Charles Mross II was a student at the Carver Center arts magnet school in Towson. Mross became close with Lou Thomas and many other TGA artists just as Lou had transferred from Towson High to Carver at the end of 1994. Husky Youth’s formation occurred at roughly the same time.
Charles Mross II: “I first knew of Lou Thomas at Dumbarton Middle School. He was notable for wearing his top hat with a holly spring in the band, and his unique and frequently heard laughter. I admired Lou instantly. He was already so talented artistically and musically.
At that time Lou seemed tight with Dave Wilemain, Chris Teret, and Bob Phair. I was a year behind them in class and light years behind them in socializing, so they seemed… unapproachable, but they seemed like really cool goofballs.
I attended my freshman year (1993-’94) at Towson High… our orbits came closer as (we) made mutual friends there…
Towson High School… that place just felt bleak and dismal… they operated more like wardens than educators. I do remember being bothered by teachers and staff if I had to go from one place to another during class (bathroom, nurse’s office, copy machine, etc.) even if I had a hall pass. It felt like guards and inmates… All high schoolers feel like school is prison, but once I was able to compare the setting (to) Carver, Towson High REALLY did feel like some youth holding facility.
…overall I felt the staff’s passion/morale was shit. The difference (at Carver) was breathtaking…”
Inevitably the totalitarian dynamics created a tense atmosphere – a prime breeding ground for machismo and violence.
Chris Teret – founding member of Husky Youth : “…the jocks were definitely the target of Husky Youth lyrics, along with patriarchy in general… There was definitely a “jocks vs. freaks” thing going on, but the freaks in that case were not us. They were a darker, more intense crew of goths and mall punks who did more drugs and were more violent. On the day that there was supposed to be a jocks vs freaks war (at Towson High School), one of them got expelled for having an axe under his coat. Another one tried to burn down the school several times. This was all before school shootings started, of course. I do remember one time (at THS) getting punched in the stomach walking down the stairs for no reason…
Husky Youth came out of the fact that we were all very into the culture around riot grrrl music, and as teenage boys we were pretty awkward about trying to navigate the tricky waters of being allies in the struggle. We were trying to figure out what it would mean for us to apply the lessons of riot grrrl to our experiences as boys… it was a mix of sincerity and irony that came out. Me and Lou were also really into this slogan that The Residents (coined), ‘Ignorance of your culture is not considered cool.’ I remember Lou coming up to me at a show around the time In Utero by Nirvana came out, and he invoked that slogan and told me that In Utero was pretty good. It was a heavy statement because we were so profoundly snobby about only liking music that nobody else liked, and it opened a door for me. I still love that album.”
Lou Thomas : “I remember hanging out with Doug (Hammond), and riot grrrl was all the rage. I was really into Bratmobile at the time. We were half-joking, and we said we should form a ‘riot boy’ band and sing songs about how hard it is to be a boy and stuff, like how mean jocks are and the social pressures of masculinity, very half tongue-in-cheek. We were all into riot grrrl, but we happened to be boys, who were also into being ironic and iconoclastic. I am a little embarrassed by it today, but in the scheme of things, (it was) fairly harmless.”
Doug Hammond had been a veteran of several noisy lo-fi Towson rock bands before forming Husky Youth with Teret, Thomas, and Scott Gilmore. Hammond had a unique approach to rock and a deeper appreciation for that music than his band mates. These were some of the main elements that gave the group its signature sound.
Chris Teret: “As far as Doug Hammond goes, I don’t know, he’s got his own trajectory in the universe…he’s almost like a freight train that you can hop on and ride for a while…playing in a band with him, staying at his apartment in LA (in the early 2000’s), then he came to see me in Paris, France one time…”
Charles Mross II: “Doug was and is one of a kind… (He) had charisma like the sun has light. There was a degree of emulating Beck, but whatever he may have taken he made his own… Doug seemed perpetually performing AND perpetually authentic… Silly and fun… energetic and melancholy.”
Doug Hammond: “…some of us went to see Bikini Kill at the Black Cat (in summer ’94) and it made quite an impression. And some of the early records by bands like Huggy Bear and Bratmobile were a big part of my life at that time. That music still means a lot to me today.
I don’t think we ever really thought of ourselves as a grunge band though there were clearly some of those elements in our music. One of the driving forces behind the band was the desire to be — for lack of a better term — a “riot boy” band. In essence, taking some of the same issues and political ideas that the riot grrrl movement was addressing but tackling them from a male perspective. I should clarify that we didn’t consider what we were doing to be an ‘answer’ to the riot grrrl question. We were big fans of that whole scene, but it was also clear to us that patriarchy has a negative effect on boys and men and is not something that’s only harmful to women, girls and other marginalized people. To put it in more current terms, you could say that we aspired to be allies for the riot grrrl movement.”
