The challenge: As initiated by John Fried, listen to the entire ROQUE/Flip Nasty/UFO Catcher/Cody Weathers catalog in chronological order without fast forwarding.
1.ROQUE & Roll
2. Separate Ways
5. As Rome Burns
6. Less Yackin', More Snackin'
7. How About A Beating?
8. Drive By
9. Suck Pumpkin
10. Winter on Mercury
11. Pronounced "Snausages"
12. The Bootleg No One Else Would Make
13. Señor Squeaky
15. Secret Microphone
17. River Dreams
18.Songs You Hate
19.Monkey Eat Monkey
20.Fistful of Blues
21.Flame Cow: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
22.I Hate You
23.Clapping Sold Separately
25.The Top Secret Band That's So Secret That The Members Don't Even Know That They're In The Band
26.Tongue Meets Eyeball
27.The Tale of a Sad and Lonely Boy Who Dreamed of Love
28.Free Horse Manure
30.Least Significant Failures
31.I Love You, Helicopter
Album 1: ROQUE & Roll (1989)
Our first album, DIY recorded in two (2) fascinating stages. Stage 1: gather 'round the boom box and play the song all the way through without vocals. Stage 2: take the instrumental tape upstairs and sing along with it through a mixer onto another tape. Basically, it's karaoke.
Do You Want It: Here we go! First thing you hear is the gentle "ping!" of the old tape recorder then the clunky pie-plate hi-hat countoff. Apparently, this is is the clean version of this song. I remember now making that decision right at the last minute during the vocal overdub, then getting a lot of crap subsequently from O'Meara. This song's about drug addiction --obviously not my own personal experience, but hey. I totally just screwed Fried with the extra two beats on the stop-time out of the song. Also, I suspect, a last-minute decision to switch to cowbell for four full beats. This was the first "hit" we had that really seemed to connect with anybody. The live version of this from the same time is probably actually a better recording since it really captures how much fun we had playing it. That'll be on "If Flip Nasty Falls in the Forest." Although I pulled other songs that were later re-recorded on Not! from the CD re-release of this album (to cut it down from 90mins to CD length), I kept this one since it was unquestionably our signature song at the time.
Once Around the Block: This thinly-veiled double-entendre makes me uncomfortable now, but at the time I thought it was clever. I was kind of an idiot in 1989. I can't believe I just said, "stick shifting up." YEAH! YEAH! SHIFT THAT STICK! I really like this outro --it's this song's saving grace.
My Little Ray of Sunshine: I'm totally going to re-record this song. I'd forgotten all about it. Just a little love song. The form is kind of weird, but I think it works. I'm digging this one. It's interesting to listen to the songs from back before I figured out that Fried could play anything written (despite never practicing and leaving his bass at my house between rehearsals) because even then, playing these extremely simple bass lines, you can hear how solid he is. He just lays right into the center of each note.
Listen: I remember unearthing this for a Mercury gig with Fried & Speranza (who wasn't even in the band for this album) in '96 or something and getting surprisingly into it. This is a decent little tune lacking polish. A lot of my early songs would be loosely about someone, and use some specific images or thoughts related to that person, but "fill in the gaps" with a certain amount of fiction or cliché, and there's some of that going on here. It feels wrong, but years later, who can sort it out --the song either works or doesn't, and the truth of its details are a lot less important than they originally seemed. Again, you can hear how Fried is really the perfect bass player for me, holding the line while I fumble around.
Time, Trouble, and Expense: Nick and I wrote this song and one other ("Afraid of the Dark" --unreleased) in an improvised jam session. I think that roughness shows in some of the words. Nick and I definitely struggled to collaborate. I think he really felt creatively under-represented, so he really held the line on writing blues songs, which I had little interest in. Our writing styles just didn't mesh. I liked to really mull over these ideas for weeks, and he liked to jam and see what came out. This lyric lacks conviction because the premise just wasn't true. Girls were not wasting my hard-earned cash on luxurious indulgences because a.) I didn't have any hard-earned cash to waste and b.) a typical high school date with me involved cheap, plentiful tacos. Just call me Cassanody.
Missing You: This is another decent little tune. I don't know if it's the kind of thing I'm currently doing, but I can definitely hear an updated version of this song still holding up. There are some nice little licks in Nick's solo. Overall, a pretty tight performance for a bunch of layabouts like us. There's definitely some gap-filling, but also some true feeling to this obvious song of longing for someone far away.
Dreaming of a New Day: This has definitely got some interesting stuff going on. A much denser, contrapuntal arrangement of the type I later favored. This was supposed to be an "Abbey Road" style medley, with themes from several other songs on the album, but the band was pretty vehemently opposed to that, so only the "Missing You" segment actually made it into the recorded version. I think one of the best parts of this album is the very raw energy to the performances. It's a real rock & roll mentality. Later, we became a lot jazzier and interactive, which I like, but it's also interesting to remember how our approach used to be. This was a song built around images from a dream (how freakin' fitting!)
Ellen: Now see, we were totally ahead of our time. A reworked version of this song could totally be the next Nick Lachey hit. That might make the real Ellen uncomfortable, to say the least. Fun as it is, this is basically a lyric inspired by words that rhyme (poorly) with "Ellen." It is as poignant as a "roses are red, violets are blue" valentine.
Overboard: This was the first original song that we really rehearsed. It's a strange arrangement, with every little event written out, including the drum fills. Lyric disconnected, full of cliché, but marking a poetic twist I still occasionally use where lines weave into each other through a pivot word or phrase belonging to each.
Moonlight: Similar to Overboard in where it fit into the band's development. Sounds like I was writing this for Type O Negative. I can't really see myself ever playing this song again, but I'm not embarassed to listen to it --I think the ideas are decent. That said, this lyric's all over the place and is not one unified idea --just strips of words pasted into music they sound good with. That last note says everything you'll ever need to know about Matt Preheim's outlook on life.
Youth of Tomorrow: This song definitely fits a role on the album, and the chord changes are decent, but wasted on my naïve political outcry. That always seemed to happen. I felt this pressure to "grow beyond" love-themed songs about my personal feelings and tackle other subjects, but the results are now typically embarassing to listen to. I guess this is not the worst example of that, and as the song goes on, I feel OK about it. Of course, by this point in the album, even I have been brainwashed.
Fire & Ice: This was our other big crowd pleaser off this album. Or I should say at the shows associated with this album. I still love these chord changes, and I felt my blood race when the fill leading into the verse came around. I would re-re-record this one. It stands up. It is really hard to believe that there were people who actually memorized these words and sang along. This is about deciding to take risks in love rather than stick with what's safe. Of course, I flip this argument around and criticize that behavior when I'm the "something safe" option with essentially the same metaphor in "I Am The Moon." These aren't the droids you're looking for. A turning point in my approach to both music (I totally fell in love with Major/Minor dichotomy from then on) and lyrics (I aspired to have this kind of meaningful, yet cryptic imagist effect, though it was a while before it became par for the course).
(Missing from the CD version of this album: "Fraud," "Little Miss NYC,"and "Send Me Your Heart." In retrospect, Send Me Your Heart had no place on the album, and the band almost univerally disliked it. Megalomania doesn't pay. It doesn't pay. In putting together the CD re-issue, I had to cut something, and decided that Fraud's Not! version was a lot better)
Album 2: Separate Ways (1990)
This CD is actually missing some of the best songs from the original 90-minute tape. Better performances, better recording quality, more attention to detail, but still a lot of room to improve.
Separate Ways: This is a lot tighter than I remember it. Obviously, I've got a soft spot for this song --I re-recorded it on the 2000 Stunt Beatles release. Vocally, the performances on this album are far better than on ROQUE and Roll. I think I finally settled into my role instead of just being the singer by default. Quiet as it is, I'm impressing myself with some of my footwork. I didn't think I could do those fast rolls until a few years later. Good for me!
Sweat & Blood: Before doing this Fried marathon exercise, if you had asked me "Which album is more guitar-oriented: R&R or SW?" I would've answered Roque & Roll in a heartbeat, but now that I think about it, it's probably this album. Hadn't thought about this song for a while --it could hold up to a re-recording. Lusty little song of pursuit.
Take Care of Yourself: This is the hardest-rocking keyboard song we ever did, I think. This was traditionally our "string break song" live, an angry song about sexual politics and feelings of unfairness. I like it. I totally can't judge my mental state right now. I know I'm no longer in any sort of objective mode --I would hesitate to sit down and play this album for someone else. I guess it's kind of a mixture of relief and pride. When this album was recorded, everything you heard live or on the radio was heavy metal (which I love), but we were a band that didn't really fit into any genre easily, so we definitely had some trouble connecting. Also we kind of stunk. That also made it hard to connect. I guess that having believed balance between "Stinks-----Misunderstood" was mostly "Stinks," it's kind of a relief to listen to this now and feel like it's a little more "Misunderstood."
Beautiful Smile: And then along comes "Beautiful Smile." OK, other than the string trio at the end, this needle's still on "stink." It's just too long with no build. I am enjoying the fade, though. Those strings sound decent considering what horrible mics I used to record them. In fact this album sounds decent considering that it was recorded karaoke. This lyric is empty to me.
Tapping His Foot On The Rug: Now that it's not the lynchpin of tensions within the band, and having played more blues on the side, I appreciate that Nick really did have a talent for it.
Lovely Rachel: This album is losing momentum through this stretch. I wouldn't put two long slow ballads essentially back-to-back if I were putting this song order today. Although I guess we're missing some songs out of the original order. Bad remix, Cody, bad! Also, I shouldn't have allowed Nick's solo to stand. His opening idea is OK, but he's in the wrong key, and there's no fixing that.
Rolling Thunder: I'm such a jerk. I have no idea how to be myself onstage. I hate my smarmy stage personna. That UP electronic drum never fit in. At least here, it sounds like a parody of itself. The sudden arrival by helicopter of the dancing girls, or other similar spectacular event. This solo's OK, but again, two slow ballads punctuated by solos by the two biggest egos in the band is a momentum killer. Bad remix!
Forever Free: For this one, I experimented with singing with a dry mouth to add some edge to my voice. I ate a bunch of biscuits (cornbread works, too) before the take. I remember that after I mixed the album, Fried said that it ruined the song for him. I think he's right --it sounds terrible. I like this song, but that is a very distracting vocal effect. It's also distracting when the washcloth falls out of the overdubbed cowbell during the fade. I wrote this song in memory of a friend who died, Summer Saville-Ball.
Man in the Shadows: This is one of the first guitar riffs I came up with, and one of the first few songs I ever wrote, about being that shoulder you cry on. When being stalked, I guess. I'm impressed with this little version. Fried totally carries the song. One of the few Colby solos. I totally screwed him out of having any songs on the album. By this point, he and I had already written "At Your Mercy" and "Why Should I Fly?" together. I can't really remember why we didn't work those in. It may have been Matt's merciless teasing.
Night Rain: If I were still playing poorly-attended 4-hour gigs in venues with pianos, I might enjoy dusting this one off. This is about driving around on a rainy night feeling sorry for myself. Thank you, I'm here all week.
Who Am I?: I don't know where we got that bass tone from, but it's sweet. A little boost to the instrumental track that I guess I figured you'd never notice. I like this song, and for a short time, it was in the rotation for our acoustic gigs. It does suffer a little bit from that whole obsolete naïve social commentary problem mentioned in "Youth of Tomorrow." Another nice simple guitar riff (although it gets lost in this mix) from very early on.
Gem: A little foray into folk rock. Again, Fried carries this song. When, oh when will you start writing good parts for him, 16-year-old Cody? Like Beautiful Smile, this song goes on a little too long and is definitely lacking any kind of build. Also very little conviction writing a song "about" a girl who I didn't ever actually go out with.
Skin of My Teeth: Wacky little disco verse that Fried nails, but I like it. There's a really good live version of this (Not!-era) that will be on "If Flip Nasty Falls In The Forest...." I've already been toying with the idea of re-recording some of these older songs, trying to emulate the rawness of our approach but bring some maturity to the performances, and I'm definitely including this one if I do that album. Me-ow!
Make Up Your Mind: Decent little tune, but out of place in a manner typical to most of my albums. On the heels of this rock song we suddenly flip 180 degrees into some other style. Yes, Dixie, we know how you feel about this.
17th Floor Sunset: I think this is the first instrumental I wrote out for the band to play. I've only played it live once, as my featured song during a Union Street Jazz concert. It is the origin of my signature hand-to-foot drum roll.
Not At All: True fans know that this one is actually off of "Checkmate" and as a result sounds a little brighter and more confident, as do most songs from that album (still recorded karaoke style). While not a collaboration with Nick, it was definitely a concession, in order to give him a blues vehicle for an extended solo. I could see this as a Leaky Joe song, but not a serious re-record. I've never much cared for it despite my outstanding harmonica playing. Again, like Time, Trouble, and Expense, something about blues hour with Nick makes me feel like women musta done me wrong, although in this case I was actually pretty upset with someone for part of this lyric.
Eyes: This is actually a bonus track that was recorded for Checkmate, but not included on the final mix. I think it's Speranza on guitar. This was a very hasty session centered around the fact that I temporarily had custody of a pair of congas over one weekend. We learned and played the song in one day. I've always liked this song, but I think I recognize that it's not really very good. There's just not much to say about Keri K's beautiful eyes that can't be summed up as, "Keri K has really lovely eyes." I play congas, Matt plays auxilliary percussion and keyboard in one take, Speranza (pretty sure) plays guitar, and of course Fried on bass.
(Missing From the CD re-release of this album: original versions of Pink Shoes, Always, Daddy, I Want You Now. All of those were chosen for Not!, and are obviously arguably the strongest four songs off the album.)
INTERLUDE: What Patently Obvious Thing Have I Learned By Now?
I finally accept that like it or not, I am the singer of the band, and the vocals have got to be less wishy-washy. I adopt a new, effective mantra: "you've got to put some air through those pipes." Heading into Checkmate, I arrange with a greater focus on always having prominent guitars.
Album 3: Checkmate (1991)
This is the last and best karaoke-style album. I like the sound of this album. I finally start writing parts for Fried. This is our first album with Speranza playing rhythm guitar, and he had a real natural feel for it --despite only playing for < 1 yr. We actually have three guitarists for this album, Colby & Speranza playing rhythm guitar and Nick playing lead/rhythm.
They Always Leave: Nice start, sets the tone for the rest of the album, which is definitely bluesier. Good energy. Ah cruel fate, why have you ripped her from me?!
Seize the Day: we re-recorded this on River Dreams, and it's always been fun to play live. Having three guitarists gives this whole album a great crunchy unison guitar sound. We all had such crappy equipment. Actually, that's not true --it was a mix. I had a pretty crappy kit, cobbled together out of miscellaneous pieces and --in some cases-- held together with duct tape. Speranza's amp was constantly in danger of overheating. Fried actually had a very good rig, owing to the fact that his crappy prior rig was stolen from his car and turned out to be a collector's item. Colby's guitar was fairly crappy. Nick had decent stuff. The meaning of this song should be obvious.
Perfect: Nick and I did those overdub fills while singing during the 2nd Stage of the karaoke. I think this is the first album that I'd be perfectly fine with someone hearing today. Even though it's not radio-ready, I'm very happy with the sound, performance, and song selection. It doesn't have the polish of typical garage band demos recorded today, but still....
Tell Me: I thought this was the best song of the batch when we were putting this album together, but the band never embraced it. I still like it a lot, and occasionally play it live. Unlike ballads off of Separate Ways, this one builds nicely to the end. By this point, I definitely have found my voice as a singer --even though my technique isn't as far along and I don't scat as much. Nice solos, especially Nick's little dynamic touches at the beginning of his. When someone wants out, they're getting out, no matter how you feel.
Redhead Tonight: This wound up re-recorded on the Leaky Joe album in a different feel, but this holds up. There's Mr. Cat Mayhugh rockin' the mic on the backup vocal. Nice guitar solo from Nick. I think by this point he and I were accomodating each other a lot better --though not blues, this song clearly has a blues-rock feel to it and lends itself easily to Nick's style of play. I love love love love this outro. Cat plays the falling keyboard part here under some loose guidelines from me. So we've got the main instrumental track, and now for the karaoke overdub, I'm singing lead, Cat's singing backup, and Nick's soloing on a direct line (hence the extra-fuzzy sound), but when it comes to the outro, I switch to casaba (shaker) & other percussion, Nick continues soloing, and Cat is forced to play keys. And we have to get everything right or else start the take over. This song's a criticism of promiscuity.
Give Me You: I really liked this music, but these lyrics are incredibly dated, and again, politically naïve. Not that I'm the polar opposite of my 17-year-old political self now, but my opinions were definitely largely acquired wholesale from my parents without a whole lot of inner debate. In this age of Cody & the Codies & 3/4-part harmonies, I'd forgotten that Nick was only comfortable singing unison backups, and to harmonize, I would occasionally leap out of the lead vocal while he carried it. This is one of the first albums where I cover some of the keyboards during overdubs.
Jozo: One of my better collaborations with Nick. Live, Speranza and I often played an alternate arrangement for acoustic shows (it's included on "How About A Beating"). I like the fade out/dissolve into the keyboard. By this point in time, I was a fairly confident "rhythm pianist," and did most of my writing on piano. If someone's got the nickname Jozo, how can I not immortalize that?
Loch Ness: I love that French Horn patch on O'Meara's keyboard, which I borrowed the entire year he was in Germany (to comic effect).
Velvet Woman: Groovy, man. Pure speculation into the life of a pretty girl in a coffee shop. More solid Fried playing. Speranza is the dominant rhythm guitar here, and you can hear how good he was, even as a novice. Crisp, tight, confident playing. The chorus got a reference as the basis for the outro on Wardrobe. This outro is obviously about 4 minutes too long, and there's not quite as much interplay as I was hoping for. You can hear Colby basically pack it up and quit about 1:15 from the end. He just quickly strums his open guitar once, then stops playing. I seem to remember him actually wrapping up his cord and everything.
Amanda: I like this song. Nick did a good job on this album of really separating his solos from each other with distinct thematic material. This solo's one of my favorite ideas of his. This is about wanting someone whose friend wants you.
Don't Say Goodbye: This is such a catchy bouncy verse, but I really phoned it in on the other sections, and I think that's why we never really played this song much. Plus, the chorus drags for some reason, which is awkward to hear.
Crazy As A Fox: I really like this one. The rest of the band didn't get into it as much, though. Another good solo from Nick. This is definitely going on the haardvark album. That's right, it's already got a working title. This is a song about the optimism of a pursuit not yet soured by my inescapable unattractive nerd vibe. Fall seven, rise eight, my friend.
One More Angel: I like this, but it could use a better hook. Generally speaking, I paid a lot more attention to writing music than words at this stage of my dubious career. As time went on, I put a lot more effort into words, and I think my songs improved a lot as a result. I think this song would've benefited from better words. The kind of quality lyrics that nobody understands. I think people can understand too much of what I'm saying here, and sometimes those feelings are best left unexpressed.
October Air: This song has been re-recorded several times and has emerged as the lasting survivor off this album. I kept it on since it's so different from subsequent versions. That's my sister, Jamie, on backup vocals there at the end.
(Removed from CD re-release: "Walls," "Guide" and "Not At All." Walls was just a little bit too ambitious to try to pull off without overdubs with six people. The re-recording on As Rome Burns is a lot better. Guide is re-recorded on Drive By.)
Album 4: Not! (1991)
This album was our first taste of the heroin that is re-recording. It's also our first studio album, recorded on 16-track analog at the now-defunct Audioworks Studio with perennial nice guy Bill Prentice engineering. We went in wanting to have what amounted to a greatest hits album, but because I was super-cocky about how great Checkmate sounded, I didn't put any Checkmate songs on the list.
Do You Want It?: It's odd to look back on certain songs that were the "go to" song of a particular period of the band and realize that you haven't played them in years. We would've played this song at every gig --probably as the finale.
Fraud: or, as Fried calls it, "Frog."
Little Miss NYC: Despite being ridiculously simple to play, this one has somehow stood the test of time. We didn't have enough time or available tracks to add all the backup vocals I intended on this recording, but I added them on the Songs You Hate version. I had a little something brewing with a girl named Laurie, then she moved to New York, and I sent her some embarassing letters, and ultimately had to let go of whatever ridiculous dream I was dreaming.
Daddy: My poor father had to endure more than one speculative concern on my behalf. Just to set the record straight, when I heard those creakin' stairs, nothing out of the ordinary happened. Total political song without a point. It's my Luka, only missing any insight. We liked playing this song for the outro.
Pink Shoes: This was originally written and recorded for Separate Ways, and heralded a new age of more challenging Fried bass parts after he nailed the slap intro without flinching. I like the music a lot, although the verse lyrics make me cringe for my awkward, sexually frustrated 15-year old self. Good chorus, though. Good job zit-face, nice chorus. O'Meara and I had a bunch of what would now be termed "stalkees" in our enormous high school --attractive girls we tracked with radio collars and gave cutesy pet names to. Pink Shoes was such a subject of our ongoing study. O'Meara now observes things through telescopes for a living, and I've been third author (without whom nothing gets done) on several studies about something-or-other medical in nature!
Follow: Every greatest hits album needs some new material, right? Speranza cooked up a great guitar sound for that rhythm part. This is the first real example of the new pattern of my song arrangement: bass playing a more melodic line, one rhythm guitar, keyboard and lead guitar playing contrapuntal lead lines (or else keys covering chords on "piano songs"). The endless cycle of painful rejection I weathered in high school scarred me in such a beautiful way.
I Want You Now: I didn't plagiarize, but I found plenty of inspiration in Motley Crue's "Slice of Your Pie" (that is a truly awesome song) when writing this. Typical of my writing, I desperately wanted to write these fantastic, crunchy, heavy metal songs, but always ended up with quirky nerd rock. Go figure.
Always: This remains Vaunne's favorite song and version of my entire opus masterverk. I tell her, "but such-and-such is actually about *you*; don't you like it better?" "That one's OK, I guess, but Always is your best one. And not the new one with all the mumbling and ape screaming, but that other older one." I would've totally hooked her for life in high school! I would've snagged her!
Spider's Web: Another classic entry in the family favorite "what the heck is he saying" game. Speranza's interpretation "it can take shower scum and cut it up and never let...." Actual words: a shallow scar. Unlike other social commentaries of mine, this one about alcohol actually had some deep personal resonance for me, so it's remained a favorite. Not that I hit it out of the park, lyrically. A fun bridge, and fun song to play live with the full band.
Shadows: this was originally from the B-side of As Rome Burns, which was recorded karaoke-style again. That's Dan Langhoff from Shadows on backup vocals (he also sang backup on the original version of "Raggedy Man" in the same session). That's Speranza's solo. This song is about the illusion of love packed in a crush.
Asylum: This was a demo that was hiterto unreleased, and proof that I'm still not immune from making song selection errors. It has no place on an actual CD for release. A fictional murderous lament. I'm playing all of the keyboard parts. I like the song, and it'll eventually be a good Box Set entry, but this version has some serious flaws. We never practiced this song, although I did use a piece of it in the score for "The Flower That Shattered The Stone" since it's so gosh darn moody and atmospheric.
I Won't Bite: This is the Union Street Jazz version of this song, featuring SJ Hasman in the other half of the duet. She was a no-show for the karaoke As Rome Burns session of this song, so as they say, duet no more.
Raggedy Man: Also from the karaoke-style B-side of As Rome Burns, and also featuring Dan Langhoff on vocals. I was having --as I often did-- a lot of trouble getting a clean take of the bridge of this song. One big drawback of the karaoke-style recording is that the entire overdub has to be kept or discarded, you can't "Punch In" (re-record a small portion of the track to correct a mistake). Becasue of that, when I finally got a good take, we had to keep a couple of Dan's mistakes (starting two choruses with "holes in my heart" instead of "holes in my jeans"). This is about a drunk, abusive, cheating man regretting what he's done, and wondering if he should kill himself.
Album 5: As Rome Burns (1991)
The first half of this 90-minute album was recorded at Audioworks again, and the second half (as alluded to elsewhere) was recorded karaoke-style or else lifted from live tracks. This was the last time we did any karaoke-style recording for release. Everything beyond this album was multi-tracked.
