The Giant Mums

The Mums live in Union Square Park, NYC, promoting clean commuting: John Tanzer, Wharton Tiers, and David Roby.

Lineup A (1989-1990):
Dan Carlson - bass, vocals
Mark Davis - guitar, vocals
Chris McCumber - drums, percussion
David Roby - guitar, vocals

Lineup B (1991-1994):
Chris McCumber - drums, percussion
David Roby - guitar, keyboards, lead vocals
John Tanzer - bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals, etc...

Lineup C (1994-1996):
David Roby - guitar, keyboards, vocals
John Tanzer - bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals, etc...
Wharton Tiers - drums, guitar, analog synthesizer


Check out the Giant Mums SoundCloud playlist--it's a best-of compilation featuring previously unreleased tracks, including from their last ever live show with Wharton Tiers on drums.

The Giant Mums weren't meant to be contenders--promotion of any kind seems to have been anathema to them, requests for interviews were usually forgotten about, and their live appearances could be best described as "sporadic" (and they only played outside the safety of the island of Manhattan once).  Not exactly the fast track to rock 'n' roll stardom...

The Giant Mums were officially formed in New York in October of 1989, when David Roby and Mark Davis, two strangers introduced by a mutual friend, decided to form a band.   Mark pegged one of his college acquaintances, Chris McCumber (veteran of countless punk & hardcore bands from high school on), to play drums.  The trio, two guitars and one drummer, began rehearsing in earnest. "Mark lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, as far away from the train station as you could get," remembers Dave. "I'd be coming from the East Village, going all the way crosstown to catch the PATH train, and then I'd have to walk fourteen blocks to get to his house. I think Chris lived in Jersey City at the time although he later moved to Hoboken as well. He had a car and we'd drive to this rehearsal studio in Jersey City--it was clearly catering to the heavy metal crowd, because the amps were huge and the walls all had floor-to-ceiling mirrors! It was an auspicous beginning."

An ad in the venerable Village Voice brought them Dan Carlson, a fluid bassist and singer/songwriter. With Mark's roommate Dom as a manager (a very cheery Brit with a never-say-die attitude) the band set forth to get some gigs.

Their proud debut was at CBGBs, before the old sound system was dismantled (and now sadly(?) the whole place has been torn down), and a tape from the soundboard gave them a demo to start taking around.  Immediately the Mums starting gigging wherever they could--Downtown Beirut II on Houston(a lousy PA but they gave you free pitchers of beer after the show), St. Mark's Bar & Grill (aka Spar & Kill), Nightingale's (where Madonna got her start!), and the Pool Bar,  to name but a few of the usual East Village haunts--and started garnering some local attention.

The music reflected the diverse backgrounds of each of the members--Dave's Byrds-influenced arpeggiated folk/psych rock, Mark's Neil Young homage, Chris' deft & powerful drumming, and Dan's penchant for New Wave pop and Brian Wilson.  This incarnation would record at various budget studios with names like "Hot Sounds", "4/8", and "SRS" with decidedly mixed results.

Ultimately, Dave, Mark, and Dan all had very different ideas for the direction of the band (don't they always?), & by the end of 1990, Dave and Chris had parted ways with Mark & Dan.  Fortunately, John Tanzer (Ex-Lion Tamers, Great Wall/Big Fence, Airlines to name but a few) had caught the band live and saw some sort of potential lurking beneath the surface.

When word got around that the Mums needed a bass player, John surprisingly signed up.  John had previously recorded at Fun City, the legendary studio run by Wharton Tiers (Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Dinosaur Jr., Teenage Fanclub, Helmet, Unsane, Bewitched, Dustdevils, etc.), and through John The Mums gained entrance through the basement door. 

The Mums had found their second home, and started recording whenever money & time would permit.   This would turn out to be a fruitful partnership and the band would always record in Wharton's basement paradise.  The first official release (other than the color-coded cassettes--red, blue, grey, and orange--that still may be floating around out there) was a bonus flexi-disc on Doug Wolk's Dark Beloved Cloud records, included as part of the Cleaned Out! tribute 7" to the New Zealand indie star band The Clean (this one is long out of print but pops up on Ebay and MusicStack now and then).  The Mums covered "Whatever I Do Is Right/Wrong", their layered fuzzy drone especially well-suited to what was essentially a one-chord song.

