World Entertainment War is an American funk rock band, formed in 1986, noted for its memorable costumes, props, and antics, both on and off-stage and for songs containing intricate lyrics of a political and often humorous nature. They have been described as having, "catchy tunes, fierce musical chops, thought-provoking lyrics and a unique tribal funk-rock sound," and their sound has been called, "friendly, mischievous, groove-based rock with a powerful message, played with passion and professionalism." They recorded four records before disbanding in 1993, and then played reunion concerts in 2000 and 2001, and again in 2009. The band describes itself as "a benevolent media virus programmed to prevent the entertainment criminals from stealing your imagination."
In 1986,George Earth and Anthony Guess together conceived the unnamed band that would later become World Entertainment War. Earth played lead guitar and co-wrote songs with drummer Guess. They invited both bassist Daniel Vee Lewis and keyboardist David Hannibal, with whom they had recently been jamming, to play with the new group, which still remained nameless. Rick Walker of Tao Chemical, Guess's drum teacher, suggested they contact another local musician friend of his, Rob Brezsny, also of Tao Chemical, who was simultaneously developing a new and broad idea that he called "World Entertainment War". The band went to see Brezsny perform a spoken-word-to-tape show with Brezsny using a backing tape, called World Entertainment War, that he had recorded in Echo Park, California with fellow Tao Chemical member Michael Haumesser. They did a jam show together a few weeks later and Brezsny joined the band as lead vocalist and co-songwriter.
In 1986, the five, Earth, Guess, Lewis, Hannibal, and Brezsny, became World Entertainment War; adopting Brezsny's nascent concept and name. They practiced and performed regularly, keeping one song, Prayer Wars, from Brezsny and Haumesser's original recording in their repertoire. They recorded an album of their earliest work, called Telepathics Anonymous.
Singer Darby Gould was recruited to join the band as co-lead vocalist six months later, by Brezsny, having heard her performing at UC Santa Cruz with a band called Ricardo's Bandoleros. As recalled by Gould in a 2006 interview, during the summer she graduated from college, 1986, Brezsny heard her sing Janis Joplin and Whitney Houston songs, sitting in with a cover band called The Same, at a garage after-party following a softball game. According to Gould, The Same had previously opened for the band Brezsny sang for at the time, Tao Chemical. Gould also stated in the interview, of her audition for World Entertainment War, "I had never done original songs before. The bass-player and drummer sold me. I never sung a note at my audition and was offered the job." Keyboardist Hannibal left the band shortly and was replaced briefly by Sam Loya, who was then replaced by Amy Excolere.
They began playing live shows and eventually sold out most of their shows in larger clubs in the Santa Cruz and San Francisco bay areas. They recorded their first independent record, an eight-song vinyl album entitled Televisionary, which they recorded at Sonic West Studios in San Jose, California, producing 1000 copies, and released in 1989 on Infomania Records in Santa Cruz. That album climbed to number 15 in the Independent College Radio Charts in 1989.
As they were finishing the first album's recording and continuing to tour, they received a message in Vancouver, from Sandy Pearlman, who had managed Black Sabbath and produced albums for The Clash and Blue Öyster Cult, among others, and who wanted to sign the band. Shortly after that, they played at San Francisco's Club Kommotion, where they were approached by Pearlman. Pearlman had purchased San Francisco's punk and new wave music label, 415 Records, changed the name of the label to Popular Metaphysics, and formed a co-branding alliance with MCA Records. Al Teller had been president of Columbia Records when the 415 Records partnership began and by 1989 he was president of MCA; making a partnership between Popular Metaphysics and MCA a logical choice. He convinced MCA to sign the band, and vowed to make them famous.
Within a year, a recording contract was forged and with MCA's backing, World Entertainment War recorded their self-titled debut album at Pearlman's Alpha Omega Studios in Studio C of the Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco, as was specified in their MCA contract. Backing vocals were performed by Jonnie Axtell, Atom Ellis, Eugene "Bud" Harris, and Paul K. Johnson, II. Additional background vocals were provided by members of the diverse and loosely-knit team of occultists (Pagans, Druids, Ceremonialists, Goddess worshippers, and Faery-Folk) whose expertise Brezsny had recruited, and among whose often glaring doctrinal differences Brezsny had made peace, resulting in collaborative and highly theatrical rituals that became a signature of the band's iconoclastic live performances. "Imagine instead a pagan revival meeting mixed with a dance therapy session and a cynics' pep rally and a tribal hoedown and a lecture at the "Anarchists Just Wanna Have Fun" Think Tank".Mark Senasac engineered, mixed, and produced, with Ulrich Wild also engineering, and Stephen Marcussen did the mastering. In 1991 the self-titled debut CD was released on Popular Metaphysics, and distributed by MCA Records. Brezsny's daughter, Zoe, was born on the same day the album was released.
