Repost: We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!!

NOTE: I’ve been listening to their album Big Bang nonstop lately, partly because I love it so but partly because it’s inspiring some ideas on a new story idea that’s gestating over in my daily words. Thought I’d share a post from six(!!) years ago about one of my favorite 80s bands, with updates and edits. Enjoy!

We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!!, aka Fuzzbox here in the States, was a cute and punky quartet out of Birmingham UK, and one of my first music crushes when I started listening to alternative rock. They’d been brought to my attention right about the same time as Sigue Sigue Sputnik in the glossy music mag Star Hits, and upon seeing their crazy-colored and spritzed hair and punky Oxfam chic, I was completely hooked–which in all honesty wasn’t really hard, considering it didn’t take much to rebel in a small town like mine. They made me realize punk wasn’t just about rebelling against society, like American punk had suggested — it was also about doing your own thing, however bizarre it might be, and not giving a shit about what other people thought about it.

Fuzzbox was initially together only for a short time, releasing just two albums and a handful of singles before going their separate ways, but they were just so damn fun to listen to that it didn’t matter.

Credit: last.fm - l-r, Tina, Vix, Magz & Jo
Credit: last.fm – l-r, Tina, Vix, Magz & Jo

Fuzzbox started sometime in 1985 with four friends who’d decided to start a band. And like any punk band worth their salt at the time, mastering your instrument wasn’t exactly high on the list of priorities. Consisting of Vickie Perks (aka Vix) on vocals, Tina O’Neill on drums and sax, and sisters Maggie (aka Magz–vocals, keys and guitars) and Jo Dunne (bass, guitars and keys), they immediately jumped in on the occasional open mike night at the local bars and learned their chops onstage. It’s said Maggie was the creator of the band name, announcing that they did in fact have a fuzz distortion guitar pedal they were about to use.

Their debut single was the gritty and poppy “XX Sex”, with shockingly direct feminist lyrics about exploitation and sexism in the media. They followed up with a ridiculous and silly summer single with labelmates The Nightingales and alternative comedian Ted Chippington with “Rockin’ with Rita”, and by summer’s end they were given a spot on the highly influential NME C86 compilation with “Console Me”. They prefaced their debut album that October with a jittery and bass-heavy single about unrequited love, “Love Is the Slug”, my musical introduction to them via MTV’s 120 Minutes.

Credit: fuzzbox.angelfire.com
Credit: fuzzbox.angelfire.com

Bostin’ Steve Austin (released as a self-titled album here in the US, but with the same cover) was released in December of 1986, featuring a dozen gems about the girls’ life in Birmingham–not just containing the teen heartbreak of “Love Is the Slug” and “Jackie”, it also contains the confrontational “XX Sex” and “What’s the Point” (their follow-up single released in January of 1987) and “Preconceptions”, as well as a weirdly hypnotic cover of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky”. The quality of the music here is surprisingly tight, even when it hints at sounding on the verge of disintegrating into a distorted mess. Vix’s lyrics alternate between playful, angry, and emotional, and despite the simplicity of the melodies there’s a lot going on musically. The stop-start of “You Got Me”, the building tension in “Love Is the Slug” and even the 60s-girl-group pastiche of “Hollow Girl” works perfectly.

Bostin’ Steve Austin got a ridiculous amount of play on my tape players between early 1987 and mid-1989–this was the side of punk that I gravitated to, the revelation that I didn’t have to try fitting in with the in-crowd anymore. I didn’t really need to do much, of course–wear some of my college rock tee-shirts, my grandfather’s green trenchcoat, and let my hair grow out of its quintessentially 80s spiky ‘do (but not to the point of longhaired metaldom), and start writing music reviews for albums hardly anyone else in my school listened to.

Fuzzbox disappeared for a short while, and would reappear in early 1989 with a completely new and unexpected look and sound. I admit I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach it at first, having twitched and thought “oh god, they’ve become Jem and the Holograms.” But there was something about it…something about the slick late 80s production, the chart-ready poppiness, that called to me. I began to realize that this was the forbidden candy for me as a fan of college rock, the ultimate test: do I dare admit that, after labeling myself an alternative music nerd and a nonconformist, I actually enjoyed this admittedly catchy music?

