The Official Joe Strell Music Site

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Joe Strell | Split Heavens | Sylvia Darling | ¡Ack-Ack! | The Imports | Other...
Joe Strell | Split Heavens | Sylvia Darling | ¡Ack-Ack! | The Imports | Other...

Joe Strell

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A Musical Biography

Joe Strell (discog)

Over the years, Joe Strell has been involved with numerous bands and recording projects as artist, engineer, and producer. His current focus is upon his solo musical career, releasing alternative pop CDs under his own name on the indie label Dansbane Elandet. His third CD In the Balance was released on October 29, 2007, and has been described as "an amazing CD from beginning to end" in a review by In 2010 he released the five song CD Discovery, which contained two new tracks as well as alternate mixes of three songs taken from his first three CDs. He currently resides in Seattle, Washington.

Growing up in Chicago, Illinois, Strell's first band was The Imports, a dark post punk band from the south side neighborhood of Hyde Park, which saw both its debut and demise in 1980. The Imports released only one single during their heyday, a 33rpm 7" vinyl record on Cirkle Records that garnered critical acclaim in the local underground music press. In 2011, however, Dansbane Eländet released the double CD Red Is Black, comprising both tracks from their 1980 single, a recording made from the sound board at their penultimate performance playing with the Jim Carroll Band in Minneapolis, and a collection of tracks recorded on a Sears monophonic tape recorder during rehearsals in their basement studio in Hyde Park.

After moving to Champaign-Urbana in 1981, Strell joined up with the band ¡Ack-Ack! as bassist in 1984, playing out regularly at local clubs over the next several years and releasing two vinyl singles on Office Records, a 45 rpm 7" with two tracks and a 45 rpm 12" with three tracks. In 1986, feeling the need for an additional creative outlet, he built Dansbane Eländet Studio, and began recording songs that he would release on a couple of album-length cassettes on Office Records under the name Split Heavens. After the break-up of ¡Ack-Ack! in 1987, Strell began work on Sylvia Darling, a studio project with Brendan Gamble that also released an album-length cassette on Offiice Records. This collaboration lasted until Strell decided to move to New York in 1989.

Re-establishing his studio, first in a hallway closet in an apartment in Astoria, Queens, and later by hanging the equipment on the wall of a railroad apartment in Chelsea, Strell continued to release cassette albums under the name Split Heavens.

Leaving New York in May of 1995, he moved to San Francisco where he once again re-established the Dansbane Eländet recording studio and label. In 2005, having successfully completed a lengthy project to digitize his vast personal musical archives, and having spent several years dabbling with MIDI composition using virtual instruments, Strell decided to return to the fundamentals of man-made sound and released Under a Mackerel Sky, a somber CD released by Dansbane Eländet comprising thirteen acoustic tracks all written and performed by Joe Strell. He followed this up in December 2006 with the release of Enormous Morning, a less melancholy but still acoustic collection of original tracks, half of which feature minimal arrangements based upon vocal and ukulele. His third solo album In the Balance was released in October 2007 to favorable press.

Click here for further information on the history of Joe Strell.

Split Heavens (discog)

In 1986, while still playing bass with ¡Ack-Ack!, Joe Strell built Dansbane Eländet Studios as an additional outlet for his creativity, and launched Split Heavens, which he would use as the primary vehicle for his solo and collaborative efforts over the next two decades. During this period while Strell lived in Champaign, Illinois, Split Heavens released the two cassette albums Stronger than the Rain and Hydraulic Angel Hymns on the independent label Office Records, as well as contributing covers of "She Said She Said" and "Girl from Ipanema" to the Office Records compilation release Bigger than God. Both of these covers featured backing vocals by Megan McGinty, who also contributed lead vocals to the tracks "Sordid Memory" and "A Separate Stance" on Split Heavens' debut release Stronger than the Rain.

Strell continued to record material under the name Split Heavens after moving to New York in February of 1989. During the six years he spent in New York, Strell released three albums on cassette under the moniker Split Heavens: Ancient Blue, Walking Towards You, and April Showers. The first two these albums were recorded with a 4-track studio set up in his various apartments in Astoria, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village, and mastered to DAT for cassette duplication. For April Showers, however, Strell took a different approach. Accompanying himself on a borrowed acoustic guitar, Strell recorded fifteen songs direct to DAT.

Click here for further information on the history of Split Heavens.

Sylvia Darling (discog)

When ¡Ack-Ack! broke up in the winter of 1986, a victim of its own flack, bassist Joe Strell and drummer Brendan Gamble combined their creativity in a studio project they called Sylvia Darling, culminating in the release of an album-length cassette entitled Sand Dancing on Office Records. This album was recorded at Dansbane Eländet's 8-track reel-to-reel studio above Good and Plenty in downtown Champaign, Illinois. Strell and Gamble's highly prolific collaboration lasted until 1989, when Strell left Champaign to move to New York City in search of Polish diners and yellow taxicabs.

