Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear
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Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear

Iowa City, Iowa, United States

Iowa City, Iowa, United States
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"Grimm-lock Smash"

Like the venerable yarn spinners who share his last name, Matthew Grimm utilizes common, everyday situations to bolster the effectiveness of his personal tales of terror and injustice in a world that’s already become horrific enough to no longer need fairy tales. The erstwhile Hangdogs front man focuses on social inequality, political subterfuge and general apathy as his main antagonists, while Joe and Jane Sixpack, their kids, and the few teachers, cops and politicos left who might harbor a modicum of decency stand as weary, bloodied protagonists.

Grimm has relocated from New York to his native Iowa, where he’s put together a growling, hungry beast of a band (Eric Straumanis on bass, Jason Berge on guitar and Matt Winegardner on drums) and amped up his former country-rock groove into an angry, punk-y melange of spitting guitars, throbbing bass and pounding, martial rhythms. One might assume that finding a sympathetic audience for political rants, social battle cries, and economic doom-spouting would be an easier row to hoe in the Big Apple, but Grimm, to his credit, realized what so many preachers and would-be holy men haven’t—that there’s no real point in preaching to the converted.

Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, while not entirely consisting of such subject matter (there is the it’s-almost-a-love-song, Phil Spector-ish “Slut,” with swooning, sweet-talkin’ lines like “You’re a slut, so what of it/ School days end, and none of them mean shit.” Ditto “Nothing To Say,” which finds Grimm pouring his heart out to his beloved via proclamations like “You know all those pretty words you waited for ... You won’t hear them from me/ I’m insensitive, surly, full of liquor, wings and rage.”), generally builds its base on those confrontational blocks.

Kicking off with the infectious, jangly “Kill The Poor,” Grimm lets it be known right out of the gate where he stands on the current state of the union: “So you wear the vestments of ill-gotten legacy/ Bankrolled by CEOs, endowed by Christian destiny/ Give us empty words and flags to rally round/ But the rest of it don’t seem to trickle down ... Kill the poor ...” This track is so righteous, so on-the-money, and so in-your-face, that it’s no wonder this guy can’t find a label (even, as his press kit so astutely points out, among the so-called “leftist, indie labels” of this country) with the cojones to put it out. Shame, shame, shame. Hello, Steve Earle, what were you saying about “The Revolution Starts Now”? Ahem.

“Honea Path” documents a little-known, small-town strike from days bygone, and calls to task both the industrialists who chewed up and spit out the poor and barely educated workers as well as the unions who used them to gain power and prestige along the way: “Way down here in the land of cotton/ We once dared to dream of fair work for fair pay/ But our brothers they shot us and history forgot us/ So look away, Dixieland, look away.” A working-class anthem every bit as powerful as Uncle Tupelo’s rendition of “Coalminers,” this cut not only captures the pain and suffering of a lost moment in American history, but also points to Grimm’s knowledge of, and dedication to, the causes he believes in.

There’s no cutting corners here, no namby-pamby sparing of PC feelings, no slack for the lords of injustice and the purveyors of hatred, intolerance and greed. “Hey Hitler” is an open letter to the late mass-murderer himself, as Grimm sarcastically thanks him out of the side of his mouth: “Hey Hitler ... if there’s a Hell you’re burning like a million white-hot suns/ But take some balm in PR people, country clubs and patriots with guns.” “Armies Of The Lost” takes to task the cops, news reporters and lackadaisical parents of today; “One To Grow On” is directed at the lost offspring of those aforementioned, spin-blinded citizens: “Your parents might try but are mostly wrong/ Make stuff up as they go along/ You shouldn’t even trust this song/ ’Cause everything I know is wrong.”

“St. Booze” calls upon the numbing spirits to provide relief from the here and now, and is the closest thing here to the old Hangdogs groove on this raucous collection. Over a weeping roadhouse shuffle, Grimm laments the state of the world while trying to coax some respite out of a bottle: “St. Booze, we come unto thy altar humble/ Bearing sorrow sin, and nothing left to lose/ Bless this water into beer, wash away our pain and fear/ And deliver us from here, St. Booze.”

“Thanks” could be an alternate-universe Drive-By Truckers tune; a bitter, dead-tired response to those über-patriots who claim that this country is in the shape it is because of the current generation, and not the actions of those who came before: “Don’t get me wrong/ I know you done your time/ From Inchon to Khe Sanh to the Quaker Oats line ... so with this beer hoisted, allow me to offer some gratitude long overdue ... Thanks for the culture of thought sanitized/ By Christians and bigots and Reaganites/ Thanks for your silence as witch hunts and red squads/ Dragged down your neighbors like dogs/ Thanks for the Cold War and COINTELPRO/ For Vietnam, nukes and talk radio ... Thanks for abandoning all you taught/ About fair play and freedom of speech and of thought/ For this world of shit/W e inherit from stewards/ Who couldn’t be bothered to think for themselves.”

