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"I don't think any of them wanted to break up, but that smell was in the air," says Matt Strangeways, former lead singer of Valley alt-metal outfit Windigo and one of Big Blue Couch's earliest local supporters. "I think they were frustrated, and not strictly with Brandon. They needed management, and not just anger management. They were a great band, but where was their direction?"
Strangeways was all too familiar with inter-band conflicts, having disassembled his own long-running outfit less than a year before. "After Windigo played the [Desert Sky Pavilion] show with Mötley Crüe, we took time off to look for a new guitarist," he says. "And it just seemed like the time to wrap it up. We wanted to tour on our record, but [Pavement, the band's record label] didn't want to put any money into that. Things were dead there. After not getting to where we'd hoped, I didn't want to burn it out past the point where people were sick of us. We hadn't been doing that much original writing as a band, not as much as I would have liked, so rather than flog a dead horse, we ended it."
Strangeways' break from the public spotlight lasted nearly two years. In the interim, he started up four separate projects, none of which made it past the early rehearsal stage. During that period, a gig hosting an open mike night at the Green Room was his only link to the local scene. It was there that he and the Couch first connected. "I did some acoustic stuff, singing with Christopher and with Brandon, and there were some jams where Jay was sitting in," recalls Strangeways, "so there was some dabbling going round."
Strangeways' earliest link to Big Blue Couch was Gilbert, who was silk-screening Windigo tee shirts in early '98. "One day he brought me a two-track recording of his band -- looped, tripped-out versions of some of the songs -- and I loved it. There were some vocals, mostly Christopher and Jay, lots of jamming, but you could get the gist of the material. Anything they did, Jay gave me a copy of. So I had been singing along to their tapes for years, whether it was in my head or in my car. I had a pretty good idea of all their stuff."
Originally, when it appeared Brandon's prison stay might only be a matter of a few weeks, the Couch approached Strangeways about filling in on some already booked live dates, performing songs from the still-unreleased CD. "I don't think anyone expected it to end up the way it did," says Strangeways of Brandon's departure from the group. "I was a fan of theirs, aside from being a friend. I didn't want to fuck up the Couch or try to push my agenda. I know that I like what Brandon did and that I like him as a person. So I didn't want to rock the boat. But the boat started rocking on its own."
After a few rehearsals, it was obvious that Strangeways was the man to lead the "new" Big Blue Couch. What the band would lose in an androgynous hip-shaking lead singer, it'd more than gain in a front man with road warrior experience, "look-me-in-the-eye, boy" confidence and a wicked sense of humor to match the Couch's own. Strangeways' noted flights of whimsy in Windigo included printing "opening for Foghat" on handbills for a weeknight gig at the Big Fish Pub, knowing full well that an army of mulleted Foghat fans would turn up. In local metal circles, where most front men are hyper-serious hair farmers, Strangeways is a rarity, a Diamond Dave in a sea of Gary Cherones.
Although Strangeways and the rest of the Couch would appear to come from wildly divergent musical backgrounds, the British sounds of the early '70s proved to be the band's common ground. Right off the bat, the band worked up a version of David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream," and one of the Couch's new compositions, "My Get Up and Go," is a T. Rex-ish boogie that would've been unthinkable in Windigo's militant trip-core. And with the new combo, Strangeways is actually singing, leaving behind the shaman wails that were his former band's signature.
"It's more of a mindset. I'm doing higher pitches and expanding the range. With these guys, I knew I would be singing better. It wasn't immediately perfect, but it wasn't unnatural, either. It was," adds Strangeways, "surprisingly comfortable."
"It's a departure for us as well," says Demrick, noting that Brandon tended to street talk his way through Doyle's lyrics, making it harder for Doyle or Gilbert to work in harmony parts. "Having never heard Windigo, I had no preconceptions, which freed Matt up, too," he adds. "His voice was powerful and loud enough to keep up with us because we are deafening at times. We didn't have to turn everything down."
In terms of chemistry, it seems that Strangeways' presence has brought a needed bit of stability to the band. Even Demrick and Gilbert are getting along, still cohabiting months after their very public falling-out.