If you look at punk rock linearly, starting with, say, The Velvet Underground or The Stooges and ending somewhere around whoever has the balls to call themselves punk in 2019 (I don’t really need the headache of trying to puzzle that one out right now), an extremely pertinent and pivotal stop-off along the line would be Sterling, VA’s Pageninetynine.
These guys were instrumental in coining a term for a genre which has become bastardized and corrupted through overuse, so I shall avoid using it. They represent the final notable evolution of Punk. And it wasn’t simply the music which, on its own, was enough to carry a reputation through the ages. But the backdrop of potent camaraderie, a collective if you will, helped spread that reputation and to help out other local and not-at-all-local acts by way of split records and opening spots on tours.
We are dealing with a time where the internet, though it existed, was not really equipped to readily educate you about music you would otherwise know nothing about. I don’t care to get too far into it but the internet has done a lot to nurture musicians and paradoxically slink up behind them and slit their throats. Simply put, we had to discover pageninetynine through a network of pipes leading from one friend who had a good record collection including a band that shared members with this or that band and a conversation leading down all these webbed conduits over a beer and the moment of arrival and discovering a sound that makes you wonder how you ever breathed without it.
The coveted experience around the late 90s and very early 2000s was for your band to be featured on a split with pg99. The reason for this was simple, they were the best at what they did. Or at least they did it in a cooler fashion than most others. It all comes back to the essence of friendship. This band was comprised of many members (sometimes 8 or 9) and they were all close friends. A few were related by blood, namely brothers Cris and Mike.
Which brings us to the point of this article. Cris Crude has conceived more successful creative projects than can be catalogued here. The scope of his work is not limited to music alone. He draws and paints works that are as touching and thought provoking as they are frightening. And this applies to his musical body of work. His tunes with pageninetynine always hung by some thoughtful thread no matter how ear-crushing the stuff could be on the surface. His band Malady (with ex-City of Caterpillar members) is worth noting. It flew under the radar to some extent but if you ever come across their sole self-titled LP do yourself a solid and listen to it front to back. It almost feels like someone shot a tranquilizer dart into a pg99 release.
Cris went on to start Pygmy Lush with his brother and other members of pg99 and their little brother band City of Caterpillar. They released their first album, Bitter River, in 2007 on Robotic Empire. The range of musical ground covered by P.L. is quite vast. One song could be a chill indie-rock tune and the next could be an ear-bleeding hardcore number. But whatever they decide to make is always wonderful. The effect of the stark contrasts of styles is a musical experience like no other. Again, do yourself a favor. Their latest LP, Old Friends, is one of the most important albums of this century, as it stands.
When pageninetynine reformed in recent years for a series of tours, it made me a bit nervous. Did they still have the spark? I didn’t get to see them but I saw enough footage and know enough people that were lucky enough to catch them to know that they gave as much as they ever did. And more. Oddly, they don’t seem to have aged much.
The proceeds for most of these shows went to charities. These are, after all, very kind dudes (I can attest to this). I’ve wondered about things coming full circle. The past overlapping with the present. Was this a nostalgic experience for the members of the band? Were they closing the door on something? Opening? Nostalgia can surely have many conflicting effects on different people. We are as we were. May the spirit of Punk Rock in its purest form reside in each of us forever and ever.
I posed some questions to Cris, himself (much to my excitement).:
When you were starting out in the hardcore scene, did you ever have the slightest notion that what you were about to do would be so far-reaching and niche that you would be cited as a pioneer? What was your mindset then?
Not at all, we were that same old cliche that you always hear about, a bunch of friends from a small town makin noise, and goofin off. boredom/isolation in the company of good friends became the engine of a much larger trajectory. After a while things kinda take on a life on their own.
Are you satisfied with the level of (for lack of a better term) “fame” you’ve achieved? Meaning, you seem to have found a decent balance of having become well known without ever being perceived as a sell-out. How did you manage that?
Completely satisfied, We didn’t, I didn’t..manage any balance of notoriety, because I didn’t have to, no one knew who we were. The thing is, everyone is lying if they tell you they don’t want recognition for the things they put time and heart into, we always wanted people at our shows, for people to feel cathartic, and get that release with us, but for us we always had validation from ourselves. We were very encouraging toward each other, and toward our peers, At the time all we did was play music, and I always felt I was being recognized by my peers and my friends as doin something special with music, Irregardless of fanfare. We were not really a band that was celebrated during our time. So anything after that is just gravy.
What music influenced you, starting out?
So much really, and everyone in the band is different, but for me, Nirvana/Jesus lizard/Born Against, were my holy trinity starting out, and just really that early nineties wave of grunge gobbled me up and pulled me in. Sonic Youth, Sebadoh, Beck, Hole, DinosaurJR, PJ Harvey, Mazzy Star, and honestly my friends and their bands. There was so much good music among our contemporaries at the time, and just random shows, it was easy to feel inspired cuz every new band seemed like they were doin something new, and getting better at it all the time. Just gave us all a “stick with it” mentality.
A lot of people don’t realize you did the majority of the pg99 artwork, as well as other pieces over the years. How did you get into drawing and painting? What influenced you?
I’ve always drawn, it’s my super power. Something I’ve done since I was a kid that kinda just came naturally, when it came time with music, that our bands needed album covers and art, I just got really focused on that. Sam mcpheeters, Raymond Pettibon, Pushead, and just general eighties horror, and gore flicks. Mike and I used to work at the local blockbuster during those years, and walking the aisles putting movies away, I would always pause in the horror section, The covers of those movies. Some of them just POPPED, that must have impacted how I like to see my covers, I’ve never thought about that..huh..
What were your feelings on the reunion tours with pg99? You played with a lot of contemporaries of years gone by. When you were in the throes of the music, in the moment, how did you feel about the past, present and future?
Doin the reunion tours was a thing I wasn’t ever gonna consider, it was only after talking about the doing the benefits that I became interested, i just didn’t see how a bunch of old dudes in their late 30’s should be taking up that kinda space for one more whirl around the merry go round. The idea of using the band as a way to help the people that are currently and urgently fighting for basic needs, their bodies, their land and water, their identity, and literally their lives, made more sense than just indulging our own and others nostalgia.
Any new plans for Pygmy Lush anytime soon?
Pygmylush recorded and mixed a full length LP that I promise isn’t just me trolling our fans, we hit a snag, and some day we will ride again..
How have you been occupying yourself since the end of the last pg99 tour?
Started a band, been to a ton of shows, been all over the east coast visiting friends. I haven’t really slowed down. Feels like I’m still on tour.
Artistic plans for the future?
I’m getting into bigger formats, I have an installation coming up in April that I plan on making several large pieces for, which is new for me. I’m gonna keep it light regarding commissions, I did a lot last year, commissions take a lot of time, and I don’t take them lightly, I want them PERFECT. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get them right, so I’m only gonna do a couple this year. I have a shirt I’m gonna do for Pigdestroyer, and I’m gonna do the cover of JR Hayes’s new book, Portrayal of guilt has a new record comin up, and I’ve carved out some time for that, and there are probably a few that I’m forgetting at the moment, but aside from that, I really wanna focus on bigger gallery sized pieces and keeping new prints coming.
If you never play with pg99 again, what would be a fitting farewell quote?
Love yr friends, Die laughing of course!
Where can we get your art and records at Chris?
For art: https://criscrude.bigcartel.com/
For music: pygmylush bandcamp. Buy digital from us, we won’t see the money otherwise..