2017.05.05 // Filed under: Sound
A few days ago on Twitter, I wondered out loud how many artists from the classic era of SST Records (from 1980 to 1997, though some would cut it off at 1989 or earlier) are still going today. By still going, I meant still active as a performing and recording entity, whether as an ensemble or solo artist, that released records under the same name (or as essentially the same entity) on SST.
For all the relatively big-name acts who did their time on the label, there are few intact in 2017, and pretty much all of them took a break at some point between recording for SST and now. Indeed, if Sonic Youth hadn’t broken up a few years ago, they would have been the only career band still actively recording and touring straight through from their SST days.
But if we’re going to be less strict with the criteria, and allow for bands reformed after splitting, and non-career artists, the list is longer than you might think, even aside from members of SST bands going on to post-SST acts or solo (which I did not count, at first) or part-timer bands (if you can still see them live today in some capacity, I thought it worth including them).
One obvious omission from this list is Mike Watt: he’s recorded and toured consistently (save for one break for illness) since 1980, but he never released anything under his own name on SST. Same goes for the individual members of Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü and the Screaming Trees, for the other more notable exemptions.
Anyway, let’s go through the list, in order of releases in the SST catalogue, bands confirmed as currently or recently active in bold:
Black Flag: broke up in 1986; reformed for benefits in the mid 2000s; reformed again (with only two original members, then one) in 2013-14 to tour the album What The…; current status unknown.
Saccharine Trust: broke up in 1986; reformed as a part-time band with two original members at the end of the 1990s, recording one more album in 2001 (which is getting reissued this year). See also: Joe Baiza’s Universal Congress Of.
Meat Puppets: broke up in 1996; reformed with one original member from 1999-2002; reformed again with two of original trio in 2006, continuing to tour and record.
Subhumans: recorded one album for SST that was quickly deleted; reformed in 2005 with different lineup, recording for Alternative Tentacles; current status unknown.
Saint Vitus: split and reformed in the 1990s, twice more in the 2000s; still touring today with most SST-era members; released most recent album in 2012.
Gone: Greg Ginn side project, active for a year in the mid 1980s enough for two albums; reconstituted from 1993-1998 for a few more albums, still labelled as ‘active’ but no album since 2007 and the band doesn’t play live to my knowledge. See also: Confront James, Hor, Mojack and all of Ginn’s latter-day SST makey-up jam bands.
Bad Brains: recorded one studio album and one live album for SST in the mid 1980s; singer HR also recorded a series of solo projects for the label after the band moved on; split for a few years in the mid 1990s, but still touring today with all original members, albeit interrupted by health issues; a new album is in the works.
Lawndale: recorded two LPs for SST in the mid 1980s; succeeded by the Rick Lawndale Band in 1997, and a version of Lawndale minus Rick Lawndale that started in 2006, neither a full-time band and only the former with a released recording.
The Flesh Eaters: second version of Chris D’s Flesh Eaters recorded for SST in the early 1990s after two compilation releases; band technically reformed in 1999, releasing two more records, but they only play occasionally in Los Angeles.
Opal: originally Clay Allison, Opal recorded one LP for SST in 1987 before Kendra Smith was replaced by Hope Sandoval and the band changed its name again, to Mazzy Star; currently on hiatus after several similar breaks in the 1990s and 2000s.
Blind Idiot God: toured and recorded from the mid 1980s till the early 1990s, then on hiatus as members went solo; BIG reformed as a part-time band led by original guitarist Andy Hawkins in early 2000s; touring more actively now, following the release of 2015 album Before Ever After, made over the previous 10-plus years.
BL’AST!: recorded two albums for SST in the mid to late 1980s; broke up in 1991 after leaving the label; reunited for a few shows in 2001; reformed in 2013 for occasional tours and recordings, as well as the remasters of their first two albums on Southern Lord.
Henry Kaiser: solo and ensemble releases (with Crazy Backwards Alphabet and others) in the late 1980s on SST; remains active today as a solo recording artist, sideman and live performer; also an accomplished research diver, film scorer and soundtrack producer, working with filmmaker Werner Herzog; got an Oscar nomination for producing Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World.
Descendents: technically only recorded one album for SST, 1987’s ALL (their previous releases were for the Minutemen’s New Alliance label, though later reissued on SST); became a part-time band when Milo Aukerman left for a career in biochemistry, though the rest would continue as ALL from 1987, taking a break in 1996 for a new Descendents album and alternating between the two till today; now touring full time as the Descendents, with new recordings this year.