Lou Thomas: “We were talking to Scott (Gilmore) about the idea, and he mentioned he was a bit overweight as a kid, and his parents had to buy him clothes sized “husky”. We thought it was funny, that clothes would be labeled with something somewhat insulting like that, and someone thought of “Husky Youth” and we thought it was both catchy and represented the idea of marginalized boys.
I had been really into grunge, particularly Mudhoney’s Superfuzz/Bigmuff in middle school, but as I said, the original idea was ‘riot boy’, not grunge (even if we did sound more grunge in the end, and had other off-genre songs like the Husky Youth theme, which was a joke-riff off the Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ – a very popular video at the time. Doug’s rapping on the song still holds up). We all wrote the songs… the other guys wrote more of the lyrics… The music was definitely less of a joke than say the F.G.’s*, and had some grunge-ish pop sensibilities to it. I think the main distinction was that Doug (Hammond) was hot, and could act and sing, so when he was fronting the songs we sounded and looked more like a more conventional band, and our songs had more conventional pop/punk verse/chorus/verse structures…”
Doug Hammond: “To be completely frank, I think it’s something that likely started from a dumb joke, like “why aren’t there riot boy bands?” But aside from any initial “jokiness” of the premise, our intent was very much sincere. And we were probably careful not to refer to ourselves like that publicly because we didn’t want people to think we were disparaging of the riot grrrl thing at all. It might have sounded as if we were mocking the idea, so even now the thought of even defining ourselves as “riot boys” makes me cringe a little.”
Lou Thomas: “…the half-joke aspect to the whole thing got in the way of any nascent idealism. I wouldn’t say there was a conscious choice to do something that purposefully broadened the audience, per se. But I would say, Bob (Phair) and Dave (Wilemain) and I – especially in 8th grade and somewhat in 9th grade (1990 / ’91 / ’92) – used to go see The Piltdown Men** and other local high school (and slightly older) bands, and they could pack the Towson Armory or the Govan’s Church Hall with these all-ages shows (other bands I recall who played these: Fifth Column, Red Dye #9, Sick…), and even though my musical taste had become both more experimental and punk-influenced by the time of Husky Youth, the energy at those shows had been awesome, so I knew that was a realistic possibility, and I missed that energy of the larger crowd… Husky Youth did seem to almost recreate that energy with some of our shows.”
Husky Youth was an instant hit among Baltimore County’s mall punks and grunge rockers. They packed them in at high profile shows throughout the greater Baltimore all ages scene with some of their biggest gigs occurring at the Fellowship Hall at The Church Of The Holy Redeemer , a Battle Of The Bands competition at the Catholic high school Gilman, and several gigs at west Baltimore’s infamous DIY venue The Loft. Their performances and recordings were feedback/fuzz encrusted blasts aimed at megalomaniacal jocks and fascist machismo. Their chaotic anti-hierarchical splendor was unleashed in songs like “Pretty Boy”, “You Thought I Was Famous”, and “Spur Posse Rock”, a protest anthem that eviscerated a dangerous gang of priviledged teenage boys who were responsible for some of the 1990’s most heinous sex crimes.
Along with overt knods to the riot grrrl sound, a carefully chosen list of cover tunes culled from the trendy 90’s rock canon filled out their sets and gave their new, younger audience a familiar reference point – a smooth transition for their raw distorted original material. This included Beck’s “Fume” (an experimental B-side that was in many ways a blueprint for the heavier elements of HY’s noise driven hard rock), L7’s “Andre”, Radiohead’s “Creep”, and Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song)”. The latter three tunes were often played in a dramatic medley that served as the climax for many Husky Youth live sets.
Lou Thomas: “…it was younger middle-school kids and other kids we didn’t know as well that were really into Husky Youth. I think someone wrote our band name on their binder or jacket or the like. That was ‘the year punk broke’, and Nirvana had gone mainstream, Sonic Youth was on a major label, etc., and so some of those younger kids at Towson and Dumbarton (and elsewhere) were into Husky Youth…. I remember wishing our friends liked us more, but I didn’t think it was a bad thing that people we didn’t know liked our music, quite the contrary.”
In 1994 Cathleen Brooks was a transfer student who came to Towson High from the DC suburbs. She quickly became steeped in the local mall punk culture that defined Husky Youth’s fan base. Much like Husky Youth themselves, Brooks created controversy within the TGA scene, but was also one of the movement’s most vocal and enthusiastic proponents.
Cathleen Brooks: “So there I was, I was 16, all my friends were back in Montgomery County, I was an art magnet kid who could no longer go to an art magnet school because Carver Center didn’t take transfer students, I was listening to a ton of riot grrrl music and Dischord Records bands…
I was a wee bit naive… I was a wrecking ball…… I eventually had a raging drug problem for awhile.
