Between the Grooves: lowercase – 'Kill the Lights'

1. “She Takes Me”

“Folding corners into perfect shapes / Went forlorn in a vapor of Elysian escapes”

That’s how these lines to “She Takes Me” read in the liner notes of lowercase’s Kill the Lights, at least. Coming out of the singer’s mouth, that second bit resembles something more like “when forlorn pings make hell each escape.” Not a full minute into the album, and already results diverge from intent. It won’t be the last discrepancy between the lyric sheet and the words that are actually sung — that is, if they even come out as words at all.

“I came nightly to this place / By the way of a crooked and unseen highway”

There are scads of rock records that plumb the depths of sadness and self-loathing. Sadness, obviously, is a fundamental fuel for all kinds of music. As for self-loathing, it takes up a significant portion of the entrance exam to the halls of college rock — or alt-rock, if you prefer — since at least the mid-’80s. Beyond that, there are records on another, more exclusive plain: those that are thoroughly, unforgivingly bleak. Such records can be almost theatrically dour, like the Cure’s “Goth trilogy”; unsparingly grim and visceral, like Joy Division’s Closer; or anywhere else on that morose spectrum. Kill the Lights, lowercase’s second album, is up (or down) there with the best of them.

“I can’t find myself anyway / So she takes me there / I can’t be myself anyway / Still she takes me there”

Imaad Wasif and Brian Girgus met when they were teenagers growing up in Palm Desert, California. They had known of each other for a while but only started talking after turning up at enough of the same shows. When they decided to start playing music together, they initially imagined that Wasif would play guitar and Girgus would play bass. Finding a drummer didn’t pan out as they had hoped, so Girgus filled the role. Even after that, the search for a suitable third member of the band proved unlucky, so lowercase became a de facto duo.

Roughly a year after Wasif and Girgus started jamming together, they released their first 7″ single, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Vampire” with the B-side “Surefire Solvent”, on Punk in My Vitamins?, the label run by Vern Rumsey of Unwound. Unwound and lowercase shared certain sonic aesthetics and work habits and would end up playing a number of shows together.

Not long after, in 1996, the Minneapolis-based label Amphetamine Reptile put out lowercase’s debut album. Taking its title from a line in “See No Evil”, the first song on Television’s Marquee Moon, the lo-fi All Destructive Urges… Seem So Perfect fuses Sonic Youth’s discordance and detachment with Nirvana’s vitriol and vulnerability.

Wasif and Girgus recorded the album with Tom Grimley at his home studio in Los Angeles, Poop Alley, which had previously hosted artists like Beck, that dog, and the Rentals. The aura of huddled intimacy on the record is heightened by the “live” sound of the recordings. On one song, you can hear a phone ringing in the background, and, allegedly, the sound of someone walking in to a bathroom and pulling down their pants on a different tune.

“Within seconds the room was filled / Angels pushed her from my windowsill”

Following All Destructive Urges… Seem So Perfect, Kill the Lights came a mere year later in 1997. By that time, Wasif and Girgus had relocated to San Francisco, which even back then wasn’t the easiest city in which to be a struggling musician. On the outside, things might have seemed to be going well, at least at first. The two had even finally found that elusive bass player to fill out their sound. As is often the case, however, things weren’t going as smoothly as they might have appeared from the outside.

A couple of years afterward, in an interview with Andrew Bottomley for the summer 1999 issue of Skyscraper, Girgus elaborated on the inter-band turmoil going on at that time:

We started working on [Kill the Lights] and writing it as soon as I got here [San Francisco], and Imaad and me started having some really intense problems together. We were both going in these weird directions that were really un-communicated, and we weren’t really on any kind of positive — it wasn’t always negative or anything, it wasn’t bitter, but there was very rarely a good feeling when we’d get together for things. It always just felt fucked, everything was just kind of fucked.

“Far below me the semblance burned / Embers of halos kindling in her”

“Everything is just kind of fucked” is a fitting way to sum up the outlook of Kill the Lights. Its anger, frustration and hopelessness build continuously from start to finish. In that way, the album’s first track, “She Takes Me”, can be somewhat misleading. With a stabbing guitar riff, the song leaps to its feet, as Girgus pounds out practically the most straight-forward and driving beat lowercase had used up to that point. The new addition of the bass gives the band a heft that is missing on their debut, which allows Wasif to let his open chords resonate. If lowercase were ever going to get a song played on MTV’s 120 Minutes, this would have been it; in fact, it might be the closest thing to a “normal” rock song they ever committed to tape.

