I think it’s safe to let anyone who actually reads this blog know that the producer of the new Hanslick Rebellion album is Richard Lloyd.
Seeing as how the Rebellion doesn’t necessarily need a producer, if we’re gonna work with one, they’ve really got to bring something to the party. We think Richard is a perfect fit – he’ll help us take our sound to a whole new level without dissing our past.
I have an album title in mind – I always feel much better working on a set of songs if there’s a title; it sort of coalesces the whole thing into a real project. I haven’t run it past the guys yet, though, so I’ll refrain from sharing right now. But needless to say, I am PSYCHED. This will be a good record.
Sometimes I fart around on music blogs or MySpace, just to hear what people are listening to. I always go in optimistic – maybe I’ll find something new to love. I do like some of what I hear; most of it I can’t stand. But is that really any different from how I felt about new music five years ago? Ten? Twenty? I wonder whether the ratio of stuff I like to stuff I think is shit has changed at all.
Do you read the Lefsetz Letter? I enjoy it; Bob Lefsetz writes some galvanizing stuff, even if the dude contradicts himself like crazy and has never, ever offered a solution for any of the socioeconomic problems he claims are destroying the musical universe. I like his bluntness; I like when he goes all RAH-RAH about artist empowerment, as hokey as that can be; and I love when he really gets into a song and parses it, section by section, from where he was the first time he heard the intro to what tragedy the chorus got him through.
What Lefsetz doesn’t seem to appreciate sometimes, though, is that even if he doesn’t enjoy a style of music, even if he thinks it’s vapid or crummy, there are people who derive just as much meaning, pleasure, and catharsis from it as he got from the records he listened to in college. I don’t care to listen to Breaking Benjamin or The Devil Wears Prada or Fleet Foxes… they aren’t saying anything I haven’t heard before. But to people coming of age right now, these are comforting or invigorating or nourishing or sympathetic voices.
Gen Xers like me think that our music was the last great music; we were too shrewd to fall for “sell-outs”; we stomped all the crap dead, killed all the idols and embraced only the best, the incorruptible. But none of that is true at all. We loved Poison. We loved Warrant. We loved the New Kids On The Block. These assholes still have careers… thanks to Generation X.
There was shitty, stupid, pointless music in the ’90s. In the ’80s. In the ’70s. In the ’60s. And people of every decade – smart people and stupid people alike – bought the fuck out of it, let their lives be shaped by it.
I used to feel like my generation got the shaft. We were dismissed as “slackers” and told that we’d be the first Americans to experience a lower standard of living than their parents… that we should pray for the Gulf War to last forever so we’d have something to do when we got out of college. Then we recognized the potential in a new technology, the Internet, and cultivated it into something world-changing. I saw Gen Xers as no-nonsense heroes, rising above the petty criticisms of those who could never understand us.
But in reality, no generation is more laudable than another. WWII’s so-called “Greatest Generation” was the most destructive in human history; they murdered more people than had ever been killed by man; redrew the map in ways that create war and turmoil to this day; did horrible things to our environment; were sexist and racist; and invented weapons that still threaten human existence. They may be the worst generation of all.
The Baby Boomers squandered a cultural revolution, turned their backs on their own message and went corporate. Then they managed to derail a second revolution by being too intellectually lazy to appreciate what the Internet actually was. They thought of it as this abstract thing which could be harnessed simply by invoking its name – the way characters in the comic books they grew up reading might be powered by gamma radiation or cosmic rays. So with no viable understanding, the Boomers who ran the newspapers and the magazines and the record labels raced blindly to integrate, to annex the Internet… changing it from a communications tool to an entertainment service, rendering all of their product valueless, crushing entire industries, and doing incalculable damage to our culture. Now they complain that we are becoming a socialist country. Of course we are… that’s what happens when you destroy capitalism by making everything free.
Millennials are unwitting victims of the Baby Boomers’ mistakes. They grew up just in time to understand content as free, no matter how much it costs to create, and will never accept having to pay that tab. They’ve been given access to a virtual Library of Alexandria, except most of it is junk – where previous generations got their information from trained journalists and experts, processed through armies of fact-checkers and made readable by editors and proofreaders, Gen Y’s worldview is shaped mostly by uninformed opinions. Years of watching edited, scripted television shows which are sold to them as “reality” and reinforce the idea that they might be selected for fame and fortune at any moment have engendered a deficiency of perspective so severe that many Millennials would rather run themselves out of the workforce than accept the possibility that they may only be qualified for entry-level jobs.
