By James Damion
During my three-plus years of visiting Seattle's Singles
Going Steady, I've never once left the store without a bag
of records and a rewarding conversation with Byron Wilson.
We've talked about everything from his time as a volunteer
at the all-ages North Berkley, California nonprofit Gilman
Street Project, to his longstanding passion for cooking,
to playing in his own band, to his knowledgeable and downright
friendly tenure at Singles Going Steady. I wanted to share
those conversations with JerseyBeat.com readers in this
Q: During my visits to Singles Going Steady, we’ve
had numerous conversations about music and just about everything
in general. I was interested in finding out more about the
area of California you grew up in.
Byron: I grew up in San Francisco. We lived in the mission
district ( 13th / Minna ) which was a very different place
in the 70’s. My parents are both artists and we lived
in what was basically a warehouse. We lived upstairs which
was a normal house, but downstairs was a giant workshop
which was p retty great for a kid. We eventually moved across
the bridge to Marin county to a town called Novato .
Q: What first attracted you to hardcore punk and
how old were you when you started going to shows?
Byron: Actually, I went to shows at The Mabuhay Gardens
when I was a little kid ( I saw Crime, Avengers, 6 O’Clock
News and others..) because a friend of my dad named Brenda
booked a lot of the shows and made a lot of the flyers.
She lived around the corner so she took me a few times.
I still really only cared about KISS ..to be fair, I was
8 years old. Sometime in 1980, Brenda made me a tape that
had Buzzcocks, Jim Caroll, English Beat, SVT, Dead Kennedys,
the Zeros, Magazine, the Vapors, Tom Robinson Band, the
Offs, and some other bands which I listened to over and
over ( in fact, I still have it)
By then, I already loved The Clash and Ramones, but it
was the Dead Kennedys that really intrigued me. I had the
”Police Truck/ Holiday In Cambodia" 7”
and it was just so different than anything I had ever heard.
I would spend my weekly allowance on records. The Bay Area
has great record stores and I took a lot of advice from
the strange people working behind the counter. Everything
for me changed in ‘85. I saw Dead Kennedys, Descendents,
Social Unrest and a band called Sea Hags. The show was in
an old movie theater in Novato. That night I started learning
every punk song I could get ahold of on my guitar. I listened
to MRR Radio, subscribed to Thrasher and MRR. I made mixtapes
for everyone and then I started meeting all these creative
people. I graduated high school in ‘88 and by that
time, I was in a band and going to shows pretty much every
week. Between Berkeley and SF there were shows nightly.
Man, I really took that for granted. Thrash Metal was so
popular in the bay ( as well as the great funk threat of
‘89 where EVERY show had some dumb funk band with
a dumb name “ Psychofunkapus”, “ fungo
mungo” etc...brutal ) that when I finally went to
924 Gilman street Project, as corny as it sounds, I felt
at home. The shows were so much more fun than the thrash
shows I saw. I didn’t necessarily dislike Exodus,
Metallica, Death Angel etc. but their shows weren’t
Inside Singles Going Steady
Q: We talked about Gilman St. Project. What originally brought
you there and how did you become involved?
Byron: I can’t explain how important that place was
to me. I remember going to see
Operation Ivy. It was the first time of going to Gilman.
The people were just having fun.
Some were reading, some were drinking coffee, one person
was making a want ad flyer looking for an “aggressive
punk band” ,and some were drawing on the walls. It
felt like outer space. Strangers were all saying HI to me
and it was a really fun / creative scene. I got involved
because it seemed weird not to do so. First, I was just
helping to clean up after shows. Then, eventually attending
the meetings. I still think of how intimidated I was meeting
these people but they were so outgoing and friendly that
it makes me laugh in retrospect. (Oh right, I heard about
Gilman ST Project and OPIV from KPFA radio.)
Q: My knowledge of the club is limited to interviews
with East Coast bands that played there, tape trading, and
the documentary “Turn it Around.” Can you describe
your own experiences while providing somewhat of the vibe
the club and shows provided?
Byron: Well again, it was exciting and felt like you could
do this.. Be in a band, do a zine, etc. So many bands from
pop punk bands like MTX or Crimpshrine to super-fast hardcore
bands to just flat out weird bands. I do think that if you
were a tough guy kind of band (like when Slapshot played.)
You probably had a different response and less welcoming
with the audience. I’m sure it was cliquey , I didn’t
really notice it but ...
Q: What were some of the best acts you experienced
during that time?
Byron: Operation Ivy were easily the best . I saw so many
bands play that they all kind of blur together. J Church,
Jawbreaker, Oppressed Logic, Screw 32, Swingin’ Utters,
Capitalist Casualties , Christ on Parade, Gauze, 7 Seconds
etc., etc., etc.
Q: We talked about the band Fang. What was it about
them that scared you?
