"We've got nothing to hide. We've worked that all out," Jeff Angell tells me. Of course, old school Tacomans know him as Junior, and they probably wouldn't be surprised to see him sitting in the back of a bar discussing rock ‘n roll as high art with me.
Kyong Kim sits next to him. Again, not an unfamiliar sight. Somewhere, in some universe, the Oscars or on TV - but not here. We are far removed from glitz and glamour.
What might surprise people - especially those that saw the band's final show at the Sunset Tavern, or those that witnessed the gradual implosion from close range - is our main topic of discussion this Sunday evening: Post Stardom Depression.
It might also surprise those that don't know any better to see us drinking coffee in a bar, but then, perhaps, those people are the very reason I'm here.
What actually happened to Post Stardom Depression, you may have wondered to yourself - at some point. The band's entire career was enveloped in mystique - danger - and their trajectory left plenty of room for speculation and rumor - speculation and rumor that, at times, was probably pretty close to the truth. Would you give Jeff Angell the keys to your car if he asked - like he sang on the band's final album, Primetime Looks A Lot Like Amateur Night? Probably not in the band's heyday.
Deep down, though, in your most primal reaches, you'd be dying to take that ride. Like most good rock ‘n' roll, Post Stardom Depression had a way of making self-destruction look very sexy. This was the kind of band that inspired kids to start smoking cigarettes.
A band for nine months, signed to Interscope after nine shows, Jeff Angell and Kyong Kim - and Post Stardom Depression - had the kind of story rock ‘n' roll fantasies are made of.
It's a story that starts when Angell and Kim were in high school, or at least of high school age. We'll call it the early '90s.
"I had a girlfriend that Kyong was friends with. I was already rocking shows," Angell tells me.
Angell's band was Sedated Souls, and he was quickly earning his nickname of Junior - throwing himself into the Tacoma rock scene at a young age and holding his own. Angell was also living nomadically, frequently crashing at his girlfriend's house - which, at that point in life, was really his girlfriend's mom's house.
"I remember going to watch him play, and thinking, ‘This is pretty cool," says Kim. "I remember thinking, ‘That's what I need to be doing.'"
As fate would have it, Angell eventually wore out his welcome at his girlfriend's house. Kyong's house was next up - only this time it stuck. Soon, he had a room in the basement. The seeds of their lifelong relationship, and Post Stardom Depression by connection, were sewn.
The rest, as they say, is history.
"I kept Kyong and lost the girlfriend," Angell tells me.
"I've only known one or two people who've had a more fucked up upbringing than me. The thing about having a dysfunctional, fucked up childhood is everything is better after that."
Angell and Kim didn't immediately start a band; years went by, in fact. But when they did, Kim's first, they were serious. They recruited drummer Josh Fant, described as a strong personality, but someone who - later in the band's career - sometimes got steamrolled by the dysfunction and volatility of the whole. In the beginning, Kim and Angell were drawn to Fant's jazz background, though they had to talk him into joining since he didn't necessarily share the same taste in rock.
On bass, the decision was easy.
"We just thought to ourselves, ‘Who's the coolest fucking bass player we know?'" says Angell.
"Brent Saunders," they answer in unison. Saunders had made a name playing in the Lemons, and despite a somewhat reserved and geeky persona - especially compared to the Richards and Jagger like Kim and Angell - he'd take on a role model like status within Post Stardom Depression, often acting as the band's gauge of right and wrong.
It was nearly the turn of the century, and Post Stardom Depression was born.
"When Brent and Josh came in, everything changed, everything grew," says Angell. "Once we became a band, it happened just like that. It wasn't an overnight thing, because people had put in their time in other places, but the chemistry was there from the start."
Not that record labels throwing money around is a good gauge of anything, but there are financial documents to prove Angell's assessment of Post Stardom's instant - bankable - chemistry. After four shows indie labels started taking out their checkbooks. After nine shows - the gem being a performance at North By Northwest - the majors were flying the band to L.A. and throwing out offers. Helped by an endorsement from Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age, who took a liking to the band's unapologetic, almost filthy, creeping rock after being passed a demo, it wasn't long before Post Stardom, greasy hair, tight jeans and all, was sitting deep within the bowels of Interscope, on the cusp of their first major payday. Especially for Angell, the rock ‘n' roll nomad adept to sleeping on couches, it had to seem like everything in the band's fairytale rock story was coming together.
