Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Special!

On December 11, 1993, a bunch of bands got together at 1208-A West Franklin and recorded Christmas songs.  I don't want to get too into it because I have company over, but do notice that there's no relation between the popularity of the bands and the quality of the material.  For example, Bear's "Merry Christmas (I Don't Have a Family)", Chutney's Grinch song and Megaspore Mothercell's "Little Drummer Boy" were unexpected highlights.  All modesty aside, 15 on the Fifteen's "Do The Stormtroopers Know It's Christmas" is the best song on here.  For the Jolly Mortals song, I got everyone in the room to say the word "Satan".

Whirled Records Christmas Side 1
Whirled Records Christmas Side 2

20 years ago, Mike Chapman was going to apply for a job at a Williamsburg tourist trap called The Christmas Mouse.  For his interview, he was going to say that he was a "Christmas-ass motherfucker."  Here's proof.

Little Drummer Boy
Merry Christmas
Sleigh Ride
Mr. Grinch

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cherry Valence/Birds of Avalon

There must have been something in the water in North Carolina in the 1990's.  Around 1998 or so, a trickle came from down south up I-95 by the name of Cherry Valence.  In a just world, every accolade that was heaped upon undeserving bands like the Strokes would have gone to this band.  But then, if that were the case, what would I write about?
The Cherry Valence rocked.  By that I don't mean they got into music by listening to Weezer and kind of pretended to rock.  These dudes (and one lady) could probably recite every lyric to every song on the first Grand Funk Railroad album backwards, while drunk AND asleep.  They lived it, they breathed it.  They even owned a club in Raleigh called King's Barcade that had live bands and an old-school arcade.  You can always tell which venues are owned and operated by musicians in how they treat touring bands - no matter how small your band was, there'd be people there and a deli tray.  Cherry Valence was one of those bands that made rock and roll worth it.
Another interesting thing about this band was that their guitarist - Cheetie Kumar - raised the bar for women that play guitar in rock bands.  I shudder at the oft-used term "good... for a girl."  No.  I don't care what your gender, race, religion etc. are.  You either locked yourself in your bedroom until you could play Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones the whole way through, or you didn't.

At Home

Cherry Valence toured seemingly non-stop in the late 90's.  They played in Richmond more often than a lot of local bands did.  After I moved to Texas in 2001, I lost track of what they were up to, but it seems like their schedule slowed down.  A few years later, Paul (their bassist) and Cheetie left the band and were replaced by my good friend from High School named Erik Sugg and some guy I don't know.  Paul and Cheetie went on to form

Monday, December 12, 2011

Muscle Beach

Considering the vastness of the universe, extra-terrestrial intelligence isn't a pipe dream - it's a statistical inevitability.  The only problem is that solar systems are too far apart for them to have any contact with each other.  In order for a rocket to reach the second-nearest star to us (Alpha Centauri), it would require more energy than that which is available on the entire planet Earth.  Reports have come in that a planet 600 light years away is as far away from its sun as we are from our own, but it would take 600 years to get there if we could travel the speed of light, and we're technologically not even close.  Our fastest manned vehicle was Apollo 10, which traveled at something like 25,000 mph.  Light travels at 186,000 miles per second.  So yes, everyone take comfort in the fact that we are not alone in the universe... but, we may as well be.

When I moved to Austin in 2001, I knew a handful of people.  Through their hands, I ended up knowing an armful.  My roommate Paul's friend Tom was in a band called American Analog Set.  AAS was an indie rock band from right around the end of the time where being an indie rock band didn't preclude complete suckage.  They were a perfectly enjoyable, relatively harmless band that the girl you liked was into, but she didn't like you because you secretly listened to Led Zeppelin (this is not based on real occurrences).  This is not their story.

The keyboardist of AAS was a tall, Germanic young man named Thomas Hoff.  He had a bedroom band by the name of Muscle Beach.  Muscle Beach was a heavy metal/pop band that - instead of terrible bands like Poison - extracted the better elements of each genre.  Tight, heavy, catchy, short songs.  According to Paul, Tom was trying to turn Muscle Beach into an actual band, but needed a "shreddy" guitar player.  I jumped at the chance.  Muscle Beach grew from a guitarist with a drum machine to two guitarists with a drum machine.  Practice meant going to the rehearsal space with a couple of practice amps and renting a PA for the backing track.  All was well.
Muscle Beach only played one show.  It was at the Flamingo Cantina (I think?) in March of 2003 for the annual South by Southwest Music Festival.  You may have heard of it.  We were one of 47 bands playing there that day, so let's just say the soundguy wasn't really that concerned with how pleased we were with his handiwork.  The mix sounded fine to me, but Tom seemed extremely disappointed and that was more or less the end of Muscle Beach.  He had the odd notion that the songs he had written were beginning to sound "dated." Also, Tom was getting married and having a baby, so he didn't think it was viable to balance rock and roll with parenting (something I have been trying to prove right for the past decade or so).  I almost was able to get my friend Trivett to move from Seattle to Austin to join Muscle Beach, but the stars did not align.  He went on to be in another band anyway.  More on that later, I suppose.

The following recordings are all I have of Muscle Beach.  I personally do not appear on any of these tracks, but I didn't really add anything to it anyway.  It's possible - though unlikely - that Tom still secretly records jams like these for no one to ever hear.  Like with extra-terrestrials, I am under the assumption that other great one-man bands exist out there, never to be heard by anyone.  This is both inspiring and depressing at the same time.

01 Muscle Beach
02 Muscle Beach
03 Muscle Beach
04 Muscle Beach
05 Muscle Beach
06 Muscle Beach
07 Muscle Beach
08 Muscle Beach
09 Muscle Beach
10 Muscle Beach

Monday, December 5, 2011

Municipal Waste

At times, I can't help but be skeptical of Eastern thought.  Was the Tao Te Ching nothing but a way for the Chinese nobility to placate the lower classes?  Buddha tells us to renounce all of our earthly possessions, but that guy doesn't look like he's missed too many meals.  Plus, that look on his face really makes you wonder whether he's laughing with you or laughing at you.

The world of music isn't a pass/fail dichotomy.  This is a common truism that amateurs like myself tell ourselves, each other, and the rest of the world.  "I do this for myself, it doesn't matter if anyone else gets it!"  Let's face it, though.  You're either spending the next morning wondering what city you're in while washing encrusted champagne and vaginal fluids out of your hair with a sample bottle of hotel shampoo, or you're not.

In order to achieve the Western idea of success in music, there are three prime factors. 
The first - and least important - is good old, Yahweh-bestowed talent. 
The second most important factor is timing.  This is relevant in regards specifically to style of music: the Cherry Poppin' Daddies would never have broken the 200 attendance mark if not for the swing revival in the late 90's.  Some bands are able to predict trends and catch the crest of the wave before it breaks. 
The third - and by FAR - most crucial factor in determining a band's success is hard work.  Pick a style, find like-minded individuals that can handle living in a van for a decade or so, and dig in your claws.  Persevere.  Have band practice twice as often as every band you've ever heard of (except of course for Van Halen, who practiced 7 nights a week before they got signed).

Municipal Waste is a textbook example of the above factors.  Tony Foresta was (I guess is?) a few years younger than me, but I recall seeing him at punk/hardcore shows for as long as I can remember.  I don't remember him actually being in any bands before Municipal Waste, which leads me to believe that for several years he collected information about what kind of band he wanted to be in, while many others went for a more "trial and error" approach.  I don't personally know the other guys in the band that well, but the guitarist had his name legally changed to Ryan Waste.  That's dedication.