And yet, churning just underneath the up-tempo veneer are Wasif’s lyrics about an unholy temptress who comes disguised as a celestial guide. Even after her defenestration at the hands of those who have the narrator’s best interests at heart, he elects to stick with her:

“I can’t find myself anyway / So she takes me there / I can’t be myself anyway / Still she takes me there”

He must see something in her that we don’t.

2. “Slightly Dazed”

After 15 seconds, the silence is finally broken by a single grazing of a drumstick on a cymbal, followed by the shrill ring of guitar strings tugged and swiped at the head above the string guide. The volume builds. At 46 seconds in, the drums arrive in a rattling, lead-footed march. Finally, with a sharp wail of guitar feedback, lowercase dives in to “Slightly Dazed”.

“She Takes Me” faded out less than a minute before, but already the energy has shifted dramatically. As Piero Scaruffi, an Italian university lecturer and music writer, wrote some years ago in a post about lowercase on his site, from the moment “Slightly Dazed” begins, “the rest is a descent into a personal hell.”

“The eight-minute ‘Slightly Dazed’ is virtually a documentary of a man losing his mind, the guitar repeating an ominous pattern over a funereal beat until it becomes a death toll (the overall feeling being similar to Pink Floyd’s early psychodramas),” Scaruffi writes. This view is coming from a guy who ultimately appraises the album as their best, rating it a 7/10 on his own personal scale.

At hardly any point in the song’s — or, really, the entire album’s — duration is it a passive listening experience. If you put Kill the Lights on when you’re cleaning your bathroom, you must truly despise having to clean your bathroom.

“Birth of it / What wine pours burdens shrouding / Death of it / Must also drip disappearing.”

It takes almost two more minutes for vocalist Imaad Wasif to work up to saying anything. When those three opening words, “birth of it”, finally escape his throat, it sounds as if he’s already hoarse from a screaming match. The music may have come on gradually, but it becomes abundantly clear that the tension has been mounting inside Wasif, as well as around him.

“Conjure it / Conjure for impregnation’s sake / Depth of it / Await libation to await discovery.”

“All of our songs just come from practicing, just like any other band, and then Imaad will start singing,” drummer Brian Girgus explained to Skyscraper. “I never know what the hell he’s talking about until we record it and then I kind of pay attention to his lyrics. He really captures a lot of things that I think have a lot of relevance to a lot of people — I mean, they definitely do to me. It’s a way of thinking that, it can make sense to certain people, and certain people it doesn’t; but it makes sense to him [laughs]. That’s the important thing.”

“Our chalices ring empty / Our chalices clink brimming / Through body from skins abandon / Beneath nakedness as drunkenness.”

Here again, there are differences between the album’s lyric sheet and what Wasif actually sings. Where the differences in “She Takes Me” seemed closer to something like speaking-in-tongues-style improvisations made on the spot, the edit to “Slightly Dazed” appears to have been much more intentional. Above is the line as it is written out, but this is what Wasif ends up singing — or, screaming, that is: “Our chalices ring empty / Our chalices clink brimming / I doubt you consider it / I doubt you remember it.”

If included in the final version of “Slightly Dazed”, the line “Through body from skins abandon / Beneath nakedness as drunkenness” would likely qualify as the song’s most confusing lyric, just from a purely linguistic or logical standpoint. However, it would also be perhaps the most clearly sexual lyric in the song. Not counting the bit about impregnation, of course. Instead, Wasif has replaced the lines with fragments pulled from the final lines of the song.

“Discover it / I may not have your answer / I doubt you consider it / I’m only oh so slightly dazed / I doubt you remember it / I’m only oh so slightly dazed.”

As far as what “Slightly Dazed” is about, all the wine pouring and clinking chalices point to a night of drinking. That much is clear. What follows almost certainly seems to be some kind of argument or misunderstanding. Whether or not it is romantic in nature, though, is not a given. The “impregnation” and “discovery” could indeed be sexual, but they could also be metaphorical. Without the nakedness and “skins abandon” to back it up — having been purposefully abandoned by Wasif, for reasons surely known only to him at the time — there isn’t enough grounds to say for sure either way.