"We knew we didn't want to be afraid to write songs about life. We didn't want to be stuck in a box," says Angell about the guiding vision for the creation of Post Stardom Depression.
"The most freeing moment we had was when we realized we're not going to reinvent anything. So, why not just put a new stroke on it?" adds Kim. "It's all already been done. There are only so many chords. Once we came to terms with the fact we weren't going to reinvent anything, and we started doing it just because we liked it, it was incredible."
Apparently, Interscope agreed.
"We thought there'd be a bunch of attorneys and stuff, but we came in, sat down and they said, ‘You guys sound great. You look great. Where do we go from here?' We said, ‘Well, we want to see a deal with six zeros after it," recalls Kim of signing with the major label.
"They said, ‘Cool'."
"Then we got fucked up," Angell chimes in. "I probably had had enough money for a Snickers bar and a banana on me."
Post Stardom Depression joined Interscope in 2000. It was a bizarre time in music - and "bizarre" is being generous. Really, truly, it was a disgusting time in music - with rap rock and the likes of Limp Bizkit ruling the moment. While some might assume signing with a major record label naturally means making records, for Post Stardom Depression it wasn't that easy.
After squaring up - and releasing an EP as part of payment - with an indie label they'd had a contract with prior to the Interscope signing, Post Stardom returned to Tacoma and Seattle with their money. Not long after, looking for a "hit," Angell started getting flown all over the country to work with various songwriters - or, as he puts it, "a bunch of dicks that didn't write good songs anyway."
The wait was on. Idleness and the excess it inspired would become a theme of the next three years. The band wisely purchased its own recording equipment with the newfound wealth, but for Kim and Angell, plenty of bad habits and resentments were also honed during this time.
Demos were made - lots of them. Interscope still didn't hear a "hit."
Before long, it didn't seem like the label was even listening anymore.
"You give a 26-year-old young man a check and tell him now that he's got no responsibilities; you can get a lot of bad habits," says Kim.
"It got a little weird for me because Jeff was going around and doing all this stuff. I got a little resentment," says Kim. "And it gave me way too much time to spend money and get into other things."
"I've got resentment because I feel like all the pressure's on me," adds Angell.
If Post Stardom felt like the label wasn't listening, soon it became blatantly apparent. After a merger with Geffen, and the rise of Jordan Schur within the new Geffen/Interscope - the man responsible for Flip Records and bands like Limp Bizkit, Staind, and Cold - the chances for success in their current situation started to seem non-existent. Meanwhile, in more forward thinking depths of the music industry, bands like the White Stripes and the Strokes were already starting to destroy the mold that was keeping Post Stardom Depression back.
"I used to curse his fucking name," says Angell of Schur.
"It really started to feel like they didn't even understand what the fuck we were doing," says Kim. "Then the Strokes and White Stripes start coming out, and we were like, ‘Man, we're missing our boat!'"
The waiting continued. Still, no record was made.
As it turned out, there would be no boat to catch at Interscope. Thanks to some nifty contractual work - wheeling and dealing that probably still furls eyebrows in the exec-filled cigar rooms of L.A. - eventually Post Stardom realized it would actually be significantly more lucrative to NOT make a record at Interscope. Learning from Saunders' experience in the Lemons, the band's contract was written to guarantee the release of a record. After enough time had passed, and no record had come to fruition, the band was - yet again - in line for a substantial payday.
"At some point we figured it out, that if they let us put a record out we'd have to sell a half million copies to start making money," explains Angell. "If we waited until this day, they'd owe us three quarters of a million dollars.
"When that day came we called our lawyer and said, ‘Time's up.'"
Avoiding a drawn out court battle, Post Stardom gladly accepted a check for $500,000 from Interscope. The band was free, for better or worse.
"We're not getting a lot of Christmas cards," says Angell of burning Interscope.
After three years of waiting on Interscope, Post Stardom Depression knew exactly what it wanted - and needed. Tired of peddling a poor quality indie EP - a record only released to seal the Interscope deal, and one full of songs that were, "shitty," to quote Angell - Post Stardom Depression immediately hit the road to tighten their chops, then secluded themselves at home with famed producer Jack Endino. A week or so later the band's full-length debut, Ordinary Miracles, was in the can. The Control Group released the effort In 2003.
