||[Apr. 23rd, 2005|12:00 pm]
I am strolling casually down the street…not just any old street, mind you, this is Broadway I’m walking…no, not the famed Broadway of high-steppin’ chorus girls and garbled librettos, um, actually, this is my Broadway, Chicago style, avenue of shifty malcontents, painted queens, porno peddlers, ‘authentic’ taco dealers, progressive feminist tomes, and many men in really tight short-shorts…I am a-strolling fairly inconspicuously down this thoroughfare over to the practice space we share with the group Catherine, a sludge throwing, LSD drippin’, beer coddlin’ unit with which we both share women and rock and roll affinity…our palace de rock is located, or should I say nestled, just inside a working parking garage that you enter from the street…I walk right through the bay doors where the cars skid in and out, veer softly to the left, past a steel fire door (usually propped open), tackle the rusted iron gate with a padlock that offers up yet another padlock with a steel door attached…once in, I am assailed by a dingy, clammy, never been cleaned concrete shit box that smells like oil and stale food…and oh, by the way, I live here too…our year of the Lord is 1992…
We are supposed to practice today, that is, if Jimmy shows up…he regularly ‘disappears’, and delicately insures we have no way to track him down…numbers don’t work, girls he is sleeping with don’t sleep with him anymore, nobody has seen him but he is everywhere…James and D’arcy arrive together, because even though they are no longer a couple, James still plays the boyfriend role as far as picking her up and taking care of her whenever she needs something (which is frequent and curious)…us 3 people ‘up front’ almost never miss practice, so it is with bemused bitterness that we stare at the clock doubting our pummeling skinsmen’s arrival, who I have affectionately (and accurately, I might add) dubbed ‘Brutal Jim’ (Jekyl and Hyde is=to Jimmy and Brutal Jim)…we have a constant rule amongst us, which we hold to be true about 97% of the time, and that is: “if he is late, he isn’t coming”…because Jimmy is always on time, and Brutal Jim is always late (at 15 missed practices over 6 weeks, I stop bothering to count anymore)…we have come to masochistically appreciate his ‘my dog ate my homework’ excuses, and the fact that he thinks we believe him at all just adds to the hilarity…we have been working feverishly to be prepared enough to go show up in Atlanta in about a month to once again make a record with Wisconsin-bred producer Butch Vig, who not so ironically also worked with us on our first album ‘Gish’…this date happens to be set in stone, because ironically Butch is suddenly in the highest demand after producing Nirvana’s last record, the number one world phenomena that has forcefully changed what it means to us to play numb, dumb, angst driven muzak…
If Jimmy doesn’t show, we will stand around for about 15 minutes before James shifts his body language and starts looking at his watch…this is a sign to me that says, “I’ll stay if you really want me to, but I’ve got a lot of stuff to do”…his no shows are frustrating to all of us, and though we sometimes try to work on music without Jimmy, it’s just not the same, so at this point if he doesn’t show we usually just call it a day right then and there…but today he shows!...bursting through the door as usual with his bull-like stomp and sideways glances…no one says shit if he looks like shit, because we can’t afford to drive him away…it’s a business as usual ‘thank God he’s here’ under breath, and then everyone springs into action (fire up the amps) and it’s off we go…we will usually work for somewhere between 4-6 hours per day (depending on if we throw in a little late lunch break---sometimes we might do double sessions and come back at night)…we almost always practice in the afternoon…we play so unbelievably fucking loud that the volume just wears down your body after a time, so it is a welcome relief to go outside in the sunshine and grab a taco to keep the spirits up and break the sustained tension…when we do play, we will work virtually non-stop until we just can’t take it anymore..it is either-or, either blisteringly brutal crushing sound, or bad take-out food…
We have been simultaneously working on about 30 songs, most of which are pretty long and have very arcane, idiosyncratic arrangements…practice often times sound will sound like a trigonometry class with all the mathematical theories we throw around, in a stunted language few outside of us would understand, much less care to (a sample conversation would sound like: “4’s are predictable, so let’s flip on the 3’s---lean on the 1’s please---breaks and hangs should feel like 8 ½---it’s 1, 2a, 3, 1, 2b, 4, and then when we get to the 5 play whatever note you want”)...calling these pieces “songs” is generous because most don’t even have a vocal melody or words…many are just jams and concepts gone awry…we assign these children vacant boring names like “james’ song”, or the ubiquitous “song in d”…often, a title is given in the vain hope that the very name itself will stir some meaning into us where there isn’t any to be found (like naming a song ‘wings of sunshine’)…
When the 4 of us are alone together, playing music, we get along really, really well…our reputation outside of this room is that of a difficult crazy bunch, a thought we relish because it keeps the lame poseurs away from us…but even the people who know us individually well cannot possibly know us collectively, for it is a totally different animal and we keep a pretty tight circle…we have never been one of those hang out type bands that attracts a gang, for we are the gang with our own sense of justice and steel brutality…we live in our own bubble and we go out of way to keep it that way…our practices are (and will ever remain) a closed door secret society meeting where few are allowed to enter and witness how we work our special brand of magic…because in here, we forget, for we are learning how mix disaster and build tornados…we never argue about music…we may argue about one’s attitude, or lost arrangements, but never, ever about the musical direction of the band...in that way we are fearless, and there is total trust…the true reason for this harmony is that the sound we are manifesting is a complete an accurate portrayal of the blend of the “4” personalities in the room: distant, coy, ambitious, feral, dark, lucid, dreamy, strange, bored, sad, and ultimately desperate…
