An interview with The Connection’s Geoff Palmer about Portsmouth’s punk past, touring Japan, and hanging out with Little Steven Van Zandt
By Andrew Wallace (photo above by Nicole Tammaro)
Editor’s note: Audio Artifacts is a new column in which Sound writers interview local musicians by way of looking at photos, albums, and other artifacts from their careers.
The Seacoast’s punk scene has changed a lot in the last two decades, and Geoff Palmer is one of a dedicated group of musicians from the ’90s who has endured — and continues to flourish. Carrying the torch of scene pioneers The Queers, The Useless F*cks, and the Guts, he’s stayed the course, finding success again in his latest endeavor, the garage-rock/power-pop band The Connection. When Steven Van Zandt mentions Portsmouth before playing tracks from The Connection on his “Underground Garage” radio show, Palmer still feels pride in his hometown. The band is currently at work on a new LP, which they plan to release this summer, and they’ll next appear on the Seacoast at the Watts record release show at The Press Room on Saturday, Jan. 24.
The Sound recently caught up with Palmer, who brought with him some artifacts from throughout his career.
How has the Seacoast scene contributed to your career?
How has it changed over the years?
Bands from all over the country wanted come to Portsmouth because the Elvis Room was like our version of CBGB’s or something. When Al Barr lived here doing the Bruisers, and Joe Queer, and then John Clark, doing Ringing Ear Records and booking at the Elvis Room, they made the whole town such a thriving area. As a kid, I got a lot of insight and chances that I never would have had without them. Joe Queer was bringing in all these Lookout (Records) bands from all over and we were connecting with them and all ended up branching out.
Right now, what’s keeping the town going are the venues supporting independent, new, unknown bands. (At) The Press Room, Bruce Pingree and Tristan Law do live music seven nights a week and they’re so supportive of everything. The Red Door, too; they book good stuff on off nights. (There’s) Sonny’s in Dover and (the Dover) Brick House, of course. So that’s really good and keeps us on the map.
Can you explain the artifacts you brought?
“The Useless F*cks 7” (1996)
Useless F*cks was the first band that I was in that started to branch out from just playing at the Elvis Room. We were awful (laughs), but we got together and went down to Fishtracks studios with Jim Tierney and recorded “Frat Boy F*ck You,” and we saved up a bunch of money and pressed 1,000 copies. Somehow, Tim Yohannan from Maximum Rocknroll ended up putting it in his top 10 of the quarter and we ended up selling out of them. It was crazy that we actually packaged up a thousand 7-inches and sent them out. And, because of that, we got offers to play up in Canada and down in New Jersey. It felt really good because we just did it all ourselves and through hand-shake contacts that started in Portsmouth.
The Queers tour Japan (2003)
Whenever Joe Queer needed a bassist for The Queers, I’d get these random calls. Two years after I first played and recorded with them, he called up and asked what I was doing next week and I said, “I don’t know, why?” He said they had a Japanese tour and needed a bassist. I was like, “Sure dude.” He asked for my Social Security number and info and called back later and said the tickets were booked. And I thought, “Wow. OK. I guess I’d better call work and tell them.” So I got to play in Japan. We did six shows in eight days. It was such a great experience. As a younger kid I would just say yes to anything I was offered. I met so many people that I’m still friends with, that have helped me along the way. The shows were so crazy; the smallest was probably 500 kids. I (was) thinking we were doing really good playing in Boston when 20 people showed up! I was just along for the ride, obviously, but it felt so good.
Little Steven Van Zandt (2013)
The first time we met him, he had already been promoting The Connection, which we thought was so crazy anyway. I was like, “I really like ‘The Sopranos’ and Bruce Springsteen!” and it seemed so weird that he’d latched onto us. So we went to New York City and had to take this weird elevator and we got up to the top and it’s this psychedelic purple room and we’re like, What’s going on here?” And there was, at first, no one around. The whole place is full of autographed Beatles and The Who posters and over there looks like it’s probably Bruce Springsteen’s guitar. And we’re calling, “Hello? Hello?” It’s echoing and finally we just hear, ‘Yeah, what?’ We told him we’re The Connection and he comes out and it was just him there, no one else. It’s just Steven Van Zandt, and he showed us everything and his recording studio and hung out for at least two hours. He told us to stop by when we were back and we did again. We popped in on Steven Van Zandt (laughs). He’s just an insanely down-to-earth, nice guy.”
Who are your top five Seacoast bands of all time, in no particular order?
The Queers, The Bruisers, Sinkhole, Tan Vampires, and Jupiter 2.
Who are your top five current favorite bands, in no particular order?
Watts, A Minor Revolution, Iron Chin, Guy Capecelatro III, and ZipGun Bomber.
The Connection will be at The Press Room on Saturday, Jan. 24 at 9 p.m. as part of the Watts album release show. The band is currently recording a new LP, slated for a summer release. Follow them online at the-connection.bandcamp.com.