In 1991, a bombshell called Nirvana lit up the national airwaves with a little ditty called "Smells Like Teen Spirit". The media and the music scouts decended on Seattle like locusts, turning a small but thriving music scene into "The Grunge Movement". While this brought bands like Soundgarden and Tad to a wider audience, it also created a tidal wave of new bands from which people had to choose. Many good bands got lost in the dyn. Hammerbox was one of those bands.
RollingStone.com claims, erroneously, that Hammerbox orginally formed in Texas and then moved to Seattle. Actually, Dave Bosch and James Atkin were originally from Kentucky and Tennessee respectively. They met Carrie Akre in Seattle via an ad in The Rocket, a local music newspaper. Then a neighbor told Carrie about a friend of his who had moved to Seattle from Oregon and was looking for band to join. Harris Thurmond was that friend, and soon the as yet unamed quartet began jamming together. They called one of their early songs "Down in the Hammerbox". The song went by the wayside, but they decided to keep the word. "We thought it captured [our] sound," Carrie said in a recent email interview.
The band played their first public gig in october of 1989 at The Gilman Street Station, receiving great reviews. In early 1991, they released a self-titled debut on C/Z Records, a local indie label. The album showcased the sound of the band perfectly with tracks ranging from hard rock to punk to new wave, all tied together by Akre's unique powerhouse vocals. When Nirivana hit and grunge went national, as a "Native Seattle Band", Hammerbox enjoyed the fruits of the craze. They were signed to A&M Records and toured America and Europe, including Germany and the Netherlands. Akre remembers playing a number of shows with Sister Double Happiness and Therapy? in particular. "Both bands were great people."
I first encountered Hammerbox while at a friend's house in 1993, by nearly sitting on a copy of their first CD while at a friend's house. My friend suggested I take it with me and listen to it. By the next day I had gone out and bought a copy for myself which took up permanent residenct in my CD player. Later that year, Hammerbox released "Numb" on A&M, and, along with a number of other local groups, performed to over 14,000 local fans at "Endfest" in Bremerton. However, without sufficient marketing support from A&M, Numb sold less than the label would have liked, and they soon dropped the band entirely.
In early 1994, the band broke up due to internal conflicts. Akre said in an interview in 1996, "We got too uptight to the point where nobody was talking to anybody and it really wasn't going to change. It was like a dysfunctional family." Like many disfunctional families, everyone handled the experience in their own way. Bosch moved down to Portland and now owns a couple music shops. Atkin hasn't appeared in any other bands that I know of, though I hear he'll be getting married soon. Thurmond formed Orbiter with Fiia McGann in 2000, and they've received very good reviews locally. As for Akre, she's gone on to a long string of musical activities, including forming a new band called Goodness, co-founding GoodInk Records, and, more recently, pursuing a much heralded solo career.
Hammerbox's story explifies both the advantages and dissadvantages of national attention and marketing. On one hand, the money invested by the label allows for better recording and more opportunities to reach a wider audience. On the other hand, this investment creates tremendous pressure, both to return a profit as quickly as possbile, and also to provide a consistent identifiable sound which can be branded by marketing and targeted to the appropriate demographic. But all that pressure tends to make a band's music less unique and less interesting instead of more so. Thus, while "Numb" has better production values, the only thing which distinguishes it from any other grunge album is its female lead singer. Meanwhile, I continue to listen to their self-titled first album to this day.
- Hammerbox (1991)
- Numb (1993)
- http://www.carrieakre.com/ - Info on Akre's solo carreer and also site to purchase Hammerbox's albums
- http://www.lovelessrecords.com/band_orbiter.html - Info on Thurmond's Orbiter
- http://www.goodink.com/ - The record label Akre helped found
- http://www.rockfords.com/ - A band formed with Mike McCready of Pearl Jam with Akre on lead vocals
Email interview with Carrie Akre (20 Feb 2003)