Bedhead began with two brothers—the Kadanes. Bubba two years older than Matt, they were from Wichita Falls, a small city in Texas about 120 miles northwest of Dallas. The town offered a suburban mix of Dazed and Confused-slash-Breakfast Club conformity/non-conformity infused with an element of whatever it is that makes Texas a state of mind as much as a state.
In part because their father loved playing the drums, the Kadanes grew up with music. Matt took piano lessons and Bubba focused on the guitar. “Ever since Matt and I were teenagers,” Bubba recalled, “all we wanted to do was have a band. We tried everything from learning to play and write music as a two-man band in my room during junior high school, to playing with other local kids who could barely play their instruments.”
The Kadanes eventually ended up in Dallas, where they worked with musicians like drummer Misch McKay (also from Wichita Falls and, later, of the band Macha) and, as strange as it may sound, Martie Erwin from the Dixie Chicks. During this period, the Kadanes kept writing songs, some of which would end up on their first album, and experimenting with instrumentation.
By 1988-1989 they were playing “Dead Language” (which would appear five years later on the 4SongEP) “Unfinished” (WhatFunLifeWas), and “I’m Not Here” (1993 7” B-side). Martie played violin with them for about a year before, in Bubba’s words, “she left us for the C&W big time.” But playing with a violin opened up some possibilities they weren't ready to let go of.
When Martie left, the Kadanes added a viola and a new drummer to the mix after Matt met Trini Martinez through a mutual friend. “I first heard Trini play with the Richland Community College lab band,” Matt remembered. “This was a collection of about 30 guys in their seventies, all wearing white suit jackets and playing big band jazz. Trini sat in the middle of the group, reading drum music as he played things like the theme song to the Pink Panther. It all had a Rat Pack feel, and Trini, whose uncle is Trini Lopez, was in his element there as much as in a rock band.”
With Martinez on board, permutations of instruments, band members, and names ensued. “I had seen the earlier iteration of the band,” said Robert Wilonsky, a Dallas-based writer, “which had a viola—and I thought, ‘Oh, Velvet Underground.’ But that band was just the Kadanes' launching-off point.”
Even before Bedhead, they were working on songs like “Foaming Love,” “Living Well,” and “Liferaft,” much of what would later become WhatFunLifeWas. Bubba and Matt spent hours reworking songs, breaking them down to their essential elements, searching for the perfect tempo to give the songs space to breathe while keeping enough weight, along with a natural tension and release. But they also started to think that having a viola on every song was too much—“a tacked-on novelty,” in Bubba’s words. Matt, Bubba, and Martinez met Kris Wheat and Tench Coxe around that time and decided to form a new band with the idea that they would use three guitars and Tench would, more or less, assume the role previously played by the viola.
Before joining the Kadanes, Tench had a long history in the Dallas music scene. In the early ’80s, when he was only 16, he started a band called The End, and for the rest of the decade was a rock hero in town, the kind of guy known not only for his technical ability, but also for his Pete Townsend theatrics, doing windmills, jumping off amps, and bloodying his hands while playing. By the time Bedhead was forming, Tench was more inward-drawn, as Matt remembered. “It was complicated but had something to do with the fact that his dad had died of cancer, too, and just a few months after ours did.” Whatever the exact reason, Tench’s willingness to take on a more complementary role was critical to keeping a band with three guitars from being self-indulgent—particularly when they played live—and his willingness to join the young band was a big boost to Bedhead’s early credibility. “If there were ten people in the room instead of two at an early show in Dallas it was because Tench was in the band.”
Kris Wheat, by contrast, lacked experience. His first tryout with the band, on guitar, was a disaster. “He didn’t know the names of the notes,” said Matt, “and it took him maybe five full seconds to get from one chord to another. But he did have rhythm when his left hand finally landed in the right place, and he really wanted to be in the band. Two months later, we tried again—this time he was on bass—and we played ‘Bedside Table,’ which has a fairly complicated bassline. He played it nearly perfectly. A mutual friend later told me that Wheat had practiced something like five hours a day during those intervening two months.”
The new band—though still unnamed—played a lot of shows in Dallas in the early ’90s. Though it wasn’t always easy for Bedhead to fit in. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, most bands in Texas were concerned with hardcore, punk rock, and rockabilly. Bands like the Butthole Surfers experimented with psychedelic and performance rock, but no one was playing slow, methodical music ala Bedhead. The band’s singular nature would mark them throughout their history; even on Trance Syndicate—the Texas-based label that released most of their music—Bedhead remained impossible to pigeonhole, at least in terms of other rock bands that were popular at the time.
