The new record is out…and it’s amazing when these things see the light of day, after what seems like a trip to Mars (no pun intended) and back, time wise…I’m sure both people who buy it will love it (half of them, anyways).
By now those of you playing at home and remotely following our press, social media, stage banter, etc…have been inundated with the narrative of songs written in war zones…edgy magic God channeling…middle-aged catharsis…homey vignettes of childhood space dreams and redemptive post-heroin atonement coupled with light breathing E major chords and life sucking A minors. And that’s all great and it beats the usual “I kicked dope/left my girlfriend…went to a cabin with my acoustic whatever and laptop and cried a lot and made this record” press release I seem to read every day…or worse. Me and the band just wanted to have fun…so we jammed a lot and wrote words/poems to the live tapes and the record company paid for the juicer (or our own mastercraft beer Brewer guy) or however the fuck people make records these days. All valid to be sure.
Still…I’m good with what’s coming out for the new record as far as press spin…but it’s missing the point. Point being, (one would hope) the music and the people who played it.
Two years ago in Virginia City, our (it was a three-piece…so me and Dex?) bass player of 19 years left…it was a long breakup…like ten years…and to Junior’s credit…Stockholm Syndrome throwing ice on a “finally seeing success” Jmos was a good reason to be pissy. Plus, I got sober, thus killing whatever shred of “good time” element (tho, as Junior reminded me every night…finally there were enough drugs for everyone else to have some) we might have collectively shared. Regardless we fought and clawed and pissed and moaned and tried to keep it together…and in the end…the good sex wasn’t worth the swinging frying pans, and it was sayonara JR (his call, to be clear). A bummer, to be sure…and a bummer mostly for me and Dex, as he was our best friend (in different ways for each of us).
However…his last shows, as far as our fans went, were…a wake…or an execution…or a rape…seriously…the whole room was crying, people telling me I killed the band, and it will never be the same, or any good, or…you get the picture. Me and Dex kept saying, “he isn’t fucking dead…he wants to sell cars in SLC!” (we all have different opinions of what constitutes death, I suppose).
Anyway. It was pretty heavy.
We had been playing a lot of PDX area shows over the previous year with my old guitar player from Little Women, Steve James, who as a bass player was on a mission to stick it in the eye of decades of shitty and overly busy bass players…and frankly was indeed better than most, and getting closer to a lot of the greats (I’ve played with a couple).
We also had been having our friend, Jeff Crosby, sitting in on a lot of shows…we released his record and for a while there it seemed, I was talking more in the press about how good he was, then touting my own band.
We had shows booked…some east coast things and Europe. If you’re ever trying to get new band members to say yes… “who wants to go to Paris and hang, and then go write songs in Ireland?”…usually works well.
So we had a band…whether it was any good or not, was anybody’s guess. And the stakes were high. We needed to be able to tell Junior’s (and trust me…I fucking love Junior) pallbearers to shove it up their collective asses…in short, we needed to be better. What we weren’t going to do was find a six-foot five, Mormon, punk rocker who knew three notes, blew up every amp, and sang like Richard Simmons or a teenage sad angry lesbian. You don’t replace Junior Rupple. you just don’t.
So the idea was… “what if we try to play good, instead of just loud??!” It was a novel concept for us…for me, having been saddled with “jam bander” for years, and choking on my own puke from said description…I was a little hesitant to talk about constructed guitar solos and George Porter’s approach to Meters’ funk in the same conversation as my music. I’m a person who responded to “find a deep groove” in the context of anything besides pussy with… “you’re fired.” (Actually I don’t think I’ve ever fired anyone… ‘cept one keyboard player 35 years ago, and it was the biggest musical mistake I ever made).
However…I and Steve James started playing in rock bands in the early 70s, and had 40 years of common music listening…plus playing reggae for ten years together. I’m not sure Jeff Crosby owned any records made after 1979 (‘cept Jack Johnson and the “dead” Ryan Adams-era stuff). Plus, there’s Dex…and sorry, but fuck you…Dex is the best drummer I’ve ever played with (I’ve played with a couple)…so we took the leap and went for “music”…a dodgy decision to be sure.
