Roderick Wolgamott of Sky Cries Mary on the '90s Seattle Scene

Sound and Vision
John Richards
At Neumos 6-15-2007 // photo by Christopher Nelson (view set)

Roderick Wolgamott is a time capsule of Seattle music from the late 80s and 90s. His band, Sky Cries Mary, has featured members of The Posies and opened for Neil Young, Bjork, and Nine Inch Nails. They also played the first “Internet Concert” with The Rolling Stones in 1994. Wolgamott has released more than a dozen albums with Sky Cries Mary. He also went on to make treehouses for Sting, actress Julianne Moore, Donna Karen of the fashion label DKNY, as well as for actor Val Kilmer. KEXP’s John Richards spoke to Wolgamott on Sound and Vision about his time in Seattle and where he’s gone since then.

On the café he worked at during college:

“That's where I met Jeff Ament from Pearl Jam. He was the guy who pulled the espresso. He was the rock star. And then Andy Wood — Mother Love Bone – he was the dishwasher. That place was infamous. That was the first time I saw like Sub Pop people coming in and meeting with Jeff and Stone [Gossard] and the gang. And it was funny, we'd kind of argue in the morning because Jeff Ament wanted to hear like Aerosmith and Andy wanted to hear Elton John and I wanted to hear Bauhaus. In the end, the band that won was The Cult – we all agreed on that. So that was pretty much our soundtrack.”

On the music scene in Seattle during the early '90s:

“There was like a microscope held to Seattle and, not that it's completely moved on, but in a way it has. And you'd go to one show or another and you'd have your beer between your legs and go wow, this is amazing. I remember a Green River record release and I think they had a marching band come through the middle of the show. And I was just like, this is awesome. I think Mark Arm is probably one of the big highlights of the entire Seattle scene. I mean, “Touch Me I'm Sick” is probably the theme song of the Seattle scene, because it was a lot of that – there was a lot of beer, there was a lot of coffee and there was a lot of junk. And that's kind of what created the mindset and, for better or for worse, it just brought a lot to the scene. No one really cared. No one thought they're going to get a record deal and then suddenly they were. I mean, what happened with Sky Cries Mary – it's like suddenly we get signed to a label set up by Dave Allen from Gang of Four and I was huge Gang of Four fan.”

On his eventual friendship with Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground:

“We would have breakfast every Monday, that was our deal. And so, that really was incredible because we just talked music theory and kind of the tech side. He was really worried about what was happening through bands just creating music for the internet. He thought they were compressing their sound too much, there's too much information going out. Like bands are just doing stuff without really knowing what they're doing. That was a big concern for him because he grew up with vinyl. And so, we talked about that a lot and theory and other musicians and other artists. We’d talk about Andy Warhol. He talked about his experience back in The Factory a little. And, after he passed, thankfully Laurie [Anderson] stayed on with me and she’s one of my greatest friends. So, we have breakfast together now.”

KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.