Throughout the entire song, but especially in those final verses, Wasif preemptively one-ups what would become de rigueur in certain post-hardcore subgenres (i.e. screamo), by effectively acting as his own “auxiliary screaming guy”. Trading lines with himself by shredding his vocal cords on one, and then nasally drawing out the other, Wasif could be reenacting the argument, or he could be representing the kind of mildly schizophrenic personality changes that heightened emotions drowned in alcohol can induce in a person. Either way, when the trudging eight minutes of “Slightly Dazed” come to a gasping halt, with its bitter guitar arpeggio slowing down and ringing out one last time, it’s hard not to feel as drained as Wasif sounds.

3. “Severance Denied”

“Fill me innocently / When I have caved completely / With your talk of chances / The ones you never take.”

The third song on Kill the Lights, “Severance Denied”, fixates on spiritual and literal malnourishment. With the harrowing specter of “Slightly Dazed” still very much present, almost unwilling to recede, the thought of going through something like it all over again is off-putting. It would seem that the band felt much the same way, and as such, “Severance Denied” brings the tempo and the mood up a bit — although here, “up” is a very relative term.

“The emptiness has left me / More than I want to be / And the way I stare at your vacancy frightens me.”

At only three minutes and six seconds, the once long-held ideal length for a pop song, “Severance Denied” is possibly the most straightforward track on Kill the Lights. Through what essentially qualifies as the verse, Imaad Wasif repeatedly hits his open high strings every couple of measures to produce something like an atonal bell ring. In the wordless chorus, he leaps off from those ringing notes into a discordant figure eight. Brian Girgus’ drumming is jittery and anxious, but also nimble.

Girgus is plenty capable of playing “big”, as he does elsewhere on the album, but here, when it might have made sense to fill in the space left by Wasif’s sinuous guitar lines, Girgus holds back. The basslines also follow suit. Kill the Lights would, of course, be lowercase’s first recorded material to include bass. While the group clearly revels in the options provided by the new addition to their sound elsewhere on the record, on this song the bass tends to hover not too far below the same area of the sonic spectrum as the guitar. More than any other lowercase song, “Severance Denied” reflects their affinity with Unwound, who Wasif and Girgus got their very first gig opening for. It’s perhaps a more jangly take on Unwound’s brand of post-hardcore, as if that Olympia, Washington group had been more influenced by the lighter side of their town’s scene.

“I don’t consider / Myself a bread winner / But if the face is drawn long enough / Then I have no complaints.”

About that new bass player, then. In the album credits, he is listed merely as “justin”, but then so too is Girgus only listed as “brian”, while Wasif somehow gets his last initial in there, listed as “imaad w” — asserting the frontman’s authority, perhaps.

The new bassist’s role in lowercase ended up being mostly to go into the studio to record Kill the Lights. He may have hung around for a little bit beyond that, but they ultimately parted ways not long after the album. In Andrew Bottomley’s interview with Girgus for issue #6 of Skyscraper, Girgus didn’t mince words in his recollection of working with a third member:

…I think when we first started playing with the bass player, I had a hard time relating to the third-person dynamic about it, I was so used to [just the two of us]. I think I had a lot of problems with it at first and then I think a lot of that, too, was just the guy that was playing bass for us — I really hated him, I couldn’t stand him.

“I look much thinner / Than when you knew me last winter / I subsist on the thoughts of your last kiss / And what I’d lost.”

His experience with the bassist wasn’t the first time Girgus had been at odds with a third member. In another interview months before Kill the Lights was even recorded, Girgus told the zine Fungus Boy about the first time they tried to play with someone else, and the decision to be a duo:

We had this one guy that we were playing with like before we called ourselves anything… he was a shit for brains, so we just said, “Hey we’re gonna break up”, and we were lying ’cause we wanted him to quit.

