Yellow Rain, 1982 | unknown photographer

Yellow Rain Interview by Rick V. and Tina Vines

May 02, 2024

Yellow Rain were Bloomington Ind.’s first hardcore band back in 1982. They played two shows and called it quits about a year later. After many half-hearted anecdotes about putting the band back together, they started playing shows again forty years later. And much to everyone’s surprise, they kill it! These older gents play fast, loud songs about apes, dogs, babies, depression, and cults. They sound like teenagers who play in 1982. Let’s Pretend Records put out their debut record Generation Dead this year which has a few of the songs they wrote as teenagers with a slew of new songs. And, again, to many people’s surprise, it’s good!

Tina, Evan, and I followed half of the band to a wooded area outside of Bloomington past a sea of houses with Trump 2024 flags to a beautiful barn looking over some majestic nature. This is where the band practices. Tina and I interviewed the band while sitting next to a wood stove.

Yellow Rain | photo by Evan Spradling


Dan Fierst: Drums
David Alexander: Vocals
Ross Danielson: Bass
Greg Phillips: Guitar


Rick: Were all of you all in the original line up of Yellow Rain?

Dan: I’m the only one who was not.

Ross: The original lineup was Greg, David, and me. John Strohm was the original drummer. He was a local musician who went on to good things.

Rick: Oh yeah, he was in the Lemonheads, right?

David: Blake Babies, The Lemonheads, and a whole bunch of bands.

Ross: He was invited to be a part of this but he lives in Tennessee, I think. But he’s too busy.

David: Too busy having a successful career and family life.

Ross: Dave’s retired. So that’s why he’s all for it.

Rick: Dave, you retired when?

David: I retired about a year ago but we had been practicing a couple of years before that. But since I retired from the public library system in Columbus, OH it gave me a little more flexibility to practice. I do have to drive from Columbus (three and a half hours) but I’ve done it so often it’s not a big deal at all.

Rick: When did you guys actually start Yellow Rain?

Ross: Greg and I were in a pop surf-edge band here in Bloomington in 1981 called Moto-X. We were seven years younger than the other guys in the band. The two of us were the hired guns.

Greg: I was seventeen.

Ross: That same year, Greg and I heard Group Sex by the Circle Jerks. That had been around since 1980 but it took a while to get to us. When we heard that, our jaws were on the floor because we’d never heard music like that before. In 1982, Moto-X is still doing its thing and Fear: The Record was released. That made Greg and I realized that Moto-X was not punk enough and we started Yellow Rain.

Rick: Did you call it quits with the older guys?

Ross: No, no. We kept being in Moto-X and eventually we all moved to Austin, TX and had great adventures. For a full summer, winter, and maybe a spring, we played together as a punker side project and got David and John Strohm on board.

David: I would hang out and watch Moto-X practice. I was a big fan. They were a great garage rock surf band. But we decided we needed to start a hardcore punk band because that was something that obviously needed to be done for us with the age we were. I was the one with no real musical talent, so I got to be the singer.

Ross: But he wrote a lot of great songs and still does. He’s the one who wrote songs about hunting children for sport and stuff like that. [Everybody laughs.]

Dan: Yellow Rain played out twice and I went to both shows.

Yellow Rain | photo by Evan Spradling

Rick: You only played two shows!?

Ross: Some say we played three shows, but I only remember a basement party and a show at Ricky’s Cantina, which was in downtown Bloomington and is long gone. The only reason we are able to do the band now is because we recorded the shows with boomboxes onto a cassette, so we have a reference to these tunes we wrote forty-two years ago when we were teenagers.

Dan: And I’m in one of the pictures taken at the show. I’m wearing a tank top and rocking a little bit of a mullet.

Greg: Also an important detail from the primordial days: we practiced in a little space in the old, torn-down south side of downtown Bloomington. The space was called Zombie Hell.

Ross: It was on the second story and we paid seventy-five bucks a month. We were still kids in high school and we had our own rock’n’roll room. That’s where we would party and do our punk rock.

Tina: How many of the songs are you playing now that were from back then? What was the process of getting that stuff together?

Ross: We have a handful of the songs we wrote when we were kids on this first release. We saved some for the next record. David came to this band with, “Hey, I’ve got a couple of songs,” which was interesting because he was never a musician or a singer and never played anything. Turns out he had this ukulele he’d write songs on.

Greg and I continued to be in bands and we’ve progressed a little bit on our songwriting abilities. When you’re fifteen, you just learn how to do bar chords and you’re like, “This sounds great! It’s easy!” David’s been bringing in these really amazing songs because he’s kind of approaching it like a fifteen-year-old who just learned to play the guitar. The songs are just like the songs Greg and I wrote back in 1982 for this band.