Municipal Waste started around the time that I left Richmond, so I only caught the very beginning of their ascent.  I used to write for a local Richmond weekly called Punchline, and (if memory serves) reviewed their first demo.  It reminded me of all the things I liked about bands like DRI and Septic Death, but with more of a sense of humor: one of the songs was about scanning the pit for items that people may have dropped.  Tony included a hilarious picture of a guy at one of their shows covered in blood with a big peace sign on his shirt.  Fileden has been giving me problems, so I can't upload the demo right now.  Here's their first 7", which actually might be the same recordings.

01 Thrashing is My Business
02 Detention Mosh Session
03 Rat Bite
04 Rock Hatchet Knife
05 Floor Score
06 CxMxD

Monday, November 28, 2011

¡Viva El Presidente!

If the biblical story of Noah was true (it wasn't), then people had some interesting relationships with their family members.  Richmond's music scene was not dissimilar: there were probably more bands than there were musicians.  These incestuous relationships often produced offspring with some fascinating mutations.
Henry Street Gallery ca. 1995. My friends Mike Mehigan, John Swart, and Ben White formed a band known as the Sparky Collective, and this was their first show.  Maybe I was in a good mood, or maybe it was the "vibe", but I thought they were sparktacular.  One of their songs had this jug juggity jug jug drop D riff with the chorus "Five dollars an hour, five dollars an hour" endlessly repeating over top; and during a drum solo, the bassist and the guitarist totally high-fived.
For whatever reason, Ben left or was kicked out of the band and replaced by this tall, red-haired, bearded dude named Mike Jarvis.  From that point on, they became known as El Presidente.  Now that I think about it, it's entirely possible that Sparky broke up and Mike/Mike/John formed El Presidente, but you know how complicated these relationships can get.
Jarvis's influence on the band was pronounced.  The songs got more mathy and metallic, but still retained a degree of humor.  El Presidente was definitely Jarvis's band - in fact, after a year or so, he was the only original member.  John and Mike were replaced by two stoners named Trip (drums) and E.T. (bass).  Eventually they even got a second guitarist, by the name of Ryan Lake.
Ryan was one of a handful of true hot-shot guitarists in Richmond.  You know the type - those dudes that give off the impression that their moms' ultrasounds had weird bits of wire and wood floating around with their embryos in the womb.  He played in a Black Sabbath cover band called Brown Sabbath (also with E.T. and Trip), and legend has it that he once accidentally split a Gibson SG Custom in half by accident.  The long way.
Anyway, you know the story.  Band forms, band plays a bunch of shows, records a couple of demos, breaks up.  It's a shame that more people haven't heard this band though.  Some of my best memories of Richmond were drinking Long Island Iced Teas at Hole in the Wall, praying that K.M. would show up so that I could ask her to come back to my apartment and watch Tron (never happened), and El Presidente blasting through low-register pentatonic riffs like a Deep Purple record that kept skipping during the good parts.
So where are they now?  Last I heard, El Presidente was actually still around.  I don't know if Ryan Lake is in the band any more, because he went on to be in the infinitely more popular (and questionably named) Alabama Thunderpussy.  This is not their story.
Here is the El Presidente album.
Some time in the very late 1990's, I recorded an El Presidente live show on my 4-track.  Here is their cover of Deep Purple's Bloodsucker.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sistersound and the Venusians

There's something intrinsically sad about people in middle age waxing nostalgic about how great things were back in their day.  I'm (as you may be able to tell) privy to it myself.  I remember watching that movie Dogtown and Z-Boys or whatever it was called and wanting to throw up when some guy said something like, "We changed the world!"  No, you didn't.  You rode a skateboard in an empty swimming pool.  My excuse is that I still write, perform, and record music, so it's okay to give a home to bands from days past that I feel never got their fair shake.
Life is different when you're young and under-employed.  The word "lighter" comes to mind.  Time is more important than money.  Sure, you were working 20 hours a week busing tables and living in a concrete basement; but your parents aren't telling you what time to be home, and there are girls and drugs and adventures and books and friends and music.  There was a time when my entire social circle revolved around music.  When we weren't playing it, we were watching our friends playing it, learning about it, talking about it, thinking about it, writing zines about it.  As you can tell, we have all grown up and nobody cares about such frivolity any more.
I don't know how I got to be friends with Eve.  To this day, I'm not even sure what his real name is.  In high school in Williamsburg, my friend Colin used to talk about a young wizard in Richmond who could play any instrument (obviously, this just means guitar, bass, and drums).  The next year when I ended up moving there, we ended up gravitating towards each other as people do.  Eve was a year older than me, and wasn't very active in the outside world because he and his girlfriend Amy had a daughter named J (said daughter is probably as old now as I was then, which... well, you know).  Circumstance was probably another player in our friendship - he was always home because he was watching his daughter, and I was never at work because... well, why would you work more than you needed to just make your $140 rent?
Eve was the first self-contained musical act I'd ever met.  He had a 4-track, which to me back then was a Very Big Deal; and could not only play any instrument (see above), but play them all well and write songs.  Really good songs.  Who knows how many countless hours he spent holed up in his stuffy, not air-conditioned, cat-infested magical palace... teaching himself how to play songs that he had willed into existence and recording them for no one to hear.
Some time in 1993, Eve set about trying to find a band.  Despite the fact that bass was his main instrument, he decided that he would take vocal/guitar duty.  He wasn't a "shredder" per se, but he had a very unique style and used an assortment of altered tunings that he would keep track of in a notebook (one thing is for sure, people in my peer group where an enormous boon to notebook manufacturers).  He christened this band Sistersound, which I told him wasn't that hot of a name because it would make people compare them to Sonic Youth.  Eventually he got Dave Garrett to play drums, and this guy Jeff to play bass (my chronology may be way off).  Dave was (is... Hi!) a friend from Williamsburg who was impossibly tall and would dub his cassettes at least 3 or 4 times to get a more lo-fi sound.  He was also in an incredible band called Thee Squids (this is not their story) and a very popular band called Bad Guy Reaction (this is not their story, either).  Jeff seemed nice enough - he once loaned me a very rare old Bad Brains 7" - but allegedly had a drug problem.  I only remember seeing this version of the band once at a house party.  I don't know if bands still play at house parties.
The next line-up that I remember was Eve on guitar, Ian Kruske on drums, and Pete on bass.  Ian was 2 years younger than me and will probably get his own entry on the first Monday of February, 2012.  After several bad LSD voyages, Ian was replaced by drummer extraordinaire and avid reader Chris Gallo.  Pete was an amazing bass player and had this gorgeous fretless Gibson SG bass.  They ended up getting a small following around town and recorded a couple of times up in Maryland with the legendary Mark Smoot.
Maybe I'm projecting, but when Pete died from cancer a year or two later, I'm not sure Eve ever fully recovered - at least in the context of his band.  Pete wasn't the first of my friends to have been taken too soon, and was far from the last.  I suppose it was around this time that Eve ended up playing drums in a band called Action Patrol, which got infinitely more popular than his real band ever did.  This is not their story, either.
Eve moved from Richmond to San Francisco late in the millennium.  I think he ended up losing faith in Sistersound and the Venusians, despite starting up another incarnation of them about a decade ago.  Last I heard, he was in a band called Foreign Telegram (thanks Kara!).