It was pretty damn good coming out of the gate…our acoustic shows in Paris…our brilliant night in Dublin playing for not one person and a killer show in London. We came home and we had “a thing.” My wife will vouch for the fact that I make a lot more money playing solo shows…but I want to be in rock bands…and it has to be Really. Fucking. Good. And it was really good.
Immediately we realized we needed to make a record…we recorded a Clash and a Hiss Golden Messenger song in Drumlish, Ireland. Plus, we wrote in one day…Heavy Feather…Giraffe…Craters of the Moon. Plus, I had all the songs I’d written in Afghanistan (to be fair…I wrote those with Junior’s voice very much in mind). It was imperative to us to ”roll tape” or push record or whatever…so we set out to do just that.
The original idea…starting with Junior…but then continuing into the new line-up…was to go to Joshua Tree with our long-time collaborator Patrick Kearns…and basically plug in and write on the spot…maybe I’d actually use some pedals (bad idea)…and just burn psych out Jesus riffs for hours into pro tools. We were on the way and Patrick called to say we lost our studio hold, due to Dave Grohl (I’m not sure that’s true, but it sounds good)…we were fucked…Pat was devastated.
Weirdly, we were headed to play for my old friend Chris McCutcheon, who was managing TRI (I still don’t know what that stands for) the legendary state-of-the-art, Bob Weir studio in San Rafael. We were going to play a show for future streaming…Chris was paying for it…It was a gift and a treat…then our recording in the desert big idea tanked.
Long story…but essentially Chris said…why don’t you make your record here? Actually, he said, “please make it here.” My longtime friend, producer and bandmate Dave Schools had been working at the studio a lot…almost his home away from home…and Chris said “how about if Schools produces?” We asked if we could bring Patrick…they said yes…and we were beyond ecstatic. Our consigliere enabler Joe Kempler also said yes…and it was on…Junior leaving to putting TRI studio holds down…90 days??? It was eerie it moved so fast.
Dave and I have made a few records. It’s an intense process to say the least…and it’s always been as much about developing a personal relationship and learning to trust each other (and take the fight outside) as it is about what amp for what song. God love Patrick…but making a record with him is more of a “let’s do this fucked up thing”…he might roll his eyes…but he makes it work. Dave and me…not so easy. Actually hard work…and long, long trips down rabbit holes that might or might not bear fruit…it can be daunting and very rewarding.
We both had a lot to prove with this record. I needed to beat Happy Book. He needed to not beat me with a baseball bat (and trust me…the amount of people screaming at him to do just that was unnerving) and make a really outstanding record he wasn’t playing on…as his bass playing alone usually makes a record outstanding.
First…there was Crosby. Dave handed me a frikken scroll of available famous guitar players. We said, “Jeff’s our guy,” and Dave knocked him senseless, daily…and Jeff Crosby rose to the occasion and blew everyone in the room away…every god damn day. It was beautiful.
Steve James is one of those guys you don’t want to complement too much…or he’ll ask for a pay raise (probably deserved) and larger billing on the poster. But, he walks in with Dave Fucking Schools producing…in Marin “there’s a thousand amazing bass players” County…and seriously nails every note…every groove…teaches me how to play my songs…makes Crosby nervous…and doesn’t break a sweat…it was incredible…really. I’m not a frother music guy…I could give a fuck about your James Jamerson finger approach…or Phil Lesh’s play around the groove…or any of that shit…but Steve, under heavy pressure, nailed the music with grace and dignity and soul.
You know where I stand on Dex.
