Welcome back to the Grapevine. This has been one of the strangest (or most frightening) months I’ve experienced in a long time. People hoarding toilet paper? Seriously bizarre. Since it’s best to stay in and avoid contact with people – OK, I do that a bit anyway – it’s a good time to sit back and catch some music. I’ve been listening to a lot of bands that are totally new to me. Here’s some songs that I’ve really enjoyed. A tip for discovering on your own: if you hear one of these you like, check out the other videos picked up by the algorithm. I’ve come across some great stuff that way.
First Up: House And Land – ‘Across The Field’
Talk about breaking a song down to it’s basics. This song starts with guitar and vocals (not even fretting with the left hand in the beginning). A violin carries what is basically another vocal line in the background. The drummer is working soft rhythms with felt mallets. Doesn’t seem like much. But the feeling from their version of Appalachian folk music is strong. Towards the middle of the song the guitar chords expand and the violin takes over the melody line. Changes in tempo (imagine that! – no quantizing) really add to the mood. Also love the recording in the kitchen video. If you want to really feel this, take a walk through a dark pine forest by yourself with this in your earbuds. You’ll hear the ghosts.
Next Up: Blackwater Holylight – ‘Lullabye’
While you’re walking through that dark pine forest, add this song to your list. Maybe our theme for this month is ‘spooky’. Quite appropriate. Vocals are at an instrumental level here. They blend in to the overall shoegaze feel. The sound builds as it progresses. Vocals are added over the wash of fuzzed out guitar. The drums add to this build, increasing as the song goes along. Great layering and mixing on the vocal harmonies. The sound is almost visual. Lean back against one of those pine trees and watch the ghosts float by.
Finally: Seratones – ”Gotta Get To know Ya’
Wouldn’t be a ‘Grapevine’ without a change of pace (can’t stay spooky forever). Give me a tight drum rhythm and funky bassline – I’m in heaven. I really enjoyed strapping on a bass and jamming along to this. With a rhythm this funky you could probably read a chocolate cake recipe (mmmmmm…..chocolate) over the groove and it would still make you want to dance. But Seratones put an ass-kicking vocal on top just to add to the bang. They were even nice enough to put a wonderful fuzzy lead guitar line in at about a minute and a half. If I could change this song in any way? Make it longer please!
Retro: Budgie – ‘Breaking All The House Rules’
….and coming in from left field – Budgie with ‘Breaking All The House Rules’. Budgie is one of the lesser known and much under appreciated lights of 1970’s British metal. A three piece band with a bass playing vocalist singing in the high end range. Sound familiar Rush fans? Sort of like Rush heading in to blues garage rock instead of prog. This song starts and builds on one of my all time favorite guitar riffs. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve cranked this up and played along. This song contains one of Budgie’s specialties – a great extended middle section before heading back to the first riff. Why weren’t they more well known? Hard to say. Could be because a lot of their songs hit the six or seven minute mark – not really radio friendly. Who needs radio anyway. Punch up the volume and bang along!
There’s so many Rolling Stones songs I’d love to tackle and mess with. We decided to start with ‘Dead Flowers’ from the Sticky Fingers album. The song checked off a couple of boxes for us. People have heard it, but it’s not one of their real famous commercially played songs. It was also one of their ventures in to ‘country’ or ‘country rock’ music. Since we’re doing a lot of acoustic work on the ‘Messin’ songs, that actually made it a bit more of a challenge to change. Although it was recorded with electric rock instrumentation, the country sound gave it a bit of an acoustic feel. And our point in doing these recordings is to do something a little different, not a straight on cover version.
So here’s what we did for our version of the song. We actually picked up the tempo to help enhance the changes. For this song the instruments are single tracked except for the vocals. The instrumentation is 12 string guitar, 6 string guitar, banjo and mandolin. Some of the instruments are playing repeating riffs and some are more straight forward chords. We didn’t add any direct percussion instruments to it, so to fill in the bottom end a fretless bass was added with multiple effects on it. It almost sounds like a keyboard or didgeridoo rolling underneath the other instruments. A second mandolin and banjo part were added in the third verse where the guitar solo was in the original. Where the instruments were panned in the stereo mix was real important. You might see an In The Studio video on stereo field in the near future.
Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs play The Rolling Stones ‘Dead Flowers’
Even though it’s winter there are still lots of items growing on the Grapevine. As always, you have to keep searching, keep your ears open and you never know what you may find. There’s no real theme for this month’s music, just a variety of nuggets found on the winter ground. So let’s get going….(it’s much warmer if you keep moving and don’t stand still).
First Up: Money For Rope – ‘Actually’
This band from Melbourne, Australia, plays a beautiful swampy form of garage rock. Nice crisp drum sounds and enough space between the instruments where you can hear all of them. Great guitar sound, a bit ‘surf guitar’, love the reverb and tremolo that it’s bathed in. Sharp, simple bass has a prominent place in the mix. There’s a spooky keyboard lurking in the background for atmosphere. The vocals sit on top of the song, a little bit distorted and sometimes stacked for a graveyard effect. Listen for the guitar going totally fuzzed out at the end of the song.
Next Up: The Jackets – ‘Wasting My Time’
Well, maybe there is a thread in this month’s songs. International garage rock? The Jackets are from Switzerland. This has the elements I love in garage rock – simple, straight forward, in your face. Again, nice tremolo on some of the guitar parts. You listen to it and say ‘hey, I’d love to get up there and play that’. Simplicity. For me that’s meant as a compliment, not a put down. This band reminds me of The Hives (if you don’t remember them look up ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’). And I love the video. It’s like an fun-house mirror version of the Beatles ‘Help’. Matching outfits, running around fields with no purpose. Performance parts are a hoot. This is an older video, but they did put out a new album in 2019. For another great, fun video check out ‘Losers Lullaby’.
Finally: Sylvia Black – ‘Walking With Fire’
This is the slow down change of pace song. I’m a fan of David Lynch movies. And this tune is definitely being played in the Lynch Lounge. It’s the music you would hear in some underground black and red lounge bar at 3:00 in the morning. The music underneath is just the set up for the flaming vocals on top. It feels like the vocals could blow up at any time, but are kept totally under control, adding to the tension. The Lydia Lunch spoken word in the middle of the song is just bizarre – oh, how I love bizarre. Mood music for life’s strange trip.
Retro: Gang Of Four – ‘To Hell With Poverty’
Gang Of Four are one of my favorite bands from the post-punk time of the 80’s. We unfortunately lost GOF guitar player Andy Gill on February 1st at age 64. This band had a tremendous influence on the style of music I was writing at the time. Especially Dave Allen’s bass playing. The bass and drums lock in to this amazing funk groove. Then screeching, jagged guitar is dropped on top. The vocals are pretty jagged too, with a lot of fist in the air political content. Gang Of Four showed me that if the rhythm section is grooving, there’s a lot you can drop on top. GOF was the type of band that probably had more effect on other musicians than on the general public. Sure miss those shows. And – ‘to hell with poverty!’.
When I look at my YouTube or Google feeds I often wonder how so many sublimely boring posts get hundreds of thousands of views. Then I realized I have to get the hang of using ‘clickbait’ titles. How many items have you clicked in to due to a sensational title? Once you view one category of video/post you are inundated with hundreds of the same type. You know how many videos there are of Uber drivers kicking out drunk passengers trying to overload the ride with too many people? The excitement never ends!
So I’m not really in New Zealand and I don’t have a dog playing blues guitar (yet). Although Samantha is starting to take lessons. I’ll probably start her on classical guitar.
But there are a few things to talk about.
