“TAD: Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears” (2008) chronicles TAD’s troubled history of “heavy shit”

By on May 23, 2019

Co-directors Adam Pease and Ryan Short’s documentary TAD: Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears (2008) chronicles the troubled history of TAD, who Sub Pop Records’ co-founder Bruce Pavitt calls “the world’s HEAVIEST band ever.” Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

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The 90-minute documentary covers TAD’s entire career, from the band’s early club days in the late ’80s, right up to their final gigs, which saw them packing out arenas.

Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears features archival live footage, interviews, music videos, and lost footage, as well as new footage and interviews with the band members, as well as interviews with Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), Mark Arm (Mudhoney), Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), Chad Channing (Nirvana), producers Jack Endino and Butch Vig, Sub Pop co-founders Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt, photographer Charles Peterson, journalist-author Charles Cross and a few others.

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The documentary details how TAD were probably unfairly lumped into the “grunge” genre along with with Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Soundgarden (the latter two were bands TAD toured with), among others, although musically they were probably more akin to the Melvins.

It’s loaded with TAD’s best-loved songs, including “Behemoth,” “Helot,” “High on the Hog,” “Wood Goblins” (MTV said their video for it was “too ugly”), “Jinx,” “Stumblin Man,” “Plague Years,” “Grease Box,” “Leafy Incline,” and “Dementia.”

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At the clogged-artery heart of TAD: Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears is the story of TAD’s fubsy frontman Tad Doyle (b. Thomas Andrew Doyle on September 26, 1960, in Boise, Idaho), a 300-plus-pound guitarist whose big belly appeared to refuse to give in to the confines of his belt.

Doyle originally started out as a drummer, and by 1986, in his mid-twenties, he’d moved to Seattle, where he played the drums for a band called H-Hour.

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Doyle eventually decided to switch to guitar, which led to him forming TAD in 1988 with Kurt Danielson, the bassist in Bundle of Hiss (their bands had often played shows together).

The band’s original lineup also included guitarist Gary Thorstensen and drummer Steve Wied (after Wied quit, the band soldiered on with a series of drummers until calling it quits in 1999).

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The documentary also deals with the hassles over their 1991 album 8-Way Santa, produced by Butch Vig (who later produced Nirvana’s Nevermind album).

TAD ran into legal hassles because the original cover photo featured the photo of a stoned couple found in a discarded photo album a friend bought at a thrift store.

The couple were divorced and the woman, a born-again Christian, didn’t like how she looked while her then-husband grabbed her tit.

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TAD also ran into problems with their song “Jack Pepsi,” and how they’d incorporated the soft drink company’s blue & red logo into their own (similar to the Melvins altering Mattel’s “Hot Wheels” logo).

The filmmakers’ cleverly censor interviewees by pasting the faked-up TAD logo over their mouths whenever they say the word “Pepsi.”

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TAD also ran into trouble with a promo poster promoting their 1993 album Inhaler, created for their European tour with Soundgarden.

The poster shows then-President Bill Clinton with a joint and the caption “It’s heavy shit!” (their label, Giant/Warner, reacted by dropping TAD mid-tour in Europe without an explanation).

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Two years later, TAD were dropped by a second major label — EastWest/Elektra — a week after releasing Infrared Riding Hood (1995).

Read more about TAD below.

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Peter Bagge’s artwork from the back cover of TAD’s “Loser” single

In an interview Tad Doyle did with VICE UK’s Cat Jones in 2016, he admits to being amused by the absurdity of the music press calling TAD “grunge”:

“You’d hear it over and over and over. I was able to be in close proximity, and a part of, every press and music-oriented person just swarming Seattle when it was becoming a thing, you know? And we were laughing about it, mostly. It was absurd. Although the music had its own thing, and there was nothing absurd about that. It was definitely unique at the time. It just seemed over the top and not necessary.”

TAD’s Sub Pop promo photos certainly helped to foster their lumberjack-y image, though.

In an early press kit picture, they’re wearing flannel shirts and Doyle is wielding a chainsaw, not too far off from the actual truth (he’d cut cordwood one summer in the woods of Idaho).

Their bio also correctly claimed that Doyle had been a meat butcher in Boise, and that Danielson had grown up in a logging town.

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Eventually, though, Doyle didn’t like being lumped into the grunge genre along with other Sub Pop acts because none of the bands on the label sounded like each other.

Doyle was also annoyed by the “feeding frenzy” created by execs from other record companies coming to Seattle to scout for “the next Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam.”

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Doyle: “More often than not, they were looking for a look. You know, flannel, disenfranchised teenager, hair down over the face, disconnected and disjointed from society, having interesting takes on social situations, probably more than anything.”

These days, Doyle really doesn’t like talking about his band TAD too much, which is another reason why the documentary is a good source for more info about TAD, the sometimes-forgotten Sub Pop band who achieved extreme levels of heaviosity thoughout the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s.

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Watch TAD: Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears — along with other documentaries in our Alternative Rock & Grunge category, including Ryan Short and Adam Peases’s 2012 co-directed documentary I’m Now: The Story of Mudhoney — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.