Much of our time will be spent balancing the many parts each song seems to encompass…in order to effectively tweak each moment to it’s maximum impact, we usually start songs over at the ‘top’, or beginning, so that when a critical moment arrives we are in complete unison as to the dynamic that follows…for example, let’s say 2 minutes into a given song, there is a transition from a very loud part to a very quiet part…we assign a number value to the 2 parts: the loud, say, is an 8 out of 10 (10 being full blasting power), and the quiet part is a 3 (which would be above a whisper and lower than the band playing just quietly)…when we arrive, the critical moment is question (the transition from a number 8 part to a number 3), must be seamless and smooth…in our parlance, it cannot sound “obvious” or “forced”…we go to the top of the song, playing all the previous parts according to their already agreed upon dynamic intensities…if we lose track even before we get to the coupling we are working towards, we stop and start all over…this is critical, because you cannot have a train where each car following the engine is moving at different speeds…they all must move together, speeding up and slowing down in a relative value equally….this is key to the way we work and write, the pure notion that all moves must be in a mutual harmony consistent with what came before…so, for example, if we arrive at the loud part playing at an intensity level of 9 (which is quote unquote wrong), the following relative value must be a 4 (which is +1 like the 9 is to the 8), and not a 3…this keeps all of us on the same wavelength at all times, no matter what is happening…in order to practice the correct transition on a section to section change, we must “arrive” at the moment playing at a level 8 loudness in order to get used to going to the soft 3…this really helps when we play concerts, where invariably everyone gets juiced up by the adrenaline of the crowd…if we are playing the loud part as a 9, we all calculate up together so that the following part is a reflected value, which is 4…this also holds if we are depressed, and not into a show…if we arrive at the part at a 7, the following section becomes (ready class?) a 2…we therefore are able to adjust on the fly, under any circumstance, so that we will always sound like what we know what we are doing, even in the midst of our own total and complete chaos…
This process requires a lot of patience on everyone’s part…in addition, songs are constantly being re-written, hacked and chopped and reborn, sometimes 4 times daily…many changes are talked through as opposed to being actually played through…this means I might say “ok, when we get to the 2nd chorus, cut it in half but hang the ending so that Jimmy can set up the next part by playing a fill”…again, starting from the top, everyone is expected to know how to play a given section precisely even though, technically speaking, none of us have ever played it this way before (we do this before we go on stage as well, expecting results under the duress of a live concert)…this saves some time, but also creates a lot of misunderstanding if someone (usually D’arcy) thinks you are speaking of another section…so when she gets to the part she thinks you mean, she does what you “asked” (not really), creating a car crash effect as everyone collides…so then it’s re-explain again, a little de-program to lose the error, and then back to the top…we do this day after day, week after week until you get so used to the language and the insanity of this kind of thinking that it becomes second nature…and you can “feel” when something is wrong, and you know just how to fix it…
We record our demos on an 8-track cassette unit…Jimmy’s drums take up 4 channels: kick, snare, and 2 overheads…one channel is for left for her bass, one for James’ guitar, one for mine, and the last one for vocals…I never sing ‘live’ for the demos, opting instead to add the vocals later…the general idea is this will force me to write words and have to sing them to finish the songs…but when we play, I sing ‘blah-blah’ lyrics mostly so there is something there…once the band goes home, my ears ring for hours and the room takes on a chill which makes living here all the more ominous…in order to insure my safety at night, I padlock the iron gate from the inside, effectively locking myself in, which terrifies me because in the event of a fire I am dead…once I close the door, I deadbolt it from the inside…I use a small space heater to take the chill out of the air, but it doesn’t do much good unless you are right up next to it…you can’t get any broadcast signal in here, so I have a vcr-tv set up so I have something to kill the time…I sleep on a leather couch that someone left in here, in my clothes so I don’t get too cold…if I have to use the bathroom, say in the middle of the night, I have to get up, flip the deadbolt, take off the gate padlock, then proceed to re-lock the door so no one can go in there when I’m taking a piss (the bathroom is in an outside hall), then circle back and re-do the whole process, locking myself in once more (sometimes in the middle of the night, strangers will bang on the door, but I never answer)…
just before I go to bed, and often in the dark watching the bounce of the red LED lights, I listen back to the days tapes, usually only once thru…my brain will process the arrangements while I sleep even if I am not consciously thinking of them… this is a strange talent, because when the band arrives the next day to work, I already know what needs to be cut and moved around even though I haven’t given it one single thought! And so I live like this for months, this cycle of waiting, playing, and waiting some more…It is a very detached, lonely existence being in here like this…no telephone, few visitors, and no sunshine at all (no windows)…it is really like being in a cave that I won’t come out of for any reason…and what makes all this even stranger is that I have a million dollars rotting, unused, in my bank account…
wow, this is some ballsy autobiography writing!
Keep up the excellent work, wpc!
Also, remember to write about how it felt to record new material
in front of an audience instead of in an isolation booth...
You made a million off Gish? Brothaaaa...
this makes for real fine drunken reading at 346am, along with all your other interesting entries.
i prefer to listen rather than talk, read rather than write...so i don't have much to say aside from thanks for posting all these entries. i love being able to read such intimate reflections on events.
I love reading these, but out of curiosity why are all written in endless sentances with "..."'s? That keeps grabbing my attention. Oh well.
I assumed it was because it was a memory.
well it's not exactly "rotting" now is it.
good entry though.
The bit about breaking up the jams and beating the shit out of them until they became songs really rings true, especially since you seem to remember this whole process so well (through endless repetition of it, no doubt). It's fascinating to see inside such personal, artistic moments in your life.
I'll keep reading.