Grimm doesn’t pretend to offer a passel of solutions to the problems he points out on this record. For that—and some of his finer rants—you should surf over to RedSmear.com and check out the band’s official site. There, you can read some of the incredible hate mail his views have garnered from so-called “real Americans,” as well as his own insightful replies, and pick up copies of this record, homegrown art and mp3s.

Me, I’m gonna play the hell outta this stuff, stick it on mix CDs, blast it on my radio program, rock the tavern on my weekly DJ night and force every hard-working, beer-guzzling, non-voting dumbass friend I have to listen to every word of it. Until I hear stuff like this rammed down my ear-holes as fervently and repetitively as I currently do “patriotic” pabulum like Toby Keith, Pat Robertson and Bill O’ Fucking Reilly, I’ll consider it my duty as a proud, practicing, rock ‘n’ roll preachin’ American to present the other side of the coin. One who has the right to decide which side of an issue I’m on without being called a traitor. One who has the right to share those views with others, both those who agree and those who don’t. And one who won’t be remembered as just standing idly by as the disciples of the almighty dollar and the dogs of war lapped up the last remnants of freedom, truth and integrity this country had left.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you all with a word from a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool American, the late, great Bill Hicks: “I think the puppet on the Right shares my beliefs! I think the puppet on the Left is more to my liking! Hey, wait a minute! There’s one guy holding up both puppets! Shut up! Go back to bed, America, your government is in control!” Until we meet again — make your own damn news. - Pulse of the Twin Cities


"Twangfest '05 Preview"

With song titles like "Kill the Poor," "Slut," and "Hey, Hitler!" and a press kit one page of which focuses solely, if jocularly, on disclaimers, Dawn’s Early Apocalypse might tempt the unwary to picture its creators, Matthew Grimm & The Red Smear, as latter-day punks, long on attitude and short on polish—an assessment both entirely right and entirely wrong. ’Tude certainly permeates the ten-track disc in question, currently extant only as a pre-master advance CD, but it scarcely qualifies as a DIY goof. An Iowa City resident who previously co-founded New York roots rockers The Hangdogs, Grimm sounds something like Michael Stipe and writes electric lyrics by turns gloriously polemical and profane. - Playback:stl


"Mayer’s Picks from 2006: The Songs"

"Nothing to Say"/"Kill the Poor."

Matthew Grimm Grimm is one of the sharpest lyricists around, equally adept with a semi-love song (“And If I was a better man I’d take the time to try to see what it is that makes me worthy of what you see in me.”) as he is with his political rants (“Mall of america, pristine and sterilized. And woe to those who can’t afford the price.”) Best of all, Grimm writes heartland rockers like no other. - Twangville.com


"DOWN WITH TYRANNY"

If you haven't heard of Matthew Grimm and The Red Smear, you're missing a great band, sort of a cross between the Clash and Wilco. They're Iowa's best rock'n'roll band-- intense, melodic and political . . . - downwithtyranny.blogspot.com


"The Grimm Life of Iowa"

It's 12:17 am and I have a headache. The reason for the headache has to do with staying out too late and listening to really good, but very loud, music. The band was Matthew Grimm and The Red Smear. I did a few songs at a local benefit and had the honor to be followed by Matthew and his group of testosterone filled musicians. But here's the thing... Matthew Grimm is somewhat mind-blowing. A native Iowan, he used to front a band in New York called The Hangdogs, which had a bit of s-t-a-t-u-s in ol' NY, and in the Americana world, they are known and loved (or ignored and hated, depending on your view of the music industry). Matthew however came back to Iowa and started the Red Smear, which has left my ears ringing in their current state of crunchy delight.

Matthew himself is a power unto himself... stocky, aggressive (at least musically), exceedingly funny, and tapped into a vein of lefty pissed-off-ness like you won't see terribly often. With just an acoustic guitar he's intense. He's sharp and fearless and he has left me in pain from laughing in the past. The band, however, takes me to that very rare place where music saturates my brain, feet, and chest. I mean, he can throw an angry, cutting vibe with the best of them, but also stewing in his lyrical tirades are real moments of beauty and depth, surrounded by layers of distorted telecasters and P-bass. It is everything I truly love about rock and roll.