By 1991, the lineup was complete. “I'm sure we wondered why we didn’t hit on three guitars sooner,” said Bubba, “but we knew how important the almost decade-long learning process was to get us to that point. From then on, aside from a little bit of glockenspiel and the occasional keyboard, everything we did was focused on the electric guitar and percussion.”
Meanwhile, several other key pieces fell into place. First was a rehearsal space. “When Bedhead first got going,” Matt recalled, “I wanted a place to live where we could also practice and record, so I coerced my good friend Nick Ruth, a painter living in Austin at the time, to move into a warehouse-like space with me in east Dallas. I found a place that was perfect but too expensive, so we had to take on three extra roommates. With disdain for the way the word ‘alternative’ was being co-opted at the time, we called this place the ‘alternative headquarters’.”
“We recorded our two 7”s there and a bunch of other stuff,” said Matt. “This was where we experimented with our sound; where we realized how much space we wanted the music to have on record and, if possible, live. This was where we bonded, where we could all hang out endlessly and do whatever we wanted. And it was critical for the formative stage of the band that we could really live with the music there.”
In early 1992, Bedhead emerged seemingly fully formed. Matt came up with a name, which Bubba agreed was the best choice among runner-up contenders “Speedbump” and “Swell.” The first show the group played was in January in the lobby of a movie theater in Austin, where the next night (as Matt recalled), the band “went to see My Bloody Valentine on the Loveless tour and felt…sonically inadequate.”
The “Bedside Table”/“Living Well” single (released in 1992 in a pressing of 1000 copies) and “The Rest of the Day”/“I’m Not Here” (1993, pressing of 2000) worked their way into Melody Maker, NME, and a few other magazines that no longer exist. Both singles sold out within a month or two of release.
More than any other Bedhead recordings, the 7”s embody an “early ’90s” indie sound—layered guitars, hypnotic bass, buried vocals, lo-fi quality—but far more illuminating in the context of the band’s evolution, particularly since three of the songs later appear in highly polished versions on the subsequent LPs.
While all of the Bedhead trademarks are present on the 7”s, the band still sounds young and impressionable. The tempos feel a bit rushed, the dynamic changes are more aggressive, and the influences aren’t fully digested. Still, as the working drafts of later masterpieces, the 7”s are a testament to the early promise of Bedhead and how far they were willing to push to get where they wanted to go. Robert Wilonsky: “As soon as I heard ‘Bedside Table’ and ‘Living Well,’ the first Direct Hit single, I knew Bedhead was That Band, although for me it was never a question of Best or Most Important or Hairiest Band, they were just the one you couldn't live without.”
The band was also extraordinarily patient, if you consider that they spent the better part of two years rehearsing and playing as many shows as possible—in both Ft. Worth and Dallas—before they recorded WhatFunLifeWas. A key factor here was a club in Ft. Worth called Mad Hatters, which was booked by Josh Robertson, who became the band’s de facto manager.
Bedhead at MadHatter's poster, 1993
Mad Hatters was also where they met King Coffey, owner of Trance Syndicate. Coffey was from Ft. Worth and played drums in the ’80s for a hardcore band called the Hugh Beaumont Experience before joining the Butthole Surfers. With his partner Craig Stewart, he founded Trance in 1990 and focused his attention on Texas acts. The band liked him right away and when he offered to release their records, Matt said, “we never thought about looking for another label. It was important to us at the time to be a part of a Texas label, and among labels with national reach, Trance was it.”
For his part, Coffey wasn’t worried that the band didn’t sound like anyone else on the label. “I liked the idea that it was very atypical from what a standard Trance release would sound like or even look like. Bedhead themselves made a really bold statement, not only musically, but in how they packaged the record in this really simple, beige packaging. Most Trance releases were very garish, in-your-face kind of stuff. Bedhead also asked if they could redesign the Trance seven-headed cobra logo because it really didn't seem to fit in with their packaging idea.” He signed the band to a three-record deal. “At first, I thought, ‘Man, they're going to record one album for us and go off to a major,’ so I did ask them to do three albums with us. As it turned out, they did. They did indeed get offers from elsewhere, but Trance is where they wanted to be.”