Byron: I went to see Verbal Abuse play at The Mab. I was
around 15 or so and by then, i was going to shows most weekends(
as long as my homework was done.) There were sketchy people
at shows, but not scary. Then that all changed when I went
to that show. All the drugged up super-duper sketchy people
from the south city showed up. In the southern part of the
city, it was more like what you hear about southern CA shows.
Way more violent, drugs etc. Anyway, first I saw someone
openly selling speed, like band merch on a table. Then a
fight broke out. This huge mountain of a person (who was
in a pretty good oi! Band .. I can’t remember their
name, they did one 7” in the mid 80’s) punched
a kid, which knocked him out, and grabbed the kid's cigarette
like nothing had happened. Fang was there and really what
I meant was that their scene was scary. (Although.. I mean
the story of Sammytown is well documented ) Every time I
saw him , he was out of his mind and erratic. He yelled
at someone about his knife and “ next
time I see you....” .. Oh and then B.A.S.H. (Bay Area
Skin Heads) who honestly had a pretty great acronym showed
up and tried to beat up the bands, crowd and just look menacing.
Nikki Sicki made fun of them from the stage. Tough guy that
I was, I sat down in the back with my friend and drank coffee.
Back then there was an 11 pm curfew so I didn’t see
Fang (which headlined that night;) incidentally, Verbal
Abuse really were good and fun live.
As an outsider looking in. it’s hard to imagine someone
leaving the sun drenched weather of California to the rain
soaked streets of Seattle. What was it that brought you
here? Was it some kind of witness protection situation?
Did a drug cartel put a hit on you?
Byron: Well obviously I went into witness protection. Just
like the Simpsons did in the episode "Cape Fear."
But since I was in SF, replace “sun soaked”
with “heavy fog and damp,” but the real reason
I moved was even more silly. I moved on a whim. I went to
see Swingin’ Utters in Santa Cruz and my friend was
thinking about moving to Portland and I was kind of thinking
about moving to NYC and we realized that moving to Seattle
was easier. It was cheap (sweet Christ, has that changed.)
and my mom lived in WA. So we could stay there while we
found a place to work and live. We made a deal “No
new job, girlfriend or band. We’ll move in two months”
and we did. Talk about weird.
Q: How long after arriving in Seattle before you
were manning the counter at Singles Going Steady?
Byron: Not very long actually. I started coming to the
store after seeing it when we went to see Groovie Goolies
play the Crocodile. The old owner Pete (XpeteX) and I had
mutual friends. At first Jim’s band Whorehouse of
Representatives was on tour. So I filled in for him. When
he got back, I then filled in for Derek when his band Murder
City Devils were recording and touring. Eventually I just
kept working to now where I'm the only one who works here.
Q:The store is within walking distance of two Seattle
landmarks, Pike St. Market and the Space Needle. Do you
get much foot traffic from tourists? If so, what’s
the typical reaction?
Byron: You know we do. We get the usual “Got any
Nirvana?” Eventually I noticed that a lot of tourists
want to talk about their scene or a show or band that they
saw. It’s cool. Everyone has a couple stories in ‘em.
I like people and love hearing their stories . It’s
like that Weakerthans lyric “ in love with love and
lousy poetry.” A few years ago, a hostel opened and
that’s been bringing in a bunch of tourists who often
ask things like, after seeing our section “What’s
new Crust”. When I answer them “s opposed to
used?” their blank expression is delightful. Sure
it’s petty, and I do explain the genre, but nonetheless,
Q: The store is located just blocks from where
the recent demonstrations, riots and looting took place.
Were there any break ins or vandalism?
Byron: No. Thankfully we’ve had pretty good luck
within all that. I mean crazy shit has taken place in here
but we’ve been spared from that. (Sadly, before this
interview went into editing, the store was broken into.)
Q: For those coming out west or just in general,
what does Singles Going Steady offer that other independent
record stores might not?
Byron: I don’t know. I mean, we are a store that
carries mostly stuff that we’re passionate about.
A lot of it is almost philanthropy. We don’t have
much money, but we buy records from underground bands that
by in large remain unknown. Sure, some make it but I like
that we have an Oi! Section, a Crust section, a hardcore
section, a Kraut rock section, etc. I don’t really
order a lot of top ten bands... not out of principal but
because they are available everywhere else. I’d rather
stock a couple extra copies of a harder to find band.
I will say that this store is as much as a hang out as a
functioning store. I obviously like to chat, and like to
talk music with people. I’d like to think that when
someone comes in , they feel comfortable and that they are
welcomed to talk and relax. I don’t think most stores
have that much of a chatty vibe.
Q: Having worked in record stores in sketchy areas
in my teens and twenties, I came to expect a mix of shoplifters,
mentally ill and high as fuck visitors. Being in the area
you are, I’m sure you’ve been forced to deal
with your share. Can you share some of these experiences
and how you dealt with them?
