86'd Records is a DIY punk label/distro/website from Long Island, NY since 2010.
Rations is/was a punk band from Long Island, NY active between 2008-2013. Rations Noise is an electronic offshoot formed in the aftermath. Contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at P.O. 501 East Setauket, NY 11733-0501 U$A.
The news that On The Might of Princes was canceling their appearances at Long Island Fest and St. Vitus this weekend made me think of the liner notes I wrote for the "Where You Are And Where You Want To Be" reissue CD from 2004-ish. I figured I'd post them here along with some pictures of the band. I'm not sure if this is an edited version, so please forgive any mistakes!
My earliest memory of On The Might Of Princes was drinking 40's in the King Touchless Car Wash parking lot with Tommy and Jason and a bunch of other dudes in the summer of 1999. Jason had recently moved from Connecticut - or maybe Florida or some shit - and he was living with his old man in Selden. He'd hooked up with Tommy through some kind of ad somewhere looking for a band. You know, the kind that reads, 'skinny red haired guitar guy looking for band. Influences: Sunny Day Real Estate and Bad Brains.' Tommy and Lou had known each other from high school, which of course, back then, was just a couple of years back. I'm not sure where Nicole fit in, but I remember her hitting the drums so hard that I just kinda figured she was mad at them. Enriquez had come around later on, bringing tighter and more technical shit to the table. Although, he was always better at getting people mad at him, than getting mad at the drums.
So in 2000, On The Might of Princes trekked out to Westchester, PA to record with Arik and Mike at the Creep House. It was the same punk-infested suburban colonial where Long Island bands like Sleepasaurus, Striped Basstards, Kill Your Idols, and Contra had all recorded before them. I was doing Traffic Violation Records with my buddy Brian at the time. We briefly bounced the idea of asking those dudes before they left if they wanted to do the record on Traffic Violation. Of course, we never got around to it. A couple of weeks later Brian and I got our hands on a 60 minute TDK tape of the songs that would become "Where You Are and Where You Want To Be." I remember pretty vividly, us sitting there in the Sea Port Diner parking lot, just listening to song after song. My jaw dropped, and (along with the curly fries) I had a lump of jealousy and regret in my stomach. I wanted to put this record out, and badly. But of course, it was too late for that. Probably about 30 seconds in to the tracking the first song, Arik had asked them to do the CD on Creep Records. I'd have to settle for doing the layout.
I don't remember who's idea it was to put that photo of Jason and Andolpho on the cover. But once we had it in there, we knew it was perfect. To me, it represented a lot of what was Long Island punk at the time. The shot was taken when Contra and On The Might of Princes arrived on the west coast during summer tour in 1999. It was one of the first jaunts that this new crop of Long Island bands had taken that far out. I still love looking at the juxtaposition of two boneheads from Long Island running down the beach away from the palm tree in the background. I think the photo also has something to say about the cooperative scene that we had back then. There was no ego bullshit from the band about it just being Jason on the cover, much less any bullshit about some dude from a whole 'nother band being on there too. But all that stuff is academic, what totally rules about this cover is it's sheer ridiculousness. It's a big fat black guy and a pale, freakishly skinny white guy running on the beach in their underwear. The cover was better than just unmarketable, it actually made you feel uncool buying it. It was perfect.
Maybe it was that sense of uncool, or the rejection of ego - or even the aloofness that led to such a goofy record cover - that allowed people to feel that On The Might of Princes was such an important band. Being into On The Might of Princes felt a lot like being in On the Might of Princes. If you were there, just in the room while they were playing, you were part of it. I remember seeing 'em in a basement in Smithtown once. When the music dropped out for the sing songy part in For Meg everyone there knew they were part of something important. I looked over and saw Deserae crying and singing along. It was obvious she was just as much a part of it as any of the guys playing the instruments. Mike Rok Lok was there screaming his heart out. I saw Meg too, and felt the same thing. Even Craig Hughes was singing along. "And I'll scream it till your ears bleed, You'll always have a friend in me." I was singing too, and I knew in my heart I was part of it. It felt good.
Eventually, I pressed up the 12" LP version of "Where You Are, and Where You Want To Be" on Traffic Violation, I even did the second and third pressings of the CD. And now that it's years later, I think I know why I got that feeling of jealousy and regret at the idea of it not coming out on Traffic Violation. Looking back over the 28 releases that we did, the whole thing wouldn't have made as much sense without that record. If that catalog of vinyl and CDs was going to tell any kind of story about what was going on around here back then, "Where You Are, and Where You Want To Be" absolutely needed to be on it. And to my relief it was.
