It’s been nearly 20 years since the alternative rock era spawned grunge, garage rock, and funk metal and just as long since then teenagers Sean Lynch, Keith Brush, Jed Wamhoff and Tim Whitmer started their grungy funk rock band Spurge in Billings.
Sean and Keith, who have known each other since kindergarten, formed Spurge in 1991—Sean on guitar, Keith on bass. They added Jed on vocals and guitar and Tim on drums shortly after and grabbed the attention of the musically hungry youth in Montana with their distinctive sound.
The band spent several years in Billings and relocated to Portland, Ore., in 1995. Members disbanded several years later. Sean moved back to Billings where he formed 1090 Club. Keith currently plays in a number of bands in Portland, and Jed plays in Portland’s The Pink Widower. Tim lives in Bozeman.
Spurge members last shared a stage 12 years ago. In the empty Babcock Theatre, where Spurge is slated to perform on Dec. 26, Jed, Sean, Keith and Tim answered questions about the band that helped shape the Billings music scene in the early 1990s.
What motivated a Spurge reunion after all these years?
Sean: So many people have talked to us about how much we influenced their life at some point in time. Twelve years later, none of us have really been able to recreate what we had.
Jed: People won’t stop calling me about it…People like Sean and Tim.
Tim: We finally broke him down!
Jed: It sounded like a lot of fun and an opportunity to play with these guys who are a big part of why I play music and how I write music.
Keith: We’d talked about it for years, and I was motivated after Sean’s friend re-mastered (all Spurge’s old music).
Sean: It took two years to get that done. We just put up re-mastered stuff on iTunes.
How does the music sound after all these years?
Sean: For the 90s, I thought the recording was pretty good.
Jed: We pretty much wrote everything in one key, and it was really high. I think I could really belt it out in the upper frequencies.
Your range has changed?
Jed: It’s dropped a little bit. But hopefully no one will notice.
How did Spurge form?
Tim: I was just a straggler that came in at the right time.
Keith: Sean and I had jammed—We graduated together, so we played music throughout junior high and high school.
Sean: People fazed out, moved away, and Tim and Jed came in.
Jed: The scene was so starved at that point for a local act or that emerging sound of music. There were metal bands and classic rock bands.
Tim: We had a good target for that style of music.
Tell me a little bit about the style of music you guys were playing. I assume it was pretty unique and progressive for the time.
Sean: It was when ‘funk rock’ was cool. There was a point in time when that type of music was actually cool.
Tim: Hey, I still listen to all that stuff.
Jed: We all came up on the Chili Peppers and Fishbone and all that funky stuff, and we wanted to recreate that. In the very beginning we played a little rougher, a little more punk style. We learned that we work really well together.
On your MySpace people are leaving comments about great old memories, about how you soundtracked their high school life, Casey’s, skating and grunge rock. What are some of your fondest memories of Spurge?
Sean: My God, there’s so many. Every show was really fun in this band. We were there to play hard.
Tim: One of the most memorable times was when we were playing with the Insect Surfers. It was our first tour to California in 1992. We’re playing in this crazy little place, and we look down and Mary Stuart Masterson is selling our records.
Jed: I have fond memories of that California trip as well.
Sean: We were just kids from Montana. We drove all night from Seattle to San Diego. I remember pulling in…we’d never been to southern California before, and immediately pull into 7 a.m. L.A. traffic.
Jed: My favorite times were shows at the Filling Station in Bozeman. It’s just this insane VFW bar that had this strange duality of the local scene, which had nothing to do with the college or music at all, and we would just fill it with all these college kids. It was an easy room to pack with people. It was just wild.
Sean: I remember shows where people were hanging off the stuff that hangs from the ceilings, jumping off the poker machines and stuff.
Jed: It just shows that ingenuity of Montana, how we would make something out of nothing.
How does it feel playing music together again?
Sean: It is a little surreal, but strangely enough, all that stuff is still in there. We were pretty hardcore practicers. We’d go over and over the parts.
Keith: It cracks me up how seriously we took ourselves back then.
Sean: At that point we really had something going on.
Jed: It was easy to see why we did take our selves seriously. We had this product, and we could say we’re doing this show and there’s 500 kids there.
Sean: After we started drawing 500 plus, you had to start taking yourself seriously.
When you moved to Portland, did your popularity or audience shift?
Jed: When we got to Portland it was clear we were smaller fish in a bigger pond. It also exposed us all to different types of music to where we wanted to change our sound, not put out the same album.
Keith: I view it as us staring from ground zero. We had to build it all back up again.
Sean: It was an ego blow, for sure. We’d gotten so accustomed to playing to so many people.
Jed: We certainly brought with us a moment. We did work it.
Why did the band disband?
Sean: We were together seven years, and were moving separate ways musically.
Can you pinpoint your popularity?
Sean: It was the right place at the right time. It’s all timing. That is what it is with any band; if you’re at the right place at the right time and you somehow connect to those people you are set.
Spurge performs Saturday, Dec. 26 at the Babcock Theatre with opening act Dramady (of Portland). The concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the door or in advance at t Ernie November and Rimrock Mall, or online at www.1111presents.com.