Saturday, June 16, 2012

Interview with Sarah Folkman from Geko

Formed in 1983 by Sarah Folkman (bass+vocals) and Carrie McNinch (guitar+programming), L.A.'s Geko combined brooding, expressionistic vocals with "Garlands"-era Cocteau Twins guitar arabesques and driving industrial percussion. After releasing the "Probing the Gash in Her Head" 7 inch in 1991, the duo put out the compilation album "Join My Pretty World" the following year and disbanded soon after. Neither member went on to obscurity: Carrie is famous for her series of brutally-honest comic zines (check them out here), while Sarah has found renown as a visual artist in L.A. and beyond ( Sarah was kind enough to take some time off from preparing for an art opening to answer some questions about a band that, even in our information age, is still incredibly difficult to find out anything about. Fun fact for any "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fans out there: the post-Geko musical project T.H.C. that Sarah mentions in the interview was featured on two episodes of Season Four of "Buffy" as the fictional group Shy (that's Sarah's vocals you hear when Veruca sings during the "Beer Bad" and "Wild at Heart" episodes).

AKITD: When and how did Geko come together as a band? How did you settle on "Geko" as the name for your project?

SF: I think it was in 1983. Carrie and I were living together, going to school together, and had an intense attraction to the early death rock bands while also enjoying punk rock and the LA Rockabilly scene. We knew a few people that were in bands, and coming from the punk rock/DIY point of view, it seemed entirely possible that we could make a go of having a band ourselves.

We decided on “Geko” during an afternoon of throwing names at each other. I don’t remember what our other ideas were, but I was obsessed with the Creatures (they have a song “Gecko”) at that moment, so perhaps that’s the main reason it stuck...
AKITD: Can you talk a little bit about what the underground music scene in L.A. was like in the late '80s-early '90s? I know Screams for Tina, Christian Death and Red Temple Spirits were kicking around then. What were some of the clubs you frequented, and what were the bands everyone was listening to or talking about at that time?

SF: For me, the downtown version of “Scream” was the best-ever club. A warren of darkness, sound, film/video projections, and wonderfully decorated people combined to create an overwhelmingly sexy and exciting experience. Clubs such as Zombie Zoo, Lectisternium, and the other locations of Scream became favorites in large part because of the relationships we formed with the owners and the other local bands that played there. Carrie and I were both incredibly shy and not very good at socializing, and we didn’t become friends with many of the other “death rock" types, but we did like to support the bands that associated with Loyola Marymount’s radio station KXLU (such as Distorted Pony, Slug, Babyland, Savage Republic, Stereotaxic Device...). Carrie probably has a better memory for this question.
AKITD: What were the first recordings that Geko produced, and where were they recorded? There's an internet rumor of a six-song demo from the late '80s--were some of the songs on this demo the ones that would later appear on "Join My Pretty World" as '92 Remix versions?

SF: They were. Our first demo was recorded in our apartment on Formosa by our friend Bill Lay on a 4 track Tascam. I’ve looked for my own copies of that and cannot find them, but if they ever turn up and the tape isn’t warped beyond recognition, I’ll digitize the songs and send them to you.
AKITD: Geko has a very distinctive, haunting sound, with your vocals and Carrie's guitar work consistently standing out. Did the two of you consciously work out the sound you wanted the band to have beforehand, or did it just evolve naturally? What are some of the bands you would consider as influences on the two of you at that time?

SF: It was a very spontaneous... hmm, perhaps the word to use is ‘upwelling.’ We both felt a kinship with music and art that felt dark, lonely, or dangerous - and that’s what we wanted to create.

As far as influencing bands: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Sex Pistols, Blondie, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Cure, Bauhaus, Virgin Prunes, Cocteau Twins, Einsturzende Neubauten, Test Department, Skinny Puppy, Dead Can Dance, Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Pailhead...