Credit: www.independent.ie - clockwise from top left: Vix, Maggie, Tina, Jo
Credit: http://www.independent.ie – clockwise from top left: Vix, Magz, Tina, Jo

Gone was the thrift shop fashion as well, replaced by glitz and glamour. The fuzziness of their sound was also gone, replaced by shiny synthesizers and sequencers. They now had an outsider as a cowriter of songs in the form of session musician/producer Liam Sternberg. And yet…

…and yet, there was something about this new album, Big Bang, that I just could not give it up. I was older and now in college, and yet the music hinted at the readymade poppiness of 80s Top 40, the kind that was throwaway and yet catchy and likable at the same time. The Brummie humor was still there, hiding in the lyrics of lead single “International Rescue”, a loving ode to the Gerry Anderson tv classic Thunderbirds (and, in the video, a humorous nod to Jane Fonda’s Barbarella as well, featuring Adrian Edmonson from The Young Ones as an evil scientist).

Credit: musicstack.com
Credit: musicstack.com

Big Bang kicked off with the irresistibly poppy “Pink Sunshine” (and also released as the second single) and my immediate reaction was to wonder where the hell my punk goddesses had gone off to…but I soon understood what they were doing. This wasn’t about rebelling, not anymore. It was about being an adult now, having gotten over the teenage growing pains. These were the Brummie girls stuck in their jobs, dealing with the drudgery of the real world and letting it all loose at the end of the working week.


There’s a lot of flirting and sexiness going on with this album, and that’s part of what makes it so irresistible. There’s the rocking sci-fi of “Fast Forward Futurama”, the heartbreak of “Self!” (featuring the guitar work of none other than Queen’s Brian May!), and the gorgeous dancefloor bliss of “Versatile for Discos and Parties” (quite possibly my favorite track off the album). There’s even a brilliant cover of Yoko Ono’s “Walking on Thin Ice”, retaining the song’s mystique but giving it additional emotional beauty. The album ends on a very somber yet lovely note with a track called “Beauty”, which sounds like nothing else they’ve ever recorded.

I realized that Big Bang‘s shameless pop wasn’t shameless at all — it was a loving tribute to the dance pop of the decade, one that was about to come to a close. The sound of 80s pop would age, and often not for the best, but when it was done right, it was still fun to listen to. A few years later, once I discovered anime movies and series from the 80s and 90s such as Urusei Yatsura and Silent Möbius and later to the Gall Force series and Sailor Moon, I began to realize that, thanks to Big Bang, I now had begun a long-lasting love affair with JPop. I began seeing the album as an unintended but spot-on paean to the J-Pop so prevalent in the credits and montages in anime, and that made me love the album even more. It’s pure pop, but it’s still irresistibly fun.

In 1990 they would release a final single, “Your Loss My Gain”, written for a never-realized third album, and while it seemed they were progressing in a more mature pop direction, they soon split up. They all went their separate ways. Only Vix remained in the music industry, recording under various band names including Vix n’ the Kix. Three compilations would surface a bit over a decade later: two albums of demos and outtakes called Fuzz and Nonsense and Rules & Regulations to Pink Sunshine: The Fuzzbox Story, and a greatest hits collection amusingly titled Look at the Hits on That (a very Fuzzbox-worthy pun title). And in 2010, Vix, Maggie and Jo reunited with the help of Vix’s backing band for a one-off single, a cover of M’s classic track “Pop Muzik”. Sadly, Jo would pass away from a cancer-related illness in 2012, but a year later, Vix decided it was time to rerelease the band’s 80s discography. Bostin’ Steve Austin would finally have its debut on compact disc, and Big Bang would contain all the remaining 80s tracks, including the “Your Loss My Gain” single.

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But there’s more! Since I first posted this, Vix and Maggie have returned to music under the Fuzzbox name and have dropped a few new singles over the last few years! In 2016 they released a new single called “Let’s Go Supernova”, and in 2018 they crowdfunded another single, fittingly called “WGAF…AWGUI!!”. In 2019 they released a video-only single called “Say Hello” for a local Birmingham project. And they will soon be releasing a box set called We’ve Got a Box Set and We’re Gonna Use It!!. It certainly is great to see them still going strong, still irreverent and still full of poppy goodness.

