From The Vault 4 – ERP Covers Social Distortion’s ‘Dear Lover’

As I was searching through files and demos of older songs for the ‘From The Vault’ series, I came across this version we did of Social Distortion’s ‘Dear Lover’. This song was from their fifth album ‘White Light, White Heat, White Trash’ which was released in 1996. Social Distortion has been around for quite a while, starting as a punk rock band in 1978 and going through some changes in style over the years. I’ve read that they are working on a new album that may come out this year. It would be their first album of new music since 2011. We’re certainly hoping that they keep going. Long gone are the days when you were considered ‘too old’ to continue playing once you got out of your 30’s.

This was another song that was recorded mostly live as a three piece band. There are some overdubs added. We wanted to document a lot of the originals and some of the covers we were working on since the one thing most bands have in common is the impermanence of their line ups. The good thing about having your own studio to work in is that you can make some pretty decent ‘quick’ recordings of material whenever you want to. For a recording like this we would usually set up in the large room and place the guitar amps in a different room to allow some separation. You also have to be conscious of the direction the vocal mic is pointing so you don’t get too much drum bleed through. As compared to playing on stage the best bet is to have the singer facing the drums and use a mic that won’t pick up any sounds from the back and side. Sometimes we’d have the vocals in another separate room as you’re hearing the playback on headphones anyway. You’d also want to dampen the drum heads a bit by using gel or tape on them to cut down on the ring.

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover Social Distortion’s ‘Dear Lover’:

February 2022 Grapevine

There are many sources I try to go through to find music I’m going to use for the monthly Grapevine. As I’ve stated before, I’m trying to highlight lesser known bands, although I don’t ignore a song I really like just because it’s popular. Recently I watched a few videos that were discussing songs that were on top 10 lists from sources like Billboard and streaming services like Spotify. And I realized I don’t have any reference point to the music that is currently considered ‘popular’. I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the artists and music they referenced. I guess that’s logical since I don’t listen to radio or belong to any streaming service. I find music by searching for it after reading reviews, either in print or online. When I bring up a song, the algorithm for Google, YouTube or wherever will then bring up similar songs to the one I’m listening to. This continues to lead me to lesser known artists and songs. Truthfully, I didn’t hear much in the ‘popular’ music that interested me. This isn’t a comment on the ‘quality’ of the music that is popular. The music a person likes is based on their own subjective taste. I think my point for the month is that I’m glad that there’s a way I can find new music I like by putting a little effort in to my searching. I’d encourage everyone that wants to hear music that’s a little more ‘under the radar’ (‘Under The Radar’, by the way, is one of the sources I often search). So if you hear a song you like in the Grapevine, go pull it up on YouTube or Google or whatever search engine you use. You might come across a lot of music you like that you otherwise would never have been exposed to.

First Up: Ten Million Lights – ‘Comatose’

I have quite an affection for songs that are built to wash over you and rely on creating atmosphere. This band accomplishes this using both parts of song creation: the way the song is written and the way it is recorded. I would think you could put ‘Comatose’ in to the ‘shoegaze’ category. The guitar sound is created by piling on effects so you hear them more as a wash of sound than individually strummed chords. Ten Million Lights uses two guitars to double up and enhance this effect. The guitars are in essence the canvas that the rest of the song is painted on. I like the way the bass is mixed in to the song (the recording part of creating the song). It gives the song a lot of bottom end which really expands the sound field. The bass also plays a lot of chords as well as single notes, increasing it’s presence in the mix. The drums are mixed in to continue to enhance the atmosphere. They are crisp enough to be heard clearly in the mix, yet their level in the mix adds to the overall wash. The drums are active enough to drive the song without being over played to the point of being a distraction. The vocals are mixed more as an instrument than an up front presence. Again, this is used to make the vocals more a part of the overall wash. What you lose in not clearly hearing the lyrics is made up by enhancing the atmospherics. The recording and mix in a song like this is so important. If there was more instrumental separation, it would be a totally different song.

