‘Song 2’ was originally released in 1997 on Blur’s fifth album, titled ‘Blur’. There’s lots of interesting stories that go along with the song. At first it was just a slower acoustic piece Damon Albarn was messing around with and the now famous ‘woo-hoo’ was whistled. Their guitarist Graham Coxon suggested speeding it up and crushing the volume really loud. They then asked their record company to release it as a single, more or less just to mess with the record company executives as the song was pretty much a total departure from all the songs they had been successful with previously. The band was surprised by the fact that the record company released it and the amount of success the song had. I think one reason it was successful was by that time many people had become accustomed to the ‘quiet verse, loud chorus’ style. Numerous bands like Pixies had used this style before and Nirvana took it to a whole new level of public recognition. The name ‘Song 2’ was just a place holder name as it was the second track on the album. The band decided it would be fun to just keep that as the title.
We decided to cover this because, first, we’ve always loved the song (pretty much a requirement if we’re going to mess with it). Second, it presented a challenge to record it acoustically. How do you do the loud part to make it different than the verses? Blur crushes the chorus guitar part, but even more so the bass part, with huge mounds of distortion. This gives the original song a massive change in volume and dynamics. And another challenge is the chords in the verses and choruses are pretty much the same, so the dynamic change has to done using different instruments. For the verses we went with mandolins – the left and right channels are separate mandolin parts. The chords are the same, but the fingering is a bit different. There’s also a single string played on twelve string guitar in the verse. The mandolin parts go throughout the entire song, but when the chorus starts we added chords on twelve string guitar, six string guitar and a bass part (no distortion of course). Throughout the song percussion is simply a Indian hand drum for the bass and a wood block for the snare. We multi tracked all the vocals and put a lot of reverb and delay on them – the vocals on the original song are pretty straight forward.
Here’s Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs covering Blur’s ‘Song 2’:
‘Hash Pipe’ was released in 2001 on Weezer’s third album titled ‘Weezer’ but usually referred to as ‘The Green Album’ (since they’ve used ‘Weezer’ as the title of several albums). I’ve always liked the straight forward, hit you on the head with a hammer nature of the main riff. When it came out I was also fascinated that it was a radio single considering the title and the nature of the lyrics. It’s interesting that when I went to the the official video to relearn the song the video now says ‘revised’ and they’ve totally cut out the lyric line in the song with the words ‘hash pipe’. Not bleeped out words – the musical line is totally removed! Ummmm- OK.
Part of the reason we do the cover songs is to work on the recording process and song arrangement so we can apply what we learn to our own songs. Song arrangement is a process people don’t usually consciously think about when they listen to music, but it’s a very important part of making any song have a distinct sound and feel. For instance in ‘Hash Pipe’ even though we used acoustic instruments and don’t have a drum kit to drive the beat, the acoustic version we did sounds a bit denser to me. That’s a result of using a variety of instruments playing more arpeggiated parts. So while the original may have more straight forward power drive, an acoustic version may sound softer but still a bit ‘thicker’. That’s all part of the learning process. This version has two six string acoustic guitars, a twelve string acoustic, banjo, bass, wood block, shaker and tambourine and several tracks of vocals. The lead riff is done with mandolin and a six string banjo.
Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover Weezer’s ‘Hash Pipe’:
For Part 15 of our Messin’ With The Music’ series we decided to tackle ‘Lawyers’ Guns And Money’ by Warren Zevon. The song comes from Zevon’s 1978 album ‘Excitable Boy’. This was a huge album for Zevon and contained many of the songs people know from him – ‘Excitable Boy’, ‘Werewolves Of London’, ‘Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner’ as well as ‘Lawyers, Guns And Money’. There’s a lot of ways you can describe Zevon’s songwriting, but one part of his music that I always enjoy is the entertainment value of the lyrics. First, his vocal style makes the lyrics pretty easy to hear and understand. Many of the song lyrics are built as stories: some humor, some fun, some just out and out strange. He may be an acquired taste for some people, but you’ll absolutely recognize who it is when you hear them on the radio. Another cool thing about this album is the amazing amount of well known musicians who participated in the recording besides the ‘main band’: John McVie and Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, Jeff Porcaro, Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, Waddy Wachtel, Jennifer Warnes, Danny Kortchmar to name a few. Some of those names might not be as familiar, but if you look them up you’ll see how many well known songs and albums they’ve played on. Zevon was definitely a well respected musician among his peers.
