Visiting Yesterday’s Tomorrow with Current

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Current interview

Dearborn, Michigan’s Current existed for just two short years in the early ’90s, a brief but incendiary flash of post-hardcore with avant garde dynamics that, at the time, had few peers. Influenced heavily by the Washington, D.C. Dischord scene that included bands like Lungfish and Soul Side, but arriving shortly before the Midwest emo scene began to flourish, Current seemed to bridge two eras but not in a straight line, their unique approach to hardcore employing more tension, slow builds, spoken word verses and the eerie ambience of bands like Slint. And in that brief explosion of activity, they recorded one full-length album, 1993’s Coliseum, plus a handful of splits and EPs, leaving behind a small stack of influential punk artifacts.

Numero Group has just released Yesterday’s Tomorrow Is Not Today, a retrospective of Current’s two incredibly active years together, featuring their complete recorded works as well as an extensive gigography and gallery of their live show flyers. It’s a thorough undertaking, the most complete document of the group’s short but significant history to date.

With Yesterday’s Tomorrow Is Not Today out now, returning to print a discography that—for many listeners—is only now being heard for the first time, we spoke to Current vocalist Matthias Weeks and drummer Derek Brosch (who joined the conversation a few minutes into the Zoom call) about the band’s history, predating the explosion of “emo,” and remastering their lo-fi recordings.

Treble: What was the landscape like in Michigan at the time that Current was starting up?

Matthias Weeks: I think most of us started going to shows in the mid-to-late ‘80s. It was kind of a rougher, hardcore crowd, a little bit violent. There were skinheads and stuff showing up. A lot of us got involved in straight-edge hardcore and things like that. Which lasted a short period of time before we started to kind of shift away from that. So by the time Current started, which was around ‘92, we had a deep interest and love with what was coming out of D.C. We really just wanted to try something different. Justin and I had played together for a little while and me and Derek played in some go-nowhere bands. Everything was sort of unfulfilling, kind of a struggle. Whatever it was, nothing ever really clicked until Current started practicing. Justin (Labo) had written a bunch of songs, Andy (Albus) had never played bass before, so they sat down together and started figuring stuff out. Derek and I had been playing in another band at that time, and we sort of scrapped that because we realized it wouldn’t amount to much, so we stole the studio time from the other band and recorded seven or eight days after we started.

I think the scene at that time was kind of in a big shift. Moving out of what I would consider owned bars and clubs by people who didn’t really care too much about the music. Maybe they liked it but they were more in it for the business aspect. And the kids were kind of starting to take over the organization of shows. There was a move to University of Detroit Mercy to get some shows happening, essentially at a coffeehouse there, but some kids were running it. We had gotten kind of connected with the people running 404 Willis, which is connected to another space in Detroit that’s still in operation called the Trumbullplex. And that was a little bit more art, a little bit community action, and they funded it basically by putting on shows. And that space used to be the Clubhouse, which was Negative Approach’s rehearsal space in the ‘80s. But the kids were taking over, everything was more DIY, and it was that time too that we were making all these other connections with people around the country and realizing people in Little Rock and people over where were doing similar stuff. And once those connections were made and Maximum Rocknroll put out Book Your Own Fucking Life, and whatever it was, we realized very quick that we could totally do this ourselves. You don’t need the 50-year-old shady guy at the local metal bar to do this for you.

That was all ’91, ’92, ’93 in particular, by ’93 it was in full swing. Really, it came out of what came before, but it created this whole new world that seemed accessible to us and the soundtrack to it just felt like it should be different too. Why build this new thing and keep playing the same music you were playing three years ago?

Treble: What made the scene so volatile in the beginning?

MW: Like anything it had a bit of a gang mentality to it. Punk was happening in relatively rough areas of Detroit, and there was just this posturing thing. To be in hardcore, you gotta be hard. So it just ended up creating this whole bullshit hierarchy thing of toughness. Like most kids when they’re younger, they’re looking for a place to settle and belong and find a sense of community and that often meant people who had your back and are there to protect you. Straight edge was very much like that too. A boys’ club, better-than-you crew kind of idea.

Treble: When Current started, were you looking to do something entirely new?

MW: A new soundtrack yes, but a new soundtrack wholly informed by another sound we’d been hearing elsewhere for sure. There were a lot of influences that were there from the beginning. Early Lungfish had come out at that time. It was that mid-era Dischord where the old hardcore bands that were gone and the newer more experimental bands were coming to play. The bands that were super important to me in high school, Ignition and Soul Side, had broken up and moved on. But we had a really wide range of influences at that point. Derek and I were listening to a lot of Deicide and Extreme Noise Terror and grindcore at the time. The initial current sound came more from Justin because he was easily the most accomplished musician of all of us and he was writing a lot of the initial music because it was really guitar first. We lived together at the time or shortly thereafter os we were listening to a lot of the same stuff. There was a lot of “check this out, check that out.” We were all drawing from the same well.