Guarantees: One of my better collaborations with Nick. Like Jozo, we found some common ground to work with here. This is about prenuptial agreements, since you know, it's just a Nick song and shouldn't have any personal thematic material from me or anything.
Mad About You: This song has gone through a couple of changes and re-recordings, but remains a favorite of mine. If I could do this particular version over, I'd probably drop the instrumental bridge (known to the band as "The Birds") but keep the piano outro that disappeared from later versions. Doing this version over would constitute something entirely different from re-recording, by the way. This is about realizing that someone you want wants someone else. Had you figured that out yet? It's a big puzzle, I tell ya!
Sweet Sue: I was pretty deep into a very experimental harmonic phase at this point, moving from the Major/minor dichotomy of earlier stuff (heralded by Fire & Ice) into a more geometric system using a lot of clusters and key jumps. This backup vocal was a lot of fun, with O'Meara and Cat joining Nick, Speranza, and I in the vocal booth. That's O'Meara whooping at the end. This storyline is an absolute work of fiction, but them's the words I thunk up.
Don't Lean On Me: Solid song that was a staple of the acoustic live show for a long time and eventually got re-recorded on River Dreams. One of the great things about writing songs is that there's no need to have a consistent message. For that reason I'm fully qualified to tell someone that they shouldn't bother falling in love with me because I'm not that into their particular brand of beauty (sorry, "pulchritude") while also saying, "so terribly lonely, please someone come along to love me," on the rest of the album.
Loneliness: Lost in the shuffle, but one I like. Again, Speranza dials in a great rhythm guitar sound. Somehow, this is supposed to be an uplifting message of "hey, you'll find a guy you like (maybe me) --but you will ENDURE MUCH, MUCH PAIN FIRST!!!! Unless you pick me, in which case, sweet."
I Still Need You: I haven't thought about this for a while, but I could see re-recording this. It was surprisingly fun to play acoustic, although only Speranza could pull of the composite guitar/bass part. This song does, however succumb a little bit to the Don't Say Goodbye effect, where the verse outshines the rest of the song. Nick just gave up on playing that arpeggio, there. Surprisingly effective bridge, and a cool effect suggested by Bill. My gut says that some extra intensity in the pre-chorus/chorus might compensate for the verse. I'd forgotten about that little piano fade part.
Roads: I still periodically play this. The chorus was also part of the score for "Flower...." A subtle metaphor for moving on, encased in vignettes of not doing just that. I am singularly brilliant.
Dollface: This got re-recorded for Songs You Hate. Actually, it was re-recorded for River Dreams but not included in the final mix. This has been a favorite for us to play, but probably not the most memorable for listeners. Nonetheless, a sweet live version closes out Least Significant Failures. Referential nod to the bridge in the fade of Rain Today. Speranza got this tone by cranking the bass & treble on his amp and cutting the mids entirely while running it through some version of the Boss distortion pedal. The material for this song came from a dream.
Break Up: This is a fun little song that fills a role on this album but would be unlikely to make it onto a live set list. Speranza's solo during the bridge was performed "deaf" without any reference monitors, but it ends up fitting anyway. The same thing happened when we tried that technique again on Man In The Moon a few years later.
Walls: We've never even tried to pull this off live. One of the benefits of multi-tracking is that I can orchestrate this kind of complex, layered backup vocal (also known as "Cody & the Codies"). Ideally, I wanted to have other voices than my own performing the harmonies to maintain the illusion of the ensemble, and we tried various things through the years to get that effect, the most convincing of which was to have someone else sing with me, where I basically provided the pitch of the line, and they provided the sound of the line. Great signature Speranza licks on the outro solo.
Mad About You (live): This is very typical of our live fare from the time, when we really started transitioning into a primarily acoustic band. This was recorded by John Steideman at Paris on the Platte. Speranza's covering rhythm, and Nick (in a rare acoustic appearance) is covering the lead guitar. I like that Speranza didn't use an acoustic guitar for those gigs, but instead played his Fender clean through a flange or chorus pedal --it was a very rich sound while still quite intimate. I like Nick's little modal solo idea. I could sure do with a little less vibrato on my voice. Again, I hate my stage personna. Without drums, I just stood or sat there, clutching my arms like Rain Man.
Ellen: This gig was a blast. You can't understand a word coming out of the PA. Both guitars broke strings, so we had to improvise this little ska ending while Speranza wound a new string. We didn't have to, but I forced us to. That's the better way of putting it. That's O'Meara toasting at the beginning. I remember wondering why Matt didn't start soloing when we started the outro. He was an incredibly reluctant player now that I think about it. He wanted the smallest possible role.
I Won't Bite: I originally wrote this song for Union Street Jazz, then wound up adapting it for ROQUE. SJ Hasman from Union Street Jazz was supposed to record this as a duet with me, but she couldn't make the session. Nice call-and-response solo work from Speranza.
A Little Bit Back: I've grown to really hate this version of the song, maybe even the song itself. I'll probably re-record it on a box set or side project disc to see if I can breathe some life into it and to have a quality recording (which this is not), but I think it's just flat.
As Rome Burns: This song needs a re-recording. The karaoke mix is a little off, but the song has been a strong floater in the live set. Also, I think this song bucks the trend of political songs losing their resonance for me over time since it's a song about political disillusionment in general. Murky mix. That's Bekah Knoll on backup vocals. She was in "The Flower That Shattered the Stone" --very good singer, but struggled to find this line, and needed some help from the guitar to get there.
Don't Slam That Door: Possibly the greatest karaoke-style mix of all time despite some murkiness. Way to end an era on a high note. It's all Fried kicking your slap-bass ass. Re-recorded for the Leaky Joe Fistful of Blues album. Nice solo from Nick. I've always liked this pissed-off little song.
ARB End: this is printthrough backmasking of the Checkmate version of October Air pumped up to audible levels then capped off with the sound of rewinding the open-reel two-track deck we used to record the karaoke-style songs. I've gotten away from it a little, but I used to really like sticking this sort of oddity on the end of an album.
Missing from the CD re-release: Shadows (moved to Not!)
INTERLUDE: What Patently Obvious Thing Have I Learned By Now?
I haven't been challenging the players --particularly Fried-- enough with their parts. They need more room to roam. Every element needs to be interesting. Our songs need to build in intensity from beginning to end.
Album 6: Less Yackin', More Snackin' (1992)
Fried came up with the album title. Neil MacPherson, who did the original caricature coverwork, preferred the name "Eye Patch," and made his own alternate cover for distribution to his friends. This was ROQUE's final studio album and our best --we actually planned to record this, then break up (we were all going to different colleges). Audioworks went bust (possibly because of us) later that year, so subsequent studio efforts (for other incarnations of the band) were recorded at Free Reelin'. I intentionally wrote very hard parts for Fried to play, using him as a hybrid bass/lead guitar, which I continued for the rest of the time we played together since he can't be stopped. Similarly, I arranged more complex parts for Nick and new keyboardist Neil "The Glove" MacPherson (who played keyboard in the pit orchestra of "Flower That Shattered the Stone," which I scored and musically directed).
Cradle: We played a really high-energy version of this live at the upstairs Mercury. Couldn't hear the vocals for crap, but otherwise a lot of fun. I was a little bit smitten with a girl from Denmark, just long enough to pen this and do nothing.
Pretty One: I really like this song, but for the life of me cannot memorize the words. Every time we've tried to play this live, it has failed miserably as a result. The other philosophy that I embraced on this album more than any other prior album was the importance of somehow building the song from beginning to end. To that end, I often brought in parts (say, lead guitar or keyboard) as the song went along rather than having them play the whole way through. This song was written a couple of years before the album, but arranged fresh for this version.
Something Out: One of my favorites. I love Speranza's solo at the top of the song, which ends with a "wind-down glissando," where we started madly detuning his string on the final note. Nice solos by all three players, very distinct variety of ideas. Jason Kaneshiro later recorded a cover of this (in a song swap) that's on Tongue Meets Eyeball. This version was included on Songs You Hate. I shopped this song very aggressively to publishers, but couldn't land a deal for it. Wishing that somehow the force and simplicity of love's feelings could by themselves successfully navigate the social obstacles to romance.
Winter Heat: I like this song a lot, too. We used to play it all the time at Paris on the Platte, but it's been quite a while since I've dusted it off. Overall, I think I did a better-than-average job writing for this album, and somehow avoided the dreaded "Trouble With Hearts" curse where I felt compelled to include a song which, in retrospect, was pretty terrible. I think all of the songs on this album work really well together, and I'm happy with each of them. This one might be summed up as "oh, what I would do for your heart." Fried and Speranza call the keyboard part in the bridge "the Running Man part."
Essence of My Time: Also a little bit older. Also on Songs You Hate. This was an optional inclusion at the session. Basically, we had a very limited budget, and needed to record basic instrumental tracks (the part where we sit together and play the song sans vocals, sans solos, as a group) by a certain time. If we had enough extra time, there were a couple of songs we'd add. This was one, and "You Can Stop Hiding" and "Shy Birds" were the others (which we didn't get to). The high point of this song, for me, has to be the way Speranza hits that heavy guitar at the end (it's actually two parts --a rhythm part and a subtle lead line that fits inside it, making it seemingly oscillate high and low). I wrote this while thinking about what we take with us when we die, not that it's much of a reflection on that topic.
All Blown Up: Perfect example of how Fried's rock-solid playing allows me to go out on a limb with my drums. Nice solo from Nick. He did his homework on these songs --really sat down before the session and figured out some great kernels to build from. Great tone, great solo from Speranza. This is about the frustration of my awkward way with women.
Too Much: This was a "must play" song for practically every live set I played for several years to come. The next "Do You Want It?" :) Speranza totally hooked me on drop-D tuning with his suggested re-arrangement of the chords for the chorus. Arguably Nick's best solo of all time in the bridge. I gave him a written lick for the first & last phrase, but he went wild in between. This song was re-recorded for Guitool and included (in that version) on Songs You Hate.
Cocoon: Fried's playing Speranza's infamous "pry the frets off" fretless bass to get those smooth scoops, particularly evident on the bridge octave overdub. Very nice solo from Neil. Totally fits the song, and I love the trailing ending. The drums were recorded as an overdub with the tape sped up so they'd sound lower and fatter on playback. I like the spreading effect of the "wha-aah" backup vocals that diverge to a half-step apart. I like this song, and shopped it to publishers as well. I think I can see now that it's not really the best song to sell, though. I re-recorded this in a different arrangement with the Stunt Beatles several years later. This is about struggling to say/do the right thing for a friend (not really named Jodi) who was sexually assaulted.
Running Away: One of my most difficult arrangements to play. I personally can't pull this song off live, although Speranza cobbled together a very good solo guitar arrangement that we occasionally did. A lot of very tight counterpoint --I was ver proud of this song. By band consensus, this song made it onto Songs You Hate, although I probably wouldn't select it now. Another song based on dream imagery.
Sleep: Very difficult to pull off live without a piano. Dave Potts recorded a cover of this in a song exchange which I included on Tongue Meets Eyeball. Very haunting tone from Speranza. I wrote this feeling very sad about a friend's suicide.
Old Roses: Poor Vicki (I'll spare her additional embarassment on the worldwide web by withholding her last name). The disaster unfolds like this: in the year prior to this album, I got my heart a little broken and then tried to get back on the horse with Vicki, a very nice girl I was peripherally acquainted with. I asked her out, she said yes. Her friends called me and told me to cancel so they could surprise her for her birthday. That was OK with me, and I suggested that I could even drop her off at their party (impying that I'd go out with her some other time). Somehow, this got misinterpreted as me standing in the way of their plan, so they told her, and she had to call me and say something like, "my friends say you're ruining my birthday." So I apologized for the confusion and --seemingly-- set the record straight. She said, OK, call me later and we'll reschedule. So far within the reasonable realm of human behavior. Not for long. I'm 100% ashamed of how the rest of this turned out. I called her and tried to reschedule. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Even after John O'Meara overheard the following exchange, "Yeah, he's nice, but I wish he'd stop calling me," I didn't stop calling. She was so civil, and somehow, I couldn't just take the hint and cut it out. I had to be told. Well, I never was told. I badgered this poor girl who just didn't have the guts to tell me to my face. And it made me so angry I wrote this song when I finally did give up. I owe her a big fat apology. Do you think I should call her?
The story of the outro: the end of this song is a theatrical homage to the restaurant manager of Paris on the Platte, who got up in arms the first time we played the whole night there because there were five of us instead of two, which presumably meant that we would require $25 in free sandwiches instead of $10 (actually, we had no idea that there were any sandwiches involved). Ultimately, we resolved it by agreeing to appear as "ROQUE & friends," but still get all the sandwiches we didn't really want to begin with. French diplomacy --gotta love it! See, I'm a conflict-avoider, preferring to resolve differences through satirical songs that my enemies will never hear.
Album 7: How About A Beating? (Live 1992)
Fried came up with that title, as well as Less Yackin', More Snackin'. Our first live album, gathered at a time when our live show was shifting radically from full band hard rock shows to acoustic gigs, often with just Speranza and myself. These songs are typically either pulled direct off the Paris or Mercury board by John Steideman (the clean, nice-sounding ones) or else recorded on a tape recorder sitting on a table (the grittier ones). Taken individually, there are some nice songs here, but the real problem with this album, and the reason I don't much listen to it, is that we were still finding our sea legs acoustically, and these songs aren't the best live stuff (i.e. full band shows) that we were doing at the time. Factoid from John Fried: You can use the "next track" methodology to distill all of the Flip Nasty live albums into a single 25-minute CD. ;-)
Too Much: That's John Steideman introducing us at Paris on the Platte. As mentioned earlier, our signature "acoustic" sound at the time was actually a clean Fender Strat beefed up with either chorus or flange, a tone of Speranza's invention. Speranza was very good at getting good guitar sounds throughout the entire time we played together. This version of the song is a snapshot of the very early stages of its performance evolution --sticking pretty closely to the recorded version. Since we played this song in almost every set we did, it eventually changed quite a bit. Boy, I forgot that crowds actually occasionally dug us.
As Rome Burns: Nice subdued version. One thing I immediately notice in listening to this album, is how I still hadn't really developed my vocal chops for acoustic songs. I'm holding back way too much. Some of that was, admittedly, nervousness --it was a big adjustment for me to stand up and sing with no drums. Shouldn't have been, but was.
Do It: This song was a lot of fun. There's Speranza counter-heckling some lady who was snickering at us "Hey, I wrote this!" I needed to thank every tip. This eventually got re-recorded as a Leaky Joe song on the Tongue Meets Eyeball sampler. This is one of the first songs where I really tried my now-infamous . That's Glenn Levy at the end. That's Fried asking if we skipped "Perfect." What a hi-llarious segue to....
Perfect: I really have a soft spot for songs that work in different arrangements, and I was surprised how well the stripped-down arrangement worked here.
Something Out: Very representative of the more laid-back standard acoustic arrangement of this song. Speranza is an extremely flexible guitarist, and a very selfless player. His ability to adapt and play new arrangements of these songs where he provides fuller chords and more rhythm was critical to pulling off the transition to acoustic gigs.
Jozo: Totally different arrangement, mostly reworked by Speranza. Nice ideas.
I Want You Now: This is more representative of how we had been gigging up until this point. This was recorded with the full band (Less Yackin' lineup) upstairs at the Mercury. I like how I have to tell people to "take it!" Was that first solo Speranza? Man, I loved playing in this band. You can hear my sticks hit the floor because everybody wants a souvenir from a ROQUE show.
October Air: Fried, Speranza, and myself (covering a little extra guitar --the lead at the top, and the rhythm under Speranza's solo).
Who Am I?: Fried, Speranza, and me again. Nice feel. This is almost convincing me to re-record this. I swear "chiva" is slang for heroin, but Annie Stamper, my most drug-savvy friend, claims that this is total BS.
Velvet Woman: I didn't own a djembe or have any inkling about incorporating that into these acoustic shows, so I guess tamborine was the best drum surrogate I was prepared to offer up. Incorporating djembe was definitely a real turning point in these gigs for me. Nice variation in the vocal, something I didn't do then as much as I do now. I guess we really got to that guy!
Skulls of Angels: I probably shouldn't have included this on the album. I like the song, but this version is shaky. Well, maybe it's not so bad, but I'm definitely hearing a better version in my head.
Sleep: I have no idea why I nicknamed Neil "The Glove." I'm sure he hated it. Sorry, Neil, I just have mental imbalances that can't be corrected or medicated. Nice version, but the recording is terrible.
Winter Heat: Apparently, I've decided after a strong start of board-direct recordings to now wade through a stretch of sucky boom-box recordings. This version is pretty good, it might even transcend the terrible recording. Scratch that, it might transcend international injustice! At the time, this song meant a lot to me personally. I always liked singing it, and I think you can hear the feeling in my voice. I had an epiphany of sorts several years later that if I did nothing else as a singer on a particular song, I needed to express this kind of intensity. Subsequently, my live recordings were markedly better. That quiet intensity is really the cornerstone to playing intimate acoustic shows (in my opinion).
Running Away: There's Speranza running through those wacky chords like it's nothing. Contrast this vocal with the last and you can see how my philosophy at the moment was to simply sing the song with good tone. I wasn't really considering the full spectrum of my performance responsibilities.
Gem: Something about this works for me. I can hear myself connecting to the sound of my voice better than in other songs.
Daddy: Needs something more. Of course, now, I wouldn't hesitate to scat the crap out of this :)
Tell Me: I like this song. The version could use more from me.
Don't Slam That Door: We added an extra verse to the song this night. This is missing Fried in a big way. Just doesn't sustain the energy.
Fire & Ice: Every amp is about to meltdown. You can't hear them over the rock and roll, but there are a number of people singing along. My friends were very supportive, even memorizing this drivel to make me feel happy. This was at the end of a very long gig, and unfortunately, I think you can hear it a little bit. We're definitely flagging, and my voice is well-past shot. Still, this was a really fun gig, and everyone is still really into it. Oh nice little endpoint with Steideman.
Missing from the CD re-release: Vianwidra and N'Deivi Blue Sand were non-live sequenced instrumentals originally included just to have them on an album. I also included Eyes (now on Separate Ways) and an alterante karaoke take of Tell Me which will probably make it on to a future box set disc.
Album 8: Drive By (1993)
In the most minimal version of the band, Speranza (guitar, bass) and I (vocals, drums, keys) covered all the instruments under the name Splat Monkey after our first year of college. We tuned up for recording this by working on a side project, playing drums and bass for Shadows (Scott Farr, Neil MacPherson, and Dan Langhoff). This album is still arranged as if for ROQUE, with lead guitar and keyboard parts for most songs. Later on, I started to acknowledge that we didn't really have 5 members anymore. Recorded at Free Reelin' in only 20 frantic hours with engineer Broz Rowland. We prepared intensely for the session: mapped out all the sounds, practiced playing the songs as either bass/drums, guitar/drums or piano/click. Also played incessantly at open stages to familiarize ourselves with each song's core since we wouldn't be able to hear it directly (just infer it from the bassline) during initial tracking.
I Must Protect You: I particularly emulated the way that Boom Crash Opera albums have a groove to each part when arranging the parts for this album. I wrote out my piano solo because I wasn't very confident improvising one. This is about the lingering attachment left in the wake of a failed romance.
Give Them What They Want: Bekah Knoll, John Usher and Cat Mayhugh on backup vocals. For a lame-o political idea (my thoughts on equal rights, which might as well be my thoughts on breathing air), decent tune.
I Won't Quit: Made it onto Songs You Hate. Shopped around a little bit, but as always no takers. Speranza can definitely play bass with the best of them. Great sparse solo. He's very talented and incredibly cognizant of the big picture of a song --more so than me. I wrote this while feeling down over a long, harsh period of stinging public criticism in (this is going to sound really stupid) Jazz Band in which every rehearsal was a chance for some lame-o beret-sportin' sax player to chip in about the crispness of my hi-hat, legitimacy of my setups, etc rather than deal with their own absolute lack of rhythm or originality. Surely it was I, Cody Weathers, who caused them to Anti-Bird. I and I alone, you see. As a result, I take no crap from sax players, man.
Lying Down: I went through a "story-song" phase while writing for this album. This is one of the better ones, though the premise is still alittle lame: a disturbed poet decides to commit suicide by walking out into the tide, but leaves a beautiful suicide note etched in the sand first. Two young lovers come to the same spot that night and obliterate the passage before it can be discovered. I love that distant watery guitar tone. I think Speranza ran it through a bass EFX ring-modulator. As opposed to double pedal, I'm actually playing double bass on this song, panned left and right and tuned differently.
Trouble With Hearts: It's not that this is a bad song, but it really doesn't fit, and shouldn't have been on here. Well, I guess it is a little bit bad as well. Fried says the only good part is the James Bond flute.
Making Fries: I love the groove and sound of this song. Lyrically, a little limited. I'm not sure what I was really getting at, other than twentysomething anxiety over how I was ever going to eat food. I seemed to feel that corporate hiring practices were unfair in some way. I labored under the misperception that I would be shut out of living-wage jobs by the man. Eric Rorem is shaking his head while pinching the bridge of his nose right now. As I've said before, Speranza gets great guitar sounds --way better than me.
Cricket: Another story-song. As with political songs, I felt like I needed to write about something other than my love life (or lack thereof). Creepy subject, but I like it --clairvoyant little girl sees her murdered mother's ghost, unsettling her dastardly father, who is then foiled by the protector ghost. This was years before the Sixth Sense, not that it changes anyone's opinion of it.
Guide: Originally on Checkmate. I've always liked this. Speranza suggested re-recording it. I don't know if we've ever played it live. The first line is pretty much the topic of the lyric: "I wonder should I call you; would I just hang up the phone?"
Just Like Me: My love song for immortals, hence my most enduring and popular. That intro is a little tongue-in-cheek snippet from the melody of "Always." One thing I liked about playing with Speranza was that he was always very up for the little experimental notions I liked to incorporate into my material (like the random solo or the Suul outro). That outro is Cat, Speranza and me chanting "Suul" (obviously contra-basso Cat caries that one) while banging actual bones and metal pans of water (tilting the pans shifts the pitch), rattling keys, and running fret noise from the bass through a modulator (the last thing you hear).
A New Love Who Won't Beat Me Up: I like this song. Putting all of these together from the ground up (i.e. starting with drums & bass) was a challenge. Broz was definitely skeptical that these songs would amount to much listening to us lay down naked bass tracks, though he started warming up once the other elements started filling out the picture. That's basically the polar opposite of how I now record --often starting with a vocal/guitar performance, and overdubbing drums and bass later. This song is a good snapshot of a time in my life where I started to question my own "love compass" and the patterns of poor relationships I seemed to be pursuing over and over.
October Air: the drop-D version with a bridge that has since disappeared anew. This is the version on Songs You Hate. Cat, Usher, Fried, Speranza, and Bekah singing backup vocals.
Magic Box: I think this was the first song I wrote in odd time (5/4). The groove is totally copped from Seven Days/Take Five (5-waltz). This is another story song about a guy who's mistaken for someone on America's Most Wanted (tm) --er, or something like it-- then killed by an angry mob in a small town.
Luck: I really like this groove. Very tight playing from Speranza. He really put a lot of feeling into the parts I wrote. But I also enjoy the looser delay-guitar live version. It might be nice to combine those two ideas together. I wrote this for a friend who was feeling blue.
Lunacy Will Keep Me Warm: Whereas Trouble With Hearts seems out of place, this oddly works for me. I think it's because we squeeze a whole song in under 1:00. For some reason, this whole album has got some of my shortest songs --very singles-friendly stuff. Possibly because we were so rushed to complete it. Whereas my songs about pain and loneliness had a real resonance and confidence to them, my positive songs about nice girls being nice to me always seemed to come off a little hokey and suspect.
Dangerous: Another one that held a lot of personal attachment for me. I loved playing this song. This version's on Songs You Hate. Great sparse solos from Speranza --the same man I still quote proudly as saying "less is more.... than nothing at all." We did a good job containing this groove. By this point, I'd really started to write lyrics that resonated with me --I put a lot more effort into these words than, say, the words on Checkmate. Words like "booga-doo-yow" (sung by Cat at the end).
