Thank You Sir May I Have Another
I, and the record, appreciate very much the interest and the many downloads. Tell your friends! Scare your mom!
TJ always opined that this record would be an underground thing.
TJ also opined that sequencing songs by ascending key would have a psychoacoustic effect on the listener. This is the one time I let him have his way with this ridiculous concept. Nickelback's last record was not sequenced in ascending keys. Nor was Abbey Road. Space Rock Opera was. I leave it to the listener to untangle this profoundly complex notion (which is by no means to imply that exquisite attention was not paid to keys and key motion on Side 2 of Abbey Road; the beautifully stately, steady rhythm of switches between A major and C major is characteristically virtuosic -ed.)
Songs have always been my children. Artists know what I mean. When you leave one horking in a incubator it's never good. An unreleased album is a roomful of preemies and it makes a fella sad.
That said, let's do another! What th' fuck! Let th' children breath!
'kay, we're going back to the beginning of Grunge with this collection. Back to the Halcyon (capital mine) days with the Mr. Sherwood album. "Mr. Sherwood" is a rainy day record if there ever was one. At least it is for me. It always takes me back to that beautiful, waterlogged spring of '92. The grey, rainsoaked streets of beloved little old Northampton live in these grooves as does a ridiculous amount of hope and optimism and faith in the human creature and the human creature's earholes. All that is pretty much gone but I can reexperience it briefly in the dense, ambitious, uncompromising songs from this era and the bittersweet cameraderie of the whole thing.
Illustrated with pics of the same instruments used on th' sessions.
The password is "children".
Wow, what a feat this record was. What a triumph of youthful ambition. Let's paint the picture.
I left neopsych punk road dogs The Malarians in '88 and by '90-'91 I had four-tracked up a pretty vast library of solo stuff. It was interesting stuff. I had sort of combined my love of good, guitar-based early '80's rock (Pretenders, XTC, Police, etc.) with ambitious '60's pop into a pretty irresistible stew. When the first Jellyfish album came out I knew I was on the right track.
I had a lot of labels and publishers calling me back on this material. Island, PolyGram, Capitol, Famous Music, Hit And Run, all these guys. This is back when there used to be record labels that you could talk to if you could work up the moxie. What these people all wanted was to see a shitass good live band. People like Joey Gmerek at Hit And Run (Genesis, Peter Gabriel and Cheap Trick's publisher) would say, "hey, if you can do this live I want to sign it".
I was here in Northampton at this point. Made a few trips to LA and NYC with this stuff and banged on some doors. Looked good, man. Looked good. Got a manager in LA to sign me. In early '91 I had the lineup of Mr. Sherwood together. It was going to be my Beatles- a lean, classic two-guitar bass drums thing with everyone singing. See, that was the hook. We'd have these really impressive, "Pet Sounds" quality four-part harmonies going on over this '60's/new wave hybrid that would be pretty fresh. More wiry than Jellyfish, more chrome polished live than XTC. Counterpoint. A cappella bits. Ambition.
I played fretted and fretless bass and sang lead. Nelson Bragg, the guy who plays percussion for Brian Wilson now was on drums and vocals. New buddy Paul Rocha was on rhythm guitars and vocals and Malarian colleague John Lebhar played lead and sang. We picked 15 songs from my catalog, stuff that would translate on stage with a hell of a lot of work, and got to work in Paul's bedroom in his old house on Gothic Street. Nelson used chopsticks on the kit to keep the neighbors at bay.
We worked, worked, worked. Christ, did we work. We worked for the better part of a year. In the meantime I set up showcases for th' labels and gigs to get us oiled. I cancelled them and we worked some more, realizing we could just get PERFECTER. In the bitter winter of '91-'92 we took a break one afternoon and saw "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time on MTV.
We strongly suspected that we were fucked.
We did all our gigs and showcases and sounded pretty fucking impressive. Everyone took a pass. We weren't remotely Nirvanaesque. Timing is everything, baby. '92 was not the year for the whole Slick thing.
In th' spring of '92 I sold enough belongings and borrowed enough money to record live backing tracks at Longview Farms in MA with the awesome Peter Keppler engineering. I really, really wanted this on tape and I had a feeling people would start defecting soon. We did all the backing tracks in one afternoon at Longview- we were tighter than fuck. We had to be- we didn't have a budget that would accomodate overdubbing and mixing in a world-famous 24 -track studio. Nelson especially was a fuckin' riot. Pete had trouble with him because he played sort of quiet on this stuff and it was hard to separate the drums, but I thought he exhibited unusual sensitivity and championed his approach. We didn't end up with a super-muscular drum sound but it has a definite distinctiveness of approach.
