InSoc History: 1981 - 1988; "The Old Days"

   When you've done a band for many years, you have to start differentiating the changing situations you go through by dividing the history up into eras. The Old Days are, in my mind, the times between when we started, and when our first album came out on Warner Bros./Tommy Boy. There were, however, two very different phases within that period. From 1982 to 1985, we were a Minneapolis Local band. From 1985 to 1988, we were a NYC/Miami band with one underground radio hit which were played in the clubs with only one or two other songs each show.
   The reason I lump these two together is that most people didn't know about us until 1988, when our first major label release appeared.

InSoc AS A MINNEAPOLIS LOCAL BAND


   Paul Robb, Jim Cassidy and I all went to the same high school, (Click HERE for a picture of me in high school.) but we didn't know each other very well at the time. All of us were into music, however. Paul was working with synthesizers by age 16, played saxophone in the school band, and organized several one-performance bands for school functions. Jim played banjo on his own, and bass guitar in groups with friends. I had been playing piano since age 6, was in the school choir and sang in the musicals that the theater department produced.

   By early 1981, Paul had decided that he wanted to form a band which would play live and make records using nothing but synthesizers. That was, at the time, a radical concept, to say the least. There were several artists known for using electronics, (DEVO, Fad Gadget, Suicide, Gary Numan...) but with the exception of Synergy and Kraftwerk, almost all of them were using guitars almost as much as electronics.
   Paul got the name "Information Society" from
Alvin Toffler's book "Future Shock". Another nice thing about the name "Information Society" is that it abbreviates to "InSoc", which is a reference to "IngSoc", from George Orwell's (Eric Blair) book "1984", which is a must-read. The appeal here is that when we started, InSoc's songs were about social commentary. The media as Big Brother, TV is the enemy, the threat of nuclear war, all that sort of thing. Pretty normal for 19-year olds in 1982.

   Finally, in the last few months of high school, in 1981, Paul and I started working at the same after- school job and began to talk music. He played Kraftwerk for me one day as I was driving him home after work... In my mind, I always think of that as the moment that Information Society began for me. Paul let me keep the tape of Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express in my car's tape player after I drove him home, and I drove all over town listening to "Metal On Metal" over and over... I knew that things had irrevocably changed for me.

   About 8 months later, when we were all in college, Paul proposed that I join the band he was forming, and be the singer. After hearing some tapes of some of the music he had written, and playing with his synths, I was very enthusiastic about it. He had already recruited Pamela, and we had the first InSoc band meeting in my dorm room at Macalester college in January of 1982. This could be considered the official start date of the band.

   We decided to start rehearsing once a week at Paul's house. We also decided to try to find a fourth member, an effort which took 11 months. After rehearsing and making demo tapes for about 5 months, we managed to get a show at the only club to speak of in Minneapolis at that time: 1st Ave./7th St. Entry. There was a big room called the "Mainroom", and new bands with small or non-existant followings played in the smaller section which had a seperate entrance on 7th St. We got our first show there in June of 1982. We took some pictures of ourselves in what was, I believe, our first ever band photoshoot. I remember that the sound guy and everyone else working there that afternoon were shocked and, for the most part, pleased that we were so different from everything else that was going on in Minneapolis at the time. The sound guy said "That sounds great, guys. It's just what the club needs." What he was referring to was the fact that every band in Mpls. at the time was basically proto-grunge. Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, The Suburbs, Loud Fast Rules, (who later became Soul Asylum) were the norm. We stood out against the backdrop of the Mpls. music scene like the wolf with its sheep's clothing removed. And Oh MAN did those guitar bands HATE US. Tee Hee. (tm)

   Here is the poster for our second show, which was the same as the poster for our first show, with the date changed. We put a lot of time and effort into posters. It was the only advertising available, and very important to us, since we were so anti-social that we couldn't rely on ANY word-of-mouth except from the few people who happened to see our first few shows. Besides that, we just like making and posting posters. Making posters back then sucked. We had no computers, and there were very few (if any) computer systems around at the time that could print anything like that. We had to apply the letters from a sort of dry-decal sheet of letters called "Letrasets". It was really unpleasant.
   Some of the posters we made were merely propaganda, and didn't advertise any show in particular.
   In this one, you see our obsession with parodying advertising.