2015 EDIT: Sistersound has reformed and has new material!

It's impossible to listen to these songs without going back to a time when the highlight of your day would be finding enough change under a couch to be able to afford a $.99 50-ounce fountain drink at the East Coast gas station on the corner of Meadow and Main.  Maybe the songs were good on their own.  I think so.

01 no place to be
02 please hold back
I think Dave Garrett played drums on the next two songs:
03 talk to me
04 le freak deux
05 the passing of day
06 silly world
This next song is interesting, Eve overdubbed the same acoustic guitar/vocal part (you guessed it!) four times:
07 more
This next song was my introduction to the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff distortion pedal.  Years later, I ended up buying it from Eve, and still use it to this day.
08 bluebear
09 fly away from me
The next song was about a time that Eve was driving and wondered what would happen if he jerked the wheel and crashed into a tree, dying in a fiery blaze.  On an unrelated note, if you listen really close, you might be able to hear his baby daughter J crying.
10 fireball
11 follow the sun
This next title cracks me up.  High school was SO two years ago!
12 high school talent show
The last song on the tape was recorded a little while later, Pete may have been in the band by this point.
13 goodness

The next 7 songs were recorded by Mark Smoot in Silver Springs, MD.  I have no real idea when, possibly the mid to late 90's?  The lineup was Eve on guitar/vocals, Chris Gallo on drums and Pete on bass. 
01 envelope
02 silly world
03 blanket me
04 follow the sun
05 fireball
06 i fell awake
07 goodness

Monday, November 14, 2011

Some Hope, Some Despair. Lance Hahn of J-Church

Not long after Lance Hahn died a little over 4 years ago, Liberty gave me a box of Lance's old tapes and his old 4-track so that I could digitize them.  I did so, and documented the process in as detailed of a fashion as I could.  It's been such a long time since I did this that I no longer have any hope that these songs will have anything resembling a normal release.  It's sad, because I honestly feel like anyone that knew of Lance and/or his music would find at least something of value in this collection, but why would anyone in this day and age release an album from an artist that couldn't do anything to promote it?  Especially considering the fact that there are probably warehouses full of J-Church merchandise that are unfortunately collecting dust even now.
If you're reading this entry because you read my blog, then this isn't really the story of J-Church (that can be found here.  I was only in the band for a couple of years, and - all modesty aside - I didn't really add much to the mix (Punk Planet disagreed in their review, I am happy to say).  So without any further ado, here are my detailed notes.  At the bottom, I've included a link to sendspace so that you can download all of these tracks and share them with the world.  I don't have any real influence, maybe you can succeed where I failed.

April 2008
Yesterday I went to Liberty's house to pick up some of Lance's broken (?) equipment and some of his old master 4-track tapes. This was stuff that Liberty didn't think would be worth selling due to damage or whatever, so she wanted it to go to someone that might get some use out of it. My plan is to sort through the tapes and digitize everything.
Also I picked up a beat-up (but working) Tascam 644 Midistudio 4-track, a very beat-up (and possibly working) Fostex 4-track (now I have 3 4-tracks), a bunch of chords, 2 broken tuners, and a broken Alesis drum machine.
Liberty still seemed fairly broken up about everything. Her hands were shaking as she handed me the demo tapes and I promised I'd get to work on the project as soon as possible and get them back to her safely. Lance's shoes were still by the door to their apartment. I don't know. What's the correct way to mourn? I won't go further about this... even the mildly autistic can sometimes know when to edit.
I also went to Chris's house and got an old Boss CS-3 Compressor, a Dunlop Wah pedal (seemingly identical to the one I already have; so I might sell mine, keep Lance's, and give Liberty the money). Hey wait. That sentence was a real mess. Can someone punctuate that for me? Anyway. He also said something about a few labels being interested in releasing a posthumous J-Church album. This could bring up some ethical issues. I don't want to have anything released that Lance would consider "unfit". For example, once on tour I had a soundman make a board tape of a J-Church show. Lance made me promise that I'd never let anyone hear it, and I think I have respected his wishes. I figure I'll mix and master everything and talk to the labels about it. Obviously I wouldn't ask for money or whatever, it's just that I know there are fans of J-Church that would probably want to hear Lance's demos.

Even though I already have 2 4-tracks that operate at different speeds, I figured it'd be more appropriate to use Lance's equipment to sort through his material. Lance's 4-track is generally beat-up looking, though not in the traditional way that equipment seems to suffer from wear and tear. It looked old, and it didn't appear that Lance was careless with it, it just seemed like he used the hell out of it. Most of his stuff was like that. He was just always, always working. The box that I got from Liberty included maybe 15 or so tapes, which varied from official-looking releases to apparent board or studio tapes to unlabeled blank-looking cassettes. Obviously it was the last category that interested me the most.
The first tape I looked at was an unlabeled, transparent TDK D-90 that was in the 8-track when Liberty gave it to me. She said she couldn't get it out of the machine, and when I was at her house I tried too and it seemed seriously stuck. However, when I plugged the machine on and rewound it to the beginning, it came out quite easily. It's very easy to get sucked into ghost stories when it comes to this kind of stuff.
Anyway, back in the machine, counter set to zero, hit play. Drums on track 1, bass on track 2, guitars on tracks 3 and 4. Each track had very little - if any - bleeding, which leads me to believe that they were all recorded individually and not in a live setting. It was hard to figure out who was playing drums. Not as hard-hitting as Chris. Not as finessed as Adam. Still fully competent, though. My guess at this point is that it was Lance himself. The bass lines weren't terribly distinctive either, so I'll assume that was Lance also. No question about the guitar playing though, definitely Lance.
The style of the songs also made it difficult to pin down chronologically. It definitely was before I was in the band, because I didn't recognize anything. It couldn't have been Palestine demos, because that was all drum machine (also, that's probably my favorite album by them/him/us/whatever). It must have been some time in the mid-to-late 90's. The songs were unmistakably J-Church though. Mostly mid-tempo, straightforward but with the occasional quirky chord change. They had an interesting linear quality to them also, and few lasted more than 100 clicks on the counter (approximately a minute and a half). The recording quality was decidedly lo-fi, but certainly not unlistenable. What was sad to me though is that no vocals appeared anywhere on any of the 10 or so songs.
The first batch of songs lasted for a little over 20 minutes, and a new session began. This one only used the first 2 of the 8 tracks, with the drums being way too loud in the mix. They were also played in a much more professional manner, but again not by Chris. I didn't recognize any of the material, but seeing as J-Church released like 50 albums this doesn't mean much. Hell, for all I know it's Cat Food.
Tape number 2, another blank-looking TDK-90. This was different though because the font on the casing to the tape was in a more italicized style, which dates is a little later than the first one. I'm no expert, but in the later 90's, TDK D-90's used a different font style on their cassettes. During the 80's, they were I think black, then grey before that. Anyway, this tape started out with some very professional-sounding punk rock, but then a girl started singing and I heard some weird ghostly backwards-sounding stuff over top. When you play a regular tape in a 4-track, the first 2 tracks are left and right forwards, and tracks 3 and 4 is side B backwards. So it wasn't the spirit of Lance coming back to supervise the session! Just a mix tape. Next.
I forget which kind of tape the third one was. Anyway, in it went. Rewind, play. Track 1 was the only one that had anything, a vaguely familiar song - but with all the instruments on 1 track it was very lo-fi. Suddenly on tracks 2, 3, and 4... vocals! Then I realized why the music was strangely familiar - it was (I think) the same material that was on the first tape. Apparently, Lance recorded 4 instrumental tracks, then bounced them all on to one track, and used the 3 open tracks for vocals. This would be EXACTLY the kind of thing that I was hoping to find. If this is what I think it is, I could easily mix the instrumental tracks on my computer and synch up the vocal tracks.

