Monday, December 7, 2009

A little something about cover songs

Fustercluck!!! is our first album with cover songs -- not counting, of course, the unlicensed covers from the CD-R albums I did years ago, alone, as Elastic No-No Band (you can download mp3s of most of the songs from those albums on this page on our website [just scroll down a bit] and enjoy their semi-inept wonderfulness).

I decided to include covers on the album, because I like doing cover songs -- it doesn't feel like a cop-out or anything, especially if the tunes fit our style. And it's nice to pay tribute to songs you like. (Tangent: I didn't think of it before, but Bob Dylan's Self Portrait -- which was a conceptual inspiration on this album -- has a lot of covers of songs that inspired Bob and that he just liked to play. So that kind of fits. Sub-tangent: No, I'm not going to take up time defending Self Portrait right now if you happen to hate it.)

A lot of people I know from the antifolk scene can be expected to throw a cover or two on some of their albums, but these folks only sell CD-Rs and don't expect to sell more than a handful of copies at shows -- so they, ahem, don't pay royalties or anything. After all, the kind of paperwork and fees and so on that comes along with putting a cover song on your album in a fully legal way can be kind of daunting.

But I always intended to make Fustercluck!!! available in the Big Brother-infested world of online music sales. So I had to find the least painful process for getting legit cover songs out there. The 2 EPs I made between our last album, My 3 Addictions, and this new one were meant to be the cautious toe dipped into the water of cover-song-selling. The first EP, The Meow Bits, has been pretty successful. The solo acoustic cover of The Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on the EP is currently our all-time best selling download ("Let's Fuck" remains our bestselling original-song download -- ugh). The second EP, Every Elvis Has His Impersonators, is made up of 7 Elvis Costello covers -- and it's selling OK (I'm paying much more in processing fees to Harry Fox, the agency that "represents" the songs, than I am actually recouping in sales; the EP is good, though, so I'll keep it up for at least another year in hopes some folks will find it and enjoy it before I decide that I'm tired of losing money).

So anyhow, here's a little rundown of the covers on this here record (in album order):

*It's Different For Girls - I pretty much covered the story behind this one in my entry about collaborating with Nan Turner.

*Poor Jenny - This song was written by The Bryants for The Everly Brothers. I originally heard this on a 4-song 7-inch record of Everly Brothers covers by Rockpile's Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds. Later I picked up an Everlys anthology and thought the tune really suited ENB's half whimsical/half dark/weirdly funny attitude. There's an alternate version of the song where the party in the song ends at ten o'clock, but we went with the harder-edged "one o'clock" version.

*Daddy's Song - The story is here.

*I Bought Me A Cat/There's A Hole In The Bucket/Go Tell Aunt Rhody/New River Train - I explain these in the Debe Dalton entry.

*Goodnight Irene - This "urban folk" classic was first a big hit for The Weavers in the late '40s and has since been covered 17,513 times on record -- including a recent version in Tom Waits's popular Orphans box set. I had been playing the song myself a lot during my time busking in the New York City subway, and I liked the way I made it sound, so I recorded it with my friend Pat Trejchel playing a little backing electric guitar in his friend's basement in Perrysburg, Ohio. I later added some backing vocals when I got back to New York City, as is my wont. The lyrics I use are the ones from the pre-Weavers Lead Belly recording, which are a little bleaker and less whitebread.

*Go Away (Goodbye Southern Death Swing) - This gem about breaking up was written (and originally performed) by our producer Major Matt Mason USA for his first album, Me Me Me. I originally wanted to do this as a punk-ish full-band rock tune (in contrast to Matt's original dirge-y country waltz version), but the band could never get the song to a place where they liked playing it and I wasn't going to force it. This song also is a part of my New York City subway busking repertoire, and I tried my best to reproduce the quality of the performances I do of it in the subway with just me and the guitar, on the final recording. I think I succeeded. (Also, because my version takes the "swing" out of Matt's song, I changed the main title to "Go Away" and put his original title in parentheses.)

*I'd Love Just Once To See You - I tell the story about this one in the entry about Toby Goodshank.

I hope you like our covers and -- if you don't know them -- I hope you check out the originals too.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Profiles in Fandom and Collaboration #9: Debe Dalton

"New River Train" feat. Debe Dalton -- free mp3

Unless I am mistaken -- and I might be -- I think that (apart from producer Major Matt Mason USA) singer/songwriter/banjo player Debe Dalton is the only collaborator on our new album who also made an appearance on our last album, My 3 Addictions.

Debe is a tremendous performer and a great songwriter (you should check out her CD -- I reviewed it here on the Elastic No-No Band Myspace blog when it came out). And, to top it all off, she's been a big fan and supporter of Elastic No-No Band, going back to when it was just a performing name for yours truly at the Sidewalk Monday night Antihoot. She has said on a few occasions that she very much enjoys being a member of Elastic No-No Band, which is why I've often asked her to play on various songs in live shows and on our albums.

Debe plays on 5 songs on Fustercluck!!! in duets with me, most of them old folk songs. When I went on my solo tour of the US in April 2008, I brought along 4 volumes of Pete Seeger's American Favorite Ballads -- which is an excellent, must-hear collection. I listened to those discs a lot over the course of my month on the road (didn't have an ipod yet, ha ha), and I started to earmark some as favorites. "Go Tell Aunt Rhody," which is a song that most folks learn as kids but I'd never heard, sounded so pretty -- and simultaneously whimsical and sad -- that I wanted to do it. Seeger's version had a banjo, and I wanted to retain that, so I decided to ask Debe Dalton to do the song with me. She told me it was one of her favorite songs. We recorded it shortly after I got back from tour.

I still wanted to do more music with Debe, so I set up another longer recording session, where we knocked out 2 more of the Seeger hits ("There's A Hole In The Bucket," which I'd originally heard in this version as a kid and used to sing along with my mom; plus "New River Train," which you can download from the link at the top of this entry), an old children's song I rearranged called "I Bought Me A Cat" (which I first heard in the orchestral arrangement by Aaron Copland), and a longwinded story-song penned by yours truly called "A Boy Named Snommit" (I already wrote about that song in this blog entry here). When we recorded, Major Matt decided to set us up in a couple chairs in his kitchen for maximum warm room sound, and it came out sounding good (no street noise, or nothin').