Ok, my description is pretty much entirely useless, so here's what I recommend. Go to Matthew's MySpace page, find the music player, and click on his song One To Grow On. The song is so good that it shouldn't even exist, and I'm pretty sure that any minute it's pure light is going to saturate all of the evil in the universe and we'll implode from the mixing of matter and anti-matter. If you listen and are in total agreement with me, then maybe buy an album from him. That way he can continue to save our universe. - Patrick Bloom, projectopus.com


"Grimm Reality"

Raised in Iowa's Cedar County, iconoclastic singer/songwriter Matthew Grimm cut his musical teeth with New York City's The Hangdogs. A gnarly, alt-rock/country crew of contrary left-fielders, The 'Dogs released five wonderful discs in between gin-soaked tours before family concerns brought Grimm back to the Midwest.

Produced last year by Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakam), "Dawn's Early Apocalypse" finds Grimm continuing to apply his earnest, reedy voice, rapier wit, unsinkable tunefulness and -- be forewarned -- longshoreman's vocabulary to his work with his new mates, the Red Smear.

By no means subtle, the singer swings -- sometimes wildly -- at hypocrisy ("Christian"), social negligence/injustice ("Kill the Poor"), teenage peer cruelty ("Slut"), vapid pop culture, shameless marketing ploys, alcohol, splintered notions of patriotism ("Armies of the Lost") and, on the incongruously peppy "Hey, Hitler!," a New World Order gone terribly wrong.

Ranging from acrid sarcasm to a palpable sense of heartbreak and loss, "...Apocalypse" is not an easy ride, nor was it intended to be.

Still, the hits far outnumber the misses, and Grimm merits serious props for his commitment and audacity. —Jim Musser - Iowa City Press-Citizen


"Night After Night by Jim Beal"

When it comes to using lyrics and Web-site writings to take on right-wing politicians, the religious right, the mainstream media and others who raise his ire, Grimm has few peers. Smart and literate (a dangerous combination), Grimm also knows how to rock and twang with abandon -- an even more dangerous combination. The former leader of the New York City country band the Hangdogs, based in Iowa, Grimm and the Red Smear are on their first tour of Texas behind a raw and rowdy CD, "Dawn's Early Apocalypse." With songs such as "Kill the Poor," "St. Booze," "Armies of the Lost," "Hey, Hitler!" and others whose titles won't fly in the mainstream media, Grimm and the Smear, former Hangdogs Mick Hargreaves (bass) and Dave Stengel (drums) plus Matt Azzarto (lead guitar), stage a frontal assault on the status quo -- and do so with backbeat that won't quit. - San Antonio Express-News


"A Cranky Band at Cranky's"

A cranky band at Cranky’s

Gee, Iowa must be some sort of haven for disgruntled musicians. You may know that masked metal men Slipknot are from Des Moines. Lesser known, but equally hardcore is Matthew Grimm and the Red Smear, hailing from Iowa City. Says here in the Red Smear’s bio info that the band’s brand of rock ’n’ roll is “meat grinded with hefty doses of power pop, punk and habaneros. Fueling the band’s attack are Grimm’s foul-mouthed disdain for a whored and corporatized status quo and disrespect for everything august and sacred.” All righty, then. You know a band takes itself seriously when it starts using months as adjectives. - Appleton Post-Crescent


"The Pitch (Kansas City)"

Iowa City native Matt Grimm hates a lot of things — HMOs, corporate music and sterile suburbia, for starters. (He shares both rage and a song title, "Kill the Poor," with the Dead Kennedys.) Still, with echoes of his last band, the Hangdogs (potent but less angry roots rockers), still lingering, his protests march down dusty rural roads. Even while promoting frantic sexual activity (something he doesn't hate) as a way to get through the day, Grimm suggests consummation in abandoned picnic areas, just off the blue highways. In a death-defying feat of linguistics, Grimm's Red Smear tag winds up working as both a roadkill-possum reference and a defiant leftist banner waving in the Midwestern breeze. -- Mike Warren - Aug 24, 2006


"A voice of dissent from the mean streets of, er, Iowa."