An inability to work with others seems to have been built in to lowercase from the beginning. Wasif and Girgus had their own tumultuous stretches, even breaking up for a short time after moving to San Francisco after releasing their debut album, but lowercase was always going to be centered on their dynamic. The band was its own kind of relationship, a sometimes fraught one, at that. Hopefully, though, it was significantly less fraught than the relationships Wasif sings about on Kill the Lights.

“What keeps you inside / Is what keeps you denied”

4. “Neurasthenia”

“I can’t obsess / Over you anymore / I can’t confess / That I love you.”

Let’s get the definition of “Neurasthenia” out of the way: “an ill-defined medical condition characterized by lassitude, fatigue, headache, and irritability, associated chiefly with emotional disturbance.” A serious case of “the sads”, then.

“I can’t address what is wrong anymore / And I don’t know if I want to.”

When “Neurasthenia” starts up, it almost sounds like a 45RPM version of the song before it, “Severance Denied”, played at 33 ⅓ speed. The guitar and bass clang and bump up against each other, and the drums march in clipped snaps and kicks, but the band’s energy seems to be draining fast. Imaad Wasif, who has gnashed and howled his way through Kill the Lights up to this point, is utterly bereft of his usual volatility, delivering these first lines with something more than a whisper, less than a library voice. He sounds meek, humbled.

“Neurasthenia” is the collapsing middle of the album. The band sound like they are trying to decide if they want to carry on or call it a day.

“I can’t infect / All the wounds and the sores / I can’t object / To my weakness.”

The conflicts with lowercase weren’t just limited to the personal relationships that Wasif alluded to in his lyrics, or Brian Girgus’ strong dislike of the bass player they had at the time. Kill the Lights would be their second and final album for Amphetamine Reptile, who had with at least some seeming enthusiasm put out their debut, All Destructive Urges Seem So Perfect. Known for their noise rock roster that at different points included the likes of the Melvins, Helmet, and many others, the Minneapolis label started in Washington by a US Marine was perhaps not the most natural home for a less directly aggressive band like lowercase.

Still, most all labels have at least one odd-man-out band, and both parties can make it work. In the instance of lowercase and Amphetamine Reptile, it seems as if individual attitudes, from both sides, played a role in the demise of their relationship.

When Skyscraper asked Girgus to reflect on the situation a few years after the band and label had parted ways, he was a bit back and forth on the matter:

Skyscraper: Do you regret having worked with Amphetamine Reptiles (sic)?
Girgus: Oh god, you know what? I don’t know about that. I do in a lot of ways, but in another lot of ways I know that… fuck, it’s just like a learning experience.
Skyscraper: It always seemed like an odd pairing.
Girgus: Yeah, it was. I was really surprised that Tom Hazelmeyer (sic) liked our band a lot, and enough to want to do records. I really like Tom, he’s great… And I don’t see eye to eye with a lot of his views about music, but I don’t think I regret it. I mean, sometimes I wish it didn’t happen, that we were never on AmRep… but I can’t really say I regret it.
I think that Imaad might say he regretted it. It was just a really fucked up paring. I think it could have worked, somehow. But they were all too happy to not release our next record and we were all too happy to… like, I called them to be like “hey, we’re not going to do any more music with you guys”… They were just like, “oh, that’s really funny because we were going to call you in the next couple of days to tell you that we don’t want to do any more records with you guys, either.”

“I can’t forget / My way through this corridor / And I don’t know if I’ll haunt you.”

Wasif finally raises his voice above the level of a murmur when he concludes his one-sided conversation. Still, he’s not angry, but sullen, having ceded his side of the argument. “So decide / What you want me to be”, he moans, with a repeated “so decide” that morphs into a nasally chant of “suici-i-ide”. Once again, it’s not on the lyric sheet, but there’s no denying that is what he is singing.

“So decide / What you want me to be.”

This all happens in the first half of the song’s six minutes. After that the guitar, bass and drums carry on, the song dissipating further and further into an instrumental mumble. In many other groups’ hands, “Neurasthenia” would use this extended quiet passage as a diving board into a final outburst of volume, but lowercase fully commit to the theme. It sinks into bed, going to sleep listless and defeated as Kill the Lights reaches its low ebb in the very middle.