And then there’s my generation. Once defined by our righteous rage, Gen X has grown punchy and dull. The babies we were aborting ten years ago, we now keep, if only because everybody else is. And we smother them in rock t-shirts and G.I. Joe t-shirts and Transformers t-shirts, pretending it’s because we still appreciate irony while secretly, desperately hoping they will like all the things we liked and grow up to be our pals. And when something pisses us off, we vent on a Web site read only by others who share the same opinion. Sometimes we get so passionate about a tragedy or injustice, we do something that we were probably gonna do anyway, like join a Facebook group or grow a mustache, to “raise awareness” about it. We are out of juice, which is extra weak when you’re the generation that was all about being the one with the juice.
[I understand that I've been generalizing; that's what happens when you get demographic. How about this: if any of the above gives you weird uncomfortable feelings, let me know and I will write you a special note to keep in your pocket that says it does not apply to you.]
There is something I do in my songs which I only came to notice in the past year or two: I always keep it ambiguous as to which side I am personally taking. For example, if I write a song about a character who’s a dick, I will usually write it from his perspective (some of you probably feel like I wrote this entire post from the perspective of a person who is a dick, ha ha). I’ll try to make you understand why he is the way he is, maybe even agree with him for a second before you catch yourself. What I’m still trying to figure out is whether that’s because I believe everyone is wrong, or because I don’t believe anyone is wrong.
We are all so excellent, and so disappointing.
Okay, that’s enough!
Hmm… maybe that should be my new signoff. Okay, that’s enough!
The Cutting Room Floor is my new album. I sorta snuck it on here a few days ago, which is fitting. This might be the softest release ever.
I started recording these tracks in 1999. Many of them, including the title track, were written during a nasty bout of depression that summer. I’d been laid off from my job at Success magazine – Success had gone bankrupt. Yeah, I know. I spent the next three months collecting unemployment and sleeping with all my clothes on. But with the fall came a new gig at Guitar One, and that meant a modest recording budget.
After Physics, Blowing Shit Up and We’re All Going To Jail!, three albums that used drum machines and synths to mimic a full-band sound, I was itching to make an album with an actual band. This would be more expensive than dumping a sequence to tape and singing over it, so the plan was to build the album as a series of EPs, each with a different producer, and then merge them into a juicy, kaleidoscopic full-length.
Recording commenced at Scarlet East in Albany in the winter of 1999 and it was clear right away that this was gonna be a disaster. The bassist quit the morning of the first session, refusing to take the drive upstate. We had negotiated access to a local piano store so we could cut real piano, but nothing on the showroom floor was remotely in tune. I’d just had eye surgery, and was getting over bronchitis, and when I tried singing with any intensity it felt like my left eye was gonna pop out of my skull… and then I’d have a coughing fit. Finally, after paying the studio and all the session musicians, I was so broke I had to borrow five bucks for gas back to Long Island (this is back when five bucks could get you enough gas to drive from Albany to Long Island. Whippersnapper!).
We somehow managed to come out of that session with “Denny’s 3am”, “Before I Was Born” and “Interesting Times” tracked. With three different bass players.
Daniel Rey produced the next set of tunes in New York City. We tried two drummers and two bassists in as many sessions, and the only usable recording to come out of the whole mess was “Native Son” – which was just vocals and piano. Daniel worked valiantly to squeeze the max out of whatever band I’d scrounged up that day, but nothing gelled.
Recording came to a halt in March of 2001, when the magazine I was then working for, Brill’s Content, ceased publication. The staff came in one morning and found letters on our desks explaining that we were closed for retooling. I went home and wrote “Let Go”. Brill’s went quarterly, shrank to digest size and lasted one more issue before folding at the end of the year.
