Christopher Earl ( The Squires Of The Subterrain)
What a treat it was for me to get The Squires Of The Subterrain’s music back in the late 1980s. Sunny, engaging , beautifully done bedroom pop music just the way I love it. Christopher Earl has been at this for a long time and has produced many tapes and CDs on his own Rocket Racket label from upstate New York. Always a very personable fellow with friendly ease, Chris has consistently produced some of the best home recorded song form music of anyone. I would put him up there with Ray Carmen, Michael J. Bowman, Dino DiMuro, Kevyn Dymond, The Silly Pillows, and others as a purveyor of super high quality home recorded pop.Check out my interview with him and get in touch with him for some truly entertaining and absorbing music.
“Cowboys And Indians”, The Squires Of The Subterrain, cassette 10991 on his own Rocket Racket label.
LA Christopher Earl interview ( he also asks me some questions…my comments in boldface)
How did you first hear about the home taping underground music scene?
I got into cassette culture through Jonathan Caws-Elwitt of the Silly Pillows. He wrote me after seeing a Squires’ review and proposed a trade. I was immediately hooked. Jonathan told me about OOH OOH Music! as well as Lonely Whistle and some other home tapers who like to trade. Good fun!
Why did you call your project, The Squires Of The Subterrain?
Showbizz of course! (laughter). It just seemed more interesting than Chris’s cassette.
What were you doing musically before this time?
I played in school band and sung in church youth choir. I was also playing in a bar band with some very talented friends.
What were some of your early influences musically as a young person?
My parents were my first influence. They’re Eastman School of Music grads and I grew up in a musical household. I loved to listen to AM radio, Beatles, and Beach Boys.
What year did the first Squires tape come out?
‘Shell Beach’ came out in 1989
And how did you promote it or send it around?
I sent it out to local papers, to magazines, to bedroom zinesters, gave it to friends, family, and other home tapers. Also sent it to college radio stations here in town.
Did you use addresses from the various zines?
If I am correct, you were also a drummer for groups as well. That’s sort of like home tapers, Michael J. Bowman and Ray Carmen. How did it feel coming out from behind the kit and being the front man?
In terms of recording, coming out from behind the drum kit was no big deal because it was done behind closed doors. I love picking up different instruments and exploring them and assembling sounds and writing songs.
Did The Squires ever perform live?
Yes, but rarely.
At one point, you and Linda Smith joined The Silly Pillows but it didn’t last long,did it? I think Linda said in an interview that the distance to practice was just too great. Any memories of this group?
I recorded a four song EP, Eqilibrium, with the Silly Pillows playing drums, and singing. Linda wasn’t in the group at this point. Cheryl De Luke was the female vocalist.
XTC was a fairly big influence I’d say on the home taping pop underground. Where do they fall in your pantheon of influence?
XTC is absolutely an influence. I love their records, especially their side project, The Dukes Of Stratosphear. The Squires of the Subterrain is a play on words in the same way The Beatles is derived from Buddy Holly and The Crickets.
Similar to The Silly Pillows your music inhabits a world of sunshine, celebration and psychedelic joy . It is a joyful and hopeful music to me although you do have darker moments. Is this a conscious approach? Is it ironic in any way?
When I’m feeling happy I write happy songs, when I’m sad the songs come out sad. When a song is sad I tend to include a bright spot or glimmer of hope, but not always. Bits of irony pop up here and there, but not too much.
What about local efforts? Have you played often in your area either with The Squires or other groups?
Yes, back in the day I played frequently in Upstate NY- Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse with a group called the Essentials (later named the Salamanders). Lots of gigs and lots of fun playing bar room rock n roll, r&b, blues.
We backed up Bo Diddley a number of times and were a part of a special recording session, The King All Stars
to name a couple highlights.
Have you ever had an interest in experimental music, or jazz, or electronic sounds?
Oh sure. I lived with a bunch of guys, in this old rock n roll flop house, who were very into experimental, noise, sound-collage, garage, jazz music. I can remember one evening there were 15-20 of us in the basement and we improvised for an hour straight with no road map, this was aired live over the radio and recorded with a telephone at the top of the basement stairs. The Squires’ ‘Atmospheric Cocktail’ is also an exploration in electronica and exotica.