I don't think any of 'em would disagree if I were to say that all of us learned a shit-ton of lessons about life since those days downing 40-ouncers in parking lots. But this record isn't about what we've all learned and gone through since it came out. This record is about what we knew - and who we were - back when it came out. This record was the best shit Long Island could come up with, and it was fucking mint. It doesn't matter what the band did after this, or what everybody is doing now, or who's still friends with who, or whatever the fuck. On The Might of Princes was amazing. And this record is still amazing. And all those people that felt like they were part of this band - and helped this band be what they were - this record is still theirs, and they get to have it forever.
Dead Uncles' posthumous LP is lurching toward reality like a patient emerging from the haze of a fever dream. The lacquers have just been approved and we should have test presses back soon.
The quixotic quest to press this future classic on vinyl was hatched by drummer Shannon Thompson and 86'd Records - eventually implicating Hip Kid Records, Lost Cat Records, Shitty Present Records, and the mighty Different Kitchen Records from the U.K. The 10 track album was re-mixed in 2012 and mastered for vinyl by Dave Eck at Lucky Lacquers. The album artwork was re-worked for by Shannon Thompson. A one-time pressing of 500 units is planned for a summer 2013 release.
"Stock Characters" was originally released on cassette by We Rise Tapes (Krystina from Curmudgeon's label) and Trashy Tapes (Sadie from Peeple Watchin's label) just before the band broke up in 2012.
Any other record labels that might be interested in helping out can check out details by logging into the the info page here.
From that page you can download the audio, check out the layout, and get details about the project. Just e-mail email@example.com for the password.
After some delays, we're back on track to have our new 7" out by the middle of June. We've got the label lineup finalized and listed below. The record is being released as a collaborative effort among 30 record labels in 11 countries!
You can check out the full list of labels - along with links and google map - below. For some of the rationale behind organizing the release in this manor and to view the album trailer video, check out this post.
RATIONS will be releasing our new 7" - "Martyrs and Prisoners" - on May 14th, 2013.
In preparation, we are reaching out to DIY punk/hardcore record labels and distros in communities across the globe. Our goal is to decentralize distribution and get small quantities of our records to as many local scenes as possible.
We currently have 25 labels collaborating on releasing the record in 9 different countries. We're hoping to hook up with a bunch more to help us get our stuff out all over the world. Each label will be kicking in a portion of the costs and getting a proportionate number of copies.
86'd Records is coordinating the effort. Any interested labels can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to get a download of the record and full artwork and detailed info on the split release.
We did an interview with a fanzine called Brainstorm back over the summer. You can pick up a copy of the zine from 86'd Records and Distro or check out the transcript below. Big thanks to Dustin from Abolitionist and 1859 Records for doing the interview!
1. How long have you guys been playing for? How old is everyone & what does everyone do outside of the band?
SOCIAL DEE: I'm 30. I go to school and hang at the library, mostly. Sometimes I practice the drums.
TIA: I am 29. I own a small company called Vaya Bags that makes handmade messenger bags out of recycled material. I also enjoy biking, spending time with my husband Joe and our two cats Pancho and Lefty.
WELLS: I'm 36. Outside of the band I eat like shit, take drugs, and go to therapy. I hang out at the Starbucks in East Setauket mostly. I have a girlfriend who's a philomath. Rations has been a band since 2008.
BRIAN: I'm 35. Although I'm not the oldest chronologically, I may seem older, because I am married, have two amazing children, and teach high school math. That teaching thing is my side job. Rations is my real job.
2. You guys seem to place a premium on packaging & layout when it comes to your releases. Does that seem to be a fair assessment? What does that mean to you?
WELLS: I do all the layout and packaging stuff for the band usually. I don't think we put a premium on it above the music or anything like that, but it's something I definitely ruminate on, and the band talks about it and stuff. The packaging and presentation of a record is something I pay attention to in other stuff, so I think it just kinda comes out in what I want to do with the band too. I think the packaging of a release can create a context in which to listen to an album. A lot black metal records are like that: the visual and tactile qualities of the packaging set you up for the experience of listening to the record. I like that kind of shit.
BRIAN: I definitely think that the way a record looks and feels contributes to the overall quality of the release. I can remember when I first started buying punk/hc records, I would sometimes give a record a shot just because of how it looked. I mean, I figured that if I had similar interests as the band in terms of layout and design, then I might have similar interests musically. One record I'm still really psyched on buying is from a Campground Records band from Portland called Punky Rockit. I remember thinking that was a really strange choice for a band name, but the art work was so cool and must have taken a lot of effort. It was hand painted with at least three stencils. The artwork on that record and the music went together so nicely. I've always prized that 7" for that reason.
Tia: I never really thought that packaging and layout was especially important until recently. I saw the awesome stuff that Wells did with it and saw what a great aspect it adds to the record. I guess I always was just lazy and thought that if the music was good what did it matter what the record looks like, but my mind had definitely been changed when it come to this. Seeing the final packaging and the hard work and detail that goes into it, really gives a record something special and makes it much more of a tangible price of art.
