By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
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By Amanda Savage
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Galen Herod runs into his living room. He's got a microcassette tape deck with him. Herod smiles, starts waving his arms, dancing to the beat of the scratchy noise. He skips into the front room of the house and taps out the song's melody on an old, banged-up piano. He then clicks off the tape player and runs back into the living room, where he flops down on his couch.
"Don't mind me," he says, smiling. "I'm just vomiting."
Herod's doing more than that. He's killing time. He's trying to avoid talking about his new CD, Fix My Brain. It's taken nearly five years to get it released, never mind that the recording was engineered by megaproducer Butch Vig of Nirvana's Nevermind fame. And forget that Vig not only released the CD on his own label, but talked up Herod in Rolling Stone magazine.
Herod's still nervous.
"It's taken so long for this stuff to get out," he says of the disc. "It makes me look like the ultimate slacker."
With that cathartic interlude out of the way, Herod leans back and begins talking about himself. About how he first got interested in music "like everybody else," by seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. About how his childhood was shaped by his family moving 30 times in 15 years, mostly in and around New Orleans.
"I was the kid who always got beat up," he remembers. "The other kids would make fun of my name and the way I acted."
Herod's family finally wound up in west Phoenix, and stayed long enough for him to complete four years at Trevor Browne High School. It was, for young Herod, a settling experience.
"It was enjoyable not getting beaten up anymore," he says.
He began playing drums with a couple of Japanese-American brothers in a band named the Ethics, gigging at parties and dances. Which led to a growing, if slightly confused, interest in other things.
"For the first time, girls wanted to go out with me," he remembers. "But I never understood what was going on. I went out with this one girl and I never knew when we started going out, never knew when we broke up, never knew when she started telling people she hated me."
Herod survived. He went on to ASU and volunteered as an audio technician at the local PBS station, KAET. He and a couple of other employees shared musical interests, resulting in a band named Metal Monkey. It was an "industrial, New Age"-sounding group in the early-Eighties heyday of punk.
"We had things thrown at us a lot," Herod says of the band's local shows.
But the Metal Monkey experience did teach an important lesson--aside from how to bob and weave onstage.
"Those guys helped me understand that if you wanted to do something, you had to do it," he says. "I always kind of thought you had to wait for things to happen."
Herod didn't have to wait long for his first big-time brush with pop promise. In 1982, he and fellow KAET employee Greg Horn formed Tone Set, a synth-pop band that specialized in meshing dance songs with videos. Tone Set caused a minor sensation the following summer, packing Anderson's Fifth Estate in Scottsdale on Wednesday nights. Herod and Horn would stand onstage behind a pair of keyboards and play along to video clips projected on a large screen alongside the dance floor. The videos included audio tracks of prerecorded bass and drum parts, which helped coordinate a nifty combination of sight and sound.
Tone Set released a cassette, the excellent Cal's Ranch, and a six-song EP, Calibrate. Both included the novelty song "Out Out!", a percussive synth tune that featured audio clips of Gomer Pyle's Sergeant Carter repeatedly asking "What stinks?" before blowing his top. The song was good enough to get occasional airplay on local radio. It also helped attract other interest.
"There was this manager who wanted to sign us," Herod says. "The deal was for about 20 percent or something. We decided to turn it down. About a month ago, I ran into one of the guy's associates. He said at the time they'd had something all lined up with Warner's. All we had to do was sign. We never knew."
Of Tone Set's Wednesday-night spectaculars, Herod says the shows were "something we really didn't like to do. Dancing around up there in little black pants and black shirts--it was so embarrassing. We just wanted to sit in a studio and write songs."
Herod and Horn were also starting to get sick of each other. They broke up briefly and then got back together with Dumb but Happy, a full band that included bassist Steve Evans (stage name: "Mystical Hehdstock") and drummer Tim Mahoney. Both have stuck with Herod ever since.
Dumb but Happy was Herod's first venture into guitar music; his previous Tone Set songs were more like Kraftwerk and Devoesque ditties spliced with found audio and experimental noise. With Dumb but Happy, Herod discovered pop melodies and guitar chords akin to Let's Active and early dB's.
But another fallout between Herod and Horn split the two for good. Horn moved to San Francisco; Herod started churning out local tapes. The best was 1987's Bite the Wax Tadpole, a collection of goofy songs topped by Herod's strained, Neil Younglike vocals. Herod made 500 copies of the tape and sent 150 with response cards to record companies.