David: I’d bring the ukulele to practice and show them what I worked out. I would play the song: plink plink plink plink... Fortunately, these guys were accomplished musicians who could actually figure it out.

Ross: Greg and I would ask questions like, “What’s the cadence of that?” He would play it a little more and we’d try to bring it up to what’s playing in his head. Greg and I love what he’s bringing to the band because his approach is so crazy to us.

Yellow Rain | photo by Evan Spradling

Rick: So delinquent.

Ross: Exactly. And Greg brought in some songs he wrote years ago.

Greg: Yeah, all my new songs I wrote more than thirty years ago.

Ross: I’ve got songs I wrote thirty years ago but never played. What I’ve done since the early eighties is record guitar riffs on a cassette player and, at some point, digital. But I have two and half decades of cassettes that I haven’t listened to in years. So some were written in ’82 or ’83 and are just coming together now. I have yet to write something brand new for the band. It’s all this old stuff.

David: I still have a cassette with the original recordings and they’re rough. Not just the quality, but the musicianship. But you can tell what it was supposed to sound like.

Tina: I bet it sounds awesome.

Rick: You know now there are bands taking those recordings and slapping them on a 10” and selling them for thirty bucks?

Ross: We’ll see what happens...

Rick: Don’t do it. Don’t be that guy.

Ross: There’s a part of the cassette where you can hear a woman in the eight-person crowd say “You guys are terrible!”

David: The woman who would become my wife went to the Ricky’s Cantina show with a friend and walked out while we were playing. [Everyone laughs.]

Ross: We were terrible. That’s why we stopped a year and a quarter into it. We need to practice. That’s what we’ve been doing for forty-two years and now we’re ready. [Everyone laughs.]

Rick: A year and quarter into it and you only played two shows?

Ross: There’s some debate on whether we played two or three shows.

Yellow Rain | photo by Evan Spradling

Tina: Back then, was there even a punk scene in Bloomington?

Ross: There was, but not Yellow Rain playing hardcore punk rock. We were pretty early in that department.

Greg: Ross and I were in a band called The Resistors and we played a street dance in 1981. We had no idea there was a punk rock scene in Bloomington and then we met all these people. John Barge and Ian Brewer who would eventually be in The Walking Ruins, they were in a great band called The Panics.

Ross: We met all the punks who’d be our friends that night and are still our friends today.

Rick: Everyone has that story and that’s crazy.

Ross: It was cool meeting all these people who were like us. They liked all this counterculture pop stuff that nobody else in high school was into. I mean, they liked Monty Python. We ended up in bands with all these guys throughout the years.

Ross: Greg and I got the Sex Pistols album when it came out and we put the needle on it together for the first time.

Rick and Tina: Awww.

Ross: Same with the Ramones. I’ve had some life-changing moments with this man right here.

Greg: To go back to us saying we had no idea there was a punk rock scene in Bloomington, we bought the Ramones’ Leave Home and were like, “This is great music! We need to start playing stuff like this!” Six months later we start playing as The Resistors and are like, “Oh, there is a scene here... They’ve already heard this stuff! These records are five years old!” [laughter]

Ross: Greg and I went to Bloomington High School South and we were the only punk rockers there. We didn’t know that all the cool guys were going to the north high school—and of course all the people in college and the dropouts who were older were part of the scene. These are all people we still know and love.

Greg:
We’re pretty excited about doing another street dance in June.

Yellow Rain | photo by Evan Spradling

Tina: Oh yeah, I’m making the flyer for that. I didn’t know the name “Street Dance” was a callback to an old event.

Greg: Is that what they’re calling it?

Tina: That’s what I was told. I thought it was a funny name for a punk show.

Ross:
Well, they didn’t call it Street Dance. They were called street dances. You would a get a permit and block off the street. It was sponsored by a local radio station.

Ross: We’re going to play in the exact same spot we played in ’81.

Dan: It was very influential to see those. It was great.

Greg: Some were organized by Eric White who is the documentarian/historian of the Bloomington punk rock scene. You can still get his VHS tape from the library and they sometimes air it on CATS (local cable access). He’s got this huge flowchart with all the bands.

Tina: That’s what I’m looking at right now!

Greg: It’s amazing. He got it all right!—the timeframes, band members, and everything.

Ross: And he was at every show with a big video camera.

Tina: When they sent this video to the group chat for the street dance coming up, there was another flowchart somebody made in 2013. That person had no knowledge of the previous one.

[Tina gets up and shows Yellow Rain the chart as Rick tries to get everybody focused again.]

David:
Fast forward to maybe 2020. I went to see Ross’s surf band, The Aquaholics (The Bloomington one) at the now-defunct Players Pub. Greg was there. Were you there, Dan?

Dan: I was the drummer.