I'd like to keep collaborating with Debe. One of the next things I would like to do is have the whole band play with Debe on a recording of one of her newer songs called "Just Love" (at least I think that's what it's called -- I'm sure Debe can correct me if I'm wrong).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Evolution of a Song: "Turn Out Right (Rock)"

Fustercluck!!! is, in many ways, a journal of most of the musical thoughts I've had in the 2 years since the completion of My 3 Addictions. Most of those thoughts are new... but some of them are old, lingering thoughts that badly needed tending to. For instance, there are 5 songs on the album that are new versions of previously recorded songs -- two from an "unofficial" solo CD-R album back when I barely knew how to play the guitar ("Hot As I Are" (2004) and "Something You Should Know" (2004)) and three from our home-recorded lo-fi masterpiece, The Very Best of Elastic No-No Band So Far: "Run-DMC" (2006), "Let's Fuck" (2005), and today's topic song.

And, of course, those of you folks paying attention know that 4 of the other songs on The Very Best of... So Far were already re-recorded on My 3 Addictions. When I said the very best "so far," I meant it.

One of the main reasons to re-do the songs is that band keeps getting larger -- and better. It just seems weird to do a killer full-band rock version of "Run-DMC" at a live show, have a new fan come up at the merch table afterward looking for that song, and only have a stripped-down, slightly sloppy acoustic version of it to offer.

In fact, Brook Pridemore bugged me repeatedly to make sure to include a full-band version of "Run-DMC" on Fustercluck!!!, so I knew it must be done. (The new full-band rock version is called "(Re-) Run-DMC" to differentiate.)

Meanwhile, "Turn Out Right Rock" was actually a request from our bass player Preston Spurlock, partly to capture the full-band sound for posterity but mostly so that there is a recorded version in an actual key recognized by Western music theory.

You see, the original version of "Turn Out Right" (2004) was done in a kind of marathon session where I sat in a voiceover room in the film school at New York University for a couple hours, trying desperately to play the song all the way through without too many mistakes. (It shows you how inept I was at playing the guitar that my main goal with the recording was merely completion and not transcendant artistic expression.) In the midst of pursuing this goal of just... ya know... finishing, I didn't even notice that the damn guitar wasn't quite in tune. The song, which is supposed to be in D major, instead occupies a weird land in between D and C-sharp.

When I got the full band (at the time) together to do the second version of the song, "Turn Out Right Waltz" (2006) (which closes out the Very Best... So Far CD), you would have thought I would have taken a moment to make sure I tuned my guitar. Nope. Not at all. You see, we were living fast, and times were wild. I changed the key of the song to C major (although, with my guitar out of tune, it's not really in C), I cut out one of the choruses, and I decided to shout out the last section of the song with Preston by my side. Also, we threw bourgeois convention to the wind and busted out the scariest instrument in pop music: the accordion. How could a crazed, meth-fueled* band like this possibly stop for 90 seconds just to tune my piddling guitar? Well, duh... we didn't. (Sidenote: This is the song that I am singing at the beginning of the Waltz version.)

Now, we're a little mellower and more focused these days, so when we attempted a new rock version of "Turn Out Right," I did actually bother to tune my guitar. We continue to leave out that chorus I cut out in 2006, and Preston and I shout out the last section of this song along with a little help from our drummer Doug Johnson. The recording is definitely in the key of D major (you can check it and everything), and -- hey -- it turned out pretty great.

Please enjoy this track from Fustercluck!!!: "Turn Out Right Rock" (2009) free mp3.

And for old times' sake, please enjoy this old video I made for the original recording of "Turn Out Right":

*The band actually was neither crazed nor meth-fueled during the recording of this song.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

WTF!? awesomeness

Preston and Toby, the fellas who made the cover art, went and made the following commercial for our album.

(It's only a double-CD, but if it were on record, it would probably be a triple-LP, so I guess that makes the claim at the end of the commercial make sense... sort of.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Profiles in Fandom and Collaboration #8: Octavio Lafuentes

"Another Day Another Night" by Octavio Lafuentes & Elastic No-No Band -- free mp3

There are different reasons I wanted to collaborate with each of the folks I chose to appear on this album.

In all cases, I was a fan of their work and wanted to play music with them (as the title of this recurring feature makes clear). With some (like Toby or Nan), I was also kind of hoping their popularity would add to the appeal of the album. With others (like Tom), I thought giving them a guest spot on the record would be a good chance for more folks to hear their work.

It's the same situation with Octavio Lafuentes. Octavio had given me two of his CDs -- one completely homemade and one made with the help of Tom Drake -- and I really enjoyed them. They featured kind of low-key, lo-fi bedroom rock.

For about a year, Octavio was my apartment-mate, and I wanted to make sure that at some point we collaborated on a song for the album. When it finally seemed like we both had a moment to work together, Octavio thought we could just do a song he had already written. For about one moment, I was hesitant. I had been thinking of trying to write a new song together -- but then Octavio played me the song he had in mind. I liked it so much that I immediately wanted to have it as part of the album.

I set up my laptop in the living room and had him do the guitar part twice and sing the song through twice. Then I took that stuff into my room, and mixed it a bit. When I listened back, I heard high overtones present in the recording, accompanying Octavio's vocal. I wasn't sure whether I was partly hallucinating them or what, so I just decided to flesh the sound out by singing that high part I heard. Then, I added some synth bass and keyboard to give the thing a little more shape.

I played the song back for Octavio and he seemed to like it okay. I feel like maybe when he does another CD, he'll do the song and nail it down his own way. Also, since the song was untitled, I asked him if he minded if I called it "Another Day Another Night" (after the closing rhymes in the chorus), and he said okay. But maybe he'll call the song something different eventually.

Anyhow, take a listen to the song at the link at the top of this entry. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Feester's Queest

Toby and Preston finished the cover art. It is an awesome triptych which I'm sure will look amazing printed-up. Here is the center panel:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A few statistics

So... I've been kind of obsessed with this album. I'm still waiting on Toby and Preston to finish the album art, but the recording is done. So I've been listening to the complete 2 1/4 hours of the album quite a lot lately while I wait for them to finish. Try as I might to listen to other things, I find myself returning to Fustercluck!!! again and again. Fortunately, I think it's an album that can withstand that amount of concentration.