During this same period, the band played at several different venues in Dallas, the most important being Clearview, which was booked by Chris Motley. “I remember the willingness of the band to work whenever and wherever,” Motley said. “I probably had Bedhead open more shows than any other band in town. I know there were gigs they played when I called Bubba maybe a couple of hours before showtime and begged to have them to come play.”
Playing so many shows—many of them last-minute—was important for the band’s development. Some of these shows put the band in front of a lot of people, who were often antagonistic. Some had them playing for 10 people. But in both cases, in Matt’s words, “We developed our sense of how to deal with indifference and how to play for each other. I’m pretty sure I got from these earlier experiences the habit of turning around to face the audience only when I had to sing. I otherwise wanted to hang out on stage with everybody else, watching what they were playing, smiling when things came together, laughing when they didn’t, just like in practice, which I never wanted to distinguish in any real way from public performance.”
The band recorded WhatFunLifeWas over the summer of 1993 and released it in April of 1994. One reason it took so long was because, as would be the case with their later LPs, there was a false start. The band recorded more than half of the LP in the same studio where they ultimately finished it, but with baffling and close mic’ing—approaches that they abandoned before starting over.
Paul Quigg, who had recently finished putting a studio in the former Dallas Opera’s costume shop, remembered engineering the sessions for what became the final version of the record. “Bedhead’s music was absolutely gorgeous and I really looked forward to the challenge of capturing it honestly,” Quigg said. “The equipment I had was rather modest… Due to the unique nature of Matt's talk/singing style, recording the vocals was also an undertaking. We constructed an impromptu igloo that he could get inside of to do his tracking, mostly lying on his back.”
The budget for the record was $3000. “$3000 wouldn't have been bad had we recorded the record in a few days or even a week,” Matt said, “but it took months, in part because of the technical glitches that came from being constantly unsatisfied with my vocals. I did them over and over again.”
Mixing the songs was also a serious challenge. “It was nearly impossible,” Matt said. “We more or less used 15 tracks to capture some version of the live sound of the room and the 16th for vocals. This was the approach we had taken with the four-track in the headquarters—three tracks for music and a fourth for the vocals. But having a slightly different version of the same song on 15 rather three tracks was overwhelming at the mixing stage. I admittedly got us into the bad situation in the first place by thinking that we could do in the studio exactly what we had done at home. Bubba saved us by persisting at the mixing stage long after I lost hope. And Paul, thankfully, didn’t kick us out after six months.”
By 1993, months before the release of WhatFunLifeWas, people beyond Dallas were taking note of Bedhead. Chris Brokaw—then on tour with Come—remembered seeing the band in Fort Worth. “So we’re playing this place Mad Hatters and the opening band is called ‘Bedhead,’ which is at least sort of funny, so I watch them. And within 10 minutes I realize that they’re not only the best local opener we’ve played with, but they’re actually a great band. All these amazing things are happening in the music and the band is fascinating to watch: they look patient and methodical as these songs slowly unfold and explode before you.”
“Later on, we invited Bedhead to come up and play with us in Boston and New York. At that point, we were popular enough to fill places like TT The Bears, in Cambridge, and CBGB, in New York. I remember being excited for Bedhead, and immediately knew, especially when I saw them at CBGB, that they were getting across, that the audience was really into it; you could feel it in the room, this communal sense of discovery.” A few years later, Brokaw would join the Kadanes to play drums in The New Year.
Matt sang all of the songs at CBCG. He was quiet but—unlike so many other indie rock bands—in no way shy, aloof, or gratuitously eccentric, while Bubba was stage left, working his understated wizardry through an array of pedals. Wheat, stage right, was tall, angular, and stoic, anchoring the music with his steady, precise bass, while Tench stood almost hidden in the back, completely still, a ghost playing his complicated runs with spidery fingers, his head hidden behind a curtain of long white hair. Martinez, the only one in the band who didn’t appear emaciated, hit with insouciant ease completely removed from any rock aesthetic but that worked perfectly within the one being employed. Though not an exercise in slavish devotion, the performance was a remarkable replication of the record; or, the record was a remarkable rendering of the live performance.
In the fall of 1994, the band released its first EP: 4-songEP19:10. The cover featured a surreal photograph Bubba took of the dismembered arm of a Mexican doll on which a ladybug had landed, which is the first sign that the band was showing a different side of their personality, a bit more experimental, possibly even playful.