April 29. Back in the shed.
Tape #3, unlabeled. Rewind, play. Sounds like a live board tape. The melody is carried by the bass line. The guitar playing is mostly indiscernible, ringing out chords with tons of distortion. Time does a weird thing to the high end of normal bias cassettes... it adds a weird underwater/phasing sound to it. Personally I think it's a cool (if obviously unintended) effect. Drums are VERY English early-80's. Sixteenth notes on the hi-hat punctuated by the occasional triplet. I don't know if it was something in the water, but it seems impossible to really replicate the feel of early 80's English drummers. Vocals come in, very much not Lance. Thick British accent. This is where my punk rock ignorance presents a problem... for all I know this could be the only copy of a Subhumans board tape. I have no idea. I skim the tape by alternating between Play and Fast Forward, but Lance is nowhere to be found. Rewind, stop, eject.
Tape #4, unlabeled. This one is definitely J-Church. Because Lance was always very clear about enunciation, I'm able to pick out a few lines to some of the songs so I can google them later. This was something that I always found interesting about Lance's vocals - they were always very clear. For him I think the message he was trying to convey lyrically was more important to him than it was to many of his contemporaries. One of the songs kept repeating something about "playing so many victims". Definitely a studio tape, so these songs must have been released some time.
Tape #5, unlabeled. Similar to tape #4, but the songs were somewhat faster. Also recorded in a studio. I jotted down a few lines for later googling, one of which appeared to about lemmings.

April 30. Googling phrases taken from tapes 4 and 5, I was able to determine that the song about the "victims" was called "Jennifer Jason Leigh". The one about the lemmings came up dry. I sent an e-mail to Graham - who runs - asking for help.
I brought the 4-track, tape #1 and tape #2 from the shed into my house. Plugged the 8-track into the RCA Y adapter into the sound card of my computer. Opened Nuendo. Tape #1 had the instrumentals to the lost(?) J-Church album, while tape #2 had the vocals. The plan was to mix and record the instrumental tracks into the computer and later synch up the vocal tracks. Set Nuendo to record, adjusted level, hit play. No glitches or problems, 18 minutes of music. Stop, rewind, eject. Tape #2. Instrumental guide track 1 turned to zero. Main vocal track 2 set to around 4 panned center, backing vocals tracks 3 and 4 set to 2.5, panned hard right and left. Also without a glitch. Fortunately there were a few spots without vocals where the guide track bled on to the other tracks, which will help with the syncing process.

May 1.
Here is where things get hairy. The idea is to mix pre-recorded instrumental tracks with vocal tracks from a different tape. However, cassettes and 4-tracks are quirky and can sometimes run at slightly different speeds. 2 minutes 15 seconds on one 4-track with one tape can be 2 minutes 12 seconds on another 4-track with another tape. Even having a difference of a half-second can totally ruin a song - vocals coming in late in some places and early in others. Fortunately, Nuendo has a time stretch/time compress function. Digitally copy and paste vocal track to first song, sync it at beginning. After 5 or so tries, compressing the time to 99% makes the vocals fit correctly. Next the instrumental tracks get some equalizing to take out a little bit of the muddy bottom end. I don't really know what the hell I'm doing, but it makes sense to me to have plenty of bass in the mix that goes into the computer, and try to digitally reduce the levels. Bass seems like something that is easier to take away than it is to add. This ends up making the EQ bands look somewhat like an inverted chart of President Bush's approval ratings minus the 9/11 bump. Low at the bottom for a while, then gradually getting higher, and going back down a little. Then I highlight the instrumental tracks and turn them down slightly in the mix to take the vocals out. Usually vocal tracks require a little bit of doctoring when it comes to levels - singers tend to sing some parts louder than others - but Lance's levels were extremely consistent. As a singer he didn't like taking a lot of chances, but he was always able to nail tracks on a first or second take.
Track 1 is done! Track markers set, export the .wav file.
Track 2 throws me a bone, as some of the guide track bleeds through at the beginning of the vocal track. Now I know exactly where it begins. Lance kind of pops a "P" late in this song. You know how Axl Rose used to have those dumb foam guards over his microphones? I think the point of those is to block out the "P" pop. It makes a noise that's way louder than the rest of the track so I have to add a little compression. This is tricky because the key here is to preserve continuity. I don't want to have one vocal track sound all squashed. Fortunately I'm able to just highlight the offending consonant and reduce the level. Track two takes several more tries to get the timing right, but after compressing the track by .5% everything fits. Export.
Track 3 requires some slight compression on vocals. Fortunately this track is less than a minute long. There's some really strange noise that goes on this... like a cheap toy organ playing some high notes or feedback. I have no idea, but I'm leaving it in. Shit. There are still 7 more songs to do, I am sick, exhausted, and have to go to bed pretty much now to get enough sleep.
Track 4. This one has a weird beginning and there's no guide track, so I'm not sure where the vocals start. Because the length is similar to the other tracks I'm compressing the track by .5%, but I'm not sure if they're starting and stopping at the right place. Maybe I shouldn't be doing any of this. That weird high pitched noise comes back, but it seems to serve some sort of purpose.
Track 5 is a nice J-Church ballad that has Lance doing some kind of falsetto thing during the chorus! I know he'd want those relatively low in the mix just to add a little high end so I'm respecting his wishes. The vocals need a little compression but that's it. Again, .5% is the magic number.
Track 6 is a short punk song that seems to be about a baseball card? For some reason I actually have to expand the vocal track to fit the instrumental by about .03%. How weird. Maybe he had to do a bunch of takes and it stretched the tape slightly? Maybe the reels move differently the further you get into the tape? Who knows.
Track 7 is a weird, noodly instrumental. Lance always used to say he couldn't really do a lot of pull-offy kind of stuff, but I think he does a pretty okay job on this song.
Track 8 has kind of a Misfits feel, with a descending chromatic figure over the verse and a major-key chorus. There are no vocals for this song, but it sounds like there would have been. Suddenly I feel a tinge of sadness. There will never be vocals over this song. It will never, ever be finished.
Track 9 is a typical up-tempo J-Church song. Again without vocals.
Track 10 is another ballad. The dynamics rise and fall, and I keep waiting for Lance's voice and it never comes. It ends abruptly.
Track 11  is way longer than any of the other tracks.  I can't help but think that it might be a prototype for "Society is a Carnivorous Flower"? 
Open each file in WaveLab. Trim the beginnings and endings. Normalize to 100%. Cut, print.

