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 j-church.com - 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.
http://www.sendspace.com/file/atf4pp
http://www.4shared.com/file/3FnQVlKT/jchurchlostdemos.html  (thanks Mike!)

22 comments:

  1. thanks so much for posting these. i can't imagine the melancholy of getting/having to go through a box of tapes like this and hearing songs that will never be finished, but it's clear you also appreciate it.

    the high pitched sound on track three sounds a lot like a harmonica to me for some reason. i'm not at all a musician, but that's what came to mind.

    thanks again for putting these out. someone out here is definitely into these.

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  2. Thank you. Please re-post this in as many places as you can. I've been sitting on these tracks for long enough, and this is probably as official of a release as they'll get.

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  3. this made my day! I stumbled upon a copy of the Tide of Fate EP as a teenager and J Church has meant a lot to me ever since. I know at least a few folks who will be thrilled to hear that anything new has surfaced.

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  4. Glad you liked it! By all means, re-post, re-post, re-post, and re-post.

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  5. Thank you. I've loved this man's music since my teen years and I met him a few times. He was always extra friendly and a pleasure to talk to.I'm really happy to get a copy of this.

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  6. I can;t wait to race home and download this stuff. I think he is one of the best songwriters in the past few decades. I'm serious.
    I met him a few times (at Epicenter, at the MRR house) in the 90s, and he was one of the nicest dudes ever.
    My heart goes out to his friends and family, who still must ache from his loss.

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  7. Wow... thank you so much for your time and effort in salvaging these recordings and making them available. I've been a J Church fan since the beginning and I still can't believe that it's been four years without Lance and his music. These new tracks will be received with much joy but also sadness... a many records as Cringer and J Church put out, it will never be enough. Thanks again.

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  8. Thanks for doing this. Sounds like a crazy amount of work, but lots of us appreciate it.

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  9. Hi Gordonzola!
    Does anyone have a file hosting site that would give these songs a permanent home? The sendspace link expires in 5 days. The songs will still be clickable from this site, but I want to make it so the songs can be downloaded.

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  10. Thank you for all of your hard work. I think it keeps Lance's spirit alive!

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  11. i've got a (free) mediafire account that i'm happy to host them on and keep updated should they expire. something like archive.org might be the better ticket. feel free to email me if you'd like, David. veganboyjosh at gmail.

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  12. OK, I went ahead and posted the demos to my 4Shared account... here is the link. I will keep it up indefinitely. Feel free to share it.

    http://www.4shared.com/file/3FnQVlKT/jchurchlostdemos.html

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  13. Mike - thank you! Josh - if you'd like to post them on mediafire also, that'd be great. I'd like to have it up on as many sites as possible.

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  14. This hits and commits a crater in me. Lance had a profound impact on me. I don’t want to talk about how or why or when but this …thank you. Oh shit! An actual tear just hit my computer….thanks

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  15. Is that why my keyboard suddenly got wet? I'm so glad that everyone is finally hearing all of these songs!

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  16. Hi David, thanks so much for putting these up, I'll let as many people as I can in the UK know as there's a ton of fans over here. I can upload it to my blog aloadofstuffthathappened.wordpress.com if you would like?

    Also what about the idea of an album of bands covering these songs? I know there would be a ton of labels who would be keen to get involved and maybe contribute any earnings to a relevant charity?

    Thanks again

    Toby

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  17. You can upload the tracks to wherever you want! An album of bands covering this would be almost as cool as if someone actually put THESE songs on a record - and mailed me a copy perhaps?

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  18. Hi David, Don't know if you ever check this blog any more... But, I uploaded these demos to Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com/sh/95xvkvgjmza28i0/2nqMfgRxrm) and wrote about J Church a little (http://sticker.postach.io/one-mississippi-miss-you-j-church). Thanks so much for all the work you did.

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    Replies
    1. Sorry, I haven't checked this in a long time. Unfortunately, most of the links have gone bad, so at some point in the future I'll probably have to go back and re-upload everything... Thanks for the shout out and uploading the tracks!

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