But, I found some interesting patterns emerging as I listened. For example, I think this is an album that has a lot of "seams showing": there's some false starts, a lot of count-ins ("1, 2, 3, 4" then music), and chatter. I don't think there's any greater meaning to it than that I liked the mood created for the listener by leaving this stuff in, but when you're obsessed about a thing (like I am right now)... well, you think maybe making some stats might be illuminating -- or, at least, maybe fun. Or at least give me some outlet for my obsessive compulsion right now.

A few statistics
*Total number of tracks on Fustercluck!!!: 45
*Number of tracks with count-ins: 8 (includes 2 songs where Doug counts-in for the band after Justin has already done the beginning of the song solo)
*Number of tracks with chatter before or after the song: 7
*Number of songs with false starts: 2
*Number of collaborators (non-band members) featured on the album: 11
*Collaborator who appears most on the album: Debe Dalton (plays banjo and/or sings on 5 songs, including the 8-minute "A Boy Named Snommit")
*Collaborator who appears least on the album: Joe Crow Ryan (sings backup on the choruses of "(Re-) Run-DMC")
*Number of hidden tracks: 1

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Profiles in Fandom and Collaboration #7: Chris Andersen

The group featured above is The Christian Pirate Puppets. The guitarist is Toby Goodshank. The keyboardist is Peter Speer. And the singer is Chris Andersen.

The CPP started off as band that set the writings of teenagers and preteens to improvised musical backgrounds on their first 2 CDs, White, Manlike Structure... and Unpruded, before they shifted to original compositions like the video posted above, "Untimely Death, Pt. 2." ("Untimely Death, Pt. 1" is an excerpt from a shitty novel about sex and murder full of the purplest prose not written by teenagers and preteens. Both tracks are on the highly recommended Unpruded, available from Olive Juice.)

Listening to The Christian Pirate Puppets, I was inspired to recruit the very talented Chris Andersen to help us out with a song that just wasn't quite working. The song is called "Red," and it is about being besieged with bugbites at night. For some reason, the song lacked oomph. Elastic No-No Band played it both fast and slow in live shows (one of the fast live versions is included on Fustercluck!!!), but the tune never really made anybody jump for joy -- in the crowd or in the band.

But what if I subjected the lyrics of the song to the kind of recitation Chris did for CPP all the time? His brand of melodramatic mania might goose the song right where it needed it. And, by jove, I think it worked.

To show you what I mean, let me offer you 2 live clips: one of the original version of "Red" and one featuring Chris Andersen.
MP3: "Red" - live 11 March 2007 (slow and mediocre)

MP3: "Red" - live 21 February 2008 (faster and markedly improved - feat. Chris Andersen)

There. See what I mean? It ain't bad without Chris (although the mix is kinda lame so you can't hear Herb very well during his piano solo), but the tune is a heck of a lot better WITH Chris. And the studio version on the record is even better.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Profiles in Fandom and Collaboration #6: Liv Carrow

Liv Carrow has always struck me as simultaneously a tender and tough performer. The songs she writes are simultaneously sweet and cynical -- naive and worldly. One time when I saw her perform at Sidewalk, she did a Harry Nilsson cover from The Point, and I immediately saw the connection.

Nilsson is the kind of guy who can sing a tender love ballad, then sing an upbeat number with the hook "You're breaking my heart/ You're tearing it apart/ So fuck you," then get a sing-along going with a tune about wanting to die before you get too old and incapacitated. That mixture of sensitivity and irreverence that characterizes Nilsson reminds me of Liv Carrow too.

So immediately after that Sidewalk show where she did the Point cover, I told Liv that we should do a cover of a Harry Nilsson song. I suggested "Daddy's Song," which I had first heard covered by The Monkees in their wacky-ass movie, Head. I even lent her my copy of the Head soundtrack, which has since disappeared off the face off the earth (if only I had had a CD burner at the time!!).

For the next year and a half probably, I would sporadically email Liv and say "Hey, let's record that song. Whadaya think?" And she would write back, "Sure." And nothing would come of it.

But I never forgot about the song. Last year, when I figured I needed better cash flow and I started busking in the subway, I added "Daddy's Song" to my repertoire, so that I could practice it a bunch.

Finally, a couple months ago, Liv and I found an afternoon where we could meet up and finally record the damn song. And once we were finally in the same room, performing the song was really fast and easy. We decided to trade verses back and forth, and as you hear the switch from person to person, it's kind of clear that I know the song from the Monkees' version and Liv was studying Nilsson's original version because she emulates his vocal acrobatics while I (and Davy Jones) take the more straightforward melodic route. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a nice blend. It's what I would characterize as a pleasantly bittersweet addition to the album.

Unfortunately for you, right now the tune is not posted anywhere as a download or as a stream, so you'll just have to wait 'til the album is out to see if you agree.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Album mastering complete!

John (our electric guitar player and leader of The Telethons) finished up the overdubs and final mix on "Snap Snap Goes The Mousetrap" mid-last week, which concluded all the mixing for the album.

Yesterday, I visited Major Matt at Olive Juice, and we mastered disc 2 of the album. My initial opinion that Disc 2 has a more natural flow (with a few oddball inclusions to break things up) than Disc 1 was confirmed as I sat there listening to Matt work his way through the disc.

This is certainly not to say that disc 1 is inferior. I feel like both discs are equally weighted with top-of-the-line "hits" and intriguing "deep cuts." This double-album is 2 1/4 hours of solid, worthwhile entertainment. Hell, a lot of James Bond movies can't even promise that.

Also, I realized yesterday (the 17th of October), as we were finishing up the mastering, that we were finishing the album 2 years to the day after we started recording it. The first Fustercluck!!! recording session was 17 Oct. 2007, and I recorded basic tracks for "Emotional Tourism" and a few other songs that day. At that time, the album was still going to be called Get Happier!!! (a reference to Elvis Costello's Get Happy!!); now, only the triple exclamation points remain.

