INTERSTELLAR OVERDRIVE Interview with C Average’s Brad Balsley

Brad Balsley is the drummer of C Average, hard rock band from Olympia, WA formed in 1996. Debuting in 1998 with a self-titled LP on Kill Rock Stars, the band earned its greatest notoriety for regularly backing Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder during his solo gigs in 1999 and 2002. Brad is also the drummer of Power Castle.

Hi Brad and welcome to I’m a big C Average fan and what you guys did: combining the power of Black Sabbath with the influences of punk, all with sci-fi lyrics is really cool. What do you especially remember from the C Average’s early years at Olympia?

We started as a 3 piece with Joe Preston on Bass. We practice in the basement of some friends house in east bay drive in olympia. I remember the Seattle Supersonics were in the finals and we were watching it there too, and writing our KRS mail order freak single at that time. We moved into Prolock storage to write our first album. We were getting inspired by the band’s that were getting pretty good like Karp and Fitz in Olympia.

They would tour the country twice a year and a two week West Coast tour as well. Everytime they came home, we’d all go see them, and they would be in peak performance after the months of touring, and it was incredible. The whole K Records thing and Feminist Punk Rock genre was born and going strong. We recorded our first album out at Moon Studios on Kaiser Rd with Scott Swayze. The artist known as Seasick Steve owned it at that time. He’s gone on to be quite a famous bluesman since then.

The year after your debut, after a warm up for a few people, you and Jon were Eddie’s live backing band. How did this experience come about? I remember at the Tibetan Freedom Concert, Eddie invited you on stage as if nothing had been planned before…

We got on an opening slot for with ICU (actually still playing shows). On this tour we played several days with Hovercraft. Beth Liebling’s band. We instantly hit it off with Beth. Talking until late in the evening about everything. Well this tour was headed to NYC where Eddie was waiting. When we got there we went up to Ed’s hotel room to meet with him. My bandmate Jon is a fellow The Who freak fan. So they bonded O’er that. He invites us to jam at his house when we get home and continue to hang with him in New York.

We actually went to Philly and saw Question Mark and The Mysterians play at the Cold Locker or something like that. Parted ways and hooked up in west seattle at his house later. Three whole Tibetan Freedom audience pull out was a bit, BUT he did make us play Better Man which we only practiced once. I really was just going off of all the times I’d heard it on the radio for that one song. All the other songs we practiced in Eddie’s basement which was slightly different than it is in this video.

The concerts you played with Vedder in 1999 were full of covers of groups like the Mono Men, Talking Heads, Police… Did you decide the setlists together?

The songs we played in ‘99 at the Tibetan Freedom Concert were all Ed’s choices. He was in charge. He was giving us an insight into the life. He was a good friend, and a great generous guy. He was friend with Republican (Johnny Ramone) but didn’t agree with him on a lot of things. So he’s open minded.

Of the various concerts you’ve played, the double one on June 26, 1999 at La Paloma Theater in Encinitas is probably the coolest one. What memories do you have of that concert?

Encinitas! This ties into what I was just saying about Eddie being a great guy. These concerts were something he did just as a present to the city I could tell he was passionate about Encinitas. He must have spent his formative years there surfing and you know being a teenager because he had that kind of love for that place. It was great being there paying those songs. We played Last Kiss which was amazing because it was quite popular at that time. As well as those other songs which I’d really come to love the simplicity of.

I don’t know if the tickets cost money, I think it was a small amount but the idea was for all his friends and family and people he knew from the city to get a nice treat, a special performance that might suck, or it might be great. He was willing for either result but he just wanted to do something nice for them and that theater too. It would be like us playing the Capitol Theater in Olympia in another universe where we had a huge successful rock band.

We also at some point flew to Chicago and played at a small bar for his other friends and family in Chicago. The Wrigleyville Tap. right across the street from Wrigley park home of the Cubs. Oddly Liz from Olympia helped deliver the rental equipment. This gig was probably my favorite because it more like the ones I was used to playing. set up on the floor in front of a window facing the sidewalk, tiny PA, vocals only, people walking by going: “Is that Eddie Vedder playing in that shitty tavern right now?“.

On July 14, 1999 at 510 Columbia Street in Olympia you played a tribute concert to The Who. How was this tribute born?

The July 14th (wait it was on July 14th, that’s my daughter’s birthday) was a payback for missing it the first time. He said he wanted to do it. we set it up originally at the capitol theater and he didn’t show. we had our friend read to step in and it was fine, the word had gotten out however and a bunch of people showed up expecting to see Eddie and got Steve instead.

So that show was Eddie keeping his word and it worked out better because that show was really punk rock, and really cool. There’s a recording of it. I’m sorry everything is so fast.

I’ve recently uncovered a video I have of another The Who tribute show (when John Entwistle died) from the Chop Suey in Seattle with Ed Vedder and Kurt Bloch.

That was a great concert but I’ve never seen the video. In 1999 or 2002 did you and Jon go to studio with Eddie to record something? If yes, what did you record?

We recorded those songs we were playing. Demo recordings at Ed’s house.

Your second, amazing, album was released in 2001. Among the credits is a certain Wes. One of Eddie’s pseudonyms, often used in the early 2000s, is Wes C. Addle. Isn’t that “Wes” in Second Rekoning really Eddie?