Non-Stop Lovely Good Time: I wrote this for a girl I was seeing at the time. Shortly after playing it for her, she decided she'd had enough of me, so this is obviously an incredibly powerful song. Standard cast of backup singers (Usher, Bekah, Speranza, Fried, Cat). Fried hung out with us for most of the session and made a lot of good suggestions --he was in many ways a producer on the album. After ROQUE, he basically planned to never pick up the bass again --sold his stuff, hung 'em up. But this project was so much fun with just the three of us that he rejoined us for the remainder of our albums (before I moved to Buffalo). I love Speranza's Cult-like bullroarer solo.
Coyote: This was our mandatory set-closer for a long time. I invented a special alternate tuning that I've since used on songs like "When" and "My Every Dream's Come True" (D-A-D-F#-B-E). The subsequent re-recording on Flame Cow didn't have all of the other sub-melodies, but I like them here. This song also planted a little continuing metaphor that sprouts up in "Leave Me Be" and culminates in "Footsteps." I think the idea of a wretched lonely coyote loving a burning willow, preferring to suffer rather than leave her cruel side speaks to universal human truth.
Album 9: Suck Pumpkin (Live 1993)
Our second live album, definitely learned from some of the mistakes on How About A Beating? In the intervening year, we got a lot more seasoned playing acoustically, and that alone makes this a better album. Most of this material was lifted from open stages we played relentlessly preparing for the difficult Drive By session. As mentioned in those notes, the difficulty was going to be that with only 20 hours, we had to record all the instruments, starting with (typically) only bass and drums. It was critical that we both could "hear" the finished song in our heads as we put the foundation down, so we used every chance to get familiar with the material.
I Must Protect You: I still stink at speaking to audiences. Appallingly bad. Painful to listen to my typical remarks. This was recorded downstairs at the Mercury by John Steideman. This song has faded from the set. It was a role-player --the up-tempo opener-- for the album, but just didn't have teeth to be more.
A New Love Who Won't Beat Me Up: For this set, we played a slate of piano/bass songs we needed to get more familiar with. I think this is the only live recording of this, although I may have played it once or twice at Papaccino's.
All Blown Up: recorded at the now-defunct Okoboji's in downtown Denver. At this time, John was favoring playing an Ovation acoustic (pictured in the album photos from Drive By) for these shows rather than his Strat. Very bright wired acoustic sound.
Dangerous: Here's a thought: if I suck at chatter, how about Speranza introduce the songs for an evening? The Mercury downstairs was a favorite preparatory open stage of ours for a.) host John Steideman, the greatest open stage host ever and b.) the piano (which once was my self-accompanying instrument of choice over guitar). It was actually a very nice little 7' grand. Nice solos from Speranza. One of my favorite songs.
Cricket: I was always more comfortable singing from behind an instrument. To continue the prior thought, here's why Steideman was the best open stage host of all time: always good sound, recorded off the board if you brought a tape, always kept the slots on time (this is critical), and gave open time to regulars who stuck around for the whole time. I've emulated his approach for every open stage I've run. Nothing more frustrating than signing up for 8:30 and not going on until 10:00.
Buy the World: Originally, the Shadows album was going to have a few songs from me, but they ended up bringing enough of their own stuff to the table. This is one of the songs I wrote for it. At the time, at least 50% (probably more) of my writing was on piano.
Magic Box 4-5-6: To get inside the 5 groove for this song, we did two separate experiments. First, we covered Sting's Seven Days one night, which is in the same feel. Second, we monkeyed with the chane and did one verse each in 4/4, 5/4, and 6/4.
Luck: This is the best song off this album. It is arguably better than the album arrangement of the song. Speranza achieves this effect by timing a delay for 3 16th notes off the beat (so the first strike comes on *1* e & *AH* for the delay). You can hear him quickly finding the tempo in the beginning by making the fret noise shuffle. This effect has been popularized by U2 Joshua Tree-era material. We've used it a few other times.
Raggedy Man: That's right, Cody, Speranza will wrap it up for you. I grew disenchanted with this song, but Fried and Speranza liked it enough that we re-recorded it on Pronounced "Snausages"
Give Them What They Want: Bekah joined us for this song. Another Speranza lyric interpretation is laid bare in the enunciated inside joke. I say, "A woman ain't get no help trying to save herself," he says, "A woman ain't got no hair trying to shave herself."
Don't Lean On Me: A little more up-tempo version. We can't perform this song without someone going "wheedle-ee" before the outro in classic imitation of Nick's original out-of-nowhere wheedle.
Just Like Me: In long sets, this song remained a staple for several years. This is a fairly preliminary version when we were still learning it, but it remains a good one for a change of pace.
One More Angel: by this point, this album has lost a little momentum through a block of very similar- feeling songs. This song isn't really good enough to revive. It's refreshing to dust old ones off live, but I shouldn't have put it on the album out of pure novelty while eschewing other staples of the time.
Amanda: Nice twist on the feel. I'm fairly sure Speranza had that idea. Still, these all needed to be mixed in. If I re-did this album now, I would probably keep this but drop One More Angel and break up the "Old Song Night" block. I should've included more of the Drive By preparatory stuff.
Redhead Tonight: Cat was up for anything, up to and including being mercilessly portrayed as some sort of nemesis uberprodusser when, in fact he's just a nice guy. There, it's in tiny print, buried on page 14-page of this article, but that ought to set the record straight.
Lunacy Will Keep Me Warm: 1:09-:26=:43 The whole point of this song was to have a micro-song --a complete form in a very short space.
Separate Ways: somewhere in between the original and the Stunt Beatles. A little rough around the edges, but we were definitely having fun that night. Stupid fun with zero regard for the quality of our performance :)
Coyote: Nascient version of what eventually became a very solid closer, one of my best songs. You can hear the rumbling from the band playing Mercury Upstairs coming down through the floor at times during this song. Obviously, I was a little fed up with Sasha, although I didn't really have much right to be. I like gurls. Kan u hulp me innerstent dem?
Album 10: Winter on Mercury (Live 1993)
This was a lost album of sorts, never really released. Some people I went to college with were interested in hearing some of the stuff I did over Winter Break one year, so I threw this together out of Mercury Cafe recordings. Most of this is stuff John & I were familiarizing ourselves with for the following summer's studio album (Pronounced "Snausages"). I would imagine that Fried Next-Songs this whole album. I think he was in Japan this winter, but I'm not positive about that.
Once Upon A Time: Maybe there's a class I can take or something for rockstar chatter. I swear at some point I got better at this.... As Speranza is fond of pointing out in response to "is it midnight where you're sleeping?" "What, is she in a different time zone?"
Daughter of Our Enemy: A very simple version of this song, before I really knew what I wanted to do with the arrangement. Still a vocal I can really sink my teeth into, even with simpler accompaniment. You can hear how my piano playing was progressively more confident.
Give Them What They Want: It's really difficult to be objective about your own songs. I'm constantly trying to figure out which ones are the good ones based on my own feeling, comments from friends, and audience reactions. At the time, I had probably pegged this song as being a little better than it actually is. That's cutesy, my little use of the "I Must Protect You" piano solo. Oh, so witty.
Dangerous: Nice lazy version that keys more into the recorded version, with Speranza obviously emulating that classic solo. I like to use words like "classic" when describing my own historical body of work because it makes me feel like the custodian of a grand legacy instead of a loser who couldn't cut it as a singer-songwriter. This lonely tear is just allergies.
Coyote: A more confident version than the one on Suck Pumpkin.
Salt of the Memory (demo): I recorded this karaoke-style with my parents' piano shortly after writing this song as a demo to myself. As such, it's perfect for sharing with others. Actually, it's not too embarassing. You can really hear the intended polytonality in the chorus piano overdub. This song sat on the back burner until finally getting recorded on Flame Cow.
Home Sweet Home: This is a cover of the Motley Crue song that made me want to become a musician. I still love this song. I pulled a fill off Guide into this version.
Making Fries: Whew! Got through the song chatter! That was a close one!
Make Still Your Wings: This is just me at a club somewhere on Pearl that has since disappeared. About this time, I started to get a little more serviceable on guitar, but you can still hear my limitations quite clearly.
So Will I: Very early, practically demo version of one of the best songs I ever wrote. You can hear me struggle with that harmonic arpeggio that I now could do in my sleep. That's super cool that I let you hear the rawness of me de-tuning for....
Too Much: A few more times around the block, and this song is starting to take shape, although it still suffers under my fingers.
Dead Man's Blues/Shout: Very confident piano work from me --at this point I was as comfortable as I would ever be on the instrument. followed by what was originally a hidden track, the partial cover of the classic Tears for Fears song with Speranza chipping in a chorus vocal.
Album 11: Pronounced "Snausages" (1994)
Fried rejoined us for this album after our second year of college, also recorded at Free Reelin'. This time, Broz wasn't available to record us, and we instead went with staff engineer Ben Tanner, who had engineered Shadows' album the year before. Ben was a little more difficult to work with than Broz or Bill Prentice had been, primarily because he was overly focused on trying to "correct" the sound of our low-quality gear (particularly my drums), which led to an inordinately long and tense setup. As we got further into the session, things eased up a bit, but I was disappointed enough in the experience to attempt to book a different engineer for Guitool (to no avail). The arrangements for this album were more tailored to a power trio or quartet (when piano was called for), but with a lot of additional percussion. I wanted to focus on rhythm as much as possible.
Bloom: that opening sound is me hitting the mouths of big glass jusgs with my palms. There's an overdub for the chorus of all three of us hitting bunches of drumsticks together. It was great to have Fried back, even though Speranza is also a very capable bassist. It was a lot better to play as an instrumental trio for the initial take than to lay down bass and drums alone. That's Fried, Speranza, and Cat singing backup. That was a good effect which I favored where possible on this album over "The Codies." This is supposed to be a raw cacophany of desires drawn into one mantra. Mission accomplished, obviously.
Short Leg: another great guitar sound from Speranza and fantastic sputtering interpretation of the rhythm. Tremendous solo --great ideas throughout the album that I often steal as the basis for my live scats. This version is on Songs You Hate. The phrase, "don't trip on the short leg now," is something I told myself driving back to Denver from Portland when I reached Cheyenne at 2 or 3 AM, pushing the last 90 miles home after two hard days of driving.
So Will I: One of my best songs --easily top 5-- which underwent so much evolution in the hundreds of times we played it, that I decided to re-record it for Flame Cow rather than include it on Songs You Hate. That's the sort of keen decision I'm always making over at Checkmate corporate office --omit greatest hit from greatest hits album. Brilliant.
Once Upon A Time: This is a decent role song, helping maintain the pace of the album, but not really good enough o stand on its own outside it. Pretty straightforward post-breakup song.
Rain Today: I really like this song, although it's very difficult to play live. Overdub of ripping paper into the first pre-chorus. A little lift from Dollface on the last pre-chorus. I wrote this feeling fairly humiliated by a pointed recent rejection, hence the smarminess. Oh rally around me, ye losers and I will lead you to greater defeats at the hands of courage.... Ah, it's good to be king.
No Regrets: Story song about love in the face of the end of the world, and living a life of no regrets. Ta-da! Fried nails this bass part, which in turn carries the energy of the song. I always like hearing it, but rarely attempt it live.
Up To Her: So sad. So lonely. What is wrong with me? Won't somebody tell me?! This is a good album, it really brings out the best commentary I have to offer! I love playing this song, but it really requires a piano. There are a couple of very good live versions of this floating around, one with guitarist Bill Groh spontaneously sitting in at the Mercury (The Bootleg Nobody Else Would Make) , and the other from my senior recital (forthcoming If Flip Nasty Falls In The Forest....)
Scared: This is the version on Songs You Hate. Ironically, this song probably makes people who previously wouldn't have considered the possibility wonder if I, in fact, might kill little girls. What a fantastic song of seduction. We're firmly in the realm of words that I love, but are largely misunderstood because of a.) enunciation and b.) poetic masking. What I'm saying is: I love this song. Live staple even now.
Courage: Unfortunately, this song now reminds me of Ricky Gervais' pretentious song about wise aliens from the British version of The Office. That comment defeinitely won't be dated by the time you read this. Putting that aside, fun to play, fun to remember.
Puppy: Another one of those mandatory songs that was good as an opener or closer. For a long time, my Portland (v 1.0) shows used this as the platform for a variety of very fun group scats. That trend didn't continue back in Denver, however. Great solo from Speranza. As the song goes along, more and more instruments join the guitar part. This is the version on Songs You Hate.
Dead Man's Blues: Seyca joins the John Speranza lyric interpretation club with this entry: Cody says, "I will retain...." Seyca says, "I wear a ten...." Not to be outdone, Speranza says, "I'll irritate...." This version is on Songs You Hate. There's a very good live version on Clapping Sold Separately, as well. One of my favorites.
Luck With You: That's the craziest, fuzziest flange guitar sound ever. I like this, but have difficulty playing it effectively without a piano. Another great solo idea from Speranza. Standard lyric of the time, another variation on "the argument for Cody."
Make Still Your Wings: I wrote this as a lullabye, not that I had anyone to sing to sleep at the time. I really like this full arrangement of the song. Later, this became the flagship song of our "Gussie's Style" live approach. I booked a gig at Gussie's in Westminster, which was 4 hours a night for 4 nights in a row. Well, I was under the weather, so I asked Speranza to come out and help me stretch the songs out with extra solos. It ended up being a very addictive breakthrough that led us to reinventing songs on the fly for the remainder of the time we played together. That particular Gussie's version is the backbone of the 17-minute fake "Exemplathon" recording off Monkey Eat Monkey (I just overdubbed a fake spoken intro, bass and djembe on top of the existing live recording). This version is on Songs You Hate.
Spider Man: I did have a way of scaring Miss Muffet away those days. Sentimental favorite, you can hear there are a lot of little pieces flitting through the mix. Priceless quote from Fried may apply here (though issued generally): "There's certainly an enormous variety of instrument noises in each song. I now regret all that complaining we did while waiting for Cody to 'punch in' some noises using unpronounceable percussion instrument #17 - the one shaped like a weiner with beads on it..." The instrument in question? Why, it's my coxswain, of course.
Raggedy Man: re-recording, original version on As Rome Burns (re-released on CD as part of Not!). Cat, O'Meara, Fried and Speranza championed this song, although I've never considered it a favorite. Cody says, "Lay me to sleep, sweet angels." Fried says, "Playmates of sweet, sweet angels." This is about a drunk, abusive, cheating man regretting what he's done, and wondering if he should kill himself. Fried has erased that explanation from his databanks twice now in order to keep enjoying the song. You should, too.
Album 12: The Bootleg No One Else Would Make (Live 1994)
Offhand, I'd say that this is our worst or second-worst live album. The recording quality is terrible. Most of these are from open stages without board-direct recording, meaning we captured them with a boom box on our table, wherever that might be. That predominance was due, in large part, to John Steideman getting fed up with hosting open stages. His replacement at the Mercury (who also ran the Coffee Grounds stage), Michael Engberg, was a nice guy, but had a very murky PA.
Roads: recorded outdoors at Java Creek, where we first met Derek Sanchez (playing the open stage with future wife Kelly Kyrik). This is just Fried and myself. Solid playing from Fried, sub-standard from me.
Scared: Me alone at Coffee Grounds. Decent representation of how I initially played this live. By this point, I was fairly serviceable on acoustic, having been much more active playing solo in Oregon during the year. I actually don't embarass myself.
Act Your Age: Also solo at Coffee Grounds. This song isn't quite up to par, and I hadn't really practiced it, so you can hear me reaching for things throughout. With the right arrangement, this would be a decent entry on a box set disc.
Do You Want It?: Me & Speranza at Coffee Grounds. This period was when I first started to earnestly get into playing hand drums in any capacity. This is a one-of-a-kind handmade cone-shaped drum, about 8" in diameter. I love how it sounds. I was definitely influenced by the stellar play of my college buddy, Robert, into seeing the real possibilities of carrying a song with hand percussion. This version is going along nicely until I decide to alter the melody for "down the drain." That, my friends, is a regrettable decision. Otherwise, this was a nice twist on a song that we hadn't played for years.
Bloom: Same gig, next song. Decent version, but
Up To Her: This was recorded at Mercury with local guitarist Bill Groh spontaneously sitting in --he asked after my first song if he could noodle, and I agreed, having heard him play solo several times before. John Steideman was filling in for Michael Engberg, so the sound was typically good. This was a fun gig.
Short Leg: solo at Coffee Grounds. As I mention, this is only a few days after I wrote this song. Oh, that's cute, it cuts out.
Dollface: with Fried & Speranza at Java Bay, with me playing conga. I typically struggle with the words to this song live.
Courage: decent version from Java Creek.
Lying Down: Trying so very hard to speak like a human being between songs. Somehow heckling self. I don't know why I never really caught on. Some decent ideas here --a little shaky.
So Will I: Java Creek. Speranza loved the chorus effect on the host's amp.
500 Miles/Back in the USSR: Fried's maniacal backup vocal is the highlight of this entire album. I'll just point out that he has no microphone. Speranza and I switch instruments at the break in the medley because he couldn't sing and play at the same time for 500 miles.
Album 13: Señor Squeaky (Live 1994)
Unlike ....Bootleg...., these are mostly pulled from our own gigs, where we were largely able to record directly off the board.
Courage: Well, some of them were still boom boxed. This is from Coffee Grounds with myself and Speranza, on a night where we plyed another open stage immediately before this one. It is good to hear, in these live discs, that we at least were getting better bit by bit. The opening conversation is Annie and her friends Danielle and Gin (with whom I was briefly infatuated). Obvious conclusion: coming to my shows is an invitation to a stalking.
Loneliness: This is from one of my gigs at Papaccino's. I'd just finished playing "Nobody Does It Better," from the James Bond movie "The Spy Who Loved Me," and apparently had something to say about Duran Duran's take on Bond, "A View To A Kill." I like this one. It swings, man.
Twenty Miles: Also from Papaccino's. This later got recorded on Archaeology, but would've been fairly new at the time of this performance.
Million Valentines: Also eventually on Archaeology.
Coyote: From the same gig as Courage, with Danielle and Annie discussing something about Danielle's boyfriend beforehand. A glimpse into the real world, now that's some art right there. "He got me a present!" What an elatedly ironic backdrop for this song of woe. That's OK, nobody listens to the words. DIXIE ROREM: Well, mister, maybe if ya didn't speak in code, we'd understand you.
Leave Me Be: See, what we have here is the "Coyote song cycle" all in a row. Coyote, Leave Me Be, and finally Footsteps, continuing the myth and metaphor of the coyote and his trees. The grandeur is practically blinding me. I can't remember where this was recorded, but it's obviously on my gear with Speranza playing lead, so it was probably a full night at Coffee Grounds.
Footsteps: Solo at Papaccino's. Very nice haunting delay, and some of the first use of my tongue-rolling scat technique. So I can't really elaborate fully on the interweb what the songs cycle refers to specifically because I don't want to hurt any feelings, but here's a vague explanation. The coyote is me, obviously --picturing myself alone and cold in a cruel environment. The willow is someone I was interested in who misled me into trusting her more than I should've. The snow is someone who broke my heart. The doe is someone who ran from me, as is the mare. And the other coyote is someone who I couldn't have. Trees, in general, are others I shouldn't trust.
Bloom: Now for this short period of time, when my shows were well-attended by good friends, I was more myself and far more entertaining to watch (I was even capable of speaking between songs to some degree). This was from Papaccino's (on my old gear, so still recorded with a boom box) and features the considerable talent of Robert McIntosh on spontaneous found percussion and a host of others clapping the cha-cha.
My Sweet: A eulogy.
Spider Man: I'm pretty sure this is from the Java Creek gig pictured on the album cover with all three of us, and me finally playing djembe.
Luck With You: recorded at Papaccino's. A lot of the ideas I had for this re-working came from my college unplugged album, where I tried new solo acoustic versions of several songs.
Redhead Tonight: Featuring singer/songwriter Dave Potts on harmonica. More in the vein of the Leaky Joe version. Speaking in the middle of songs generally now considered a no-no. Not so then, it seems. Take all the time you need, guys. It's the downfall of my early live albums that I often overlooked fundamental weaknesses in the pursuit of novelty. Ideally, I would pick strong, novel versions of strong songs. That was far more the case on Clapping Sold Separately.
Dollface: With Fried & Speranza at Higher Grounds. At this point, we were very comfortable with this version of the ensemble --djembe, bass, and guitar. Very similar to the Songs You Hate version of the song.
Amanda: Recorded at La Dolce Vita with Speranza playing bass while Fried took a break. Of the 50-100 shows we played a year, there might have been 1-2 that were really special. This was one like that. We had a small but thoroughly involved crowd. It very nearly freaked us out, but fortunately we were able to cope and just play especially well.
Puppy: Recorded at Papaccino's on the same night as Bloom. As with Amanda, there's something about having an audience paying attention (or in this case, participating) that brings out a better performer in me. I can't believe we got an interpretive dancer out of that. Those were fun shows.
Dangerous: Also from Higher Grounds. Nice ideas from Speranza. Live, Speranza and I were very like-minded, always looking for ways to uniquely alter the song from its original, playing the songs differently every night. He was very good at thinking on his feet.
Too Much: Very representative of how this song evolved from its original inception. The difference in our chops between How About A Beating and now is really stark. This was also recorded at La Dolce Vita on that great night. Fried had just rejoined, and was feeling rusty, so we prepared one set with him and one without. He didn't feel like he had this song under his fingers, so we played it without him. I like how Speranza seizes on my triplet fill leading into the final verse to seamlessly and suddenly switch the feel of the arpeggio. That's the kind of instant reaction he was tremendously good at. Subtle, but giving the song a spark.
INTERLUDE: What Patently Obvious Thing Have I Learned By Now?
Going into the studio, you need great preparation & great sounds ready to go. In a band like ours, the drums need to be more involved in the melody, reacting to ideas and setting up big rhythmic figures. Our live albums are in need of a philosophical overhaul.
Album 14: Guitool (1995)
Our last and best commercial studio effort, recorded the summer after I graduated from college and set out to be a PROFESSIONAL ROCK AND ROLL STAR! I would still sell this album today. It's one of the best we ever put together. Also recorded at Free Reelin', I initially tried to book the session with a different staff engineer than Ben Tanner (who engineered Snausages), but when he saw the session, he requested a switch with that guy, then called me to let me know that he made his schedule clear for us. I didn't have the chutzpa to make waves, but fortunately this session ended up going much smoother than the last. We arrived with newer gear (in particular, a new drumset replacing the one I'd played since I was 12), and Ben had a little more faith in our ability to pull off the ambitious timetable. Plus we plied him incessantly with meatball sandwiches from nearby Pasquinni's. On an unrelated note, although I met my wife in college, we did not start dating until several years later, which is unfortunate on a personal level, but yet without that miserable time before her, I would not have been inspired to write these reams and reams of wondrous songs of spectacular rejection. I love you, Vaunne.
Too Much: This is the version on Songs You Hate. I'm extremely happy with this recording of it. All the performances are right on target. Speranza performs a nifty variation on Nick's original lick in the middle two of the solo. Very subtle piano overdub I'd forgotten about in the final verse. A combination of Codies and Speranza, Fried, Cat, and Terri Kempton on backup vocals.
Best of Days: I'd rate this as a top 5 song. This is the version on Songs You Hate, and is very good, but is no longer as representative of the way I currently play it. Backup vocals utilize a trick I employed liberally from this point on: tight harmonies performed by the Codies, but with Speranza's voice in the mix. I'm responsible for hitting the notes, and he's more responsible for trying to follow me, but making his voice the dominant tone. In this way, I can push Speranza's voice easily into the harmony group without him needing to learn the complex parts independently. This is obviously about coping with the reality that someone you like doesn't like you back, despite what you thought the signs said.
Leave Me Be: Another of my strongest --top 10 on my list. I love the "Australian Rugby Chorus," Cat, Speranza, Fried, Terri, and myself hut-hutting at the end. This is subtle "sequel" to Coyote and is followed by Footsteps.
Amazon Women: I like a lot of the words to this song, my favorite being, "I'm desperately invertebrate and looking for a spine." Same backup vocal crew, similar tricks to push Speranza's voice more into the harmony group. Fried devours these bass parts. I wrote this upon leaving Oregon and starting my new life in Denver, with a new girl on my mind. Difficult for me to play live, so it's only rarely on set.
