Originally released in 1990, The Hitmen were no-hit wonders; they were obscure in 1990 and totally forgotten by 2010. None of that dilutes the magnificence of SMASHFACE. Its brilliance lies in its artful precision as well as its raw eclecticism. This is the evidence and you are the witnesses: The Hitmen had their shining moment and made their one great record.
SMASHFACE was remastered by original producer Tom Dyer, with the inclusion of the previously unreleased Instrumental (which, of course, is not an instrumental) and their single Perfect Pain (a song about venereal disease)/Tiger Carpet (“It’s from India –let’s go to the pub!”).
Joe Leonard Speaks:
With headphones, a laptop and a cup of coffee I’m enjoying Green Monkey’s fresh digital version of our 1989 debut LP Smashface recorded just over 20 years ago at Tom’s TDS Productions and Conrad Uno’s Egg studio. The album was a follow-up to our first single with Mr. Dyer (Tiger Carpet / Perfect Pain, – also on this new CD, along with one additional track from our demo).
I joined the band per an ad for lead guitarist in The Rocket and met Arnie, Bill and Dan for the first time in a second story house near Highway 99 on Queen Anne. A recording of the demo was in the works at that time. During our short tenure we had the opportunity to work with many great musicians (check out the guest artists who graciously contributed to Smashface), perform at hallowed halls including the Central, Vogue, Offramp, Bumbershoot and a rare Blue Moon live gig. We sat in on local radio shows at KISW, KXRX, KCMU & KGRG and as well as a few local cable shows including Spud Goodman.
We had a fabulous time (at times), enjoyed road trips and of course wrote and practiced music. At the end of the day it was the music – writing, crafting, experimenting and bringing anything to the table. For me being in the band was, if you will, a combination of finger painting and snowboarding – colorful soundscapes speeding downhill – good thing for Tom’s interest in the band to capture on record our unique collaborations.
This is also Joe Leonard
If you have a moment to indulge me please close your eyes and imagine briefly John Lennon singing the first verses of Freebird. This is how one could describe the irony of The Hit Men. A native Englishman, a Seattle born left handed guitarist, and a bass/drums combo as solid as the granite mountains of their Bellingham home, we assembled in the late ‘pre-grunge’ moments of the Seattle music scene, delighted in our own musical expression. This can best be heard on back to back songs Cold War and The Stuff. Each song takes the listener to a different aesthetic and energetic landscape. Both make me proud – but apart from this album I wouldn’t expect to find them together – Cold War might be on a disc for five-year-olds and The Stuff, with its grinding chords and dreamy dangerous storyline instead I’ll play for my current beer buddies to prove indeed we did rock. In all we used a wide brush to paint the moments of our music – held together by a mixture of talent and witty seriousness (or maybe serious wittiness).
Sharing composition duties were Arnie (vocal Englishman) and myself (whammy bar/distortion box/wah pedal = enlightenment) though each member contributed to the overall arrangement. Backing vocals by Dan (don’t underplay the fifths and sure fretless bass belongs on this track) and Bill (he hits the drums a bit harder when he’s pissed). For a short period Bernie joined us on sax which expanded our live possibilities and made rehearsals a bit more fun. We had a next set of songs in the works, but alas other work opportunities took Dan & Bill in new directions. Arnie and I gave it a shot with some new guys but as we know from Reunion Tour cash – you just can’t replace the magic.
Listening to Smashface now some songs quite impress me (Sense of Sound) and others remind me a bit of John Lennon singing Freebird. Or it could be that, even now, I’m too close to Thrasher’s Corner (named for the town off I-5 returning late night from Bellingham gigs) – a Seattle guitarist experimenting with chicken pluck is almost as bad/good. Medicine Hat sounds good now – I recall thinking, as every artist suffers, the recorded version just didn’t capture our live energy. And finally a nod to My Love Ran Out, thankfully, if I recall correctly, I didn’t play on the recorded version of this track (Jeff Kelly helped on piano). I did know when to hold back…sometimes, but not in Ice Age. And speaking of Englishmen singing Freebird – in our ‘need money for a single era’ we played a local 70’s reunion in which the only specific requirement was to include this, their class song, in the set. I suppose they didn’t consider it might be sung by an Englishman.
Oakland CA, 2010
Mark Palmer (Arnie) Speaks:
Great stuff Joe! That about sums it up. I wanted to add that Joe had the most varied guitar influences of anyone I had ever met; from Iron Maiden to The Grateful Dead. Joe had them all covered – sometimes in the same song. But the effect was always alluring.