"I just thought this was going to be the next step, we did this without the major label," says Kim.
Though the band would release its second full length - the stronger Primetime Looks A Lot Like Amateur Night - in 2005, the searing impression of the unapologetic rock exuded on Ordinary Miracles still defines Post Stardom in the minds of many.
It was a strong record, and with a little radio play and some positive press, a buzz once again surrounded the band. "I thought we were on our way to being huge," recalls Kim.
At the same time, however, the dysfunction, self-destruction and volatility that the band lived by was finally starting to take a toll.
Relationships strained, and sides were taken. Jeff and Kyong didn't seem as close. The intoxication increased.
Kim earned his nickname within the band of the "phantom limb" during this time, going AWOL for stretches and even being replaced on guitar by Angell for some gigs. Saunders, still the band's moral compass, started growing tired of the constant drama, and chasing a rock ‘n' roll dream with a guitarist and frontman strung out on their own egos and lifestyles. Fant, having funneled his portion of the Interscope money into real estate and doing well for himself, started to wonder why he was putting up with so much bullshit.
You had all the signs of a band on the brink of destruction.
"It's hard to function when you're in a room and hung-over or jonesin'," says Angell of the band's relationship during this time. "We did a lot of things wrong along the way."
Angell tells me there are three things that doom a relationship, and not being an expert, I feel comfortable taking his word for it. Criticism, stonewalling, and finally - contempt. In the case of Post Stardom, by the time the wheels finally fell off the band had thoroughly cycled through all three.
"Once you've reached contempt, when you already hate whatever comes out of someone's mouth even before they've said it," Angell notes of relationships, "it's over.
"We'd reached contempt."
Despite all of this, Post Stardom still managed to pull it together for the recording and release of Primetime - the band's final effort. Considering the dysfunction within the group during this period - or, perhaps because of it - it's a record that almost intimately captures the fire Post Stardom Depression breathed - the fire they built the band on.
But the jig was up - for good. Post Stardom Depression officially broke up in 2007, following a show at the Sunset - leaving a gas trail of sex-drenched rock, dysfunction and unrealized potential behind them.
"I've always felt the best records are breakup records," says Angell. "And Primetime was kind of a breakup record."
"At some point it wasn't fucking funny anymore," Angell continues. "We treated each other like shit, and I think everyone kind of got tired of it."
It's the summer of 2009, and Post Stardom Depression is on stage at the Music and Arts in Wright Park festival. Kim, between PSD standards that sound as urgent and unkempt as they day they dropped, takes a timeout to wave to his young daughter, enjoying the show from the cool of the grass. If Kyong is sweating it - which he is - you'd have a tough time noticing.
"That was probably the scariest show I've ever played," recalls Kim of Post Stardom's first time on stage after breaking up. "I guess you could say it was sobering. It was the first show I'd ever played sober."
Meanwhile, the friendships on stage were as much on display as the music - especially for Kyong and Jeff, the bonding nucleus of the band. The scene proved that, no matter what happened - and how fucked up it got - the relationship forged in that basement bedroom of Kyong's parents house would survive. Post Stardom, aside from a festival appearance here or there - or a club show, like the one Saturday, March 20 at Hell's Kitchen - might be dead, but they're no longer defined by the mistakes of their past.
Post Stardom Depression has failed on their own terms.
"No regrets," says Kim when asked about the Post Stardom story. "I don't think I'd change anything. I'm really lucky to get to play with these guys."
"I'd be more respectful of the people around me, be less of a jerk. I'd make sure and check my ego," says Angell after a moment of reflection. "Artistically, I wouldn't change a thing. I'd do everything else different."
The two friends turn to each other, probably happier than a lot of people grew accustomed to seeing them over the course of Post Stardom's career.
"There you go," Junior exudes, Kyong smirking.
"The yin and the yang."
[Hell's Kitchen, Post Stardom Depression with Mom's Rocket, Shim, Careless Eaters, Saturday, March 20, 9 p.m., $5 advance, $8 DOS, 928 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.759.6003]