For our version the main instrument holding down the song is a twelve string guitar. We recorded it twice and panned the tracks hard left and right. For these acoustic versions this is a common way we start the songs as it builds a good stereo field and makes the song sound full. If you had drums and electric guitars, they would usually handle that part of the recording. There is a six string guitar and a six string banjo. Besides the chords during the vocals, they play riffs in between the vocal parts, sort of mirroring the guitar that plays on the original song after the second verse. We also added mandolin and bass parts. There are duo vocals on this song – we actually sang both live in the same room at the same time. That was a lot of fun. We’d usually add some percussion, but with the banjo and guitar playing riffs, it seemed pretty full and more percussion wasn’t necessary.
Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover Warren Zevon’s ‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’:
We’re back with another tune from our Messin’ With The Music series. Instant Karma! (the exclamation point is officially part of the title) was released by John Lennon in 1970. This song came out at the same time The Beatles were working on Let It Be. One interesting fact about the song is that it was written, recorded and released within a period of ten days. That’s an incredibly quick turnaround, especially for an artist at that level of success. It’s always been my favorite Lennon solo single. The idea that karma, ‘you reap what you sow’, could happen instantaneously rather play out over the remaining course of your life is a very appealing idea. The power in Lennon’s vocal always felt like a big middle finger to every self centered person who screwed other people over. Karma, of course, works in both directions. I also find the idea that people who do good will receive good in return appealing. Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing instant karma doled out for much of what happened in 2020 (and continues to happen in 2021).
We kept with our usual Messin’ recording protocol using single mic straight through tracking. We did put in a pretty full roster of tracks for this song. The original was Phil Spector produced and used multiple piano takes for it’s basic feel. Spector was famous for his ‘wall of sound’ methodology and it shows in this recording. The original was also swimming in reverb to make it sound even bigger. For our base tracks we used finger picked acoustic guitars and recorded two separate tracks, panned hard left and right. There are two separate mandolin tracks, one using mostly chords and the other generally picking single notes. A third mandolin part plays a little riff in the instrumental break. We added a bass guitar track and a sparse single note oriented banjo track. Percussion tracks include tambourine, shaker, washboard and wood block. There’s a main vocal track with a harmony vocal floating underneath in the verses. We wanted a bigger sound in the chorus in keeping with the feel of the original so we have a main vocal and four other vocal tracks that are panned in hard stereo to give that bigger feel.
I really enjoyed finally being able to do a cover of this song. We hope you enjoy it too.
Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs play John Lennon’s ‘Instant Karma!’:
It’s been a while since we checked in to see what’s happening with one of our favorites, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. The band has always put out stellar work whether it’s audio, video or live music. I’m including two videos that will give you an example of all three areas. We’ll start with the recent video for ‘Too Cool To Dance’. As always, the playing is great. Rev’s still finger picking the hell out of his guitar. The recording sound is a bit cleaner and smoother than some of his early work, but just as fierce. And the video maintains the great humor of his other videos. The band’s vibe remains ‘let’s have fun and not take ourselves too seriously’. They always bring the same joy to their live shows.
The next video is from a recording of the Elmore James classic ‘Shake Your Money Maker’. The band recorded this live in Sun Studios with Dom Flemons, the legendary Steve Cropper and bassist Scot Sutherland. So many cool things going on. The video was made on an iPhone and synced with the live recording. Check out the classic equipment used in the recording. We recently talked about live studio recording in a post. This video is an amazing example of nailing a take. I’m not going to over analyze. Just sit back and enjoy it!