We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!! is a band that influenced not just my listening habits but my way of life when I was growing up in the late 80s; it was a refreshing view of punk-as-freedom rather than punk-as-anger, and helped me realize that the music I listen to, then and now. My tastes still lean towards the alternative, but I’m not above the shamelessly pop, especially if it’s done well. In relistening to Bostin Steve Austin I now hear a lot of the intelligence and fearlessness in the lyrics, which makes me appreciate it all the more. And as an added bonus, they’re there if all I want is some great and fun music to listen to.

2020 New Releases So Far, Part 2

Oh hey! It’s time for another month’s worth of new releases! The first quarter’s music so far has been surprisingly fruitful with a lot of great albums, and I’m quite happy about that! Here are a few new records I’ve been playing on my mp3 player as of late…

Destroyer, Have We Met, released 31 January. This is a rather quirky band that’s been around for quite some time, but their music has always been consistently melodic and intriguing.

Joseph, Trio Sessions: Vol 1, released 31 January. This is a fine alt-folk trio that channels the sounds of 70s Laurel Canyon and their three-way harmony is just lovely. I highly suggest checking out the rest of their work as well.

Poliça, When We Stay Alive, released 31 January. This Minneapolis band has always been a bit on the strange side with their music, but this new one is far more soulful and moving than their previous work. It’s an unexpected but wholly welcome direction and I love it.

Revolution, I Love You, Black Feathers, released 7 February. I don’t even remember where I’d discovered this band (NoiseTrade, perhaps?) but I fell in love with their strange but amazing mix of shoegaze, goth, synthpop and maybe even a bit of punk. The new record goes in all sorts of unexpected and wonderful directions.

Green Day, Father of All…, released 7 February. The new album kind of reminds me of their late 90s/early 00s era records, especially Nimrod and Warning, as the songs slide between all-out punk assaults and radio-friendly groovy rock. Not that that’s a bad thing, because they still manage to pull it all off.

Stone Temple Pilots, Perdida, released 7 February. They’ve lost two singers and that’s enough to break any band, but the DeLeo brothers soldiered on to write and record a stunningly gorgeous and heartbreaking album.

Hayley Williams, Petals for Armor 1 EP, released 7 February. The Paramore lead singer finally releases her first solo outing and it’s well worth the wait. It’s darker and quieter than her band work, but it’s just as powerful.

Best Coast, Always Tomorrow, released 21 February. I’ve always liked this band, and I love how they’ve completely embraced their own brand of that California sound — sunny, punchy, and just that little bit off-kilter. This one’s a fun and infectious record and I really should be playing it a lot more!

Grimes, Miss Anthropocene, released 21 February. I did not expect to enjoy the new Grimes as much as I do! She’s quite firmly in the ‘off in their own universe’ column when it comes to musicians and personalities, but the new record is just brimming with really neat sounds and ideas that pulled me completely in from the beginning. One of my favorites so far!

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More to come soon!

2020 New Releases So Far

Hey there! It’s been far too long since I’ve posted one of these, and I’m trying to be good and keep up this time out. There promises to be some interesting new albums coming out this year, some from new bands and some from old favorites. And now that I’m able to listen to my favorite station at work via a phone app, I’m going to try to stay on top of this again!

Here’s a few new releases worth checking out:

Stabbing Westward, Dead and Gone EP, released 3 January. Well, this was unexpected! I had no idea they’d gotten back together (their last record was their self-titled fourth album waaaaay back in 2001), but their new record is a banger. They’re still loud and noisy as hell, and that’s just how I like them.

Field Music, Making a New World, released 10 January. On the other end of the spectrum we have a band steeped in that quirky angular sound that feels and sounds very much like Eno, Belew and Byrne. A bit odd but still catchy.

Beach Slang, The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City, released 10 January. Not as frenetic as their previous albums, they seem to have embraced that 80s new wave guitar group sound, and they wear it really well. I’m really digging this one a lot.

Deserta, Black Aura My Sun, released 17 January. I know I’ve posted this track earlier, but I just cannot stop listening to it! The entire album is full of that soaring guitar reverb slicing its way through tracks, gorgeous spacey passages and dreamy vocals. This one’s been getting the most play on my mp3 player lately!

Holy Fuck, Deleter, released 17 January. Another band I knew of (due to its, er, distinctive name, of course), but I hadn’t expected them to be so groovy! And bonus points for having Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor on the vocals on this excellent track.