Lee Ranaldo: Sonic Youth guitarist had one solo LP on SST; played with SY till they split in 2011, maintaining a solo career on the side; still touring regularly, with a new album on Mute (which co-released SY records in the UK in the 1980s) this summer.
Elliott Sharp: solo and ensemble releases in late 1980s; more active as a composer today, but still records and performs regularly.
Dinosaur Jr: made their name with their two SST albums in the late 1980s, but broke big once they moved to a major label; split in 1997, reformed in 2005 and actively touring and recording today, with all three original members (after multiple lineup changes in the interim).
Negativland: formed in 1979, Bay Area sound collagists are still a going concern since their SST days in the mid 1980s; three former members have died since 2015.
Glenn Phillips: former Hampton Grease Band guitarist released a single solo LP on SST in 1987; last released a record in 2010, but still plays occasionally in and around Atlanta.
Brian Ritchie: Violent Femmes bassist released three solo records on SST between 1987 and 1990; still active as a touring and recording solo artist as well as with the revived Violent Femmes.
Sylvia Juncosa: To Damascus guitar virtuoso released a single LP under her own name on SST in 1989; also played and recorded with The Leaving Trains (pre-SST) and former Black Flag bassist/SST office guy Chuck Dukowski’s band SWA; quit music in the mid 1990s before returning on a part-time basis in 2009; latest album Wanna Gotta was released in 2015.
Ras Michael: Jamaican reggae musician had one solo release on SST in 1988; less active as a recording artist now, with his last release in 2009.
Fred Frith: former Henry Cow guitarist had a single solo LP on SST in 1988, and a collaboration with Henry Kaiser in the same year; still plays cultural events and festivals today, and manages his discography via his own Fred Records imprint; his most recent release was in 2015.
The Last: LA power pop band recorded two albums for SST in 1988 and 1989 before going on hiatus, reconvening for another SST album in 1996 and splitting again; now a part-time band with their original lineup, they released their most recent LP in 2013.
Trotsky Icepick: formed by ex-members of the Urinals/100 Flowers and The Last; recorded for SST between 1986 and 1994, and no releases since; in recent years they’ve performed sporadically in the Los Angeles area, and reissued their catalogue digitally.
Soundgarden: released their first album on SST before a successful career as major label recording artists and a stadium rock band; split in 1997 but reformed in 2010, touring festivals and headlining arenas annually, with their most recent album in 2012 and new material in the works; their lone SST LP was recently remastered and reissued on Sub Pop.
Grant Hart: Hüsker Dü singer/drummer/songwriter released a solo album on SST before starting Nova Mob and successive periods of solo inactivity; still tours today, though sporadically; his most recent solo LP is The Argument, released by Domino in 2013.
Kirk Kelly: anti-folk pioneer recorded for SST in 1988; hasn’t released anything since the late 1990s and doesn’t tour, but still performs live as part of his labour activism.
Roger Miller: post Mission of Burma, released a number of solo and LPs on SST under his own name, as No Man, Exquisite Corpse and Binary System from 1989 till the late 1990s; reunited with Mission of Burma in 2002 and still plays live and records both with that band and solo.
Buffalo Tom: released their self-titled first LP on SST and Beggars Banquet; continued on Beggars for their subsequent albums, including their breakthrough Let Me Come Over; went on hiatus in the late 1990s till 2007, since when they’ve recorded two albums and continue to tour internationally.
Hotel X: jazz ensemble formed in 1992 by Tim Harding, also of SST band Always August and Office Ladies (who recorded for New Alliance after it was bought by SST), recorded six LPs for SST in the 1990s; still active in their home city of Richmond, Virginia, their most recent album came out in 2015.
Transition.: San Francisco grunge/hardcore band recorded one LP, Spine, for SST in 1994 that died without a trace, and the band split in 1998; reformed in 2013 and self-released a new EP a year ago, but not as a full-time concern.
Fatso Jetson: desert rock band (with connections to Fu Manchu, Kyuss, Yawning Man, etc) formed by the Lalli brothers in the early 1990s, with two LPs on SST before the label went on hiatus in 1997, when they moved on to Man’s Ruin and pastures newer since; their most recent album was 2016’s Idle Hands; still playing live near their home base in Southern California.
Oxbow: San Francisco art-rock band’s fourth album Serenade in Red was licensed to SST in 1997; they’ve since toured annually and recorded sporadically for Neurot, then Hydra Head; their latest album Thin Black Duke is released this weekend.