   You'll notice the reference to our European benefactor, Erich Zahn. Little can be said for certain of him. He claimed to be a violin player, and helped us in those first two years before mysteriously disappearing. He told us that he lived in Paris, but when we tried to find his home on a map, it turned out the the street he said he lived on didn't exist.

   So there we were, in the summer of 1982, playing live, no tapes, all electronic. HERE is a picture of me from one of those shows. I'm pretty certain that it was the first pop/rock all-electronic local-band show in Minneapolis history. Here's an excerpt of a song called "The Orthodox Pleasure Song", which never made it onto any album. As you can see, although we had a scary edge, we were pretty goofy. I think our sense of humor about the music was always competing with our instinct to sound dark.

   I may not remember everything, but this is a fairly complete list of the equipment we used on stage at the time:

Roland TR-808 analogue drum machine
Roland Promars monophonic synthesizer
Roland RS-09 pseudo-polyphonic synthesizer
Roland CSQ-600 digitally controlled analogue sequencer
Moog Prodigy Monophonic synthesizer
Korg MS-20 Monophonic synthesizer
Some 16-note analogue sequencer (I can't remember the brand)
Electro-Harmonix Minisynth
Synare Synth Drumpads
888 percussion units. (I can't remember the brand)
Big pieces of metal.

   Around this time, we got our first radio interview on KFAI in Minneapolis, and we made this "InSoc Commercial" to go with it. (Yup. That's me talking.) What was weird about this "Commercial" was that it was a complete satire, but everyone in Mpls. took it very seriously. This was when we began to understand a little about the nature of having a public presence: You don't really create it yourself. People do it TO YOU themselves, BASED ON what you do. Scary.

   We kept on playing shows, about one a month, mostly at 1st Ave./7th St. Entry. There were very few other places to play. here,
here,
here,
and here are posters from that time. (Note the admission fee: $2.50!)

   Here is an excerpt from a song we were doing at that time called "Survival Of The Prettiest".

   By December of 1982, we had built up a little following of about 200 nerds geeks and misfits (like us) who would come to 1st Ave. to see us, but who never ever came to the club any other time. This made the club owner, Steve McClellan, ecstatic. Usually bands only attracted the same 4 hundred people who all went to each other's shows. As a result, he booked us into a good spot every month, and let us play in the big room from time to time.

   THIS is what my hair looked like at the time.

   Also in December, Kristie (Kaerlin) Leader joined us on stage. We did a show at The Entry in December (Here's the poster) at which we put up a wall of balloons using 2 big pieces of clear plastic and a lot of balloons. We played the first two songs behind the balloon wall, and them Paul cut the wall open during the third song. It was cool. Here is an excerpt from that show; A song called "Hooked On Pablum". This was a parody of the "Hooked On Classics" series of disco-fied classical music sold on Television around 1980.
   Also at this show we debuted our new 2-color day-glo jumpsuits. This was the final poke in the eye to the normal denizens of the Minneapolis Music Scene. "Day-Glo jumpsuits?!?! Who the hell are these guys??" I'm wearing mine on the back cover of the "Creatures Of Influence" album.

   Tee Hee. (tm)

   By this time, people were beginning to wonder what the hell we were all about. At first, people thought it was some sort of prank, but after 7 months, they realised that we were serious. And serious we were.
While continuing to play shows,
(poster... another poster..... and yet another poster) we managed to scrape together about $2000 to make the first InSoc recording: The InSoc E.P.

   We printed 1000 copies of this, and sold perhaps 50. One local distributer said, after a few months, "Yeah, I'd actually appreciate it if you got them the hell out of here." I saved about 200, but over half of them were discarded and destroyed. It taught us that having an album didn't really mean much. What I wish we had understood better was that self-made albums are to be used for promoting the band. We should have made an effort to get these E.P.'s into the hands of people in the music business.

