Joe Harvard says:
"This is the first volume of 'A Few Brief Years of Glorious Chaos: JH at Fort Apache 1985 - 1990'. It includes work from the years I spent engineering and producing bands at Fort Apache South and North, in Roxbury and Cambridge, MA respectively, a good deal of which has never been released. If you enjoy listening to these songs half as much as I did working on them you're really going to like this record."
"Any of the Fort's other engineer-producers could make up a similar compilation -- though they would all be more impressive than my own humble efforts -- and while they'd all be very different from each other, they'd share a critical similarity: each would evoke the sound a club-going Bostonian of that period would recognize and embrace. We were incredibly fortunate in being part of what I consider the best Indie rock scene in the nation at that time."
"The songs included here are by kind permission of the songwriters and bandleaders whose music I love, and was fortunate enough to have had some small part in creating. I apologize for the quality of some of the material. Having lost a catastrophic amount of my audio, video and photographic media in Ohio circa '94 much of material here has been transferred from cassettes or CD's, with the occasional master mix tape surviving here and there; each individual song credit will note the source & other information. I am constantly on the lookout for cleaner versions at email@example.com
& will be upgrading on an ongoing basis. The recent discovery of a stash of DAT tapes is very encouraging."
Great bands, highly original songwriters --Boston had long had these to offer, but they weren't being captured on vinyl anywhere near enough. Even relatively recent chapters in the hub's musical history had already been lost, in part or in whole, or were grossly misrepresented by the time Slade, Kolderie, Fitting and Harvard opened Fort Apache South. As a die-hard fan first and foremost Harvard hoped they could help change that situation, so the rest of the world could hear what they were missing.
"While there aren't many aspects of the Fort's early success I'd claim were the fruit of some genius 'founder's plan'", Harvard says, "there was one aspect that was intentional -- at least on my part -- and that was the need to capture what great local bands sounded like, in real time -- that is, at the time when they were most relevant. Sounds so simple, but so many Boston groups got fucked by clueless engineers locally and the major label producers nationally that it was an open wound for fans and bands alike. Both Willie Loco's Boom Boom record and the DMZ LP are prime examples of great live bands that could have done LP's which'd rock you to death, but their producers didn't know when to leave 'em alone and when to tot them up."
Harvard adds that this archival role was also a feature built in to Helldorado [Joe, the late Billy Ruane and Greg "Skeggie" Kendall] Productions' series of groundbreaking Middle East Restaurant bookings:
"Our plan was we would audio record and videotape every show, and we did while I was involved, for the first year and a half, every show. Helldorado fell down when it came to archiving these recordings, however, but they're out there, where the videographers are, and they surface. In the case of the Fort's work it's easier to keep track of the recordings, at least those that were released; this collection includes some re-releases, and many unreleased songs. It's like looking out my porthole as the good ship Fort Apache navigates one of the world's coolest music possibly, at the time, THE coolest."
As the Fort Apache family changed so did co-founder Joe Harvard's role within it, in almost inverse proportion as far as engineering was concerned. From sharing head engineering chores with Paul Q. Kolderie during the first year Joe would soon be found at the board only for those bands he produced or had a special interest in. It was partly economics: with new, talented mouths regularly appearing to feed there was always a need for more engineering work among the troops; after becoming full owner in late 1986 Joe decided that he could survive on the 'house cut' & his outside earnings and he opted out of the Fort's labor pool.
The consequence intended from Harvard's reduced engineering load was "elbow room" in which a team could grow and flourish, and flourish it did: before Harvard's departure Mike Costello,Lou Giordano, Tim O'Heir, and Carl Plaster would all find a niche in the Fort's busy schedule at one time or another, along with co-founders Sean, Paul and Jim. Another consequence: there are few sessions which Joe engineered [and certainly none that he produced] which were not close to his heart, both musically and personally. As he had done at So-So Studios [117 Columbia Street, Cambridge] in 1983-4, and as the Sex Exec team had done before him at Contempt in Dorchester, Joe recorded first and foremost with his friends, and within that group with those whose work he most admired.
"I regret not doing a better job on some sessions in the first place, I tended to record fast, without the cleanliness or detail that Paul or Lou's sessions have ... but DIY was the rule and it served us well most of the time. If I was not the Fort's worst engineer I was far from the best. It was always important to me to capture the way a band sounded first off, as much for posterity as it was to enjoy myself when the band was no longer together, and then work from there."