So... now the only thing I'm waiting on, before sending the materials off to the pressing plant, is the finalized cover art from Toby Goodshank and Preston Spurlock. When I ask them for updates, all they can tell me is "Feester's Qweest" over and over again, which I'm sure is just some artist thing.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Profiles in Fandom and Collaboration #5: Brook Pridemore

I gotta admit something. The first time I met Brook Pridemore, I didn't really like him. The first time I heard his music I wasn't impressed.

Now, 2 or 3 years later, I don't know what the fuck I was thinking then. Now Brook Pridemore is not only one of my favorite performers, he is also one of my favorite people. His work ethic (he's on tour most of the year) and remarkable talent are incredibly inspiring to me as a fellow performer.

The music video I directed for him is one of the favorite things I've made:

Asking Brook to collaborate on the writing and recording of a song for this project was a no-brainer. And Brook was excited to do it. At first, he really wanted to do a gay disco song -- inspired, I'm pretty sure, by "Friends" by Ween. Of his many ideas for this fabled song, the only one I remember is "The Dancefloor (My 4th Addiction)." (Get it?)

We had one main songwriting session where Brook and I met up with Preston at the Brooklyn Tea Party, the sometime venue where Brook lives. We all goofed around and swapped instruments. Eventually, with Preston on piano, myself on bass, and Brook on drums, we worked out a chord progression for the gay disco song. Brook freestyled some lyrics over it. Then we never touched it again.

Brook had also gotten an idea to do a Folk Implosion rip-off -- a grunge throwback, a pastiche. So I got out the acoustic guitar, and I'm pretty sure I came up with the chords. Again, Brook freestyled some lyrics and the seed of the best song ever written -- "The Color Machine" -- was born. Later, Brook and I ironed out the lyrics in a long, painstaking session that took dozens upon dozens of seconds.

When it came time to record, Brook recruited his Crabs on Banjo bandmate Ariel Bitran to play electric guitar. Mere moments after first being introduced to "The Color Machine," Ariel came up with the scorching riff that is now the centerpiece of the song. We got Preston to play bass because... well, why not? And we got another of Brook's Crabs on Banjo bandmates, Brian Speaker to record the thing live at Brooklyn Tea Party.

We started recording about 45 minutes after we had all learned the song, and we didn't work out an ending, which is why the fade-out on this track is almost as long as the "Na na na" section of "Hey Jude". We actually probably had a better jam on the end of the previous take, but Brook's false ending (which he only did on the last take) was too wonderful to not have in the official version.

Go here to savor the mysterious lyrics and download an early demo version of "The Color Machine".

Also, you can hear the final version streaming on ENB's Myspace page.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Recording update

I am a little tardy with this, but the album -- less one track* -- is all mixed!

The past week and a half, Major Matt and myself have been working on the last 5 unfinished songs. They needed some backup singing and a final mix. This was more hellacious than it should have been.

I have always been fond of doing backup singing on ENB recordings, but I am not a technically good singer. So the ability to hold a note without wavering -- which is required for the kind of backups I hear in my head -- is often out of my grasp. Add to this the change of seasons, which has messed with my respiration and hindered my breathing, and you have one pissed-off inadequate singer.

A balance has to be struck between my perfectionist side (no really, I have one) and my more, shall we say, "antifolk" side, which doesn't want to sacrifice the spark of life from a performance in the service of getting it "right." People who are more talented than me can get away with only doing it once and saying, "Let's just go with that because it's fresh and unfussed-over." I even did it with a tune or two on this record. But, this time, I just had to sit in that fucking sound booth and do it over and over again. Sometimes the end product still isn't in tune.


Well, I've finally allowed these raw tracks to be pried out of my fingers in order that Matt could mix them and... I'm pretty damn happy. I think this album is fucking awesome, and I hope the reaction of listeners is at least half as excited as me.

*(The one track that remains to be mixed for the album is a tune that John Mulcahy and myself wrote and recorded in his parents' basement in New Jersey, and John will give it a final spit polish the next time he is New Jersey.)

That is all the news for now. Matt is on a tour with Barry Bliss and Toby Goodshank until mid-October, so we're taking a forced breather before the final mastering session. In the meanwhile, I will edify you with more Profiles in Fandom and Collaboration, so keep checking in.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Profiles in Fandom and Collaboration #4: Dave End

The first time I saw Dave End perform, I was literally astounded. I may be misremembering, but I think he only played a half-hour set, and yet he jammed in a full program of songs (although he has said Ani Difranco is an influence, he has a punk-rock-ish tendency to keep his songs under 2 minutes) along with a heaping helping of hilarious, ingratiating banter, into the brief time. A tremendous showman and a heck of a songwriter; I would normally be jealous, if I wasn't so happy just to watch him do what he does.

He is also a willing member of the Mutual Appreciation Society: he dug the No-No's CD that I gave him upon meeting. He has also said he's a big fan of My 3 Addictions, especially what he described as the "essay" structure of it, which he thought was kind of similar to the way he structured his own (extremely excellent) albums.

Before I had an exact idea to collaborate with a bunch of people for this album, I decided I wanted to do a duet with Dave. I hadn't really written any duets since "Nobody's Wife", but that didn't stop me. I took a song I wrote about a conversation I'd had with Daoud Tyler-Ameen, the bespectacled leader of Art Sorority For Girls, discussing the fact that I wore glasses throughout my childhood but now I am glasses-free. The song is called "Hey 2-Eyes." In the song, I turned Daoud into "they," as in the lyric: "'That never happens,' they said, when I said, 'They got better.'" In real life, it was Daoud who said that never happens, although he was far less strident about it than the "they" I created for the song.

Anyhow, I thought I would try Dave End out in the role of "They" -- giving him all the dialogue in the song credited to "They" -- and he did a marvelous job, adlibbing taunts to me during the live performance, some of which we kept for the recording (such as his cry of "Liar!" during the third verse).