Next Up: Honeychain – ‘Pocket Full Of Good Luck’

So we’re moving from atmospheric wash to buzz saw crunch. From a recording perspective you have to have a different mindset to capture the feel of the song correctly. You have distortion on the guitar, but you have to keep the sound crisp rather than droning. Some of this is in the recording and some of it is in how you play the guitar. When you want the drone, you’ll let the chords ring as you play them. If you want to keep it crisp, one method is to ‘dead string’ the chords with either your right or left hand. You want to keep them from ringing. The bass and drum parts are also very straight forward. They work together to keep the bottom end of the song moving forward while the guitar sound sits on top. The vocals are clean and placed on top of the mix. One break in the song comes in at 1:34. It drops down to just the guitar for a few measures before the drums and bass come slamming back in. There’s a second break that runs from 1:50 to 2:08 where drums and bass play in half time compared to the rest of the song and the guitar sits on single strums. From there it’s a ten second reprise of the main riff to the end. The guitar sound especially reminded me a lot of the band X. Short, sweet, two minutes of fun.

Finally: Kestrels – ‘Grey And Blue’

So for our last song we’re going to travel the road that runs in between the first two selections. There’s a bit of shoegaze wash in the music, but also some crisper parts and the vocals are fairly clear and placed much higher in the mix. There are parts where the guitars drop out almost completely. The space is filled by rolls on the snare drum. This lets you pick up the vocal melody a lot easier. I like the feeling that the vocal melody adds to the song. Having a great vocal melody is an art that is not always taken in to consideration. It can take a song that otherwise would not be a stand out and turn it in to something really special. I think melody composition is an under valued part of writing a song, especially in a lot of rock music. The dynamic change ups in this song also add to the feel. A nice guitar solo is added compliments of J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr fame. I’ve always said that sometimes I’ll put a song in because I really like the video interpretation. Being a dog lover, I had to add this video for the month. I especially like when all the dogs get named at the end. Yup, I’m a sap for a pup video.

Retro: The Replacements – ‘Answering Machine’

For our retro entry I’m putting in a song that I’ve always had an emotional connection to. ‘Answering Machine’ is from The Replacements amazing 1984 album ‘Let It Be’ (the fun idea that you’d actually use the same title as a classic Beatles album). If you haven’t listened to this album, you really need to. Chock full of amazing songs, one of the best albums of the 1980’s. The song is built on an heartfelt, ragged sounding guitar and vocal and not much else other than some FX. That’s all that’s needed to push the soul crushing feel put across by the lyrics. I wore this album and song out in 1984. I had moved out of state by myself and was living in a small town where I didn’t know anybody and had no real close friends. I was being ghosted by the person I was seeing back home. I lost my job. So I was leaving messages on her answering machine (remember – 1984) with no reply. I think at one point I left this whole song on the answering machine (the kind of stuff you do in your early 20s). When we talk about the power of music, this song is a prime example. That someone else could write a song that encapsulates all the emotions you’re feeling. A song that will forever bring back that time and feeling.

Live And Loving It

As I was scrolling through music videos online I came across this video of Cheap Trick doing a live set on ‘Don Kirshners Rock Concert’ from 1977. Cheap Trick has always been a band I loved, especially centering on their first two albums. I consider their second album, ‘In Color’ one of the best rock albums ever recorded. You can play the album straight through and there’s not a musical drop off from start to finish. When that album came out I used to plug in my guitar, drop the needle and play along with the entire album (ah – back in the days when you had to stop halfway through and turn the record over). Both of their first two albums came out in 1977. I had the fortune of seeing them in that era. At that time they were still playing smaller venues – the first time I saw the band they were playing a theatre that held about 300 people. Nothing quite like seeing a band at a place that size – to me it’s so much more exciting than an arena or stadium. This video is a short sample of the show they were doing then. They would start their set with ‘Hello There’ – full throttle from the beginning. They ended the show with the companion piece ‘Goodnight Now’. This set also includes other favorites of mine like ‘Downed’ and ‘Clock Strikes Ten’.