Underneath My Skin: I think this may be my most marketable song. Another top-5 best on my list. (Keep in mind that's like being named "Cleanest Cockroach"). Just so you know I'm not saying this for 20 songs, this was my top-10 ranking of the Least Significant Failures candidate list: 1. Blue as the Moon 2. Best of Days 3. When 4. So Will I 5. Underneath My Skin 6. No One Could 7. Mad About You 8. Leave Me Be 9. Goodbye, Dream 10. Scared.
Daughter of Our Enemy: Favorite of the band. This song was floating around, waiting for an arrangement to bring it out its shell. Some songs really shine in multiple contexts, but our collective enjoyment of this one is definitely tied to the parts, especially Fried's (which, again, he nails effortlessly). An extreme scenario of parental disapproval, which I've never really faced. Mostly, they invented additional romances that never existed just in the hope that I would move the heck out of their house and quit whining.
Touch: I still think this is a very strong song, but for some reason, it's fallen off the set list. I've just plain overlooked it. Prime for a revival. I wrote Fried's solo, but he totally sells it, as usual. This is about not being ready to let go of someone, but knowing that you have to.
This Once: strong uptempo that works well live. Great solo from Speranza. The frenetic euphoria of early love, hoping that just this once it could work out, with fingers crossed.
Two Desperados: In a modified form, this became a staple of the live set. Another good melodic solo from Speranza (very complete idea in an extremely short space). More Speranza harmonizing. Normal vocal crew for the unison out-chorus. You and me, babe, we're just two desperados. (Fitting since it turns out that desperados also sometimes shoot each other in the desert).
Nothing But A Song: top-20 on my list. Great energy to this song, one of our few real power ballads. One of my favorites live. Fully entrenched in a long line of romantic failures, lamenting each as nothing but a song.
Small Time: Although probably the weakest song on this album, I think it still fits well in the flow and sounds good in its role. Beginning to see the cracks in my latest pursuee, yet still my heart falls like through water --slow and deep and always blue.
Man in the Moon: Very difficult live without a piano. Difficult by any stretch. Nonetheless a personal favorite. The guitar solo has two interesting aspects: first, Speranza is playing "deaf," without being able to hear the backing instruments, yet ends up playing in time (this also happened when we tried the same thing on "Break Up"), second, Speranza and I are laying a carpet of about eight different piano parts, recorded two at a time since we only had 4 tracks left. Setting out on my new life of struggle, looking for a partner in crime.
Footsteps: The final song in the Coyote song-cycle. I dropped some hints to following the metaphor back on the notes for Senor Squeaky which you may have understandably missed. Not that it will be particularly satisfying to follow the stupid metaphor. I like this song a lot, probably because it holds a personal meaning. Awful difficult to play live.
Unwelcome: I originally wrote this as a percussion/piano duet (with Robert McIntosh playing marimba and hand persussion and me playing piano and singing --can be heard on Secret Microphone) for my senior composition recital. Musically, I was going for something sparse and event-oriented (although it doesn't really lapse into free time until the very end). Lyrically, I'm expressing my frustrations with the academic musical establishment, which ignores rock and roll as unsophisticated and meritless. I received no end of criticism (songs unheard) for seeking to grow as a singer/songwriter rather than write "legitimate music." (It should be said that my advisor, Vincent McDermott was more accepting of my work) At the end of the song, Speranza and I have a number of themes we are free to cite or alter, making an attempt to respond to what we hear, and also cutting free of the pulse of the song, and instead using our individual breathing as a surrogate for a metronome.
Album 15: Secret Microphone (Live 1996)
I knew that the previous live albums were somewhat lacking, even then. I concluded what I now allude to: too much novelty at the expense of picking the best songs. This is easily the best live album to this point in our catalog, and is only outdone by Clapping Sold Separately (which represents a leap forward in our live performances). These songs tend to be taken from a time when I was trying to make a go at playing professionally full-time. They are all board direct from gigs where I was the sole act on the bill, so the recording quality is far better than any earlier album. They are also much more confident and seasoned from a performance standpoint. And finally, thankfully, I seem to have figured out how to speak into a microphone without any diarrhea coming out. All told, a decent little album.
Unwelcome: this is the original version, written for (and recorded at) my senior composition recital. Percussionist Robert McIntosh plays the marimba and all other percussion. I play piano and sing. I later adapted this version for Flip Nasty (as heard on Guitool). Performed in Evans auditorium on the Lewis & Clark campus. Recorded by Lon Whittier.
This Once: Recorded as a trio at Coffee Grounds.
Bloom: Very trancy version from Coffee Grounds. Nice solo from Speranza.
Scared: A little more mid-tempo than usually, but good groove and energy. Also from Coffee Grounds. This album is also the first one that I put together on DAT by myself. As a result, I was able to very carefully select only the best between-song chatter to segue between songs. Critically important.
Coyote: Also from Coffee Grounds. Great guitar sound from Speranza. We played all the time at Coffee Grounds --the owner was fairly young and pretty into our fence-straddling between acoustic and electric playing. At one point, he booked us to open for a show at another "venue" of his ("The Wherehouse") for a very large crowd (~200 people), but there was a mixup with one of the other opening bands, and he ended up paying us to not play. On the next weekend, we played this gig in front of just Cat.
Thursday's Fool: this was recorded at my senior recital. This same version is also on Flame Cow.
Seize the Day: Nice groove from Speranza.
Mad About You: You can practically hear the River Dreams re-recording wheels spinning over the last two songs. We're talking about Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at the end, with Speranza getting the final word that "Buddhist monks actually have to renounce motorcycles." It's a loose gig that we play.
Best of Days: I have no idea why I'm saying, "Go back to France!" but I stand by it. This was recorded at Cafe Mars in Boulder on a solo gig. This is an interesting stage in the evolution of this song, where I've clearly settled on the fret noise offbeat and vocal rhythmic emphasis, but not quite brought it up to the blistering speed I now prefer. I wish I hadn't done the enunciated part; it kind of wrecks what was otherwise a pretty sweet version. Sweet like "sweet jumps."
Leave Me Be: Due to the length of these gigs (typically 3 hrs), we often split it as if I was solo opening for the band. Nice laid-back pocket on this song.
So Will I: Decent, solid version, pretty much as the song settled out to.
Non-Stop Lovely Good Time: I'm going to rip off an analogy from Bill Simmons. This song is our reuben. I look at it on the menu and think, "no, I'm not really in the mood for that." Then I actually order it turns out to be just the tasty sandwich I was hankering for.
Underneath My Skin: Nice little version. Nice build.
Essence of My Time: Sudden increase in intensity before the guitar solo is a little jarring. I think that's what we were discussing mid-song in asides. Works better for the out-chorus. You can really hear the lead part from the studio version that in conjunction with the rhythm part
Puppy: Form my senior recital. This is the definitive live version of this song that I doubt can ever be topped. I'll probably never play in front of that big a group of willing, attentive people again. Since it was my recital, it was accompanied by a program which included the lyrics of all the songs I sang for the songwriter portion of the evening, which is what I'm referring to when I say, "are you all looking at it and ready to do it?" This was the final song of the recital.
Album 16: Archaeology (1996)
Subtle theme of burying the past --see, now that's clever right there. After several studio albums in a row, we returned to recording ourselves in the basement in order to cut album costs and have more time to record. And although I hold later home studio efforts up as equals of the pro studio recordings we made (e.g., Flame Cow vs Guitool), this one is admittedly quite rough. It was recorded on 4-track cassette, with many of the keyboard parts recorded live by piece (i.e., no quantization --correction of timing) into my keyboard's onboard sequencer. Fried was in Japan for much of this time, and only was able to contribute bass to a few tracks. The remainder are covered by Speranza or myself, with a small handful sequenced. I've always liked this album for its material, but the recording quality is only marginally better than Checkmate, and I've been tempted more than once to re-record the entire album as Archaeology II. Ironically not letting go of the past, see.
Ordinary Guy: One advantage of having all the time you need is getting dozens of takes to pull of those piano trills, then looping them together into the entire song once you've hit them. Hypothetically. Having just ripped this album, I'm now enjoying listening to it. Nice bass part from Speranza, nice backup vocals from Speranza & Cat (in addition to me). Nice solo from Speranza, using one of our favorite effects tricks --the "dead battery flange." We had this Fender flange pedal that we discovered sounded really great when its battery was dying. Eventually, we learned to duplicate that effect by using a variable-voltage AC adapter, which is what we're doing here. Unfortunately, we fried the board on that particular pedal recording Lost, and subsequently couldn't quite get the same sweetness with another pedal. This lyric's not particularly meaningful, about a pretty girl a buddy of mine wooed unsuccessfully on behalf of ordinary guys everywhere.
Archaeology: Fried on bass for this one. Nice tone from Speranza again. For a lot of this album, he didn't own an electric guitar, so he either made the best he could of my somewhat crappy electric, or else we just amped up his acoustic. This was mine. Very muddy backup vocals -- with only 4 tracks, you have to make a lot of decsions early, and combine ("bounce") tracks down, and I didn't really master that technique fully until River Dreams. Generally, you can track like this: record 3 things, then mix them onto the 4th track. Then record 2 more and mix them onto the thrid track, finally, record single elements onto the final two tracks for a total of nine elements. If you're willing to add some karaoke during the bounce, you can push that to 11 items on 4 tracks (which we didn't figure out until River Dreams). The conceptual key to the album, digging up and wondering at the past, with no answers to those questions.
Hero: One of my personal favorites. Out of necessity, all of the instruments except the drums are on two separate sequences. I'm ripping off one of my favorite composers, Charles Ives, in a subtle way by introducing a second, independent ensemble running counter to the primary song (a la several of his works, including "The Unanswered Question" and "Central Park in the Dark"). In that second ensemble, I follow a morph, which is a technique that I'm not aware of anyone else using --although it's doubtful that I really invented it-- in which I change a figure very slowly from one thing to another through very tiny variations in repetition. I also used that same technique in Cockroach Crude. This is based on a short story I never quite completed about a pariah sent on a fool's errand to deliver the ransom of a kidnapped queen.
Twenty Miles: Most of these spoken segues are lifted from our Frumples film, Alien Autopsy: Truth or What? Fried on bass. O'Meara, Cat, and Speranza on backup vocals. This song of support is somewhat out of place on what is otherwise a fairly dark album from a dark time in my life.
Wish You Were Here: Speranza on guitar and bass. I like the percussion breaks on this song. Unlike studio albums, this album marked the first time where the drums were generally not laid down first, but rather as an overdub to a click and following the ideas generated in other parts. I've come to prefer this method for its results, although it is more challenging as a performer. Reminiscences from photos of a love long lost.
Million Valentines: I play all the instruments except for the guitar solo, contributed by the infamous Pete Vincelette of Live Bait. Despite how things ended, I've got a lot of respect for his playing. This is a laying to rest of the worst Valentines day ever. Screw Cupid! Screw him!
Champagne: linked to Jerks by the fade. I like this one a lot --I think the words really flow right together. Of course, you have to know the code to get it, Dixie. DIXIE: mister, you can push me, but you might not like it when I push back. I play bass on this one.
Jerks: This one could really use a second chance re-recorded. This drum part is very hard and took quite a while to get right. Very sarcastic ode to the jerks that seemed to always win out over me.
Open Up: Another personal favorite among my songs. I love this sequence, and I love this drum part, which may feature some of my best brushwork ever. I start out playing open hands on drumset, then move to bundled dowels for the first chorus, then brushes for the second verse & chorus, then back to dowels for the bridge, then brushes on the final verse. This is about that optimistic spark that surges through you when you first realize you are falling for someone.
Skulls of Angels: Borrowing Steve Reich's (another favorite composer) phase music concept in the arrangement. This is a fairly old song, which had been waiting for the right album. I like how this worked out. An early lament for my own role in my romantic failures.
You Can Wait: Here, I wish we'd used an electric instead of distorting Speranza's acoustic. This song is in mixed meter, combining 4/4/, 7/8, and 3/4 at times. Fried on bass. That written piano part on the fade grew out of monkeying around with a quarter-tone version of this song, then re-tempering it to 12-tone octaves. As Sting says, "just like the old man in that famous book by Nabokov." Only his song is a #1 hit 100 times over, and this is just some stupid filler Flip Nasty song.
As I Am: Fried on bass. I like this song, but its catharsis is done for me, I don't often feel moved to play it anymore. True of much of the album, which reflects a lot of personal pain, humiliation, anger and other negative feelings that I wanted to lay to rest. Nice solo from Speranza. Speranza and the Codies pulling their normal backup vocal tricks.
I Am The Moon: This song's in 5, as you can hear in the smarmy countoff ("1....2....5-4-3-2-1) This is my daughter, Cara's (age 2), current favorite "dada song." A slightly augmented version of this recording is on Songs You Hate (adding an extra rhythm guitar and re-recording the muddy vocals). I rank this in my top 20 best songs. Thin metaphor masks theme beaten to death by songwriters (approximately 300 blows coming from me) throughout the ages: "I'm the one who's there for you, but you love someone else, oh why don't you love me, I'm so terribly sad."
Island: Capping off the angst of the album with this cheery half-veiled "screw you!" lyric was sheer brilliance. As a fresh twist, Speranza produced this song (i.e. made decisions about performances, levels, mix, sounds, etc) and also played all the instruments (bass, drums, and guitar). The post-song material is the backup vocals to As I Am played backwards at a slow digital rate on DAT followed by two soundbites from Alien Autopsy, then a segment with Annie Stamper playing a supposedly irate Demi Moore, who threatens me over my "Nerdtease" posters. I recorded it on a handheld tape recorder and played it as a joke at the Peaberry in Boulder.
Album 17: River Dreams (1997)
The only other fully 4-track analog album before we switched to 8-track digital, this is a vast improvement over the recording quality of Archaeology. Since the Beatles also recorded on 4 tracks, I read up on some of their tricks and listened analytically to some of their albums to try to improve upon my technique before doing this album. I think this is one of our better overall albums with tight performances, good songs, and a good flow. I chose or created segue material (which I was very into incorporating at the time) to form a radio-based framework. Fried was also overseas for most of these sessions, so Speranza covered a lot of the bass. Offhand, I don't think I did any bass on this album. We came up with the Abbey Road"Fried is Dead" artwork concept fairly early, and built a couple references into the segues.
Neglect: I have to think for a second, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time I recorded djembe on a non-live album. I perfected the technique during the endless and ultimately fruitless Live Bait 4-track sessions. This is a song about a road trip I took with someone I was dating, pretty much knowing that she was going to end our relationship. Speranza on backup vocals.
Love is Paper: I love this song. The drunken power of raw attraction. Very gritty sounds all around. Fried was here for this bass part, played like he's "kicking whiskey bottles onstage" (Speranza). Eric Rorem joins the backup vocal gang for this album, here with Cat & Speranza. That's O'Meara reprising his ground-breaking end to Sweet Sue by phone at the end.
Don't Lean On Me: Nice pocket on this re-recording. For the re-records, we played the ensemble together without click to capitalize on our familiarity. Most albums since this one struggle with the same balance between very accurate tempos from clicking and very organic feel from emulating live performance. Nice solo from Speranza. I'm not a great pianist, but I like this solo. My best solos are usually thematic to compensate for a lack of virtuosity. Answer to Eric's original Torch & Bacon trivia question ("Which song uses 'pulchritude' in the lyric.") On the fade, we made sure to include some sort of "wheedle-ee" since we can't let go of that Nick-ism. The "Rock Box" interlude cast: Eric Rorem as the host, Cat Mayhugh as Ted, Cody and Speranza as selves.
Rain: A cappella wish for a new start. I attempted to "Speranzize" other vocal lines with minimal Cody support. Bass: Cat Mayhugh, Baritone: Eric Rorem, Tenor1: Speranza, Tenor 2/Lead: Cody.
Ugly American String Quartet: One of two string quartets from my senior recital ("Ilocabro" being the other). Both were written in a contrapuntal, fugatta style where the same melody was passed in variation to each instrument (2 violins, viola, cello).
Lost: I love this song. Metaphor for loving over distance achieved through brilliant extraterrestrial theme. I won a Cody Weathers award for this one (don't worry, the judges are an impartial panel of my backup singers). In an oft-repeated anecdote speaking well to the non-compensated dedication of my buddies to my ridiculous art, I explain the ending: This is supposed to represent the welcoming song of the alien civilization when the two lovers are reunited. Several ideas are in motion here: event-based rhythm, instigation-response, microtonality, found percussion, etc. The key to the vocal is that all three backup vocalists (Speranza, Eric, & Cat) were given three words to chant --1 trigger and 2 responses. If anyone said their trigger, the other two had to pick a response (this also happened in the instruments), but otherwise they could say whichever they wanted. On the first take, Cat said his trigger, but then Speranza said Eric's response by mistake. Eric noticed, looked at Speranza, then looked at me as if to say, "why aren't you stopping, we just screwed up!" and then everybody lost it. What commitment to the craft of avant-garde riduculous pompous backup singing! The final sound is running a guitar slide circle-to-fret with excess pressure down the length of a bass string (the clicking is the slide bumping over the actual frets). Other instruments: a metal locker door rattled and banged, a thumb chime, a continous-tone flute patch. This song fried the dead-battery flange pedal's motherboard. So there.
Sarah: Fried on bass. I wrote this song on my first tour while in Boise and started playing it immediately on the road. I steal parts of the chorus a few years later in the fade of "When," but otherwise haven't played this song much in the past few years. I like the tap-hammer outro, even though it's very hard to play.
Seize the Day: originally on Checkmate. The take was dependent on the drum solo since we were playing it ensemble, but I think I was able to get something I liked after only a few attempts. I don't take many drum solos, but this is probably my best, most balanced one. Naturally, we had to bring back the bongos for the bridge. We know your demands, listener. You must have bongos. We like the ensemble chord at the end. Just like "Day In The Life" because we're the new Beatles. And here's another clue you might need/The Coyote is Fried.
Ilocabro: My other recital string quartet. This is my favorite of the two. Ah, the little Apple voice synthesizer and the hillarious "John Fried 2000."
Wardrobe: I think this one cracks the top 20. It's certainly a mainstay of the live show. Speranza on bass. We had this crappy 5-string that we only rarely broke out. It required re-tuning so that the open B-string would be in tune with the 5th fret. This version is on Songs You Hate.
No One Is Alone: Very minimal arrangement, a role song that works in the context of the album, but has never been able to stand by itself for me. Speranza is the first backup vocal, then the rest of the gang joins in. I hope you enjoy reading about nuances of who's singing backup because I'm obviously committed to reporting it over discussing the meaning or content of the songs. Here, we take the dead-battery flange through several steps, changing the voltage as the part is played until the effect finally degrades.
Passing Through: Not quite a top-20 song, but one of the other standouts from this album (this version's on Songs You Hate). Great bass part and solo from Speranza. I don't know I had that piano solo in me --normally my improvs are lame to the Nth. Capped off with the vocal triggers from the end of Lost.
Mad About You: much more Police in this arrangement. Because we're also the new Police. Fried on bass. Great chromatic riff in Speranza's solo.
River Dreams: A song about finding your own way. I originally wrote this for Robert McIntosh's senior percussion recital (duet for piano-persussionist and alto), requiring him to switch instruments frequently throughout. A key effect is smacking reverberantly on the frame of a piano or slamming the lid while the sustain pedal is held. Alanna Whittier performed the speaking and singing on the original performance, and Ursula Gebhart performed the spoken portion on this recording. This was one of the most complex mixes I've ever done because of the number of instruments that have to drift on and off of each of the 4 tracks. Multiple pan (position left-right in the stereo mix) and level (volume) changes were required with each change, and I had to make a map of what to do at what time in order to "perform a mix" for the song. I love the final fade chorus. Speranza's got some really great ideas for that spooky guitar solo. That final sound is made by "bowing" my finger across a drum head in what we in the biz like to call a "whale noise."
INTERLUDE: What Patently Obvious Thing Have I Learned By Now?
The drums are more to my liking --though more challenging to perform-- when recorded as a late-stage overdub able to fully react to the improvised motifs of other players. The vocal is best recorded early as the cornerstone creative element.
Album 18: Songs You Hate (1998)
Our second, updated "Greatest Hits" album (the first being Not!), and our first album issued on CD rather than cassette. As is the case with most such collections, we were trying to have one single album to market at shows and on tour which would likely have all the Flip Nastiest songs that our doe-eyed rookie listeners just fell under the spell of. To that end, we did not include So Will I or Coyote. Wait, that's not to that end at all! This album also provided the impetus for us to join the swelling landscape of the world-wide web (with a lot of initial help from Eric Rorem), as we posted the initial cancerous cells of the now-overgrown tumor that is Torch & Bacon. Most of these songs are brought in unaltered from other albums I've already reacted to with a few exceptions, so I'll copy my original reactions and add a few more thoughts as they arise.
Leave Me Be: (GUITOOL) Another of my strongest --top 10 on my list. I love the "Australian Rugby Chorus," Cat, Speranza, Fried, Terri, and myself hut-hutting at the end. This is subtle "sequel" to Coyote and is followed by Footsteps.
Mad About You: (RIVER DREAMS) much more Police in this arrangement than the original As Rome Burns version. Because we're also the new Police. Fried on bass. Great chromatic riff in Speranza's solo.
Essence of My Time: (LESS YACKIN') A little bit older. This was an optional inclusion at the Yackin' session. Basically, we had a very limited budget, and needed to record basic instrumental tracks (the part where we sit together and play the song sans vocals, sans solos, as a group) by a certain time. If we had enough extra time, there were a couple of songs we'd add. This was one, and "You Can Stop Hiding" and "Shy Birds" were the others (which we didn't get to). The high point of this song, for me, has to be the way Speranza hits that heavy guitar at the end (it's actually two parts --a rhythm part and a subtle lead line that fits inside it, making it seemingly oscillate high and low).
Dead Man's Blues: (SNAUSAGES) Seyca joins the John Speranza lyric interpretation club with this entry: Cody says, "I will retain...." Seyca says, "I wear a ten...." Not to be outdone, Speranza says, "I'll irritate...." There's a very good live version on Clapping Sold Separately, as well. One of my favorites.
Dollface: (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED) Left over instrumental track from the River Dreams sessions with vocals recorded fresh on ADAT. This was one of my first ADAT projects, and the vocals are a little too muddy as a result of my unfamiliarity with the equipment. Disappointment with that outcome as well as past experience with similar growing pains on Archaeology led me to decide on recording some "practice albums" before Flame Cow. Great solo from Speranza. I oscillate from year to year on whether my backup vocals will be pre-arranged harmonies or improvised. This is one of the better improv harmony songs. I love timbales.
I Am The Moon: (ARCHAEOLOGY REMIX) This song's in 5, as you can hear in the smarmy countoff ("1....2....5-4-3-2-1) This is my daughter, Cara's (age 2), current favorite "dada song." This remix is the original 4-track version with a new extra rhythm guitar and new re-recorded vocals. I rank this in my top 20 best songs. Thin metaphor masks theme beaten to death by songwriters (approximately 300 blows coming from me) throughout the ages: "I'm the one who's there for you, but you love someone else, oh why don't you love me, I'm so terribly sad."
Running Away: (LESS YACKIN') One of my most difficult arrangements to play. I personally can't pull this song off live, although Speranza cobbled together a very good solo guitar arrangement that we occasionally did. A lot of very tight counterpoint --I was ver proud of this song. By band consensus, this song made the cut onto the greatest hits, although I probably wouldn't select it now.
I Won't Quit: (DRIVE BY) Shopped around a little bit, but as always no takers. Speranza can definitely play bass with the best of them. Great sparse solo. He's very talented and incredibly cognizant of the big picture of a song --more so than me. I wrote this while feeling down over a long, harsh period of stinging public criticism in (this is going to sound really stupid) Jazz Band in which every rehearsal was a chance for some lame-o beret-sportin' sax player to chip in about the crispness of my hi-hat, legitimacy of my setups, etc rather than deal with their own absolute lack of rhythm or originality. Surely it was I, Cody Weathers, who caused them to Anti-Bird. I and I alone, you see. As a result, I take no crap from sax players, man.
