LOS ANGELES, California, US
Artist / Band / Musician
Indie / Psychedelic / Folk Rock
Vernon Yard; Vapor Records
At a time when musical genres rise and fall to meet certain marketing needs ("alternative," "electronica," you name it), it's refreshing to find a band that honestly eschews limitations in favor of personal and sonic growth. That band is L.A.'s Acetone.
"As opposed to saying 'This is what we'll be,'" explains Richie Lee, the trio's main vocalist and bass player, "we just started playing. And as you play and write, you start to understand the personalities of the people involved, and what the chemistry is. That forms the kind of music that you play. And as we change and grow, our sound changes and grows. We don't lock ourselves into a category."
"Simultaneously resonant and familiar, Acetone's music stands as a strong statement against categorization. "Language makes things fit into categories," Lee explains, "But art is not about language, it's about using a language to get beyond that. When something's already in a category, and somebody hears it, they think, 'Oh, that's this kind of music.' And it's not an experience anymore. There's no interaction between them and the music."
If Lee sounds more like a visual artist than a rock musician, it's probably because he is. The band came together in 1987 while Lee was studying painting at Cal Arts in Valencia, California, where he met Mark Lightcap, a compositional music student and tuba player. Drummer Steve Hadley was a high school acquaintance of Lee's from Newport Beach.
The band's 1993 debut, Cindy, ranges in style from evocative pop to garage-inspired rock and low-end drone in the Velvet Underground tradition, while I Guess I Would, a seven-song 1994 EP, veers into country music narrative with covers of The Flying Burrito Brothers, John Prine, Johnny Horton, and others. If You Only Knew, the band's 1996 sophomore full-length, draws upon Acetone's developing skills and dynamics to produce a more personal, emotional recording.
Acetone's third LP, and their first on Vapor Records, is a fully-realized effort that continues the band's process of evolution and re-definition. "On our other records," Lee says, "there was more the erector-set theory going on, and a lot of it was pieced together afterwards. On this record there was more of an emphasis on recording live."
"Keeping things simple in the studio yielded stunningly complex and sublime results on Acetone. There's a sense of mystery and wonder on the sweeping "All The Time," as Lee sighs, "What I'm saying/How I wish it were clear." Acetone fuses abstract blues with a Twin Peaks vibe to create the mystical resonance of "Shobud," while "All You Know" is a languid, rootsy exploration of life on a different kind of edge.
Acetone's radiant melange of rootsy chords, vivid tonality and introspective beauty has earned them a great deal of respect from their peers -- artists like Garbage, The Verve, Oasis, and Mazzy Star, who have all taken Acetone along on tour.
For Acetone, notes, melodies, lyrics, and harmonies collide in a space stripped of limitations. Musical growth results from the tensions inherent in a dialectical sonic approach. And, most importantly for them, and now for us, rock music remains very much an experience.
(from a Vapor Records press release)

Largely passed by in the alternative music sweepstakes of the mid-'90s, Acetone pursued indie-rock with influences from two of their Southern California forbears, the Beach Boys and Gram Parsons, with plenty of the Velvet Underground thrown in as well. Officially formed in 1992 by guitarist Mark Lightcap, bassist Richie Lee and drummer Steve Hadley, the group had actually existed as early as 1987, when the trio began playing around Los Angeles. After working for several years with a succession of vocalists, the group decided to keep it a threesome.
After just a few months of recording demos, the band signed to the up-and-coming Vernon Yard subsidiary of Virgin Records (also the home of Low and the Verve) and in 1993 released their debut album Cindy, a collision of aggressive neo-psychedelia with pastoral harmonies reminiscent of the Velvets' third LP. Though Acetone toured in a quite visible role as support for the Verve, the album sputtered under a glut of similar-sounding releases.
By 1995, the group had turned in a new direction, translating their affinity for roots-rock and country into I Guess I Would, a seven-track mini-LP of inspired cover tracks, including the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Juanita" and the Kris Kristofferson chestnut "Border Lord." Though alternative rock was beginning to hit the trails of their roots-rocking ancestors, the album again failed to connect with listeners.
The trio then recorded their second full-length, If You Only Knew, which charted a course between the aggression of the first album and the twang of I Guess I Would. Dropped from Vernon Yard in 1997, however, Acetone moved to the independent Vapor Records for their third, self-titled album.
- John Bush, All-Music Guide
Band photo archive via Steve

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