Wire, Mind Hive, released 24 January. I’m intrigued by the last few Wire records, as they feel like hybrids of both old and new sounds. This one in particular sounds a lot like their early 00s Read & Burn / Send output but also is quite similar to the darker melodies of 154 and Chairs Missing, and I love it. Great to see they’re still consistently amazing after all these years.

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More to come!

A Bit of Bowie

I’ll admit, it took me years to actually grok what David Bowie’s music was all about. I was of course familiar with all the tunes you hear on classic rock radio: Rebel Rebel, Fame, Ziggy Stardust, Space Oddity, and so on… I was also familiar with his early 80s output, thanks to MTV: Let’s Dance, Modern Love, Ashes to Ashes, Fashion… all those poppy songs and weird videos. But I didn’t even own a Bowie album until high school when I found The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust in a Salvation Army bin for fifty cents.

I was a huge fan of his Tin Machine project, especially since I’d felt 1987’s Never Let Me Down was, to put it bluntly, quite dull and lifeless. Tin Machine revealed a much-needed energy that was lacking in most of his 80s output.

And it really wasn’t until 1997’s Earthling that I finally decided to actively start checking out his back catalogue, and figured out why he had such a huge following.

I started picking up the Rykodisc reissues and got myself caught up. I finally figured out why the Berlin Trilogy is so revered. I was intrigued by the numerous evolutions of his style and look in the 70s. And interestingly, I found myself really liking a lot of the less famous tunes of his! Over the years I’ve finally acquired most if not all of his discography, and I’ve really come to appreciate just how creative he was.

Shoegaze is alive and well and living in my mp3 library

Back in 1991, when I was at college in Boston and Nevermind was on superduper heavy rotation on WFNX alongside Soundgarden and Alice in Chains and all the other northwestern bands, I found myself shifting in the opposite direction, looking eastward over the ocean and listening to the sounds of roaring walls of wobbly guitar noise from My Bloody Valentine and Ride. There was just something about the otherworldly dreaminess of the sounds of the Creation, 4AD and Rough Trade labels. Grunge was alright and all, but it couldn’t hold a candle to my beloved shoegaze.

In 2019, having become a constant listener to Seattle’s KEXP, I realized that shoegaze wasn’t just experiencing a small comeback over the past few years. There were more bands out there embracing that wall-of-reverb sound than the previous years, and they were all releasing singles and albums that were absolutely fantastic. They weren’t just emulating the sounds of 1991…they were owning it and making it their own. And they weren’t just from the UK, either…they were from all over the world.

We have Dead Horse One from Valence in southern France…

We have Lo! Peninsula, from Imphal, India…

We have Tallies, from Toronto, Canada…

We have Pinkshinyultrablast from St Petersburg, Russia…

We have Deserta from Los Angeles, CA…

I never get sick of this sound. Sure, it’s essentially the MBV-tested equation of playing augmented guitar chords, fed through heavy reverb, turned way the fuck up high, and the extremely liberal use of the whammy bar to achieve that soaring wobble. But man, it’s that dreaminess the sound achieves that just hits all the right buttons for me.

And I love that it’s alive and well, and all over the world.

Recent Releases, Summer 2019

Oops! I’m a month late on this, so this is going to be a slightly longer one, encompassing the various releases I’ve been raving about from June to September. Enjoy!

Silversun Pickups, Widow’s Weeds, released 9 June. Always twitchy, always off-kilter, and always amazing.

Hot Chip, A Bath Full of Ecstasy, release 21 June. A rather laid back and mellow record for them, bu this style suits them extremely well.

Hatchie, Keepsake, released 21 June. One of my favorite finds thanks to KEXP, they’re good alt-poppy fun with some killer bass riffs!

Drab Majesty, Modern Mirror, released 12 July. Highly recommended if you like that 80s gothy synth sound. Definitely reminds me of Clan of Xymox.

311, Voyager, released 12 July. As said before, whenever 311 drops a record I will always pick it up. Good funky fun.

DJ Shadow featuring De La Soul, “Rocket Fuel” single, released 24 July. Another KEXP find, this has to be one of my top favorite songs of the year. It’s a fantastic throwback rap tune you’d have heard in the late 80s. Definitely a nod to Run-DMC on this track.

