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Original members are John Pamer, drums (left band, c. 1996); Kristin Thomson, guitar, vocals (married Brian Dilworth, a musician, c. 1996); Jenny Toomey, guitar, vocals; and Andrew Webster, bass; Luther "Trip" Gray, joined as a replacement for Pamer, c. 1996. Addresses: Record company--Simple Machines Records, P.O. Box 10290, Arlington, VA 22210-1290. E-mail--TsunamiSMR@aol.com.

Tsunami is an Arlington, Virginia, based band fronted by the razor- sharp smarts of Jenny Toomey and Kristin Thomson, who also boast musical talent in such excess that they moonlight in other bands. Furthermore, Toomey and Thomson run their own label, Simple Machines, dedicated to providing welcoming business turf for fledgling indie bands. That label is also home of the Tsunami catalog, which includes a staggering number of singles in near- collectible sleeve designs. "Tsunami come across like a kind of teen gang," wrote Melody Maker's Sharon O'Connell. "It's their autonomy, their spirit and their drive, and the way they celebrate the raw and the very ordinary; the way it is when you're very young and every feeling is new each time you feel it."

Tsunami was formed inside the suburban Washington, DC house that Toomey and Thomson shared with John Pamer in the last months of 1990. Toomey had been in a band called Geek, where she met Andrew Webster, and she talked him into moving to the area so they could form a band with Pamer and Thomson; their goal was to play a New Year's Eve 1990 party. Toomey and Thomson were no newcomers to the music scene, having already formed the Simple Machines label with the help of their friend Ian MacKaye, head of the famed DC label Dischord. By February of 1991, they took their fledgling band on the road.

During 1991, Tsunami came into being as a band with some difficult tours and a well-packaged single or two. Touring was a strictly low-budget affair, with the band and gear loaded into a sometimes unreliable Isuzu Trooper playing college towns across the country. Their worst show ever, Toomey told ViVidzine's Juliette Morris, was at a college in Ohio--not at a bar, but at "some really bad fraternity-type of party and it was `Mom's Night,' which meant that everywhere we looked, we saw mothers with their arms around their staggering, drunk children." A bad sound system, and a sound man who mistakenly thought Toomey was making fun of him and began lousing up everything during their performance completed the farce. Their first single, released in the spring of 1991, was "Headringer," followed by that summer's "Genius of Crack."

Tsunami recorded and toured with pals Velocity Girl, and also recorded split singles with them, such as 1992's SubPop release "Left Behind." Another track from 1992 sums up the unique attitude with which Toomey and Thomson hurtle through the male-dominated world of indie rock: "Punk Means Cuddle" calls for a nicer, less belligerent attitude among their college-radio bands and fans. Toomey used to be active in the riot-grrl movement, but came to some realizations about what Tsunami call the "loadhog" phenomenon, and even wrote a song about it. "Loadhogs are people who martyr themselves for the cause," Toomey told Melody Maker's Sally Margaret Joy. "People who would rather do the work for you than teach you how to do it yourself." In the song, Toomey explained, she "was trying to explore the delicate problem of how work is delegated."

In early 1993 a national promoter phoned and asked them if they might be interested in playing on that summer's Lollapalooza tour. Originally, they assumed it was a prank call. Their six shows on a side stage shared with other acts such as Sebadoh and Thurston Moore dovetailed nicely with the release of their first full-length record, Deep End. Later that year Tsunami recorded their follow-up, The Heart's Tremolo, in Chicago and it was released in 1994. Like all of their Tsunami issues, the two albums boasted beautifully designed covers; one single, from the previous year, "Diner," featured the menu from their favorite low-budget restaurant.

This irreverence infects much of what Tsunami does. They once undertook a microphone relay race from their office to a club, taped it, and played it live during a show. Yet they also donate money to non-profit organizations and are quite serious about the seemingly insurmountable wall between feminist ideology and alternative music. "I believe that women will never be accepted in punk rock, and that is why Tsunami walks the line between pop and punk," Toomey told Melody Maker. Band members still had their day jobs in 1993: Toomey worked as a bookkeeper for an anti-nuclear organization, while Thomson worked in a food co-op--but continued to run the Simple Machines label. Its office was at their house-- "so we wake up, put on our clothes, and start work," Thomson told Joy in Melody Maker. "We have no free time at all.... {L}uckily, there are no pubs near where we live."