3. Wells, you used to run Traffic Violation Records, right? You now have a label called 86'd. Why did TVR fold? Did you have a bad experience running it?
WELLS: Brian and I actually did Traffic Violation together for the first bunch of releases.
BRIAN: Yeah, I was around for the first few releases (Splurge, Striped Basstards, Howards, Disenchanted, etc.), but then lived in NYC full time for awhile, so it ended up being Wells' deal.
WELLS: I don't think I had a bad experience running it . It did get kinda shitty and miserable at the end. But I think that's the nature of a lot of things when they're at the end. It didn't fold, it actually probably just about broken even when all was finally said and done. I think the label did an awesome job of documenting a bunch of the punk that young people were making on Long Island from 1995 till around 2002. It got Long Island punk records into the hands of thousands of people around the word, and exposed a lot of kids from Long Island to other scenes and ideas and stuff. I think a lot of strong friendships were created out of the community of which Traffic Violation was a part. A real large percentage of the people involved with the bands from that time are still making music, and a lot of them still in bands with each other! I think stuff a lot of that stuff I put out stands up even today. And selling vinyl back then was harder, people wanted CDs! After Traffic Violation Records I did Eugenics Record Label from around 2004 till 2007 or so. Now I'm doing 86'd. One bad decision after another!
4. You guys are based on Long Island and have a close relationship with that scene. What's it like there these days?
TIA: The long island punk scene is kicking ass these days. There are a lot of people who are really putting their hearts into booking shows, starting bands, making zines and even reviving distros. Mike and the other fine folks at Dead Broke Rekerds book a ton of awesome shows. Some in their living room, some at local bars, and at a VFW hall out east thats looks like you are in a log cabin. Wells books shows there too. A few cool LI folk have started a zine called Shouting Shorelines. They have also created a book and zine library that they bring to shows and share with whoever wants to read them. Not to mention the ton of great LI bands; Iron Chic, Pretty Bullshit, Deep Pockets, Warm Needles, Sister Kisser, Crow Bait, Bastard Cut, The Broosevelts, Wax Phantom, and tons more. Long Island remains a strong hub for amazing DIY punk. I think the people involved in the scene these days really are doing it right.
WELLS: I'd add Make It Plain, Halfway to Hell Club, Giant Peach, Censors, For Serious This Time, Go White Bronco, Fighting 405, Playing Dead, and Tia's other band Fellow Project to that list. Also Rok Lok Records has been a label here on Long Island documenting the scene since 1999 or so. That dude's awesome. Also, I think it's worth mentioning the people who contribute by coming out to tons of shows, pay at the door and don't fuck shit up.
5. 10 labels co-released your stellar 7" EP internationally. What's the story behind that? I've noticed a trend where bands & labels work a lot together on co-releasing vinyl, at least in the DIY punk scene. What have your experiences been like with this?
WELLS: My first experience with doing split releases was in 1999 or so when I did De La Hoya's first EP which was a split release between Traffic Violation and Crap Records. From there I did a bunch like that. I did the Contra LP with a couple of European labels, the Insurgent 10" with a few different US label, etc. I think it's a neat way for scenes to kinda hook up and have ideas and stuff cross pollenate. It's a more horizontal and inclusive way to distribute music and art to the world. Cooperation on split 7"es and split releases were a big part of what struck me about punk early on. On this Rations 7" we had the benefit of knowing a lot of these people before hand, just from being around punk so long and stuff, so we tried to involve as many labels from as many countries as possible. The goal was to strengthen the network of DIY punk that exists outside the mainstream.
6. The music on the "How Much Land Does A Man Need?" 7" EP is great and blends the Long Island/East Bay sound has with angry 80's political punk ... there's even a little bit of Fugazi thrown in there on the title track. Is all of that deliberate or does the music of Rations inevitably blend the collective amalgamation of punk influences the band members have?
BRIAN: I guess we all grew up being part of the LI punk scene, so writing stuff that sounds "Long Island" is almost impossible not to do. I know that I've always been influenced by the stuff that came out of Victoria, British Columbia in the mid-90's, so I'm not necessarily trying to copy that sound, but in my opinion, that era/scene is some of my favorite punk.
TIA: It definitely seems to me like everyone brings a bit of themselves to this band. I think what influences all of us differs quite a bit, but that is what makes Rations cool. It is a nice blend of different genres of punk and everyone is open to whatever sound comes out.
7. Wells, you make up one half of Righteous Indignation LI (along w/ Lubrano of Iron Chic) and have produced some nice looking record layouts, show posters, etc. There seem to be a lot of people in "the scene" doing design work these days. Do you find it more cooperative than competitive? Or is there a healthy mix? Who are some of the people doing great work these days, in your opinion?