Mark Elliott was the recording engineer: “I think The Trinity Session album by the Cowboy Junkies provided some inspiration for the approach we took. The goal was to do things simply and naturally and record the band with one microphone. The band picked the Kessler Church, a small church in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. The space was intimate and unadorned. There wasn't really a budget, but I thought a good microphone would be essential.”
“The band set up on the pulpit, basically like they would if they were going to play a show… I sat up in the church's balcony with the gear (the photo on the inside cover was taken from my vantage point), hit ‘record,’ and gave a hand signal for the band to start. They must have not seen me. You can hear Josh [Robertson] tell them to start playing (he says ‘bust it’) at the beginning of the first song. I think the band played the set pretty much straight through. I thought the performance was good, but I was a little nervous about how the recording was going to turn out (I'd never made a recording like this before).”
The EP is like getting a chance to catch the band in a rehearsal or at a soundcheck. The low-key approach feels appropriate—maybe even necessary—after the intensity of WhatFunLifeWas; you get the sense that the band is taking a much-deserved break and, as listeners, we’re happy to join them.
Bubba explained the inspiration for the EP: “We really just worked the idea (the four-song sequence) into regular practice, and then Trini and Matt and I worked out the tempos, the approach—basically the overall feel—in a few extra practices. By the time we got to the church, we were running late because of various disasters, and we really didn't know if we were going to be able to pull it off. We played half of the first song a couple of times to get levels and adjust the instruments in the room for the desirable balance, then we played the whole thing. Once we started, it took 19 minutes to record.”
Elliott summed up his thoughts about the 4-songEP19:10: “Reflecting on it now, it strikes me as an accurate snapshot of the band at that time. Years later, there’s still something immediate and present about it for me. Of all the Bedhead recordings, this one makes me feel most nostalgic.”
After touring through the remainder of 1994 and the first half of 1995, the band returned to the studio in July 1995 to record songs that would appear on The Dark Ages EP and Beheaded, the second LP. Adam Wiltzie, who engineered these sessions, remembered meeting the band “sometime in early 1994 on one of their early Austin excursions. Seeing them play, I literally had an out-of-body experience… It was a combination of the exquisite, the intricate, and elegant with a dose of pretentious gracefulness.”
“In what would take the next year of my life, I recorded two of their releases. Everyone together in one room, filled with old microphones. It was so simple, and many of the concepts I absorbed from this period with them, I still have not been able to shake. It was probably the last time I was truly moved by a group of mammals with utensils outside of a zoo. I had always struggled to feel that something was beautiful if it was devoid of melancholy, and so for me, Bedhead represented ‘the end of the rock band.’ It was a spent force, to my ears at least.”
“We ran out of money after all of the tracking,” Bubba recalled, “but Wiltzie and I would sneak into the studio at night to mix it. I would drive down to Austin from Dallas and we would stay up all night mixing, sleep the next day, and then continue the process the next night. I had some disorienting and psychedelic day-sleeps in Wiltzie’s bedroom with the curtains drawn to block out the sunlight while some Stars of the Lid album that he was working on played for hours. It was similar to a coma-like Tangerine Dream-on-a-loop nap I had in the ’80s that I couldn't escape from. We mixed in two-to-three day stints and in order to not have evidence at the studio of our work, I was taking all of the 1/4” reels of mixes home with me every time.”
Bedhead in the studio
“One night, right before X-mas, I arrived in Austin and Wiltzie and I went to eat at Guerra's on South Congress. After we were done we walked back out to see my car's window smashed. We both stared in shock into the dark abyss of my now empty back seat where the bag of tapes used to be. The mixes for half the record were in that bag, so we then had to spend even more nights off the books mixing. We got the record done just before the studio owner got suspicious and looked at the security alarm records. He figured out what was going on and changed the locks, effectively banning Wiltzie from the studio.”
The Dark Ages EP was released in February 1996. Though the EP clocks in at just under fifteen minutes, it feels expansive without a wasted second. By delivering three very stylistically different (but thematically similar) songs, it might also be the perfect introduction to the band, if for whatever reason you didn’t want to start at the chronological beginning.
The Dark Ages poster
Beheaded—released in June 1996—is The Empire Strikes Back of the Bedhead trilogy. The album—which addresses the overwhelming torpor of everyday life—is easily the bleakest yet most hauntingly beautiful of the three and, for that reason, the most hopeful. As the title indicates, it’s a record in which idealism has met the guillotine, and we are left to confront the blood seeping through the cobblestones.