Click here for further information on the history of Sylvia Darling.

¡Ack-Ack! (discog)

In the fall of 1981 Joe Strell left Chicago for Champaign, Illinois, where he eventually joined up with the new wave / art rock band ¡Ack-Ack!, which released 7" and 12" singles and contributed to a number of cassette compilations on the small independent Office Records label. Playing out with ¡Ack-Ack! in local clubs several times a month over the course of a couple years, Strell became known for his melodic Rickenbacker bass lines and "beautiful space alien" hair styles (fortified, of course, with Aquanet Extra Super Hold--the coiffure equivalent of duct tape).

The lineup for ¡Ack-Ack! varied over time, but the performances captured on vinyl consisted of Steve Shields (vocals), Lynn Canfield (keyboards), Henry Frayne (guitar), Joe Strell (bass), and Brendan Gamble (drums). Previous band members include Tim Stephens (guitar) and Brian Reedy (drums), who went on to form the power alternative trio Lonely Trailer. Brad Giampaoli was also a member for a brief period just before the band's ultimate demise, replacing Henry Frayne on guitar.

Click here for further information on the history of ¡Ack-Ack!.

The Vicissitudes (discog)

The summer of 1983 saw great movement in the underground music scene of Chicago. In a sense, it was the summer of The Vicissitudes. In an expansive loft above Harvey’s Sportswear on Milwaukee Avenue, a mere stumble from a club then known as The Artful Dodger (later Dreamerz), and a few scant blocks from the Double Door and the legendary Busy Bee of Wicker Park, swimming in the suffocating heat of a sweltering Chicago, the Vicissitudes wrote and recorded some of the darkest songs of their day. As Marco rolled around the hardwood floors on roller skates during rehearsal, coaxing tortured feedback out of his Flying-V guitar, Joe Strell, formerly of The Imports, laid down a throbbing foundation of post punk bass on his trademark black Rickenbacker while Erich the inveterate sugar addict experimented with random percussion and haunting vocals.

The Imports (discog)

Joe Strell began his musical career in 1980 as songwriter and bassist for The Imports, a Chicago band named after their favorite section in the Wax Trax records bins, and wrought with the post-punk influences of PIL, Joy Division, Killing Joke and the Gang of Four. Coming decades before the international success of bands such as The Strokes and Interpol, The Imports thrilled local audiences with their dark minimalism, playing the intimate circuit of alternative dance clubs of the day including Ann Arkees, Tuts, Ruts, Waves, Gaspar's, Huey's, Jamie's Elsewhere, and the Lucky Number. The final lineup of the Imports consisted of Ben Krug (vocals), Tom Krug (guitar), Joe Strell (bass), and Tom Wall (drums). Previous drummers include Alec Dale and John Krug.

The Imports released a 7" single on Cirkle Records consisting of the songs "Visions of Reality" and "Darkness of Light" (labeled on the record as "Side One" and "Side Two"), which remains an obscure cult favorite and has gone through multiple printings. For their penultimate show on December 4th, 1980, they opened for The Jim Carroll Band at Sammie's in Minneapolis, a date they followed by headlining the next evening at the neighboring 7th Street Entry to an enthusiastic crowd of admirers. After sharing the night with friends from Chicago in a cramped (but warm) hotel room in downtown Minneapolis, The Imports found their separate ways home through the blinding snow of a Midwestern blizzard.

Click here for further information on the history of The Imports.

Other (discog)

Concurrent with his participation in ¡Ack-Ack! and work on Split Heavens, Joe Strell also contributed his skills as bassist to recordings by The Arms of Someone New, Tim Stevens' solo project TX ST Mexico, and the dark alternative Club Crack. He also produced recordings for Club Crack at Willlie Wells' Studio and Dansbane Eländet Studio, and engineered/produced several recordings at Dansbane Eländet Studio for Lonely Trailer that were later released by Office Records and Mud Records.

After Strell moved to New York in 1989, fellow ¡Ack-Ack! alumni Henry Frayne, Lynn Canfield and Brendan Gamble formed The Moon Seven Times (also known as M7X), whose debut CD release on Third Mind Records featured Joe Strell on bass, as well as a credit for "train sounds and glasses". These ambient recordings were made using a DAT recorder that Strell acquired through Jan Travers, president of Abalone Games Corporation in New York, who purchased the device, which was unavailable in the United States at the time, while on a 1990 business trip to Japan.


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