WELLS: Lubrano's doing pretty much all of the artwork coming out Righteous Indignation these days. His shit is so awesome it's ridiculous for me to work on stuff. He runs the whole thing, but I do things occasionally. I just finished up a tour poster for The Slow Death's Japanese tour with Worthwhile Way. I don't think doing dumb band art is a particular cut throat scene as far as that goes. That said, I do think Lubrano is pretty much better than everyone else at drawing monsters puking up their ghosts and holding knives and stuff.
8. The title track on your EP is a driving, simple and catchy punk tune and inspired by Leo Tolstoy. How did writing that song come about?
WELLS: I think we actually played it at practice for a while with a different melody and lyrics before we recorded. I wrote new lyrics on the way to record it at Tia's brother's place early in 2010. I knew I wanted to write a Tolstoy song because his shit had been blowing my mind for the few months before that. Social Dee drove and I took a notepad and a collection of Tolstoy stuff. The book I had with me compiled some of the more social and political stuff Tolstoy wrote after having a spiritual awakening later in his life. The lyrics are mostly lifted from the short story called How Much Land Does a Man Need? which was a pretty straightforward parable about greed. There's another book he wrote called The Kingdom of God is Within You that I was reading around the same time. That book is really what prompted my interest in Tolstoy. He shows Statism to be both morally and reasonably indefensible and calls for the regeneration of inner man as the means to oppose the repressive and violent institutions of church and state. It's cool because the way it's written makes it easy for an atheist or non-theist to read it and relate to the concepts without getting caught up on the "christianity" of it. Although, it is widely recognized as the sorta ultimate "Christian Anarchist" text. Around the same time, he was also editing Kropotkin's stuff and getting into some weird shit with communes and having followers and stuff. Tolstoy is pretty badass.
9. What are your thoughts on the Occupy movement?
WELLS: I was following some of the stuff coming out of Adbusters and Anonymous leading up to September 17 last year and I just remember being psyched and kinda waiting for the date to hit, and pontificating about what might happen and all that. Most of my experience with OWS has been as an observer though, listening to friends who've been involved with different actions, reading stuff. It's encouraging to me to see the evolution in both the issues it's addressing and the tactics being used. What started as something that was pretty focused on economic inequality, greed, and corruption has been used as a starting point for a lot of people to think about things like the nature of work and labor, authority, hierarchy, etc. It's neat to me how the movement has brought about a pretty mainstream discussion about about what's acceptable in terms of tactics. The effectiveness and even morality of non-violence when struggling against state violence is something a lot of people are talking about now. It's certainly something I think about a lot more since September.
Tia: I think the occupy movement is really awesome and inspiring. It's nice to see that people are finally standing up for and trying to change the injustices of society. Most Americans are so apt to just accept things that are unfair out of laziness or indiference, that it's refreshing to see protesters trying to make changes.
10. Anything else you'd like to add?
WELLS: We're working on demos for a full length right now. We've got about 20 songs written. That'll be out eventually. You can write to us at email@example.com or ℅ 86'd Records, P.O. Box 501 East Setauket, NY 11733, USA.
SOCIAL DEE: Land is social heritage. Only labor creates wealth.
Micah from Unwelcome Guests photo by William Strawser
Here's an interview with Micah from Unwelcome Guests. From the cancelled issue #1 of Eighty-sixed Fanzine.
Stephen Schmitt is a totally sick guitar player. I don't really have a question.
It’s true, he is one of the best musicians I’ve ever known and I’m incredibly lucky to play music with him. He also plays piano, mandolin, steel guitar and pretty much any other instrument that he’s given a couple minutes to mess around with. On top of all that he’s the most wonderful person I’ve ever known, zero faults to that guy.
How'd you get into writing songs and being into punk and stuff?
It was probably 10th grade when I started hanging out with some kids who identified with punk. Jesse was the Social Distortion, leather jacket type and the other, Alex, was the DIY, Fifteen and Crimpshrine type. They played in a band together called The Young Ones and I’d go to their shows at a community space called Cobra La. Their drummer, Steve, was cool but it later turned out that he was a closet Jazz guy at heart. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I didn’t meet them. They showed me a world outside of Great Valley and I owe them more than I can really comprehend.
My first band started shortly after graduating from high school and it was called Slaymaker’s Bull. The band was Jesse, Steve and Colin (who were all ex members of The Young Ones), along with me on barely competent rhythm guitar. We played super sloppy and kind of fun pop punk stuff. Jesse wrote lovely songs like “Frat Boy Motherfucker,” “Fuck the Scene” and the pretty ballad “Gut Full of Beer.” I wrote a few songs which were always a bit on the overly serious and angsty side; one song was called “Damned to the End,” and another was unfortunately called “One of These Days.” We argued a lot because of, ya know, artistic vision. Oh, I did write “Goin’ Drinkin’” which was a ska song about getting drunk. The truth is that neither one of us wrote anything worth hearing in the entire duration of the band.