In the summer of 1996, after the release of Beheaded, the band went back on the road, spending almost two months touring the U.S. and Canada before going out again in March and April of 1997, a cycle they would maintain for the next couple of years. There were undeniable highlights. Bubba remembered headlining Bologna “in front of 2,000 people—three times as many as would occasionally come to see us in Austin, which we always considered some of our biggest shows to that point. We also made our only TV appearance within a day or two of that show on Italian national TV (an afternoon video show hosted by the Dick Clark of Italy, Red Ronnie.) It was surreal.”
Others recalled different kinds of shows with equal fondness. Motley remembered “a show in Houston, where most everybody was sitting on the floor, being amazingly respectful of such quiet music. It’s a cliché, but you really could have heard a pin drop in the spaces between notes.” Tim Midyett: “The second time I saw Bedhead was on a tiny veranda lit entirely with Christmas lights. Balmy late-spring California weather. Easy comfort. Intro rumble of ‘Living Well,’ and then…every guitar present, tangled up enough, moving smoothly through the gears. Or it was ‘The Rest of the Day,’ tapping on every one of those Christmas lights as it floated through the thick valley air. Or it was ‘Powder’—a guitar insists with two notes, melded with the ride cymbal’s ping, these chimes less bell-tower heraldry than the gentle shock of memory. Give way to moans, disembodied, of disappearance. Invigorating but suffused with loss. More intense for the restraint exhibited. Never effortful, but never casual. Purposeful, intent, engaging. Enveloping. Lovely beyond reason. That’s when Bedhead became my favorite band of our era.”
Touring was a logistical challenge. In the beginning, they went out in an International Travelall. “I mean, come on,” said Motley, “who tours in a freakin’ International Travelall?” It was a car the band bought for a few hundred dollars in 1991 in full awareness that, in the absence of spare parts (International stopped making cars in 1976), the first time it broke down would be the last time they drove it. Motley remembered seeing it abandoned in a parking lot off of Greenville Avenue in Dallas, where it sat for months. “I like to think it’s still there,” he said, “as a monument.”
Coxe’s mom loaned her minivan to the cause, but Matt soon moved to New York City, followed a year later by Coxe, which added new complications to managing the band, on and off the road. Matt and Bubba continued to work on demos by sending 4-track cassettes back and forth through the mail, but practicing was a challenge. Matt and Coxe reviewed songs in New York (and, later, Boston), and Bubba, Martinez, and Wheat rehearsed in a room attached to Bubba’s garage, with Bubba approximating the three guitar parts.
The full band would get together before a recording, a tour, or on holidays, with Peter Schmidt filling in for Coxe—and needing his own practice sessions—when Coxe was in Russia teaching English. As much as Schmidt enjoyed touring with Bedhead, he laughingly remembered “Bedhead borrowing his own band (Funland)’s van for one of their tours and bringing the van back with a hole in the floor. Still waiting for an explanation…” he added, which Matt subsequently offered. “Pedro (Schmidt) was actually with us at the time. I remember hearing him groan when the tire shrapnel blew a hole in the van and the backseats began to feel the cold breeze.”
In 1996, the band was able to buy a Ford Econoline—christened “Duane” as an homage to the various spellings of the name (Duane, Dewayne, Dwayne) they found on truck-stop keychains—but money remained tight. Time away from better-paying jobs had to be compensated for; Matt and Coxe often needed plane tickets. By the last three-month tour, and despite now playing sold-out shows in major U.S. cities, they decided to sacrifice their soundman to save money. They all slept in the same motel room, but even here they were cheap. “We had to be,” said Matt, while admitting they sometimes went too far. “We sometimes drove around for hours looking for a motel room for a few bucks less than the last place, and then feel totally vindicated, at 4:00 in the morning, if we found a place for $39 a night and didn't have to pay $45 for the place that we had come across hours earlier when it had still been possible to get a good night’s sleep.”
Their tours could also be destabilizing, physically and psychologically. Predictably, alcohol was often a factor, even for the soberest member of the band. There was an incredibly poorly attended show in Houston in 1992 where “Bubba was pounding Budweiser longnecks—free for us that night—and he got fucked up,” Matt remembered. “He fell back over his amp at one point. Later in the set, he used his beer bottle to play a slide solo on a song, and then put his guitar down after the solo but with the song still playing, left the stage, went to the bathroom to take a piss, and then stumbled back on stage to finish the song. Such a bummer that there were fewer people in the audience than on stage to see the rare spectacle of Bubba raging.”