Best of Days: (GUITOOL) I'd rate this as a top 5 song. This is the version, though very good, is no longer as representative of the way I currently play it. Backup vocals utilize a trick I employed liberally from this point on: tight harmonies performed by the Codies, but with Speranza's voice in the mix. I'm responsible for hitting the notes, and he's more responsible for trying to follow me, but making his voice the dominant tone. In this way, I can push Speranza's voice easily into the harmony group without him needing to learn the complex parts independently. This is obviously about coping with the reality that someone you like doesn't like you back, despite what you thought the signs said.
Little Miss NYC: (NOT! REMIX) Despite being ridiculously simple to play, this one has somehow stood the test of time. We didn't have enough time or available tracks to add all the backup vocals I intended on the recording, but I added them on this remix, along with the acoustic guitar solo and rhythm part (me playing). Cody says, "Gonna break down the walls with endless love...." Speranza says, "Gonna break down the walls with LSD...." I definitely prefer the extra parts.
Puppy: (SNAUSAGES) Another one of those mandatory songs that was good as an opener or closer. For a long time, my Portland (v 1.0) shows used this as the platform for a variety of very fun group scats. That trend didn't continue back in Denver, however. Great solo from Speranza. As the song goes along, more and more instruments join the guitar part.
Make Still Your Wings: (SNAUSAGES) I wrote this as a lullabye, not that I had anyone to sing to sleep at the time. I really like this full arrangement of the song. Later, this became the flagship song of our "Gussie's Style" live approach. I booked a gig at Gussie's in Westminster, which was 4 hours a night for 4 nights in a row. Well, I was under the weather, so I asked Speranza to come out and help me stretch the songs out with extra solos. It ended up being a very addictive breakthrough that led us to reinventing songs on the fly for the remainder of the time we played together. That particular Gussie's version is the backbone of the 17-minute fake "Exemplathon" recording off Monkey Eat Monkey (I just overdubbed a fake spoken intro, bass and djembe on top of the existing live recording).
October Air: (DRIVE BY) the drop-D version with a bridge that has since disappeared anew. Cat, Usher, Fried, Speranza, and Bekah singing backup vocals.
Scared: (SNAUSAGES) Ironically, this song probably makes people who previously wouldn't have considered the possibility wonder if I, in fact, might kill little girls. What a fantastic song of seduction. We're firmly in the realm of words that I love, but are largely misunderstood because of a.) enunciation and b.) poetic masking. What I'm saying is: I love this song. Live staple even now. And these days, there's almost an unwritten rule that this song be followed by....
Underneath My Skin: (GUITOOL) I think this may be my most marketable song. Another top-5 best on my list. (Keep in mind that's like being named "Cleanest Cockroach"). Just so you know I'm not saying this for 20 songs, this was my top-10 ranking of the Least Significant Failures candidate list: 1. Blue as the Moon 2. Best of Days 3. When 4. So Will I 5. Underneath My Skin 6. No One Could 7. Mad About You 8. Leave Me Be 9. Goodbye, Dream 10. Scared.
Wardrobe: (RIVER DREAMS) I think this one cracks the top 20. It's certainly a mainstay of the live show. Speranza on bass. We had this crappy 5-string that we only rarely broke out. It required re-tuning so that the open B-string would be in tune with the 5th fret.
Short Leg: (SNAUSAGES) another great guitar sound from Speranza and fantastic sputtering interpretation of the rhythm. Tremendous solo --great ideas throughout the album that I often steal as the basis for my live scats. The phrase, "don't trip on the short leg now," is something I told myself driving back to Denver from Portland when I reached Cheyenne at 2 or 3 AM, pushing the last 90 miles home after two hard days of driving.
Nothing But A Song: (GUITOOL) top-20 on my list. Great energy to this song, one of our few real power ballads. One of my favorites live. Fully entrenched in a long line of romantic failures, lamenting each as nothing but a song.
Something Out: (LESS YACKIN') One of my favorites. I love Speranza's solo at the top of the song, which ends with a "wind-down glissando," where we started madly detuning his string on the final note. Nice solos by all three players, very distinct variety of ideas. Jason Kaneshiro later recorded a cover of this (in a song swap) that's on Tongue Meets Eyeball. I shopped this song very aggressively to publishers, but couldn't land a deal for it. Wishing that somehow the force and simplicity of love's feelings could by themselves successfully navigate the social obstacles to romance.
Passing Through: (RIVER DREAMS) Not quite a top-20 song, but one of the other standouts from River Dreams. Great bass part and solo from Speranza. I don't know I had that piano solo in me --normally my improvs are lame to the Nth. Capped off with the vocal triggers from the end of Lost.
Dangerous: (DRIVE BY) Another one that held a lot of personal attachment for me. I loved playing this song. Great sparse solos from Speranza --the same man I still quote proudly as saying "less is more.... than nothing at all." We did a good job containing this groove. By this point, I'd really started to write lyrics that resonated with me --I put a lot more effort into these words than, say, the words on Checkmate. Like "booga-doo-yow" (sung by Cat at the end).
Too Much: (GUITOOL) I'm extremely happy with this recording of it. All the performances are right on target. Speranza performs a nifty variation on Nick's original lick in the middle two of the solo. Very subtle piano overdub I'd forgotten about in the final verse. A combination of Codies and Speranza, Fried, Cat, and Terri Kempton on backup vocals.
Album 19: Monkey Eat Monkey (Sampler 1998)
The fake sampler of all the fake bands on my fake record label. This was a fun project we mostly did to work out the kinks recording with the ADAT, but it also allowed us to stretch outside of our normal schtick and try some radically different things on for size, some of which (like the texture-guitars of The Brothers Three) proved useful on future songs ("Love Is A Secret," "Eclipse").
Fanfare for Glenn's Ferry (Nuffin): One semester, the advanced composition seminar hired a horn quartet (2 trumpets, french horn, trombone) to read pieces we wrote. This was mine, obviously. Glenn's Ferry is a very little town nestled on the Snake River between Boise and Twin Falls (about 80 miles east of Boise on I-84). It was one of my landmarks on my many drives from Denver to Portland, and the fictionalized setting of the first annual Checkmate Exemplathon. Do you guys mind that I'm breaking out of the Torch & Bacon myth, or should I resume my self-aggrandizing propaganda? You're aware I've sold like 500 total albums ever, right?
I Can't Have Two (Leaky Joe): Joh3n O'Meara singing, Speranza on guitar and bass, me on piano and drums (and screaming). The "Smells Like Flowers" bridge harkens back to my first side project with best buddy O'Meara, The O'Weathers Jazz Duo. Speranza screams "Tell it like it is!" This is a fairly meaningless fun song about some poor bastard getting himself into a pickle over two archetypical women --Laura the "girl next door" and Beth the "bad girl minx." That jerk deserves what he gets!
No One Could (Fingernail Factory): Dave Potts singing, Eric Rorem on bass, Speranza on drums, me on guitar and high backup vocals, Dixie Rorem on guitar solo. All the negative thoughts eroding at a battered confidence (not mine, obviously --I was dynamite with the ladies in 1998). At first, I considered this a throwaway song, but subsequently re-evaluated it as one of my best. It says a lot about your writing ability when the line between garbage and genius is so fine.
Two Make One (The Executioners): This song is hyperserialized prior to the fade, with every element in some sense controlled by some version of the row. Speranza and I play all the instruments, Cat & I contributed poetry to the blender.
Bang Bang Girl (Leaky Joe): Much of the instrumental track was recorded while on tour, staying with Brian Costello in Portland (guitar: me, djembe: Robert McIntosh, harmonica: Brian). Speranza on bass. Me trying to disguise my voice as Leaky's backing vocals. Me on the slide guitar solo.
And You Say (The Brothers Three): This kind of intro is what happens when you make home recording equipment cheap enough for layabouts to purchase. You asked for this, America. That's an actual thunderstorm recorded underneath the track. Stream-of-consciousness reminiscence of running into an old flame over a bed of guitar textures. Speranza, Cat, and I sing the whole line in unison. I play tablas, Speranza and I cover the four guitar parts together, and he plays the written bass part. This song is prime for re-recording. Guntar: Cat. Ynkwar: Me. Hutwar/Interviewer: Speranza.
Class (Farm Sister): This was an exercise I wrote in college for modern theory. I wanted a recording of it, and also was interested in refining my use of speech in songs. Eric Rorem reads the main part, Speranza and I are the other voices and percussion. The chalkboard is the sound of all the chalk strokes to write uppercase "I LOVE YOU" 123-12-circle-12-1234-123-circle-arc.
M (Jiffle Baf'T'Bak): Speranza singing lead, all instruments covered by me except the violin (Dixie Rorem) and harmonica (I think Dave Potts did that). Some extra percussion in the final solo by Fried. The bridge is nearly-alphabetical All By Charm Does Each Fool Gather His InJured Kiss --Love Makes No One Promise. How incredibly clever. The fade is part of the "Afraid of Love" song cycle of songs sharing that theme (Afraid of Love, No One Could, M, Train). Fortunately, I was able to crank out a song in the approximately one week between getting Mimi's # and being told to not use it except for in medical emergencies. Truly, these fascinating stories of unparalleled rejection juxtaposed against finally finding true love are clinching proof for the existence of God. The Lord had a plan for me, and I'm not even joking. I have beautiful daughters and a fantastic wife and will never be loveless again. Who would've bet on that in 1998? Not me, that's for sure. I was busy spooking friends of friends.
Spell (The Brothers Three): I originally meant for this nest of guitars to be distorted, and now think I probably should've stuck with that plan. The luge call (Speranza) was definitely a topical reference to the ridiculous Winter Olympics going on at the time. Treatise on the dark fantasy of love via hypnosis as an expose on the desire for control. If you look it up, you'll find that "treatise" is a synonym for "lame-o juvenile song idea." Check it out. I'll wait right here. Oh, I do like our little interlude jokes.
Love Tears Bears (Jiffle Baf'T'Bak): Speranza singing again, also covering bass. Me on drums, piano, guitar, and backup vocals. A favorite of Eric's. I've never actually been cheated on because you have to actually set up a stable relationship in order to subsequently ruin it. But I'm an angry little guy nonetheless.
Grip of the Pete (The Executioners): This is entirely experimental pastiche, loosely emulating the style of Stockhausen. We made several passes over the song, randomly punching elements in and out each time like layers of swiss cheese. That's how delicious it is. The title comes from random text Speranza was reading aloud during one pass from a book on bog mummies. The actual passage is "the grip of the peat," but it caused us both to crack up (as you can hear) since we were both trapped in the clutches of Pete Vincelette in Live Bait at the time. It's odd that I can remember so much of the text as it whizzes by. There's a distorted sample from a song called "Nang Nang" that Brian Costello and Robert McIntosh improvised during the Bang Bang girl session
Cruel (Flip Nasty): I remixed this version for Flame Cow to get rid of some muddiness. Like No One Could, I didn't realize how much I would like this song once it was actually on tape. Best werewolf song since Warren Zevon! Don't you get it? If you love me, you'll get infected! Wait, that sounds a lot more dangerous than I meant it to.... Fantastic solo from Speranza. I played bass on this since Fried was in Japan (again).
I Was There, It Just Wasn't Funny (Farm Sister): This was an extremely early ROQUE-era speech song written by John O'Meara and myself and kept alive by the surprising memorization skills of Matt Preheim. There's actually an original version of this lying around somewhere that I'd completely forgotten about until just now. Again, Eric Rorem reads the main line, with Vaunne supplying the "No, I'm shy" samples for me over the phone back before she would admit how smitten she was with me. Speranza reads the infamous tomato monologue.
Make Still Your Wings (Flip Nasty): This is an augmented live track. The original live performance was from Gussie's, during one of four consecutive 4-hour nights where Speranza and I were really stretching and exploring the material in a very loose, improvisatory manner. As mentioned elsewhere, that was a watershed gig for us, and that kind of free expansion --very much in the vein of how jazz is played live-- became our default modus operandi pretty much from then on. On the original track, I'm playing the rhythm guitar and Speranza's playing lead. For this CD, however, I wanted to build even more upon the orignal performance by adding some extra studio tracks (bass & djembe, which I played). With those, I tried to remain faithful to the feel of the song, reacting or pre-announcing different motifs throughout. To cap it off, I invented the fake introduction (explaining the fact that there were now four instruments as the artifact of a fake special guest) and obviously flew in some applause from other sources. This performance really vaulted this song into a prominent position in the live show. For a while, I consistently opened with it, to warm up my scat chops and establish the tone of the show (i.e. give people an opportunity to evacuate the premises). This version really shows off Speranza's skill as an improviser. One of my favorite ideas of his during the course of the song is the eerie "fade-in" effect, achieved by rolling his guitar's volume knob in from zero with his pinkie as he played. The cookie after the song is a quarter-tone jazz loop I threw together. Sweet.
Album 20: Fistful of Blues (1999 Leaky Joe CD)
Not satisfied with a sampler of the fake bands on my fake record label, we decided that one of them needed his own full-length album. Joh3n O'Meara boldly put himself on the line and in the spotlight in a watershed performance as Leaky Joe --progressive Seattle bluesman. Or so some speculate. As a musician, I've always had an uneasy love-hate relationship with the blues. On the one hand, I have undeniably carried it around as an influence, and have made fairly good money playing it as a drummer. On the other hand, I find it to be mired in its own tradition, largely stale, and incestuously derivative. I am further irked by analytical misperceptions of the general public as to what the blues is really made of (and I'll leave it at that). The concept for this album (progressive blues) was to explore alternate chord progressions other than standard I-IV-V variations while maintaining a fringe connection to the gestalt (actual delta blues term) of blueness. I think this comes through fairly well in all the new material written for the album --a little less so in other songs written at other times and simply recorded here to fill out the disc.
Overture: This is just a quick concept Joh3n, Cat, and I came up with as an intro. The grumblers are Cat & me. Eric Rorem played bass.
Anyone But Me: Eric Rorem on bass, me on everything else. I double Joh3n's vocal. The guitar solo whine is achieved by "bowing" a guitar slide across one of the string nodes on all 6 strings. I think this song actually stands up well on its own, and started playing it fairly regularly live. This is sure what it felt like to be Cody Weathers in 1999. Darkest before the dawn, they say.
I Can't Have Two: One of the original Leaky Joe tunes from Monkey Eat Monkey. Speranza on guitar and bass, me on piano and drums (and screaming). The "Smells Like Flowers" bridge harkens back to my first side project with best buddy O'Meara, The O'Weathers Jazz Duo. Speranza screams "Tell it like it is!" Nice scat from O'Meara. Overall, he did a great job stepping up to the plate as a lead singer for some deceptively-difficult songs. This is a fairly meaningless fun song about some poor bastard getting himself into a pickle over two archetypical women --Laura the "girl next door" and Beth the "bad girl minx." That jerk deserves what he gets!
Sonja's Son: An older, previously unrecorded throwaway from college. I severely underestimated the quality of a whole stretch of songs, there: Sonja's Son, Daughter of Our Enemy, Salt of the Memory, Along, Hero, and Cruel were all written about the same time, only to be shelved until much later. I think that part of that stems from these being songs of fiction --telling stories that have little to do with me personally. O'Meara does a great job with this vocal. I play all the instruments. Decent brushwork, which I used to be reluctantly good at.
Deutschland Nookie: That's Dara Hogue on the spoken translation. These chords move like standard 12-bar blues, but they're totally different, related geometrically rather than as I-IV-V. O'Meara also speaks fluent German, having spent a year abroad in high school, during which time, I stole his a.) piano and b.) German strudel-pie, Maike.
Redhead Tonight: All I'm saying is that Abra Moore is hot and her band is super-tight. Who wouldn't want to amp down the speed on his recorder and sing in falsetto to fake her voice into a song? I ask you: who? The lead guitar work is from "Big John," the affable lead guitarist from The AM Blues Band, for whom I played drums at the time. Great bunch of guys with tons of talent, but ultimately not as motivated to get the kind of work they were capable of. At the time, I was playing my own gigs, as well as gigging with The Stunt Beatles and rehearsing with AM Blues. As The Stunt Beatles got more and more work, I had to amicably quit AM Blues. I play all the other instruments.
Don't Slam That Door: Eric Rorem on bass, Ron Feldman (AM Blues) on lead guitar, me on the rest. Joh3n had several distinct vocal personalities prepared for Leaky. This is the one I like to call "Grumpy Leaky." There's also "Smooth Leaky" and "Leaky Vedder." Nice solo, Ron. Come to think of it, I don't think I actually divulged to the AM Blues guys that this was a fake band. I didn't exactly lie, but I'm pretty sure I just let them assume it was a real session. What a jerk I am.
Bang Bang Girl: as heard on Monkey Eat Monkey. Much of the instrumental track was recorded while on tour, staying with Brian Costello in Portland (guitar: me, djembe: Robert McIntosh, harmonica: Brian). Speranza on bass. Me trying to disguise my voice as Leaky's backing vocals. Me on the slide guitar solo. Like Deutschland Nookie, this follows the harmonic rhythm of standard 12-bar blues, with alternate chords in place of I-IV-V. The other subtle variation on long-standing blues tradition is to repeat the second couplet of each verse phrase rather than the first.
Birthday: OK, now this actually is a throwaway song. Firmly so. Not misjudged or underestimated. Terri Kempton on backup vocals, digeridoo, and clapping. Me on the rest.
Cipher: He bitched about how hard it was, but Joh3n ultimately pulled it off. Very difficult song, rhythmically.
Puppy: Alternate feel to the old standard. Larry LaMette on bass & Big John on lead again (both AM Blues).
And Then The Fireman Ate The Eggs: Speranza, O'Meara, Cat, and I wrote these words as a round-robin short story (where you write a little bit then hand it to the next person folded so that they only see what you wrote and not what came before) for our own amusement one night in Village Inn after playing somewhere. It was not intended to be a song, but I went ahead and crossed all remaining lines of decency and put it over this vamp. This is the only song where O'Meara's not the voice. Two variations on the blues here: substitute chords, and also an 11/8 truncated shuffle (as opposed to 12/8). Probably the single greatest contribution of this song to the Flip Nasty lexicon (worth the terrible price of admission) is the introduction of vocally-distorted scats, without which we would never have such masterworks as "China, Present Day." I originally arranged that version of the national anthem for Dara Hogue (of Deutschland translation fame) to perform (piano/vocal) at an official Air Force function.
Album 21: Flame Cow Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2000)
This is by far the best-sounding Flip Nasty album. Too bad it was our last. Hobo diaries aside, Speranza basically quit following these sessions. As his availability dwindled, I covered more of the guitar tracks than on any other Flip album. Fried and I tried a brief stint with me moving to guitar and Kevin Ozias joining the band on drums, which worked very well. However, love intervened, and I moved to Buffalo to woo and wed my best friend, Vaunne, closing the book on our 12-year stint as Denver's greatest nerd band. But enough of these wistful sad tales! Several production decisions worth noting set this album apart from all that preceded it. First, we intentionally over-recorded, which allowed us to be more selective (believe it or not, much is left off of this 120-minute double disc) for the final mix. That said, now that the material has really sunk in, I would probably now exclude "Sorry" and replace it with "Stay," "Need," or "Garbage" (in that order). Second, we took a lot of time --almost 2 years-- to really get the performances right. Third, I had used Monkey Eat Monkey and Fistful of Blues as a crash course in recording with ADAT, and was able to get a much better initial recording quality than I ever had before through better engineering and better production tactics. Fourth, this remains the only album we've ever professionally mastered (through Ty Tabor at Alien Beans studios in Katy, TX --also guitarist for King's X), which polished the mixes to radio-ready quality.
Afraid of Love: The first layer recorded was me singing and playing the rhythm guitar while Speranza improvised a lead line. This allowed us to react in real time to one another, creating a uniquely-nuanced version. You can hear this in the way that Speranza picks up on the fills I insert in the rhythm part or how my scat builds on the lead motif he plays seconds earlier. Next, I recorded a little "hand percussion kit" of djembe, bongos, and conga. That allows me to pick and choose which of the now-established melodic elements I will react to or emphasize with the drums. Finally, we recorded Fried's bass part, which is written rather than improvised. This allows Fried to lock in rhythmically with everything else. When written, this song was supposed to tie to several others via the chorus, but in the final mix, only No One Could made the cut, with M and Train not even recorded for the session. The lyric is a fairly straightforward introspection on (drum roll) fear of love.
Coyote: We set this song aside to re-record rather than include on Songs You Hate. Given our familiarity with the song, we recorded guitar, drums, and bass first (you can hear a nice stereo effect as the drums bleed into the guitar amp mic) with the vocals as an overdub. Great sound from Speranza. The lyric has been talked about elsewhere, so I'll just summarize this as a metaphor for poor choices of the heart.
So Will I: Also set aside to re-record rather than include on Songs You Hate. Speranza and I played the whole song at once (guitar, djembe, vocal) and Fried overdubbed later. On this album, I tried to have as many stereo guitar tracks as possible. For acoustics, that usually meant running a direct line for one channel and micing the guitar for the other. This convoluted web of obtuse words is a hit with audiences everywhere, who naturally gravitate to the undercurrent theme of living for today. Carpe diem, motherf*****.
Eclipse: This song is arranged in a guitar-texture manner akin to the Brothers Three songs on Monkey Eat Monkey. I play all the guitar parts (except Speranza's solo), with Fried on bass. Speranza was in effect phasing himself out of the band during this time, with a limited availability for sessions, so in the latter stages of recording, I assumed most of the guitar duties so that we could use what time he did have for solos (which I couldn't really carry). The first line sums it up for me, "pain, pain, songs of pain. Songs of loss and love and rain. My songs, me all drawn in crayon. This heart --dumb anchor-- drowns smart brain." Obviously, "smart brain" makes this a work of fiction.
Cinderella Dream: I like the song portion of this quite a bit as a nice little reminiscence about chances past. I was determined on this album to try to be more experimental "under the radar" in several different ways. For this, I was trying to incorporate speech and the rhythms of speech into an interactive drum solo on the fade, where drums try to emulate snippets of speech that float by. The text is from a short story I wrote in college, "Children of Bison Spur." Of all the experiments on this album (and I think it was the right decision to push), this is the one whose results I like least, and even I normally fast forward once the speech starts. So there, Fried. I kind of wish I'd just kept this song simple. Fried on bass, me on everything else, Amy Lin reading the text. As a result of skipping, I'd kind of forgotten about the a cappella part, which is supposed to be waking from the repetitious dream.
Thursday's Fool: From my senior recital. This is a very wistful song about loneliness and hope in the face of clear rejection, and the way that feelings of love linger a while even after someone hurts you. So terribly sad, that boy at the piano.
China, Present Day: This thing has a life of its own and probably should form its own band. Unlike so much of this album, this song was actually USED in the movie Flame Cow, as incidental music for Brian Costello's scene, set in.... China, Present Day. Very simple arrangement: drop-D tuned guitar (through a Marshall amp) coupled with a distorted scat and one extra backing vocal to beef up the "Yeah!" part. So popular with other members of the Frumples Pictures crew, this has become mandatory incidental music for all subsequent films.
Shiny Dimes: A more uptempo version of a song originally recorded for Archaeology with 12-string guitar instead of keyboard. I like these words, which chronicle three different women who wanted nothing to do with me. I can say this stuff now without feeling quite so stupid since everything turned out pretty well for me in the end.
Fire: This is one of my favorite songs off the album. I actually wrote this song as independent floating sections (including a long pause) whose order is determined by chance, so what serves as the intro today, could be the bridge tomorrow, verses could turn into double-legth, etc. Of course, just like any other planned randomness (see "Break Up" or "Man in the Moon"), order somehow prevails anyway, which I take as a sign. I played all the instruments, but Eric Rorem and Terri Kempton contribute backing vocals and breathing sounds (or in Eric's case, giggling) at the end, which I "flicker-mixed" in keeping with the fire theme --I moved the faders, mutes and pans around rapidly and at random, emulating the way tongues of open fire dance, disappear, and reappear suddenly.
Sorry: I like this song, but it turned out to be a little too hard an arrangement to really nail. I've always been interested in incorporating latin-jazz rhythms, and these are pretty challenging. In retrospect, I should've replaced this song with "Stay," "Need," or "Garbage," but I was somewhat swayed by the fact that this featured all three of us instead of just me, and that Fried had a solo. Listening to it now, it's not a catastrophe, just a little loose. Still, those other three are better. This song's about not being able to help who your heart chooses, from both sides of the equation.
