January of 2008 I wrote about a noise rock radio program called Noise from Neville that ran on WRIU in the mid 1980s. Because this program once hosted a band named Shithaus, who's members later went on to form Cop Shoot Cop, and because they used the recording of that program to make a rare and now hotly sought demo tape, that single post became one of my most popular. At the urging of Adam from Pop-Catastrophe I went on a hunt for Neville himself... and with further help from the staff of AS220 I found him.
My timing here could turn out to be pivotal. The archived tapes from the hundreds of programs that Neville recorded of his program are in jeopardy. Maybe you can help. I'll get into that more below. I recorded our phone interview; it is transcribed below with a modicum of editing as we did tend to wander.
1. Please describe "Noise from Neville" for a new listener.
Noise From Neville was a program inspired by independent musicians and audio artists that I had heard from the New England Scene. I had been interested in college radio from a very young age. I mapped all of the stations I could receive from my home and discovered that the non-commercial channels from 88.1-91.9 offered a selection of music that did not repeat incessantly, and was not driven by giant corporate record companies. I tracked the Boston live music indie scene while in high school and started going as soon as I could get a ride. Carmelita did a show featuring live bands in the studio on Sunday nights [Metrowave] and when I couldn’t get to clubs or get in – as I was well underage, it was convenient to listen to the local bands on her show every Sunday night on WERS 88.9.
2. How did you get the program "Noise from Neville" on air?
WRIU had a policy that to get to the FM station, you first had to do a show on the AM carrier current station [called Studio B]. The reception was so poor that no one really cared what you did as long as you didn’t break the equipment or damage too many records. They also had a student video production facility where we did some on campus productions. After a couple of weeks, I was given a late night show on Monday nights. I was frustrated that the library was limited to older records that were well worn and that all of the new music was being pushed on the station from the record companies. Using the universities' mailing permit, I enlisted some of my fellow students and sent postcards to thousands of independent artists. The response was fantastic. We were receiving music from one of every three artists we solicited. I would pick up a large mail bag of music once a week at the post office, open it and play it on the air. When I first started with live bands, I used a concert formula and let the bands play a full set. After some feedback from listeners I changed that format to intersperse the live music with recordings in an attempt to attract a larger audience.
3. How long was the program and in what time slot did it run?
I started at URI in 1982. I was 19 when I started college and the radio program, I made “the wrong dean’s list” and left after that first year but continued on the air for almost 12 years thereafter. We had the longest run on Saturday’s from 11AM to 2PM. We would meet at about 9AM to get the band set up and build a proper studio setup. The equipment was ancient and there was no good way to isolate the drums. The results were often raw and imbalanced. Despite the shortcomings, local artists seemed to enjoy the exposure and the opportunity to make a recording.
4. How long were you on air?
In addition to running the show on WRIU 90.3 for almost 12 years, I did a short run on WZBC in Boston on Monday Nights from 11PM-2AM when I would jam bands into the news room as there was no live studio. That went on for about a year. I was promoting the show by giving rubber stamps to the clubs with my show name on it and the program director didn't like that. The WRIU show ended when the Student advisory board received information that there had been empty beer containers found in the studio. Despite having a written policy that no alcohol was allowed, some musicians insisted on using alcohol.
5. How did you engage all these bands to perform?
They would contact us. As we only did one a week, there would often be a waiting list. Lots of bands played: Throwing Muses, Neutral Nation, Roger Miller, the Zinnias from Lowell played. they were difficult, they brought in a tuba. There was a industrial noise band, that pretended to be christian industrial noise. They were faking it, but it was a very convincing angle. RRR records was a good supporter, and sent a lot of good music.
6. How has the effort to archive them been going?
I think the total number of live artists was about 217 by the time we wrapped it up. I compiled a list some time ago but fear it did not survive. There are 420 tapes in my possession. Some of them are demo tapes from bands. I wanted a continuous format in high quality stereo and I started using a Sony Beta recorder because it gave me 8-bit stereo quality on a 4 hour tape. They became unplayable when a young fellow broke into my apartment and took my Maranz and my boom box and my Sony Beta Deck. I am pretty sure it provided him with crack when it was fenced later. The rest are on 90 minute cassettes. My son has dubbed some of them. He's got 60 shows they stop they start. They're difficult to listen to. I'm not impressed with myself at 23 years of age. I think I'm rather annoying. The bands are nervous, they break a strong and we have to cut back to a recording... then restart. That's just the nature of live recording. It's far from perfect, noisy. The board was a Tascam 60 mixing bay and the pots were scratchy. They got a new Yamaha [at WRIU] after I left.
7. Did you ever think about going back to Radio?
Somebody asked me the other day why I'm not doing this anymore. I said because Ken Friedman exists. As long as Ken Friedman exists I don't need to spend time exploring Swedish-sound-bite-sampling-pace-change-voice-removal-singing-dictionary-avant-garde-free-form-mashups... I think he's meeting our needs very nicely. They [WFMU] are my idea of what a radio station should be.
8. What's special about these tapes that need preserved?
[When I recorded them] I knew that statistically some of them might be successful. I wasn't shocked at all. ..They are raw and not very high quality either in the skills of the artists, the sound recording standards, nor the young DJ’s work. Conversely they represent "the best we could do” with what we had and did involve a tremendous amount of volunteer work to produce. ...I didn't have favorite shows but I had favorite bands.
9. What's your best-case scenario for the cassettes?
Loving homes throughout the globe after they are digitized.
10. What do you think is the worst-case scenario?
Dropped in a dumpster in frustration of having been moved one time too many.