Or there was their first show in Athens. “We showed up at noon, and Josh McKay (of Macha), who was supposed to be our host for the day, told us to go to a bar until he got off work. We all drank a ton, except for Bubba, and Tench [Coxe] was passed out by six o’clock. We couldn't wake him up for the show, so we put his guitar over his shoulder and propped him up on stage by tying him to a mic stand with the mic cable. He stood there, knees bent, like a dude who had just been hanged, for like an hour. I was fucked up but still remember laughing into the mic when Wiltzie passed out and hit his head on the mixing board in such a way that he maxed out all the faders and made the monitors and mains feedback...for a long time. Josh [McKay] said it was like performance art. People stood there with mouths agape, and we never had another good show in Athens.”
But most of the time, Bedhead managed to subvert the usual association of sex and drugs with rock and roll. Matt told me about the time “the IRS—or ‘the interracial rhythm section,’ as Wheat and Martinez used to call themselves—hid their weed next to 'a canal’ in Amsterdam, thinking they would find it two weeks later when we got back at the end of the tour.” It was apparently more common for Wheat to use touring to detox, according to Matt, “so he was usually on the edge by the second week. It took a few episodes of him hurling things in anger—mostly sandwiches—before we bought a frozen microwavable hamburger at a gas station that we kept on the dashboard in case he needed to throw it.”
Bubba recalled how Wheat, in Boise in 1995, hooked the band up with a place to stay at the club’s bartender’s house. “She just left us there and went somewhere else for the night. For whatever reason, Matt decided to shave off what had become probably the biggest beard in his life. He completely filled the sink with it and, of course, had us all come check it out. It looked like a big, brown disembodied afro. The next day when we left the house and locked the door behind us, we were all talking about how weird Matt looked clean-shaven when the memory hit him and he said, ‘Oh shit, I left my beard in the sink.’ I’m sure when the bartender got back to her house she thought there was a dead animal in it.”
Their run-ins with paramedics came not from overdoses but, almost always, from Matt’s panic attacks, which got worse after 1996. One exception looms large in the band’s folklore. On the way back to Dallas after the last show of a tour in Tucson, Duane broke down in the middle of the desert. “I woke up to silence with the sun coming up,” Matt recollected, “and I saw Trini holding Duane’s wheel as we coasted to the side of the road. We were about an hour east of El Paso.”
Wheat and Bubba managed to hitch-hike to a gas station, where they were met by the owner walking three pet tigers around the gas pumps on dog leashes. Eventually, they returned with a wrecker, whose driver, after loading the band (in the van) onto his truck, wove in and out of Mexico, across what was then still a porous border, to take care of some personal business before taking them to the repair shop.
Back in El Paso, the day got stranger as the band witnessed a robbery where their van was being fixed (and then watched Wheat jump over the checkout counter to tackle the robber before he escaped). “We finally made it to a motel,” said Matt, “where I woke up a few hours later to Trini moaning about chest pains.” Matt called 911 and an ambulance arrived. “The paramedics found some of Trini's vitals elevated and asked what he had eaten. “Trini—now shirtless in the back of the ambulance, hooked up to a bunch of cables, about to be defibbed—started off a long list with two liters of Mountain Dew, a bowl of chorizo, a fistful of pickled jalapeños, a bag of pork rinds….Everyone cracked up, even Trini. Four dudes in the back of an ambulance laughing. And when the laughter died, Trini, thinking we were now all bros, said, ‘Hey man [lingering chuckles], could you guys take us to a drug store so I can get some Rolaids?’ The paramedics said something like ‘sure dude, for $10,000. This is an ambulance.”
But for all of their joking around, the band maintained an air of serious contemplation in their music. As the phrase Transaction de Novo states, Bedhead’s third LP represents something new for the band. Whether you want to call it rebirth, resurrection, “life after death,” or simply “waking up,” it’s apparent from the very first notes that we’re now in the future that the singer seemed to predict at the end of Beheaded.
The band used a new studio for this record. “Wiltzie was doing live sound for us at the time,” Matt explained, “but he had been fired from his studio after Beheaded when they figured out he let us record so much of the record off the books. We had to look elsewhere and had already exchanged a bunch of emails with Steve [Albini] and, more importantly, Coffey offered to advance us our biggest recording budget to date.” As with the first two LPs, this one had a false start. “We recorded two songs at Albini’s home studio while he was building Electrical Audio in 1996,” said Bubba. “Again, we scrapped those for basically the same reasons as the Beheaded Cedar Creek recordings: they were recorded very well on a micro, individual instrument level, but there wasn't the atmosphere there that we wanted.”
