Thread: Seattle’s Hidden Grunge Gem
If you’re a fan of Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, or Pearl Jam, then you’re probably quite familiar with the sounds of the nineties, made famous in Seattle. It is hard to understate the importance of a homebase like Seattle when it comes to the grunge movement, it created an environment that allowed artists to bounce music off the walls and push the boundaries of the genre.
Even the “Big Four” of grunge were vastly different in their leanings towards different secondary genres. While Alice in Chains favored metal (whether it be glam or sludge), Nirvana was more inclined to punk and folk sound, and Soundgarden and Pearl Jam found themselves more attuned to the wider umbrella of alt-rock. These differences allowed the genre to remain unified in some ways while also creating a stratified sound that appealed to different audiences — thus the ever-present debate of which band was the best, based usually on which secondary genre one likes the most.
With this in mind, today I bring you a unique band, dwarfed by the giants of the Grunge era, whose incredible range spans from melancholic power ballads to flute solos and bird chirping. This band is called Thread.
Thread, active from 1992–1996 in Seattle, is a trio composed of Scott Stoltz on guitar and vocals, Rocky Polan on bass and vocals, and Brian Jackson on the drums. The band released two studio albums in their runtime, Everyday Grace (1994) and Thread (1995), as well as a demo tape in 1993 that ultimately would be one of the biggest parts of their legacy almost 10 years after the band went their separate ways.
Rocky Polan and Scott Stoltz met at the Berklee Music Institute before the two returned to Seattle. After putting in an ad in the local newspaper for a drummer, the pair were united with Brian Jackson and the band was born. The trio played local shows in Seattle between recording albums, graduating from shaky Monday night performances to establishing rapport with local music halls that would end up becoming important to the burgeoning grunge scene.
While Thread never really made it outside of Seattle, their debut album is one of the most interesting albums to emerge from the grunge era. Everyday Grace is a genre-bending collection of songs with all kinds of influences present. The album is a long one, clocking in at 1 hour and 13 minutes, and it definitely feels like a collection of songs and ideas rather than a single cohesive effort. There are songs that almost every listener will love and hate, but the variety makes it clear that there is something for almost everyone within the scene.
Everyday Grace starts off in a very unfamiliar place for grunge music with “Fragile”, an almost tribal percussion setup paired with a warbling chant in the background. The dark, gothic undertones of this song highlight the type of sound that Thread would eventually gravitate more towards in their second album, but it still punctuates the first album regularly.
Most listeners mileage will vary with the first five songs on the album, before the more impressive latter half. Some songs like “Ethan” are very traditionally grungy, with heavy riffs to appease the hard rockers of the time, while songs like “Cinnamon” are truly baffling to even seasoned grunge fans, with an almost call-and-response union of a guitar lick and vocal chirp that remains present even during the breakdown. These are some of the more “mainstream” sounding tracks and I would likely guess are songs written to be played live, since Thread spent most of their earlier years playing smaller shows in Seattle.
The second half of the album is what really shows how influential Thread’s sound could’ve been if they had been able to catch the same momentum as grunge forerunners. There is a lot more dynamic sound on display than just grunge, evident from what is likely their most prolific song, “Aviary Garlands.” This song sounds incredibly similar to Alice in Chains, particularly in the Jar of Flies period, and was actually a part of their demo tape being misattributed as an early Alice in Chains work. Clocking in at just over nine minutes long, this song breaks a lot of the conventions of grunge. “Aviary Garlands” would be much more accurately catalogued as gothic than anything related to grunge, and shows as a prime example of Thread’s artistry extending beyond the bubble that they formed within.
This drive to break out of the box is only reinforced further by later tracks like “The Fool”, a song scored by brooding harmonies under a heavy, grimy synth. I would say this song and “Aviary Garlands” are the two that segue most clean into their next album, which would be a tonal shift from Everyday Grace into the darker, gothic sound that these two tracks preview. Even for grunge, these songs are melancholic and reverb-heavy, both lending credence to the idea that Thread’s scope is motivated more by their personal tastes in music than a safer sound that appeals to their primary audience, grunge fans in Seattle.
Despite the clear interest in moving towards more gothic territories, Thread also gives us a song that perhaps sounds the most out of place on the album, “Drift.” This is a harmonic, earnest song — while still keeping in line with the general oppressive sadness of the grunge era, it is also completely devoid of any synth, bass, or even percussion for that matter. It is just vocals and guitar, calling back to more of Thread’s older, more traditional rock influences.
The most interesting song on the album, and my personal favorite, would have to be the acoustic “Simple Places”. The song begins with the ambiance of the outdoors, birds chirping with the soft strumming of guitar in the background. This is another song that strongly reminds me of the stripped down country-inspired sounds of Alice in Chains’ Jar of Flies or Sap, and it is again simple to see how they could be mistaken for the other band without realizing. After the chorus there is even a flute solo, a truly out of left field choice for any band. The song is beautiful in its simplicity, it is just an ode to nature and its comforts through and through.