   As we continued playing shows, Jim Cassidy joined the band. I believe his first show was June of 1983.
Probably my favorite live show we ever played was this one. We had a video appearance by Erich Zahn, two slide projectors showing advertising images, and a lucite table with lights underneath that I stood on while singing. It was in some weird "theater space". Here is an ad for it that ran in the local indie paper.

   We were always trying to satire American media iconography. InSoc logo as Calvary, learning reduced to propaganda, etc.

   One of the few time we played at another club besides 1st. Ave. was at a place called "Duff's". Here is a poster for that show.

   In September of 1983, we went on our first tour; 4 cities, 5 shows, 5 days. We played Chicago, Columbia, MO., St. Louis, and Omaha.
By this time, we had a few more pieces of gear:

Oberheim DX digital drum machine
Moog Source monophonic synthesizer
Roland JP-4 polyphonic synthesizer Sequential Circuits Prophet-600 polyphonic synthesizer (Our first MIDI device!)

   Here are some excerpts from our show in St. Louis:
Our cover of "Santa Dog", but the Residents - One of my favorite songs we ever did.
Our cover of "The Land Of 1000 Dances", by Wilson Pickett.
Landschaft Ist Geistschaft
My silly Exxon speech.

   Shortly after this, Paul got tired of my uncooperativeness, and did the band without me for about 8 months. The line-up at that time was Paul, Jim, Murat Konar (who later wrote and sang "Running"), Mithat Konar, and Lisa Tonra. Also playing briefly during that period were Belinda Beasley, Shauntelle Martin, and Chris Little. In the spring of 1984, Jim unexpectedly moved to Seattle, and everyone else got tired of performing. In the summer of 1984, Paul and I decided to do InSoc together again, but we were both more intent on going to college than being in a band. 2 years as a conceptual art/music skit had been fun and rewarding, but we were getting older and wanted to get more serious about things.
   Paul had been getting to know some people in the Mpls. music biz: Paul Stark at Twin Tone records, Jerry Sylvers at Wide Angle records, and John "Chopper" Black at Cook House (I think) studios. Paul managed to get some time in the studio, and he and Murat made the
"Creatures Of Influence" album there. HERE is a 2' x 3' poster that Paul and Kristie made for it. One of the songs on this album was "Running", and it would change our lives forever. Running was written by Murat Konar in 1984, and recorded by he and Paul that year, with Paul producing. The album came out on Twin Tone records, and Wide Angle records put out the single of Running. Not much happened with either, except for one thing: Winde Angle was not only a singles-oriented record label, they also had their own record store, catering to DJ's, and more importantly, the had a RECORD POOL. The record pool supplied copies of "Running" to many DJ's, including some in New York City. There it became an almost cult favorite in the latin clubs in the Bronx.

   Meanwhile, we were back in Minneapolis, completely unaware of any of this. We had become so un-serious about the band that we actually photocopied and posted a bunch of these posters. The Minneapolis music scene and alternative/college radio set completely ignored us. They were vehemently opposed to ANYTHING electronic. Paul and I did one show in December of 1984 by ourselves, using mostly tapes of silly things and backing tracks that I sang over, but other than that, we didn't think too much about Information Society. We were still both working on music, however. I recorded "Sequence" in August of 1984. Paul and Murat got more equipment, including:

Yamaha FM polyphonic synthesizer
Yamaha RM-8 digital drum machine
Electro-Harmonix Instant Replay digital sampler

INSOC AS AN EAST COAST DANCE BAND

   Paul continued to work on songs for Information Society, while I changed my major at the University of Minnesota (I transferred there in 1982) to Computer Science. (That's when I learned about Trap Vectors) In the fall of 1985, I had decided to go to Vienna in order to remove myself from my life for a while. At about the same time, a guy who called himself "Andy Panda" called us from New York and told us that our song "Running" was a "huge underground dance hit" in the Bronx. Neither Paul nor I knew what this meant, but he wanted us to come play a show at his club for (GASP!) $900!!. We had never been paid more than $250 to do a show up to that point, so we were more than pleased to trundle a bunch of gear into a stationwagon and drive straight through, 1200 miles to NYC to play the 3-song show. They said they only wanted 2 or 3 songs, and that we HAD to do Running. Also, they didn't want to actually bring in a sound system and set up for a complete live band show, they just wanted us to bring a tape and play it through the house system while we sang over it. Weird. They called it a "Track Show", meaning that we performed over backing tracks.