By astonishing coincidence my horrified grimace on the back of the original LP has me looking directly at the line from Joe’s story “would chomp off his penis”. Not planned. Sometimes Ruth is stranger than Richard.
A few comments about the songs:
I talked to Jon Auer at a Big Star gig at the Fillmore in SF a few years ago. He told me that Ice Age had been whirling through his head for months. A song with staying power I think.
The Stuff was written in less than an hour from several dreams that I had the night before.
“I met you in a church at midnight, starring in a porno flick. A gang of nuns they broke the door down and cast me as a gay Old Nick”, is just too strange to have come from a conscious mind – even mine.
Cold War is Joe and Tom’s meisterpiece. All the special effects and background vocals make this song so memorable. “Woke up three times more”, resonates through my being frequently.
My Love Ran Out is simple and drunken – as it should be. A cautionary tale of distiller’s droop. It almost falls over itself at times. The clarinet is a special bonus and so essential to the boozy feel.
I Love Your Poems Of Love. When we recorded this I thought lyrically it was naive and juvenile. But 20 years later I realize that’s exactly why it works. Funky, soulful and again completely unlike anything else the Hitmen ever did.
Saturday. Paranoia incarnate. A chimey guitar riff sets off a message of impending doom.
Tense and taut. Joe’s guitar is just brutal.
Medicine Hat. Wickedly insistent. You’ll be whistling this one for years.
Thrasher’s Corner. That rising middle section “with his devil’s grin and his mandolin…..”
brings a smile to my face every time.
I Can Fly. Space you can’t waste.
Sense Of Sound. A rocker in sheep’s clothing.
This Must Be The Place. Certainly the slowest and most introspective song on the album.
Doesn’t quite fit with the rest. But who gives a shit.
Repeat. A cautionary tale on the dangers of getting into a rut.
That’s about it.
The Sierra Foothills CA, 2010
Bill Bowman Speaks:
I played drums.
Feb 25, 2011
“Spin Smashface and become the first member of the new cult of the Hitmen.” Michael Toland
There have been several bands by this name over the decades – these Hitmen hail from Seattle in the late 80s. Originally released in 1989, Smashface mixes an eclectic batch of influences into an infectious set of songs that will alternatively have you shaking your head and singing along. Guitarist/songwriter Joe Leonard is the driving force here – his bottomless bag of guitar tones and techniques alludes to everybody from Andy Gill and Will Sergeant to Jimmy Nolan and Eddie Van Halen, sometimes all at once, and his colorful synth excursions further fill out the bands varied sound. Singer/songwriter Mark Palmer manages to keep up with solid rhythm guitar chops and an endearingly nerdy voice that sits comfortably amid the melodic chaos. Echoes of power pop (“Medicine Hat,” “Perfect Pain,” “Ice Age”), soulful balladry (“This Must Be the Place”), funk (“Cold War”), saloon crooning (“My Love Ran Out”) and, er, heavy metal/ska/psych/pop (“Thrasher’s Corner”) keep the record eclectic, but the band’s consistent writing and appealing personality tie everything together with common threads. Producer/label head Tom Dyer‘s notes mention that the Hitmen had no live following to speak of, and thus Smashface sold diddly. On the evidence of this ridiculously accomplished and fun record, that’s nearly impossible to believe. Spin Smashface and become the first member of the new cult of the Hitmen.
Jan 11, 2011
“If you’re tastes run from the eclectic to the artful, to the poppy, you may have just found your new favorite band.”
“Digging deeper into the Green Monkey Catalog, we get this brand new reissue of a true lost classic of peppy, driving, post-punk quirk rock. A while back, I’d written about the Green Monkey Compilation, It Came from the Basement, where The Hitmen definitely stood out as one of the gems of the GM catalog. Originally released in 1990, Smashface garnered some local airplay before sinking into obscurity. Now we get the whole shebang, quirky warts, hidden treasures and all. Ranging from Robin Hitchcock and the Egyptians-styled eccentric rock to more a raw, punky agit-garage pop, each song on Smashface is a surprise journey into some art-whacked parallel dimension of quirkville, without ever losing it’s rooting in steady melodies and perfect performances. “I Love Your Poems of Love,” and “Thrasher’s Corner,” the two songs from the GM compilation reign supreme here, just perfect slices of eclectic brilliance, but that does nothing to diminish the bizarre splendor of “Ice Age,” or the frenetic aggro of “The Stuff.” Think an American version of Squeeze and you wont’ be too far off. Just listen to “My Love Ran Out,” and you’ll see. If you’re tastes run from the eclectic to the artful, to the poppy, you may have just found your new favorite band. One listen to “I Love Your Poems of Love” was all it took to convince me.” The Ripple Effect