By Ashley Lodato
Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of the 1980s cover band Squirrel of Shame. Until two weeks ago, I hadn’t either. But if you’ve got the beat and you love rock ’n’ roll, you’re going to want to jump at the chance to see a Squirrel of Shame show some time.
The Methow connection to Squirrel of Shame is part-time Pine Forest resident Scott Wiltamuth — who, incidentally, turns out to have graduated from college in the same class as me, but we only recently met. I’ve tried to identify common connections we had in college, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
It all started a decade or so ago, says Scott, when the band members were just livin’ on a prayer and playing the “Rock Band” video game, where people play on fake instruments that feed into the video game console. One night, someone looked straight into the eye of the tiger and said, “Let’s go crazy. We should start a real band!” The fact that three of the four people present had little or no musical experience in their adult lives deterred no one; they knew they couldn’t fight that feeling to start a real band.
Scott was assigned the bass, so he went out and bought one. He showed up for the first practice the following day not having even taken the bass out of its case yet. “I won’t back down,” he thought, and turned to the internet (and later an instructor) to learn to play his new instrument.
Scott had played saxophone in middle and high school, so he wasn’t completely clueless musically. He says that the band members practiced faithfully, as “no one wanted to show up to the next practice without having made some progress.” As the band prepared for its first public gig after about a year of rehearsal, everyone became a maniac about practicing. Scott adds, “If showing up at practice unprepared is motivation, think how much more motivating it is to prepare for playing in public!”
Almost everybody wants to rule the world, but Squirrel of Shame is content with its modest level of local fame, as their jobs at Amazon, Adobe and Microsoft keep them workin’ 9 to 5. They tend to play at small events, such as a bridal shower for a friend (which, in a scene practically straight out of “This is Spinal Tap,” was held in an optic shop), at Seattle and Bellevue bars filled with friends, at charity fundraisers, and at various private events. Basically, they’ll play a show any way you want it and all night long, if you open your heart. (Although, “our song choices are not subtle,” says Scott.)
Squirrel of Shame’s audiences are enthusiastic, footloose, and show up for their concerts time after time. That’s what friends are for, right?
Squirrel of Shame’s true colors really came shining through when they added a female lead vocalist, “whose vocal range is good for covering the many relatively high-pitched male vocalists from the ’80s,” says Scott. When Michelle, the lead singer, took a year off from the band to travel, they told her “we’ll keep playing with or without you,” but she came back and nothing’s going to stop them now.
Every rose has its thorn, however, and the band has had some mishaps along the way. In the early years, the band barely had enough material for a one-hour set, which made for some short shows. Other gigs have included misfortunes like a band member kicking out a power cord in the middle of a show. Still, Squirrel of Shame soldiers on, playing at consistently bigger venues, such as their now-annual gig at Benson Vineyards in Chelan. This success story is, to me, a perfect illustration of how if you don’t stop believin’ you can become a jukebox hero.
You can learn more about Squirrel of Shame by visiting their website (squirrelofshame.com) or by calling (509) 867-5309.