Along: This is Vaunne's favorite off of this album, which is to say it contains the least "ape screaming." I wrote this several years earlier, and had been waiting for the right arrangement, but ultimately kept it pretty much as written --piano and voice. Terri Kempton plays cello and makes fun of the line "I hope you enjoy the way I treat you." Like several others written around the same time (Sonja's Son, Daughter of Our Enemy, Cruel, Hero, Salt of the Memory), this got put on the back burner in part because the lyrics are a little detatched from my actual life, being a post-apocalyptic love song as a loose analogy for loyalty (the others are about: divorce & reconcilliation, parental disapproval of a mate, werewolves & lust, politics & betrayal, and mermaids. No matter what John Fried says, I was defeinitely NOT obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons and Gamma World before becoming obsessed with music).
Creeps: I originally recorded this on 4-track for Archaeology. For this version, I just lifted the 4-track instruments (drums, bass, and multiple guitars), added an extra stereo guitar, and re-recorded the vocals on the cleaner ADAT tracks. I played all the instruments. The lyric is fairly straightforward, musing on the ridiculous hopeful thoughts of "someone" waiting expectantly for an unlikely return call.
Cockroach Crude: This was performed by the Lewis & Clark percussion ensemble at my senior recital. It's a concept piece, expressing the corruption of a future cockroach society by the ghosts of humans trapped in radioactive crude oil. Extremely weighty, relevant issues that needed to be included on this album. Technically, there are two semi-independent 3-person ensembles: the cockroaches (castanets, wood block, and snare) and the ghosts (bass drum, 2 sets of toms). The wood block & castanet play a long morph (as explained in Archaeology's version of Hero: a musical figure that changes very gradually through repetition into a second motif). The ghosts play a series of other themes representative of periods in human social development, which the snare is influenced by and transfers into the morph. The two ensembles otherwise do not play in time with each other. A conductor (in this case, Mark Goodenberger) is required to signal the ghosts and snare when to commence the different phases of their parts.
Deploy Flame Cow: Actual dialogue from Flame Cow (Joh3n O'Meara as Farmer Johannsen, Corinna Buchholz as Milkmaid Petra) followed by the ensuing incidental music that plays under the (SPOILERS!!) montage of destruction. Similar idea to China, Present Day, but lacking that peculiar unduplicatable magic.
When: I think this is a top-5 song. Can't say why, but it's an attention-getter live. Again, let's remember that I'm not really a rock star, and all these platitudes I declare are more than a little sad to read. Coyote-tuned ode to longing and the thrill of pursuit, liberally using images from dreams to make the compelling case and dance craze sweeping the nation (have you done "the when?"). Fried on bass, Speranza soloing, me on the rest.
Birdy: I'm probably off-base, but I think this is a top-20 song. I played all the instruments, and had to punch in all of the tapping fills for the bass part because "I know John Fried, and you sir are no John Fried." I explained the song concept thusly in a Q&A article with Scott Farr, "Birdy came out of wanting a quirky metaphor for being wrong for someone, yet insisting against hope that it could work. It stemmed from a short story idea that I never followed up on, although some of it came out in Robotica, Mine. The original idea is that this girl's sentient parrot falls in love with her in this very cerebral, complicated way, inventing all these manners and rituals which ultimately don't solve the fact that, well, he's a bird and that's just not going to pan out. I was visiting Joh3n O'Meara in Seattle and in the middle of reading Jeanette Winterson's 'Sexing The Cherry' which has these bizarre stream-of-consciousness passages, got inspired, and just started writing little clips that I refined down into the verses." That chord coming out of the piano solo is a microtonal C7, with the 7th midway between major and minor.
If You Had My Eyes: Originally written for Archaeology. Fried on bass, me on the rest. Sad little ditty about wanting to stop a suicide. See, it's a little better when you think I'm just speaking in tongues, isn't it....
Crush: I really like this one, although it doesn't work well live. The chorus is a haiku in meter but not, as Speranza points out, in mu. "A dangerous crush/She murders me with screaming/I die in a hole." The bridge is microtonal (quarter tones) and in a difficult odd time, requiring that Fried play two overlapping bass parts in slightly different tunings to cover the whole part, which he does seamlessly, not that anyone would notice. That may actually be the definition of "seamlessly," but I'll have to ask my dad. Speranza's solo is in a random spin-the-wheel tuning.
Salt of the Memory: I'm really happy with how well Fried & I got the feel of this song. I tend to play in time, but ahead of the beat (I'm at the right rate, but a little ahead), but here, I did the opposite, playing a little bit behind the beat, which feels very good. Very groovy. It took me about 20 takes to play that piano solo. Since college, I've lost my piano chops noticeably. This is clearly due to the fact that I got really angry at the piano proficiency graduation requirement (which meant I had to re-learn the instrument in a very traditional way) and became very sick of practicing piano as a result. As mentioned elsewhere, this song's ostensibly about mermaids. Deadly mermaids. Avast, ye mateys!
Love Is A Secret: Another texture-guitar arrangement. Poor Cyranno. This just missed the cut for re-recording for Least Significant Failures/I Love You, Helicopter (I recorded/lifted 43 songs. This and Dollface were the first two alternates).
Patience: I love this song. The words are a stream of consciousness imagery canvas, although the chorus has a straightforward meaning that might be stated by a raving lunatic as "Just you wait! Just you wait! You'll all see! You are destined to be mine!" Nice live version of this on Clapping Sold Separately. The two pieces of text are also stream-of-consciousness (written down, obviously) meditations on unrequited love.
ALITB: Joel Pietsch played this at my senior recital. I love his interpretaion and lazy swinging feel. He played three separate piano pieces for me at the recital and prepared for them without much direction from me. I trusted him completely, and I'm glad I didn't get involved, because on paper, I wouldn't have supported some of the interpretive choices he made that worked out so nicely.
Everything: Will the X-Files references seem hopelessly dated ten years from now? Probably, since they already seem dated right now. Great Speranza solo. Oh that's funny, I forgot that I actually do say, "I'm waiting: you are destined to be mine!" just like the raving lunatic interpreting "Patience."
No One Could: I'd say top-10, inching into top-5 for this song. When we recorded this for Monkey Eat Monkey, I realized that it was actually a lot better than I originally thought, and decided to re-record it with the band. Speranza plays all the guitars, Fried on bass, me on drums and vocals. Everything as it should be. As mentioned in the MEM recording, this is "all the negative thoughts eroding at a battered confidence (not mine, obviously --I was dynamite with the ladies in 1998)."
Cruel: Long on the back burner since it is technically a werewolf's lusty lament, the Monkey Eat Monkey recording (this is just a remix of that) made me reconsider its overall quality. I like how I make decisions about songs based on factors that I should be acutely aware have no relevance to my listeners/captives such as "what is this song about" which would be almost universally-answered by audiences everywhere as "gobbledygook!" Maybe that's the basis of my limited appeal. As Seal says regarding his decision not to publish his lyrics in the liner notes of his albums, "I want the words to mean what you want them to mean, not what I want them to mean." To me, a song about werewolves and impulses of the flesh. To you, a song about stabbing your boss in the eye. You're welcome.
Love Is Paper: This is another augmented live track like Monkey Eat Monkey's "Make Still Your Wings." The original track was Speranza and myself playing two acoustic guitars at the Borders Books on County Line in Denver. We played some very good shows there, which --like Gussies-- are ideal for subsequent studio augmentation because of their pristine lack of audience noise. The additional elements are: me playing drums with bound dowels, Fried playing bass (and during the breakdown, rhythmically buzzing his open patch cord with his fingers), and Liz Trice, Libby Martin, & Terri Kempton all singing backup and joining the scat. Liz performs the solo scat --she's a bassist and singer/songwriter I used to run into at open stages. She is the only other singer I ever came across who incorporated so much scat into her live performance. I'm fairly certain that I never gave her a contributor copy of this album. Liz, if you're out there.... Only Terri pulls off the fake spontaneous laugh I asked the singers to insert into their performance when I make my hi-llarious joke as the song winds down. Cat is the only person in attendance at the original gig (possibly because at the time, he couldn't drive away).
That Dress: This was supposed to remain a true hidden track, with "Love is Paper" labeled "Hidden Track" on the track listing, but in actuality containing two songs. I think hidden tracks in the CD era are funny (hence: "it's not like you're not gonna find it."). Mastering engineer, Ty Tabor, however, misinterpreted my instructions and added a start-ID for this one as well. But I have to forgive that lapse because he's one of the greatest guitarists of all time in one of the greatest bands of all time. Tee-hee: I like the chords for this song.
INTERLUDE: What Patently Obvious Thing Have I Learned By Now?
The core of every song is the vocal and rhythm guitar (or piano --whichever carries the chords). Those two elements have to be tight for anything else to fall into place. For our purposes, it is best to record those two elements first, and preferably together, when possible. I'd rather have mic bleed on the right performances that have perfectly-isolated sounds that don't feel right together.
Album 22: I Hate You (2000 Box Set Disc 1)
This album of hitherto-unreleased material mines session leftovers from several different albums over the years, with the lion's share coming from the Flame Cow sessions.
Garbage: I wrote this as part of Karl Wicklund's open challenge to all songwriters. He and another friend of his had written the original "Garbage" and invited every musician they knew to write their own version to include on a compilation album. I kept his first verse and the guts of the melody, but changed the chords and put the whole thing in 7/8 with new words for all the other verses. This song is under the opening credits of Flame Cow, but not on the soundtrack (obviously! Duh!)
To Know Your Love Again: This is a demo of the song I later re-recorded for The Tale of A Sad & Lonely Boy Who Dreamed of Love. This was recorded in my Denver apartment with a single mic on 4-track shortly after I wrote the song.
Falling Hard: Written in college, recorded for Flame Cow, didn't make the cut. Sometimes, I feel like cutting a jazz album, but it hasn't quite risen up the priority ladder yet. Also, despite its influence on my writing, I can't write straight jazz any more than I can write straight heavy metal. This period of time is where I began to cut my teeth on some guitar solos for the first time. I'm miles behind Speranza, and didn't really start feeling comfortable with my efforts until Fortnight (although soloing still remains my Achilles' Heel as a player)
You Can Stop Hiding: This an unrecorded alternate for the Less Yackin' sessions. This recording is a 4-track version that was recorded for, but not included on Archaeology. I played all the instruments.
Road's End: This was incidental music in my feature film, Colfax. It plays under the scene where the three friends finally reach the anti-climactic end of Colfax Ave.
Someone New: This is one of the first 20 songs I ever wrote. Perfect illustration of one of my pet mantras and pieces of advice for budding songwriters: you need to write a lot more songs, man. Bear with me, here are my first 20 songs by the list I typically use (which ignores some snippets I wrote prior to ROQUE and doesn't incorporate certain improvised or experimental stuff): 1.It Don't Come Easy 2. Feelings 3. Man in the Shadows 4. You Didn't Have To Put My Life Away 5. Exploitation 6. Struggle to the Top 7. Overboard 8. Slime Bunnies 9. I Was There, It Just Wasn't Funny 10. Prophecy 11. Jamming/HSJ 12. At Your Mercy 13. Met Her Through A Friend 14. Someone New 15. Little Miss NYC 16. Send Me A Letter 17. Moonlight 18. My Little Ray of Sunshine 19. Teenage Crop 20. Ellen. I've bolded those that I would even consider playing now (7/20), and of those, only Little Miss NYC would even be considered as a regular part of the rotation (roughly defined as the best 75 songs I can actually play live). So of the first 20 songs I wrote, only one is still good enough to keep active (and even that's open to debate). In fact, the next lowest numbers on the most recent rotation I printed up are 58 (Separate Ways) and 60 (Always). Very subjective, of course, and I'm naturally biased towards my most recent stuff, but here's the point: I often talk to or play with songwriters who have the chops to play paying gigs. A big subgroup of those have written 10-20 songs and basically stopped, secure in the belief that they're now ready to play original shows. But I can almost guarantee you that your first 20 songs are, at best, mediocre with some upper mediocrity thrown in for good measure. I've written approximately 400 and my top 20 are still only "refreshingly decent" by international standards. Only supah-geniuses write hits in their first 20. You need to write a lot more songs, man.
Kitten: I don't normally do too much re-writing after a certain point (I know, I need to write more songs, man), but I tried three separate overhauls of this song in an attempt to somehow salvage this riff. Three strikes. It just ain't happening.
Scissors: Incidental music for the "Cat & Cody's screenwriting method fantasy" scene from Colfax. Obviously, these are all writing-related percussive noises.
I Hate You: Speranza has always hated playing Love Is Paper.
Seyca's Special Happy Birthday Song: Great little throw-together featuring a chorus of dozens (well "manies") of Seyca's friends chiming in our own little private "Hey, Jude" down in the Stewart dorm lounge. You know who you are.
Certainly: Stream of consciousness lyric about --it can now be admitted-- my budding crush on the then-verboten Vaunne. Oh why can't I find someone like Vaunne for my very own self? The answer to that is because I AM FATED TO BE WITH VAUNNE, THAT'S WHY. The secret theme of a handful of other songs from the Flame Cow era.
Stay: This was written circa River Dreams and recorded for Flame Cow. It was top of the list of alternates, and as mentioned elsewhere is probably one I would now include in lieu of "Sorry." The main reason for exclusion was that I played all the instruments, but Sorry featured the rest of the band very prominently (including Fried's only bass solo for the batch).
Heart of It: I wrote this while stranded in Boise, Idaho, waiting for my car to be repaired on my way back to Denver post-graduation. I was in a dark and anxious mood while writing it, and these lyrics focus on three separate regrets on my mind at the time --times where I bit my tongue instead of speaking my mind. I played all the instruments on this recording. I like my 12-string on this song.
Movie Movie Girl: Actual message from Joh3n left for my 25th birthday. I pressured him into leaving the followup at the end. I like the sound of the cacophanic "rabble rabble" at the beginning, but this is a fairly dumb idea for a song, and as time has gone by, I can't get past that. I do like the fade, which is comprised of snippets of verse I wrote walking around my apartment, looking at dozens of old photos. Yeah, if this were a little more cryptic in the beginning, I'd probably still like it. But I don't.
At Your Mercy: Colby and I wrote this very early on in ROQUE. This is a re-arrangement recorded on 4-track with new ADAT vocals. Decent little tune, but definitely not in the upper echelon of my material.
Memorial: More incidental music from Colfax; this is under the scene where Charlie and Tyler meet Peter prior to their interview. The best thing that can be said about my harmonica playing is that it is spirited!
Dance With Me Anyway: The segue is Speranza mocking my go-to scat during a particularly dead gig. This song was written in high school, and this recording was a 4-track shot that didn't go on Archaeology. I played or sequenced everything. I've always liked playing latin-jazz rhythms.
Shiny Dimes: The original, more melancholy version recorded for Archaeology.
Courage (live): From our final full band gig with Speranza in the fold, at the Rising Phoenix (Derek Sanchez on percussion, Fried on bass, Speranza on electric guitar, me on acoustic), which was the source of much of the material on Clapping Sold Separately.
Edie: Incidental music underneath Charlie's uncomfortable monologue in Colfax.
Need: This is probably #2 on my list to go back on Flame Cow if I did the album over. Again, it got marked down a little bit at the time because I played all the instruments, and I wanted to favor songs with the band. This song modulates up a step with each time around.
Blue as the Moon: I rank this as my best song to date. This was the original version, as recorded for the Colfax opening credits. This underwent a very rapid evolution live, as I noticed people connecting with it (i.e. not leaving, possibly even looking at me or --on occasion-- applauding), and as Hal Mortenson encouraged us to include it in the Stunt Beatles' set. As a result, this was shortly re-recorded in more of its live form for the Stunt Beatles 2x3<4 album with me on everything but bass (upright played by Larry Elwood). This version is just me on two vocals (a very high-gain mic for the "quiet" verses, and a "normal" setting taking over for the chorus) and two guitars (rhythm & lead). All percussive guitar strikes (and a little extra scat) are covered during the guitar tracks.
Album 23: Clapping Sold Separately (Live 2000)
Our best live album, all of this material was pulled from just two gigs, one with myself and percussionist Derek Sanchez at La Dolce Vita, and the other with Derek, Speranza, Fried, and myself at The Rising Phoenix. I prefer this album over other live discs because the performances are from my peak as a live player.
Afraid of Love: I opened the Dolce gig with this, while waiting for Derek to arrive. For most of this gig, there were only a few people floating in and out, in addition to Doug, the very gracious owner who was alwasy very good to us.
Dead Man's Blues: This version was the blueprint for the Least Significant Failures re-recording. This was recorded at the Rising Phoenix. That was one scary little coffee shop, located in what Fried called "the strip mall of the damned," in North Denver. The parking lot looked like meteorite central with craters dating back to the Pioneer days. The place was a bizarre Goth hangout with all this D&D/Magic stuff adorning the walls. Very Harry Potter. I love Speranza's little "shimmer fills."
Best of Days: This is still basically how I play this song live. Recorded at Dolce. We played at Dolce Vita under a couple of different ownerships, but it was Doug who really made the quiet neighborhood cafe in Old Town Arvada a real haven for local acoustic musicians. At the beginning of the song, I'm telling Derek that we're going to delay playing Deutschland Nookie (which would've been for our own amusement to mark time and play something different) since somebody just walked in.
Open Up: This arrangement was a spontaneous departure from the piano-based original version on Archaeology, and is now the standard way I play it. Somewhere in here, I finally learned to joke around on stage.
Cruel: Another spontaneous departure from the standard feel of the song that has now become standard.
Nothing But A Song: Elongated intro. This guy came on in to Dolce for a Best of Days, got really into it, sat down for the explanation of this song, dropped some money in the jar and took a CD, then walked out (that's Derek saying, "Thanks. You, too.") So we were back alone again and just stretched this thing waaaaaay out. We were really on that night, but unfortunately, practically no one was there to hear it.
Wardrobe: I've always loved playing this song. This is from Dolce, when a few more people showed up at the end, but still weren't very involved. It was a toss-up between this and the Phoenix version to make it on the album.
October Air: These kind of lengthy discussions during the intro (Speranza & I debate how he should re-interpret his typical guitar part to the new tempo) were a luxury afforded us by the forgiving apathy of our audiences. Thank you for your support.
Spider Man: "Do you have any latex?" I like this version --it's typical of the kind of exploration I enjoyed during the stripped-down solo gigs.
Patience: Derek says in reference to the Dolce screen door slamming in the wind, "You know, the constant door-slamming gives the illusion of lots of people coming and going out of this place...." "Probably mostly going." I was really feeling the anguish of this song that night. Even though it's a stream-of-consciousness lyric with only a peripheral literal meaning, it still has an emotional memory for how I felt at the time it was written.
If You Had My Eyes: I loved Speranza's idea to play the string segments between the tuning pegs and 0th fret so much I stole it for the recorded version.
Anyone But Me: This was from Phoenix, on a solo set with only Derek, covering newer material that the Johns didn't know as well. I liked this "Leaky Joe" song enough to appropriate it for most gigs.
Sonja's Son: Another "Leaky Joe" song I frequently played.
When: Also from the solo set at Phoenix. I love playing this song live. It's very flexible for feel & tempo, while being a rich chord bed for scatting..
INTERLUDE: What Patently Obvious Thing Have I Learned By Now?
Live vocals need to be performed in the moment with intensity (though not necessarily volume) and feeling. It is truly important to listen to what you're doing and keep fresh rather than perform the script of your rehearsal with utmost fidelity. Even in a quiet gig, you've got to project passion and rhythm.
Album 24: 2x3<4 (2000 Stunt Beatles CD)
This was, on several different levels, the best side project band I was ever involved in. Hal Mortensen and I had a very good professional relationship, and I'm very happy with how this album came together. In reviewing these songs, I'll mostly focus on my approach as a producer, since they are mostly not mine.
Round the Bend: One of Hal's originals, co-written with members of a former band. This is an example of this album's "default ensemble:" dry acoustic guitar panned hard lef& right (mic on one side, pickup on the other), djembe just off-center (mono image, from 2 mics --overhead and on the floor behind the bell-- reverb burned with the signal), upright bass (mic'ed) just off center, lead (Hal) & harmony (me) vocal panned opposite our instruments (i.e. my djembe is a little bit left, and my voice is a little bit right) to spread mic bleed from the live tracking into an ipso facto room effect. Add'l verb burned onto the vocals later.
2x3<4: I liked keeping countoffs and a little studio chatter in to give this a live feel. Also in the default ensemble settings. This is one of Hal's.
Cocoon: For my songs on this album, I end up playing most of the instruments since live, these were typically breaks for Hal or songs where he only sang backup. Because we were rushed to record basic tracks before I left for Buffalo, he didn't end up recording any parts for my songs. I started by recording the guitar and vocal together, then Larry recorded a nice bowed bass part as an overdub (all of Larry's parts were overdubbed after initial tracking by me & Hal). I added the lead guitar after I moved to Buffalo.
Never Been to Spain: I don't normally like recording covers (Elvis), but Hal got to make the call on this. This was one of our most popular live covers. As with most of the other songs we knew cold, this was laid down quickly in the default ensemble. Even though I recorded the djembe before Larry performed his actual solo, I had an idea of the kind of stuff he liked doing from prior live versions, and just tried to play something generally complementary to those anticipated ideas.
Fire & Rain: James Taylor cover in default ensemble. One of the producer jobs is balancing out the order of the songs. I was trying to juggle covers with originals, my songs vs. Hal's, default ensemble vs other instrumentation, slow vs. fast, and also spread the strongest material to the corners (start, middle, and end). I like to start with two strong mid-tempo or up-tempo songs followed by a strong slower song, then an open section, making sure to save another of the strongest songs for the middle, another open section, and cap off with a run of strong material. Picking openers and closers is a subjective
Rocky Racoon/Over My Head: Somewhere along the line, we started playing this Beatles standard live (probably because it's one of the few covers I can quickly figure out and teach someone) as a break for Hal. Then at some other point, I started mixing in a fade based on a King's X song. This was default ensemble plus extra vocals recorded in Buffalo.
On A Shelf: We hadn't really played this original of Hal's very much live, and hadn't had a chance to really lock in our parts before we had to record it, so I tried to give it a little extra something with a few extra overdubs in Buffalo (lead guitar & clapping). I tried to use the lead guitar (knowing my limitations) as a responder, filling the spaces between the lines in the lead vocal and introducing a couple of other themes to complement Hal's melody. I chose the clapping (Vaunne helped out with it) to add a little extra excitement to those instrumental sections.
To Make You Feel My Love: I have to confess, I hate this Bob Dylan/Garth Brooks song. Larry didn't feel comfortable with his part during our session, so I had to play bass in Buffalo. I also added a lead guitar part that I typically actually played live as a gimmick.
Separate Ways: I revived this song for the session to try to balance out a very mid-tempo/slow setlist with one more token fast song for the middle of the album. Larry improvised a great part with practically no preparation. All the other instruments are me. This turned out better than I expected it --so much so that it nearly made the cut onto Least Significant failures. Two extra codies, lead guitar and (for one of the first times) Roland V-Drums (electronic drumset) all added on later in Buffalo. The tempo, drums, and ensemble change is intended as a counterpoint to the songs leading into it, hopefully keeping the album fresh for the listener.
The Rage: Like "On A Shelf," we hadn't spent as much time on this one before recording. To punch it up, I decided to add a third vocal and a lead guitar. Another nice bowed bass part from Larry.
Oui, Je Sais: I covered all the instruments on this one. This was one that we started playing at some of our Red Lion gigs. I was inspired to write a semi-zydeco feel after hearing a Zawinul Syndicate song on KUVO, but my memory of it ("Medicine Man") is better than the actual song. The arrangement of this is truer to the way we played it live, rather than as originally written.
Wonderful Tongiht: I also hate this song, but it does belong on the album since we played it at most gigs. This is just the default ensemble.