The Mums continued with their high-volume live shows (Dave & John employed up to THREE Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi's in their sonic arsenal!), playing the Continental (back when it was the Continental Divide, that is, and served tex-mex food in a Jurassic setting), Brownies (when it was just a little stage shoved in the corner and Avenue B was too far east for most folk), Beowulf (a horrible Anglo-Saxon theme-bar, scene of Sonic Youth's "Dirty Boots" video, later to become an Italian restaurant), the Chicago-gangster themed "Space @ Chase" on 3rd Avenue, the Cafe Wha? and Sun Mountain (terrible tourist-trap clubs in the West Village), Under Acme, the Spiral (upstairs and down), the Coney Island Sideshows-by-the-Seashore, as well as numerous other venues small and middling.  Soon the labels came 'round to check out the Mums, and demo tapes were sent far and wide, but no deals could be worked out to everyone's complete satisfaction.  

By this time Airlines and Lid were also considering releasing some records on their own, and Quixotic Records was first conceived as a vehicle for such a venture.  Armed with a free punk-rock guide to record pressing & distribution (courtesy of Dischord Records, house label for DC stalwarts Fugazi), the bands boldly forged ahead into the scary & fragmented world of the indie-rock scene...

The first release by Quixotic Records was also the first Giant Mums record, the "Eyedropper" 4-track EP.  It was dutifully assigned catalog number "QX001-7".

qx001-7.jpg (34559 bytes)

This was a fitting debut, a tight 4-track record with the cream of the early recorded output.   On one side was "Eyedropper," followed by "Noonday Slum"; the other side had "I Wove Myself In" and "Railroad Flat". Recorded on Wharton's old 16-track, these recordings would introduce the Mums' signature NYC psychedelic sound to the world.

Press Clips:

Second Skin (#4 Fall 1992, Alyssa Isenstein)
"The Giant Mums play ball in the same park as Swervedriver, Yo La Tengo, Hypnolovewheel, and a few other indie rock greats...The rhythms jiggle, the tunes shake, and the vocals hit the mark...The Giant Mums are really a band that judging by this great single could be a really exciting band to follow."

ND (#17 Spring 1993, Daniel Plunkett)
"A hard-driving, tight, and bouncy guitar sound. Overall the four tracks on this EP have a good chunky sound which kicks. A great debut single from this group which I am sure are bound to create some true gems. This is the type of single you have always dreamed about finding in the racks. The track 'Railroad Flat' is a definite favorite. Recommended."

Outlet ( Spring 1993, Trev Faull)
"Densely laden with guitars & electricity, building those riffs with style and but for a few words this would have been classed as an instrumental. By track 2 they're beginning to rock and put blisters on the moon, fuzz on the wall. Side 2 is more melodic lingering like a Belltower 45 and the final song backs up this theory going into a glorious psyched solo. What a wonderful way to spend 13 minutes of your life!"

Your Flesh (#27 Summer 1993, David Sprague)
"All frayed nerves and jumpy rhythms, this is the kind of thing where the appeal rises depending on how much you miss the Feelies. Ex-Ex-Lion-Tamer (and current Airlines guitarist) John Tanzer plays bass, but the show seems to belong to Dave Roby, a fellow about whom I know little, save that his uncannily impressionistic guitar slather can make you think you're hearing any number of players at any given time. "

The following year the Mums sifted through the various tracks they'd recorded at Fun City and released two of them on the "My Uncle Hates Me" b/w "Tractor Feed" 7" single (catalog number: QX004-7).

qx004-7.jpg (63649 bytes)

Press Clips:

NET (#7 November 1993, Jamie Mowder)
"The Giant Mums sound, if anything, is a very restless mix, shifting from tense guitar layered over hyperactive drumming, to spacey and cerebral interludes with an acoustic feel, to the brooding psychedelia of the B-side's 'Tractor Feed'. All in all, this is in keeping with the brand of unusual, well-made and eclectic music that we've been seeing from Quixotic these days."

Alternative Press (#69 4-94, Dave Segal)
"The a-side has a long instrumental opening that recalls the coiled power of Mission of Burma and guitar tonalities of Daydream Nation Sonic Youth. This abruptly changes to a pretty pastoral passage worthy of Meat Puppet's Up On the Sun. The whole thing climaxes with an over-driven fuzzed-out groove you could wind-surf in....they know much about the algebra of noise, melody and dynamics."

Melody Maker ( 3-19-94, Michael Bonner)
" unruly slice of punk distinguished by some inventive guitar playing."

You Could Do Worse (#1 Summer 1994, Mark Lo)
"The A-side has tight drum rolls and scratchy guitars amidst an overall murky sound. Then there's a folky, lackadaisical verse, before the tune revs up once again, culminating in a call-and-response shout, 'My uncle hates me/Who cares!' The flip is slow, droney pop that might be forgettable were it not for some excellent guitar work reminiscent of Karl Precola's with early Dream Syndicate, and, again, some scant but well-placed vocals. The Mums are approaching something good. The upcoming album should tell us whether they got there or not."

