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The second era of grunge: Malfunkshun returns to the Puget Sound for hometown tour
In the spring of 1980, more than a decade before Nirvana would release their second album and legitimize the Seattle sound to a world of listeners, two brothers from Bainbridge Island formed the band that would inspire an entirely new kind of rock-and-roll.
Malfunkshun was formed on Easter Sunday in 1980 by brothers Andrew and Kevin Wood. Today, the group is most widely known as both the original act to boast the eventual frontman of Mother Love Bone, and as some of the most critical early contributors to the creation of grunge.
In celebration of the important legacy of the Seattle sound, and in memory of his brother Andrew who passed away in 1990, Kevin Wood will lead the band’s current lineup in a special concert event at The Point Casino in Kingston, at 8 p.m. Friday, April 25, kicking off their latest West Coast tour leg which is set to begin later this summer and which will include shows in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and more cities yet to be announced.
“We’re really excited,” Wood said of the band’s mood earlier this week. “This show is celebrating the birth of Seattle sound, and Malfunkshun being the grandfather of that sound. We have an amazing group of talented guys who are throwing in, and I’m really excited about this lineup.”
Wood leads the group’s roster - contributing vocals and guitar - which currently boasts Tony West on vocals, Rob Day on bass and vocals as well as Kevin Blackwood on drums.
Also joining the group, as a special bonus during the Kingston show only, is former Nirvana drummer Chad Channing.
“Chad is going to show up and we’re going to do a few songs with him,” Wood said, adding the show to be part anniversary and part reunion special. “We all knew each other back in the day.”
Recalling the band’s early days, Wood said that Malfunkshun began with a youthful act of rebellion and then stayed true to their roots.
“Easter Sunday in 1980, my brother Andrew and I decided to blow off Easter lunch at Grandma’s and do our first demo tape,” he said. “I [always] like to come up to Seattle and do a show to celebrate that birthday.”
Though not originally from Bainbridge, Wood, who now resides in California, said that the island will always be his hometown.
“I still call Bainbridge home,” he explained. “That was the place where I lived the longest in one place. We were Air Force brats, and we ended up on Bainbridge. My dad was a recruiter in Seattle, and that was his last duty station.”
In retrospect, and from an outside perspective, it’s easy to believe that grunge was an instant phenomenon, and that the entire scene happened all at once.
Wood is quick to set the record straight with an unsentimental insider’s perspective.
“It was long years of playing and practicing and working on tunes,” he recalled. “It was definitely not an overnight sensation.”
Wood said that long before the world knew what grunge was, and Paris fashion models were decked out in ripped jeans and flannel shirts, the music that would define a decade was just a couple of guys trying something new.
“We were doing our own thing,” he said. “We intentionally set out to be different, but we had no idea it would be so influential.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
“The thing did [eventually] get some momentum there,” Wood remembered. As the music became popular there was a mad rush on the part of record labels to sign Seattle acts quickly, but very few of those groups have proven to have staying power, he said.
“Where are they now?” he laughed. “A lot of them are gone.”
Music is an ever-changing industry. Indeed, even the Godfathers of Grunge themselves went through periods of silence in those early years.
By 1988, Malfunkshun had all but disbanded and the members were pursuing other projects.
“We never formally broke up,” Wood remembered. “It was just [that] Andrew got busy with Mother Love Bone, and we didn’t play very often. Around ’88 we took an unspoken hiatus. Andy’s intention was to come back and continue it, the band had been together a long time at that point and there had been periods of inactivity [before], so it was no big deal.”
Following his brother’s passing, Wood founded and played with numerous other bands and remains an extremely prolific and active professional musician.
“I never get tired of it,” he said. “I enjoy writing songs. I have the ability to create, and I relish that and I honor that in my everyday life. I enjoy what I’m doing. If you’re doing what you love, it just comes naturally.”
While some musicians who find success in their early days are content to perform the hits forever, Wood said that he does not allow himself to rest on his laurels. He promised fans that the Kingston show will feature classics from the Malfunkshun canon, as well as never before performed material from the band’s early days, but he also said that the show will showcase entirely new material as well.
“I’ve got new music coming down the pipe,” Wood said. “I keep moving forward. The Malfunkshun that we speak of, in that context, was over 20 years ago. I don’t spend much time there. I’m continually moving forward, writing songs [and] booking shows. It’s an alive thing and very much in the present for me.”
Recently, Wood contributed guitar tracks for a rerecording of the classic rock anthem “Born to be Wild” with the former members of Steppenwolf, and earlier this year he was working at Newcalcutta studio in Manhattan recording a new single with Rich Pagano.
“It’s like it never really stopped for me,” Wood said. “I’m living in the now with it.”
Visit www.malfunkshun.org for all of the band’s latest news and tour dates.