Malfunkshun

An interview with the Godfathers of Grunge, Malfunkshun's Kevin Wood.
by Tommy Rage
December 2018

Malfunkshun's Monument

Malfunkshun's Monument

If you ever wondered where it all began, where the originators of grunge really came from, then you might be surprised. Then again, maybe not. You may know that grunge began in the Pacific Northwest, or Seattle specifically. But, you may not know that one of the founding Godfathers of Grunge was a band known as Malfunkshun. Formed by two brothers, Andrew and Kevin Wood back in 1980, Malfunkshun began as a Bainbridge Island garage band but quickly drew a large following throughout Seattle. For eight years, Malfunkshun gained attention from local Seattle musicians such as Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), Ben Sheppard (Soundgarden) and Shawn Smith (Satchel), as well as many others. Rarely headlining shows, fans packed venues and bars to see Andy’s flamboyant stage performance coupled with his perfect vocal range. Later, Andy would form Mother Love Bone with Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam, prior to his heroin overdose in March 1990 at the age of 24. With no official record deal for Malfunkshun, compilations and bootlegs held fans over until 1995 when Stone Gossard (Pearl Jam/guitarist) released Return To Olympus, which was compiled of Malfunkshun demos and recordings from 1986-1987. Andy’s tragic death brought together fellow grunge artist Chis Cornell and Eddie Vedder to form Temple of the Dog, paying tribute with such songs as “Hunger Strike” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven”. The documentary: Malfunkshun: The Andrew Wood Story in 2005 brought Kevin and original bassist Regan Hagar back together to record songs written from Andy’s lyrics that he left behind. The 2018 re-release of this album, Monument, is an emotional and powerful album that captures the pure essence of the true Godfathers of Grunge. 

I spoke with Kevin Wood about the release of Monument and how he and his brother Andy formed Malfunkshun years ago outside of Seattle, “Well, it all started as a couple of brothers just jamming. The sound of Seattle in the early 80’s was primarily metal and punk underground. Bands like Culprit and The Fartz and stuff. We got a lot of shows with the punk side of town and they embraced us. We started to play more mid-tempo songs and we kind of invented a sound which was picked up by other bands around us. I think it started the whole grunge thing. I can’t take complete credit for that, but that’s our claim to fame anyway.”

When asked how he feels about Malfunkshun being called the Godfathers of Grunge, a humble Kevin notes, “Ya, it’s been bantered around many times and in many ways. That’s true. It’s satisfying in a way, to know that we had an influence the way we did. The grunge name didn’t come out till later. The   combination of our ingredients of punk and metal influenced other bands. I remember in the late 80’s when the grunge term was being bantered around, bands that were coming up after us and grunge was a moniker that at the time. I didn’t really know if I wanted to wear that very much. Today it is a completely different thing. It’s funny to think about how I felt about it way back then, and where it’s gone today. I still don’t consider Malfunkshun a grunge band, but we introduced a lot of grunge bands.”

In 1990, Andy left Malfunkshun and formed Mother Love Bone with Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, of Pearl Jam. With Andy’s passing after only one album, “Apple”; Kevin carried on with his other brother   Brian, bassist Dan McDonald, and former Nirvana drummer Chad Channing to form Fire Ants and later Devilhead. With some time away from the music scene, Kevin reconnected with original Malfunkshun drummer Regan Hagar. In 2009 they recorded new songs with bassist Korey Cane and singer Shawn Smith (Brad, Satchel), “In 2009 or so, the Monument CD was going to be the return of Malfunkshun”, reflects Kevin, “I took the lead and had a vison to pull Malfunkshun back up and do the old songs and do new songs. When we played for people, they cried, it’s amazing. I wish I hadn’t spent time away or doing anything else but this. It’s surprising that the songs that Andy left, that we recorded and played together 30 years ago; are just amazing to play now and amazing for people to hear. If they know the story, it’s like a time machine.” 

Monument features 11 reminiscent tracks, each with the crafted guitar workings of Kevin, along with singer Shawn Smith. “I thought about doing the vocals myself, but I was at a point where I just felt that Shawn would be perfect for this. I asked him, and it’s ironic as he told me that the night before I called him, that he had a dream about Andy; so, he said yeah. With the song “The Mover”, I didn’t have that arranged with vocals yet. When Shawn came in, he found Andy’s lyrics in the pile of music and he applied the lyrics to the song. He really did an awesome job on it.”

Having hung onto Andy’s lyrics after all these years, Kevin knew what he wanted to do with them. “On Monument, I had a stack of lyric sheets from Andy. I put together songs with the lyrics and I wrote the riffs. I also included some songs that we never recorded as Malfunkshun, like “Love Child” and “My Love” for instance. Those songs were in our early set-list back in the day, but they were never recorded properly. So, I re-recorded them as close to the original Malfunkshun feel as I could. I pulled in Regan Hagar, our longtime drummer for this CD. Originally, Malfunkshun was a three piece, but Korey Cane (bass) came in, who has also since passed away, and Shawn did the vocals. I did one cover song, the Mother Love Bone song ‘Man of Golden Words’. I love the original, but I thought I’d just take a stab at it and see how I could do it.” 

Kevin made Monument both a personal and financial commitment, “This album is really close to my heart. It was Andy’s lyrics, and some good friends like Stone Gossard who helped me put it together. He gave me his studio and it was a magical time, and a labor of love. It fell together in just three days in the studio and a few sessions to mix. You’d think that there was a guiding hand behind it.” 

The bookend songs of Monument are an homage to a sound of the past and of Malfunkshun’s former lead singer. The title track is an instrumental ode to his brother, “Thinking about the sadness of losing a brother and how life can be tragic at times, it just came out. It’s raw emotion, it’s compelling to hear and a very meaningful song for me.” Perhaps the most touching song on Monument is the very first track. “There is a song on this album called ‘Goodbye Just In Case’. Andy wrote that song when he was about 14. He talks about actually passing away and how he would be sitting on a wall and hear you talking.  Its prophetic, he dies 10 years after that. If you want to get behind Andy’s motivation, his mind and his life, before he was swept away, before everything, that’s the song. He shined in Mother Love Bone, but he shined before that.”

Malfunkshun’s Monument is available via the band’s Facebook page.

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