We’re finally back with another episode of Messin’ With The Music. It’s been quite a while since we were able to get together to start working on tunes again due to the pandemic. It feels great to be recording again and Mule Skinner Blues was a song we’ve been looking forward to finishing. The song has a long history. It was written and first recorded by Jimmie Rodgers in 1930. His version was a pretty straight forward blues tune. He originally titled it ‘Blue Yodel #8’ but it became commonly known as Mule Skinner Blues (or some variation of that) as time went by. Many artists have covered this classic song. The next well known version was by Bill Monroe in 1940. He picked up the tempo a bit and turned it in to a classic bluegrass style tune. The version we used as a template is Dolly Parton’s amazing 1970 version. We pretty much followed her lyrical take and song structure.
Instrumentally we have two different acoustic guitar parts, one hand played and the other picked. To add some flavor we added an electric guitar with some effects and a bass part that has a few effects too. There is a mandolin backing these parts and a banjo riffing throughout the song. There’s also a snare drum and floor tom holding down a beat in the deep background. All of the instruments are a platform for the vocals which are really the heart of the song. As always with Messin songs we recorded ‘straight through’ tracks for a live, loose feel using the same mic and sound path for all the instruments. We want to get the feel of everyone standing around a single mic playing the song.
Here’s Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs playing ‘Mule Skinner Blues’:
Well, we made it through November. Sort of. Some things are better, some things are worse. Didn’t expect 2020 to cut us a break, did you? One more month and the 2020 year from hell is over. Light some candles for 2021. One can only hope that that next year will bring us some relief. On to the Grapevine. There’s an intentional theme this month. We’ll be taking a look at some stripped down music. These songs could fall in to several categories: punk blues, hillbilly stomp, garage rock, call it what you will. The music has different ‘styles’ to it, but the feeling the songs give to me is the same: simple, raw, emotional – what I’d like to find in a dive bar, backyard gathering or crowded garage. Usually I’ll keep to newer releases, but these songs span more years. Enjoy your walk through the spooky woods.
First Up: Hillstomp – ‘Graverobber’s Blues’ ‘Don’t Come Down’
A great example of what you can do with simple instrumentation. Guitar (or banjo) drums, vocals. They’re part of the revival of simple blues that has been around forever but has regained prominence in the last decade (you know how much we love Rev Peyton). These songs always hit me deeper than huge production songs. They just feel more personal. Sitting in dim light with your friends; pass the bottle or the burnables. The party in ‘Don’t Come Down’ is where I’d like to be. I also like the sound of more homemade drums sets: drums, buckets, metal objects, lots of duct tape. Here’s two songs, one more guitar, the other more banjo.
Next Up: The Scientists – ‘Swampland’
The Scientists applied a more ‘garage’ sound to the music. Still a lo-fi blues feel to it, but more of a rock sound than country or bluegrass based. This song came out during the 1980s post punk era. In today’s world you can find a lot of ‘smaller audience’ and less known bands on the internet. Back then you had to search them out. It took a bit more work to come across the hidden gems. Fanzines, small clubs and word of mouth were the main methods of transmission. The components are all here – high end trebly guitars, basic drum and bass patterns, lots of reverb and vocals mixed deeper in to the music. This song would be perfectly placed being played in a garage with a small crowd jammed in and banging around.
Finally: Left Lane Cruiser – ‘Claw Machine Wizard’
Left Lane Cruiser is another two person band. Another band that produces a whole lot of sound just using guitar and drums. On this song, the music is tilted more toward the ‘rock’ part of ‘rock/blues’. But it continues the raw, lo-fi feel we’ve been exploring. Many of these two person band’s guitar feel is made by playing riffs instead of straight ahead chords with lead guitar thrown in at different parts. Having guitar riffs bounce off of and compete with the vocals makes the music/band sound larger than just two people. The guitar player carries the bottom end with single notes on the low strings while playing the riffs higher up. That is typical of a lot of older delta blues players, many very full sounding arrangements made by themselves on acoustic guitar.
