Part of the Chicago underground scene of the late '80s and early '90s, Tar played a fierce blend of abrasive noise rock and post-hardcore punk, drawing from local touchstones like Big Black and Naked Raygun. However, they were also influenced by vintage punk bands like the Sex Pistols, Stooges, and New York Dolls; plus, as they evolved, they were often compared to more metallic noisemakers like Helmet and the Jesus Lizard. Tar's thick, heavy guitar textures and pitch-dark dissonance were an accurate reflection of their moniker, and their disdain for accessibility or major-label exposure was just as accurate a reflection of the scene from which they'd arisen. After several albums for uncompromising indies Touch & Go and Amphetamine Reptile, the band elected to call it quits following what many deemed its best work.
The origins of Tar date back to a hardcore punk outfit called Blatant Dissent, which formed in DeKalb, Illinois, while singer/guitarist John Mohr and drummer Mike Greenlees were attending Northern Illinois University. In 1988, they relocated to Chicago and reinvented themselves as the much more challenging Tar, along with guitarist Mark Zablocki and bassist Tim Mescher. Mohr released their debut 7", "Play to Win" b/w "Mel's," on his own No Blow label, and the group subsequently landed a deal with the Amphetamine Reptile imprint. Tar made their proper debut with the 1989 EP Handsome, half of which was engineered by avowed influence Steve Albini; they followed it with another 7", "Flow Plow" b/w "Hand."
Tar's first-ever full-length appeared in 1990 in the form of Roundhouse, which found the band growing more assured in its style. Bassist Mescher left the band in early 1991 and was replaced by Tom Zaluckyj. The "Solution 8" single followed, as did their second album, Jackson, which showed Mohr developing into a stronger vocalist. Tar subsequently departed Amphetamine Reptile in favor of Touch & Go, making their debut with the 1992 single "Teetering"; a split 7" with Dischord emo heroes Jawbox followed hot on its heels. Released in 1993, the Clincher EP flirted with the grungy side of electric Neil Young, a trend that continued on the full-length Toast, which appeared later that year.
The band toured the U.S. and Europe in support of Toast, and the latter leg of the tour went poorly. Deciding that they were no longer enjoying themselves as they once had, Tar agreed to go their separate ways after one more album. Over and Out was released in 1995 and was widely acclaimed as the high point of their career, thanks to its greater variety. In the wake of Tar's dissolution, Zaluckyj and Greenlees reteamed in Luckyj, which never released a record. Greenlees also played in Ex-Chittle with former Dis- member Rob Sieracki. Meanwhile, Zaluckyj played with the B-52s' Fred Schneider for a brief period, and also worked as an engineer at Steve Albini's studio. ~ Steve Huey