Synthesizer artist and singer James Husted has called several Seattle neighborhoods home since arriving in 1975, including Wallingford, Green Lake, and his current home in Ballard. But it’s a warehouse in Belltown, on Battery between First and Second avenues that gives Husted his most vivid memories.
“The building was once a film depository and distribution center,” Husted recalled. “The entrance was right off the alley and often I would have to step over sleeping people to enter or leave the place.”
Inside was a spartan, concrete work space that overlooked Battery Street. At night, the alley would reverberate with the sound of disco music from the gay bathhouse across the way – or the sounds of sirens and stern abuse that came with police raids on that business. Mostly what Husted remembers is the cold.
“I used space heaters to no avail,” he said. “The only thing that [worked] was to buy an electric blanket, cut a slit in the middle and wear it like a poncho with a trailing extension cord. Probably not a great idea safety wise, but it worked.”
Husted, who today operates a synthesizer assembly company called Synthwerks, spent most of the ‘80s and ‘90s issuing his stuff on obscure cassettes and limited edition CDs. He used various collaborators and recorded under such names as Audio Leter [sic], K7SS, Body Falling Downstairs, Celestial Pygmies, Young Scientist, and Sequencer People. More recently, he’s been pleasantly surprised as European labels such as Domestica and Vinyl On Demand put this material back into print.
His bands were obscure and rarely played conventional show bills, although Husted does recall opening for the Dead Kennedys at the Showbox, and playing Bumbershoot.
“Most often we played at art openings, strange industrial gatherings, or booked our own venues,” he said.
He first began fooling around with synths as a student at Western Washington University in Bellingham (back when it was still Western Washington State College), where the art department gave him access to an Arp 2500. He studied the early Krautrock synth masters, including Klaus Schulze, Kraftwerk, and Cluster. Playing with a jazz band allowed him to make what he called “Raygun-from-Mars abstract sounds.”
“Which worked well in the ‘space-jazz’ music we were doing at the time,” he said.
When he sang, he usually made up lyrics and vocal melodies on the fly. He calls some of that stuff hard to listen to now, but he’s grateful for fans’ comparisons to David Byrne.
Asked about future plans aside from Synthwerks, Husted allows that he hasn’t been playing live much lately, but may get back into it soon.
“The music direction is changing … and allowing more experimental music to have an audience,” he said. “I would love to play gallery openings and outdoor gigs like the Modular on the Spot series…
“I play music for myself mainly now. I use my basement ‘man cave’ studio as a place to unwind after the day.”