During our initial rehearsals of "Hey 2-Eyes," Dave mentioned that he wanted to co-write a song about perceptions of masculinity with me. I always kept a spot earmarked for that song on the album, but circumstances -- such as Dave moving to Philly -- intervened and have prevented us (so far) from writing a song like that. Nonetheless, I think Dave's offer to co-write a song put me in the mindset of wanting to work with other writers on this album, and it led me to co-write songs with Thomas Patrick Maguire (a fella I already told you about here), with our electric guitarist John Mulcahy (also of The Telethons), and with Brook Pridemore (a fella I'll tell you about soon enough).

Anyhow, Dave: if you still want to write that song sometime, I'm still up for it.

In the meanwhile, if you'd like to hear "Hey 2-Eyes," it is streaming now from our Myspace page, at this link.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"A Boy Named Snommit" and other songs about my friends

"A Boy Named Snommit" feat. Debe Dalton on banjo (final mix, unmastered) - free mp3

One of the first songs I explicitly wrote about one of my friends was called "Jeanette Is Working". It's about a woman named Jeanette, and how she... you know... works and stuff.

Jeanette is one of my high school friends from Toledo, Ohio, and once that song was done, there was much clamor amongst my other high school friends to write songs about them. Nonetheless, I did nothing of the sort.

I did end up writing a song called "You Think It's Wrong", about people who are too afraid to sing along to songs because they are afraid to expose their less-than-perfect singing voices to the world. I was admittedly inspired to write this, in part, by watching some of my Toledo friends play Karaoke Revolution (if you are unfamiliar it's kind of a singing-only forbear to the likes of the current slew of Rock Band/Guitar Hero games). In fact, my friend Evelyn assumed the song was explicitly about her, despite my protestations that it's not about any single person.

Since then, her husband Steve -- one of my very best friends from high school -- has been on me to write a song about him. When Steve told me that he and Evelyn were going to have a baby -- making them the first couple in my direct circle of friends to procreate -- I figured I had something to write about.

The finished song, called "A Boy Named Snommit," is about 60% fact-based, 15% false but based on some sort of inside joke that makes it poetically true, and then 25% completely false probably just because I needed to make some rhymes.

It is the longest song I've written, taking up four pages of typewritten lyrics and lasting around 8 minutes, and it also probably took the longest to write of anything I've ever done. To give you an idea, I started the song when Evelyn was a couple months pregnant and I finished writing the song when the kid was nearly a year old. That is, of course, if you don't count the fact that I had to redo the final stanza AFTER I HAD ALREADY RECORDED THE SONG because I got some facts incorrect (if you listen carefully to the recording, you can hear that the last verse was recorded in a slightly different ambience).

Because of the fact that I was writing this song through most of the planning, recording, and so forth of this album, I thought it was fitting to end the album with it. So that's why it is the final track on disc 2.

However, I know it might be hard work, when you're listening to the album, to get all the way there in a timely fashion, so I'm providing you with an early listen at the link up at the top of this entry.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Profiles in Fandom and Collaboration #3: Thomas Patrick Maguire

"The Congregation" by Elastic No-No Band and Thomas Patrick Maguire - free mp3

The first time I met Thomas Patrick Maguire was at the Anti-hootenanny open mic (now called "The Open Stage") at the Sidewalk. I don't remember many specific details of the night, although I do remember he gave me a copy of his first full-length CD, Pissing Streams. It's a great CD. Not only is it a great CD, but I found it very inspiring as both a performer and a recording artist. This is because Pissing Streams is ultra-lo-fi (a lot of times the drums are overmodulated and there is plenty of hiss) but it does not affect the quality of the album. The awesome songwriting and performances hold up well despite the low-budget circumstances.

Tom and I didn't immediately start hanging out after that, but at some point, we started going to movies in Queens (where Tom is from) together -- because I am a movie addict, and because tickets are mad cheap where Tom lives.

I also wound up shooting 2 super-low-budget music videos for Tom, from his latest full-length, A Slight Return.

One was shot in his apartment, for the song "Unemployment Dreams":

The other was shot all around his neighborhood -- "Evening News":

Sometime last year, I had a couple of pieces of instrumental guitar that I wasn't quite sure what to do with. I thought, since I was I trying to do a bunch of collaborations, that I would try them out on Tom and see if he could come up with any words. And boy, he sure did.

For the first, more developed piece of music, he sat in my living room and started spinning lyrics about a religious fanatic inspired to murder his fellow parishioners by an insane preacher. Not at all the kind of thing I would write about, but hey -- that's why you collaborate, right? I wound up writing a couple of lines myself. The one I am most proud of -- because it seems like something out of a Johnny Cash murder ballad -- is this: "And the choir sang 'Hallelujah'/ But that ain't much good when my bullets cut right through ya." I also gave the song its title: "The Congregation." Click here for lyrics and an mp3 of the song.

The other guitar bit wasn't really very developed and was more of a repetitive rhythmic thing -- which is partly what made think it would be a good choice to work on with Tom. A lot of the guitar parts for his songs have a strong rhythmic quality that is part of what makes them so entertaining.

Tom couldn't really come up with full lyrics as he sat in my living room, so I quickly recorded about 45 seconds of the guitar part on my laptop and put it on his mp3 player to take home. The next time we met up, he had composed a terse little tribute to Omar from The Wire, a character and a show I am completely unfamiliar with.

In the spirit of keeping it real, we recorded both songs on my laptop using Garageband -- going so far as to record "Ode To Omar" in my bathroom to get the right reverb.

I haven't talked to Tom in a little bit, but I think our next collaboration will be a new music video for a song from his new EP, Corporation Town. Keep an eye out for it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Probable tracklist for disc 2

Last month, I put up the finalized tracklist for disc 1 of our upcoming double-album. It's in this entry:

If you've been paying attention, I've also edited that entry several times in the past months, rearranging the order slightly. But I'm pretty sure we've got the final finalized final tracklist up there now.