One of the goals of ‘Messin’ With The Music’ is to give it a ‘live’ feel by playing tracks straight through as much as possible. So if you listen through you’ll certainly find ‘mistakes’. Two of my favorite guitarists are Jimmy Page and Jack White. They both go for feel and spontaneity over the idea of ‘perfection’. For me personally that technique gives me goosebumps over perfectly quantized and punched in shredding. I found this article on Page on Cheatsheet.com:
For a meticulous producer like Page, these mistakes couldn’t have been an accident. In interviews over the years, he’s spoken of leaving in mistakes because he thought it sounded realer than heavily edited albums.
In a 1977 interview with Guitar World’s Steve Rosen, Page didn’t seem embarrassed at all by mistakes he’d left on record. This time, the issue came up with “I Can’t Quit You Babe,” another signature early Zep track (off the band’s 1969 debut).
After Rosen described Page’s solo as “sloppy but amazingly inventive,” Page noted that it didn’t bother him. “There are mistakes in it, but it doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “You’ve got to be reasonably honest about it.” Of course, part of it came down to Page’s habit of recording solos.
“I usually just limber up for a while and then maybe do three solos and take the best of three,” Page explained. He also compared it to his live performances. When the band released The Song Remains The Same, the material didn’t come close to Zeppelin’s best nights in concert.
But Page left it in nonetheless. “It’s a very honest film track,” he told Rosen. “Rather than just trailing around through a tour with a recording mobile truck waiting for the magic night, it was just, ‘There you are – take it or leave it.’”
Page has long considered his work as a composer, arranger, and producer to be his most important contribution.
“My vocation is more in composition, really, than in anything else,” he said in 1977. “Building up harmonies, orchestrating the guitar like an army – a guitar army – I think that’s where it’s at, really, for me.”
Page is also a king of ‘riffs’. Rather than chorded passages and then a guitar solo, the verses and choruses were built on guitar riffs throughout the song. Here’s one of my favorites:
Jack White has the same type of loose, open feel to his guitar playing (and all the other instruments he touches). A beautiful disdain for ‘perfection’.
“I love analog because of what it makes you do. Digital recording gives you all this freedom, all these options to change the sounds that you are putting down, and those are for the most part not good choices to have for an artist,” and “Mechanics are always going to provide inherent little flaws and tiny little specks and hisses that will add to the idea of something beautiful, something romantic. Perfection, making things perfectly in time and perfectly free of extraneous noise, is not something to aspire to! Why would anyone aspire to such a thing?”
And the riffs! Just think of ‘Seven Nation Army’, ‘I Think I Smell A Rat’ or the Raconteurs ‘Salute Your Solution’. The energy and feeling that comes with his playing makes me want to headbang and bounce off the walls. Jack White is one of those artists that keep guitar emotion and the pure energy of garage rock alive. Let’s indulge in ‘Icky Thump’:
When we saw Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band he had J.D. Wilkes open for him as a solo performer. I just read that Wilkes’ band The Legendary Shack Shakers are going out on tour. I haven’t seen any dates in our area yet (what a shock). But for the live total insanity they bring to the stage, here’s an older clip of the band doing ‘Shake Your Hips’. Can’t express how much I’d love to be on stage playing this.
The search for feel over ‘perfection’ continues!
It’s a new year, so what should we take a look at as far as new music? Sometimes in Grapevine we’ll take a look at music that falls in to a relatively specific style. Not that long ago ‘styles’ of music were relatively basic – music was lumped in to a few large categories: ‘rock’, ‘country’, ‘jazz’, ‘classical’ etc. As ‘underground’ music became more visible, especially with the onset of the internet, labeling music went in the opposite direction. Now you can probably find fifty different variations of thrash metal.
When you try to market your music, knowing where to group it can help reach your target audience. But it’s not that simple. Ten people can listen to the same song and categorize it ten different ways. So, what to do? With ERP we’ve been expanding (and will continue to expand) the instruments we use and the styles we incorporate. With the ‘Messin’ With The Music’ series so far we’ve been adding instrumentation that is probably most associated with Americana or Bluegrass. Except a lot of the songs we cover fall under different styles of ‘rock’. So we decided (definitely tongue in cheek) to try to come up with a music category and fit in to that. Soooo…… how about ‘Dark Americana Shoegaze’? I think we’ll work ERP style towards that. Absolutely serious, uh-huh.
So for January how about we look at some different shades of ‘shoegaze’? And yes, everyone can debate whether these songs actually fall in to shoegaze. Having a dialogue is the fun part.
First Up: DIIV – ‘Taker’
This song is from their newest album ‘Deceiver’. It has a lot of what you might consider basic shoegaze elements. Trippy, heavily effected guitars. Heavily reverbed vocals mixed in more as an instrument than in front of or on top of the music. I really like the guitar sound. Especially as they sometimes pull it back to somewhat clean and then double down with a second even more distorted guitar. Drums are also fairly deep in the mix in parts of the song and more upfront in other parts. They keep the tempo at a nice ‘sludge’ pace, so you can sit back and let the sound wash over you. I recommend listening to the entire album as they do touch on a bunch of styles throughout.
Next Up: Angel Olsen – ‘New Love Cassette’
Most people would probably not consider this shoegaze. The song is built on electronic keyboard and samplers, but adds strings to the mix. The drums sound electronic, although I believe it was recorded with a live drummer. Vocals and drums are relatively upfront in the mix. I added it for a couple of reasons. It keeps the spacey, slow burn, drone sonics. The vocals are heavy with reverb and effects, yet still sound crisp in the mix. And I just like the feel. I read a review that described this song as a tune from a David Lynch movie. I think that’s a pretty good description.
Finally: Bedroom Eyes – ‘Wire’
We’ll conclude with the song ‘Wire’ from Boston band Bedroom Eyes. It’s on their 2019 album ‘Nerves’. I wanted to add this to have a more uptempo version of the shoegaze aesthetic. I think this song falls more classically in to the genre. Ringing and effect heavy guitars. Drum track more in the background. Vocals embedded deep in the mix. Vocally it’s more about voice as an instrument. You’d probably have to look up most of the lyrics to know what they are. But the feel and impact of the song shines through the haze.
Retro: My Bloody Valentine – ‘Only Shallow’
If we’re discussing shoegaze, it would be hard not to include My Bloody Valentine, especially the album Loveless. This band and album are a huge touchstone if you’re discussing shoegaze. Loveless came out in 1991. Honestly, the first time I heard it I was blown away. The sound is almost something you feel more than hear. The emotional tone is amazing. You know I love melancholia, and this song is dripping with it. The guitar sounds created using volume sustain, effects and a whammy bar (in a technique labeled ‘glide guitar’) were pretty revolutionary at the time. The whammy makes the guitar fluctuate sounding in tune and somewhat out of tune. Very tight drum sound for live drums. I’ve also read that it was recorded mostly in mono to make sure the guitars were upfront and smacked you right in the face. So strap on some headphones, light some candles and sit back and enjoy.
I’m finding that sometimes the monthly grapevine songs fall in to a similar theme or style. I don’t know if it’s due to the mood I’m in, the weather, or just sheer luck. That seems to have happened this month. Or it could be my imagination………..or the voices……….ummmmmmm…… sorry got off track there (feel free to comment on similarities you see). Anyway, off we go…
Saron Van Etten – ‘Memorial Day’
Nothing cheers me up more on a cold, rainy day than a good drone. Yes, I’m serious. I like the simple drums. The drone buzz here is carried by the fuzzed out bass. The keyboards have their own repeating rifts with a nice piece of droning noise in the background. The vocals play off of this, floating on top. And you get to see how it’s generated live. Always cool to visually see how parts go together. Putting all the relatively simple pieces together in their own little orbits makes the sound mesmerizing.