I did some sessions for Keppler with a band he was engineering for Sire- Riverside was their name. Young guys from Pennsylvania who did this sort of dreamy protobritpop. Like male Harriet Wheelers with some Cocteau Twins sprinkled in. This was barter for him to engineer us and to do front-of-house for our NYC showcases.
Both John and Paul (ha) had those great TASCAM eight-track machines. I can't remember the model but at the time they were home-studio heaven. They ran 7" reels of 1/4" tape and were basically oversized portastudios that sounded fuckin' awesome. Nice 10-channel mixer on that thing with two auxes and inserts which are always invaluable. Over the next couple of months or so I ran back and forth between their studios and we recorded all our huge-ass harmony vocals live, often doubling or tripling. Then I tracked John and Paul's various guitar solos, overdubbed some tambourine and percussion and finally all my lead vocals. John did awesome pedal steel on "Don't Cry". Paul also overdubbed acoustic and acoustic twelve-string guitar to lovely effect. His 12-string solo on "Blue All Over" lives on for me.
Not one note of keyboard anywhere. We didn't really do Keyboard back then, aside from the Malarian's Voxes and Farfisas. Everyone was tired of that '80's keyboard thing then and no one was pulling out Wurlitzers or Rhodeses yet.
My drummer pal Dave Barrett has an innate hatred of keyboards. I love it. I understand it to a great extent too. Keyboards are always lame live because people insist on standing at those two-tiered syntho things and making plastic sounds that are awful. Dave hates coats too. Fucking hates them.
Paul had quit by now but kindly let me mix the project at his place, which I did in a few marathon sessions in the summer. It really sounded good. Keppler helped me master to DAT and to hi-speed dbx'ed cassette.
The end result was a beautiful, nuanced, virtuosic rock album that captured Mr. Sherwood in all its pointillistic loveliness.
The whole Northampton musical community hated us and our fucking clever record. What a bunch of tossers. The preferred term for insulting the music was that it was "busy". What a stupid fucking adjective for music. Fucking stupid and backward-looking.
It was devastating to listen to the sheer vitriol that was heaped on our lovely effort but it didn't bug me until the band got in on the action. Fuck, was I unimpressed. Nelson was steadfast, I have to say. That's why I love him so much and why I'm so glad he's fuckin' blown us all away with his awesome career. Look him up on myspace. Nelson Bragg. He's probably onstage at the Greek Theater or Glastonbury as we speak.
John, a consummate song guy and engineer, eventually came around to how good this album was. The mix I'm posting is actually his mastering job, done on one of them new-fangled computers a couple of years ago.
I guess I was about 26 when this thing was finished. It was the first of many experiences of taking 2 years of work and putting it in a drawer. It bugged me a lot but I figured it was one of those things. I still had my management deal. I was still moving to LA and doing it while all the Northampton ladies were off to their authentic open mics.
What a fuckin' album this is. Check it. Chockful of youthful ambition, virtuosic arranging, Beach Boys-caliber harmony and more pathos than you can shake I don't know what all at.
Here's the tracks:
1. "Requiem": Written in '89 as I recovered from a pretty serious two-month bout of mono complicated by hepatitis C. Oh, man I was road-rashed. Road-rashed from The Malarian years and exhausted and sick.
This song rips the riff from The Pretender's "Time The Avenger" pretty good, but takes it to a whole new place. "Requiem" is a pretty good indicator of what is to come: it's chock-full of shit, all the harmonies, all the painstaking arrangement, but always, always rock. All guitars all th' time.
2. "Caroline": yeah, I don't know how this one is ageing with me. It's pretty, it's jangly, it's all that Crenshawish kind of stuff. I'd never write a song like this anymore. I don't have enough time left to just write really-good-on-paper guitar pop songs. But hey, it's pretty. I think the last minute or so is pretty much redundant.
That's Nelson stealing the tastiest scrap at the top of the chorus. I couldn't hit that high note dependably back then.
Jangle, jangle, end.
3. "Blue All Over": Now that's more like it. What a hip, tight little pop song. Very fun live. Of course this was copped from XTC's "Blue Overall". Amazing deduction there, sparky. I'm impressed with the construction and arrangement of this after all these years. God, I wouldn't have the energy for this anymore. Just the sheer eight million run throughs required. I do love how each subsequent chorus packs on more sweet gooey candy harmonies.