Well, I think I've got disc 2's order pretty much pinned down now too. Here goes:

1. Emotional Tourism (go here to get a free mp3 of this song)
2. Making Out At Work (Don't Work) (feat. Toby Goodshank)
3. Oh Magali
4. Go Tell Aunt Rhody (feat. Debe Dalton)
5. Something You Should Know (go here to hear the original 2004 demo of this song)
6. No Elephant Likes Cheese, Baby (Homage To Brion Gysin)
7. Hot As I Are (go here to hear the original 2004 demo of this song)
8. Another Day, Another Night (feat. Octavio Lafuentes)
9. I Wonder How Many People Are Screwing Tonight
10. I'd Love Just Once To See You (Beach Boys cover, feat. Toby Goodshank)
11. You Make Me Sick
12. The Worst Thing On My Resume
13. Turn Out Right Rock
14. New River Train (feat. Debe Dalton)
15. Snap Snap Goes The Mousetrap
16. I'm Gonna Treat This Room
17. Frankfurt, Frankfurt
18. Red (Ramshackle, Live Version)
19. Ode To Omar (feat. Thomas Patrick Maguire)
20. Americana Feg Meloxany
21. A Boy Named Snommit (feat. Debe Dalton)

It's interesting listening to the two discs and seeing the similarities and the differences. Disc 1, for instance, is much more distinctly batshit crazy, while disc 2 is a bit more conventional with a few oddities sprinkled here and there. Also, disc 2 has significantly fewer cover songs and fewer collaborations.

However, both discs feature a version of the song "Red" (an unconscious tribute to "Don't Cry" from Use Your Illusion I & II?) and both discs feature a song with a city's name listed twice in the title: "Abilene, Abilene" on disc 1 and "Frankfurt, Frankfurt" on disc 2.

I'm sure there's more interesting idiosyncrasies, but if I sit here thinking about them, I'll lose what's left of my mind.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Recording Update

So yesterday, I went over to Major Matt's with our electric guitar player John Mulcahy (also of The Telethons) and laid down the last bit of electric guitar for the album. I also recorded the last bit of lead vocals (barring any potential freakouts on my part, where I will be so ashamed of my voice that I will replace all my singing with Kanye West and a vocoder). This means... we are WAY CLOSE TO BEING DONE!

All that's left to record is just some backup vocals on 3 or 4 songs, and any random sound effects that the band can dream up (and trust me, our percussionist Doug Johnson, does just sit around dreaming of sounds he can layer onto a song -- and so far, all of it has sounded great... so we'll let him keep dreaming.)

Also, only 7 of the 45 tracks on the album have not had a final mix done. Yet.

So, in other words... we are WAY CLOSE TO BEING DONE!!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Profiles in Fandom and Collaboration #2: Nan Turner

Some time back, a year or more ago, I went to a show featuring Nan Turner and a backing band called The One Night Stands (so named because the band line-up changes for every show, depending on who is available to play). At one point in the show, Nan sang and played a solo song on her electric guitar: "It's Different For Girls" by Joe Jackson (not Michael Jackson's father).

She even told a story about the song: she used to have the cassette tape version of the album the song is on, I'm The Man, and would try to emulate Joe Jackson, shouting "I'm the Nan!" She might have said something about wanting to dress up in a jacket like the one he wears in the cover shot but I might just be making that up.

It was pretty exciting for me, because not many folks I know like Joe Jackson. I came to like him as an Elvis Costello fan. You see a bunch of the folks from the same era have sounds comparable to Elvis: Graham Parker, Marshall Crenshaw, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, and, of course, Joe Jackson. And I've grown to like at least some of each of these guys' songs quite a bit.

Watching Nan play "It's Different For Girls," I immediately decided to try to do a Joe Jackson cover with her. I wasn't sure how exactly, but that would work itself out. Nan loved the idea, and she stated her preference to do a song off I'm The Man. I offered something upbeat and silly, like "Kinda Kute." She replied, "Why don't we just do 'It's Different For Girls?' " Not my favorite JJ tune at the time, but, upon reflection, it was the choice that made the best sense.

So we worked out a version where Nan played the drums and sang (kind of like she does in Schwervon!, although -- as you can see in the illustration -- she tried to work out a way to do it where she could stand up while playing), and I played the guitar and occasionally pretended to sing backup. (Also, as visible above, during my illustrious appearance as one of Nan's One Night Stands, I wore only long underwear.)

We played it live once this way, and then we got into the recording room at Olive Juice Music (the apartment Nan shares with her bandmate and manfriend Major Matt) and just did a couple takes before deciding we had created the ultimate document of our version of the song. A little sloppy, somewhat lo-fi, but full of fun energy and humor. You can hear our recording streaming from ENB's Myspace page.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Recording update

Yesterday, I went over to our piano player Herb's place to record keyboard parts for 5 songs.

So far on this album, we have recorded Herb's parts in many assorted ways. For "Imaginary Girlfriend," the whole band played live in Herb's living room and he played his own personal piano (technically, the session where we recorded the song was for this radio show [which you can download], but the recording on the album is taken from a different source). For many of the band songs on Fustercluck!!!, like "(The Shame About) Manboobs" and "Hey 2-Eyes," we recorded Herb separately, listening to a rough mix of the existing songs and playing on the piano at Brooklyn Tea Party, engineered by Dan Costello. For six of the songs, the whole band went into a studio in Brooklyn and played live while I sang; for those songs, Herb played a keyboard about 2 feet from our drummer Doug Johnson whacking the hell out of those skins. I think it was a little hard to concentrate at times.

So yesterday we tried something that I hope will work out okay. We essentially did what we had done at the Brooklyn Tea Party, with Herb taking the existing rough mix and overdubbing his piano part onto it. The difference today was that we just used Herb's own keyboard. Herb has his keyboard hooked up to his computer through an M box, and we just recorded the sound of it in Garageband. I'm gonna give the files to our producer Major Matt tomorrow, and hopefully they will blend in nicely.

The recording session was nice for me, because it was pretty much a stress-free situation. I wasn't paying for recording time, so we could take all the necessary time to get the parts done right, and Herb did a great job without having to leave his practice room.

And if Matt agrees that these takes are good, then we are oh-so-very-very-very-close to getting this monster done. Just a handful of more overdubs, a bunch of mixing, and mastering, then the recordings are done! Then that'll leave cover design and CD replication... the EXCITING stuff (ha ha).

