By Brian Ives
In the early ’90s, when Soundgarden was on their ascent from underground indie-punkers to the zeitgeist-defining alt-rock band, bass player Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron started a new garage band called Hater. They released a self-titled EP in 1993, and 12 years later, followed by The 2nd, but haven’t been heard from in a long time. This Friday (July 15) however, they’re reissuing their debut.
Shepherd formed the band in between Soundgarden’s 1991 album Badmotorfinger and 1994’s Superunknown with Cameron and John McBain of Monster Magnet; Shepherd played guitar and sang, Cameron played drums, and McBain also played guitar. The band was rounded out by bassist John Watterman and singer Brian Wood (brother of the late Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood). Shepherd tells Radio.com that the seeds of Hater were sown during the Badmotorfinger sessions.
“We were making demos for Badmotorfinger at Avast Studios and Stuart Hallerman, a producer and a friend of ours, heard a song I had written, ‘Ole Ole,'” Shepherd tells Radio.com. “He said, ‘You should put that out as a single or something. Just on your own.’ And I was like, ‘What? No way! I’m in Soundgarden. How can I do that?’ So I asked Matt, ‘Is that cool? Is that all right to do that?’ He said, ‘Yeah!’ So we put together a band with musicians that we wanted to jam with, and during that time, we met the guys in Monster Magnet, including John [McBain], and I thought, ‘That’s the guy I want to get to play guitar with us.'”
Cameron tells Radio.com, “We were big fans of Monster Magnet, and I think Ben and I were really pushing for them to open for us, and we all became instant buddies. And then John moved to Seattle.”
Shepherd says, “He lived with me in this tiny little house, and we had this little studio. My old friend Jon Waterman was the bass player. It all started from ‘Ole Ole,’ that Matt and I worked on, but we never put that one out or even recorded it.”
The garage rock vibe was a bit of a reaction to the huge shows that Soundgarden had been playing, opening in arenas for Guns N Roses and also as co-headliners of the 1992 Lollapalooza tour.
“The whole juggernaut of the music industry and playing those arena shows, that was partially it,” Shepherd says. “But we didn’t think in genres, we just played the songs that we wanted to hear. It wasn’t like, anti– anything, it was just what we did.”
Cameron agrees. “I think when you’re a songwriter… I don’t really single out where a song is going. I just keep writing, and I know Ben’s the same way. There was a large volume of music that we all were working on at that time, and Hater seemed like a really good outlet.”
“I don’t think there was any real specific plan,” he continues. “But the timing was right, it was just a fun art project for us. At the time, we weren’t able to have a big budget, so it was a small scale thing. Ben and John and I came out of the four-track cassette generation, so we were all home recording enthusiasts. Hater and [a later sideproject] Wellwater Conspiracy came out of that love for tinkering around at home with our four track players.”
That aesthetic fit in perfectly with the album’s sound. “John was way into the Nuggets stuff, way before that stuff was readily available again,” he says, referring to the legendary ’60s garage rock compilation, which was out of print for years, but was reissued in 1998.
Cameron adds, “Yeah, we were big Nuggets fans, we still are. John McBain was the pre-eminent expert of ’60s psych-rock and garage rock, and he turned us on to Nuggets, and bands like the Zombies, the Troggs, and stuff like that. We all really loved that music, and in the Pacific Northwest we have a history of garage rock bands like that, like the Sonics. Hater was in that tradition for sure.”
Most of the album featured songs written by the band members, but it kicked off with an old Cat Stevens song called “Mona Bone Jakon.” “I just always loved Cat Stevens, but not in the hippy dippy way,” Shepherd says. “It was just a weird song. Like, you’ve probably heard Cat Stevens songs, but not this one. And it was one of my favorite Cat Stevens songs.”
Stevens’ original is under two minutes, but Hater’s clocks in at over three. “I never expected anyone to hear the song,” Shepherd explains. “So I just added verses to it, naively and arrogantly. I didn’t know anything, I’d never delved into the world of legalities, I went straight from the garage into Soundgarden.” And Stevens, who by then had left the music industry and changed his name to Yusef Islam, could have prevented him from releasing an altered version of the song. “But luckily, he approved it.”
The other cover was “Blistered,” a Johnny Cash song written by Billy “Edd” Wheeler. “I was always into Johnny Cash. I’d taken a world of s— for liking him. Even when Hater came out, he wasn’t popular, he wasn’t considered ‘cool.’ ‘You like that country crap? That’s corny!'”
Hater was one of many side projects based out of the Seattle scene of the ’90s. There was, famously, Temple of the Dog (featuring members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden) and Mad Season (Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Screaming Trees), but also Brad (Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam), Bloodloss (Mark Arm from Mudhoney) and Mark Lanegan’s solo albums (his debut featured members of Nirvana). What was it about that scene that yielded so much talent?
“I’m from the other side of the tracks, I live across the water from Seattle, and I don’t hang out in that scene at all,” Shepherd growls. “I never did. I would go to shows and that was about it. I didn’t know any of that other s— was going on. I don’t care what anyone else is doing. I know where I stand. I was honored enough to be asked to join Soundgarden, how would I have the f—ing gall, or attitude, to go and do something ambitious and solo-like, it seemed wrong to me. So, all that other stuff that was going on? I had no part in that. Nor did I pay attention to any of it. I just wasn’t into what other people were into.”
Cameron, who was a member of Temple of the Dog, has a different take: “We were all riding the wave, and we were at the right age, and taking those opportunities, and writing music and creating. There were a lot of talented people in the Pacific Northwest. I think that’s always been the spirit of our music scene up here, there’s always been a lot of cross-polinization, collaboration. In the ’80s and ’90s it was pretty wide open. You’d just start hanging out with some friends and write some tunes. With my friends, we would record when we got together, we didn’t want to just jam. We wanted to accomplish something. I think that was a different emphasis than just getting together and having fun. Ben and McBain and I were always excited by the prospect of taking a cassette home of what we did that day.”
Now that the EP is being reissued after being out of print for years, will the band get back together to play shows?
Shepherd says, “It’s up to those guys, there’s a possibility. I know Matt said he’d like to if Waterman was on bass again. All of us miss Waterman, he kind of disappeared , he’s such a great guy, and such a cool bass player. I don’t know where he is, he just… left.”
“I stay in touch with John McBain,” Shepherd says. “I think he moved down to San Diego. It’s all arrangemble if those guys are up for it, John and John.”
Regarding shows, Cameron says, “I would love that, I’m open.” But since Hater had a small discography (the Hater EP, and 2005’s The 2nd), he says that the setlist could potentially also include Wellwater Conspiracy (a project that he led, that also included Shepherd and McBain; he notes that he’s hoping to reissue some Wellwater material as well).
Both Shepherd and Cameron are about to turn their focus to Soundgarden, who have already started working on their next album. Shepherd says that he’s been writing lately. “If it’s going to be a Soundgarden song, it better be interesting. But I’m surrounded by some of the best musicians in the world in that band, I think. Some of the most creative minds, guys that actually do pay attention to their legacy, and the quality of what we put out. It’s not just a job.”
So how far into the album are they? “We’re nowhere and everywhere all at once,” Shepherd says, cryptically. “We’ve already had two writing sessions. The next session is in August, and more decisions will be made then.”
Cameron says, “I think we’ve got six solid tunes right now, we’re gonna get together in August for about a week, do more writing, and hopefully got five or six more going at that point. We’re off to a very good start.”
Hater’s debut EP will be reissued on July 15. Soundgarden’s ‘Louder Than Love’ and ‘Down on the Upside’ will be reissued on vinyl on August 26.