Speed: This was a really raw initial track, just Hal's guitar/voice with djembe. This was the first time I'd even heard the song, and Larry didn't want to improvise a part (I covered the bass in Buffalo). I did a couple of subtle things once I sat down with the overdubs in Buffalo to build up the excitement that Hal was going for: I made sure to bring my backup vocal a little more into the foreground with some edge to the performance, I made up that little response figure that the bass & organ share as a counterpoint to Hal's vocal pauses, and I settled on that "ballpark" organ patch and the Bach Fugue opening as a fun twist. Just a little whimsy, says the gardening man.
Fall On Me: I wrote this song for Vaunne's birthday 2000, just before we started dating. This time the gift of song turned out pretty well for me. Larry on upright.
Some Kind of Wonderful: Now this cover was my favorite. I added a couple of layers in addition to the default ensemble (one extra backup vocal & the slide guitar). The slide guitar is intended to bring out the blues-rock flavor and be a little gimmicky variety this late in the album. My vocals are intentionally a little out of balance and in the foreground (a la Speed) to give the track a rawer, more energetic feel.
Dream Meadow: It was tempting to go with 3-part harmony here --there's definitely a thrid line right there-- but I decided to stick with the default ensemble on Hal's signature original tune. This pretty much exactly as we played it live.
Blue as the Moon: I don't think I'll improve on this version of my best song for quite a while, which is why I've broken my typical philosophy and re-incorporated it as is onto two subsequent albums (The Tale of a Sad & Lonely Boy Who Dreamed of Love, and now Least Significant Failures). I play everything except the upright bass from Larry. I put the djembe and lead guitar on as overdubs in Buffalo. In order to fit them into the interplay of the other instruments, I intentionally had them not only react to themes in the other instruments, but also anticipate them, giving the illusion that other instruments were reacting instead to them (a good example of this is the bent notes in the scat, where the guitar appears to be the origin of the idea, when in fact, it was the scat). I'd forgotten about the "Ferris Vaunne" hidden track.
Album 25: The Top Secret Band That's So Secret That The Members Don't Even Know That They're In The Band (2000 Sunhouse Branch CD)
While living in Buffalo, I threw this together as a surprise birthday present for Cat, using a.) some demos he and I recorded in high school for a side project that never materialized, b.) some lyrics he wrote for another set of side-project songs after college and c.) a smattering of my own excess material. The title and many of the fictional characters mentioned within (David A. Kelmscott, et al.) are lifted from a novel Cat wrote around the same time. This contains, without a doubt, my strongest collaborative material in the "new lyric songs." Cat's talent for words took the pressure off of me and was refreshing in its variance from the kinds of ideas I usually put to paper. That's why we're doing another one, to be released soon....
The Beauty of the Universe: That message always makes me crack up. Martin! Answer your phone! Mmmm. Somehow, this setup of how Sunhouse Branch fits into the Neverending Flip Nasty Myth evolved into a lighthearted defense of my own creationist beliefs. This little spoken-word piece is therefore probably my single greatest artistic expression of socio-political commentary ever, which isn't saying much.
The Absinthe Drinkers: These are some of Cat's words from the second project (with minor modifications from me to make them more singable). I had a surprising fit of competence on the lead guitar line. One of my favorites off the album, and one that I've occasionally played live. I've hardwired this drum patch into my V-Drums. On the new material, I had to speed the ADAT up to deepen my voice on playback. Because that's all it takes to sound perfectly like Cat.
The Abysmal Refugee: That's Cat singing, c.1991. The original demo is harpsichord and Cat's vocal. I added drums, backup vocals, and bass for the final track. One of the subtle comedies of this project is that I'm totally guessing what the words to the early demos are in the online lyric page. There's some good stuff going on here --short, but sweet.
Why Should I Fly?: This is actually a song that Colby Goff & I wrote together (Colby's words, melody together, original chords from Colby, subsequent chords by me) early on in ROQUE. It's been significantly restylized here.
Peach Cider: The first thing said is actually Cat's post-it note suggestions for the song. These are his words from project #2 with my music (a serial jazz piece with the row spelled out in the walk, crossed with 1/4-tone baritone sax).
Savage Rhythm In Our Hearts: One of the 1991 demos with Cat's original vocal. The original demo was fairly ambitious for two people recording karaoke-style: I laid down drums first with nothing else, then we overdubbed Cat's vocal and my original guitar (including my improbable tap-hammer solo) together. For this recording, I doubled the guitar and added bass.
One Will Win You: This was one of my excess new songs, written around the same time as "Blue As The Moon." As with "Anyone But Me" on the Leaky Joe album, I immediately fell in love with this "throwaway song" once it was actually recorded. It was featured in our final Frumples film, "Vampires: They Come From Space." This is my favorite off the album.
Sylvan Wisdom: Another improbable tap-hammer part in the intro for this original 1991 demo. The new elements are the wah-wah bass, drums, and lead guitar in the main section of the song.
Neon Girl: One of the newer Cat lyrics (with only minor modifications from me) over my music. That's Vaunne speaking. This is supposed to sound more like a live Sunhouse Branch track. Bet i fooled you, huh?
Peace's Bane: one of the 1991 demos, featuring original keyboard from me & vocal from Cat coupled with new drums, bass, guitar, and choir of Codies. One of the refreshing parts of working with Cat is how different his approach is to everything. His lyrics are very different from mine, his
Be Kind to Animals: This is a leftover song from the writing I did for As Rome Burns. Originally, I intended to use a rough demo of it Speranza and I cut back in high school with piano & bass. Oh so sad, the ladies treat him like an animal. I weep until dreaming.
Salad Shooter: Cat, Speranza and I wrote and karaoke-recorded this in an afternoon as the music for a fake commercial we shot with Fried for some high school class of his. Bottom line, this is an extremely educational song. The original recording is me on piano & lead vocal, Speranza on the phased solo guitar, and Cat contributing the low "salad shooter!" vocal. I beefed this up for this album with drums, additional rhythm guitar, bass, and extra vocals. Now, it kicks extra ass. YEAH!
Wings To Carve: Lyrics from Cat, music from me. I dig this one. I definitely prefer the newer material over the original demos.
Fire & Ice: Now this definitely has some Type O Negative vibe going on with all the direct guitars and "fake Cat" voice. I think I had the right idea to re-record this, but it probably needs to be done over with better guitars and a better solo. By Nuno Bettencourt, probably. We'll just bring him in for a quick session.
Dunlichity Kirk: Original music (keyboard) written and performed by Cat back in '91. All I've added are the radios, a new low drone, and the spooky pitch-shift-pedal guitar. End of flippin' messages, man.
Album 26: Tongue Meets Eyeball (Sampler 2000)
With several full-length side projects recorded since Monkey Eat Monkey, and a total of 5 albums in concurrent release, I decided to put together another sampler to offer as a bonus for the brilliant "Price Packages" that have pretty much never been used on the website.
Deep (UFO Catcher): This is the same version that's on "The Tale...."
The Absinthe Drinkers (Sunhouse Branch): Off of "The Top Secret Band...."
Round the Bend (The Stunt Beatles): Off of "2x3<4"
Something Out (Jiffle Baf't'Bak): This was actually recorded (all instruments/programming/vocals) by Jason Kaneshiro, another composition major in my program. We did a song swap as an exercise, where we each got nothing but a lead sheet (chords and melody) for a song we were otherwise unfamiliar with and thereby came up with a fresh take on it. My half of the swap was his song, "Cynical One," which I might throw on a box set disc sometime. Lots of interesting differences. It helps to know that whereas my primary instrument is drums, Jason's is bass. You can instantly hear the way that difference separates our approaches, where my vocals tend to be extremely syncopated, and his bass parts are much more fluidly improvised within the idiom.
Don't Slam That Door (Leaky Joe): Off of "Fistful of Blues"
Slime Bunnies (live) (The Executioners): The opening segment is the original recording of the original song, written and performed by Matt Preheim and myself for the Frumples Pictures "Family Ties" skit (combined with crowd noise from our 1991 Battle of the Bands appearance). I subsequently arranged some parts (early on in ROQUE) for us to play, but --frankly-- those parts are lame. This version is (after the intro) a semi-serialized arrangement specific to the Executioners. The verse guitar part is the row, but the bass part is a rip-off of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. I'm just lucky that the crowd noise loop settled on "You guys suck!" during the pause. The fade includes Vaunne singing and trying not to crack up, and is obviously taken entirely from Elmer Fudd meets Wagner. So there, hippity-hop.
When (Flip Nasty): From Flame Cow.
Primrose (EZluvR): Eric Rorem wrote this song, and he sings and plays bass here. I play drums and piano, and helped arrange the song.
Late Last Night (Barry Shapiro): Barry was a regular player at the Abstract Cafe open stage that The Stunt Beatles hosted. I suggested that he record a demo with me when I was first trying to get clients for my Checkmate Studios business. I essentially produced the album (In Remission), and played many of the backing instruments (bass, djembe, agogo bells, and backing vocals on this track). The whole project was a crash course into many of the realities of that market for me, from quick engineering to pricing and intervention.
Large-Animal Veterinarian Blues (live) (Dr. Lee Garrett's Supreme All-Stars of the Free Universe): This was an extremely rough recording of a homework assignment I wrote for my modern theory class in college, being sight-read by members of the class, most of whom I can no longer identify. The heavily-reverbed vocal is a 2000 overdub. I know I'm playing guitar, Renee Mungas and Robert McIntosh are playing piano (Robert on the lower vamp, Renee on the higher part, which was actually written for flute), a guy named John is on upright bass. This is an event-based piece, in the vein of the end of "Unwelcome," combining motifs of choice with responses and improvisation over a vamp. In the middle, Professor Vincent McDermott moves the recorder into a different position. I fade before the original end, which was a failed attempt to scat into the resonant cavity of the piano (failed because that particular upright piano didn't have a very good sostenuto).
Standing (The Brothers Three): Written, but not considered for, Archaeology, this is thematically tied with those songs (burying the past). I went back to the well alone, with a heavily-textured arrangement and three-part unison vocal. I like this song, but it's not as good a recording as the original Brothers Three material. This is a metaphor for betrayal despite an emotional debt to pay, played out in a story about a stranger who helps defend a small town from outlaws, only to be killed by the mayor of the town who is enraged to discover that the stranger had bedded his daughter. That's right, bedded.
Sleep (Fingernail Factory): This was another song swap, this time with songwriter Dave Potts, who also lent a guest vocal to the Monkey Eat Monkey recording of "No One Could." This time, he recorded everything himself and just sent me the final mix. Unlike the song swap with Jason, Dave already knew (and chose) this song. It's still interesting to compare our approaches, though.
Future Farmers of America (live) (Farm Sister): Man, I want to hit the next song button right now. I included this just for posterity, but it definitely makes me cringe every time I hear it. That's Michal Broadbent reading an actual letter to the editor during a Papaccino's gig as an installment of the ever-popular "Making Up Song Game." You must remember, this was before the internet became the international trivial vomitorium we all now know and love, and finding something like this text was really more rare and worthy of commemorating back then (1994). Nonetheless, the thing I desperately, desperately wish I could remove is everything I say during the course of the song. If I would just shut my yap, quit interrupting her, cut the unit conversion class out, and limit the chorus to a sudden passionate outburst of "Oh, piggy!" this would actually be palatable, and maybe even funny (at least on first listen) the way it is when Fried hits the 500 Miles chorus on The Bootleg Nobody Else Would Make. Also, the artistic focus of this song has ironically shifted from how funny we thought we were to how callous we actually were to perform this --to quote Michal, "To me, it's a prime example of why our children are the way they are."
Do It (live) (Leaky Joe): Crank it. I can't take over the Leaky Joe franchise. O'Meara owns the man. This is a re-recording of a song Speranza and I wrote together c.1992 and performed occasionally at Paris. I would like to do another Leaky album, but I'm not sure if I can pony up enough cash to pry O'Meara from the other ocean for a weeklong session (because he loves those). Plus he's got stars and babies to think about.
2x3<4 (The Stunt Beatles): from 2x3<4
The Absinthe Drinkers (Sunhouse Branch): from "The Top Secret Band...."
China, Present Day/Leave Me Be (live) (Flip Nasty): This is an augmented live track from our last Flip Nasty gig, the 2000 Bolder Boulder. The original track is me on vocals & electric guitar, Fried on bass, and Kevin Ozias on drums. Unfortunately, Kevin's drums are almost inaudible, so I re-recorded new drums in Buffalo (you can hear a little remnant of Kevin's peeking out in the background of the main track). After Speranza officially left the band, Fried and I decided to reconfigure, with me permanently moving into the guitarist slot and inviting the incredibly-talented Kevin to join us as a permanent member. Had I stayed in Denver, I think this incarnation of the band would've had a lot of fun. We were definitely poised to move away from acoustic shows and back into full-out rock and roll. However --as I like to say-- life intervened, and I couldn't pass up the chance to be with Vaunne. This track and a few others from this gig are already selected for the future live retrospective "If Flip Nasty Falls in the Forest...." I must be stoned on espresso to write "future live retrospective," simultaneously merging all three dimensions of time into one wormhole of a phrase. That's the power of this band, man. We bend space-time. Routinely.
Album 27: The Tale of a Sad and Lonely Boy Who Dreamed of Love (2001)
I know it says UFO Catcher, but obviously this is actually my first solo album. Other than a couple of bass parts on the songs lifted from 2x3<4, I played all the instruments. Responding to popular outcry (especially from she to whom the album is dedicated), this is an all-acoustic disc featuring lots of brand spankin' new love songs for Vaunne plus a couple of older songs she liked. Most of this material came from two separate ongoing sessions: the first recorded in Buffalo, and the second set of songs recorded a year later in Portland.
Intro: I put this "pre-prise" of the first verse/chorus of "It Can't Rain Every Day" on to set the tone for the sound and theme of the album.
I Got It Right: This is a song about driving cross-country to be with Vaunne in Buffalo. This was part of the "first group" of songs recorded for this album, that I wrote and recorded while in Buffalo, as part of an EP gift to Vaunne. That's right, you hitch your wagon to me, you gonna get an EP!
Fall On Me: I wrote this song for Vaunne before we were dating, as an ode to our friendship and support for each other. This is the same version off of 2x3<4.
Caramel: This song is about the long time Vaunne and I spent growing together before we realized our love for each other. Part of the first group.
Through Dusty Towns On Wheels Of Fire: I wrote this as a potential work-for-hire for a presentation Elise's company was doing. They decided to go with licensing something else. Mostly because I kinda suck.
Numb: This is a song about the exhiliration of being happy and in love and feeling at home at last.
To Know Your Love Again: This is a slightly older song of playful longing, recorded in demo form for I Hate You. I recorded this in the second group, needing to fill out some more time on the album and include another up-tempo song, and it was lyrically appropriate to the overall theme.
June 16, 2001: The title is our wedding date, obviously. This was originally written as a string quartet, to be played as Vaunne's processional. However, the string quartet we hired --despite being paid $100/member and being given the parts (and demo CDs of a sequenced version of the piece) almost 3 months in advance-- called us a month before the wedding and said it was too difficult for them to perform. Their first suggestion for a remedy was that they would be willing to press PLAY on a CD player and let the sequenced version guide Vaunne down the aisle. To this, I replied, "Frankly, if it was acceptable for the CD to play the processional, I wouldn't have hired you." I made the guy walk through the score with me over the phone, assessing which parts they were able to play, then I rewrote some of the material and sent them a new, easier version which they ultimately still slaughtered. Just for reference, I am maybe the world's weakest lead guitarist, yet here I am, playing the original.
Two Rings: I wrote this poem about being made for each other as part of our ceremony.
I'll Never Be Far From Your Side: This was our first dance at the wedding. Continuing the pre-nuptial disaster theme, I broke my left elbow in a fall a few weeks before the wedding, having not yet recorded this song. With a broken elbow like mine (specifically, a radial-head fracture), you don't wear a cast, but have a lot of difficulty bending or extending your arm or turning your palm up. Not that any of those motions is required to play guitar. I waited until the last possible moment, maximizing my recuperating mobility, then hobbled through this recording as best I could. Even our wedding photos are subtly marred by this injury, as with my perpetually-cocked left elbow, I seem to be either Napoleon or the victim of bad shrimp, depending on your point of view.
Vaunne: I like this song from the first group a lot, but in retrospect, the recording is a little weak, with a pretty sloppy "groove" allowed to persist. It took me a while to get used to the subtle limitations in the response of the V-Drums over real drums, not that that's any excuse. This song gave rise to the title of the gift EP, "My True Love Has A Name," which was nearly the title of this album.
I Now Present: Our horrible string quartet was at least able to handle 75% of this simple canon. To a degree.
It Can't Rain Every Day: This is a song about the risks you must take to find love, and the payoff that makes the risk worth it, as encapsulated by my new motto, "The only things worth having have a price, you know." I'm a wise little SOB. This was recorded in the second group, and is probably my favorite from that group.
Always: I included the Not! version of Always on Vaunne's EP, and it became her favorite of my songs, so I figured I'd re-record it for this album in the second group. I like the update, but Vaunne prefers the older version. This is at the top of a short list of songs that I don't personally like, but have been consistently favored highly by other people from my inner circle. The same people reading this comment. See, I do care about your opinions. You guys rock.
Deep: Probably my favorite from the first group of songs. One of the first songs where I really started to find my own voice as a bassist, working in a lot of syncopation.
Blue as the Moon: This is the version from 2x3<4, just repackaged here without adjustment. As mentioned earlier, I consider this to be my best song.
Album 28: Free Horse Manure (2002 Box Set Disc 2)
This is the second installment in my "Box Set" project, which is primarily an attempt to record and catalogue all of my hitherto unrecorded/unreleased material. My goal is to have a good recording of each of my songs. I estimate this will end up taking 10 CDs just for those songs. The guitars (as well as many vocals) for this album were recorded direct through my Alesis guitar multi-effect unit since I was recording in an apartment with limited ability to mic an amp. I like the effect on the vocals, but the guitars fall shy of what I would've wanted.
My Every Dream's Come True: I wrote this right after finishing The Tale.... Otherwise, it would've definitely been on it. I rank this song in my top 20. This is the first song where I experimented with vocal doubling (the lead vocal is actually tripled --sung three times-- breaking into harmonies only at the end). That practice is commonplace in larger studios, but with only 8 tracks, I rarely have the luxury. I did like the textured sound of it, and made more use of the technique on Fortnight.
Broken Heart: This was written in high school, around the same time as Mad About You and Too Much. The breakthrough for me was coming up with the groove for the verse while walking home from work in 2001. Then all the pieces fell into place, and the song really works for me now.
Mama Earth: This was written within a few songs of "Broken Heart" and was featured in "The Flower That Shattered the Stone." The drum part subtly illustrates one of my recording philosophies in action: it's better to burn effects so that the performer can manipulate them as part of the performance rather than assign effects to dry tracks in the mix ("paint it blue rather than put on blue sunglasses" as I've been quoted in interviews with myself). By being able to hear the delay and distortion on the drums, I was really able to let the part breathe correctly. I practically always burn effects. This is my little environmental song, obviously. It still works for me, since it's more about recognizing your own role in environmental waste rather than just complaining about how terrible such waste is.
Sticks and Stones: This was written in the period between Separate Ways and Checkmate. The original song is arranged more traditionally, but I thought the track lacked punch and decided to experiment with a semi-a capella version. Every sound in the first section (before the obvious entry of drums/guitar/bass) is sung (some through effects, obviously). I think this idea is an improvement, but the bottom line is that this song is not that good.
I'm Just Looking For The Paper: I wrote this song in college, intending it for the Shadows project. The central lament might be rephrased as: "Why is it so hard to find some girl who likes me?" Vaunne's likely reply, "Because you looked like a homeless strangler in college. Girls don't like that." This is the original complete arrangement --typical of the era-- for a 5-piece band.
The Machine: Speranza and I improvised this during our Checkmate sessions, me on keyboard and him doing all the heavy lifting in Cm. It's got some cool ideas, but goes on too long.
Buy the World: Also originally intended for Shadows. I've totally got writing for pseudo-metal bands down to a science. This was a candidate for several other albums, as well. This is also the original complete arrangement. The truth, though ugly, is preferred. That bears repeating, man.
2000: Much of this was lifted from an Archaeology-era 4-track recording (sequence & drums), adding a new guitar & distorted vocal. The song was written around the same time as most of the songs on Checkmate. 2000 is so far in the future, man. I'll be 25! Anything is possible! It'll be a brand new age! I mock, but that is a great distorted scat. Let me just pat myself on the back, here....
Feelings: This is among the first songs I ever wrote, as I explain in the fake live introduction. Robert McIntosh on congas. I feel pretty good about this rendition; I think it's the best version I'm likely to get out of it. This song's OK, but nothing special.
Sudden Realization: I wrote this as some sort of exercise in my freshman voice-leading class. Initially for piano and voice. The lyric is about distracting thoughts leading to an epiphany about my own flaws.
Shy Birds: This was an unrecorded alternate for Less Yackin'. This is about being too shy for one's own good.
You Could Be The One: Everything but bass & guitar solo was recorded as an unfinished alternate for Flame Cow.
Train: This was written originally as part of the "Afraid of Love" song cycle (Afraid of Love/M/Train/No One Could). I let go of that idea in favor of just linking Afraid of Love and No One Could. I'm pretty happy with how this one turned out. It's about a girl I met on the train.
Sleep With Him: There were a handful of pretty good songs I wrote after Flame Cow that would normally have been accumulating as candidates for my next album: She's the One, Oui Je Sais, Sleep With Him, Water Drowns Men at Any Depth, One Will Win You, To Know Your Love Again, Certainly, Blue as the Moon. Except for Blue as the Moon, these all got sort of stranded by virtue of the fact that all of a sudden, my life was radically changed, and my new album was quite obviously going to be more positive and Vaunnecentric.
Dreamscape: This song was really important to my growth as a writer in two critical ways, though not necessarily a track that was ever going to stick on an album. This is really where I found my voice as a symbollic-imagist lyricist, and also had a major breakthrough in my somewhat unique harmonic system. This recording leverages off a separate earlier 4-track recording, keeping the drums, vocals, and Speranza's solo, but adding a re-synchronized sequence with a few elements (guitar, bass) split out as non-sequenced tracks, as well as several new texture-vocal tracks.
Album 29: Fortnight (2004)
I'd been kicking this concept of writing a song a day for 14 days around for a while and finally decided to try it to lift myself out of a writing drought. Of course, being me, I lost track and actually went 15 days instead. In recording this album (which took more like 14 months), I wanted to go in a different direction from other recent efforts, recording a more power-trio electric guitar high-energy rock and roll album. I coicidentally came across my greatest equipment purchase since my djembe --my POD amp simulator, which allowed me to have the best guitar sounds I've ever captured, all in a direct signal (and I haven't scratched the surface of what the box could do --in the hands of someone like Speranza, the tones would be monumental). I recorded a full unreleased rough draft of this album to get familiar with each song, which helped me to steer clear of some bad initial instincts. Every song except for Lucky Man (which is the original demo) was recorded with a click and a real emphasis on the groove. Overall, I think this is one of my better, certainly more polished, albums, and I think that the power trio idea worked out as planned. I've discussed the technical side of these songs one-by-one fairly extensively in the interviews, so I'll try to avoid repeating myself here.
The Sound My Heart Makes: A love song for Vaunne. About the excitement you feel when you're around the one you love. The vocals are tripled, one of them being distorted.
At First Sight: This and Goodbye, Dream are my two favorites off the album. I love this groove and can't believe I pulled off that lead guitar part, since I'm notoriously terrible. This is a loose string of memories about the long transition from friendship to marriage Vaunne and I underwent. It's somewhat simplified for Hollywood.
I Don't Fear It Anymore: I love this vocal line, although I think my actual lyric might have been stronger if I'd reworked it over more time. I wanted to capture a little bit of Jeff Buckley's style when I was writing this. I also wanted to have an intro where the beat was apparently reversed from how it originally came in.
Love Is All The Gold: This is the kind of cryptic, image-laden, stream of consciousness lyric that is easiest for me to write. I just get a poetic meter stuck in my head, and start speaking out loud, fitting words and thoughts into the pattern, skimming through a tapestry of whatever occurs to me. This ends up being about all the changes that accompany leaving your twenties behind, settling down, finding yourself amid the responsibilities and routines of that life.