At some point Jesse kicked me out of the band because I couldn’t play guitar well enough, which was true. I kept writing songs and listening to folk music and Jesse’s band eventually fell apart. Colin and I started playing acoustic shows around campus under the name Unwelcome Guests, which is taken from a song title on the Billy Bragg and Wilco Mermaid Avenue records where they used Woody Guthrie lyrics. A friend of ours, Jay Sallese, recorded an EP which we called Hollywood. From there we put together a full band, recorded some more and then moved to Buffalo in 2004. Shortly after that Colin moved away and the current lineup of Unwelcome Guests which is Zac, Chris, Steve and I was formed.
What's the process of writing songs for Unwelcome Guests like? I know on at least a few of the releases the songs are credited as being "written by Micah Winship and Unwelcome Guests."
In the eight or so years that we’ve been a band we’ve kind of developed a formula for writing songs. I write the chord progression, melody, lyrics, and a lot of the bridge parts, etc. but once I bring it to practice it almost always becomes a completely different song. That’s why I put “all songs by Micah Winship and Unwelcome Guests” in the liner notes. I put a lot of work into writing songs and, since I’m not the greatest guitar player or singer, it’s kind of all I have to offer and I want to credit myself appropriately. To hear how incredibly different the songs become is a bit jaw dropping to me so I feel like the song writing credit works that way.
There have been a few instances in which we wrote things differently. “Put Down Your Gun,” the first song on the Painter EP, was written by Steve and I. I had the lyrics but hated the chord progression and general feel of what I had going on, which was a slow country ballad. I sat down with Steve and he came up with the verse progression and it took off from there. Chris comes up with some parts once in a while in practice that really change songs for the better, like the descending part in “Patience.” Zac’s steers things in his own way too.
Are there any songwriters you try to emulate?
I try to avoid emulating or ripping off any songwriters but it’s impossible to hide what you’re listening to when you write songs. I, of course, love Paul Westerberg, and the Old 97’s have been a huge influence on me. While writing Don’t Go Swimming I was listening to a lot of Smog and Bill Callahan. The whole standing on the shore idea is certainly born from me listening to A River Ain’t Too Much to Love. I’d also say that I’ve never fully escaped the Social Distortion and Screeching Weasel influence. Mike Ness is an embarrassing cartoon character but the self-titled record and White Light, White Heat, White Trash were a big part of my life. Ben Weasel, well… let’s not even get started on that guy. I’ve only, within the last year, really gotten into Hüsker Dü which we get compared to sometimes, so maybe that’ll affect our next record, who knows. As a band, we all look at Frank Black’s Show Me Your Tears and American Steel’s Jagged Thoughts as being great.
What's your writing process like? What are you writing now?
I feel like I’ve had writer's block for the last year or so but I now think that I was just too busy with school stuff. I recently finished my four year degree after dropping out back in 2004. I’ve already started writing more and even began a writing project with my friend Bill who is a photographer. He sent me a picture and I sent him a recorded song in response. He’ll be sending me a photo based on the song soon which should be interesting. I don’t’ know, it’s fun to write songs and sometimes it just takes a new project or an inspiring friend to keep you going. I’ve read enough songwriter interviews to realize that everything I can say is a cliché but there are just some common truths to songwriters. At this point, I write songs and play music because I need to; it is necessary in keeping me sane and happy. A good band practice can keep me happy for weeks and a bad band practice can do the exact opposite. It’s a really frustrating and sometimes awful world that we live in, and having the ability to distract yourself or medicate yourself with something that isn’t harmful is priceless. I can’t imagine where I’d be if it weren’t for going to Cobra La when I was a teenager and for that reason I feel like every town and city should have a common space for kids to get together and work on creative projects. It’s also why it’s so god damn infuriating that parents and dumbass community members try and shut down show spaces.
Other Stuff from cancelled issue of Eighty-sixed Fanzine:
I feel like Bilbo when he said "I feel thin. Sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread." The perpetually coming soon Eighty-Sixed Fanzine issue #1 is the bread.
This fucker was ill-fated from the git-go.
I started hemming and hawing about doing another zine sometime in 2009. When I started up 86'd in 2010 I put "and Fanzine" in the logo as a sort of trick. I figured a public proclamation of it's existence would force my hand into actually making it a reality. I worked on it a bunch over the past coupla years, but never actually finished it. I tried forcing my hand again earlier this year by advertising it as done in my Razorcake ad for Solid MFG. The plan was to finish it up in the month or two before the issue came out.
Razorcake is a few days away from showing up in everyone's mailbox and I'm no closer to finishing than I was when I made the ad - or the months before that.
So, in the midst of a full-blown panic attack about it this morning it hit me - Fuck this.
There will be no printed issue of Eighty-Sixed Fanzine. I'm going to post what I have up here in the interest of not letting down the people who contributed stuff or answered interviews.
The zine is dead. Long live the zine.