By then, though, things were looking up for me! I’d signed a production deal with Kasenetz-Katz, the guys who had all but invented the bubblegum genre in the late ’60s. At our first meeting, I proudly showed off my collection of Kasenetz-Katz 45s: “Indian Giver” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co., “Chewy Chewy” by the Ohio Express, and “Little Bit O’ Soul” by the Music Explosion (the first song Skyscape had jammed on at our first rehearsal). All of these one-hit wonders had been essentially the same band; Kasenetz and Katz maintained a stable of songwriters and musicians, but changed the group’s name for every single.
Anyway, their goal was to recreate their bubblegum hit factory with me as principal songwriter. Which is kind of funny when I type it now.
Our arrangement didn’t last very long; after six months of being told “that’s not a million-seller”, I ended up spending my advance on legal fees to get me out of the deal. Then I wrote “Blood” in an attempt to make sense of what had just happened.
The following year would see more fruitless sessions – one at Sorcerer Sound in New York City, where we did not get takes of “1991″ or “Say Yeah”, and several back at Scarlet East, where we did not get takes of “Aftermath” or “Do-Bees”. But along the way, I was learning how to work in all kinds of studios with a variety of engineers and musicians. The experience was invaluable even if the results were – ah, how you say? – garbage.
And slowly, an album emerged from the shit. I visited Brian Dewan’s cluttered home recording parlor and left with three exquisite 8-track Portastudio jams: “I Have A Rose”, “Let Go” and “The Cutting Room Floor”. We got a take of “Enough” at Loho in Manhattan. And at Scarlet East, “Queens Is Where You Go When You’re Dead” came together around a DAT recording I had made 200 miles south, on an empty J train at 4am.
By February of 2002 we’d recorded almost 20 songs, and that’s when Tommy Ramone stepped in. He had come out of self-imposed exile to produce “The Bowery Electric” and wanted to do more. I saw an opportunity to finally get the project under control by separating out the material – if Tommy took command of the punkier tunes, then we’d have two albums that made sense instead of one giant mess. The resulting session with Tommy became the WCYF EP, which remains my best-selling record to this day. Probably because it was the first album since The Replacements’ Tim that said “Produced by T. Erdelyi” on it.
We moved to mix the rest in the spring of 2002. I’d been a fan of Dave Fridmann since the late ’90s, which happens to be when everybody became a fan of Dave Fridmann. I had approached him about producing a weekend’s worth of tracks back at the start of the project, in 1999. Dave, I’d been told, would not turn a band away if they were willing to wait for his schedule to open up. When I called, he told me he was booked through November.
“But it’s December,” I said. Dave explained that by November he meant next November.
Upon hearing the first round of Scarlet East tracks, he did offer to mix “Before I Was Born”. I sent him the raw files, and for a few months, nothing. But then a DAT arrived in the mail with six bombastic mixes of the song – and no bill.
Now the whole album was ready to mix, but Dave was (of course) booked solid. In the meantime, an engineer friend of mine wanted to take a crack at it. Dave kindly agreed to give my friend some pointers by phone, and even walk him through the signal path Dave uses to achieve his signature drum sound. This is the audio equivalent of Colonel Sanders whispering the eleven herbs and spices in your ear. But my friend blew it off. WHAT?!
“I listened to those Flaming Lips records,” my friend said. “I know what he did.”
After eight hours of slaving over the very first mix, my friend put his head down on the console and gave up. I’m not sure, but I think he might have been crying.
I explained all this to Dave, mostly to apologize for my friend not calling. Dave responded with the awesomest act of kindness I’ve experienced in almost two decades making music – he gave us Tarbox Road Studio for ten days, and arranged for Tony Doogan to come over from Scotland to mix the record. The results are gorgeous.
But The Cutting Room Floor still wasn’t finished – there were a couple tracks we didn’t have time to wrap at Tarbox. Those would have to wait until October of 2006. We completed the album on the night of Endy Chavez’ Catch (at least, that’s what I’d like to remember about that evening). The Mets game was on while we mixed at The Magic Shop in New York City, bouncing “Native Son” and “Queens Is Where You Go When You’re Dead” down to 1/2″ tape. As the last note hit the reel, Carlos Beltran struck out looking.
I was working two jobs at that time. I forwent sleep in my fervor to finish the record; a hacking cough I’d had for weeks exploded into full-on pneumonia. A doctor at Beth Israel thought it would be cute to give me a flu shot while I had pneumonia, and I almost died. I was in bed for three months.
