Lost Sounds Montana new record finds treasures from the Treasure State
By Darrell Ehrlick DAILY MONTANAN
When you think punk rock – you may think New York or London.
And while Montana tends to have a reputation as a good venue for country artists, at one time, the Treasure State’s punk rock scene created a solid legion of fans and musicians – now preserved by Montana rock historian and Havre man who has searched all corners of the state to find lost, scratchy or obscure recordings of Treasure State rockers.
Dave Martens put together a historic and massive two album set of rock-and-roll and garage band artists in Montana in the 1960s and 1970s, “Long Time Comin’: Lost Sounds from the Treasure State.” Now he has come out with the latest two-LP collection of Montana music, “Without Warning: Early Montana Punk, Postpunk, New Wave and Hardcore, 1979-1991.”
The record has been a popular gift this holiday season. Cameron Records in Billings were already reordering it. And John Fleming, owner of Ear Candy in Missoula, sold his last copy earlier this week and had more on order.
Fleming said a few of the bands are legends in Montana — groups that people remember and talk about, but don’t have access to the actual music until now.
“They just didn’t get around to recording,” he said. “Maybe a few of them have stuff on tape. But, Dave (Martens), man, he’s done his research. It’s something else.”
As a music fan and vinyl dealer, Fleming said that Montana’s punk and new wave scene holds up just as well as any, it’s just not well known.
“Some of the tracks — you swear it was recorded in London or New York,” he said. “It doesn’t sound amateurish to me at all.”
It all started in … Havre
Like many Montana kids, Martens grew up listening to the radio and watching videos, but didn’t believe music happened beyond Hollywood. However, in college at the University of Montana, he discovered the legendary music shop, Rockin Rudy’s, and its menagerie of band posters. He started collecting posters, attending shows – and the rest is literally history.
He had heard about the thriving music scene that had flourished in places like Missoula and Billings. Few of those bands made it outside of Montana and few even made it inside recording studios. Those bands and artists that did often made small pressings of single 45-RPM records or a handful of albums. Most of the master tapes were lost or destroyed.
Finding the music has been something of a treasure hunt crossed with an episode of “American Pickers” that has taken him across the state to attics, basements and anywhere else where old cassettes or records may have been stashed away from college or high school days.
He has put a lot of miles, traveling to track down these “lost sounds.” For example, he traveled from Havre to Hardin to track down a 45 RPM of the Frantics; he also trekked to Pullman, Washington, to get a reel-to-reel copy of a Vulcans recording.
“If you want it, you have to go get it,” Martens said.
His own journey began with finding a copy of a Montana band, Initial Shock. The radio station where he DJed, KBGA, had a collection of local or state bands that went back to the mid-1990s, and that got him thinking: What about music made before then?
So, he set out trying to fill in missing records – a project that would later evolve into his record label, Lost Sounds Montana.
“It was yet to be uncovered,” Martens said of unearthing Montana’s contribution to rock and popular music. “It was all there, but no one had collected or put it out.”
There was no Internet, no home recording equipment and no digital MP3 files. So, finding the music is a matter of records, recordings and the hope that somewhere during a live a show, some hit the “record” button – a concept that seems almost impossible to imagine today with an audience armed with cellphones and recorders.
A different kind of ‘Treasure State’
He’s also discovered a lot about the state that seems hard to imagine. Butte had a record company. Billings was once the epicenter of a Montana pop psychedelic music scene.
“The music scene was vibrant. But getting a band to record was hard. Some bands had a few live recordings, but not as many recorded,” Martens said. “Billings had such a scene. I didn’t expect it was a center for psychedelic rock.”
There was no Metra, but there was the Shrine Auditorium in Billings where popular, well-known bands played as well as local acts. One of the performers, Max Byfuglin, the lead singer of the popular band, The Frantics, told Martens that the bands used to be paid in silver dollars, which were collected at the door as admission fees. Byfuglin saved enough silver dollars to buy a convertible.
“It was a lot different scene,” Martens said.
He’s sent hundreds of emails and made out-of-the-blue phone calls to someone who just happened to know a guy who knows a guy, so to speak.
“Social media has actually helped a lot,” Martens said.
Martens said many of the artists and band members are surprised to hear from him, but happy.
“They are generally thrilled that someone cares about what they did,” Martens said. “At the same time, that was a long time ago and many of them had put it to bed.”
Many of those early Montana bands wanted to record – maybe even should have recorded, Martens said – but did not.
“So many times, I hear a version of ‘We wanted to record, but didn’t get around to it,’” Martens said.
Martens was instrumental in helping to release an EP of the Montana band, “Who Killed Society?” 30 years after it was recorded. It was made by legendary producer Steve Albini and marks the first time Albini engineered a record session.
Martens also discovered that a famous punk-rock band, The Pugs, had not just recorded in the late 1970s in Bozeman but had also made a film, “Here Come the Pugs,” which featured live footage and a soundtrack.
“It took cues from other scenes. It toes the line between punk and new wage,” Martens said.
As a kid growing up in what he thought was a musically isolated place, Havre really was a place visited by a lot of familiar names. Havre, it turns out, was one of the places where Montana’s second generation of pop music, including punk, was active.
“It’s fascinating being a Havrite and having so many Havre names on the record. I really didn’t expect that,” Martens said. “I have a soft spot for them.”
Some of the later recordings aren’t on vinyl but cassette. And Martens realizes that even some of those aren’t the best quality – being a copy of copy. But in some cases, someone’s favorite mixtape from college contains the only recording from some of these local bands.
“In certain cases, it’s frustrating, but it’s also admirable that we captured these songs before the bands broke up,” Martens said.
Martens doesn’t know how many future projects he has left, especially because tracking down the artists and the recording takes time away from his young family. He’s hoping that a country-western or bluegrass album is in the future.
“But I am not going to put things out that I don’t stand behind,” he said.