Dave kept insisting he wanted it to sound like a band…I was unclear there was a band beyond the recording…but he’s bigger than me and he prevailed. We brought in our friends Scott Law and Steve Kimock on (sparingly used) guitar. Primarily, we leaned on the King of Jewish retirement home accordion…Mookie Siegel on keys…But Jason Crosby and Dave Pellicharo were there…and Sikiru Adepoju, the Nigerian talking drum master…we started to have a record.
I know I would never read a play-by-play account of how a record was recorded…I’d rather read Marco Rubio’s foreign policy plan, or the collected works of Tom Clancy and Ayn Rand…but I have to say…two tracks in particular, Istanbul and Fog of War, were perhaps the most intense experiences I’ve ever had in the studio (barring the OxyContin and Blow version of me and Dex doing Ho Chi Minh at Barbe’s one night during a lightning storm). These were long songs…everybody (Scott and Mookie as well) was in the room…all the red lights were blinking…and it was a spiritual experience. The band played with more soul and restraint…following my scratch vocal (I sing scratches like they’re to be keepers)…no wonky notes…no showboating…for 15 minutes a song…one take each…dude…seriously, it was so fucking amazing…we finished Fog of War and I just sat on the floor of the vocal booth shaking and crying…very intense…and for me anyway…very, very beautiful.
I try hard not to froth about music ( at least mine ) but tonight after the most gut wrenching emotional exercise in band restraint and taste and power , I have ever encountered in the studio..on a 16 min version of Fog Of War …I was literally crying and shaking. Motherfucker of a band : Drizos , Steve James , Jeff Crosby ,Mookie Siegel ,Scott Law .. With Dave Schools ,Pat Kearns , Joe Kempler Pete Soper and the outstanding Rick Vargas (engineer) in the Monkey Barrel ….I’m frothing …they humble me ..and make me so fucking grateful Thank you
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We were at TRI a long time. thanks to Joe and Chris…nobody was pointing at a clock…we had done our homework with Patrick. We knew it was one of those, “people will love to see you fall on your face” moments in time. We had everything to prove as a new band…Dave had two baseball bats in a canvas bag…Rolemodel Rick Vargas our engineer had a Mosberg shotgun with implicit instructions to “kill it with an axe if it sucks.” There was a lot on the line for our little world…and the band simply won the day. I can never articulate my gratitude sufficiently.
Then, as records tend to do, we started flying the shit around to finish vocals and overdubs. To Supernatural, in south Portland, and then to our friend and producer of a lot of my records. Gregg Williams…we had Mike Lewis (of course) and Patrick as well as the band singing backgrounds and Jenny Conlee-Drizos (also, of course) playing accordion. And it was pretty damn done.
One advantage when you’re a rock star like Dave, is you have a heavy motherfucking rolodex you can actually use…so he called Jim Scott to mix.
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For a person who never made it big in this industry…I’ve been able to work with some major producers in some legendary studios…walking into Jim’s is just crazy. Jim has worked on more records I love than I could fathom, while actually looking at the damn things hanging from the studio walls. Plus…and a big plus it is…he’s a total sweetheart who absolutely cares…he doesn’t need to work on stuff he doesn’t like…and that he agreed to mix this record was unbelievable to me. He mixes manually…it’s like watching Monet paint individual lilies…and there’s that sound…when you say, “how does Petty’s stuff sound like that?”…then you watch Jim leave the space in the mix and you say… “oh.”
So here it is. It’s a record…I look at them like postcards…a place I went at some point in my life. I have long let go of the idea that hundreds of thousands of people will hear them and I’ll get handed little gold statues and fat stacks of cash…I’m good with the few people who will hear it (I’m totally fucking lying here) and at the end of the day…I hope the people who made the record can be proud of the work. In this case…I think everyone including Youngblood and Young Jim stringing guitars, and never fucking running out of coffee…should be really proud of themselves. I have yet to actually listen to the thing…but my kids like it…so I’m on board.
I cannot thank each person who contributed toil and treasure enough…It was a dice roll and as far as art goes…it came up sixes…I can only speak for myself.
Thank you everyone.
I love you all.