Caustic Outlook began in the late 1980’s, 1988 or 1989. But before I go any further, I’d like to share with anyone reading this a “brief history” of my entrance into the punk/hardcore/alternative scene. It was the beginning of my senior year in high school and I was determined to come out of my self-imposed social coma. I was always an awkward kid- introverted, self conscious, overweight. Being bi-racial, I just felt different and funny looking Don’t get me wrong, I now feel being bi-racial is crazy awesome, but at that time, there weren’t many bi-racial kids, so there were very few people I could relate to. At any rate, I decided that summer before my summer year to start working out and lose some weight, I went into that school year with a pretty confident and positive outlook. I signed up for journalism class and that simple desire to write for the school newspaper would permanently alter my personal timeline forever. I met this guy, a kid at our school who had Sid Vicious-like spiked hair, his name was John. Little did either of us know that at that moment my life was saved, perhaps.
John got my lazy ass out of the house and out into the “real world”. I remember going down to the fountain that first fateful night and seeing all the “freaks” hanging out at the fountain. I remember seeing a few class mates in their true “civilian attire” – I went to a Catholic private high school so we had a uniform, and seeing them in them in “punk garb” was mind blowing. I realized there was this whole other world going on- kind of like when as a kid when I would lift large stones in the garden and discover armies of ants scurrying about with their business, oblivious to what was going on above. I had discovered a scene where race, money etc. seemed to be a non-issue.
Fast forward a year or so, I ran into Greg Campbell and Brett Darnell, who were trying to put together a band. Greg would be the guitarist and Brett would be singing. I offered up my meager skills as a drummer and Presto! We had a band, sort of. I had recently bought a cheap Reuther 3 piece drumset and Greg had a guitar rig, We were set! At the time, more important to us than having a bassist was having a place to practice, or a jam pad as we would call it. There was a really,really cool thing going on in the basement of Storkland baby furniture in downtown Birmingham. Several of the bands we really looked up to jammed down there and were cool enough to let us set up there every once in a while. Most notable was GNP, I distinctly remember borrowing Dug’s kick drum pedal because I didn’t have one. I remember many nights going home after practice and my ears would be ringing for multiple days afterwards because I had no concept of protecting my ears.
Enter Tracy Hancock
We found our first bassist in Tracy, Tracy and I actually went to high school together, didn’t know each other, but I knew “of him”. So now we had an actual line up complete with a bassist! We would get together drink beer and smoke pot and play the same 3 songs over and over. The first songs were: 5 on 1, 4x4 Maniac and Judgement. We were heavily influenced by the New York Hardcore bands that were popular at the time : Agnostic Front, Reagan Youth, the Cro-Mags, Murphy’s Law etc. We liked those bands so much we did a really crappy version of Murphy’s Law’s theme song :Murphy’s Law, which in itself is one of the dumbest ideas we had- you don’t cover another band’s theme song, you just don’t do it.
The next line of business was coming up with a band name. Early names we used were such gems as The BG’s – get it? Brett Greg? Then there was The BPD(Birmingham Police Department) before we settled on Caustic Outlook. As time went by more songs evolved :Pseudo Hippy became the first song we really put thought into actually arranging a song, It’s actually two songs mashed together. The first half, Brett and Greg wrote, while the second half, Greg wrote the music and I contributed the lyrics. At that time I had lots of “free time”at whatever job I was working at and in this free time I would write lyrics and tinker with song ideas.
Tracy never could make it to practice on time or at all in some cases so we started looking for bassist number two. We always knew Brett’s brother Jon was a guitarist, but he traveled in a different (punk metal)circle and anyway we didn't need a guitarist, we needed a bassist. Somehow we convinced Jon to join the band and we now had a consistent bassist, which really just meant he would show up to every practice. John started writing songs and basically became the primary creative force music –wise anyway. I would end up assuming most lyric writing duties, which I did not mind at all.
At a certain point, Greg lost interest in the band and now we needed another guitarist. At this point, Jon moved over to guitar and Matt Cross took over as the bassist. Jon had a friend who he skated with named Ian Gage. For a while Ian tagged along with Jon to all of our practices and basically absorbed all of our music note for note. He always hinted that he played guitar but I didn't believe him, which was truly ignorant on my part. Ian had a crappy guitar and no amp, I believe, but somehow, one day, he ended up auditioning and became our second guitarist. Ian joining the band would fundamentally change the band forever, in a good way.
Ian was into punk, but what really interested him was the punk/hardcore/reggae style of The Bad Brains. He also dug, as we all did, heavier bands like the Nashville’s FUCT. This would show in the songs Ian was writing. From these influences came a catchy song idea he had- this song, with Jon’s input, would evolve into “The Price You Pay”or the Crack Song, as we would refer to it in practice. Brett drew from his own experiences with drugs for the song’s lyrical subject matter. In time, Ian would become the main creative force musically, sure Jon and myself would still contribute some ideas, but we leaned on Ian heavily for the new material that the kids seemed to respond to.
Finally, it was time to record what would become the full length cassette, Caustic Outlook : On Life….
This was the first studio experience for all of us. I personally thought it was the coolest thing ever. “On Life” was recorded at Artomotive studios on the southside. Artomotive was a basically an artistic laboratory run by Danny Browning (a painter) and Jeff Waites, who would become my local musical mentor. Jeff engineered/produced/recorded/mastered the entire project. He had these cool isolation booths made from old mattresses to give us a more professional sound. I thought it was the coolest thin in the world to hear my drums coming through headphones along with the rest of the instruments. You have to understand, our rehearsal space or “Jam Pad” as we called it, had no sound proofing and we had no idea about ear plugs of any kind, so it was really cool to hear all of the individual instruments clearly. The vocals came out kind of weak, they didn't do Brett’s actual singing/screaming justice, to fix this, we went back and Brett re-sang all of his parts on top of the original vocals. At the time we thought this “doubling effect” sucked, but as it turned out, it gave the album a unique sound.
I imagine the tape helped get our name more and it was actually reviewed by Maximum Rock& Roll Magazine, which was THE punk bible as far as we were concerned, so it was a great honor to read our review within its hallowed pages. They said it was ok, not very original, but could develop “into something fierce” WOW!
As time went along, members got older and developed different interests. Brett would state at practice one day, that as soon as this band stopped being a hardcore band he would quit. That would eventually happen, I remember Brett telling us after practice one day that after this next show he was quitting, Jon followed suit and quit as well. That was mid-1990 or 91, I forget. So Ian, Matt and myself formed Unleaded which would be changed very soon after to Sweet Bambu. Sweet Bambu started out as a continuation of the style of music CO was playing toward the end our run, but morphed more into a jazz fusion-type of thing. But that is a different story….. "
released January 1, 1990
Brett Darnell - vocals
Jon Darnell - guitar and backing vocals
Fred Panning - Drums
Matt Cross - bass
Ian Gage - guitar