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Lost record

The story of Reeks and the Wrecks, ghost bikes and a New Orleans nightmare

REEKS AND THE WRECKS: A lost photo of a lost band. Courtesy photo

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In the latter portion of 2010, on a Wednesday, I found myself drinking whiskey at The New Frontier Lounge and participating in the bar's weekly Rock ‘n' Roll Bingo. It's free to play, and winners get to peruse a table full of kitschy prizes. When my final number was called, I approached the table and started looking for my prize.

In the middle of all the funny VHS tapes, free drink vouchers, porn DVDs and other knick-knacks, there was a record in a red, cardboard sleeve. It's not uncommon to win a Christopher Cross or Billy Joel album - or something equally inane - at bingo, but this album seemed different. Stenciled on the cover were the words "Reeks and the Wrecks," along with a drawing of a rooster. I turned to bingo host Brook Eli and asked what she knew about the album.

"Nothing," she said, unable to tell me who the band was, where she got it, what the music sounded like. Nothing. I took the album back to my seat and started searching the sleeve for clues.

The track listing is drawn on in dripping, cursive letters, spelling out titles like "Chicken Meet Chicken," "Mall Bunny Baby" and "The Mangler." Branded in tiny letters, apparently from a typewriter, are the words, "NO SOUND HAS BEEN DIGITIZED" and "MASTERED DIRECTLY TO METAL." The songs are credited as having been recorded between 1997 and 1998. There is no indication of side A or side B.

I started talking with some people at the bar, making bets about what kind of music Reeks and the Wrecks dealt in. Folk, indie, punk, reggae - everyone had a different guess.

When I finally got home that night, I excitedly put the record down on the turntable. Unsure which side to start with, I went with the side with a black-and-white sticker in the center that depicts a woman either laughing, crying or screaming. Hard to tell.

I placed the needle down, and what I heard was utter chaos. Noise squalled out of the speakers for the first 30 seconds, and then it settled down. A discordant electric guitar came in, soon joined by a shuffling snare drum and a belching trombone. A funeral procession. A dance floor of the damned. A nightmare in New Orleans.

No vocals, just the same marching progression, every so often disrupted by that guitar, tearing and slashing through the hypnotic shuffle. Because the vinyl was significantly warped from its travels, every time the record made a rotation, the music slowed down slightly before speeding back up. It took a few listens before I realized the music mimics the warped tempo shifts by intentionally slowing down and speeding up at seemingly random moments.

This is an album designed to never let you find your balance.

Later on, there is a song that possesses strangely pop-minded qualities in the vein of New Order, while simultaneously thumbing its nose at the idea of the concise pop gem. Dance-y drums and galloping guitars are once more knocked around by screaming dissonance before the song finally collapses, defeated, mournful.

I listened to sides X and Y, closed up my turntable and went to sleep it off. I awoke hung over the next morning, and I glanced at my shelf to see that the red album was still there.

Who or what?

Reeks and the Wrecks no longer exist. For that matter, a cursory search on the Internet provides no evidence the record album I possess actually exists. History will only recognize the final album from Reeks and the Wrecks, entitled Knife Hits, released in 2005, nearly two years after another Wednesday - that of June 25, 2003. That was the day that Wrecks frontman Orion Satushek sent out the mastered recordings for Knife Hits to their label, Tumult. That was also the day that Orion Satushek died.

Reeks and the Wrecks were born in the ‘90s, in a converted shack in Bellingham, and were made up of, in various combinations, Jason Sands, Andy Piper, Caleb Pepperworth and Jordan Rain. The band was always led by Satushek. Though it's common for strange bands like Reeks and the Wrecks to be described as "experimental," more than other people Satushek seemed to value the experiment as highly as the music, at least when it came to the Wrecks.

