A band’s early days are often a mishmash of releases, songs cobbled together from rehearsal recordings and put out as demos with live tracks from shows or different sessions. A few songs are copied for friends one week, and the next a demo is professionally pressed under the same title. That’s just part of promoting a new band. You try and get as much out there as possible. As such, when I opened the mail and found this surprise copy of Dozer‘s 1998 demo, Universe 75 — the tape gifted to me unexpectedly by Lansing, MI’s Postman Dan, who’s come up around these parts a few times over the years and will again before the next week is out — it wasn’t a shock to discover that its tracklisting differed from what’s largely been settled on as being Universe 75.
I know the story behind this tape, know that Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa sent it to Dan when Dozer were putting out their early material, that it came with an orange flyer that had Han Solo on it firing a blaster the laser of which was the Dozer logo, and if you can’t trust Postman Dan, you can’t trust nobody, so its authenticity is without question as far as I’m concerned. I damn near wept when I opened the package and found it.
What’s commonly regarded as Universe 75 has six tracks, and this tape — dubbed onto a Maxell 100-minute blank cassette, though of course it reaches nowhere near that mark time-wise — has four. “Supersoul,” which opens, is the only song shared between the two. It and “Captain Spaceheart” — written in the liner here as “Captain Space Heart” — also appeared on Dozer‘s 2000 full-length debut, In the Tail of a Comet, while “Centerline” and “Tanglefoot” showed up later in 1998 on the first of the two Dozer vs. Demon Cleaner split releases.
At this point, Dozer was Holappa, guitarist/vocalist Fredrik Nordin, bassist Johan Rockner and drummer Erik Bäckwall, and these songs were recorded at the end of Jan. 1998 by Bengt Bäcke — here given the nickname “Action.” Of course, he’d come a long way by the time he was continuing to work with Holappa in Greenleaf and tracking that band’s albums, but even in ’98, Bäcke knew what he was doing. The sound of the tape is raw, and the bass is way, way high in the mix, but overall it’s clear enough to get a sense of the songs and where Dozer were coming from stylistically in some of their earliest days, Nordin sounding more directly indebted to Kyuss‘ John Garcia than he even would by the time In the Tail of a Comet was released, and the band seeming to work at full stonerly jamble on “Captain Space Heart” only to up the swing as “Tanglefoot” closes out.
As a longtime nerd for Dozer (obviously not as long as the Postman), I felt incredibly fortunate to hear these songs at all, let alone to be able to sit with them and think of them in context of the Borlänge four-piece’s pre-debut-LP progression. They were prolific as they solidified their sound, and over singles, EPs and splits with Demon Cleaner and Unida, they honed a reinvented — maybe “relocated” is the word? — take on what was then desert rock that of course would turn them into something different entirely over their years together, which hopefully aren’t done as they continue to play shows periodically. A snapshot of one of Sweden’s greatest contributions to heavy rock as a young band is something genuinely special, and I know I’ll cherish it in a cool, dry place for years to come and use it as fodder while I continue to campaign for a compilation of their pre-album material.