The "instrumental" stigma has dogged Pell Mell since 1980, when the band was first formed in Portland, Oregon, by drummer Bob Beerman, guitarist Bill Owen, and Arni May, the other original guitarist who worked in a record store in Portland and brought in Jon-Lars Sorenson to play bass. It's not that any of these seemingly well-educated gentlemen were too dimwitted to consider sprucing up their drabby music with a provocative frontman; they auditioned singers in the beginning, and didn't like what they heard. And who can blame them? Singers, with their gaudy necklaces and their unzipped pants and their idiotic gestures, are egomaniacal distractions from the main event - the music. More than drummers, even.
Whether Jimi Hendrix was correct in regarding surf music as a plague upon humanity, Pell Mell were nevertheless perplexed to be continually categorized as such. Truth be told - a novel idea, isn't it? - the band's "vision" was nothing more complicated than the creation of music as cool as all the records coming out at the time by great surf bands such as PiL, Josef K, the Fire Engines, the Feelies, A Certain Ratio, Pere Ubu, the Contortions and others.
Following the recording of the quartet's Rhyming Guitars EP in January 1981, Arni departed, leaving the band to continue as a trio. Bob, Bill and Jon-Lars released the live cassette primarily as promotional and tour-booking tool, but also to distance themselves from the dual-guitar EP, with its newly unplayable songs (except for "Par Avion"). Along with gratifying a shared Duane Eddy fetish, they were trying to fit in with the strong Portland punk scene, and were conscious of what it took to earn an audience's undivided attention. Intentionally designed to keep listeners on their toes, the tracks on (1982) It Was a Live Cassette were written to be played live and are much more aggressive, raw, and abrupt than anything else done by the band since. The more well known, silky smooth quartet (with Greg Freeman on bass, Steve Fisk on keyboards and samples, and Dave Spalding on guitar) was still down the road a piece by a distance of about two years. It was a live cassette and it was all about proving things: that Pell Mell didn't need or want a singer, that they were punk, and, most importantly, that they were not a goddamn surf band.