Treble: This was before the whole midwest emo thing took off, but after that first wave of ’80s hardcore. Were there any other bands around you that were kind of on the same wavelength?

MW: Yeah, I think we still, to this day, we just consider ourselves a hardcore or punk band. There was’t really that shift yet. At the time, “emo” was still an insult. One of the very first bands for us that felt akin for us to what we were doing was this band called Vine from Kalamazoo. Vine was around a little bit before us, and probably broke up before us, but we had played a few shows in Kalamazoo and they had done things we had dreamed of. They went to DC and recorded with Jeff Turner of Grey Matter at WGNS. They had done a few things ahead of us that we had wanted to. And sound wise, we were in the same realm. And then a couple of those guys played with Derek later in Broken Hearts are Blue. So they were really the first band locally that we connected with, and I don’t think there were a ton. We were kind of just doing our thing at the time and it was informed more by what was coming out of Washington, D.C. There were definitely bands after us that followed that trajectory, but there weren’t that many. There were a few bands from the early ‘90s from Royal oak that was really into Dischord. Like there was a band called Smart Bomb, they never recorded anything but one of those guys is a famous musician now…

Derek Brosch: Brendan Benson! 

MW: Brendan Benson, yeah. And there were a few bands like that. There was a band in my high school that was influenced by that stuff called Lung Cheese. But there weren’t many bands at the time that were pulling from that same band in Michigan at the time.

DB: Matt and I were pulling from D.C. a little bit in the band that him and I were in before Current, Gallows Tree. We were basically playing Soul Side covers. We were fully into that Dischord sound for sure. And then when we hooked up with Justin it was a full continuation of that. From that point we became, I don’t know, better? Just a better version of what Matt and I were doing.

MW: It came together really quickly in the beginning, even though we didn’t hone our sound for a while. But it wasn’t a struggle, and everything prior to that felt like a struggle.

DB: We did the seven-inch so fast. But then we sort of hit a nice stride. The time from the seven-inch to the LP was so fast. The spectrum of things, we had a whole LP in six months. But we practiced nonstop. Just constantly practicing. 

MW: It’s weird to look back and think of everything we did in two years. Now it would take me 18 years to do all that. There were no barriers to it back then. This came first. College, work, relationships, all of that’s going to have to come second to this. 

DB: We were really proactive about recording stuff. There was nothing that didn’t get recorded. Sometimes in bands you just don’t do that. You have songs and you play live, but the recording songs part sometimes didn’t materialize. And back then it seemed like bands would come and go fast. And maybe there were a bunch of songs you never recorded. But we were always on top of the recording songs part. 

MW: Not that we really had any idea of what we were doing. 

Treble: With so much happening in such a short amount of time, what sustained it? Was it just everyone’s main priority at the time?

MW: I think so. There was a bunch of things happening at the same time. This band came out of nowhere and suddenly our first show was with Circus Lupus and Jawbox. We were just asked to play that show. And we were like, “wow that’s crazy.” Those happened right away. Recording happened right away. Justin and I decided we would start a record label that was basically just to support the band. That all happened in a matter of months. I was in college at the time. But we focused on that most of our waking hours. College to me just became something I had to get done. The minute I was out of class, [my focus was] how do we get into the van and play shows? And that was it, I think all of us were pretty focused on that. It was rewarding in the sense that things were happening and at the same time, it was a lot of work, but it was pretty easy too. We weren’t really trying to live off it it, we weren’t trying to get anything out of it other than just trying to have a good time. So that made it really easy to make it a primary focus when you don’t have a career or a family or anything else.

During that time, there was a real sense of ritual around everything. Every weekend Derek came over to our house and we wrote and recorded music and then every Friday night we’d go to the same pizza place. We kind of just had this thing we all did together instead of one night a week. We had all these things we did on a rotation and it all kind of fed into having a band together and that led to a tour and recording or whatever. And in addition to just us in the band, there were all these other people that were also engaged int he ritual. They lived with us, wen tout to eat with us, would got o shows with us. Our entourage. (laughs)

Treble: At the same time, it also ended pretty quickly. In hindsight, what led to Current ending when it did?

MW: I just think after so long, living together, traveling together, people just wanted to do their own thing, or different things. We had been on a ritualistic path that had a common goal. But summer of ’94, particularly after the tour, some of that got frayed a bit. People got sick of each other, got tired of being in a band with each other. People got into relationships and that became more important than the band. 

DB: And you gotta throw in that me and Justin and Albus all started wanting to play The Who songs.

MW: Yeah, their musical direction shifted, and I was probably more political and wanted to do more activist sort of things, both lyrically and in life in general than they were interested in doing at the time.

It’s weird to look back and think of everything we did in two years. Now it would take me 18 years to do all that.