Bedhead hanging out
Despite being the fastest record the band recorded—the tracking and mixing only took 10 days total—Transaction de Novo is the most sonically complex of the three Bedhead LPs; there’s a greater range of effects (from very clean to very distorted) and “distance.” Certain instruments sound as if your head is right next to them, others, at times, sound across a very large hall. Many of the songs have two bass lines. Though still very much “live,” the sound is constantly changing or mutating.
Some of this complexity can be attributed to the band’s increasing sophistication in the studio, and some to Steve Albini, whose influence Matt discussed: “Steve identifies as an ‘engineer,’ but that’s as much a reflection of his modesty as anything. The way that he designed his studio, the mics he chooses, the techniques he uses – all these things have contributed to the ‘Steve Albini sound,’ and we strove for that sound long before we recorded with him.”
Although Bedhead was playing with more confidence and innovation than ever, they officially called it quits in the summer of 1998, less than a year after the release of Transaction de Novo. Matt attributed the breakup to his disillusionment with the name “Bedhead,” which had been appropriated by a hair-product company (and worse, one from Dallas), and the practical difficulties of managing a band whose members were now based in three different cities.
“The band actually got more economically viable as time went on,” Matt recalled. “In ’96 and ’97, I was pulling in what I needed from a part-time job at a bookstore and the money we were making from records and live shows. But this was also not a lot of money and could only be done with minimal needs. From about ’95 on, we could go on tour and do well in the big cities—Austin, Dallas, NYC, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago—and by the last tour in ’98, we were selling out these cities at 300-400 capacity venues and playing two nights in a row in a few cases. But again, this still wasn't a lot of money, and it was really only enough if we wanted to tour at least twice as much—6 months a year instead of 3 months. And we also needed to make more records. The band was doing better than ever, but we faced a choice to do something else with our lives or tour non-stop. And doing the latter appealed to none of us. Trini had two kids and a good job that he could be away from but only if he made good money while away (and the last tour was 3 months long), and Tench and I also wanted to pursue PhDs more earnestly.”
The band wrote much about the compromises implicit in life, but they were also never willing to compromise their music or their image. They never used a producer, took promotional photos, or made videos. They turned down publishing deals and offers from major record labels. On their last tour, they didn’t sell merchandise—no T-shirts, no stickers, not even the record they were supporting—because they understood that the amount of money at stake, while not meaningless, wasn’t worth the distraction. Perhaps most remarkably, they didn’t record alternate versions of songs, opting instead to record over every take until they got the perfect one. (If you’ve ever been in a recording studio—where it’s standard operating procedure to keep one take while you “go for another”—you will know that recording over every take requires nerves of steel and the patience of a saint.)
Post Bedhead, the Kadanes continued to write and play music. With their childhood friends, Misch and Josh McKay, they released an EP in 2000—Macha Loved Bedhead—and around the same time founded The New Year (with Chris Brokaw, Mike Donofrio, and Peter Schmidt), which as of this writing had released three LPs that explore many of the sonic and lyrical themes established in Bedhead.
The first record by The New Year—Newness Ends—has a song called “Gasoline” that Bedhead regularly played on their final tour, and four or five others were already in the works. Uptempo and guitar-driven, “Gasoline” is instantly recognizable as the work of the Kadanes, but is rawer than anything on Transaction de Novo. Where Bedhead might have gone had they stayed together is fodder for speculation, but we can be thankful that what they left behind offers such a complete picture of the band, and that the Kadanes went on to other ventures.
Bedhead did end, though, and—appropriately enough—the last song on Transaction de Novo tells us that even what has been reborn must eventually die. It’s a song that seems to predict the future—theirs and ours—which is a future without the band, at least as a living entity; it’s why “The Present” feels like an augury or commemoration; the band is saying goodbye.
It’s always this year’s gift
is it ever what I wanted
Was I unhappy living in the past
has my growth been that stunted
When to be ashamed is to be defined
and all this selfawareness the blind led by the blind
an empty conscience is sensitivity
I have to pretend I’m overcome with humility
It always comes on time
not a second before the instant
but this year I think I’d rather be a relic
than part of the present
Transaction De NovoBedhead