A genius when it came to electricity and mechanics, Satushek would make his own amplifiers and instruments out of abandoned parts. He would perform with an old, beaten-up trombone and wrangle guitars into making unnatural noises. His recordings took full advantage of the medium of tape and vinyl, incorporating ghostly found sounds into the mix. The struggle of commanding music, of molding it into and out of grotesquerie, seemed to intrigue him above all else.

Slowly but surely, the Wrecks gained a following performing in dingy, sweaty old basements in Bellingham. While they initially drew fans of experimental music, as the Wrecks' swath widened, so did their audience. Frequently touring up and down the West Coast for several years, hocking record albums and dubbed cassettes, the band began to draw fans of more traditional indie rock over to their dark side.

In the meantime, Satushek started another project with Jason Sands and violinist Caroline Buchalter called Spooky Dance Band. As the name might suggest, this other project highlighted the underlying rambunctious danciness of the Wrecks and gave it its own spotlight, while still holding weirdness at a paramount.

With the possible exception of a man in a van, Buchalter was the last person to see Satushek alive.

The Wrecks

When I first decided to write this story, I knew I couldn't do it without talking to at least one of the former members of Reeks and the Wrecks. After a bit of searching and some unanswered e-mails, I was finally able to reach Jason Sands of both the Wrecks and Spooky Dance Band.

Still active in the Bellingham experimental music scene, currently in a band called Frozen Cloak, Sands was happy to speak with me about the Wrecks. We did the interview over the phone, and I recorded it on my laptop, per usual. Shortly after, my laptop flickered, went black, and never returned. The interview was lost.

I was appropriately embarrassed when I contacted him again to redo the interview, but he was fine with it, and I recorded our second interview on my tape recorder.

But, in what is surely a sign from a higher power, when I listen back to the recording, something strange happens. Feedback and distortion hang over the interview like a pall, and as the seconds go on, our voices speed up faster and faster. Finally, we sound like chipmunks and the tape makes a sound like it's going through a wind tunnel. Then silence. It's as if the interview were a cartoon coyote hurtling off a cliff, growing smaller as it approaches the ground before landing in a puff of smoke.

It also resembles, somewhat eerily, a Reeks and the Wrecks recording. Go figure.


"I have many fond memories of the Reeks and the Wrecks," says Caroline Buchalter via e-mail. "In my mind, they are forever rocking at the Showoff Gallery in Bellingham. Andy Piper is making his famous open-mouthed drummer face, and Jason and Orion's eyes are locked on one another, steeped in an epic jam. The first time I saw them play, I knew I was witnessing something special."

Caroline Buchalter was a friend and bandmate of Satushek's. On Wednesday, June 25, 2003, she was hanging out with him in Portland, Oregon, where Satushek had been living. That day, Buchalter, along with Satushek and Satushek's friend, Angela Leazenby, were out riding bikes. On Southeast Belmont and 43rd Street, the three of them were run over by a van going approximately 70 mph. The van was driven by Lindsey Llaneza, a repeat offender whose blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit.

Satushek and Leazenby were killed instantly, while Buchalter survived in intensive care.

"The day of the accident, Orion had come to pick me up from the airport," says Buchalter. "He told me he had just mailed out the mastered Reeks album to their label, Tumult, in San Francisco. The cover art was a

beautiful painting that his mother, Aileen, had painted."

The cover of Knife Hits is a stark departure from the cover of my burnt red album. It's all swirling color, bubbling up around the edges and flowing around the figure in the center - some kind of human-like creature with a tail. All those purples and deep reds and gentle greens, bleeding into one another, disrupted by that dark character in the center. It suggests such promise under the surface, of flourishing creativity, of all the new and exciting departures to come.

"(Orion) was excited and relieved to have it sent out as he had been working diligently on editing the final takes," Buchalter continues. "He was ready for it to go out into the world."

If you were to pass by 4100 SE Belmont St. today, you would see two solid white bikes chained up at the site of crash with a sign that says, "A Cyclist Was Killed Here."