Retro – Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs – ‘Ghost On The Highway’
Thought I’d include one of our own takes on this genre. One of my favorite bands, The Gun Club, first pulled me in to the punk blues style. I may have played their 1981 album, Fire Of Love, more than any other album I have. Perfect balance of garage, blues and punk. One of the first punk bands that took up this style and to me, still the best. This is our version of Ghost On The Highway’ from Fire Of Love.
After sending out the October Grapevine last week, I was listening to other music showing up in my internet feed. I came across this video of Tommy Emmanuel. I had heard of him before – he’s pretty well known as a virtuoso guitar player. He’s mostly known as an acoustic guitar finger picker. This video is of him playing Classical Gas, a song that was big when I was younger. My guitar teacher had me learn the basics of it. I watched this video, probably with my mouth open in awe the whole time. Our series Messin’ With The Music was based on trying to redo songs acoustically and pretty much ‘live’ by recording the tracks straight through, showing the sounds you can create using just that format. Tommy Emmanuel takes the acoustic guitar and pushes it to the limit. The speed, accuracy and timing is other worldly. This video shows how much sound and style you can produce with one acoustic instrument. There’s even a guitar bend he does that sounds like a whammy bar on an electric guitar. And the timing in and out of it is perfect. Enjoy.
For today’s post we’re Messin with another song for you. This time we’re taking on ‘Shout’ by Tears For Fears. The song first came out in 1984 on Tears For Fears second album, Songs From The Big Chair. It became one of the most popular and recognizable songs of that era of music. One of the best fist in the air, sing along choruses you’ll find. As I’ve said before we always pick songs we like to cover. I don’t think you can do an interesting cover unless you have some type of love for the song you’re working with. But you also have to be able to do something different and interesting with the tune. For ERP I don’t see the point of trying to do a note for note copy of a song. Who wants to do a ‘not as good’ exact copy of a song you love.
For ‘Shout’ it was easy to do something different. The song has a pretty ‘electronic’ sound to it, along with the drive from a full drum kit. So turning it acoustic gave it us a lot of choices. The basic foundation of the song was built on twelve string acoustic guitar. We did two tracks of that and panned them to opposite stereo channels. The other thing that gives these guitars some push and pull is that they are not completely identical throughout the song. If you’re wondering about how song arrangements are created, this technique is something to keep in mind. Before there were large multi track studios, you had to really think about how to place tracks in the song. If you listen to some Hendrix songs you’ll hear drums in one channel only and guitar or bass only in the opposite channel.
So for ‘Shout’ we used the two takes of twelve string guitar, mandolin, banjo and bass. There’s also some acoustic slide guitar and a second mandolin in the instrumental parts. For rhythm we used tambourine, washboard, wood block (the wood version of ‘More Cowbell’), egg shaker and a rattler that sounds a bit rain stick. We did four tracks of vocals, two for the verse and two for the chorus. The point is to highlight the vocals and lyrics. This was a one mic recording. We used the new ribbon mic for everything (see In The Studio – Microphone Basics). I’m pretty happy with the results.
Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover ‘Shout’ by Tears For Fears:
Our love of doing covers of our favorite songs isn’t new. We were messin’ with songs long before we started the current ‘Messin’ With The Music’ series. I thought I’d dust off one of my favorites for people who may not have seen it when we first put it out. Joy Division was a band that always had special meaning for me from the first time I heard them in the ‘punk’ era. Everything about them was different, from playing style, song structure, vocals and the way the instruments were used. Lyrics that had more depth and feeling than most. We went with ‘Isolation’ because of it’s great rhythm and bass line. Joy Division’s version used synths. We decided to do ours with guitar. The instrumental break sounds like a keyboard but is actually a fretless bass played through a bunch of guitar pedals. The mix and mastering worked out the way we wanted. We also were really happy with how the video turned out. I’m still happy every time I watch it.
So, from the vaults, Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’: