Willard – “Willard” (1991)

I have to admit, I don’t remember Seattle’s own Willard despite the fact that they were at their most notorious in the early 1990s when I was attending the University of Washington. And hearing them today for the first time, I’m not sure how I could have possibly missed them.

There’s some info about Willard out there on the web, but the more links you follow the more you realize that all of them basically say the same regurgitated stuff, so I won’t bother rehashing it – you can go read it on Wikipedia yourself. However, there are a few contemporary media nuggets out there, like this description of the band in the September 1992 issue of SPIN: Every town has a band like Willard. Loud. Obnoxious. Drunker than everyone else. They tried to position themselves as anti-grunge, but of course at that point so was every other band in Seattle, and that still didn’t stop them from having grunge-meister Jack Endino produce their sole LP, 1992s Steel Mill.

I ran across a still-sealed copy of Willard’s 1991 debut self-titled EP the other day at Tacoma’s Hi-Voltage Records. It’s a legit rarity, though one kept at a fairly reasonable price by the relative obscurity of the band. I’m always a bit nervous about buying sealed copies of records this old, as my experience is that they’re quite often warped to some extent. And sure enough, there’s a slight wobble to this copy of Willard, though nothing that detrimentally impacts the sound.

Grunge as such probably actually died the moment it became a mainstream phenomenon with 1991s Nevermind and, to a lesser extent, Badmotorfinger, two albums by established old-school grunge bands that were now by default less raw than they had been previously. The grunge backlash in Seattle was palpable, as pretty much every musician (and music fan) hated the term that had been picked up by the mainstream media and marketing execs in an effort to sell flannel. Willard actually falls into that first wave of post-grunge, alongside bands like Gruntruck and Love On Ice, that took the sound in a different direction, one more structured and reliant on heavy and catchy riffs. In many respects Willard more resembles a metal album, something on the slower and heavier side though far from doom. “Stain” comes right out you with hard rock riffage and a driving pace, while “Never B-4” makes me think of side B of Black Flag’s My War.

The bands that pushed this post-grunge return to rock had a tough road, and that included Willard who were gone by 1992, which is too bad. You can hear a burned-from-vinyl copy of the album on YouTube! below, so judge for yourself.