Digging deeper through Lance's tapes, I've located 2 more tapes of interest. One is labeled "J-Church 4-1996" and it's apparently some guitar/vocal 4-track demos. The second one is of more interest to me: 4-track demos for the last J-Church album The Horror of Life.
The drum machine on this is very familiar... it's my Boss DR-550! I wish I could remember when I let Lance borrow it. Anyway, it's already mixed which makes my job a lot easier. I'm able to compare the titles on the demo with the titles on The Horror Of Life and it would appear that there are several unreleased tracks. With titles!
Romantic Weekend is almost kind of new-wave sounding. Lance is using some uncharacteristic minor chords and there's a catchy vocal melody on top. I wish I could have been in J-Church for longer than I was. I wish these songs could have seen the light of day. The guy in (censored) is going to be putting out albums for the next 30 years and Lance is gone. I digress. Lance is also playing a bunch of cool little choppy/melodic solos. Octave melodies. Cryptic lyrics, considering: "High blood pressure's got a hold on me..."
When the War Began... seems to be about the futility of protesting the war, but I really shouldn't speculate. Lance usually seemed to only use 3 or 4 different drumbeats for each song. This stuff is a lot like what was on Palestine, which as I've said is my favorite J-Church album. I've decided that I am going to try to get these tracks released somehow. I don't think anyone will fault me for it, I mean it's not like I'm going to rap over them or try to make a profit.
Dying Eyes Without the Glow is really, really eerie. He talks about lying in a hospital bed, sleeping all day, blips on the screen... "There's a smell I cannot shake."
"The Ocean" and "Unrequited" are both on The Horror of Life, so I am not touching them.
Where's Our Godard? - another fast punk song, Lance is using some interesting chords during the chorus.
"Vampire Girl Wants Me Alive" has been released so I'm not touching it. Cool title though.
Exiled Expatriates I remember vividly. Lance showed me these parts on tour once in New York backstage at the Knitting Factory. I wanted us to do this song and bugged him occasionally about it but by that time it was fairly late in the game. This one would have been a lot of fun.  (EDIT: Ben White just told me that this song indeed was released on The Horror of Life as "New Ho Chi Mihn City."
Rewind, stop, eject.
In goes "J-Church 4-1996". It's all guitar direct into 4-track and vocals, but it's well-recorded. Initially I had kind of dismissed this stuff, but on second listen it might be of interest to at least someone.
The first song is a demo version of Young Mother. Normally I wouldn't include demo versions of already released material, but I'm fairly sure this version is different than what got put out.
Tracks 18 and 19 might have been released previously, I don't know.
So this is it. There are a few board tapes from Gilman Street that I was going to burn to disc unless someone else has already done so. I just hope that someone out there is into these tracks.  (thanks Mike!)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Austin's Hottest Band (ca. 2005)

Maybe I should have made this clear in the Intro, but the plan for this blog is to write 52 entries, posting a new one every Monday night.  Although I'd like to have it be even between Austin bands and Richmond bands, I was more active and went to way more shows when I lived in Richmond (I was also younger and wasn't married/with children).  Bands are chosen pretty much at random, so if you don't like one week's installment, you might like next week's.
Austin's The Hot as Shits: truly a band that lived up to their name.  For a little while in the mid 00's, they were the band to see.  Aside from the fact that they were all girls, they didn't really seem to have a whole lot in common.  The drummer was a black girl named Khattie that I think fronted another band, I forget.  The guitarist, Lisa... well, let's just say that she lifted a 4x12 Marshall cabinet from the floor to a 4-foot high stage by herself, which is something you don't see a lot of people doing.  Hilah, their singer, looked like she could have just gotten back from a sorority rush.  Despite their dissimilar appearances, they had a very singular and (to me) appealing sound.
The last time I saw the Hot as Shits was in that club across the street from Beerland... what was it called?  Room 710?  Anyway, I had to pay to get in because I didn't know any of the bands playing.  The Hot as Shits were great as always, and had CD's for sale.  Of course, I had to have one.  Unfortunately, they were $10.  That's a lot for a CD from an unknown band, especially considering that it was a burned CDR and a Kinko's color copy cover.  Oh well.  They ripped me off, but I still love them.

01 Mother ____er
02 P___y
03 Buy Me Things "I don't care if you're not attractive, as long as you buy me things that are expensive."
04 Rodeo Clown (Intro)
05 Rodeo Clown
06 Check My Grill
07 Hot B____es
08 Que Paso?
I asked Hilah to be in my band Funeralizer at around this time.  She said no.

Monday, October 31, 2011


Everyone in the world should have a friend like Neale Shaeffer.  Maybe you do.
I can't help but kind of bristle whenever I see anything marketed towards Analog Nostalgia.  Partially because I'm kind of a sucker for it.  People made mixtapes for each other, and it was an art.  Your last song on the side of a TDK D-90 (or a TDK SA-90 if it was someone you wanted to have sex with) would end, less than 5 seconds would pass, and you'd hear the satisfying CLICK as the tape ran out.  Care was given as to the order - wait, am I sounding like John Cusack?  Anyway.
Somehow, my friend Neale always knew about bands before anyone else.  In the summer of 1991, he asked some of my friends and I if we wanted to come up to D.C. with him to see a band called Nirvana.  Never heard of 'em.  I can't name all of the bands I first heard from his mixtapes (Fu Manchu, the Pixies, Monstermagnet, Sleep, Elliott Smith), but I'd say that easily 20% of the music in my life was a result of one of those tapes.
This being a time when "Googol" just meant an obscenely large number, there was no real way to get any information about any of these bands aside from maybe Spin or Alternative Press (did they even exist back then?).  You really had no idea who any of these bands were, where they were from, what they looked like, etc.  Two bands that jumped out at me from one of the tapes were called Helmet and Sarabellum.  In my mind, they were equals.  I didn't know that one of them was on Led Zeppelin's record label, and the other one probably couldn't fill a living room outside of their home in Raleigh, NC.
As an eighteen year old kid, I had no real idea about the machinations of the music industry.  I was under the impression that the "good" bands would maybe play a couple of concerts, get signed to a record label, and tour with Aerosmith.  On the other side of the spectrum were bands like mine and my friends' - playing garages in front of each other.  To me, there wasn't really a whole lot in between those two extremes.  I would end up spending the next two decades of my life in that realm.
Not long after moving to Richmond in 1992, Sarabellum played at the Metro.  Naturally, my friends and I went.  To my utter and complete amazement, we were 5 or 6 of the 11 or 12 people in the audience.  How could this be?  This band is incredible, and there's no one here??  Where is the justice??  The best part was, the band seemed completely oblivious.  They played to the crowd they deserved to have had, not the crowd they had.  Then, not long after that show, they broke up.
Another thing that was great about them was that they all looked relatively clean-cut except for the bassist, who looked like Captain Caveman.  One of the guitarists was named Dennis, and his posture was so bad he made a spider look like Heidi Klum.  He later went on to play second guitar in Buzz*oven briefly.
Their entire recorded output consisted of two 3-song demo tapes.

01 Snail
02 Friends
03 Delve

04 City
05 Four No Five Children I think my friend Christian Hendrickson interviewed the band once, and they said that this song is a reference to an old woman who was asked how many children she had and apparently forgot.
06 Buoy

Thanks again to Erik Sugg for letting me borrow the cassettes.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Killing Cycle