Rock promoter Bill Graham saw the band perform at San Francisco's Paradise Lounge and soon became their manager. According to Brezsny, "He started coming on really strong to us: He told me that he'd never been this excited about a band since 1969..." Graham told the band's members in no uncertain terms that he was going to make them "the Grateful Dead of the '90s". However, MCA had difficulty with both categorizing the eclectic band's sound and deciding on a single, and they mismanaged the album's promotion in the early weeks following its release. Graham was determined though, and began working with David Geffen to secure opening slots for the band with R.E.M. and Midnight Oil. Their album was nominated for a 1991 Bammie Award, California's version of the Grammies.
In October 1991, however, shortly after their album release, Graham was killed in a helicopter crash while returning home from a Huey Lewis show. Remaining promoters at Bill Graham Presents were unable to properly promote the band and the album languished. Brezsny moved to Marin and Earth moved to San Francisco as the band's enthusiasm drifted to other projects. Excolere quit the band in 1992. Remaining members continued doing live performances as World Entertainment War in a variety of venues until the group disbanded in 1993. Gould had begun singing with Jefferson Starship, after Paul Kantner heard her sing at a World Entertainment War show and recruited her to replace Grace Slick. Brezsny wanted to do more writing and they decided to split. During one of their final performances, on Jan. 8, 1993 at San Francisco's Digital Be-In, one of Brezsny's heroes, Timothy Leary, joined them onstage and sang with the band.
Their third album, Give Too Much, contained some of the same recordings and two other tracks recorded at the same time. Some songs were re-recorded at Norm Kerner's Brilliant Studios in San Francisco, where one of George Earth's later bands, Switchblade Symphony, would also record. The album was released later by Brezsny, after purchasing back the masters from Pearlman, who had secured half of the publishing rights to their songs under the MCA contract.
Darby Gould would later join Paul Kantner, Papa John Creach, Jack Casady, Prairie Prince and others as lead female vocalist in a variety of lineups including Wooden Ships, Jefferson Starship - The Next Generation, and Jefferson Starship. Excolere would also appear and record as a vocalist with Jefferson Starship - The Next Generation. Jefferson Starship covered the World Entertainment War song "Dark Ages" on their album "Deep Space / Virgin Sky", and they also covered "In a Crisis", on their album Jefferson's Tree of Liberty with Gould contributing vocals to both.
George Earth had previously worked with Guess in the Santa Cruz bands, Heaven On and Circus Boy. He would later record and tour with Switchblade Symphony, still later touring with Angel Corpus Christi and Stolen Babies, and he performed, composed, recorded, and produced numerous other artists before forming Los Angeles-based Small Halo in 2008. His most recent work has been focused on scoring music for films and television scripts.
Daniel Lewis had played bass with Brezsny in Tao Chemical. He went on to form Jivehounds with Guess and also composed, recorded and performed as a bassist for numerous other projects, including Pipa & the Shapeshifters, Tranceport, Delta 9, Andrew Robert Nelson and presently, Dreambeach, with cofounder & vocalist, Pipa Piñon, The Joint Chiefs, the Al James Band, and Solcircle.
Anthony Guess had played with George Earth in Heaven On and had been the original percussionist for Camper Van Beethoven. He went on to form Jivehounds with Daniel Lewis and then moved to Seattle, Washington to perform, compose, record, and tour with many other bands and performers, including Calm Down Juanita, and Travis Morrissey & the Good Ship, before forming his current project, Seattle-based I Die Everyday, in 2010.
Rob Brezsny had previously sung in Kamikaze Angel Slander and, with Lewis, in Tao Chemical. He has gone on to publish several books and poetry, and his weekly horoscope column Free Will Astrology (formerly known as Real Astrology), has been published for more than 29 years and runs in 130 periodicals.
In 2000, four of the bands members, Rob Brezsny, George Earth, Daniel Lewis, and Amy Escolere, reunited with two other musicians and played a few shows to celebrate Brezsny's book tour for "The Televisionary Oracle". Earth, Brezsny, and Escolere then joined to play at Burning Man 2001.
World Entertainment War resurfaced again in late 2009; this time with the full 1993 lineup of Earth, Guess, Lewis, Escolere, Brezsny, and Gould. They played a reunion show on Oct. 24, 2009, at 19 Broadway, a Marin County venue in the town of Fairfax, California, which Santa Cruz Good Times newspaper editor Greg Archer pre-announced as, "the most provocative comeback of the season",
Rob Brezsny (lead vocals),
Darby Gould (lead vocals),
George Earth (guitar),
Jay Peterson (drums),
Daniel Lewis (bass),
Amy Excolere (keyboards)
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