Stuff from cancelled issue of Eighty-sixed Fanzine:
After freaking out at how good the record was, I asked Sick Sick Birds frontman Mike Hall to run through their album "Gates of Home" and drop some wisdom about the songwriting process on each track. The record was released on vinyl by Toxic Pop Records in March of 2012.
I think the lyrics on this one are pretty straight forward. Mostly, this is about the idea that it is easy to critique someone else’s words and actions, but much more difficult to be in the position to actually make things happen. Candidate Obama can offer one-sentence definitive statements like “I will shut down Guantanamo,” but President Obama finds out that maybe (for whatever reason, pick a reason) it’s easier said than done.
It’s also a reference to passive, sarcastic snarkiness in the realm of politics. Snarkiness can be an excellent cover for laziness. Just say, “They’re all a bunch of bums,” to mask the fact that this is a topic of which you know very little. This song is about being jaded on the jaded.
Writing this song was really uncomfortable and challenging. I was trying to imagine how difficult it must be for a kid to come to the realization that he/she is gay. Adolescence is hard enough when you are deemed “normal” by the masses. It is an awkward, unsure time. Imagine trying to navigate through that time with this secret growing inside of you. All of the public debates over laws and public policy are one thing. This song is intended for more of an individual and personal level. I was writing not so much about the global level of intolerance, but rather the one-liners that you encounter from people that you love and trust. I imagine that would create an environment where you feel like you have nowhere to turn. How could it not?
I was so apprehensive about writing this song – it felt a little presumptuous, like I was claiming to know how it felt. I was so apprehensive, in fact, that I bounced the lyrics off of a good friend of mine (who would be able to compare the lyrics to his experiences growing up) for quality control purposes.
Great opportunities often come at inconvenient times. This song was based off of a short story by H.G. Wells called “The Door in the Wall.”
Musically speaking, I knew when we wrote this that it was going to sound like an early Cure song. Normally, when I am concerned that a song sounds too similar to another band, I try to address it in the mixing process. For example, “this sounds like a Smiths song, let’s mix it so it sounds like something off of Husker Du Metal Circus.” For some reason, on this one, I decided to just go with it, and let it sound how it wanted to sound. So Dan (see Dan Black, below) mixed it so that it would fit right in on Seventeen Seconds.
This one is about an aging scenester trying desperately to hang on to her social relevance. Same bar, same drink order, same heckling routine for the bands that come through town. The crowd at the bar is slowly getting younger as she is getting older. The more songs I write, the more I realize I am revisiting themes that I have written about before. This one seems like a companion piece to The Thumbs “All Lesser Devils,” that Bobby and I wrote together.
“One Town Over”
This is a punk rock “grass is always greener” story about someone moving from town to town, based on an idealized view of a band or scene. When the person gets to the new town and sees the warts, he moves on, not realizing that the warts are the good stuff. I think it is more rewarding to make something better instead of constantly moving on in search of some dopey, nonexistent punk rock paradise.
The opening guitar line was the first thing that I wrote for this song. I have always been fascinated by the relationship between chords and melodies. Specifically, I like songs where the melody repeats itself even when the chords change underneath it. Take something familiar and look at it in a different way. That’s what I was trying to do in the beginning. Starting out with a bright poppy melody, and then when the words come in, change the chords underneath and it darkens right up.
The first line I wrote for the song was the one about driving past Dahlgren Lab. It’s a reference to the Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center, which I have driven past many times on Route 301 in Virginia. It’s just such a dark-sounding name to me, and I have always wanted to use it for something
“(Cross the) Shipping Lanes”
You know how when you mow the lawn, the back and forth creates a striped pattern? I was looking at the pattern while I was mowing, and the line “gonna’ cross the shipping lanes” kept going through my head.
So then I started thinking about a fictitious old guy contemplating the (lack of any) meaning in his life. He used to dream big – he was going to do big things. Never really got around to it. Never actually had any ideas of what to do, just the idea that he WANTED to do something. So, he gets it in his head that he’s going to invent something to cross the shipping lanes. Well, lots of things (boats?) can already cross shipping lanes, but that did not deter him. I tried to be really vague in my descriptions, because that is how the character would interact with people. He “just built the greatest thing,” but it’s unclear whether he actually built anything at all, or if he’s just a crazy guy disappointed in his life.
We did some shows in California in 2010, and got to spend some time with our friend Anna, a transplanted Marylander living in Hollywood. For whatever reason, in some conversation, Anna noted that olives tasted like tears. I wrote it down in the margin of whatever book I was reading.
"Gates of Home"
This song is based on the short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Pierce. I first read this story in middle school, and always loved it.