My hope now is to have this out in the world before the end of October. I talked to Brook Pridemore about having a CD release show at the Brooklyn Tea Party (his apartment), but he said they probably wouldn't be able to host a show 'til December... It makes me wonder whether I should drag my feet until then or just release the album without fanfare once it's ready and then have the party later whenever it's feasible. Is anybody reading this? Do you have an opinion? Please provide it below.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Profiles in Fandom and Collaboration #1: Toby Goodshank

"Making Out At Work (Don't Work)" home demo featuring Toby Goodshank -- free mp3

So I just got done mastering disc 1 of Fustercluck!!! with Major Matt, and boy it sounds good! It almost flows like a real live album, despite being more like 12 albums (e.g., a full-band rock album, a stripped-down solo album, an album of children's and traditional folk songs, a covers album, an avant-garde collage album) diced up and put on a couple of discs. The one element of all this madness which is most exciting to me is all the collaborations. Fustercluck!!! features a dozen or so guest stars, and I'm gonna try to take some time and feature my thoughts on each one here.

I'm starting with Toby Goodshank, not just because he is amazing (and he is, in case you're not sure) and prolific (he probably just released three new full-length albums with three different bands and did all the cover art while I typed this sentence). I'm starting with Toby Goodshank because he is a big influence on this particular project.

Some of Toby's albums have a consistent sound and a coherent thematic approach, but he isn't precious about it and some of his albums are pretty ragtag -- not only stylistically, but in regard to everything. Helmic Regulator (2003) is a Toby Goodshank album with somewhere in the ballpark of 22 tracks, and they range from really full, slick-sounding studio recordings to home recordings that sound like they were captured by a walkman shoved in a duffel bag. And the tracks exist side-by-side in a pleasant and interesting juxtaposition.

The example of Helmic Regulator was both instructive and freeing for me. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do as a recording after My 3 Addictions, and I wanted to do something that showed how nice we were sounding as a full-blooded band. But I also wanted to be able to knock a recording out on my laptop in my bedroom at 1 in the morning and stick that on the record too. Helmic Regulator proved that I could have it both ways and still possibly make a kickass record.

Toby has been gracious enough to lend his voice and/or guitar to 3 tracks on our magnum opus, and he has agreed to draw 1/2 of the cover art (he has a blog at this link right here of various drawings he has done recently that you can peep, and that might help you decide whether or not I made a good choice). One of the tracks is an original called "Making Out at Work (Don't Work)" which is played by the full band and on which Toby sings harmony vocals (you can check out a lo-fi home demo version at the top of this entry). Similarly, another track is a cover of The Everly Brothers' "Poor Jenny" (here's a cool cover of it by Nick Lowe and Dave Edmund) where Toby sings Everlys-style harmony and the full band backs us up.

The third track is another cover: The Beach Boys' "I'd Love Just Once To See You." I sent Toby 2 possible Beach Boys covers to try to tackle, and he really dug the lyrics on this one. (The other was "Take a Load Off Your Feet," which I might try to do at some future date.)

One night, I had Toby come over to my pad to do a little practicing on the three numbers and I pulled out my laptop, so we would make a recording to refer to, and Toby -- again, not at all precious about these kinds of things -- said, "Why don't we just record the Beach Boys song now?" So, in a little less than a half-hour we went through and recorded Toby playing guitar and the two of us doing different vocal parts on the song using the built-in mic on my laptop, which also picked up plenty of random street noise from outside my window and unintentional side-comments (like me saying, "It's the meow bit," which essentially became the name of the stopgap EP I put out last year that includes this Beach Boys cover). It was so much fun.

Doing that recording was so easy and enjoyable that I tried to use the same "template," if you will, to the way I recorded the songs I did with Thomas Patrick Maguire and Liv Carrow for the album. But I'll talk about that stuff in due time.

So while the full-band tracks won't be available until the album is done, if you want to hear Toby and me taking on the Beach Boys, you can listen to it streaming right here... or you can buy the stopgap EP, The Meow Bits, over here (the EP also includes 2 tracks recorded around the same time that I've decided to leave off of Fustercluck!!!: a cover of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and an original called "Suffering From 7").

Monday, August 17, 2009

Glama Stretcha Time

I went on a solo tour of the United States in April 2008, bringing the music of Elastic No-No Band to all those people on the middle and left side of the country (directionally, not politically). And, as is my compulsion, I bought some used records at various stops on my trip (as I drove through Arizona and Texas, I feared for the health of that precious vinyl, but they all made it through the trip unscathed).

My last stop was in Johnson City, Tennessee, and I found an thrift store where I bought a handful of cool records (Belafonte, The Ventures) and a bizarre 10-inch excercising record (pictured above). When I got back to Brooklyn, I was very interested to take a listen. Even though I did not have the device necessary to do the exercises, the energetic instruction and backing organ music was quite enough to sustain 20-some minutes of listening enjoyment (and me and my roommates did attempt some of the exercises without the necessary device and accompanying diagrams).

Anyhow, I enjoyed the record so much that I decided to include interpolations of it on our new album. I felt like there was some linking thematic material about physical appearance and self-esteem to some of our songs, like "Manboobs", "Zaftig", "Hey 2-Eyes", and even the song I cut from the album "I Don't Think It's Right". So I felt like including excerpts from an exercise record was an apt, off-kilter way to comment on that.

Obviously, you'll be able to hear my selections and re-interpretations when the album is done, but I figured I would offer you the unadulterated exercise record for downloading and enjoyment. (As far as my internet research goes, this recording seems to have fallen into public domain. Also, my research has led me to find out that most copies of the record were pressed on special blue vinyl [!!] but mine was just regular black [boo!].)
Side One (11 mins. 44 secs.)
Side Two (13 mins. 20 secs.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Finalizing the tracklist on disc 1

Download "I Don't Think It's Right" (FUSTERCLUCK!!! Outtake) -- free mp3

I haven't been very good at updating this blog. Maybe I will add more things as the release of the album approaches, discussing topics that theoretically I should have talked about before.

Today was pretty exciting because we finished up the last bit of work -- and I just finalized the tracklist -- for disc 1 of the album. Now, there is just some scattered work on some of the songs on disc 2.