Williamsburg, Virginia - late winter, 1991.  Every year, my High School would have a talent show.  It was called "Stockwood" - apparently some sort of anagram for another popular (though somewhat larger) music festival that happened some 20 years earlier.  Anyway, in the beginning of February, bands would audition for this talent show in our auditorium.  I went with my friend Chris to watch the bands.  We were both fledgling musicians - he played drumbeats not unlike what one would hear on Eazy E's solo album, while I thought I was a badass because I could play Zeppelin's Heartbreaker solo.
From the school's parking lot, I heard a band absolutely DESTROYING the song "From Out of Nowhere" by Faith No More.  We walked in a little faster to see who it was.  The drummer was a Mexican-looking guy who twirled his drumsticks at every opportunity in time with the twin cannons in front of either of his feet.  The bassist had long hair in the back and short hair in the front and banged on his Aria Pro II (THE bass to have at that time) with ferocity and precision.  The singer had long, blonde "I'm in a band" hair and a scalene triangle leg stance, and the guitarist was Mark Morton.
Chris and I found our seats, and the band finished their song to the sound of no applause - it was an audition, and we were two of maybe 12 dorks in the "audience."  The bassist starts playing this weird, sliding bass line that I immediately recognized as "Sun King" by the Cult.  It all sounds kind of cheesy now, but remember - this is early 1991, and I was a sophomore in High School.
I still remember Morton's first guitar solo in the song, clear as day.  For a good 45 seconds, this stocky kid with weird bangs and a $200 Kramer (?) turned my High School auditorium into the Hampton Coliseum.  Granted, years later he would go on to actually play coliseums, but that's another story.  From that point on, I vowed to practice until I got to be as good as that kid (this still hasn't happened).
A month later, Killing Cycle played at Stockwood.  I seem to remember them going on last, and absolutely blowing every other band off the stage.  Along with covers, they played several originals that were just as good as the songs they were covering.  Oddly, some band called Transit ended up winning the contest - but everyone knew who the best band of the night was.
That was the point that I decided that I was going to start playing in a band also, to give Killing Cycle a run for their money at the next years' Stockwood.  This actually kind of ended up happening.  I started teaching this kid named John Swart how to play bass so he could be in my band.  Now, John was actually already in a band called Joyful Stress, but no one would stand in the way of my ruthless ambition!  Chris was later replaced by Sean Sutphin, my other friend Chris sang, and the Jolly Mortals were born.  This is not their story.
Jolly Mortals managed to pass our audition the next February.  Really, there wasn't a lot of competition in pre-Nirvana Williamsburg - aside from some kids with long hair in the front stumbling through REM and Violent Femmes covers, and Killing Cycle of course did the same.  My friend Erik's band Koro was robbed - they didn't make the audition, but they did get a sweet demo out of the deal.  The date was set: March 2, 1992.
Killing Cycle went on early in the evening, but as always, they completely (true to their name) killed.  My band went on last, but despite the enthusiastic crowd response (we were, after all, the hometown heroes - KC was from a rival High School) which included a small mosh pit and police intervention, we lost to Killing Cycle.  I didn't feel disappointed though, because they totally earned it.
Later that year, Killing Cycle broke up.  The drummer formed a band called One Tribe that started mixing in Alice in Chains covers in with the obligatory Cult songs.  I heard the singer joined the military.  The bassist - whose name was John Peters - and guitarist moved to Richmond to be in a band called Hgual.  This was a big deal.  They played concerts in Richmond.  At clubs!  People get stabbed in Richmond!
In the fall of 1992, I saw Hgual at the upstairs Metro in Richmond.  I just knew they were going to be huge.  Instead, they broke up.  John Peters went on to be in probably the best punk rock band to ever come out of Richmond (Hose Got Cable) and Mark went to Chicago for school or something.  After brief stints in the hard-rockin' Fatty Love, Hose Got Cable, and an emo band (?) called Nascar Drag, he disappeared for a while and came back as the guitarist of Lamb of God.  Then, well... yeah.
Years later, on a trip to North Carolina, my good friend Erik Sugg gave me a copy of Killing Cycle's demo.  Okay.  Remember when you were in High School and there was some bad-ass band of bad-asses, then you'd listen to their demo tape 20 years later and think to yourself, "Hey, this really wasn't that bad-ass?"
That is not the case with this band.
Before playing this song live, I vaguely remember the singer said something like, "This song is about running over your neighbor's dog - it's called 'Apology Not Accepted.'"
The next song seems to be about the dark underbelly of York County.  In an interview for Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, I remember Mark talking about growing up in Richmond, but I remember his parent's house being pretty nice.  Anyway, listen to his leads in the song Underneath Reality.  There's a reason this guy won a Grammy (or was nominated for one, whatever).
Some Jake E. Lee era Ozzy influence on the next song, Landslide Suicide.
Eye of the Storm was maybe my favorite song by Killing Cycle.
Sleeping on Debris - an epic Megadeth-esque thrasher.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dan-O, Tom, and me: The Ipecac Story

There were two fairly distinct camps in the Richmond music scene in the early 90's (it may still be like this, I don't know): the young and the old.  The young ones were - or fancied themselves to be - vibrant, fresh, exciting, and eager to break into new sonic territory.  The old ones played covers of "In A-Gadda Da-Vid-A" against images of swirling pinwheels and put pictures of rhinoceroses farting on their album covers*.
For some reason, the band that us youngsters singled out for derision was called Rocket 69.  Their singer, Dan-O, somehow managed to encapsulate everything that we stood against, yet secretly feared becoming.  I don't think I ever have spoken a word to Dan-O.  For all I know, he volunteered for the homeless while reading bedtime stories to orphans.
Now that I have the "benefit" of being roughly Dan-O's age as it was in 1994, my perception of him has softened.  I'm sure he was once a pubescent kid with a guitar and a dream.  I can only guess by the fact that we thought his band was tacky that his motives were what we considered impure.  Maybe he looked to get into music to make spiritual connections with other people and expand the consciousness of the Godhead, which is nothing more than lines between points (i.e. sentient beings) in a celestial sort of connect the dots - using the medium of sound.  That, or he was just trying to get laid.  Again, I don't know for sure. At this writing, it would appear as though he is still active in the Richmond music scene, and has been to an ally of many of my old friends from there. I'm embarrassed that I judged him so harshly back in the day. In addition to many other things, he had (has?) a record label and was instrumental in producing a compilation CD that had several old Richmond bands on it (including Ipecac even).  One could make a convincing argument that he's brought more to the table over the years than I ever did.
Ipecac's first show was at the Metro in early fall of 1993.  I'd heard that they were a hardcore band, but they didn't really look like one.  The singer was a black guy with glasses that looked kind of like Raj from What's Happening.  The bassist resembled a half-Japanese Erik Estrada and had one of those headless/fretless basses that were all the rage in the... ummm... never.  The guitarist looked kind of like Keanu Reeves with lighter/longer hair and had THE classic rock guitar rig - a Les Paul into a Marshall full stack.  The drummer couldn't have been more than 13 years old.  The singer took the mic: "I know a lot of you are new here, and might feel kind of uncomfortable... well, we're here to try to make you feel just a little bit more uncomfortable."  And they did.  Weird blasts of dissonant noise, nauseous bass slides, hardcore beats that somehow always managed to sound off, and Raj screaming his head off.  To this day, I don't know if I've ever seen a better frontman than A. Thomas Crawley - and I've seen a LOT of frontmen.
That winter, they released a demo tape.  My friends and I probably wore out at least 2 or 3 copies of it.  How can you front on a song title like "A Throne's View of Royalty"?

Bitter Citizen (Part One)
Sugar and Lice
A Throne's View of Royalty

I only missed one Ipecac show that I'm aware of, it was at a small converted sandwich shop on Broad and Laurel Street. They were just one of a handful of bands that you made it a priority to see.  In the spring of 1994, their first 7" came out.  If a better 7" record exists, I am not aware of it.

I'll Be Deemed a Genius
Aversion to Maturity
Self-Detonating Nuclear Family

Summer, 1994.  Like many other punk rockers in the area, I got a job painting the Virginia Commonwealth University dorms.  This was at a time in my life where "barely having to do anything" was a HUGE factor in deciding where to work.  $5.05 an hour to essentially hang out with your friends, talk about music, and sleep in closets.  The bassist of Ipecac worked there too - his name was Nathan, and I was intimidated by him because (a) his band was so great and (b) he seemed to hate everyone.  While at work one day, he told me that Rob, their guitarist, quit to play bass in Avail.  Three thoughts hit me in this order:
1. One of my favorite bands is breaking up.
2. Why the hell would someone take such an enormous step down artistically?  Why would such a big fish swallow such a small fish?  Rob was a guitarist, not a bassist!
3. Wait a minute.  I play guitar.
I don't remember if I asked or was asked, but I became the new guitarist for Ipecac.  It felt like how that kid from Thailand probably felt when he got to sing for Journey.  Nathan showed me how to play the songs in a week or so, and we were ready.  Not long after I joined, we recorded two songs.