   Shortly after making this poster with Murat, in the fall of 1985, I went away to live in Vienna for 6 months. HERE and HERE are pictures of me in Vienna. I didn't go to school, I didn't know anybody there, I just felt I need to go somewhere. When I came back, Paul wanted to take advantage of the underground club success of "Running" and play more track shows. Jim moved back from Boston, where he had been attending art school, and brought his friend Amanda Kramer with him to play with us. We assembled a halfway-decent 4-person track show, took a new band photo, and started playing in NYC and Miami about once a month. HERE is a picture of Jim and Amanda in New Jersey at that time, and HERE is a picture of me in Manhattan at that time.

   The more track shows we did, the more popular "Running" became in the dance clubs. Finally, Andy Panda suggested to Joey Gardner that Tommy Boy (who Joey worked with) should re-mix it and release it, and that's what happened. The re-mix was played a lot by dance radio in NYC and Miami in 1986 and 1987.

Meanwhile, we kept working on that band promo photo... never could quite get one that wasn't funny...

Band promo photo attempt #3
Band promo photo attempt #4
Band promo photo attempt #5
Band promo photo attempt #6

   At the success of the single, Tommy Boy signed us on to do an entire album for them. Joey came out to Minneapolis in January of 1987 to start recording. Before we had gotten too far, however, they realized that we didn't know what we were doing, and weren't going to be able to make a good studio record without a LOT of help.
   Tommy Boy had just been 50% purchased by Warner Brothers. This meant, among other things, that Warner Bros. had the option to sign on any Tommy Boy act that they wanted to, while Tommy Boy would retain rights to the singles, since that was Tommy Boy's special market niche. They asked Warner to step in and sign Information Society directly to Warner, so that Warner could supply a budget for producing the record professionally. This plan worked, and in April of 1987, we were officially picked up by Warner Brothers and assigned to the Reprise label.

   In February, I saw a brown metallic Plymouth Satellite Sebring on a downtown St. Paul street. I put a note on it saying that I wanted to buy it, and the rest is InSoc Car History.

   Our A&R; guy (artists and repertoire) suggested Fred Maher as the producer. We recorded the album in New York City in the summer an fall of 1987, at Platimun Island and Unique Studios. We were slated for a Christmas 1987 release, and then the boulder dropped on us...

   We had been a no-name, essentially unknown band for 6 years. It had never really seemed real to us that we might become an actual part of the entertainment industry. It never occurred to us that anything we did would actually be noticed or really matter. But the people at Warner did think of that, and what they thought was: "This new 'DIGITAL SAMPLING' thing scares us. What if we get sued?"
   They decided that they didn't want to risk getting sued over the Star Trek samples we used. None of us wanted to remove them, because they were clearly an integral part of the music. So Warner assured us that they would attempt to get permission from Paramount to use the samples.
   The problem with this was that the people had Paramount had better things to do than to waste their time talking to someone about one little album from an unknown band. It's not that they said no. It's just that no one wanted to take the time to do us a favor.
   While I started working on the car, the album languished in no-man's land for 6 months. Finally, our A&R; guy, Kevin Laffey, got a lawyer friend of his to help out. This lawyer's name was Adam Nimoy, and he was Leonard Nimoy's son. Since Leonard himself stood to gain money out of this, Adam asked his father to help him expedite the process by talking to some of the people at Paramount and cajole them into processing the issue. Warner and Paramount settled on a figure, $30,000, I believe, which was billed to the band, and the album was allowed to proceed to the stores.

   THE MIDDLE DAYS