A few weeks ago, Major Matt and the whole band went into this studio in Brooklyn and knocked out 6 of the songs live, including some full-band recordings of some of the old lo-fi solo tracks like "Run-DMC", "Turn Out Right" (which now has a killer punk rock sound), "Hot As I Are" (which has morphed into a ska song), and "Let's Fuck" (which has now turned into the bar-band blues number it always threated to become).

This is noteworthy, because usually the band never plays any of our studio tracks live; we record each instrument separately. But I figured all of these tracks would benefit from just ripping right through them without much fuss, especially since most of them are remakes I wanted to capture to better reflect how they sound when we play them live these days.

Today, I brought my roommate (and Elastic No-No Band's labelmate) Joe Crow Ryan in to the studio to put some vocal harmonies on "Run-DMC," since he had done it recently at a live show of ours -- and since then I can add his name to the lengthy list of collaborators and guest stars on the album. Now, I'm not just trying to feed off of Joe's immense starpower here; all of the collaborations on this disc are borne out of a desire to create a kind of scrapbook of the artists and friends I've been lucky enough to know and play music with. And I don't think the album would have been the same without Joe.

Anyhow, after Joe left, Major Matt mixed the track, and I plopped it onto my iPod, where I proceeded to try to arrange the songs I had earmarked for disc 1. In the process, two songs bit the dust: a country waltz called "Exception to the Rule" (you can hear me do a live solo version of it at this link right here) and a solo ballad called "I Don't Think It's Right" (you can download it at the link at the top of this entry). I'm thinking of doing a collection of love songs as one of ENB's upcoming projects (maybe our next album??), and I figured that these two songs might be better suited to that... or maybe the second volume of No-No's?

Without further ado, here is the tracklist for disc 1 of Elastic No-No Band's upcoming album, Fustercluck!!!

1. Good Evening, Anybody/(Theme From) Elastic No-No Band
2. (The Shame About) Manboobs (you can download this track from the blog entry just below this one)
3. Imaginary Girlfriend
4. It's Different For Girls (Joe Jackson cover, feat. Nan Turner)
5. Poor Jenny (Everly Brothers cover, feat. Toby Goodshank)
6. Daddy's Song (Harry Nilsson cover, feat. Liv Carrow)
7. Zaftig
8. I Bought Me a Cat (feat. Debe Dalton)
9. The Color Machine (feat. Brook Pridemore)
10. Mouth
11. Hangover Dial
12. Hey 2-Eyes (feat. Dave End)
13. There's A Hole In The Bucket (feat. Debe Dalton)
14. (Re-) Run-DMC (feat. Joe Crow Ryan)
15. Goodnight Irene (Lead Belly cover)
16. Let's Fuck (Differently)
17. No F Words
18. The Congregation (feat. Thomas Patrick Maguire)
19. Abilene, Abilene
20. Don't Neglect Your Hands, Students
21. Red (Mellow, Shouty Version, feat. Chris Andersen of The Christian Pirate Puppets)
22. And Then There's Me
23. Go Away (Goodbye Southern Death Swing) (Major Matt Mason USA cover)
24. The End of Disc 1 As We Know It

Thursday, June 18, 2009

(The Shame About) Manboobs

Download "(The Shame About) Manboobs" -- free mp3

Our new album, Fustercluck!!! is still in its middle-to-last stages of recording, and will hopefully be ready for a fall 2009 release, so I decided to create a 6-song sampler called Manboobs as a free giveaway in the meanwhile. It includes collaborations with some good friends: Toby Goodshank, Dave End, Nan Turner, Debe Dalton, and Brook Pridemore. You can only get the giveaway at our shows, but you can download the title track from the link above.

I'm still not quite sure how this blog will work, since Fustercluck!!! will contain 30+ more songs than My 3 Addictions did, so I can't go into the kind of insane detail about each track that I did last time and not finally just lose it. So I think this blog will be more blog-like than before and feature notes from the trenches as we finish the 2 (or more) year process that will end in Fustercluck!!!.

So first and foremost: Manboobs.

Ever since I first played "(The Shame About) Manboobs" at the late great Antihoot at the Sidewalk, I knew it was a hit. It connected with a lot of people and made them laugh and allowed them to relate (there's a lot of overweight dudes in this country, let me tell ya).

When I wrote and first played the song, ENB was finishing up work on My 3 Addictions, which had taken a little over 2 years to realize, from the conception and writing to the final recording and release. When the album came out, I was totally over those songs and wanted to play mostly new stuff like "Manboobs." People would like it and ask for a recording, but there was none. I hoped there would not be another 2-year gap before there a recording was ready (well, I guess my hopes were dashed on that one), because the song felt more alive and better to me than those oldies from 2005.

But the process of recording this album has been so scattershot that it has basically taken months to get the song how it is. Sometimes there are songs that are so good, yet turn out elusive to get perfect as a recording that you end up redoing it over and over. I did this with the vocals on "A Modest Proposal (For Laura Cantrell)", and we wound up re-recording almost all of the parts for "Manboobs" just to try tomake sure we communicated the magic we knew the song had in it. I hope we did. (Also, we wanted to create the illusion that we are faintly capable musicians who can play a 4-minute song all the way through without screwing up all the time.)

Now, even after the song's 2nd birthday, "Manboobs" still feels to me like such an anthem that if people end up popping in Fustercluck!!! and never get to the other 45 songs on the album because they like that first one so much (actually, it'll be the second one; the Elastic No-No Band theme song will be track 1) then I think it will still be worth it.

Of course, the other 45 songs will be good too. When my mind is a little less discombobulated, I'll talk about some of them.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We're back!

In 2007, Elastic No-No Band released its first studio album, titled My 3 Addictions, and to celebrate, I created a super-informative blog, full of cool info, an audio stream of the entire album, and free bonus music downloads.

That blog is still there: My 3 Addictions: An interactive album.

Well, it's 2009, and Elastic No-No Band is about ready to unleash a new creation, Fustercluck!!!. It will be a two-CD set, with over 30 new songs, a ton of covers, collaborations and some awesome hi-fi re-recordings of some of our old lo-fi tracks.

And this here blog will be host to new cool info, audio streams, and free bonus music downloads about -- you guessed it -- our new album, Fustercluck!!!.

It's due this fall.