David: Then of course you were. We were standing in the alley behind Players Pub and Greg said “Hey, we should get Yellow Rain together.”

Greg: It was before 2020 because it was before our friend Kent Berglund died.

Yellow Rain | photo by Evan Spradling

David: That’s right. We all ran into each other again at Kent’s memorial service. That’s when I realized Greg’s idea wasn’t such a stupid idea because time is only going in one direction.

Greg: We decided that people are dying and if we’re going to do this fucking reunion thing, we have to do it soon.

Ross: Because before when Greg said we should do a Yellow Rain reunion, I was internally like, “Are you shitting me?”

David: “Yeah, that’s cute Greg.”

Ross: “Good luck with that, Greg.”

David: “You’re drunk!” [laughter]

Ross: Because John (Strohm) has a professional life and that wouldn’t be possible. But these two guys (David and Greg) made it happen. I’m surprised it actually came together. Fortunately we had those damned cassettes.

Tina: What were the other bands on the two shows you played back in the day like?

Ross: At Ricky’s Cantina, we played with Adherence from Dayton, OH. I don’t remember them other than their name and that I felt sorry those guys. It was the second week of December and it was cold and snowing.

David: And there were eight or twelve people there.

Ross: I’m sure it was our first show. Because it was so terrible it had to be our first show. I don’t even remember if there was another band at the basement party.

Yellow Rain | photo by Zachary Jetter

Rick: Where was Ricky’s Cantina?

Ross: It was catty-corner to where The Bishop was.

Greg: It’s a parking garage now.

Rick: [sarcastically] I can’t believe they would tear something down in Bloomington and put up a parking garage. [laughter]

Ross: It was a giant, old wooden barn-type structure.

Greg: There was a Salvation Army on the bottom floor.

Dan: There was all this stuff in there too.

Ross: Oh yeah. The guy who owned it was a junk collector and it was full of piles of weird, insane crap.

Rick: That’s my style.

Ross: It was fun. He set up a stage and the shows were all-ages. Anyway, it was a dismal night at Ricky’s Cantina at that show. I don’t think anyone had fun.

David: I don’t know. I was hyped!

Rick: I saw you guys at the Shotwell show. I’ll be truthful, I was texting my friend saying I was about to watch a band of old guys relive their youth and saying how that usually ends up being pretty bad. But you guys killed it! It was good!

Ross: That was a fun show.

Rick: And the kids were into it! Do you guys at all feel awkward playing in front of an all-age audience?

Ross: Heck no. You don’t feel as old as you are.

Rick: Oh, I feel it when I play shows.

Ross: At least mentally. But, no. As long as people are standing there enjoying themselves we’re having fun too.David: It doesn’t make me feel young but it distracts me from the fact that I’m not.

Dan: Passing that on to people who haven’t been exposed to that is so important to us. It’s rewarding to us to see young people dancing around and smiling.

Ross: This is how we interpreted punk rock in 1981.

Rick: And in Bloomington it’s more fun right now because there’s more hype on the all-age shows opposed to the bar shows.

Greg: We did play our first show back at the Blockhouse and there were kids in their twenties moshing. Our second show at The Bishop, the same thing happened. People were going crazy.

David: Dudes without their shirts on.

Ross: Split elbows. Someone had to get stitched. Somebody broke their wrist.

Greg: I guess we’re doing it right?

Tina: Who else played at that first show back at the Blockhouse?

Greg:
The Katatonics.

Ross: I haven’t played this kind of music in forty years. When the moshing happened, I thought, “Oh, I forgot about this part.” [laughter]

Greg: We’re used to middle-aged people dancing at a surf show.

Ross: It is great seeing people in their seventies who are into punk rock at these shows.

Rick: Did you guys see any old faces pop up when you started doing these shows?

Dan: Oh yeah. We’ve seen John Terrell, the Bloomington legend, and Craig Brenner up in Indianapolis.

Ross: These shows are the only way I get to see people who hung out in the early eighties.

Greg: The true believers are still out there. [Laughter ensues.]

Ross:
During the eighties and mid-nineties even, Second Story was the heartbeat of the Bloomington music scene. Those are the people I see at shows who I reminisce with.

Greg: Second Story was the best club in the Midwest. People from all over would play there.

Rick: Where was that?

Greg: Right next to that parking garage. It’s where Serendipity is now.

Tina: It was above Bullwinkle’s, is that correct? (Bullwinkle’s was a prolific gay bar in the eighties/nineties.)

Ross: Yes. That’s where all that action was.

Dan: With Bullwinkle’s being downstairs, it made the scene there very vibrant.

Tina: Sounds awesome. I’ve read a lot about it.

Ross: The Bluebird did have a thing on Tuesdays where bands would play. They might have even called it “Punk Night.”