The Willows – ‘False Light’
I liked the mix of sounds on this one. It’s built on a ‘folk’ feel. But it has the electric guitar layering in the background with a lot of sustain and reverb as well as a more standard drum kit. Although not truly a ‘live’ video, you do get shots of matched performance footage so you can see what/how people are playing. I like the banjo player playing it more like a guitar with a regular guitar pick style. Banjo is often thought of only in terms of bluegrass and it’s interesting seeing it put to different use.
Baskery – ‘Wanna Tattoo’
So we have another video of what I call ‘matched performance’ playing along to the recorded song. I really liked the song when I first heard it. I’ve been in to good ol’ swampy blues music from Creedence Clearwater Revival, though The Gun Club and The Immortal Lee County Killers. So this simple, buzzy thump caught my ear. Then I saw this video. Now it’s even more fun. Fuzz on the double bass! Floor pedaled kick and snare! A six string banjo with distortion and slide (while playing the foot drums)! Recording wise, just enough reverb on the vocals and all the instruments are crystal clear. Now that’s a party.
Adding some retro:
Echo And The Bunnymen – ‘All That Jazz’
Sometimes I’m listening to an album I’ve heard a million times before and I have that little flashback of why I loved it in the first place and why it still sounds great. This song is from Echo And The Bunnymen’s first album ‘Crocodiles’. Starting with simple riffed bass and drums with vocals, it explodes in to heavily trebled guitar, drops back down and starts all over again. The vocals match the intensity of the parts being played. I did a lot of recording where I was working for that whip crack snare sound. Even the bass has a good amount of attack on it. All the components have their own clear space in the mix. This album will never grow old for me.
So it’s time to throw another tune on the fire. We kept the same setup for this endeavor: same mic through the same pre-amp and compressor right in to the board – do the tracks straight through. To do what we wanted to with this song, we did add a few more tracks. So as you listen you’ll hear: 12 string guitar, 2 mandolin tracks, six string banjo (‘banjitar’ if you must), 5 string banjo, bass, washboard, tambourine, and cajon. We wanted to keep the fun feel so we tracked a bunch of vocals.
Soooooo………what does that give you? Our version of ‘Ballroom Blitz’ by The Sweet. I always thought the idea of Glam was over the top fun. Absolutely, wonderfully ridiculous. (If by some weird space/time issue you haven’t heard the original you must check it out). Hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed making it.
You can listen here on SoundCloud too:
I stumbled across this music late one night while on YouTube. I really like the energy of their performance and of course, the way they are having so much fun. Thought this was a great mash-up.
Discovered these gals in one of my magazines I subscribe to. This Aussie trio is up and coming and all of their songs are great… the song featured here is one that really spoke to me.
Just wanted to throw out a few thoughts on some items I think deserve some ink. The kind of wonderful distractions from the ‘real world’ that keep me going.
Always a great pleasure to drop in a new track from The Record Company. For your listening pleasure, ‘Life to Fix’:
An introduction to some of the invaluable staff at ChurchHouse Productions. I’d like you to meet our ‘in-house’ Public Relations staff:
She’s been a wonderful greeter and is a 24/7 studio pup. Bonnie loves to spend time in the mixing room.
And never hesitates to let me know what she thinks of a mix.
I believe the feedback was “I’m outta here…”
Besides being the owner of the famous ‘hound howl’ she’s a fanatical lover of David Lynch movies.
Although the aftermath of her watching a movie puts her in a bit of a ‘Lynchian’ mood (“this bed belongs to me now”).
Love them both and ChurchHouse wouldn’t be the same without them.
Shout out to a wonderful, old fashioned record store in Jim Thorpe, Pa, Soundcheck Records. The kind of place I grew up with and sadly are hard to find in today’s world. Let’s cross our fingers that vinyl and stores like this make a big comeback. If you’re up in Jim Thorpe it’s a must to check out.
We’ll be rolling out another song at the end of September. We’ll keep the title a surprise until then but as with the last song, we sort of broke it down and did some rebuild. Gotta have some fun.