Well, the album finally did come out in 1994 (catalog number: QX010-CD), and what a treasure trove it was!  It spanned the Mums' range, from the early full-out punk rock of "Reflectone" to the soaring instrumentals "Sheep in the Blacklight Room" and "Yer Mudball".

Disney is EVIL!

Track List:

1. Short Attention Span
2. Wond'rous Spiny Creature
3. Minutes Later, Nothing Gets Out Every Stain
4. We Made It Sing
5. Speedpills Velocitous!
6. Reflectone
7. Mossy Said
8. Sheep In The Blacklight Room
9. Trashly Fay
10. Thread
11. Yer Mudball
12. Deny, Delay
13. Seen You Mini-Sad

Press Clips:

Baby Sue (#17 Summer 1994, Steven Fievel)
"Not only does this disc feature some of the best song titles around (We Made It Sing???), but it also features some absolutely STUNNING songs. The Giant Mums definitely have an instantly identifiable yet indescribable sound that is addictive...This one knocks my socks right off. Simple, unadorned pop tunes...nothing short of sheer MAGIC."

Snipehunt (#20 Summer 1994, GF)
"Every song is a hook I can't shake. The exhilarating blast of fresh air is that they aren't trying to be anyone else. Just having fun and bringing us lonely reviewers along with `em. Not punk, but little five year olds playing in the dirt with scissors and the good china. I'm in love."

Option (#58 September/October 1994, Chris Crisafulli)
"The Giant Mums produce a thick, loose, fuzzy sound that seems to be slowly oozing even when drummer Chris McCumber and bassist John Tanzer keep the tunes moving along at a blistering pace. The lazy, drifting vocal approach calls to mind the finer moments of the Meat Puppets, and laid-back stuff like 'Sheep in the Blacklight Room' and 'Deny, Delay' also have a Meat Pups feel. But on a tune like 'Speedpills Velocitous', the band can rock with Ramones-power. There are plenty of post-punk squiggles in the Mums sound, but once in a while, such as on the lysergic jumper 'Thread', they come off like something really interesting from one of the Pebbles collections. Add it up, and these guys have delivered a good chunk of demented entertainment. Pay attention to future releases."

Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock (1997, Ira Robbins)
"Compared to Airlines, the [Giant Mums] have stranger concepts, ('Minutes Later, Nothing Gets Out Every Stain' and 'Sheep in the Blacklight Room' are only two of the odd titles on The Giant Mums; the chorus of 'We Made It Sing' begins 'meow meow meow') as well as a singular sensibility and, for the most part, an aggressive, jagged guitar attack.  Wharton Tiers' production makes the most of intriguing compositions, shaping the band's fill-in-the-void playing...into moderate wind-shear excursions that keep moving forward.

Mums @ CBGBs
The Giant Mums live at CBGBs, one minute past midnight, 1995 (?)
L-R, John Tanzer, Wharton Tiers, David Roby

By early 1994, however, Chris McCumber had had enough of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle (which is essentially hauling around lots of heavy expensive equipment and sitting around in bars until 3 in the morning) and decided to pursue his career in video and film production.  John and Dave continued as a guitar duo (The Dwarf Mums, which opened up for the Tall Dwarves on their first US appearance at Under Acme), even playing the Mums' very first and only show outside of New York City, at Silk City in Philadelphia (they got all of $25 for their troubles). 

The Dwarf Mums got a pretty good reaction, but it just wasn't the same until Wharton Tiers offered his formidable services behind the drum kit (just check out Wharton's records, Brighter Than Life and the followup Twilight of the Computer Age).  The new trio began recording new tracks in earnest, trying to collect enough material for a new album.  Despite a well-received appearance at the benefit for the Coney Island freakshow at Irving Plaza, gigging would remain sporadic at best, and the need to make an actual living took up most of the band's free time. 

The Mums' final show was in August of 1996, a sweltering, flipped-out fete replete with naked sweat-lodge caterers & gong healers at the Source of Life Center, a Marxist loft space in the 20s on the west side.   This would be their finest moment (?), joined for a few songs by Fletcher Buckley on sax and Paul Johnson on lead guitar (both on generous loan from the Wharton Tiers Ensemble). Fortunately, a tape has been found of the second set from this show, and two of those tracks were released as MP3s.

In 1997, tired of the grind of city life, Dave packed up Quixotic and left New York City for the country.  The Mums effectively were history, at least for the time being.  The early 90s had become part of another era.  Their second album, which contains some of their finest work with Wharton (including the mega-freakout "Quasar" and the ever-popular "The Driver"), so far remains unreleased.  But this is not the end of the story, of course--stayed tuned for future updates...

Meanwhile, check out the Giant Mums myspace page--we're streaming some audio files there for your enjoyment.

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Last Modified: May 1, 2023