This monument is a part of a grassroots organization called Ghost Bikes, which commemorates deaths of bicyclists with the installation of painted white bikes like those on Southeast Belmont.

"Orion was not only an amazing musician; he was a truly talented engineer and producer as well," says Buchalter. "(That day), we went to get Pho and we talked about how excited we were to play more shows and be living in Portland. He was excited about the tube amp repair shop that he had just opened in conjunction with Mississippi Records."

And just like that ...

Llaneza, the drunk driver, was sentenced to two consecutive 10-year terms and the payment of $500,000 to the family of Angela Leazenby. Leazenby was 26 years old, and Orion Satushek was 27 years old.


Just about the only thing that was salvageable on the tape of my interview with Jason Sands is some talk of the red album that I have, and that the Internet doesn't seem to know exists.

"I believe that the label, Red Alert, distributed it widely, actually," says Sands. "I know we pressed about a thousand of them. I'm pretty sure ..."

Tape fuzz, chipmunks, coyote falling off a cliff.

If it's true that a thousand copies were pressed of this red album then, in all likelihood, there are others out there who've shared my exact experience: finding this strange album, knowing nothing about the band, learning their history.

But even if you've never heard Reeks and the Wrecks, I'm sure you've found an odd record in some bin or in an attic of a band that you never knew existed. And I'm sure you've put it on the turntable and thought it was interesting and bizarre that you happened to have stumbled across this little relic. And then it never went further than that.

Even if you don't know which side is A or B, these lost records have stories, if you'd only listen.

Read next close


The secret storyline

Comments for "Lost record" (4)

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Jordan Rain said on Apr. 04, 2011 at 1:52am

Thank you for writing this article Adam. Caroline, passed it on to me. I'm glad you found this record, it is indeed a special and unique gem. I have dj'd this relic of wax live as DJ Yogoman, for people's ears to hear in Bellingham. I believe that this album is a combination of the musical bond between especially Orion Satushek, Jason Sands, and Andy Piper, who had been playing music together for years in other bands such as Jayhawker (hardcore/metal) in the early 90's, and also a natural current of bizarre and creative energy that exists in and around Bellingham underneath the surface of the town, perhaps a magnetic field, which has seen many bizarre and peculiar things happen throughout the towns history, and in this case was expressed through the more modern instruments of guitars and a set of drums.
I met these three fellows in Seattle, where I grew up, and was putting on and loving underground house shows in the early 90's. All three of them took me in like family, though they were visiting from Bellingham. I became instant friends with them seamlessly and they invited me to live with them up in Bellingham, which I did, as it felt like my real home in the Northwest. I played music with all three of them individually and later with the Reeks and the Wrecks on Bass, an occasionally Euphonium. Caleb Pepperworth played with them on this album as well as Knife Hits on trombone, but the original line-up and core of the band was definitely Satushek/Sands/Piper, who released some of these same songs as a trio on their first release which was a yellow, blue and red cassette tape (self-released), with three green dots. What I noticed about the Reeks and the Wrecks when they came out with their first cassette, is that this music sounded so natural to Bellingham in some way. As I have come to know Bellingham, WA, i believe that the Reeks and the Wrecks tapped into a natural vortex of energy that exists in this town and the Reeks expressed it as if they were the conduit through which that energy was channeled.
I love your description of this Reeks record as a "Nightmare in New Orleans." I think that is perfect and also reflects some of the energy that has exchanged between Bellingham and NOLA. I consider NOLA as my southern home town.

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Katie Overbeck said on Apr. 25, 2011 at 1:06pm

Good article Adam.

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Rev. Adam McKinney said on Apr. 28, 2011 at 5:12am

Thanks, Jordan. Thanks, Katie. I'm very happy that this story resonated with so many people. (And, honestly, the people that matter.)

I hope I did the story justice.


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Amy Struppa said on Aug. 15, 2018 at 4:22pm

Moving article. Thank you for writing and sharing this. Thank you for the music guys!

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