Many of the bigger shows you can go to now contain a lot of stage craft – videos, huge light shows, backing tracks, an engineer working the performer’s sound changes. At that level you really have to choreograph the entire show. And that can make for great theatre and lot of fun. But there’s something to be said for a band just screaming through their songs, a show carried by energy and the performer’s personality. Each member of Cheap Trick played their character to the hilt – the nerds vs rockers look, the sound fill provided by Tom Petersson’s twelve string bass, Bun E. Carlos’s giant drumsticks at the end, Rick Nielson constantly flicking pics in to the audience (yes, I do have one of those pics), Robin Zander’s powerful vocals. There’s no standing in place shoegazing at a Cheap Trick show. I thought this video would be a great watch for a Friday night (or any night). So if you get a chance, go see a band at a small venue. Get up close to the stage and feel the energy wash over you. The real power of live music.

Messin’ With The Music Part 19 – ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’

Welcome back to Messin’ With The Music. For this episode we’re covering The Hives ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’. It was originally released as a single in 2000 and is from their album Veni Vidi Vicious. It’s a straight ahead garage rock style song although it has cleaner studio production than you would expect in a lot of songs that fall in to the garage rock category. As with a lot of garage rock songs it’s built on a straight forward beat. There’s a single chord pattern that is used throughout the song with another chord added during the chorus. When you keep a simple chord pattern like that, changes in dynamics are used to make the song more interesting. In this song the dynamic changes are accomplished by adding multiple layers of guitar with different effects such as crunchier distortion. Other areas will drop out the guitar totally to change the dynamics. The vocals also add to the dynamics by being very rhythmic. It’s a fun song to crank up the electric guitar and play along with.

The challenge with doing an acoustic version of this type of song is how to keep a strong rhythm going without the use of a drum kit. In this case we decided not to put any percussion instruments in the song except for a small break in the beginning. A lot of the rhythm during the song is created by playing arpeggios on the mandolin part. There are two acoustic guitars playing the basic rhythm and are panned hard left and right to create the foundation tracks. There is a twelve string guitar that sometimes single strums the chords and sometimes follows the pattern of the other guitars. This was used to change the dynamics throughout the song. Bass is added to give more bottom end. A banjo part is added in a couple of different places for more dynamic change. For those new to this series we followed our basic principles: Play the tracks straight through and use the same single mic for all the tracking.

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Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs play ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’:

January 2022 Grapevine

Welcome to our first Grapevine of the new year. It’s been a while since I’ve been really excited about the beginning of a new year. First there’s the continuing nonsense and horror that’s been going on for a few years now. At this point it’s not even worth discussing. We can only continue to hope and work for change, but it’s definitely become a full time and long term job. Second, I live in the northeast. This time of year is overcast, cold, rain, snow, slush. Lack of sunshine is not a good prescription for ambition and happiness. So creativity can also become a somewhat difficult job too. But, as with every new year, we will persevere. Some of our monthly Grapevines follow a musical style or theme. I thought January would be a good month for a theme. So for this month musically, we’re going to simplify. Sometimes I just want to hear a good, simple sampling of garage rock. Straight forward, to the point. The kind you listen to and go, “I could learn to play that”. Start the year simple and build to complex. So for 2022, let’s hit the ground running…..