AKITD: Something I've always loved about Geko is how the titles of your songs and albums could just as easily be the titles of paintings--they're very evocative and dark, and trigger the listener's imagination. Were the lyrical and musical duties handled fairly evenly by Carrie and yourself, or was one person more responsible for one of the areas more than the other?

SF: We had an even balance, both of us heavily freighted with confusion, pain, thwarted needs, desires and a compulsion to get it out. Even now, Carrie and I both like telling stories as a way to connect with others.

AKITD: What were Geko's live shows like? Did you play out often, and who were
some of the bands you got to perform with?

SF: We did play out a fair amount, but I am terrible at remembering the details of our old shows - too much stress and excitement. If I’d been smart, I would have kept a journal of details. As it is, it’s like a kaleidoscope of sound and images. Again, a question for Carrie?

AKITD: The "Probing the Gash in Her Head" 7" came out in 1991. Was
 the record well-received?

SF: The label (Open Records) was VERY small and limited in resources, but the publications we did manage to get it to for review were generally receptive and positive.

AKITD: I haven't been able to find out much information about Open Records, the label that released the 7" and "Join My Pretty World". It looks like they put out a handful of records in the early 90s and then just vanished. Who were the people behind Open Records, and how did Geko come to be on their roster?

SF: Carrie had become friends with Greg through the Zine scene. He was someone
who loved alternative music and wanted to do what he could to support it. I don’t know what’s become of him.
AKITD: Can you talk about the making of "Join My Pretty World"? Was the album always conceived as being a mix of new and previously-released material, or had there ever been some discussion about putting out a full-length of all new songs?

SF: The 7” release was a small run and we wanted the older songs to have the potential for a wider audience. These were the songs we were happiest with and wanted to document, and then move on to new material...

AKITD: You worked with Earle Mankey (producer for The Runaways, The Dickies, Sparks, Concrete Blonde and tons more) on four of the new tracks on
"Join My Pretty World"--what was that like?

SF: Earle was wonderful - gentle and encouraging. We were introduced to him by Jeff MacGregor and were very excited to have the opportunity to record with him. His studio was built next to his house and he had certain rooms in the house wired to the studio to take advantage of their sound. I have a strong memory of staring at my feet on his kitchen floor while playing bass. His board was my first experience of seeing automated faders - I liked to imagine it was a ghost mixing the songs. We also had a great time recording with Biff Sanders in his downtown studio. Oh, splicing those reel to reel tapes...

AKITD: After "Join My Pretty World" was released, did the band tour or do
any other kind of promotional work in support of it?

SF: No touring. If we’d been able to connect with a larger label (or perhaps not been such homebodies so connected to our cats) that might have been different. But as it was, setting up a tour and just heading out there never seemed financially possible.

AKITD: When and why did the band decide to break up?

SF: We broke up as a couple around 1990 and tried to keep the band going after
that, but we needed time off from each other.

AKITD: How did you transition from musician to visual artist? Did you perform or work with any other bands after Geko disbanded?

SF: I started painting and playing bass around the same time (18 years old), but the painting was something I did for myself and I wasn’t comfortable trying to push it out into the world. I stopped painting for several years because I was moving around, and then when I settled back in LA I didn’t have a space that was particularly conducive to creating. Fortunately, when I took it up again, within a year I had the opportunity to start showing the pieces and I felt ready for it.

I did work with others after Carrie - the one you’re most likely to know being George
Sarah in THC. That was a great experience.

AKITD: What are some of the fondest memories you have about your time with Geko? Are you proud of the work you + Carrie were able to create during your time together? Is there anything you regret?

SF: My regret is that we had no business or networking sense and were too low in self-confidence to find others to help us in those areas. But I loved writing songs and performing with Carrie. There’s a connection you can have with others in the creative process that is unlike any other type of friendship or love relationship. Time stops and you’re TOGETHER in this moment and this moment and this moment... I am proud of what we created. We jumped into it ignorant and naive and full of hope, and made something that was very much us.

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