Catnip: Now that I'm married, I can write this kind of song without any trace of irony. This is a lighthearted treatise to forever remind knockout Vaunne that she is hopelessly spellbound by a big-nosed pudgy balding nerd like me. When Cara was a baby, this song held a particular sway over her, and was one of the go-to songs for calming her out of her frequent bouts of colic. Those noises from Cara during the scat fade are patched together from videos of her when she was approximately 6-9 months old. Hadley is currently about the same age, and making a whole different set of noises with the same voice.
Can't Stop the Avalanche: This was the first song I wrote for this project. My favorite music to listen to is hard rock (Motley Crue, King's X, Shotgun Messiah, Extreme, Audioslave, to name a few things floating through my iPod), but I've never really been able to consistently write in that style. Typically, I end up writing swank no matter what I try. I seem to be incapable of writing either jazz or heavy metal, but just keep pulling pieces of them into my stuff. This is as close as I think I've come to writing a pure hard rock song, but I don't think it's as strong a song as others on the album. Rorem has been goading me into recording a total hard-rock album, and he's totally swayed me.
Lullaby: I wrote this one as a (gasp) lullaby for Vaunne, and you can see how it gets progressively more soothing as it goes along. Oh, yes, I acknowledge my addiction to the ape screaming. I acknowledge, but refuse to seek treatment. The fade contains a polyrhythmic juxtaposition of material from the string trio outro to Beautiful Smile (on Separate Ways), from which the chorus obviously is lifted. I like song self-quotation, and because Sting does it, I feel like I've been granted permission to do it, too.
Goodbye, Dream: I think this is clearly the best song on this album (easily in my top 10), and a unique performance that I didn't even consider trying to redo for Least Significant Failures. On the surface, this is about waking up and going to work, but it is also --like Love Is All The Gold-- an exploration of maturing into my thrities and realizing how my dreams have changed from things like "being signed to a major label" to things like "being happily married" or (though my kids weren't yet born when I wrote this) "being a good dad." That notion of family legacy is what I'm getting at with the line "someday maybe feel like there's a shadow when I'm gone." Some of the best bass playing I've ever pulled out of my lily-white behind.
Happy: A little ape screamer ditty I wrote to cheer up my sweetie because we all know how she loves a little ape screamin' when she's blue!
Shark-Sad Circles: A reminiscence on the emptiness and hopelessness of my long lonely life before Vaunne, capped off with the self-quote of "When" (thank you again, Mr. Sumner!)
Worth My Weight: Stream-of-consciousness daydream of Vaunne's glories written when I should've been working on code (clickety-clack: hard at work or merely goofing?) Dr. Joh3n O'Meara shakes his head and says, "That's not really String Theory, chumpcake."
Come Home Soon: I was singing this to the girls at the dinner table the other day, and Vaunne suddenly realized it was about her. She's cute like that. I'd forgotten how bouncy this little groove is. Sweet.
Fortnight: Well, I already knew the title I wanted for the album (for the 14-day concept), so I wanted a title song for it. So I decided to twist it into a testimonial to the first days of elation after Vaunne and I first confessed our love to each other. I'm extremely sappy, but at last happy.
Birdsong: I love this texture riff, and did a decent job of lead guitar (I should retire on my unbeatable high-note after hitting that fill following "shuffle and heave your hammer to the rhythm"). This is a sequel of sorts to Birdy, though not still inside the fictional character. Come to think of it, this ends up being a decent hard rock song --better than Avalanche. I'm more successful than I imagined!
Lucky Man: Sometimes I don't think I really deserve Vaunne. She may figure out that I'm not really good enough for her one day. This is the initial demo of this song, recorded right after finishing it. This is one of the few times where months (now years) later, I wouldn't change the performance.
INTERLUDE: What Patently Obvious Thing Have I Learned By Now?
Get in the groove. The bass is what really carries the groove in my songs, and while spontaneity is important, it's critical that the bass and drums feel tight to each other.
Album 30: Least Significant Failures (2005)
This is my newest "Greatest Hits" album, only I don't actually have any hits. I am a failure and therefore, my songs are also failures by extension. The degree of abomination present in my body of work ranges from catastrophic to these, the Least Significant Failures. Ta-da! Rather than simply gather up existing recordings and repackage them, the concept for this album was to re-record much of the material to make it consistent with a.) my current performance skill and b.) my standard acoustic sound. To select the material, I made my own ranking of the best songs that I've written and also got input from THE FANZ in the form of a very cute vote (list the top 15-20 songs in no particular order and indicate preference for acoustic vs electric). All told, about 70 songs came under consideration. The top vote-getters were So Will I (clear #1 choice) followed by a 6-way tie for 2nd between Birdy, Leave Me Be, Mad About You, Nothing But A Song, Underneath My Skin, and When. The voters also overwhelmingly chose an acoustic album. With few exceptions, these songs portray a consistent virtual acoustic ensemble of vocal, acoustic guitar, bass, and djembe. Unless otherwise noted, I played all the instruments. Even though these have all been covered elsewhere, I'll reiterate a little bit about what each song is about here.
Best of Days: This is a new recording. Jay Millas of the ill-fated Craig's Band felt that a rough mix of this sounded like a Volkswagen commercial. I --and the proud nation of Germany-- are very happy with how this one turned out. For those who didn't read it elsewhere, this song is about coping with the reality that someone you like doesn't like you back, despite what you thought the signs said (originally recorded on Guitool).
Leave Me Be: I decided to ratchet up the tempo a little for this new version. This is the second song in the Coyote song cycle, about pride and rejection. Naturally, I had to re-introduce the hut-hut mania.
Blue As The Moon: My notorious signature song of chromatic seduction. This is the 2000 version, originally appearing on the Stunt Beatles 2x3<4 album (with Larry Elwood of SB playing upright bass here, but me covering the rest), then later recycled on The Tale of a Sad & Lonely Boy Who Dreamed of Love. I consider this to be my best song.
Mad About You: New version of a song recorded twice before, on As Rome Burns then later on River Dreams. This is more similar to the River Dreams version, but more reflective of how I play it live. That decsion to clap in the backup vocals was a spontaneous choice I made while recording the first BUV. This is about recognizing that someone you want wants someone else and letting go.
I Am The Moon: This is my daughter Cara's (age 2) current favorite "Dada song." Hadley (6 months) has no stated preference for the record. Thin metaphor masks theme beaten to death by songwriters (approximately 300 blows coming from me) throughout the ages: "I'm the one who's there for you, but you love someone else, oh why don't you love me, I'm so terribly sad." This 5-groove and refrain came to me in a dream about being taken to rock school by Alice in Chains (as in getting schooled in an old-fashioned rock-off!) I like odd-time songs that don't stick out as too herky-jerky, and hopefully I've accomplished that here (of course, if nobody pays attention, nothing about the song sticks out).
It Can't Rain Every Day: This is the uncharacteristically-uplifting story of how I fell in love with my wife and dropped everything to be with her. This is the original version, lifted off of The Tale.... Cara calls this one (straight on the heels of her favorite) "Hey hey!"
I Won't Quit: New recording of the song originally off Drive By pushes the tempo in a shuffle. This is about standing up for yourself and not letting the bastards get you down.
Goodbye, Dream: This is lifted straight off of Fortnight because I'll never nail that bass part again. On the surface, this is about waking up and going to work, but it is also an exploration of maturing into my thrities and realizing how my dreams have changed from things like "being signed to a major label" to things like "being happily married" or (though my kids weren't yet born when I wrote this) "being a good dad." That notion of family legacy is what I'm getting at with the line "someday maybe feel like there's a shadow when I'm gone."
Nothing But A Song: Written while fully entrenched in a long line of romantic failures, lamenting each as nothing but a song. Over time, this intro took on a life of its own live.
Birdy: Lifted straight off of Flame Cow. I explained the song concept thusly in a Q&A article with Scott Farr, "Birdy came out of wanting a quirky metaphor for being wrong for someone, yet insisting against hope that it could work. It stemmed from a short story idea that I never followed up on, although some of it came out in Robotica, Mine. The original idea is that this girl's sentient parrot falls in love with her in this very cerebral, complicated way, inventing all these manners and rituals which ultimately don't solve the fact that, well, he's a bird and that's just not going to pan out. I was visiting Joh3n O'Meara in Seattle and in the middle of reading Jeanette Winterson's 'Sexing The Cherry' which has these bizarre stream-of-consciousness passages, got inspired, and just started writing little clips that I refined down into the verses." That chord coming out of the piano solo is a microtonal C7, with the 7th midway between major and minor.
Something Out: Originally on Less Yackin' More Snackin', this has undergone a lot of change since 1992, steadily becoming more uptempo and strong on the backbeat, as heard here. Wishing that somehow the force and simplicity of love's feelings could by themselves successfully navigate the social obstacles to romance.
Open Up: Originally on Archaeology, this new version reflects the current semi-shuffle groove. This is about that optimistic spark that surges through you when you first realize you are falling for someone, an ode to the hope of Ms Right. By the way, I've felt like a grade-A moron writing these synopses, so I hope it's what you want to know. Maybe they should all just say, "This is about being a lonely nerd."
One Will Win You: An acoustic version of the surprise hit from the first Sunhouse Branch album. This has always been difficult to replicate acoustically, but I think I finally tapped into it this time around. I considered this a throwaway song, written in 1999. I didn't think much of it because the subject was so stupid --a week-long crush on a Dutch consultant (oh, and I wasn't alone) led me to reflect on the projections I placed upon women I hardly knew ("watch as I presume her wonders, one by one," "a bottle for an endless thirst, I will fill her with the things I want," etc.). As with most throwaways that I've come to like, the meaning of the words took a backseat to the music in my final assessment.
Lost: Re-recording of a song originally heard on River Dreams. Metaphor for loving over distance definitively achieved through brilliant extraterrestrial theme. I won a Cody Weathers award for this one (don't worry, the judges are an impartial panel of my backup singers). I dominate the competition time and time again! The original version featured a pretty-much non-replicable experimental outro of event-based alien music --it's fantastic and you should go buy River Dreams right now [not in stores]. Over time, the live scat on this became an increasingly-central part of the song.
Puppy: In high school, I scored the pit music for a play called The Flower That Shattered the Stone. The original script called liberally for several popular songs from the 60's as a backdrop to a collage of re-interpreted fairy tales. Someone forgot to tell these neo-Grimms about copyright infringement, however, and an injunction eventually prevented subsequent performers from using such material free of charge just because those songs are cool. No such injunction against my crummy songs, though! The fates aligned when, in college, I was able to cross my catchy "Bremer Town Musicians Theme" from the play with some words of inspiration about a cute girl from Bremerton, WA. I'm a sponge; that's what I do. This song originally appeared on Pronounced Snausages. This re-recorded version is fairly faithful to the last time we played this song together (2000 Bolder Boulder).
Coyote: This new version doesn't actually reflect how I play it live, but rather was a spontaneous re-invention of the feel that I found myself preferring. This song planted a little continuing metaphor that sprouted up in "Leave Me Be" and culminates in "Footsteps." While I definitely think the idea of a wretched lonely coyote loving a burning willow, preferring to suffer rather than leave her cruel side speaks to universal human truth, perhaps it's better to summarize as a metaphor for poor choices of the heart.
When: Lifted directly off Flame Cow. Fried on bass, Speranza on the guitar solo. Can't say why, but this is an attention-getter live. Again, let's remember that I'm not really a rock star, and all these platitudes I declare are more than a little sad to read. Coyote-tuned ode to longing and the thrill of pursuit, liberally using images from dreams to make the compelling case and dance craze sweeping the nation (have you done "the when?").
Dead Man's Blues: New recording with a greater emphasis on the ensemble groove centered on the bass part. Seyca joins the John Speranza lyric interpretation club with this entry: Cody says, "I will retain...." Seyca says, "I wear a ten...." Not to be outdone, Speranza says, "I'll irritate...." Yet another lament about loving someone you can't have. That's right, you, not me. You should cut that out. I certainly have.
So Will I: Lifted directly from the Flame Cow re-recording with Fried on bass and Speranza on guitar. #1 vote-getter for this compilation, this convoluted web of obtuse words is a hit with audiences everywhere, who naturally gravitate to the undercurrent theme of living for today. Carpe diem, motherf*****.
The Sound My Heart Makes: Since this is a love song for Vaunne about the excitement of being around her, I went ahead and recorded her an acoustic version she could stand to listen to (original "ape screaming" version available on Fortnight).
Cruel: I love the original on Flame Cow, but this is more representative of how I've come to play it live. Long on the back burner since it is technically a werewolf's lusty lament, the Monkey Eat Monkey recording made me reconsider its overall quality. I like how I make decisions about songs based on factors that I should be acutely aware have no relevance to my listeners/captives such as "what is this song about" which would be almost universally-answered by audiences everywhere as "gobbledygook!" Maybe that's the basis of my limited appeal. As Seal says regarding his decision not to publish his lyrics in the liner notes of his albums, "I want the words to mean what you want them to mean, not what I want them to mean." To me, a song about werewolves and impulses of the flesh. To you, a song about stabbing your boss in the eye. You're welcome.
Scared: Ironically, this song probably makes people who previously wouldn't have considered the possibility wonder if I, in fact, might kill little girls. What a fantastic song of seduction. We're firmly in the realm of words that I love, but are largely misunderstood because of a.) enunciation and b.) poetic masking. What I'm saying is: mission accomplished. This is loosely based on a short story I wrote in college. And these days, there's almost an unwritten rule that this song be followed by....
Underneath My Skin: I just really like how these two songs flow together, even though they're completely unrelated. Hopefully this lyric is fairly transparent, because it's intended as a simple declaration of unrealized love. i.e., "You cute. Want make date?"
Wardrobe: Cara calls this one "dit-dit-dit" for the ensemble scat figure. Long one of my favorite up-tempo songs to play live (originally on River Dreams). I had a mild interstate infatuation with someone my friends definitely wouldn't have approved of, and wrote this in the seven weeks between the two times we saw each other (nothing serious, except arguably for the appearance of total reckless obsession created by writing a song about someone, but seriously, you don't know what it's like). It's totally embarassing to talk about how something so fleeting and unimportant became the root of something so important to me, but that's how these songs get written --I always have to seize on words and ideas in the moment they come to me, and not worry about whether the feeling I'm working from will end up being particularly worthy. Welcome to page 53 of my self-important song blog. Why isn't the hit count higher? Are you all reading it crowded around one screen? Do you have popcorn and whatnot? I'm available, if you'd like me to come over and provide additional commentary during your discussion session. Shall we open the floor for questions?
Make Still your Wings: This was originally written as a lullaby. The tempo has migrated up to the point that I would no longer make that case, but it remains a spooky little dreamy little trance for me. Not that you should write lullabies for yourself or operate heavy machinery while doing so. This song was infamously extended to 17 minutes at Gussie's, a recording which was released as an augmented live track on Monkey Eat Monkey. That was a watershed gig for us, spearheaded by this song, and that kind of free expansion --very much in the vein of how jazz is played live-- became our default live modus operandi pretty much from then on. This version runs through some expansions, but keeps it to a brief 7:40.
Short Leg: The phrase, "don't trip on the short leg now," is something I told myself driving back to Denver from Portland when I reached Cheyenne at 2 or 3 AM, pushing the last 90 miles home after two hard days of driving. This song reflects a certain amount of that focus on the final yard for hearts, but mostly just ends up being a song. Dude, whatever that means.
Along: Directly off of Flame Cow. This is Vaunne's favorite off of that album, which is to say it contains the least "ape screaming." I wrote this several years earlier, and had been waiting for the right arrangement, but ultimately kept it pretty much as written --piano and voice. Terri Kempton plays cello and makes fun of the line "I hope you enjoy the way I treat you." Like several others written around the same time (Sonja's Son, Daughter of Our Enemy, Cruel, Hero, Salt of the Memory), this got put on the back burner in part because the lyrics are a little detatched from my actual life, being a post-apocalyptic love song as a loose analogy for loyalty (the others are about: divorce & reconcilliation, parental disapproval of a mate, werewolves & lust, politics & betrayal, and mermaids. No matter what John Fried says, I was defeinitely NOT obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons and Gamma World before becoming obsessed with music). Again, it's beyond fantastic that I use song subject matter as the principal barometer of quality (see "Cruel").
Fall On Me: Directly off of 2x3<4 (and later recycled exactly on The Tale....). I wrote this song for Vaunne's birthday 2000, just before we started dating, as an ode to our friendship and support for each other. This time the gift of song turned out pretty well for me. Larry Elwood on upright bass.
No One Could: Directly off of Flame Cow. When we initially recorded this for Monkey Eat Monkey, I realized that it was actually a lot better than I originally thought, and decided to re-record it with the band. Speranza plays all the guitars, Fried on bass, me on drums and vocals. Everything as it should be. As mentioned in the MEM recording, this is "all the negative thoughts eroding at a battered confidence (not mine, obviously --I was dynamite with the ladies in 1998)." At first, I considered this a throwaway song, but subsequently re-evaluated it as one of my best. It says a lot about your writing ability when the line between garbage and genius is so fine.
Dollface (live): Recorded live at the Rising Phoenix in North Denver with Fried on bass, Speranza on electric guitar, me on acoustic guitar and --obviously-- vocals, and Derek Sanchez on percussion. This was one of the two source gigs for Clapping Sold Separately, and I'm not really sure why I didn't put this on that disc. Probably because of my weak stab at some lead work there at the top. This song has always been a favorite of the band, though I'm not sure what other people really think of it. I'd imagine very highly. They regard it very highly, I'm practically positive of it. And they find me quite dapper. This song elaborates on a dream I had. Make that extremely highly.
Album 31: I Love You, Helicopter (2005)
These are all the leftovers that didn't make the final cut onto Least Significant failures, packaged as a companion bonus disc and the third installment of my Box Set series. My 2-year-old daughter, Cara, is currently obsessed with helicopters, and isn't afraid to declare her feelings. She drew the cover on her Doodle-Pro (what toddlers use instead of etch-a-sketch these days).
Daughter of Our Enemy: This song was a favorite of the band off of Guitool. This re-recording just shifts the ensemble. An extreme scenario of parental disapproval, which I've never really faced. Mostly, they invented additional romances that never existed just in the hope that I would move the heck out of their house and quit whining.
At First Sight: An acoustic re-recording of one of my favorites from Fortnight. I cut it from the final because the groove is just a little bit fuzzy between the first chorus and second verse (the peril of not using a click). This is an ode to the splendor of Vaunne. I'm running out of ways to say that songs are about her, so it's a good thing this is the last album to review. Specifically, this is a loose string of memories about the long transition from friendship to marriage Vaunne and I underwent. It's somewhat simplified for Hollywood.
Hero: This is based on a short story I never quite completed about a pariah sent on a fool's errand to deliver the ransom of a kidnapped queen. I rarely play this song live, but this arrangement is loosely based on a live version recorded at Vincent McDermott's retirement concert with myself on piano and Robert McIntosh on percussion.
Caramel: Lifted directly from The Tale.... This song is about the long time Vaunne and I spent growing together before we realized our love for each other. Although I like this song, when the time came to cut material, I had to admit that it doesn't seem to perk up the audience.
To Know Your Love Again: Also lifted directly from The Tale.... This is just a little song of playful longing. I really enjoy playing it, but like Caramel, it lost out on the tiebreaker of audience reaction.
She's The One: This was the only hitherto-unrecorded song I included in the LSF sessions. This song, like "Sleep With Him," (on Free Horse Manure) was one of the handful of songs written post-Flame Cow that would've been a candidate for my next album had my life not so radically changed. These were lyrics that I kicked around for the better part of a year, and I fear are not cohesive. They certainly don't have a cohesive truth to them, being a little bit of a mish-mash of snippets from my lyric book "Phrase Pages." I hadn't played this live since the first tentative trials in Denver, so the song was basically up for grabs. It feels fresh to me, but since it's not a song that was voted on or has any live track record, I cut it from the top 2 discs. The piano solo is in a microtonal (smaller intervals between notes than the standard piano) temperment.
Shiny Dimes: Lifted directly off Flame Cow. A more uptempo version of a song originally recorded for Archaeology with 12-string guitar instead of keyboard. I like these words, which chronicle three different women who wanted nothing to do with me. I can say this stuff now without feeling quite so stupid since everything turned out pretty well for me in the end.
Deep: Lifted directly off The Tale.... One of my favorites from that album, this is a fairly straightforward lyric about the depth of my love for Vaunne. Awwwww. This was a hard cut, but it didn't have the track record to make the top two discs.
Two Desperados: This is a very fun song to play live, and has changed a lot since originally recorded on Guitool. I'll sum it up as "You and me vs. the world, babe! We're just two desperados!" (Fitting since it turns out that desperados also sometimes shoot each other in the desert).
I'll Never Be Far From Your Side: Lifted directly from The Tale.... This was our first dance at the wedding. Continuing the pre-nuptial disaster theme, I broke my left elbow in a fall a few weeks before the wedding, having not yet recorded this song. With a broken elbow like mine (specifically, a radial-head fracture), you don't wear a cast, but have a lot of difficulty bending or extending your arm or turning your palm up. Not that any of those motions is required to play guitar. I waited until the last possible moment, maximizing my recuperating mobility, then hobbled through this recording as best I could. Even our wedding photos are subtly marred by this injury, as with my perpetually-cocked left elbow, I seem to be either Napoleon or the victim of bad shrimp, depending on your point of view. I cut it because I don't play it all that much.
Catnip: This was Cara's favorite song as a baby, and one of the few (along with "Baby, You Can Drive My Car") that would lull her to sleep. Now that I'm married, I can write this kind of song without any trace of irony. This is a lighthearted treatise to forever remind knockout Vaunne that she is hopelessly spellbound by a big-nosed pudgy balding nerd like me. On the original version (Fortnight), I stitched together many of Cara's noises as part of the scat outro. These days, she likes to sing and scat, so I thought I'd just sing with her, but the microphone made her a little shy, and her contribution ends up being much more subtle than before, ending with the classic Cara line, "Shoo, fly. All done, Dada. All done."
Passing Through: lifted directly off River Dreams. I really felt on when I was writing this. It was one of those lyrics that somehow came to me fairly cleanly in meter and rhyme. This is about falling into bad patterns and recognizing that someone is getting ready to leave you. I included this in its original form because I haven't really changed the way I play it, and it's got some really nice bass from Speranza (bass & guitar) and a piano solo that I'm mildly proud of.
October Air: this was a really difficult cut because it's pretty high on the Flip Nasty list of favorites. I don't have a real good reason other than when weighed against other recordings, it just wasn't as slick. This song's about trying to amicably let go of someone.
Separate Ways: this is lifted directly from 2x3<4 with Larry Elwood on bass. Extremely straightforward, somewhat clichéd lyric about being the hound dog I clearly have always been. I really like this re-recording in a lot of ways, and wanted to consider it.
Always: One of Vaunne's favorite songs of mine, though not her favorite version. This is directly from The Tale.... and at the top of a short list of songs that I don't personally like, but have been consistently favored highly by other people from my inner circle. The same people reading this comment. See, I do care about your opinions. You guys rock. Also, I cut your song.
Too Much: This was the hardest cut. I'm still not sure about it. It was basically this or Dollface vying for the same spot, and I concluded that Dollface was more in the vein of the acoustic album, and this was better electric. Now that I'm listening to it, I wish I left it on, but it's too late now. I originally recorded the solo as a distorted scat alone, but it was lacking until I sucked it up and figured out how to play something on guitar. The scat is still in the background for the pre-written portion and Nick's old lick. This is a song of deep regrets and the angst of loss.
China, Present Day: I've come to terms with the simple fact that the original version of this (Flame Cow) is arguably the catchiest thing I've ever written. The original was a very distorted version of this, used as incidental music for Brian Costello's scene, set in.... China, Present Day. It was so popular with other members of the Frumples Pictures crew, it become mandatory incidental music for all subsequent films, including Colfax, for which this acoustic surprise version was initially recorded.
INTERLUDE: What Patently Obvious Thing Have I Learned By Now?
Give 'em what they came for. Live, I've been playing almost exclusively acoustic for nearly 14 years, yet my recorded material is only partially true to that idiom. When people enjoy your live show, you've got to give them the option of taking it home with them. Now onto the experimental hard rock project!
Wow, that's it! Signing off 5/12/06.