5. “Stairways”

“When someone comes up and goes, ‘oh man, that was fucking great, you guys rocked’, you are just like, ‘oh, thanks a lot, that is really nice.’ But then this friend of mine… in San Francisco, I remember a couple years ago — this is totally one of the nicest compliments that anyone has ever said – he was like, ‘oh my god, you guys were playing and it was so confusing, I felt like I was walking around in circles smoking cigarettes the whole time.’ — Brian Girgus, Skyscraper, Summer 1999

The chances that Girgus’ friend was specifically talking about “Stairways”, the short instrumental track on Kill the Lights, are admittedly slim, but all the same, that is as apt a way as any to describe the mood of the song. It is also probably not a bad way to explain how a lot of lowercase’s music makes you feel.

“Stairways” is a wordless panic attack that lasts for one minute and fifty-five seconds. (According to the back of the CD, that is, as the song shows up as being “1:54” on iTunes.) There is no real beginning and there is no real end. There is a fade-in where the listener is slowly lowered into a spiraling clamor that is already going full bore, and then there is an abrupt halt where the recording cuts off.

Why it begins where it does, and why it stops where it does, seems to have been decided fairly arbitrarily. “Stairways” doesn’t do the same thing the whole time — not exactly, at least. It shifts roughly in the middle, when Wasif’s tightly wound guitar part loosens up and he begins to let the notes ring out as he inches his way down the fret board. Those notes become increasingly inharmonious, as if the song itself were unraveling as it barrels forward, propelled by the jittery double-time of the bass and drums. Still, why not make it an even two minutes?

Starting the song by fading in to it does make some sense. Coming right before it, “Neurasthenia” slowly winds down side A with a wordless three-minute second half. Side B begins with “Stairways”, but since by 1997 most people had long-ago left behind vinyl records for CDs, so they wouldn’t be hearing a distinct side A and side B. For the majority, “Stairways” was just in the middle. The fade-in, then, very briefly extends the silent pause at the end of “Neurasthenia”, long enough to create a stronger feeling of distinction between what came before, and what comes after.

If “She Takes Me” is the closest thing to a straightforward “rock” song on Kill the Lights, then “Stairways” is the closest thing to a punk song on the album. The pace, duration, and use of repetition all give it a punk rock quality. The chords and atmosphere, though, ultimately put in more in the post-hardcore camp that lowercase’s catalog most comfortably fits — if it fits anywhere comfortably, that is, as “comfortable” isn’t an adjective that usually comes anywhere near the music of lowercase.

6. “Rare Anger”

“You stand atop the spires / To see your vigil fires/Burn so far away / On a saffron mezzanine”

Skyscraper: …is it mainly a personal thing — for you to write songs as a personal experience?Brian Girgus: Yeah, it’s weird, see sometimes I wonder if a lot of the things Imaad is singing about, he’ll say things in a song and I’m just like ”oh that’s weird, I know exactly what incident he is talking about right now”, and then other times he will just kind of paint these pictures of things that are potentials in his head or things that could happen or things that he had some dream about or something. What was the exact thing you asked me again?
Skyscraper, Summer 1999

“You were a statue liar / Your schisms did conspire / The crumbled stones remain / Covered with bloody stains”

The back half of Kill the Lights is one of the more visceral album sides in any genre. Admittedly, “visceral” is one of those adjectives that get brought out a little too often in attempts to describe passionate records. For clarity’s sake, let’s double check Merriam-Webster’s definition: “coming from strong emotions and not from logic or reason”. When people writing about music use the word “visceral”, they are, more often than not, probably thinking of the first half of its definition, and not intending to demean the artist by suggesting they were neglecting logic and/or reason.

That’s not the intention here, either, but there isn’t much that is logical or reasonable about how the end of Kill the Lights plays out. That mostly applies to the grand finale, “You’re a King” (which of course we’ll get to in good time with the next and last installment of this series), but it’s not exactly easy to make an argument for “Rare Anger” from a commercial standpoint. However the relationship between lowercase and Amphetamine Reptile ultimately played out, it is to the credit of the band and the label that Kill the Lights was allowed to be the album it is without much in the way of concessions or regard for accessibility — especially in regards to the last two songs.

