by Craig Young

I remember the first time I saw Sadhappy, it was back in the fall of 1992. They were scheduled to play the Backstage in Ballard and at the time I lived only five blocks away. A friend had been raving about this "punk-jazz" trio I should go check out, so on a warm weeknight I walked down to the Backstage, unsure of what I would encounter. What exactly happened that night I'm not quite sure. It was one of those occasions where you remember little glimpses, try to recall and catch little pieces; never fully remembering, yet always reveling in the memory of the experience. From Paul Hinklin's wall of dissonant bass that sounded, and looked, as if he were playing with four hands; to the layered distortion of Skerik's runaway saxophone; to the Evan Schiller's deft drumming and subtle fills that linked this power troika together. Imagine taking the manic energy of John Coltrane, adding to it the Mr. Hyde of what would be Flea's (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) Dr. Jeckyll, then twisting and turning it, compressing and shaping this red hot ball of energy into the engine block of an eighteen wheeler. Start the engine, put a brick on the accelerator and set it loose on the open road. I was knocked senseless and, years later now, I have yet to fully recover. I'm not complaining.

[ evan schiller, michael manring, paul hinklin ]

Sadhappy started in 1989 when Paul Hinklin and Evan Schiller played a one-off show at the Mural Amphitheater in Seattle. The crowd response was so overwhelming that it was enough to keep them playing together, which they've been doing for over ten years now. After two small releases and dozens of shows, this dynamic drum and bass duo found a kindred spirit in the saxophone playing of Skerik. Shortly thereafter, Sadhappy released their first full length, the widely acclaimed Depth Charge, in 1991. Their popularity started to rise, and so did interest in the band and their unique sound. The demands of playing and label interest in the band began to grow larger and more demanding. Internal pressure and tension began to mount. In 1993 Skerik left Sadhappy and went on to form Critters Buggin' with Brad Hauser, Matt Chamberlain and John Bush. As the press and hype started to fade away Paul and Evan quietly forged ahead, releasing Live Before We Were Dead (a live album culled from the show at the Backstage in September of '92); an album of rarities and unreleased songs (The Good, the Bad...and the Scary); and playing the occasional gig. In 1996 they met bass supra-genius Michael Manring who, besides releasing a number of his own solo recordings and collaborating with numerous other muscians, is best known for his work with Michael Hedges. The trio formed a fast bond, and with Paul and Evan's newfound musical conspirator came the release in '97 of Good Day Bad Dream. As evidenced by the new album, Sadhappy is not afraid to alter musical direction or style; it's the challenge that keeps them motivated. Still, the primal essence, that recognizable quality of the band, remains intact.

I caught up with Sadhappy in late January. They were playing three shows in town, and each night was for a different audience under different circumstances (see February's issue for the live review). Having not seen any incarnation of the band play since 1996, I was once again amazed by their adept ability at being able to match any musical challenge or circumstance handed them. The night after their last performance I had the honor of sitting down with Evan, Paul and Michael in Evan's basement--which has been converted into the band's rehearsal and recording studio, Periscope Records. Drinking Bass ales (what else would you expect them to drink?) and listening to the previous night's recording from the Sonarchy radio program, we discussed the past, present, and most importantly, the future of Sadhappy. As Evan's cat Zulu will testify: Sadhappy has many lives left to live--and it's not what you bring with you from a previous life, it's what you look forward to finding in the next.

You recently played three shows that were all pretty different in regards to the crowd, the atmosphere, and the style of the songs that were played. The first one was at the O.K. Hotel with three sets of loosened-up song structures; a much more song-oriented performance the next night at the Sit 'n' Spin; then two half-hour sets of improvised ambient music on KCMU's Sonarchy radio program the following night.

Of each of the three nights, what did you like the best? Which performance stuck out the most?

Paul: For me it's kind of hard to say, because I like the improv thing and I like the structured thing. It was nice Friday night to have things structured out and have people respond positively to something that's preconceived and rehearsed as opposed to going out and just improvising it off the top of your head. We got really positive response both nights--the crowd at the O.K. and the crowd at the Sit 'n' Spin. Saturday night there was no audience response that you know of because of the situation.

[ good day bad dream ]

Do they allow people in the studio at Sonarchy?

Paul: I'm sure if we wanted to bring a bunch of people down they wouldn't have objected...

Evan: But we don't have any friends.

Paul: Yeah. Ha ha! Nobody likes us so nobody wants to go to our radio shows.

Evan: Except all our cats. We could've brought Zulu...

Paul: Yeah, we're definitely a cat friendly band.

Zulu the cat does exist then?

Paul: He sure does. He's around here somewhere.

Evan: I should have brought him down. I'll go get him...

So you were equally happy with all three nights?

Paul: We were. I mean, none of the nights were flawless--we made our share of mistakes. After having played for a lot of years you don't get quite so hung up on not having a perfect night. When you're improvising you're taking your chances anyway. We were really happy with the way these improvs came out because the transitions were so tight. For Sonarchy Evan and Michael wrote up the script on most of the stuff, and just passed it around saying, "Just do this, then this, etc." No time durations and no bar durations marked out.

[ live @ the o.k. hotel, seattle - 1/21/99 ]
photo by robert blaylock

I really liked the show at the O.K. I came in and you were doing "Third Stone From the Sun." You could catch little hints of the main riff as the three of you were improving around it. Sounded nice.

Paul: Thanks!

Evan: We love that melody.

Paul: Yeah, we're big Hendrix fans. That was a cool moment. We recorded that night, but I can't really give a clear answer on what stood out until I get all the tapes back.

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