Joe Willy from The Scrambled Eggs *** lived down the street from me – we rode the same school bus. The guys in that band eventually adopted me and eventually took me to some shows.
Doug (from Husky Youth) was a year ahead of me in school and was a cute boy that played interesting music. Doug was both my crush and my best friend. I hung out with alotta the guys because I just wasn’t “L Crew” material [more info on “The L Crew” soon – TGAF]. I wrote zines and I was trying to bring riot grrrl to Baltimore as an organization but (that idea) quickly died over riot boys!
I was in favor of letting the boys in because if you don’t change men how the fuck are you supposed to change society as a whole? (The L Crew) thought it would make other girls feel uncomfortable. I argued pretty hard for letting guys in if they really had their heart into it. I get it more now, but at the time it made me walk away. We had an organizational meeting and that’s when I dropped out of the conversation…”
Even though the grungey mall punks embraced them immediately, Lou Thomas’ new/genteel art student friends weren’t as open to Husky Youth’s populist approach.
Charles Mross II: “My first real introduction to Lou was the through the art teacher Terry McDaniel. When I transferred to Carver halfway through my sophomore year she made the introduction and Lou invited me to a (Husky Youth) show at The Loft to meet a’lot of Carver kids right before I arrived at the school. Lou instantly treated me like an old pal, introduced me to a ton of people who became “my people” at Carver…
…(Husky Youth) were more spastic than I expected… songs would change on you quick… More than any actual music or shows, I certainly remember them as a Towson High cultural event.”
Another band who performed at this concert was the Catonsville, Md.-based indie rock band Yard Sale.
Charles Mross II: “Yard Sale brought many of the Carver/Catonsville kids Lou had brought me to meet.”
Chris Teret: “…once we played a show, I believe with the band Yard Sale. We borrowed their drum set, and at the end of our set, I jumped into the drums (just like Kurt Cobain). The drummer was understandably pissed and totally confused. I, on the other hand, was confused about why he was bothered by it…”
Charles Mross II: “I do remember Chris jumping into the drums which was surprising to me because Chris always seemed fierce but meek… (Yard Sale drummer Trevor Murray) jumped on stage to stop him from continuing… that event kind of soured the end of Husky Youth’s performance that night which, after hearing about them so much, was dissappointing…”
With this incident Husky Youth proved that they were unable to strike a balance between pop spectacles and political correctness. Their progressive message was getting buried under mainstream rock theatrics. While this caused only temporary drama between the TGA movement and the Catonsville indie rockers, it caused deeper rifts within Towson-Glen Arm itself.
Lou Thomas: “…one thing that comes to mind with Husky Youth is the tepid reaction of some of our friends, particularly The L Crew: Lauren McCuaig, Liz Bishop, Stephanie Rabins, Laura Burke and Laura Oster, Beach Carey, Abby Anzalone. They were all really into riot grrrl and the zine culture surrounding that, much more than Doug and I were, and I think they were rightfully a little annoyed by our pretense. That crew was also all really smart and intellectual.”
Laura Burke and Abby Anzalone were part of The L Crew, a group of teenage radical feminists whose creative work (mainly zines) formed Towson-Glen Arm’s strongest connection to the riot grrrl movement.
Laura Burke: “…Husky Youth… I only vaguely remember laughing at them for starting a “riot boy” band, but I think that our feeling at the time was that the Riot Grrrl movement (unlike any other alternative/punk scene) was girl/women owned and having boys start a riot boy band was a form of appropriation.
I think what felt like an appropriate supportive response at the time was to support girls’ bands and feminist causes and provide space for female voices… it’s pretty cool that there were teenage boys around who cared and made music about feminist causes, but… the term “riot boy” turned us off…”
Abby Anzalone: “I remember Husky Youth as a band of boys who were talking about eating disorders at a time when girls were talking a lot about body image and eating disorders. (They) were like, “Hey, boys have these problems too!”… Looking back it almost seems like a men’s rights group of fourteen year olds who had been beaten down by feminism… and decided to take stand…”
Mild mannered art students and radical feminists weren’t the only ones who took issue with Husky Youth. In early 1995 Preschoolers’ founders/ex-Nudists members Dave Willemain & Bob Phair joined forces with Julia Kim to create and publish ‘Mochi’, a satirical zine that criticized what they viewed as the rampant populism and self-righteousness that was causing the scene to become fractured just as Husky Youth and The TGAUC rose to prominence. This was a coup for many reasons, the biggest one being the fact that Husky Youth’s Chris Teret was also the guitar player of The Preschoolers (Excerpts from ‘Mochi’ will appear in a future update to this piece).
Despite the controversy, when Husky Youth finally split their break up occurred due to most of the same things that ended plenty of other Towson-Glen Arm projects.