No that is not a reference to Ed. Wes was the guy who recorded it.

In January of 2002, you reunited with Eddie again to play at Rob Glaser’s birthday party. How was that concert?

Oh was that the Real Player guy birthday. Oh yeah, I haven’t thought about that too much lately. But it was basically imagine the birthday party you would throw if money was no object. That was this party. It was in an amazing bowling alley firstly, so there’s this neon bowling thing going, there was sushi and drinks and probably anything you wanted, I don’t remember it that well. they set the stage up over top of the bowling alley lanes and had a few on each side open. Bizarre set up but it worked.

I just remember kind of being whisked in there into this bizarre conglomeration of neon glowing madness and playing our set which started with Ed doing 3 acoustic songs and then we come up and do the songs you mentioned. And then I believe we got the hell out of there. I have no idea where it was, Seattle somewhere. Do you know?

Yep, it was at Spin Alley Bowling Center in Shoreline, a great place. What is the best memory you have of collaborating with Eddie Vedder?

Ed took us and a bunch of other people to Maui for Y2K. He thought, and I agreed, that if the world was going to crumble, Hawaii would be the best place to be stuck. He owned a house on Molokai at this time but rented this large mansion thing on Maui. Filled with his and Beth’s friends for his birthday and new years. a good time was bad by all. Many adventures, oh doing Karaoke with a pro singer is fun.

We did some karaoke in Maui. Filmed a home movie, practiced synchronized swimming. Ed and I also played a pick up basketball game with some locals at the park. Some famous big wave surfers came and hung out too.

I remember Eddie celebrated his 40th anniversary in a big way. You were present. How was that birthday?

A huge affair in a tiny little spot in West Seattle. Many famous faces. I can’t remember exactly. Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, maybe a Soundgarden member or two, I can’t remember, maybe Mike McCready was there.

I’m sorry if you were there and I don’t remember, I’ve subconsciously blocked it out.

It’s a pretty embarrassing moment for me. Ed wanted C Average to play and we wanted to. We had our friend Tim there too. We couldn’t figure out what to play and choked hard in front of Nancy Wilson and Cameron Crowe. I think Sean Penn was there too. It was bizarre, it was insane, it was crazy. I had to entertain a room full of entertainers with a combined net worth larger than most countries.

Now Eddie has a new live band, formed by Andrew Watt, Josh Klinghoffer, Glen Hansard, Chris Chaney and Chad Smith. Have you seen them live?

No, I haven’t seen them live or on video. I will now. I’m still interested in most things Eddie Vedder. I lost touch with him a while back. I think he needs to change his phone number all the time because people like me have it (laugh – editor’s note). He called me and we had some great chats. I waited a while and tried to leave him a voicemail.

I would love to hear you play live together again.

I would very happily play with Eddie anytime and I would make sure I didn’t rush the tempo!

In 2018, you released your third album. Are you still active as a C Average? Are you perhaps working on your fourth studio album?

Sadly the bass player for C Average John Boyce (a much loved and wonderful human and stupendous bass player and singer) died suddenly this last year and we have been reeling for a while now trying to figure out which direction to go. We will be getting our ship righted in 2023 and possibly head out to sea. Maybe as a tribute to Boyce. I don’t know yet, maybe we’ll bring his bass tracks along and play to them.

I am so sorry for your loss. In the last two years you have recorded two albums with Power Castle. Tell us something about your new group.

Tim Deidrich contacted me to help him record the songs of his longtime, but not very prolific, band. We actually met a couple times a week at 120 pear st which is famously the house where Kurt Cobain lived and Kathleen Hanna famously drew “Kurt smells like teen spirit” on the ceiling or wall in line eye liner or something. Anyways we’re practicing these songs in the garage of this house 7 years ago now.

We recorded them back 6 years ago and then Tim enlisted in the navy, the next 5 years had a few of the other members going in and recording all their tracks, cut to 5 years later. Tim gets out of the Navy now and we start learning some new old songs and some new ones for a second album which we record also now finishing up the older one too. Well both get finished at the same time so we released 2 albums at the same time. Its kinda bizarre, I see why its not really done very often. People can’t conceive of it, but that’s the Power Castle story. If you love vintage 80s type metal, check it out.

I will do it for sure. Thank you for taking time out of your day to make this interview. It was great speaking with you. 

Luca, I think that’s it. He and I did become pretty good friends and its actually kinda sad to think I never talk to him anymore. I know he’s busy and he has a shit ton of friends. Maybe someday he’ll call for a quick work trip to go do something mind blowing.

He likes to surprise and blow peoples minds by hanging out with them or giving them some opportunity they would have never had. I’m sure he continues today to find new people to expose to his limelight for 15 minutes.

Eddie Vedder with C Average in 1999
Eddie Vedder with C Average in 1999

Small my table, sits just three.

Born in Reggio Emilia in 1980. He created in 2001 and wrote the first edition of Pearl Jam Evolution in 2009 along with his wife Daria. He is collaborating with, and, he has collaborated with Rolling Stone and Il Fatto Quotidiano. He continues to try to find “beautiful melodies that say terrible things”.