"Though there are 24-track recordings in this collection, a majority are 16-track or humbler, 8-track sessions -- the latter still surprise me at times. I loved 8-track recordings for reasons of clarity and simplicity, and because the pretense of making a 'demo' often lets folks relax enough to make a really representative recording. The idea that this was a warm-up demo and 'we will polish it better on the real record', perversely enough, freed many bands to do their best work, or at least their most un-self-conscious work, on thse demos and early versions of songs. Closing Fort South during the Recession meant a big part of what I loved about the Fort was lost, along with the affordability of 8-track recording and the type of client who depended on that. When I sold the Fort I hoped to get the 8-track machine and board thrown in, but no dice, so I bought them back and took them to Columbus, Ohio to start Little Big Horn out there."
"I hope someday there are like seven more volumes of this series ... one for each of the great engineer-producers at the Fort back then."
Fort Apache began as the collective idea of Paul Q. Kolderie, Sean Slade, Joe Harvard & Jim Fitting in October 1985. The initial funding was made possible through Joe's herb business -- truly a grass roots organization. A year afterward Joe became the sole proprietor, since he owned the equipment & it made things simpler, administratively. While the studio was a wholly legit enterprise, there was unquestionably an early "outlaw" mystique around the Fort. The studio also retained it's collective identity throughout the early years, as it became a two-location indie empire.
As Joe says:
"It was a time of zero tolerance under Reagan, so I had to keep the Fort's finances above board. You could lose a whole business if they could prove you spent a single illegal dollar on it, so I didn't. I lived on weed money, my personal rent and food and travel and such, which enabled me to use all of the legitimate money I made on the Fort. Since I worked a few side jobs like moving furniture, plus full-time as Janitor at Joy of Movement, I could squirrel enough away top buy the 8-track machine and to get things going that first year or so, and drive out to Illinois in my little orange Chevy Luv pickup to buy our first Neotek I mixing board. By 1987 I was out of the hooch trade entirely anyway, and the Fort was doing good enough business that I was able to give up being a Janitor. Raising the money for the North Cambridge space was a creative enterprise, let me tell you, and after two rejections it finally took a 2nd mortgage on my parent's house in East Boston to secure the money."
"The Fort was more like a gang or a band, really, than a business, though it could not stay that way forever ... well, maybe it could have remained that way longer than it did, if I wasn't such a mess by1989. Sadly, I was. And though there were cracks in the team foundation by that time, there was still great esprit de corps when I left for my 'geographic cure' in Ohio at the end of 1990, and it held -- albeit with the slidely wider cracks of a maturing business -- during my tenure as absentee Fearless Leader."
"Gary had been a fantastic manager, understanding and sharing the vision we had for the Fort. It was both natural, and for the good of the studio, that he became my partner, purchasing a fourth of the combined studios just after I bought North from producer-owner John Nagy. Basically I sold him a fourth so we were able to buy a new mixing board ... I re-loaned most of his buy-in money right back to the business for this purpose, and some other improvements. It was shitty business on my part, borrowing money at enormous interest rates and then loaning it with none added whatsoever. We attempted some correction of this after the sale, but the point is money was not the goal of taking a partner ... being able to step up to the next level in a room where we could make major label albums was."
"After I went to Ohio in September of '90 Smitty ran the place, which was nothing new really, that being his job description as Manager. But I saw in quick succession a pair of articles and a tour book of national rock sites all listing the Fort as owned and operated by Gary Smith. This was 2 years before I sold it ... so I saw the writing on the wall. Out of sight out of mind. Gary had a rising star after the Pixies record came out, and he had his shit in a neat pile -- which was why I hired him in the first place. He would be the new Fearless Leader in a Business untainted by the Fort's outlaw origins: Moses would not go to the Promised Land, but his People would get there nonetheless."
"I sold my 75% to Mr. Bragg, but he only bought it to insure that a place such as the Fort continued to exist. You might say Billy held it in escrow for the indie community until they could reclaim it. Eventually the Fort became Gary's studio, and the old Fort crew -- Paul, Sean, Lou Giordano, Tim O'Heir, Carl Plaster -- took the original idea to a whole other level under Smitty, one frankly beyond my very limited grasp of the workings [and motivations] of the music industry. They started the label I had always wanted the Fort to have, while Gary built a second North Cambridge room and did wonderful things with it like live WBCN-broadcasts of shows with a live audience."
After the millennium turned and Gary took the Fort Apache name to Bellows Falls with him, the final, appropriate chapter involved Paul and Sean acquiring the old North space and opening Camp Street Studios, which Joe describes as "every bit as rocking an outfit as the Fort had been. It was like a big circle had closed."