Matthew Grimm And The Red Smear "Dawn's Early Apocalypse" (Independent 2006)

Matthew Grimm was formerly the leader of New York’s Hangdogs, but has scuttled out of the Big Apple to darkest Iowa for the making of this record, his first since the dissolution of the band. It’s generally in the territory of a hard drinking, foul mouthed (check out track 10 with caution!), angry ex punker playing country rock. Some production and playing duties are handled by Pete Anderson, best known for his association with Dwight Yoakam, a further clue to the direction of the record. It’s also fair to say Matthew Grimm is less than happy with the current US administration, and considers himself something of a thorn in the side of all things Dubya, the press release even claims the band’s phone calls and e-mails are monitored by government bodies, the album artwork reflects this ‘danger to national security’ position with a prominent ‘Quarantined Material’ stamp. In addition the band website has a highly amusing ‘hate mail’ section! After that lead in, the music sounds a little less threatening than you might expect, Grimm’s voice is reminiscent of a rawer Michael Stipe, and some of the backing calls to mind REM too, particularly on ‘Armies Of The Lost’. The styles range from such southern jangly rock, to folky Dylan/Guthrie protest singer, to out and out stompers, so if that sounds like a description of a less twangy Steve Earle, that’s about right. Overall it’s an enjoyable and mostly uptempo romp well played by a bunch of old stagers who know their way around.
- Americana-UK.com, Feb 1, 07


Discography

The Ghost of Rock & Roll - spring 2009
Dawn's Early Apocalypse - spring 2006

Matthew Grimm's previous records with The Hangdogs:
Same Old Story - 1996
East of Yesterday (Shanachie) - 1998
Beware of Dog (Shanachie) - 2000
Something Left to Sell - 2001
Wallace '48 - 2003 (No. 1 seller on roots rock specialist MilesofMusic.com for all of 2003)

Photos

Bio

Matthew Grimm is an award-winning journalist and journeyman rock musician best known as a pioneer of New York’s roots rock scene and still renowned in some sub-strata of the music world for disarmingly melodic proletarian anthems and iconoclastic rave-ups. Grimm currently fronts the band the Red Smear based in Iowa City, IA, a city that has reputedly blacklisted him from public performances, and the band released its second record, The Ghost of Rock & Roll in May of 2009.

Grimm burst onto the New York rock scene sometime in the mid-1990s — as much as one can "burst" while playing vaguely hillbillyesque rock in succession of crappy East Village starter clubs. He and his band, The Hangdogs, morphed into a raucous roots rock outfit, melding punk-rock-ish live energy and volumes with the Grimm's alternately somber or funny lyrics and melodies. Within a few years, The Hangdogs had become New York's preeminent entrant into the roots rock/alternative country wave then threatening to become an American music genre. Establishing themselves as mainstays at the city’s long-running mecca for American roots music, The Rodeo Bar, the band became a Gotham institution, cited as one of the city’s attractions in no less than The New Yorker, even mentioned as a runner-up in an MSNBC.com story determining the “best bar-band in America.” As the respected New York music blog LucidCulture summarized on the occasion of a 2008 Hangdogs Rodeo Bar reunion: “For a substantial chunk of time in the late 90s and early zeros, there was no better New York band than the Hangdogs. Watching them evolve from overamped, politically incorrect honkytonkers to a magnificent, lyrically-charged Americana rock unit with a national following was one of the most satisfying things a concertgoer here could have witnessed — and countless did.”

Steadily, however, family and dayjob priorities winnowed the band’s original line-up away, eventually leaving Grimm the only original Hangdog touring with the band. Along the way, he honed his sound, losing much of the twang, sharpening his populist lyrics into a distinctly, often fervently progressive political voice and pushing the band’s sonic ethos more towards something verging on punk and powerpop. Grimm’s own family issues led him back to his native Iowa in early 2004. The next year he went to Southern California to make his first ostensible solo record, Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, produced by his manager, major label A&R veteran Peter Lubin, and multiplatinum producer and guitar great Pete Anderson. Of the record, released in the spring of 2006, The Pulse of the Twin Cities would aver, “Like the venerable yarn spinners who share his last name, Matthew Grimm utilizes common, everyday situations to bolster the effectiveness of his personal tales of terror and injustice in a world that’s already become horrific enough to no longer need fairy tales.” Grimm put together rotation of musicians both from Iowa City’s dynamic music community and former Hangdogs from the New York metro area, called it the Red Smear, and began touring from coast to coast, and to quite near the point of financial exhaustion.

Grimm and the Smear in 2008 reunited with a compatriot of his New York days, Jason T. Lewis, former frontman of Star City, relocated to Iowa City for the University of Iowa’s prestigious Writer’s Workshop. Lewis built a home studio to professional caliber, dubbing it Sad Iron Studio, where he, Grimm and the Red Smear made their follow-up album. The fruit of their collaboration, The Ghost of Rock & Roll, will be released in the May 2009 by Grimm and Iowa City’s own Mud Dauber Records, likely to the meager sales that have long been a hallmark of Grimm's career as the notion of rock & roll has been sold off to three soulless douchebags in suits who have deftly applied their MBAs to the music business in the same way enterprising denizens of the financial industry used theirs to help bolster America and make everything swell for everyone.