Referred to by fans as "the best band you never heard of," the Embarrassment also holds the distinction of being Wichita, KS' most influential band. The group's eclectic yet distinctive sound wrapped a post-punk approach and a deadpan sense of humor around pop, country, disco, and metal elements, crafting songs that rivaled the work of better-known contemporaries like Gang of Four, Mission of Burma, and the Feelies. Though they toured and recorded consistently from their formation in 1979 till their breakup in 1983, the Embarrassment won only a small -- but intensely devoted -- following while they were an active outfit. However, the group's cult grew over the years, culminating in a reunion in the late '80s and the release of two anthologies in the '90s.
Vocalist/guitarist Bill Goffrier, vocalist/organist John Nichols, and drummer Brent "Woody" Geissman were childhood friends who played together in several groups during their school years. When Geissman met bassist Ron Klaus at college, the quartet became the Embarrassment, a reference to Kurt Vonnegut's novel Bluebeard in which a character notes that "embarrassment" is the one word that sums up the human existence. Late in 1979, the group debuted with the Patio Set/Sex Drive single, which introduced the Embarrassment's angular, multi-guitar attack and paved the way for appearances on compilations from Bomp and the Kansas-based label Fresh Sounds.
The group experienced their first breakout success with their self-titled 1981 EP, which brought them widespread attention from college radio and fanzines. The Embarrasment's combustive live shows also added to their prominence and earned them gigs with Iggy Pop, John Cale, and William S. Burroughs. The group's Lifespan and Sound of Wasps singles were among the first Sub Pop releases, back when label founder Bruce Pavitt released fanzines and cassettes under that name. 1983's dark, ambitious Death Travels West EP was the Embarrassment's longest and most fully realized work yet, but by the time favorable reviews from cultural arbiters like the Village Voice appeared, the group had already disbanded, wishing to explore other interests. Geissman became the drummer for the Del Fuegos and Goffrier formed Big Dipper, while Klaus and Nichols pursued non-musical goals. In 1984, The Embarrassment Retrospective Tape, which collected their unreleased studio material, live tracks, and some covers, was released; three years later, some of those studio tracks were combined with their 1981 EP into a full-length Embarassment album.
Though the Embarrassment was no longer the quartet's main project, it never disappeared completely: the members often reunited for New Year's Eve performances in Kansas and continued to write songs together. In 1988 they reunited as a side project, releasing the Train of Thought/After the Disco single in 1989 and God Help Us, their first proper full-length album, in 1990 on Bar None. Five years later, Hey Day: 1979 - 1983 gathered all of their early singles, EPs, and compilation tracks along with some covers, live material, and other rarities. During the '90s, Goffrier settled in Boston, painting and appearing with the Boston Rock Opera; Geissman worked in L.A. as a session musician after the Del Fuegos disbanded, then also moved to Boston, performing as the drummer for the Laurie Geltman Band. Nichols moved to Orlando and worked as a manager for America West Airlines, while Klaus settled in Arizona. In 2001, My Pal God released Blister Pop, which collected previously unissued demos, live tracks, and covers, reaffirmed the Embarrassment's place as one of the main influences on American indie rock's look, sound, and D.I.Y. aesthetic. ~ Heather Phares