The Ditcher

We played a couple of shows with both Rob and I on guitar to ease me into the position, then our first show sans Rob was at the Floodzone opening for Avail in September of 1994.  Opening for Avail was kind of the brass ring for Richmond bands.  It was noble of them to have given us that show, but I couldn't help feeling like it was kind of consolation for ruining the band.  I was good, but I wasn't good enough to be in Ipecac.

That autumn, Nathan and I lived in the same apartment building, so we'd often get together to write songs for Ipecac's full-length album.  The material had promise, but we didn't get a lot of opportunities to flesh it out because our drummer (Tommy Anthony) lived in Northern Virginia and Tom lived in Charlottesville.  Tommy ran with the hardcore kids, and after a certain altercation involving a bike lock, he couldn't make it to a few of the shows (don't worry, he's fine).  We recruited Erik Josephson from the band Crackhead to fill in.  Erik was like Dale Crover, minus about 50 pounds.  One of the greatest drummers I've ever known.  Possibly my favorite moment on stage was an Ipecac show with Erik on drums at the legendary Beehive in Washington, DC.  The song "Aversion to Maturity" begins with a two-count drum fill, and the band enters.  Somehow, Erik broke BOTH of his drumsticks on this fill, so when Nathan and I laid into the song, there were no drums.  We both looked back at Erik, mouth wide in horror, holding two splintered nubs where there were once drumsticks.

While in the process of mapping out our first full-length record and beginning to book our first tour, I got The Phone Call.  No, nobody died (this time).  Tom left a message on my answering machine saying that he was quitting the band because he noticed that his ears were ringing when he was at home in Waynesboro.  Ipecac was finished.

Our last two shows were on December 30 at the Metro in Richmond, and at a place I want to call the Dick House somewhere in North Carolina on New Years Eve.  Per my suggestion, we played the first chord to "A Throne's View of Royalty" 95 times to ring in the New Year.
On the day of the 30th, we had our last rehearsal in the basement of our drummer's Crackhouse.  Luckily, our friend Trevor Thomas was there with his 4-track:


Nathan and I started a surf band (?!) called the Freshomatics with our friend Marty.  Nathan also started a band named Lilac that played a kind of Britpop that nobody seemed to care about.  I think Tommy might have briefly been in another band before disappearing from my radar forever.  Rob's tenure in Avail was relatively brief, and he ended up moving back to Northern Virginia.  Years later he sent me a CD of some kind of mellow pop music he was working on.

Supposedly, Tom briefly sang in a metal band in Waynesboro in 1995, but I don't even know if they got further than playing a house party.  He really did quit playing music forever (as far as I know).  To this day, I don't fully understand.  If you could throw three-pointers from the half-court line with your eyes closed, wouldn't you want to?  He always insisted that he didn't want to be Dan-O.  But, what's the alternative?  Is it better to haul a bunch of gear to empty nightclubs and play in front of six people than it is to... do nothing?  We always hated and looked down at people that worked 40 hours a week, came home to their wives and kids, and played out every other weekend.  Would we have rather they just stayed inside and watched TV?  There's really no way to win with the age issue in rock and roll.  You can pack stadiums or clear out Holes in the Wall - if you're old and still rocking, it's seen as being kind of sad. I'm sure that the elder Richmond rockers probably didn't care what we thought about them.

I can't write about Ipecac without going into how amazing Tom's lyrics were - especially on that 7".  He explained to me that the first song was about early childhood and being indoctrinated into the public education system.

Filled up with in-sequential trivia, I'll cough it up eventually. I'll spit it out selectively and then I'll be deemed a genius.

The next song, "Aversion to Maturity" is about adolescence.

They all marvel at my ability to cower
Was it the altitude that caused the short-lived goal to sour?
My tension thickens - no, I'm not in the mood to bicker.
I'm feeling sick as vitals quicken - I'm easy picken's.
It's very possible that I could have cleared the chasm -
My yellow belly's filled with butterflies with five foot wing spans
(They could have carried me over)
Watch in wonder at the man/child's transformation:
Now relatively taller, with hair in very odd places
It seems my personality could be considered an anachronism within the context of its housing.
Lackluster slacker?  Then why can't I ever relax, huh?

A mistake at the mastering plant made side B significantly louder than side A.  Here, the adolescent is fully grown and settles into marriage in "The Self-Detonating Nuclear Family":

Our white picket fence resembles upturned spears
Try to leap over - what, and be impaled? 
I'd rather fester here.
For my remaining years, I'll fester here.

The next song in order is "Hysterical" - which I interpret as a song about aging (it's actually about the health industry):

Ingrown toenail or myocardial infarction?  Sprained ankle?  Amputate!  Once that uterus is taken out, those allergies will dissipate. 

And the last song ("The Ditcher") - well, you tell me:

What does a young snot like you know about persecution?  And what can I - suburban guy - say either?  Let's drop the pens and microphones and join the peace corps.  Only the choir is listening - what do we keep yelling for?

* This is a reference to the band Vapor Rhinos. Tommy Rodriguez (guitar) worked at a guitar shop near my old house and was incredibly nice to me and very helpful - in addition to being a whiz at guitar building/repair. Dean Owen (drums) was supportive of many of my bands, and even wrote a glowing review of one of them (15 on the 15) in the Richmond Music Journal. Peter Headley (vocals) I didn't know that well, but from all accounts was a sweet guy. I forget who played bass.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Eric Allen

What validates an artist?
Screaming fans?  Critical acclaim?  Hot chicks?  Tanks made out of gold?  Posthumous adoration (this is the one I'm personally banking on)?  Does a true artist even want to be rewarded for creating their art?  The prevailing opinion seems to be that it is decidedly uncool to seek validation.  One of the 49 things that only Freddie Mercury could get away with was being the exception to this rule.  He made it clear that he wanted sex, royalties, a certain sum of money, girls of a certain proportion, somebody to love... basically everything.  At least one of those things ended up killing him, but I digress.  We want to root for the underdogs, until they're not underdogs any more.
It's a very natural human reaction: we want performers to be rewarded for being great, and chastised for not being great.  That's why words like "under-rated" and "over-rated" exist.  Bands we like that everyone else would like if they were as smart as we are are under-rated, and bands that everyone else likes because their taste isn't as good as ours are over-rated.  I'm sure that when the Arcade Fire won their Grammy last year, many misunderstood teenage girls in the flyover states shed tears of joy.  Finally, finally, their heroes won the day.  It doesn't always happen like this.