The past two records (“Heavy Manners” and “Gates of Home”) were produced by Dan Black, of The Oranges Band fame, among other things. Dan is the first engineer I have ever worked with that really “produced” our records. He has a great, unassuming way of taking raw tracks and, by addition and subtraction, adding to the flavor of a song. Sometimes he helps to build a song based on our descriptions of what we envision, and sometimes he goes off on his own based on where he hears it going. It has been a great relationship.
This is a case of a song that I thought was decent, but needed something to make it really good. I had the idea to mash it together with Olive, but other than that, I had no idea what to do for it. So I asked Dan to work some magic do whatever he wanted with it. If the song ended up just so-so, we would have left it off the record and gone with 10 songs. Dan really completed this song – he added the pounding tom beat, and chopped the music in the beginning so it started with vocals. He also added the Gang-of-Fourish guitar parts and the synth. This ended up being one of my favorite tracks.
During the production phase of the records, it’s always a treat to get an email from Dan with a track that he has been working on. It’s like X-Mas morning. We love that guy, and really consider him a member of the band.
“New Shoe Leather”
A friend of ours was writing a blog called Aural States that was devoted in part to the local music scene in Baltimore. He was embarking on a new project and asked to come over to the warehouse and record some live versions of a few of our songs for a segment on Sick Sick Birds. In addition to recording 3-4 of our regular songs, he asked if we could come up with a short instrumental track that would serve as the Intro for the show. The intro for the show later became New Shoe Leather.
I guess that I have written about Baltimore and Maryland in a number of songs over the years. In this song, there is a line: “A true middle man like Maryland.” Maryland is technically “southern,” as it is the first state below the Mason-Dixon line. But people in the deep South tend to think of Maryland as northern, and a lot of people in the Northeast tend to think of Maryland as southern.
For any historians out there, I highly recommend Maryland: A Middle Temperament by Robert J. Brugger.
Scaffold is the oldest song on the record, with its origins going back to 2000. We had put out The Thumbs “All Lesser Devils,” and were working on writing the songs that would become the final Thumbs record (“Last Match”). I had a couple of parts written that I really liked. So, at practice, we would try to finish this song by coming up with some complementary parts. Then, we decided that the new parts that we had written were strong enough to be a song on their own, so we removed the original parts and finished off the song. This happened maybe three other times – every time we used these parts to write a new song, it turned out that the originals did not exactly fit right. It was like these parts were the scaffold that we used to build the songs for the record. Once the building was complete, we removed the scaffolding and used it to build the next song. This was not our intention, but it’s the way it ultimately worked out.
It wasn’t until Last Match was written and released that the song “Scaffold” was finally finished. We recorded a demo of the song in 2002, but The Thumbs were done and the song was shelved. We played Scaffold occasionally during Sick Sick Birds live sets, but never recorded it until the “Gates of Home” sessions. I really like how different the Thumbs and Sick Sick Birds versions ended up sounding.
The lyrics for this song are a continuation of a Thumbs song called “Where’s the Battle Cry?” that I co-wrote with my wife about a person helping a good friend through a bad break-up. Once the heartache from the break-up dissipated, the friendship suddenly dissolved. It seemed like the relationship had been so dominated by the processing and aftercare involved in dealing with the breakup, that afterwards, the person could not handle the emotional reciprocity necessary for the friendship. Maybe the friendship was a constant reminder of darker times. Or maybe the newly-renovated version of the person simply no longer needed the friendship. This reminded me of the original parts of Scaffold. The lyrics are about being someone else’s scaffolding, helping to rebuild someone, and then being disassembled and stored for the next project.
This is the only song that I have ever worked on where there is such a synchronous relationship between the music and the lyrics.
Lee Blades (drums)
Mike Hall (guitar, vox)
Eric Jacobsen (guitar, vox)
Melissa Jacobsen (bass, vox)
John Irvine (trumpet on Olive, Conversation and Scaffold)
Tim Baier (guitar on Conversation and New Shoe Leather)
Daniel Black (guitar and keyboard on Gates of Home, additional instrumentation and arrangements throughout)
Produced and mixed by Daniel Black.
Drums and bass engineered by Tanuj Kundhi.
Design and layout by Michael Welch.
Other Stuff from cancelled issue of Eighty-sixed Fanzine:
Here's a column from the amazing Jeff Varner who runs Lost Cat Records and plays in Thanks. After exchanging e-mails about bands, songwriting, punk, etc. for months and reading some pretty great posts on the internet, I got the idea that this dude would be good at writing a column. A few short days after asking him to write something on the topic of songwriting for 86'd zine, this is what showed up in my inbox. I'm sorry about this not coming out in print form, but hopefully someone will prod Jeff into a monthly column somewhere else... MaximumRockNRoll? - Wells
I sit around all day putting off my top priorities. Lately I've been indescribably lazy and lethargic, but I'm getting pretty good at describing the indescribable. When I wake up in the morning (between noon and two P.M.), I take in a couple huge breaths of air. For whatever reason, my lungs and stomach object to the morning breaths, causing an itching painful sensation in my entire torso. This instigates a series of passionate coughs. When my eyes first open in the morning, the first thing I do is anticipate this ritual discomfort. It's a dreadful emotion, but I get over it quickly thanks to my second daily anticipation; coffee. I take a deep breath, then another deep breath, then I go make my coffee. I pour six to twelve cups of water into the stinky and soiled sludge factory, before cleaning out the grounds from the day before. It's nasty, especially when I've been out of town and mold is collecting on the aging coffee flavored dirt. If light can penetrate my brew, it's not strong enough. I fill my stained white "Electric Fetus" coffee mug, and top it off with three ice cubes. These cubes enable me to chug the bile in seconds without burning my stupid mouth. I repeat these steps until I've had four or five filthy mugs worth. Some days I drink six, if I lose count.
