Tsunami - Biography
Tsunami is one of the quintessential American indie rock bands of the 1990s. Defined by its melodic post-punk sound and an energetic DIY spirit, the quartet released three beautiful full-length records and a bevy of 7” singles throughout the decade. The band’s catchy sound and the homegrown, self-sufficient drive that permeated Tsunami’s activity marks the group as true torchbearers of punk’s original ideals. Co-frontwomen Kristin Thomson and Jenny Toomey also founded Simple Machines, one of indie rock’s most inspiring independent record labels.
In fact Simple Machines came before the band. Thomson and Toomey were roommates and had been running the label from their house in Arlington, VA. In the summer of 1990 Toomey’s band Geek did a short tour with Superchunk and Seaweed. During the tour she meet Andrew Webster and convinced him to move up to Arlington. The trio enlisted former housemate John Pamer to play drums and Tsunami was born. After a handful of local shows the band embarked on a short tour in February of 1991, playing shows with Beat Happening. On returning home the band went into Inner Ear studios to record its debut 7”, Headringer, featuring five songs of short, melodic, scruffy post-punk-pop. The summer of ’91 brought a split single with Velocity Girl on Sub Pop, a short tour with Scrawl, and an appearance at the K Records Convention in Olympia, WA.
1992 saw things moving faster for the band. Tsunami released three 7” singles (Genius of Crack on Homestead, Beautiful Arlington on IV Recordings, and the Season’s Greetings split with Velocity Girl on Simple Machines) and recorded its first full-length in the summer. The Simple Machines label was gaining notoriety as well. Thomson and Toomey made clear their commitment to DIY ideals and social activism through the label, establishing themselves as some of the most progressive members of America’s indie rock community.
With the band’s profile on the rise, the following year brought the release of two more 7” singles. Among the group’s finest work the Diner and Matchbook singles boasted lavishly printed, intricate packaging, something that would become a Simple Machines staple over the years. Although Deep End, the band’s debut full-length, had been recorded in the summer of 1992 the record ran into mixing and manufacturing problems, pushing the release back ten months. The album finally saw the light of day in the late summer of 1993. It was worth the wait. Dense, heavy, melodic indie-pop is the order of the day on tracks like “In a Name,” “Waxed” and “Writing Letters.” Thompson and Toomey share vocal and guitar duties, and their vocal harmonies and instrumental interplay are fantastic. The songs alternate between jangly power-pop and noisy, nervy post-punk with an emphasis on anthemic hooks and vivid lyrics.
After the album’s release the band received a call from Lollapalooza organizers asking Tsunami to perform six shows on the festival’s second stage. Tsunami agreed and performed at 1993’s festival with likeminded artists Sebadoh, Free Kitten and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. Later in the year the group embarked on a six-week tour during which a stop was made in Chicago to record the second full-length.
The Heart’s Tremolo was released on Simple Machines in 1994. Easily besting the band’s debut, this record stands as Tsunami’s finest effort. These ten songs are more mature and complex without sacrificing any of the group’s infectious energy. Toomey’s singing is particularly inspired on the album, sounding like a velvety punk rock torch singer. The arrangements are intricate, with excellent guitar playing and standout performances from Webster and Pamer on songs like “Loud Is As Loud Does,” “Be Like That” and “Fits and Starts.” The rest of 1994 brought a heavy touring schedule including two tours of the States and two separate trips to the UK with Rodan and Eggs.
The band kept up the touring in 1995 and released a lengthy album compiling all those rare 7” singles and numerous compilation tracks called World Tour and Other Destinations. Pamer returned to school in Boston in that Fall, effectively placing Tsunami on hiatus. Pamer eventually decided to move to New York after he graduated and the band recruited drummer Luther Gray to fill in. The newly minted group went to Chicago in the spring of 1997 to record its third full-length.
A Brilliant Mistake was released in August of 1997 on Simple Machines. On the album Toomey takes center stage, moving the band away from any semblance of its post-punk roots toward a shimmering, clean, jazzy take on indie pop. In the wake of its release Tsunami enlisted Amy Domingues on bass and Bob Massey on third guitar and keyboards. The group set out on a lengthy American tour for much of the year. It would sadly be the band’s last. Thomson and Toomey made the hard decision to shut down Simple Machines in 1998 and end Tsunami as well. Toomey continues to record solo records and the full band has reunited for several one-off shows.