But at last, it was time to master the record with engineer Joe Gastwirt in LA. I pack-and-shipped the reels at the Astor Place FedEx/Kinkos, and they were never seen or heard from again. FedEx didn’t even have a record of them leaving the building. Thank goodness for digital backups.
And so The Cutting Room Floor, this cursed-ass motherfucker of an album, was at long last completed. You can download it here. It will soon be a vinyl record that you can buy. Unless something else goes horribly wrong. Then again, the story of this album is just as much about making things right.
The album cover art is by Victor Moscoso, who is one of my design heroes. I can’t tell you how many of his vibrating-color psychedelic gig posters I all but traced into Skyscape flyers when I was in college. Moscoso requested some reference imagery to get a feel for the project, and I sent him a number of movie stills I’d captured from Sergei Eisenstein’s documentary ¡Que Viva Mexico!, specifically the Day of the Dead scene.
¡Que Viva Mexico! was shot in 1931, but never finished. The Mexican government forced Eisenstein to leave the footage behind when he returned home to Russia. It wasn’t until almost 50 years later – 30 years after Eisenstein’s death – that his assistant worked up a viewable cut of the film. I thought that analogue worked as well as the imagery itself for this album (and its title). So did Moscoso, who ran with those stills and used them beautifully.
September 22, 2010 marks the 15th anniversary of The Hanslick Rebellion’s first performance. The Rebellion continues to this day, and remains the coolest band around. Here, I can prove it:
We’re trying to work out the best way to celebrate the anniversary. One thing the Rebellion has yet to do is record a full-length studio album, so that’s a possibility. Another might be a compilation of live, unreleased Rebellion audio, paired with a limited-edition portfolio of original mid-’90s gig flyers.
It occurs to me there should probably be a gig. Maybe in Albany.
Apparently there is someone willing to wear the world’s ugliest t-shirt. I spoke with Lisa Brennan about this startling new development.
JD: Okay, let’s talk about this fucking shirt. LB: There’s not much to say about it. JD: Oh, there’s plenty to say about it. Tell me, what did you have to go through to get this ugly, ugly t-shirt off your hands? LB: What did I have to go through? JD: Yes. LB: I met up with my cousin… I don’t understand. JD: Well, it’s the ugliest shirt in the world. How does meeting up with your cousin correspond with ridding yourself of this ugly, ugly, ugly shirt? What is the correlation here? LB: She likes free t-shirts. JD: She likes free t-shirts. And it doesn’t matter how ugly they are? LB: It seems like the uglier they are, the more she likes them, actually. JD: Is she poor? LB: No. JD: Is she blind? LB: No. JD: Then I don’t understand. LB: I don’t know what to say to that. I don’t know. JD: Is she an Alicia Keys fan? LB: I guess so… when I gave it to her, she was like, “Alicia Keys!” JD: That shouldn’t matter. This shirt is too ugly. If I were an Alicia Keys fan, the shirt would make me stop being one. LB: Yeah. JD: It seems we’re no closer to solving this mystery. LB: I guess not. JD: Fuck. Did she give you anything in exchange for the shirt? LB: She gave me some clothes. JD: Really? Describe these “clothes”. LB: Some of them were a little weird. Most of them were okay. I refused to take the pants with the flowers on them. JD: As well you should have. As well you should have.
There you have it. The shirt is in the hands of Lisa’s cousin, who apparently plans on wearing it with one of her many pairs of flowery pants. If this story ever develops further, I’ll probably let you know.
Here’s a cautionary tale about a former boss of mine. He prioritized poorly.
I don’t know if late-night deadlines are exclusive to the magazine business or what. Guess I could spin it this way: once the Internet finishes killing print, folks like me will have a lot more time to spend with our significant others.
Jed Davis | “I Hear An Echo” rough mix | March 21, 2010
“I Hear An Echo” features Reeves Gabrels on guitar and Anton Fig on drums. Still needs bass, real piano, some additional keyboard matter, and a decent lead vocal.
On the first warm day of the year, I always think of Albany.
But dipshit, you say, Albany is fuckin cold!
Yeah, and that’s why the first warm day felt so good. You could almost forgive that punishing winter. Everybody went out underdressed and got sick. Totally worth it.