Matthias Weeks

DB: We tried after the tour. The trajectory at the end—as we were putting together timelines and stuff, it wasn’t just like we got back from tour and it ended. We came back and we were still trying to do stuff. We still had shows scheduled in November. So somewhere in between, it wasn’t like we came back and everyone hated each other. We kept trying to do that next batch of stuff and things just weren’t the same. They weren’t locking down the way that they had before. Things never quite felt the same after we came back. There just weren’t any songs that were coming together. It’s kind of a bummer because that last batch of songs was really the best stuff we ever did, and it would have been cool if there was another mutation of that into whatever it was going to be. But nothing was landing the right way, and you know, who knows, that’s just kind of how a lot of bands call it a day.

MW: I think we burned out at a high point instead of a low point, which I kind of prefer. We came off tour in 1994, there were for sure some shows we could have skipped. Overall it was pretty positive. We played some amazing shows with some amazing bands, I think we were on the road for close to 60 days that summer on and off. We came off a promising tour, we just recorded our best batch of final seven songs, and somewhere around there, i also started talking to someone in Germany about doing a European thing in the summer of ’95. There were good things happening and stuff to look forward to, but it wasn’t enough to keep the momentum going. 

To add to the sheer amount of things we accomplished in two years. Current had an alter ego band that recorded an LP and played a handful of shows—the same exact members plus one additional person. That was really spastic grindcore stuff. And we did that in the middle of Current and we would do dual practices, one hour of Current and then 30 minutes of the other band. There wasn’t much separation between the two bands, other than the sound we were producing there was even a few times when Current showed up at a show, like in Memphis, we read the room and realized these people didn’t want to hear Current so we played an Ottawa set and everyone said, “what the hell is this?!” At one of the fests we played, nobody even knew about Ottawa, so from the first note we played three Ottawa songs just back to back to back, without saying anything and then played a Current set after that.

Treble: How much work did it take to compile everything—masters, timeline, show flyers—for the box set?

MW: It wasn’t too bad. Between Derek and I, we did pretty good at preserving that history. He did a good job years prior about getting flyer scans and keeping as how list. I had lot of that stuff too because I ran the associated record label for 13 years. At the beginning of Covid we had all this extra time and we began talking about trying to salvage all our reel-to-reel tapes, maybe remixing maybe remastering, just trying to preserve it before the tapes get destroyed. So we did that on our own in maybe mid 2020, and got pretty far down the road. I started playing in another band and thought about maybe resurrecting the label after a decade of not doing it. And thought maybe it’d be cool to take this old Current stuff and remaster it. What we didn’t realize in 1993-94 was maybe this stuff could sound a lot better. We have so much more knowledge and now we’re in the digital era we thought we would take a stab at it. In the process of doing that, that’s how word got around to Ken (Shipley) who we had known from way way back in California in the 90s and on the first record he put out, there was a Current song on it. So about a year later he reached out and said “hey we’re doing all this ‘90s stuff,” and so that’s how that led to that project.

By that time we had everything we could possibly get. There’s maybe just two shows we don’t have flyers for. There’s some music that’s unrecoverable because our cheap dumb selves recorded over it because we didn’t have 250 dollars for a new set of reels. And the record was already out, why do you need those? In hindsight a couple of dumb mistakes, but 30 years, we preservead a lot of that stuff pretty good. Derek and I both have a kind of archivist bone.

DB: The remixing was quite an adventure too. Especially the last seven songs. When we did the digital rip from the tape, there were a couple different issues. One was that there were 16 tracks on a 1/4inch reel which is a bizarro format so even to get the tracks off there we had to take them to someone who would rip the digital tracks from the reel. And when we got it back, we took it to Jack Shirley, the engineer. And it wasn’t in great shape. There was this hiss through the whole thing. And the bottom of my snare was broken so there’s this constant rattle. It was a mess.

MW: The previous mix and master was probably from a cheaper plant back in the day. It just gets muddy enough that at lot of that stuff gets buried. But when we cleaned it up with an engineer who knows what he’s doing a lot of that stuff shows up, so we had to do some triage on it. 

DB: The thing that was sonically recorded the best, somehow, was the first seven-inch. When the engineer got his hands on it he was like holy cow, everything’s well done and everything worked. Then it just progressively got worse as we go along. 

M: We were looking for the cheapest studio, honestly. Get a cheap tattooist get a bad tattoo. We were looking for the easiest way to get things recorded that didn’t cost a lot of money, so it suffered. We didn’t have a studio like Inner Ear until later on, Woodshed studios came round which became the default punk studio that Tim Pak from Angry Red Planet ran. And it just had limitations, he didn’t have two-inch reel, so there was just a ceiling to it. We had bands that were pushing everything into the red and I was screaming in a closet into a handheld mic. 

DB: Those final seven songs, Matt found the invoice for it and the whole thing was 250 dollars. We couldn’t have been in there more than…

MW: Yeah, we were probably there for just a day.


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