There, he purchased the first Rotating Tongues recording. That CD, recorded 15 years ago, featured a compilation of 20 local alternative bands. For Sievers, it was instrumental in creating an appreciation for specific bands. "Rotating Tongues introduced me to the likes of el Dopamine, Graveltruck and Boneflower—bands who I'd get to know better through shows at The Crazy Horse and later, Neurolux," says Sievers.

Sievers started a 'zine in the late '90s called Antfarm. In it, he featured music-related content including reviews and interviews with local bands. His connections soon turned into friendships and before long, Sievers was using his considerable artistic talents to make stop-motion animated videos and posters for local bands, which he continues to do. To date, his portfolio contains work for bands such as Suffocation Keep, ReVoLt ReVoLt, Finn Riggins and The Universal.

Sievers never aspired to have his own radio show; it was just a natural progression. Last year, he received an opportunity he couldn't refuse. Radio Boise (formerly known as Boise Community Radio) is an Internet-based radio station run by volunteers who place a strong emphasis on locally programmed content. While doing the art for some event posters for Radio Boise, Sievers found out they were looking for DJs. He jumped at the chance and "Hard Math Radio" was born.

Perkins recognizes the importance of locally produced public radio. "'Hard Math' and Radio Boise are great because they are not done out of any obligation other than a dedication to their vision," he says. "'Hard Math' puts a ton of stuff in one place—stuff that I haven't heard in over a decade. It makes me realize how many great and talented bands have come and gone in such a short span of time, many without the recognition they deserved. I also like that there's no guy behind a desk calling the shots or developing playlists based on demographic data, and I love that the playlist is available every week, like the old days where the DJ announced each song."

Sievers' choice of music is shaped by his personal collection, but he tries to be democratic in his selections. "I'll play crazy old punk that is maybe a little more hardcore than my taste, or some nice folksy stuff that might be a little mellower than my taste," he says. The only requirements: It has to be Idaho-based, and he has to like it.

Sievers admits that his favorite part of the venture thus far has been discovering the history in the local music scene. Digging up old, obscure pictures and recordings qualifies him as a music archaeologist of sorts. Among his treasures is "Be My Test Tube Baby," a rare single from an '80s Lewiston band called the Zekes. One of his all-time favorite bands is Raspberry, a Moscow band from the early '90s. He also regularly plays two other Lewiston bands: Shamus and Glow.

While keeping a firm eye on the past, Sievers also expresses excitement about what is happening on the local music scene in the present. A second compilation, Rotating Tongues 2, was recorded from two live shows at the Visual Arts Collective in 2009. Sievers provided the artwork for the cover. "Hard Math Radio" listeners are taken back to the days of Haggis, Godzoundz, Lovey and The Pugs while being introduced to the latest from Pussygutt, Juntura, Fauxbois and The Very Most.

"As someone who has been in Boise for almost 15 years, I think right now is one of the most exciting times for local music in terms of bands and varieties of venues," he says.

"Right now, I feel the momentum."

Listen on www.radioboise.org

Weekly playlists available at hardmathradio.blogspot.com