This contains Paul's earthy acoustic 12-string solo. One is put in mind of someone just stepping closer to the mic. It has that sort of unstudiedness.
Check the "Ticket To Ride" quote on the end. Yeah, this would have sat perfectly next to "Come As You Are" on the WSUX top ten.
4. "Change In The Weather": Yeah, someone loves the Byrds and XTC, huh? Love this- played loud is best. It's totally inspired by "Senses Working Overtime". Listen to the breaks on the chorus. This song has so many twelve-strings.
Yes, some of us were already freaking out about global warming in '92. "Can't you see the autumn leaves come tumbling/A bit too late?/Can't you see the ocean rising in the bay...?"
Masterful harmonies abound. Boy, John gives us a lovely doubled guitar solo at the end. Kind of busy, though, dude.
5. "Children": The soul of the Mr. Sherwood album. Another treehugger song. I still feel this way, man. I just try to use less gas and buy local instead of writing songs about it. See, I don't believe in rock 'n' roll anymore, unfortunately.
"Children" is one of my best, simplest songs of all time. It's far more radio-friendly than just about anything else. It's really flirting with that 80's U2 thing. Remember how huge REM was back then? They were completely ubiquitous. This is certainly an REM chorus. Nelson's beautiful, stumbling drum fills that usher in the choruses are actionably Bill Berry.
Wow, listen to the end coda. Three Chords And Th' Truth, baby. It's hard to listen to the pre-despair me. John's guitar choir at the end is affecting.
6. "Running In Place": More XTC poisoning here. I like the relentlessness of this and how it echoes the lyrical sentiment which is an XTC hallmark. Listen to the cleverly deployed triangle of Nelson Bragg.
This song was an utter bitch for the guitarists- it's carpal tunnel waiting to happen. Listen to how cool the middle eight is. The original arrangement called for the drums to continually break open into back beat and pull back teasingly. I held my ground on this and I like how it worked on the song.
7. "Time Goes By": Paul used to call this "Tim Goes Bi" which continues to amuse me. This song is just so flat-out packed with ideas that you could get a whole album out of it. I'm not necessarily complimenting it. I really love "Time Goes By" but it may be one of the few songs to which I would concede the "busyness" argument.
It's really sort of charming, though. Ridiculously poppy- the chorus is nice, aside from the fact that the lyric "They call it love- I don't know why" is utterly, utterly, laughably meaningless. And it has that "Please Please Me" end. But with a tricky four-part vocal thing that ascends into a reverb wash.
8. "Why Say Anything": This certainly owes a debt to 80's guitar pop with a healthy dose of Beatles and REM. Paul has this one out-of-tune open B string that keeps singing out on the right side in the verses that always raises the hair on the back of my neck. He's still an awesome kisser.
I really rode Nelson to be "Copelandish" on the chorus of this and he didn't disappoint with the whole syncopated-ride thing. Man, he really keeps rising to the top on this affair, doesn't he? Interesting. I like the almost-comical degree of tightness of construction of this recording. Very satisfying to play live, with those bottomless harmonies. Some of the lyrics, I'm afraid, suffer from a George Harrison Rubber Soul-era level of charming banality.
Does this modulate on the last chorus? Woah. I guess not. My pretty-damn-cool original demo of this did and it was explosive. It's fine, it's fine.
9. "Don't Cry": We close this admittedly dense collection of pop Shakerism with the lush, alien, evocative sobber "Don't Cry". Listen to John's pretty pedal steel and the swells into the chorus. The chorus is fully copped from the "if I fell in love with you..." tag at the end of "If I Fell". Dig it. It's pretty unapologetic.
John plays another one of his patented, beautiful doubled guitar solos in here. My demo had backwards guitar and I remember him going for a "backwards" sound.
Well, that's the Mr. Sherwood album from way back in the analog days. Well, analog for us.
What these records make me think of is how long we've operated without the "go into a big studio and pay a lot of money" blueprint. I've made maybe three records like that in my life and I've made a lot of records. I never even really considered it. A lot of us have experiences early on that teach us that big studios and big mixing boards and big monitors don't really help without the time to really let something develop. To go down a few roads with ideas. I'm a total blueprint guy in the studio- I know what I want from the second tape rolls. But even I have to concede that the greatest recordings take on their own life big-time. You can't strangle something with clock-watching. It keeps A from getting to B sometimes.