Did you ever meet John Bartles in the Rochester area? Any remembrances?
Oh, yeah. Bartles is a big character. The Essentials backed him up live on college radio once… he sang a song F**k me, F**k you! he used a battery powered bicycle horn to bleep himself!! He can be outrageous and quite poignant. We traded cassettes and we would bump into each other round the local clubs. He recently called to suggest a collaboration — He recorded a machine that makes random analog sounds. I’m looking forward to see what we come up with.
Were there any other “locals” involved in the home tape scene there?
Sure- Koo Koo Boy had some fun cassettes, as well as, a fun live pop band. Fun Factory (Andy McCormick of Dreamland Faces) had some very musical and eclectic cassettes and is an intriguing performer. I saw him last accompanying silent animated shorts on accordion, musical saw, and megaphone singing. I still trade music regularly with The Bed Bugs.
Don, how did you first become involved with Home Taper culture, and what lead you to archive the many tapes/records/CDs you’ve received over the years?
I was already home recording my own music for some years ( first LP in 1971 with The Roots Of Madness), when I got a copy of OP when visiting Seattle in about 1983 or so. That in turn led to Sound Choice and Option which gave me a plethora of addresses and people interested in trading. I wrote thousands of letters and, because I had a radio show perhaps, it was easy to amass a huge collection of tapes rather quickly. I started the all home tapers format of “No Pigeonholes” in 1985 and the rest is history, I guess.
An LP in ’71?!!! wow. That seems so radical for the time, no? What kind of recording set up were you using during that period? When did you first get into radio (hosting a show) and why? What was the nature of these early radio shows?
We were lucky because we had a mentor, radio pioneer, Lorenzo Milam who believed in our weirdness. We used an open reel tape recorder that our parents owned. I had my first radio show at KTAO in 1971 under the aegis of Lorenzo, who is considered to be one of the Fathers Of Community Radio. He insisted that we could have a show if we only played music from the music library he picked. My first show was a baroque music show I believe Then , later, I had jazz, and ethnic music shows. What an education that was. I dropped out of college to pursue radio.
Has the internet changed your feelings about home recording or the “network” of like minded individuals that trade music?
I still enjoy hearing home recordings and trading, though it doesn’t seem to happen as much as it used to. The internet is wonderful when it comes to correspondence. I’ve not put my music up on “Sound Cloud” or other similar sites. I can see why people go that route, but I like to send and receive objects of art through old fashion snail mail.
What about the role of women in the early home recording scene? There were some, sure, but it still seems like a small percentage. Why do think this was?
I didn’t have any experience trading music with women musicians/sound-artists. I think the majority of women with whom I corresponded were into doing ‘zines, which I totally dug. Photo copy, bedroom style, folded and stapled. Way cool and fun. They new all these bands and songs and venues I had never heard of. I guess I figured it was good for the whole DIY culture… They needed content and I appreciated any exposure The Squires could get. I don’t know why there weren’t more women doing the music side or why I wasn’t trading with them.
Who were the women you were in touch with?
Beverly Paterson comes to mind immediately. She had a fun ‘zine, POP SUNDAY NEWS LETTER. She still writes and contributes to other publications on and off line.
Were you also in touch with Linda Smith too?
I don’t recall being in touch with Linda.
How about R. Stevie Moore? Did you have any contact with him?
Only as a fan and consumer of his tapes/CDs. I really dig his work, especially the poppier stuff. His weird chord changes and wild melodies have always intrigued me.
When you go back and listen to the old tapes what impression does it leave on you?
There’s a sincerity and naivete’ about them that’s endearing. Some of the writing was poor and so was the sound quality. It’s all one big experiment.
Do you remember the time and place you made the sounds?
To an extent. They’re sort of like musical journals and reflect what was going on in my world.
What are your goals or aspirations musically for the future?
To just keep making music. It’s one of my favorite things. It would be wonderful to perhaps record with a string section some day.
Anything you’d like to add, like the best way to contact you, or anything else?
Thanks for taking the time to conduct this interview, Don. And thanks for all the trades we’ve done over the years and thanks for curating and maintaining the LIVING ARCHIVE OF UNDERGROUND MUSIC. My life is richer for it.
You can contact me through my website
or email me at:
rocketracket.squire ( at ) gmail.com