“To be the next messiah / To be your own pariah / You have enough to say / To make it through the day”

Nowhere is the bass more crucial to Kill the Lights than in the last two songs, “Rare Anger” especially. For the first ten seconds, in fact, it’s just bass: four notes that set the song’s ominous tone. Creeping up behind the bass is a nervous elevated heart rate kick drum and fade-ins of feedback howl. The overall vibe is as if “Rare Anger” was recorded in an eerie dilapidated house out in the woods with water dripping from the ceiling and paint peeling off the walls, lit only by a full moon and maybe some witchy candles.

About 50 seconds or so into the track, the rumbling tension breaks into a trudging march led by a slashing guitar riff that mirrors that initial bass line. Then it settles back down. The song goes back and forth between those two modes, hesitating, stretching the parts out each time through, until the band finally let it go after three minutes of build-up. They hammer at their instruments, each individual part uncomplicated but together interlocking in a dark and forceful movement. Naturally, Wasif is already well worked up by the time he delivers his first line, “You stand atop the spires / to see your vigil fires”, over halfway through the song’s eight minutes and 45 seconds.

Considering Girgus’ comment to Andrew Bottomley of Skyscraper about Wasif’s lyrics, most of “Rare Anger” would seem to fall into the “things that he had some dream about or something” category.

“A swan of blood takes flight / Lachrymal stench of night / You fall so well beneath / Where you’re supposed to be”

That’s right: the night stinks like tears once Blood Bird starts flapping his wings. If that’s based on something that actually happened to Wasif, hopefully he was on peyote at the time.

“You’ve acted out your tragedy / To give it to me / You wear the cloak of the furies / As if you cannot be set free”

Despite the length of “Rare Anger”, Wasif’s phantasmagorical story, recounted in increasingly startling screams, plays out over a little less than three of its almost nine minutes. As the lyrics once again deviate slightly from the script, the tension combusts: “You acted out your tragedy / and now it’s time, to give it to meeeaaah! / give it to meeeaaah!” The song’s final throes are a merciful minute and a half wind-down that gradually brings its freight train momentum to a halt.

A final side note: in the scribbled-handwriting style of the CD liner notes, the title of the song looks like both “Rare Anger” and “Pure Anger”. Either one is perfectly apt.

7. “You’re a King”

“I mean, Kill the Lights, it’s pretty depressing sometimes, I think.” — Brian Girgus, Skyscraper, Summer 1999

“Girl you’re a king”

After six unsparing tracks, Kill the Lights theoretically could have ended in any number of ways: perhaps with a short ending piece to ease the listener back into a more emotionally stable place, or even something with a bit of uplift to offer a sliver of hope at the close of such a draining song cycle. What lowercase went with, of course, was an exorcism even longer and more violent than the one that came just before it (“Rare Anger”); one so idiosyncratic and genuinely messed up that it can even be a little bit frightening.

“You’re a King” begins with Brian Girgus’ slow, reverberating drumbeat, which stomps in like “When the Levee Breaks” on prescription painkillers. It is his most muscular turn on Kill the Lights, both in terms of the sound of the part itself and for how long he has to keep it up. Imaad Wasif hammers hypnotically on a pair of, gradually working in an open string on the measure, followed by jarring scrapes to signal the approaching shift. The bass rumbles underneath it all, lying a bit low in the mix until just over four minutes have passed, when the song nudges the accelerator following a series of four brief clanging shifts, after which it rises and syncs up with Wasif’s guitar.

Over 12 minutes, “You’re a King” drops in enough variation in the instrumentation to keep the song from being just a looping jam, but for the most part it is one repeating figure. There are no verses and choruses, and there are only seven words in the whole song. In spite of that, or because of that, the lyrics are possibly the album’s most cryptic.

When Wasif finally opens his mouth after five minutes, he sounds exhausted. The first line, “Girl, you’re a king”, begins as an exhalation and ends on a shout. Nuances turn up in Wasif sucking in a breath through his teeth or lapsing briefly into a sinister whisper. The second line, “Waive your rights”, then picks up on that shout and raises it to a blistering scream. It is as much a conceptual piece as it is rock music. In a way, “You’re a King” doesn’t really fit in well with the rest of the record, but it also wouldn’t work in any other context.

