Kindly visit our nearfest webcast sponsors:

Thinking Plague

Dave Kerman- drums, percussion
Mark Harris- saxes, reeds
Deborah Perry- vocals
Matt Mitchell- keyboards
David Wiley- bass, accordion
Mike Johnson- guitars

Colorado-based Thinking Plague explores the frontiers where rock, folk, jazz and modern symphonic music meet. The band grew out of the basement recording experiments of guitarist/composer Mike Johnson and bassist/drummer Bob Drake in the early 80s. In 1982 they formed an ensemble for live performance featuring the classically trained Sharon Bradford on vocals. They released their first LP,

…a thinking plague, in 1984 on their private Endemic label. They produced and engineered the record themselves, and used minimal funds borrowed from friends or scraped together amongst themselves to press it. Each album cover was hand painted by Bob Drake. The LP was well-received and established Thinking Plague's reputation among avant-rock/ Rock-In-Opposition (RIO) circles.

Intent on making more powerful recordings and dissatisfied with the chemistry of that first lineup, Johnson and Drake disbanded the group. They began recording new songs while searching for a new vocalist with the uniqueness demanded by the music. In 1985 Susanne Lewis, whose background was more in the punk/underground vein, agreed to sing for Thinking Plague. The lineup was completed with Mark Fuller on drums and Eric Jacobson (Moon) on keyboards.

In 1986 their second album, Moonsongs, was released as a cassette on a small independent label. The following year the band signed with Dead Man's Curve Records in London, and Moonsongs was re-released as an LP. By 1988 Fuller and Jacobson had left. In early 1989 master reeds player Mark Harris joined the group, making clarinet, saxes and flute permanent features of the band's sound. Shane Hotle came in on keyboards. With this new line up Johnson wrote a body of new art songs. In addition to the usual rock band instrumentation, violin, tablas, and various other African and Balinese percussion instruments were incorporated. Susanne Lewis took a greater hand in writing lyrics and melodies, imparting an underground music feel. The next record, In This Life was released as a CD in 1989 on the Recommended/RER label.

Before In This Life was released, Drake and Lewis departed to the coasts, Drake as a recording engineer/producer in Hollywood and Lewis to pursue avant-garde musical projects in New York. In California, Drake met Dave Kerman, leader of the 5UUs, one of the world's foremost RIO groups. Kerman's enthusiasm for Thinking Plague's music led to his joining the band in 1990. They performed concerts and recorded new material intermittently for several years. During this time Drake began working with the 5UUs as vocalist, bassist and guitarist, which resulted in the superb RIO album Hunger's Teeth. Lewis's project with Drake, dubbed Hail, recorded the Turn of the Screw and Kirk CDs and toured Europe with Chris Cutler on Henry Cow renown on drums. In 1994 Kerman and Drake moved to a farm in France, where they founded Studio Midi Pyrenees with Cutler and Maggie Thomas. There they recorded the next 5UU's CD, Crisis in Clay. In 1995 5UU's toured Europe with Johnson on guitar.

In 1996 Johnson formed a new nucleus for Thinking Plague featuring vocalist Deborah Perry and bassist Dave Willey, leader of the Colorado avant-ethnic folk-jazz ensemble Hamster Theater. With Kerman on drums, Harris on reeds, Hotle and a number of guest keyboardists, the retooled Thinking Plague began recording Johnson's new material. The finished tracks were enhanced and mixed by Bob Drake at Studio Midi Pyrenees in May 1998. These tracks, together with two pieces from the early 90s, comprise the most recent Thinking Plague CD for Cuneiform, In Extremis. 1999 saw the first live Thinking Plague concerts in quite some time, highlighted by extremely well received performances at the famous Knitting Factory club in New York and the "Hurricane Dennis Edition" of ProgDay in North Carolina. Before these performances, Hotle was replaced by new keysman Matt Mitchell. This year, the first two LPs will be re-released on CD as Early Plague Years on Cuneiform Records, brilliantly remastered by Drake. (Advance copies are available here at the festival.)

When looking for a world-class band in the avant-progressive/RIO tradition to enhance the diversity of this year's NEARfest, we needed to look no further than Thinking Plague. We hope your musical horizons will be expanded by the challenging and intricate yet melodic and beautiful compositions of this boundary-pushing and genre-bending group.


A Thinking Plague (1984)
Moonsongs (1986)
In This Life (1989)
In Extremis (1999)
Early Plague Years (2000)

Web Site:


Site design by Möbius New Media. All images and words ©2000 Studio M Live