Doug Hammond: “Chris and Scott were probably the most politically active and engaged… Lou perhaps a bit less so. Myself, probably the least. As much as I have strong opinions about political and social issues, I’ve never been especially motivated as far as “organizing” goes. So out of the four of us… As much as that scene was a big part of my life then, I was never someone who was all that motivated to expand the group or build alliances, however formal or informal.
As far as our accomplishments go, I’m rather proud of what we did with Husky Youth, even if it was short-lived and not very well documented.”
Creative differences were a big influence on Husky Youth’s demise; group reaction to Lou Thomas’ composition “Brandy” was a perfect illustration of these.
Chris Teret: ” ‘Brandy’–that’s an interesting one… I think it was controversial within the band because of the lyrics. In it Lou sings about Brandy… “she was a model in magazines” and “I could’ve gone to the dance with the pretty girl”. I think the rest of us felt like it didn’t go with our anti-sexist theme. If I remember right, Lou argued that we should not be puritanical and that we needed to celebrate sexuality as long as it was not coercive. In retrospect, as usual, I think Lou was right.”
Doug Hammond: “I don’t recall exactly when we called it quits but it was always something that was understood to be a temporary thing. I graduated high school in June of ’95 and was preparing to move to Boston to go to college. I don’t think we ever even officially “broke up” as much as we petered out. Or maybe we’re still around and just on hiatus. Tell the guys to call me [laughs]!”
Even though Hammond left for college in the fall of ’95 his exit didn’t put a permanent end to Husky Youth. Around Christmas break of the 1995/1996 school year they briefly reunited. During this time the band recorded four of their original songs on a cassette four-track down at Aaron Friedman’s basement just south of Towson and just off Northern Parkway near Baltimore’s Roland Park neighborhood. Aaron’s house was a show venue and practice space. It was also a regular haunt for the band and their contemporaries. Friedman and the group co-produced the session; Zach Poff may have done some post-production for the songs. There might have been talk of these tracks getting officially issued as an e.p., but (for now forgotten reasons) even an informal release never came to fruition.
By this time Husky Youth had already evolved into several other bands, most notably Rive Gauche. In addition to Thomas, Gilmore, and Teret, Rive Gauche also included Guy Blakeslee; this was his first major Towson-Glen Arm project. Soon after Rive Gauche formed Gilmore, Teret, and Blakeslee started up the screamo-core side project Malaise. Both of the new groups would pick up from where Husky Youth left off in distinctly different ways with Malaise continuing to stray even further from the TGA path than HY in its unabashed embrace of established genre music. With a heavy folk influence, the eccentric indie rock band Rive Gauche was a precursor to the work all four artists would go on to create with some of the final TGA groups and many other projects they’ve worked with since the 2000’s.
A boring development in today’s contemporary arts involves the term “experimental”. Prior to the 21st century this word was used more as an adjective to describe a technique or set of techniques used by a wide variety of artists. Today the term is a noun synonymous with a genre of art that has narrow parameters. What was “weird” in the 20th century – mixed media, non-representational illustration, improvisational composition, atonality, electronic noise, breaking the “fourth wall”, etc. – now serves as the foundation of all so-called experimental art genres. Today most people scoff at the idea that something can be experimental without aesthetic elements of the 20th century avant garde. Bearing that in mind, Husky Youth’s mix of “weird” and “normal” is even more challenging today than it was decades ago.
Towson-Glen Arm’s greater ambition to fluidly meld art and activism without compromising the integrity of either concept drove Husky Youth’s experiments with popular genre music and their awkward subversion of the riot grrrl gender norm. For just over one action packed year the band had a blast, wrote some awesome music, and raised a’lot of enduring questions about the nature of feminist allyship. Though Husky Youth may have failed as “riot boys” they succeeded in immortalizing one of the most fascinating political moments of the 1990’s.
- * The F.G.’s were a satirical performance art project. They featured members of Husky Youth and were active shortly before the band’s formation. You can find more info on The F.G.’s here: https://towsonglenarmfreakouts.wordpress.com/2012/08/04/8/
** The Piltdown Men were an incredibly popular 80’s/90’s band who were partially based in Towson. They started out as a post-punk group a ‘la Joy Division/The Cure/The Church, etc. but eventually developed a sound more akin to Mr. Bungle, Fishbone, Faith No More, Primus, and other funky progressive rock groups who were big just before Nirvana and the grunge scene became a pop phenomena.
*** The Scrambled Eggs (also known as The Three Scrambled Eggs) were an outsider music group from Towson, Md. They were loosely associated with the Towson-Glen Arm movement. The Eggs are perhaps best remembered for utilizing The Preschoolers horn section at one of the most bizarre TGA events of all – a 1995 concert that occurred in an actual preschool classroom in the basement of Rodgers Forge United Methodist Church.