The highlights of Everyday Grace truly make one mourn for the potential of such a band, knowing that there were so many more frontiers to be explored but likely never to be fully realized. Thread was a band that did not let their proximity to grunge dull their creative edge, and it is refreshing to hear a band that was able to pursue their own sound, even at the potential cost of losing valuable ears in a scene that was flooded with bands trying to grind their way up to the grunge acts we know today. However, for their second and last album, it would depart from grunge entirely.
Thread’s second album, self-titled as thread, is a shocking departure from their first work. Gone are the similarities to grunge bands of the era, the entire soundscape of trademark distortion and wah have mostly been replaced by gloomy, cold synths.
This transition into a more gothic sound is mentioned by Scott Stoltz, in Thread’s only recorded interview in the Seattle Times. About the album, Stotltz says: “We’ve changed a lot since then. We were going through a phase, Rocky was going through a phase when it was recorded. Maybe only a few tracks on it sound like we do now. The CD is almost mainstream, and we want to forge new ground."
While entering new territories for the band, there are also two covers of songs from their last albums in their newer style. “Fragile” and “Believe” are redone, and end up completely different from their original versions. We still see a bit of the familiar guitar sound from the original, but the new version of “Fragile” highlights just how different their vision is for music going forward, with a choral chant in the background interspersed with a clanging church bell. The newer rendition of “Believe” is probably the closest to their original sound on the album, but is still a different song from its counterpart on Everyday Grace in that there is a reappearing electronic presence throughout the guitar breaks.
The most truly baffling presence on the entire album, however, is the closing song, “On Selle/Mea Culpa”. To even call it a song is a vast understatement, it is a seventeen minute long medieval medley. The instrumentation is likely all digital, evident by the way that the charming, nostalgic soundfont matches many video games or similar media made by the same relatively primitive tools at the time. It is actually uncanny how much it sounds like it could be in an early Final Fantasy game. This straightforward strings and brass approach is a total reversal, of course, to the dark, cold, industrial sound of the rest of the album, and really leaves one to wonder just what exactly was going on in the writing room in order to make this track come to fruition on an album that was already making a hard turn away from their previous body of work. It only makes one wonder where else Thread’s sound would’ve gone if they had continued to make music from here.
These two albums are the only full bodies of work ever released by Thread. There are a few very early demos of unfinished songs available on their Soundcloud, but otherwise there is no record of any other material… That is, except for their now infamous demo tape.
After their second album, the band eventually dissolved about a year later and time passed. We don’t know much about the end of the band, but it can be assumed it was due to lack of interest in the project — I mean, imagine trying to pitch a now mostly electronic goth band to the rock-rooted Seattle scene, especially as the late 90s started to spell the end for the era. Ultimately, Thread was simply a small part of the music history of Seattle during the time, a local band that made it off the ground in their city but never much further out.
Almost fifteen years later, however, there would be a small resurgence of interest for the project — almost unheard of for a band that didn’t break out of their local scene. With the advent of Youtube in the late 2000s, their music was mistaken for unheard Alice in Chains demos and spread organically. Eventually it was realized that the band was not Alice in Chains (though an easily understood mistake based on the demo tape, when the band was their grungiest) and the entirety of Everyday Grace was uploaded to the site. Fans would eventually find a website linked to the earliest uploads, itsnotalice.com, that told visitors a bit of information about Thread and helped clear up the confusion.
While file-sharing for music was already well underway for tech-savvy people in the 2000s, on a larger scale it was relatively new for inexperienced internet-goers. This was how I found Thread, through Youtube and then eventually downloading their album. For a while the only way to get the entire album was through a MegaUpload link, which went down in 2012 shortly after this download was made available.
After this, the album was considered inaccessible except for stray tracks uploaded onto Youtube, because this was the same time that legislation started to make Youtube enforce copyrighted material more strictly. So for years, aside from Soulseek or other mediums that would generally only be known to music collectors at the time, this album was lost. Even their website went down after around 2009, so they were back to being lost media for a few years.
However, Thread made their new and improved website in 2015, and eventually were able to add their music to Spotify. This made the band’s music fully accessible for the first time since selling CDs outside of their shows, and ultimately introduced them, 15 years later, to an audience wider than they ever found within the Seattle music scene.
For me, Alice in Chains was one of my favorite bands growing up, so to find an obscured group that I ended up loving through their music was just icing on the cake. I walked around for years with Everyday Grace on my iPod, feeling as if I had found some great secret that was now lost. If you’ve ever enjoyed grunge music, or are curious about the sounds of Seattle in the 90s, give them a shot. Even if you’re familiar with the type of music to come out of this time and place, Thread truly breaks the mold and leaves behind the constraints of being a “grunge band” — leaving one to only be able to wonder where their sound would’ve gone in the future.