American Contraband: Alternative Rock and American Experimental Music

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Thinking Plague isn’t an easy band to talk about. One of the few clues about their wooly sound is their association with Recommended Records and thus the Henry Cow/Art Bears axis. If this is prog-rock, it’s progressive music with sharp teeth, making serious demands on most listeners. Though the group has been together since the ’80’s, it only claims a handful of albums, including In Extremis (Cuneiform) from last year, which marks an almost decade-long hiatus since their last release.

So what exactly is Thinking Plague? A strange rock band? Leader Mike Johnson opines: “Of course, there are elements of many different musics, but ultimately, there are drums, electric guitars, ‘grooves,’ etc.” As for demographics that the group reaches, Johnson sees a wide-ranging pool of fans who support the band: “it seems to consist of 1) musicians seeking something with more depth and interest, 2) older prog fans who want to hear something that has ‘progressed’ from the ’70’s style progressive, and 3) some few younger listeners who are more open to something different. I’d like to reach more people, but am not willing to sacrifice my own standards to do it. That’s one reason why we haven’t tried to become involved with the ‘music industry’ per se.”

Thanks to the fact that although they were based in Denver, members also hailed from both coasts, it wasn’t easy to coral the group. This impracticality partially led to line-up changes for the band in the 1990’s as well as new directions for the group. Former bassist/producer/engineer Bob Drake explains: “We always took a long time to do an album even when we were all living in the same town. I wasn’t sure I was into the direction Plague seemed to be going at the time. So when I finally decided to leave, that meant Mike (Johnson, guitarist) had to not only find another way of getting the material recorded and mixed, but also find a bassist, a drummer, a singer, and even a keyboard player.”

Though he’s no longer formally associated with the group, Drake (like the rest of us) is intrigued by the possible directions that may lay in the future for the Plague: “I’m really looking forward to see what they do next, how they evolve. There were at least 3 different versions of the group on In Extremis so now that there’s a kind of settled membership, they’ll naturally develop their direction if it manages to hang together long enough before further mutation.”

From American Contraband: Alternative Rock and American Experimental Music
By Jason Gross and Steve Smith
© 2000 NewMusicBox

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