Byron: Man, there’s not enough time in a year to
begin to go into the absolute nuttiness of being here for
25 years starting with the scary blood-soaked attack (just
the one time, but that was enough.) A bloody trail was left
in the carpet (even after deep cleaning) for months... to
the nonsensical. Examples? Well there was a mostly naked
woman (she was wearing a full body lace thing that, well,
was basically nothing. Let’s say that Facebook would
not allow a photo of her.) Anyway, she came in, scooped
out some mayonnaise, smashed it on her head (it was then
I noticed the two black eyes,) said some gibberish, walked
around the store, talked to our Pinhead mannequin, ran and
hopped in tiny circles and then ran outside. Of course a
favorite of minem was this gentleman that came in the store,
dropped on all fours and acted like a dog. Sniffing and
walking like a dog around the store. He hung out by old
show flyers, just sniffin’ around. He was hanging
around for about a half hour until he casually stood up,
found a Mighty Mighty Bosstones CD single, handed me a dollar,
and thanked me for my time before running off. There was
the chap who stole a shitty concrete bust of Aristotle from
some front yard (still covered in mud) and wanted $10,000
for it. Or the guy whose arm was in a sling and dried blood
on his shirt who asked me to zip up his zipper. When I told
the chap that I was “ good” and wasn’t
going to do that for him. He got mad and yelled, “Why
you wanna see my dick?.“
I mean, there’s not too much you can do. If they cause
a problem, I'll kick them out. For example, I won’t
let anyone ask for spare change from customers in the store.
It’s really sad and mostly they don’t cause
Q: As someone who’s become more and more
active in cooking over the years, I think our little exchange
over the possibility of your being a contestant on Master
Chef really intrigued me. Can you give me a background on
that passion, any schooling/training/kitchen experience
you might have?
I don’t know. I’ve always really liked cooking.
Some of my earliest memories are being in the kitchen and
cooking. I remember making my grandpa an omlette that I
flavored with cinnamon. I mean that had to have tasted like
crap. Sorry Pa! To be fair, I was around 5 years old.
It was when I first went to Paris that I started getting
serious about cooking. All those amazing spice markets.
It was unreal. Even though I grew up in the bay area where
great food (and even better coffee) was commonplace. I wasn’t
very experimental. My visit to Paris, on the other hand,
was crazy. I loved the African markets near Barbes Rochechouart
and except for the spiciest fucking bowl of soup imaginable,
I loved all the unique (to me) spices and foods.
I started buying anything that smelled or looked good and
hoped for the best. I did some courses by mail with workbooks
and the like. Honestly, by the time I came back, I was passionate
about it. I love going into a grocery store because it’s
a gigantic menu. I rarely have anything in mind before I
get there. Whatever looks great, or is on sale, etc. becomes
dinner. Shari made us always have a Sunday night meal together
and for 19 years we do. ..and watch the Simpsons.
The Master Chef thing happened by a “hey, wouldn’t
it be funny if...” The L.A. fires last year changed
my plans (the casting call fell on the same date and got
cancelled.) But I'll do the next year they do them. I’ve
done the interview and filled out the HUGE forms so it’ll
be a lot less stressful next time.
Q: What would you consider your specialty?
As a whole, I'm pretty Eurocentric and that comes through
in my cooking. Lately and for
Master Chef I’ve been trying my hand at other styles
(Thai, South American etc.) and that’s been fun.
Just about every record store I’ve ever been to, there’s
been an employee hell bent on telling you about their band,
upcoming show or force feeding you their latest demo. I’d
been coming to the store for three years before you even
mentioned yours. Can you describe the band and what your
plans are going forward?
The Unemployables. I got the name from the "Mr. Plow"
episode of The Simpsons.
Lisa: “Dad, who watches TV at 3 in the morning?”
Homer: “Alcoholics, crazed loners, the unemployable.”
Ean from Sicko said that we sound like a “1988 Gilman”
band, and that’s fair. We have that kind of poppy
Crimpshrine sound. I guess you can take the kid outta Gilman
but not the other way around. Haha. It’s something
we do for fun. I’ve almost always been in a band.
We are on a few comps. But mostly we practice weekly and
play a show every 4 months. We had a good momentum last
year. We played out more often, were doing good shows, and
even making some money instead of the usual “three
beers each” which was a neat change. Our last show
was the Seattle PopPunk Festival that Ean puts together.
The highlights for me was that Sicko and The Ergs! played.
It’s amazing that Seattle has so many great bands
and community... Kids On Fire, Subjunctives, Drowns, etc.
Anyway, we played the festival, (and for the first time
we were all pleased how we played). Shari and I went out
of town for a few days, came home ready to record again
(to put out a 7”) only for the world to stop.
Singles Going Steady, 2219 2nd Ave Seattle, WA
Find them online here...