As an addendum, there’s a list of musicians on records released by SST who are still in the public eye, whether in music or otherwise, but not included above:
FLAG: erstwhile Black Flag members Chuck Dukowski, Dez Cadena, Keith Morris and Bill Stephenson, along with Stephenson’s Descendents/ALL bandmate Stephen Egerton, play the music of Black Flag; essentially a tribute/nostalgia act, with no plans to record.
Henry Rollins: away from SST, started the Rollins Band (various incarnations from 1987 to 2006) after Black Flag ended in 1986, combined with careers as a writer, spoken word performer, actor, radio host, pundit, etc that continue to this day.
Kira Roessler: in Black Flag from 1984-1985; subsequently, with then partner Mike Watt, formed bass duo Dos, a very part-time project that continues to this day; more recently working in sound and dialogue editing for film, sharing an Oscar for Mad Max: Fury Road.
Mike Watt: Minutemen bassist continued with drummer George Hurley in fIREHOSE after guitarist D Boon’s death in 1985; moved from SST to the majors in the 1990s, beginning a solo career in 1995 after fIREHOSE ended; save for a spell of illness in the early 2000s, a consistent touring and recording musician since 1980, whose latest project Big Walnuts Yonder released a record this weekend.
Bob Mould: Hüsker Dü guitarist/singer/songwriter recorded a string of classic albums for SST from 1983 to 1985; went solo when HD ended in 1988, releasing two LPs on Virgin; formed Sugar in 1992, recording two LPs for Creation, before going solo again in 1996; continues his successful solo career, with his latest album released in 2016; published his autobiography in 2011.
Dave Markey: recorded for SST with the band Painted Willie; now a filmmaker, best known for 1991: The Year Punk Broke.
Sonic Youth: on SST from 1986 to 1988 for classic albums EVOL and Sister; continued as a recording and touring entity with members from SST era till the band dissolved in 2011; all remain active in music, recording and touring (Thurston Moore has a new album out now; Kim Gordon has multiple projects as a musician and visual artist, releasing first single under her own name last year, as well as memoir Girl in a Band in 2015; Steve Shelley plays with Thurston Moore’s band, as well as Sun Kil Moon).
Tom Watson: guitarist with SST art-rock band Slovenly; went on to play with Overpass and The Red Krayola in the 1990s; released a solo album in 2000; more recently a regular touring and recording companion of Mike Watt.
Falling James: led various incarnations of The Leaving Trains on SST from 1986 to 1997; last released a studio album with the Trains in 2001; currently listings editor of and regular contributor to LA Weekly; was briefly married to Courtney Love before she met Kurt Cobain.
Dan Bitney: toured and recorded with SST band Tar Babies in the 1980s before joining post-rock pioneers Tortoise.
Mark Lanegan: recorded his first solo album for Sub Pop when the Screaming Trees left SST in 1990 after three LPs; continued his solo career when the Trees split in 2000; his latest album with the Mark Lanegan Band, Gargoyle, was released last month.
Mark Pickerel: left the Screaming Trees after their first post-SST album, then started Truly with Robert Roth and former Soundgarden bassist Hiro Yamamoto; began solo career when Truly went on hiatus in the 2000s; now playing again (and possibly recording) with Truly on occasion.
Josh Haden: son of legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden recorded for SST with the Treacherous Jaywalkers in the late 1980s; re-emerged in the early 1990s with renowned slowcore outfit Spain, under which name he continues to perform and record today.
Pat Smear: former Germs guitarist recorded two solo LPs for SST, as well as two albums as The Death Folk for sub-label New Alliance, before joining Nirvana as second guitarist in 1993; went on to join the Foo Fighters as a touring and then recording member till 1997; rejoined the Foo Fighters as an adjunct member in 2005, getting more involved since 2010.
Paul Roessler: brother of Kira Roessler and keyboardist with the Screamers, 45 Grave and other legendary LA punk bands; played on Pat Smear’s SST albums, and recorded as himself for SST and with Crimony (with Mike Watt) for sub-label New Alliance; a long-time collaborator with Nina Hagen and former Germs drummer Don Bolles, he continues performing and recording with them and others, and works as a producer in Los Angeles.
Steve Fisk: recorded for SST with instrumental band Pell Mell and also released a solo album on the label in 1987; better known as a producer, a career he continues to this day.
Martin Bisi: producer on SST albums by Sonic Youth and Blind Idiot God; released two LPs and two EPs of his own on New Alliance between 1988 and 1996; still busy as a producer/engineer and musician in Brooklyn, New York.