I keep hearing that the ’90s are “back”. I can kinda see it… I mean, there’s flannel plaid on every mannequin at the mall. But it’s like when all the hair metal bands reverbed up their drums, strung half a dozen blues riffs together and claimed to be channeling Zeppelin. C’mon, Led Zep was about so much more than that.
Reality Bites was available on demand so I watched it last night. I had never seen the movie… at the time it got too much hype, so true to my Gen X roots I passed on it. Watching it now depressed the living shit out of me. I don’t know that the film really captured the essence, the energy of the time – in fact, nah, it didn’t – but it did serve to remind me how cool the ’90s were. How cool we were. How cool we’re not now.
I’ve beaten generational demographics to death in other posts, and that’s only a smidge of the story here anyway. This is really about nostalgia.
I spend a lot of time dicking around in my own past. Not just musically. I use Facebook every day. For people my age, Facebook is a Ouija board through which we contact spirits from our past. You send out messages; ghosts reply from beyond. You can correspond with them, recount memories, share inside jokes. But you’ll never encounter one in person. They don’t exist in the real world – they’re spectral apparitions of people whose bodies still walk the earth, but are now being used for different lives, with different interests, different priorities, personalities marked and molded by experiences that did not include you.
I don’t mean to say that a Facebook seance isn’t enjoyable and comforting – it is, or we wouldn’t all engage in them every day – or that you wouldn’t appreciate the person your old pal has become if you got to know each other again in real life. But for the most part, the interaction is less a friendship than a mutual haunting.
My favorite musical endeavor lately is Sevendys – I think I’ve made that clear. Fresh music, wonderful new collaborators. I find it exciting and energizing. But my second favorite right now is Skyscape. Maybe it’s because the ’90s are back, or maybe it’s because, for Skyscape, they never ended.
Dom and I (and our legion of bandmates) generated so much material so quickly, and recorded so much of it, that I have albums’ worth of Skyscape music stored in bite-sized lo-fi chunks on old 4-track cassettes and floppy discs. A lot of it is terrible. Most of it is badly performed and indifferently recorded. But it’s full of energy and ideas which are begging to be harnessed and shaped by experienced hands.
When we work on Skyscape music, so much of it is about the people we are today – the skills we’ve developed, the attention to craft and context. But just as much of the process involves the people we were in the ’90s, the kids who built this foundation of ideas and sensibility, who laid down the trail of breadcrumbs by leaving so many recorded artifacts behind. On a Skyscape record, instrumental components are sourced from 20 years of material, as though everyone who was ever in the band is still a member – eternally young, free and full of passion.
For me, bringing these tracks together is like living in all times of my life at once. I think that’s how so many people my age are desperate to feel; I’m grateful to that younger version of me for the opportunity.
Here’s a perfect example in progress. This track started as a Portastudio recording made live at Dom’s 1992 high school graduation party. I was using my 4-track as a mixer and took the opportunity to pop in a cassette. The band was horrible… it wasn’t even really a band. Dom, Rob Hill, Sean Gould and I set up in a line – two guitars, no bass or drums. But our attempt at covering “Hey Jude” was as hilarious as it was awful, and I decided to see what I could make of it.
I thought adding a deadpan full-band arrangement would help the vocals seem even funnier and more absurd. Step one was to add drums. My preference was to have drums that sounded similarly 4-tracked, and sure enough I was able to find a suitable performance: drums from early 1993, when we were demoing songs for Band Of The Week. In this case, we pointed one microphone towards Loren Wiseman’s basement kit and he played “Age Song” at a tempo which was, coincidentally, a dead match for “Hey Jude”. I flew the drums in, added some tambourine, piano and a couple of backing vocals, and here we are. Still needs bass, guitar and more backup singers, but it’s turning into something listenable and fun!