Rick: Always avoid playing anything called Punk Night.

Ross: So yeah, Second Story was the one place to play.

Greg: Of course, this was all after Yellow Rain broke up.

Ross: The reason Yellow Rain broke up is because Greg and I moved Moto-X down to Austin for a spell. Greg moved back and when I eventually did, we started The Trailside Killers and then Speed Luxury. Greg was in my surf band The Aquaholics for a spell. Dan has been the drummer. I’ve known Dan since he was just a wee lad.

Dan: I’m still kind of small.

Rick: I’ve listened to the Yellow Rain album several times and I enjoy it. Again, I’m surprised it was good. What is the ratio of songs on it that are new versus ancient?

Greg: Three or four old songs. We only really had six song then.

Rick: So is this a new hatred for kids and dogs or does it stem from a long time ago?

David: The song about hunting children was an original one and the one about hunting dogs is new.

Rick: What did dogs do to you?

David: My wife and I were walking through the park one day. A lot of people had their dogs off-leash. I had just recently re-watched The Deer Hunter and I thought, “What if somebody was hunting these unleashed dogs in the park?”

Rick: I thought you were about to tell a horrifying story on why you don’t like dogs but instead it’s, “What if I shot these dogs?”

David: It’s not me. It’s Yellow Rain. I like dogs. I’m a dog person. But it’s all about De Niro saying, “The deer’s gotta be taken with one shot!” So that’s part of the chorus of the song.

Ross: “Safari” is the song about hunting children. We used to get inspiration from the Weekly World News.

David: Yeah, there was a story in there about rich white men who would gather up street urchins, set them loose, and go hunting. It’s printed, so it has to be true.

Ross: A lot of our original material came from the Weekly World News.

Rick: We actually brought Bat Boy with us. [Signals to the door.] Come on out! [laughter] What is “Monk Junkie” all about? Is that a newer song?

David: It’s a new song with an ancient riff. This wasn’t intentional, but I was listening to The Monks. The first song on Black Monk Time goes “dun dun dun dun dun dun...”. It’s a riff I based off that song.

Rick: You’re a junkie for The Monks.

David: Yeah!

Rick: You guys refer to Generation Dead as your first album. Does that mean you plan on having more?

Ross:
The next one is halfway done, if not more. We’ve culled some of the original songs and as soon as we do the record release show at the end of this month, we’re going to finish up the second record.

Rick: Have you guys been stoked about bands you’re playing with? I see your record release show is with ADD/C, who are amazing.

Tina: Yeah, they rule.

Ross: I haven’t heard them yet! It’s nice to see what young person’s different interpretation of punk rock is.

Rick: Well, ADD/C aren’t that young.

Dan: We recently played with our friend Simon’s band Drunken Rampage out of New York. I’ve known him since we were very young and he ended up bringing a bunch of Bloomington band recordings with him to London when he moved there. We always thought that should have gone the other way around.

Greg: We played with a great band from Cincinnati called Vacation. They were really cool.

Ross: Every show is fun because I have no idea who any of these bands are and they’re always kickin’ it out!

Rick: So you guys are gonna keep playing as long as David doesn’t mind driving to Bloomington once a month?

David:
What else am I gonna do? Sit around and watch Fox News?

Ross: It’s not so much him. It’s my knees and Greg’s back... Nah, I’m just kidding.

Greg:
It’s going to take a lot to get me to stop playing in this band. This is my favorite band I’ve ever played in and the most fun I’ve ever had playing in a band.

Rick: Usually when you get the old band back together, it’s kind of a groaner.

Greg: It’s like that scene in Sling Blade when Dwight Yoakam gets the old band back together and it’s just a nightmare. The first time we got back together and we got Dan on drums, we thought, “Wow, we did pretty good for a bunch of old farts who haven’t played together in forty years.”

Ross: I hadn’t touched a bass since ’81.

David: My wife did have some dread the first day we went into Russian Recording and recorded nine songs in a day. I put them on a CD, took them back to Columbus, and went straight to a house where my wife and some friends were hanging out. I shouted, “I got the CD!” She’s got her head in her hands saying, “Oh my god. Okay.” She was expecting to be polite about it and thought it would be really tragic. She was like, “Holy shit, this is good!”

Dan: Last night, our youngest son Pablo was back in town from Austin. He’s with the SigEp bike team. So I had eight young people at my house last night from nineteen to twenty-two or so. Pablo insisted that his teammates listen to our record. I’m sure they were all thinking, “Oh my god, we gotta listen to his dad’s record?” He put it on and they were really into it! Two of them said they were going to buy the record. Usually when someone’s dad plays in a band, it’s Tom Petty covers. Not when you put that on and you hear “...lower than shit, higher than fuck.”

Ross: The kid is proud of the old man.

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