I met Eric Allen in the dorms back in the fall of 1992.  Another shy kid with brillo-pad hair - but he had a PRS guitar, which at that time were worth about $2000. He played in a band called Kelp.
In the mid-'90s, Eric lived on the second floor of a two story warehouse on Henry Street in Richmond, VA.  There was something of a revolving door of roommates, but he and his friend Boober were mainstays.  They would often have punk rock shows there, and they were always a good time because there were no grown-ups around.
In 1996, Eric, Boober, John Swart, Ben White, Trivett Wingo and myself formed a band called Typecast.  We were something of a parody of the cookie-cutter hardcore bands that Richmond always had an overabundance of.  We wore golden hockey masks and played about once a month at the Henry Street warehouse.  This is not their story.
Around that time, Eric recorded a solo album on cassette and passed it out to some of his friends.  I was blown away.  How the hell did he fit drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, trumpet and vocals on 4 tracks?  How was he so good at each of those instruments?  How was he able to vacillate so deftly between quiet finger-picked acoustic passages and caustic white noise?  Where did he learn how to write songs like that, but never do anything to try to present them to people other than making this tape?
In 1998, Eric and I formed a band called the Greman with Dave Choi on drums.  I saw Eric as a better version of myself - better at writing songs, better voice, equal or better at guitar.  I also had a begrudging respect for his laconic attitude towards advancing our band's popularity.  He really seemed to have no interest at creating any sort of a fan base.  He just wanted to play music.  The Greman's shining moment was at a show in the Shockoe Bottom district, which was where the fratboys liked to go to cut loose on the weekends.  We had a fog machine and covered "The Spirit of Radio" by Rush as an instrumental, with Eric playing the vocal melody on guitar.  Yes, it ruled.
The Greman were short-lived however, and instead of the traditional "I hate you, we're breaking up!", we just kind of stopped practicing.  There was never any bitterness over it.  Eric went on to play in a band called the Plumbers, and various other side projects - usually with Boober.
In early 2001, Eric asked me to record some of his songs on my 4-track, and I happily obliged.  I would keep asking him to come over and mix them down, but he never seemed to be available.  It was one of those things that we figured we'd do at some point in the future.
I ended up moving to Austin, and the tapes remained unmixed.  I got in touch with Eric a few years later through myspace and promised him that I'd mix down the tapes and send them to him in the mail.  While I was in the process of doing this, I got a phone call from his mom saying that he had killed himself.

What validates an artist?  I guess it depends on the artist.  I have the feeling that if whomever is reading this listens to any of his songs, that would have been enough for him.

Eric Allen youtube playlist

Monday, October 3, 2011

Intro/Maximillian Colby

Oh great, another music blog.  Oh great, another oh so self-aware, self-effacing intro to another music blog.  I know, I know, I know.  This is a blog for myself, people I have been in bands with, my friends, and curious strangers - and certainly that list will be in order of most to least interested.  My main focus with this blog is to commit these things to "paper" before I forget them, and to share music with others.  It will no doubt have its moments of pedantic solipsism and narcissism, but isn't that why people do this? It would be nice if someone out there was googling one of the obscure bands I'll feature here and also discover other obscure bands in the process.
This blog will also have a very strict "Haters to the Left" policy.  This is not a place for you to air your grievances.  If you have something negative to say, by all means, make your own zine.

The first time I ever saw Maximillian Colby, they were opening up for my band at the time in the basement of the Corn Rocket House (whatever the hell that means) in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  It must have either been very late in 1993 or early in 1994.  Being from the oh-so-cosmopolitan Richmond, Virginia, we probably had something of a snobby attitude towards everyone there.  They were the first band of the evening, and it was allegedly their first show.  The genre known as "emo" was in its infancy, but I had been inundated by octave chords/dudes screaming/quiet parts/that drum beat/etc. etc. etc.  for well over a year, and I was done.
It seemed like it was a solemn affair as Max set up their gear.  I remember thinking it was cool that both guitarists had matching wood-grain Les Pauls.  What I didn't think was so cool at the time was what they were wearing - I don't remember exactly, but I do remember khakis and baseball hats.  Things took a turn for the worse as the song "New Jello" opened the set.  A quiet part, droning on the low E with a chord on top alternating between a perfect and flat fifth.  Then comes the loud part, the octave chords, the screaming.  Again.  And again.  Really, guys?  I remember remarking after the show, "Great, now even fratboys are playing emo now."  I wasn't into it.  In hindsight, it takes a special kind of 20 year old to comment on how tacky an emo band was in 1994 when their own band was playing a style of music that could probably be called "grunge" - but the ego must protect itself, no?
A few months later, I went to a show upstairs at the Metro in Richmond.  I wasn't there to see Max Colby, but they were playing with someone I did want to see.  At the top of the stairs, their bassist was giving away demo tapes.  We recognized each other.  He had a very retiring demeanor, and gave me their demo.  I did not like their band, but I admired the token of goodwill.  I ended up watching all of Max's set that night, and started hearing things I liked.  Despite the fact that every song was in the same key, they had a subtle sense of dynamics.  Within their narrow framework, there were some interesting things going on.
I actually listened to their tape a few times, and it grew on me.  It was a perfect Walkman soundtrack for walking around Richmond at night, bathed by that unflattering orange/pink streetlight.  I seem to remember some of the members of the band moving to Richmond - I know that Bob, their bass player did.
That summer, I got a job working at a Goodwill trailer.  This was at a time when "not having to do a lot" was a big, big appeal when it came to jobs.  Because I was a Floater (a flattering term for someone that goes from donation trailer to donation trailer), I once ended up at the same trailer as Bob.  We hung out and talked most of the day, ate lunch, "worked".
A few weeks later, Bob, Marty Key and I started a Buzz*oven cover band called nevo*zzuB.  We didn't actually know any of their songs, so it was just a bunch of devil chords and screams of "I feel!"  On the night of our only show at Twister's, Bob said he wouldn't do the show because he was afraid that the guys in Buzz*oven would show up and beat us up.  Rob from Avail covered for him.  I remember hearing that Ash (?) from Buzz*oven was actually in the crowd and thought it was hilarious.
I barely remember hearing that Max Colby broke up maybe in the fall of 1994?  Winter?  Bob still lived in Richmond, and I remember hearing that he was getting into hard drugs.  The last time I saw him, I remember him not looking well.  He died of spinal meningitis.  I still remember being shocked and upset, but more because he was close to some close friends of mine.  I think it was Marty that took him to the hospital.  I don't know, because I didn't feel comfortable talking to him about it.
Five years later, I befriended Erin (not going to try to spell her name right), who I think was friends with Bob.  She was the bassist in the band 400 Years, a band I did not like.  I let her borrow my Maximillian Colby tape.  This was back in a time when music was still connected to its physical body.  You could dub a cassette tape, but you're going to lose some quality (especially on the high end {though I have met some people that actually prefer this}).  I ended up moving away before I could get it back, and had no way to get in touch with her (again, this is before you-know-what).
Ten years after that, I ended up finding Erin on you-know-where.  Amazingly, she still had my Maximillian Colby demo!  She sent it back to me.  Who does that?
So, here it is.  The second to last song is a little warbly at the beginning, and... well, it's a 17 year old normal bias second generation 4-track tape.
New Jello
Cowboy Syndrome
Petty Fix
1 Gallon Alda

The cover cracks me up - "Recorded with a 4-track and a lot of patience" - to think!  Spending an entire day on a recording!

If you want better-sounding versions of these songs, you can actually purchase their discography here.

I think that what won me over to their side was a conversation I had with Drew, their guitarist/vocalist.  I asked what the hell that first line was on "New Jello."  He said something to the effect of, "You like things that roll."  There was a funny story behind it.  Drew and his friends were skating, and some kind of hot-shot skater was also hanging out.  They started talking about what kind of wheels they used, and the guy made fun of Drew for having inferior wheels.  "I like wheels that actually roll."

Also, their other guitarist is Mike Nesmith from the Monkees' nephew.