First Up: The Shadracks – ‘No Time’

Guitar, bass, drums, vocals. And there you are. I’d refer to it as garage rock. Some people might say punk rock, but I think in this day and age the word ‘punk’ has been twisted, bent, flattened and beat up so much that it’s almost devoid of meaning. Originally the word was more about attitude than sound. This song gives me attitude from that first chord strike. It actually sounds more like someone dropping their guitar on the floor. That’ll catch your attention. The band starts rolling in to the song. Four chords is all it takes. It’s like going downhill and slowly picking up speed. There’s a good amount of fuzz and dirt on both the guitar and bass. Then at the :50 second mark it seems like we’re going to step on the gas. But that only lasts about ten seconds. Then they slow down and start the tempo build up again. But it’s another false start and we’re back to the beginning verse style. These great tempo changes continue through the entire song. Even the vocals don’t really have a consistent pattern. If I was recording this I’d be saying “I get it, no click track on this song”. The recording is very crisp throughout. Not a lot of bottom end on any of the instruments. That works perfectly for this style. Brilliant way to keep your listeners off balance.

Next Up: Wavves – ‘Hideaway’

Let’s keep rolling on this month’s theme. Wavves “Hideaway’ gives us the straight forward guitar rock we’re looking for. There’s a bit more separation for the bass guitar as compared to the previous song. I like the double tap on the snare as that gives the beat a bit different feeling. When a song has a relatively simple structure, and that’s what we’re looking at this month, a simple change like the beat on the snare can have a larger influence on the feel of the song. The vocals are placed at a nice level in the mix. You can hear the lyrics, but they don’t overpower the musical end of the tune. The guitar playing has the same feel in the verses and the choruses, with the difference being a subtle change in the chords and some snare rolls added to the drums. Even though the production is simple, there’s some cool subtle effects and background in the production. The guitar sounds as if there is a second ‘ghost guitar’ in back of it. I like the sonics of the vocals. When all the other instruments are playing full out you don’t hear it as much. Listen when the second verse starts at 1:30. The vocal sounds like it is doubled (with some nice effects on it). However they create the vocal effect, it is perfect for this song. At the beginning of the second verse the instruments are pulled back to put the lyrics out front. “The field looks so pretty but it’s covered in land mines” is a great line. Listen closely to the lyrics as this is the theme throughout the song. ‘Hideaway’ does a good job of combining lyrics and music to create emotions in the listener.

Finally: Colleen Green – ‘I Wanna Be A Dog”

Let’s close up our newer selections with a song that has a bit more of an upbeat pop feel to it. This song is another example of how simple a good song can be. The guitar part is straightforward bar chords. There are both clean and distorted guitar sounds in the mix. The second guitar is either a clean electric or possibly an acoustic. And I would guess they they tracked the guitar several times. But the simple idea of multiplying the guitar part makes the song sound so much fuller. If you listen on headphones or stereo speakers you can really hear how they take the guitar parts and pan them left and right in he stereo field It sounds like there is a bass guitar holding down the bottom end, but it is just matching the root note of the chords being played. We also get a nice simple little ‘lead’ guitar riff in the middle of the song. They definitely want to highlight the vocals in this song. It’s a great melody and her singing is more pop sounding than garage shouting. The other thing that drew me to this song was the chorus. Such a great reference to Iggy Pop’s ‘Now I Wanna Be Your Dog’. I don’t believe that is an accident as not just the lyrics but the melody reference The Stooges’ song. Finally, I love any video filled with dogs running around. So Happy!

Retro: The Breeders – ‘Cannonball’

I thought I’d throw in one of the touchstone songs when you talk about combinations of garage, pop and indie rock. The Breeders were a band that were started when Kim Deal left Pixies. If you listen to bands, especially from the ‘grunge’ era, Pixies are usually named as one of the biggest influences. They were one of the best known bands for the ‘quiet verse, loud chorus’ style of song. Kim Deal certainly brought that style to this song by The Breeders. I don’t think they really thought this would cross over to a general rock audience as much as it did. I think the biggest factor in that happening was the vocals being more pop/rock sounding than the songs Pixies created. This song is fun from beginning to end. The quirky ‘vocal check’ to lone bass/spare drums intro is great. It has simple well sung verses with the Deal sisters combined vocals. And then the chorus kicks in……… and the rest is history.