Jay Som, Anak Ko, released 23 August. Light and lovely guitar alt-rock topped with dreamy vocals. But not shoegaze! “Superbike” is another track that’s been stuck in my head for months.

NAVVI, 25O2 EP, released 30 August. Filed alongside HAELOS as one of my go-to bands for blissful dance alt-pop. It’s a short five-song EP, but it’s got some ace tunes on it.

Tennis System, Lovesick, released 6 September. This band reminds me of Swervedriver with their loud and dissonant shoegaze guitar crunch. Surprisingly a great listen for my writing sessions!

Pixies, Beneath the Eyrie, released 13 September. The long-awaited new Pixies record is strangely spooky this time out. I’m not too surprised considering Frank Black’s forays into weird subject matters, but the creepiness translates well in this case.

Brittany Howard, Jaime, released 20 September. The Alabama Shakes singer brings us an amazing soulful and jazzy solo record filled with blazing funky riffs. Excellent stuff.

blink-182, Nine, released 20 September. We got to see this band live at Outside Lands this year and they were just as amazing as I thought they’d be. Older and ever so slightly more mature, they’re still tight as hell.

The Beatles, Abbey Road Super Deluxe Edition, released 27 September. Of COURSE I have to have this on the list! I’ll give you all a much more detailed response to the release once I finally get my copy (it’s in the mail at this time), but from what I’ve heard via streaming, Giles Martin has remixed it just enough to improve on what is already a fantastic album. The extras are also a hell of a lot of fun!

Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to….

The Beatles statue just up the street from the Liver Building.

…Liverpool! Our UK trip this year featured a few days up north via train to the home of the Beatles. I’ve wanted to visit the city for years, and though I wasn’t quite sure what to expect other than a mix between a tourist trap (mainly the city centre) and a proudly working-class atmosphere, but I can say that I fell in love with it in less than a day.

We stayed at a hotel downtown, not that far from the city’s major shopping district and a short walk to the docks. Somehow we arrived during absolutely gorgeous weather — slightly windy but otherwise clearish skies — so most of our time was spent walking hither and yon and taking all sorts of pictures. We also got to take a two-hour bus tour around the city and its outskirts to hit a huge amount of Beatles-related points of interest.

Rolling up to our tour bus, fittingly named.
The Empress Pub in the Dingle district, not that far from Ringo’s birthplace. This is the pub that’s on the cover of Ringo’s Sentimental Journey album.
12 Arnold Grove, where George lived as a kid. All six in his family fit into this tiny little place!
The gate to Strawberry Field, with all its fan graffiti. The land now contains a visitor’s center (we did not stop, alas) and its entrance fee goes to helping young adults with learning disabilities.
Mendips, aka Aunt Mimi’s house where John lived most of the time. This was a drive-by stop, but apparently you can arrange a visit, same with Paul’s house!
20 Forthlin Road, Paul’s house (the front door is the one partially hidden by the tree to the right).
Penny Lane, in the middle of a roundabout. John and Paul used to meet up at this spot when they took the bus to school. Seeing the actual inspiration for the song gave it a fresh perspective for me.
Lime Street Station, where we arrived/departed. Lime Street was the sketchy part of town way back in the day and is mentioned in the local folk song “Maggie May”, a 50s skiffle favorite, which appears in part on the Let It Be album.
The Grapes pub on Mathew Street, just up the way from The Cavern Club. This is where Brian Epstein went after seeing the boys play, already making plans to make them famous.
The Jacaranda, which was literally around the corner from our hotel. It’s a smallish pub where John and Stu Sutcliffe used to hang out (the art school is a short walk away); it was owned by Allan Williams, who got them their Hamburg gigs.
The original Mr Kite poster, part of a John & Yoko exhibit at the Museum of Liverpool.
The original ‘Yes’ painting by Yoko, also from the same exhibit. It’s a blank canvas with the word ‘yes’ in extremely small letters, and you had to climb a ladder and use a magnifying glass to read it. John loved its irreverence and positive message.
A statue of Cilla Black, a close friend of the Beatles and one of Brian Epstein’s signings. It’s right outside the new Cavern Club.
Mathew Street, where it all happened. The old man to the left is walking past the empty lot where the original Cavern Club used to be. There’s a half dozen Beatles-related tourist shops on this lane, and the Hard Day’s Night Hotel is at the other end of the block.