No one's really sure anymore when the word "twee" entered the musical vernacular, although it was probably right around the time that NME's fabled C86 compilation came out in the UK. What's certain, however is that K Records' independent spirit and low-tech, low-cost approach to music making had a huge effect on the U.S. underground music scene from the late '80s onward. The label's flagship band, Beat Happening, spawned nearly as many imitators and influences in its time as, say, Pavement or Sonic Youth.
Two of the best-loved practitioners of this low-budget pop music were (and are) Seattle's Tullycraft and St. Louis' own Bunnygrunt. Led by Sean Tollefson's eternally adolescent vocals, Modern Lovers-esque songs and caustic, period-pop-culture-rich lyrics, Tullycraft criss-crossed the country a few times, released many seven-inch singles and did countless interviews in photocopied fanzines. (The band even did its own, Thrill!, from time to time.)
Meanwhile, Bunnygrunt in its earliest incarnation was releasing songs such as "Macho Beagle" and "Favorite Food" - songs much more childlike in their imagery than anything the band's done this century - and playing prime gigs like the first YoYo-A-Go-Go festival in Olympia, Washington. For years, Bunnygrunt was the local band known to non-St. Louisans. (Well, also Uncle Tupelo. And Drunks with Guns. But that's a different scene.)
It was inevitable that the bands would meet and combine forces. "Tullycraft is the single band we've played the most shows with," says Bunnygrunt guitarist/vocalist Matt Harnish. "I'd have to check the archives if you wanted an exact count, but it's in the 60-plus range. Tullycraft was our great partiers in crime during the last gasp of the truly independent indie underground, Johnny Appleseeding our way across the country, leaving new bands, promoters, zines and record labels to sprout up in our wake." Indeed, the Tullycraft/Bunnygrunt road show was always a good time. Your blogger once saw Bunnygrunt close a set with a cover of Beat Happening's "Indian Summer." Gradually, one by one, they switched instruments with Tullycraft, who closed the song and immediately launched into the first song of its own set. (And both bands were fun and considerate houseguests.)
Tullycraft retired from live performance in 2009, but earlier this year, Unchikun Records released a tribute album, Wish I'd Kept A Scrapbook: A Tribute to Tullycraft. Bunnygrunt contributes a cover of "Not Quite Burning Bridges," while other like-minded bands such as the Smittens, Poison Control Center and the Besties add their unique spins on the Tullycraft catalog. (This is actually the second such tribute: the first, First String Teenage High: The Songs of Tullycraft Played By People Who Aren't, came out in 2003.)
Which begs the question: If Tullycraft can have two tribute albums, why can't Bunnygrunt have at least one? It's easy to picture Tollefson doing justice to, say, "S. Kingshighway Bubblegum Factory."
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