It’s been just over a year since Ben Semeta moved to Boston. In that time, the Black Beach bassist has become both familiar with and a fixture in the city’s underground music scene. The longer he stuck around, however, the more he realized that it suffers from a disconnect. Boston residents are generally clueless when it comes to the deep pool of talent in our boroughs – and it’s not just the North End couples or Financial District bros. People who actively go out to explore Boston’s local music, both as fans and musicians, aren’t fully aware of the grunge, rock, and psych bubbles. There’s a weird disconnect between genre-split scenes here, so a week before Christmas last year, Semeta figured out a way to help solve that: compile some of Boston’s best garage, rock, and psych music onto a compilation album.
“Matt [Garlick] from Nice Guys and I were hanging out one night and I turned to him and said, ‘Dude, it would be great if we could get a compilation together to highlight what’s happening in Boston,’” He recalls. Thus, House of the Rising Fuzz was born. “I like to think I like to get things done. A lot of bands were skeptical at first. They’ve been asked to be on compilations before, but it always falls through. I knew this would happen. I wanted to make sure it did. I wanted to show people what everyone’s been doing in our city.”
After leaving the hardcore scene of the south shore for Boston, Semeta was impressed by how much talent surrounded him. Everyone worked hard, but few focused on weaving music scenes together. “I remember seeing Creaturos open up for FUZZ a year ago and having my mind blown,” he recalls. “Anyone who’s listened to Creaturos will pick up the record and maybe hear Midriffs for the first time. Kids who go to college with Midriffs will pick it up and be like, ‘Oh, who’s New Highway Hymnal.’ It’s a great way to do these informal introductions.” Even Semeta discovered new music in the process. Garlick suggested he include The Monsieurs in the compilation, an add that rounds out the sound with edgier punk rock.
In January, Semeta reached out to 10 bands—The New Highway Hymnal, The Monsieurs, Black Beach, Midriffs, Miami Doritos, Nice Guys, Dinoczar, The Barbazons, The TeleVibes, and Creaturos—with three requirements: write a song, fork over a piece of artwork, and give their sworn commitment. “Getting my band together for band practice once a week is hard enough, let alone getting ten bands in the same room,” he laughs. But sure enough, all 10 bands stuck with it, their original skepticism swept aside.
Don’t expect crummy recordings. House of the Rising Fuzz is start to finish high quality energy, personality, and spirit. “When you’re sitting in a basement and everything is loud and distorted and overdriven and in your face, all these bands sound similar,” he says. “When you hear them recorded and produced, every track is actually really different from one another. Not one song on here was produced by the same person. That’s huge.” Especially so given the compilation is entirely independent. Semeta isn’t a label. He’s never pressed a record. Figuring out how to handle artwork mishaps and company lingo was new turf, but the polished sound and packaging of the album looks like the work of a major label.
House of the Rising Fuzz benefits from the phenomenally cartoonish, spooky, bizarre artwork of Clark Jackson. The cover—a painting of a romping, furry giant waddling through a colorful field—recalls the detailed line-work of Thee Oh Sees‘ Master’s Bedroom or the cuddly creatures of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. “I’m a huge fan and knew right away I wanted him to draw the artwork,” Semeta says. “I asked him to listen to these 10 bands and draw whatever he environed an album for these 10 bands looking like, especially if it could be like Ty Segall or John Dwyer. It’s our spin on a west coast grunge.”
It doesn’t take more effort to understand why Segall and Dwyer are Semeta’s role models. The two pretty much run modern day garage rock in San Francisco and Los Angeles, a takeover started and, to some degree, still run through purely cult-following dedication and relentless DIY hype. In Massachusetts, we have yet to form our own equivalent. “It’s hard to find out about some of these bands because they don’t have the major representation from PR or buzz like Ty Segall,” he explains. “One of the goals for this compilation is to give this scene that we’re involved in some representation.”
At the same time, a lot of that is changing. On July 17th, Pile, Creaturos, Vundabar, IAN, and Milk sold out the Middle East Downstairs, a 600-cap room. It’s impressive when the Middle East Upstairs sells out with an all-local bill. Now it’s impressive when a place three times the size of that does because it’s more than friends at that point. It’s straight up fans. “It’s neat to go out to a packed venue where you know so many people and you look at each other like, ‘Holy shit, we’re doing this,’” says Semeta. “I’ve seen Brand New play down there and it sold out in seconds. Here I am, showing up late to this Pile show, and there’s a line just like that around the corner with all these kids I’ve never even seen. It wasn’t like, ‘Sweet, these bands and their friends are here to see them.’ It was fans of the local scene. Boston’s at a weird point where we’re on the upswing, and I think a lot of people may feel discouragement because they aren’t blowing up as fast as they think they should be, but they need to hold out. It takes a lot for a local bill to sell out the Middle East Downstairs. A lot of things are going unlooked, but that might change… and soon.”
House of the Rising Fuzz is Semeta’s chance to keep the momentum going. Getting to share this music with people who are unfamiliar is more than a goal; it’s a pleasure. “These are the artists I started playing with when I moved to Boston and they’re killed it every time I saw them,” he says. “Now it’s so cool to get to work with them.”
But pressing the record was just the beginning. Semeta expanded his original vision of targeting record stores in Chicago and Los Angeles to now hitting up radio stations, press outlets, and more with help from friends. “I’m winging it and hoping for the best,” he says. “A lot of people in this community are giving their support. They’re throwing suggestions out that help so much. They see the potential in the project and its good goals and they feel inclined to help. It seems really genuine and I’m so grateful for it. To everyone: thank you.”
On August 6th through the 8th, physical copies will be available to purchase at Boston Fuzzstival 2015. Pick up a copy and scan the list of artists; it’s a doozy. While those included are some of Semeta’s favorites, there’s just as more unlisted acts that he hopes to work with soon. “I’m already thinking about doing a second LP next year, probably with 12 bands: Idiot Genes, Zip-Tie Handcuffs, Vundabar, Wakes, St. Nothing, Brazil, and all these other bands I love,” he says, tacking on Grave Ideas and Rick Maguire of Pile moments later. He may be eager to distribute the original compilation, but the thought of a follow-up excites him just as much.
By the end of our conversation, Semeta’s enthusiasm and devotion to Boston’s garage rock scene detaches itself from his time here as a resident. It’s hard to believe he’s lived here for only one year. At this point, the thought of separating his life from these bands is laughable. It can’t be done.
“If nothing comes from this release, it’s a cool time capsule,” he says. “Do you think the DC punk kids in the ’80s knew they would be famous? Do you think Fugazi knew they would be one of the most influential bands of all time? Do you think Minor Threat knew they would be one of the most influential bands of all time? No. They were just doing their thing and they left behind a legacy that’s really independent, underground, and interesting.”
Semeta is sitting on a gem of a compilation. To some extent, it doesn’t actually matter how far its songs echo across the United States. Boston’s psych, garage, and rock scenes have a chance to spread their arms here, and to make themselves heard beyond the basement of their own backyard is a thrill. We’re proud to present the album premiere. So grab your friends, a six pack, and the best speakers you have. You’ll want to turn this one all the way up so the folks over in Northampton can hear it.
Stream it in full below:
[HOUSE OF THE RISING FUZZ. AVAILABLE NOW TO STREAM AT DIGBOSTON.COM. AVAILABLE PHYSICALLY ON AUG 6 AT BOSTON FUZZSTIVAL 2015.]