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.