A day in Olympia with Generifus

Mac Pogue

All photos by Paul E Williams.

Spencer Sult isn’t extra bad. He’s seated across the room from me in the room of his Olympia apartment, drinking a cheap beer (poured in a glass), and has just offered me a La Croix. He maintains eye contact while speaking, and sometimes leans back extra far when I talk, like my voice might knock him over. I’m in town to meet Spencer and talk about his new album, Extra Bad, out on his own Sultan Serves Records onSeptember 1. Hunched over his Macbook, he’s searching to remind himself of the album’s influences.

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“I like Kurt Vile. A lot of people think he’s corny, I do too … I think his guitar stuff is cool,” he admits with a smile. He scrolls further. “Chris Bell, I Am The Cosmos. I was trying to learn one of his songs and couldn’t do it, and however I was messing up his song, turned into a part of another [Generifus] song.”

Generifus has been around for nearly ten years. Spencer had just started a high school internship booking at a venerable youth hangout spot and venue, the Old Fire House in Redmond, Washington, and was given “[a] thousand dollars for 10 shows—they were like ‘book whoever you want,’ and I was like ‘I’m gonna try and book two of my favorite bands and then … give all my friends 25 bucks.”

The Old Fire House opened Spencer’s eyes to the accessibility of the Northwest music scene. “I was aware of Calvin Johnson, Mount Eerie, Little Wings and that kind of stuff,” he tells me, “I was like ‘Woah, all these people are going around and they’re taking, like, 200 bucks for these shows.’ I was really surprised by the bigger name people that I got.”

So when a bill at the teen center needed an opener, Spencer decided to throw a set together. “I had a tape, a mini-cassette, one of these things, going into a mixer, a sampler, some pedals, and my acoustic guitar.” The early Generifus—evidenced on his first recorded collection, 2005’s A Meeting—captures the young Sult at an impressionable impasse. Double-tracked acoustic guitars ping-pong over overdriven Casio rhythm tracks. The album’s obvious debts and influences could triangulate Generifus’ mailing address to at least the ZIP code, if not his block—the acoustic guitars evince a strong love of Phil Elverum and Thanksgiving’s Olympia-bound gloom, while the noise passages and Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective cover hint at the concrete-covered psychedelia of the suburbs. However, one of Extra Bad’s key ballasts is missing here on this 2005 collection: Spencer Sult himself. His voice appears not once across A Meeting’s 13 tracks. Not until a Bandcamp collection of tracks from 2006 did he introduce his own voice.

It was at the Old Fire House where Spencer made lasting friendships that influenced the course of Generifus. Sult describes meeting people who went on to be in bands like Naomi Punk—“they were these really funny 15 year old kids who were weird. They’re all from the suburbs, so they all have like really nurturing supporting parents that would let them be weirdos, and let them go to house shows in Seattle”—and, crucially, LAKE.

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“At the time up in Seattle there wasn’t as much going on,” Sult recalls. “Down [in Olympia] there was this band, LAKE. I found them through Karl Blau, that dude in Anacortes. I played some shows with them in Seattle and they were super chill and I wanted to play music with them. At the time I was solo and I want to try to play with people, and it made sense—I was gonna go to a new school, and I decided to go to Evergreen.”

Back in 2008, when Spencer moved to attend Evergreen, the music scene seemed particular centered towards scrappy indie rock. “All the K stuff, that was happening at the time,” Spencer recalls. “I didn’t even know how to run a house show. I moved into a show house with people from LAKE that lived here, Mark and Andrew, and we just had all kinds of bands play, it was pretty cool.” Members of current-day bands like Mega Bog and Sick Sad World lived in Olympia at times, giving the town a hub-like feel. “It was this kind of west coast thing, [we had a connection with] Santa Barbara, a lot of those people moved up here, but there was a lot of bands that became big west coast bands were touring through here, you know, playing house shows.”

Indie music began to change in Olympia. “A lot of people moved away,” Spencer states. He still had to finish college, so moving was less of an option. “I needed new people to hang out with,” he tells me. “That was when I met the Guest House people.”

Spencer found River Nason and Liam Hindahl, Extra Bad’s rhythm section, through the Guest House, a venue on Olympia’s west side and a literal or figurative home base to new Olympian Americana bands like Oh, Rose and Camp Wisdom. Olympia is divided by water into a west and east side; among the kids, the west side is the college and the hippie side, the east is the punk side. Spencer walks both sides of the divide: he went to school on the west side, and hangs out with the Guest House crew and their attendant indie-hippie vibes, but counts many east side punk kids as friends, and makes plans to meet me at some of the Olympia Hardcore Festival shows. Which side does Spencer live on? In between the two sides, naturally, in Olympia’s downtown.

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With River and Liam, two recording engineers in their own rights, Spencer sought to record Extra Bad in the Guest House and his apartment in downtown. “I’ve done plenty of self recording before, but not with Liam, another person playing drums first,” Spencer notes. The laissez-faire nature of the Guest House got in the way of committing Extra Bad to recordings: “there were always people coming in and out.” “We did six or seven songs starting like that, and I just finished two of them by myself, and that was in itself kind of crazy.” Spencer grows wide-eyed when he describes sitting in his apartment, with the picture window looking over to downtown Olympia, working on all of the guitar and bass tracks hunched over a Macbook set out on his coffee table. “I was too burned out to mix,” he describes, and that was even before he had finished recording the majority of the guitar arrangements. Instead of trudging forward, Spencer scrapped the unfinished recordings and took River and Liam to Olympia’s own Dub Narcotic Studios, the formerly in-house studio of K Records. The three of them recorded the album in as many days with studio tech Sam Gray, and Spencer embarked on an east coast tour soon after mixing was completed.

Extra Bad reveals a Generifus miles away from the shaggy noise of A Meeting. Like the stilted, knowingly-forced posing of the “Extra Bad” video–featuring the cherubic Sult swinging chains while staring into the camera lens—the album wears its winking groove on it’s sleeve. Spencer’s plain-faced emotional explorations tie the pastiche together, from the chorused nu-Police riffs of “The Park” to the Young-ian piano of “No Surprise.”

While hanging out at his apartment, Spencer encourages me to thumb through his copy of Hotel California, a chronicle of the successes and excesses of CSNY, James Taylor and the Eagles. I can see the giddy fascination with the genre’s fashion and song structure, but where the Laurel Canyon scene revels hedonism and greed, Sult revels in the minutiae of everyday life. In Extra Bad, the truth is always much more mundane than real life, and that’s preferred.

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