“Waive your rights

The CD liner notes state “atmosphere on number seven courtesy of toadliquor”. It’s not clear what that sludge/doom band (originally from Arroyo Grande, California, later of Olympia, Washington) specifically did for the track, but it is definitely a sludgy, doomy song. A more obvious credit in the liner notes is “accolades extended to: tim green…”. Kill the Lights likely wouldn’t have turned out the way it did without producer, Tim Green. Given the volatile energy surrounding the record (to this day, even), it’s possible that it might not have happened at all without Green’s ability to harness the band’s attributes and coax their best performances.

Tim Green was a guitarist in Nation of Ulysses, and for a long time now has been in the San Francisco trio The Fucking Champs. His Louder Studios has hosted many great bands over the years: the Melvins, Karp, debuts by Sleater-Kinney and Tristeza. One such record that came out of Louder was Kill the Lights. More than just a producer, Green was a friend of the band. Girgus even lived with him for a while, as he recalled in his interview with Andrew Bottomley of Skyscraper:

“Girgus: …Tim Green, he’s the best guy in the whole world to record records with because he really understands what a band should do. I mean, that guy, I can’t and I could never, ever hope to say enough good things about him[.] He’s really nice and really easy going, and he knows exactly the most beneficial idea.

Skyscraper: Do you think he brings out a lot in the records?

Girgus: Yeah, completely.

Skyscraper: Like a fourth member almost?

Girgus: Fuck yeah, especially on the last one. If Tim wouldn’t have minded if we would have credited him as being in the band, then we totally would have. “Lowercase is blah, blah, blah and Tim Green.” He’s not afraid to make suggestions… He just says, “I think this might make the song sound a little better to you guys,” and he knows what we are shooting for and hope for. Granted, we’ve known the guy for a long time and I used to live with him for a year and he comes to our shows; he’s a really good friend, so he’s got this inside look and he knows how we are and how our band is. So I’m sure that makes it a lot easier for him to deal with things like that… he’s not afraid to tell you that “that really sucked, you should do that again”, something you’re even kind of happy with. “No, you guys do it again, that’s total bullshit.” He’s really great.”

Another prominent detail that has gone unmentioned thus far in this series: the cover art for Kill the Lights. It’s an illustration of what looks like a bunch of dead people impaled on spikes with a gigantic sun, or moon, in the background. At least, that’s one interpretation; the image is a bit vague. It could be a bunch of something else impaled on spikes.

After lowercase left Amphetamine Reptile, they released The Going Away Present on Punk in My Vitamins?, the small label run by Unwound bassist Vern Rumsey. In that Skyscraper interview, Girgus described the album as being optimistic, by the band’s standards at least, pointing to the very white album cover as an example — a bare, icy line drawings of two figures. Perhaps he was also thinking of the album’s first song, “Floodlit”, when the distortion finally kicks in and Wasif breaks out his howl for a repeated “I believe in you!”. Granted, that line is more upbeat in writing than it sounds in the song. Still, the record wasn’t weighted down with its predecessor’s bile and menace.

The band might have been happier with The Going Away Present than with either of the two albums they made before it, but unfortunately it turned out to be aptly titled, as it would be their last. Wasif would go on to play with a number of bands, including Alaska! and The Folk Implosion. Since 2006, he has released three solo albums, and had a band called the Electric Flower Group. According to his recently expanded Wikipedia page, has a new one, Figurehead, scheduled to come out later this year (though it looks like Figurehead was also a Cassette Store Day release in 2014). After lowercase, Girgus played drums in the San Francisco band Track Star for five years. He has also played with Nodzzz, Wooden Shjips, Still Flyin’, Personal and the Pizzas, and has also pursued his own music with a project called Si, Claro.

Like too many great bands, Lowercase have never received their full due. Ragged, deeply, sometimes even awkwardly, personal music like theirs typically becomes the property of small but passionate fan bases. Several years ago I emailed the merch contact at Amphetamine Reptile in hopes that they might have a particular old Lowercase T-shirt—the band’s name with a very simple line drawing of a wilting flower underlining it—that I once saw one of the guys from the band Track Star wearing on stage at the Velvet Elvis in Seattle back in the late 1990s, not long before Girgus joined the group. The contact eventually wrote back that he hadn’t seen that shirt in ten years, which would have been right around the time of that Track Star gig. Maybe he was there, too.