To me, springtime in Albany remains synonymous with Structure. I joined that band in the spring of 1994, and we made pleasant, fun, occasionally excellent folk-rock through the spring of ’95.
Structure was not the best band in town – not by a long shot, and it was never their intention to be so – but they were the nicest band, so when their lead guitarist quit and they asked me to bring out my keyboard and noodle around at a gig, I couldn’t refuse. Next thing I knew, I had been assimilated!
And I wasn’t their only springtime recruit. At that first Structure gig I played, we were joined by an acoustic guitarist who might either have been a girl who was cute in a boyish way, or an actual boy. I really couldn’t tell. The rest of the band referred to this person as “Willey”, which was no help. Turns out Willey was Amy Willey, and she could sing like an Indigo Girl. She could also play rock-steady rhythm guitar and write fantastic songs.
Willey and I had both been brought in for one show, but the guys in the band created such a laid-back, welcoming atmosphere that it was impossible to not do another gig, and then another. They were just nice fellas, hanging out in their shared apartment making vegetarian food and good conversation.
I wrote no music for Structure – they didn’t need my songs. In addition to the great tunes Willey brought to the group, there was already a catalog of catchy, thoughtful material by singer-guitarist Prescott Gaylord. Bassist Chris Cairo and drummer John Dobson were already in place, and the newly-five-piece band soon tightened up nicely, developing a really cool thing. For my part, I’d like to think I got them to rock out a bit more, maybe take things a little further.
Structure was never meant to last; when Prescott’s senior year ended, so did we. And so the nicest band in Albany scattered to sow their niceness across the continent: Chris Cairo is now a biochemist in Edmonton, curing diseases; Prescott Gaylord lives in Baltimore, where he runs a construction company that makes Green buildings and buildings Green; and Amy Willey rescues pit bulls and runs a summer camp for underprivileged kids in New Hampshire.
I spent a weekend recording with Willey in the winter of 1997. I had just gotten some new gear and we attempted to cut demos of six songs she’d written, three of which had been in the Structure set. We laid all of the acoustic guitar and lead vocals down… but then things got hectic with other projects and I put Willey’s demos on the back burner.
After ten years – ten years! – of not finishing Willey’s recording, I felt like at least ten years’ worth of a dick. So I got on the case. It was important that I make the wait worth it, if that was even possible. I set about assembling the ultimate band to take these songs to the limit.
That band, I soon discovered, would not be Structure. Chris no longer plays bass; Prescott hadn’t picked up a guitar in years; dunno where John is. So I brought in ringers: Jerry Marotta on drums, Tony Levin on bass, Elliott Randall on lead guitar, and Brian Dewan with his battalion of antique instruments. Prescott did ultimately participate, adding backing vocals and acoustic guitar.
The result is not so much a demo as a GLEAMING MONOLITH OF AWESOME. But still not as awesome as the chick who wrote these songs. It’s springtime again… here’s to Structure, and here’s to Willey!
Amy Willey | “Sometimes”
Amy Willey: vocals, acoustic guitar
Jed Davis: piano, electric piano, backing vocals
Prescott Gaylord: acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Elliott Randall: electric guitar
Brian Dewan: autoharp, accordion
Tony Levin: bass
Jerry Marotta: drums, percussion
Produced by Jed Davis
Mixed by Eric Jarvis
Amy Willey | “December”
Amy Willey: vocals, acoustic guitar
Jed Davis: mellotron, synth, harpsichord
Prescott Gaylord: acoustic guitar
Eric Jarvis: electric guitar
Brian Dewan: vibes
Tony Levin: bass
Jerry Marotta: drums, percussion
Produced by Jed Davis
Mixed by Eric Jarvis
From the first night of my CELEBRATION PARTY! Tour in the summer of 2009. With Reeves Gabrels (guitar), Mike Keaney (bass) and Matt Johnson (drums). And yes, I always introduce “We Wait” as “Rockin And Lovin In The Rock And Roll Nite Of Love”. Tradition is tradition!
This video includes a new audio mix, multitracked off the soundboard by the venue’s house engineer, Bengt Alexsander, and mixed by THE JARV himself: Eric Jarvis.
Howler’s Coyote Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA; August 8, 2009. Filmed by Sile Mazza.