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"After a while, they seemed to get exponentially better with every show."
Sluggo had recently formed Dead Teenager Records with ex-Zeke drummer Donny Paycheck and Ben Rew, the singer from Paycheck's new outfit Camarosmith. He started hatching plans to get Dirty Power signed to the label and, more important, to have the band record with his go-to producer, Seattle studio wizard Jack Endino.
Thanks to his work with seminal Northwesterners Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden, Endino had a reputation for engineering huge guitar sounds and seemed a perfect choice to capture Dirty Power in the studio. Arriving with material honed to a razor edge, the band laid down the tracks in the space of a week. Though the producer had never met the band, according to an e-mail from Ulman, "He really knew what we were going for, sound-wise. He's like the Tim Burton of the music business: part mad scientist, part accomplished artist." Drummer Potts had equally high praise: "Recording can be pretty boring, but Jack kept us excited through the whole process. I remember the first time we sat and listened to the whole CD, I totally blew my package!"
The final product was, indeed, impressive. Blasting out of the speakers like some long-lost hard-rock gem from 1976, the dueling-guitar crunch and razorwire hooks of Dirty Power's songs, enhanced by the old-school, analog warmth of Endino's production, dealt out a sonic thump to the sternum. Though moments of nitro-burning aggression -- particularly on "Drag You Down" and "Lady Danzig" -- flirted with punk, the album stuck mostly to the formula that had gotten the band recognized: great songs and all-out delivery.
Endino called Sluggo at his home and told him in a low, serious voice that the album was the best thing he'd done since Nirvana's Bleach.
In a perfect world, the release of Dirty Power's self-titled debut would have been quickly followed with a tour, the band opening for -- and likely destroying -- headlining rock veterans. Instead, the band got caught in a power struggle between the label's owners. Sluggo was enthusiastic about getting the album into stores; his partners had a Camarosmith record to promote and wanted to push the Dirty Power release back. Sluggo did what he felt he had to do: He sold his interest in Dead Teenager to Paycheck and Rew and walked away with the rights to the Dirty Power album.
The label fiasco put something of a damper on the CD, even though it received excellent reviews. Nevertheless, Dirty Power managed to put together its first large-scale tour away from the West Coast. Some of the shows had less than stellar attendance, but the band got a solid response in certain areas, particularly the South. More important, the band withstood a month on the road with a minimum of friction. In Ulman's words, "We were all scrambling to get Prozac prescriptions before the tour, just in case. But we managed fine without. It was cool."
In the year since, Dirty Power has mostly stayed local, working on new material. Though the band struggled with the decision of whether to put out a full album or an EP, finances have dictated the latter. Everyone involved would just as soon have headed up to Seattle for another collaboration with Endino. (For his part, the producer states flat-out: "I'd kill to work with 'em again.") But the new EP, A Muscle the Size of a Heart,made with local producer/musician Doug Hilsinger for Sluggo's new Wondertaker Records, shows they have lost nothing in the way of songwriting firepower.
The burly riffs of "This Wasp" and "My Amphetamine" and the Deep Purple intensity of the comically titled "What Would Mountain Do?" all sound as if they could stand comfortably in the playlist for classic rock station 107.7 FM (aka The Bone). And if ever a part of the radio industry were in dire need of new blood, it's the stations that continue to rely on the canon of 1970s hard rock. Outside of Guns N' Roses' sleazy punk redux of Aerosmith and the blatant Faces/Stones pastiche of The Black Crowes, there's long been a dearth of new material for classic hard rock stations.
As it turns out, The Bone DJ Billy Steel not only likes the band, he's actually played Dirty Power on air a number of times. "The catch-22 of being a hard rock band in the U.S. today, especially a straightforward hard rock band like Dirty Power -- and they're damn good -- is that they fall through the cracks because they're not playing 'flavor of the day' hard rock ... I'm in a fortunate position because I have the freedom to be able to play the local bands I like. But me playing Dirty Power here and there, in the grand scheme of things -- I don't know if that's going to give them the lift they really need. With all hard rock and metal bands, the way that they carve a niche is to get out there and tour. The only way to really do it is to get out there in front of the people; the people will decide."