Tsunami were busy throughout 1993 and 1994. They had a friend in England, John Loder, who owns a studio, and began traversing back and forth to do recordings. They toured with the bands Rodan and Eggs, and, when asked how England responds to Tsunami, Toomey told ViVidzine that the music press there is quite fickle--"It's depending on what bands are popular at the moment, you could be everyone's darlings or everyone could hate you. It's such a small country, and they start these weird little trends a lot." Sharon O'Connell reviewed a live show for Melody Maker and lauded it: "They bang and strum, leaving slight spaces before they storm in to mess things up."

Tsunami completed two American tours in 1994 in addition to more dates in England, but time became more unmanageable with Pamer still in college and living elsewhere. During their get-togethers, the band was forced "to write and record real fast, so we're very goal-oriented," Toomey told Melody Maker's Joy. Toomey also explained to ViVidzine that her bandmate "has had a hard time on tour," she said of Thomson, "because she's a good workaholic and it's been hard for her to get in the van, because there's no desk in there."

Though the band has managed to issue a full-length record annually, it is their singles that fuel the Tsunami wave. In 1994 they released "Be Like That," as well as a split CD with Rodan and Eggs from their U.K. tour entitled "Cowed by the Blah Blah." After releasing World Tour and Other Destinations in 1995--containing 22 singles previously released and difficult to find--the band went on hiatus so Pamer could finish his degree. Toomey and Thomson continued to run the label and work with other bands. Toomey moonlighted in Liquorice, signed to England's 4AD label. Thomson married and began spending time in Philadelphia with her husband, Brian Dilworth, of the band the Gelcaps and head of the Compulsiv record label. Webster began a career as a documentary filmmaker. Yet after Pamer graduated in 1996, he remained in Massachusetts and made clear his intention to live in New York, not Virginia.

The break seemed to have changed everyone. "When we stopped playing, I was exhausted," Toomey told Magnet's Cyndi Elliott. "It was because we didn't want to play. I've always thought that a band benefits from not having to be a band all the time. We always held day jobs and did other things. That's one of the reasons we were able to stay a band for so long. When you are forced to play because you have to pay rent, you lose quality control and a lot of the joy of it." In a decision made with some trepidation, they hired another drummer, Luther Gray. Formerly an intern at Simple Machines, Gray has a jazz background and brought a new rhythmic dimension to their music. It fit in perfectly with their maturation as a band, with Toomey and Thomson writing more melodic and less strident songs, which was evident on their 1997 release A Brilliant Mistake. Many of Tsunami's friends from the Chicago music scene contributed as well, including members of the Coctails and Poi Dog Pondering, and Rob Christiansen from Liquorice, who played bass on half the record.

Despite her work with Liquorice and Tsunami, Toomey admits to being insecure about her songwriting abilities: "Very rarely I'll have something I think I should write," she told Magnet. "Except e-mails and purchase orders." Both Toomey and Thomson are confident about their business acumen, however. They claim anyone can begin a label, and have even written a booklet on how to do it, "but we don't talk about ambition in it," Toomey told Joy in the Melody Maker interview. Referring to the observation that substance abuse sometimes prevents creative types from accomplishing things, Toomey noted that "You can't give people energy and enthusiasm." Sometimes other labels or bands call the Simple Machines offices and ask to have their radio-station mailing list, for instance, and Toomey and Thomson must refuse. Notes Toomey: "The only reason those stations play us is because of our track record with them.... You have to find the addresses of the stations you like and send them nice letters--just like we had to."

by Carol Brennan

Tsunami's Career

Toomey was a philosophy major in college and had previously been in the band Geek; Toomey and Thomson founded Simple Machines Records, c. 1990; Gray played drums in Sea Saw; Webster is also a documentary filmmaker. Band formed, late 1990; released several singles on Homestead, SubPop, C/Z and Simple Machines Records; 1991-92; released first full-length record, Deep End, on Simple Machines, 1993; played Lollapalooza 1993.

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