Things get interesting after my coffee, but not really. There's only one thing on my mind; working on the new Thanks record. I think about working on the record, I talk about working on the record, I listen to my demo takes for the record, I become frustrated with my preamps and external hard drives not working properly, then I go sit with my friends and discuss other peoples records. I put off my top priorities, like I said. Maybe I'm afraid that I can't meet the absurd expectations I have of myself, and so I procrastinate by talking music. We talk about the music we love, and we talk about the music we can't stand. I don't know which entertains us more, but we talk for hours. Once in a while, when nobody is around, I actually get ambitious and start working on the record. I sit there trying to convert my ideas into lyrics, which often makes me want to pull my hair out. Lyrics "come to me" at the weirdest times, and I write them down on the weirdest things. I've got some pizza hut receipts in my room, from when I used to be a pizza ninja at Pizza Hut. When I was on the clock, I would get an idea, grab a pen, and jot it onto a blank piece of paper. I could summon all the paper I wanted from the receipt printer, thanks to a nifty little manual feed button. When I got home, I would pull the baby song from my pocket, and throw it onto the floor. I've still got a hundreds of these abandon songs scattered across my disastrous room.
My dog peed on some of them a few weeks ago, because my room is his litter box. They weren't important ideas, so I threw them out. In his most recent offense, he defecated a mountain of filth onto my JBL sound reinforcement manual, which had to be thrown out.
My mom calls me creative, I guess this is what "creative" people do. We're about as organized as a bowling ball in the coral reef (but songs have to come from somewhere, you know). One time I wrote a song about Pizza Hut's garlic sauce. Please don't go out and buy this sauce. It's very addictive, yet doesn't taste very good. One time we sold twelve hockey puck sized containers to a single customer. He claimed that he was "a slave to our garlic sauce". He was addicted, but I bet he didn't actually like the stuff. Anyway, I don't know why on earth I would write a song about Pizza Hut's garlic style sneeze condiment. I guess I was mainly inspired by the idea that the sauce was full of preservatives. It was a song about a girls remorse for partaking in science class animal dissection, as well as the horrors of war. I ask myself; how did garlic sauce provoke my creative energies to write a musical piece with this sort of subject matter? There must be something/s wrong with me. My point in short; you can write a song about whatever you want, as long as you're in touch with yourself.
People ask me how to write lyrics, and I usually tell them the same thing; "figure out what you have to say, and then say it". I tell them that songwriting is nothing more than self communication. The better "in touch" I am with myself, the more self relevant and personally significant my songs become. If I'm singing about something I don't really care about, than I usually end up loathing the song. The more I care about my songs, the better I perform them. People can see me more clearly when I write and present my music more accurately with my emotions.
When I talk to people, I don't feel like I'm communicating optimally. I feel like I'm almost always saying the wrong thing or sending the wrong vibe. I feel like I'm speaking in the wrong tone. I feel like my words are misunderstood. I often get the idea that I'm being too dramatic, or too serious, or not serious enough, or too subtle. When it really counts, I rarely utter a sentence which correctly lines up with my intentions. When I'm writing a song, I feel that my emotional accuracy improves.
I want to tell people what's on my mind, but I can't say it all. I can't seem to get it all out. I feel like my ideas are a painting, which sits thirty or forty feet behind glass. Music helps me push it forward. At times I become so sick and frustrated with life that I start to become mentally fatigued (this is when I think my weirdest thoughts). One day a few months ago (back when I had three jobs) I was particularly miserable and sick of it all. I was working with a dying patient as a PCA, among many other patients who were in rough shape. In addition to the stress of PCA work, I was cooking at Pizza hut, teaching drum lessons, working with the band, and overcoming a ridiculously painful heartbreak. I chewed my reality the way caged animals chew the bars of theirs, and came to the following conclusions;
We are natures delusions, scared and confused. We create delusions of our own. Sometimes we call them songs, segregating and manipulating them into albums on various formats. We tirelessly try to communicate our perceptions to others, we modify and repeat the ideas of our musical ancestors, peers, heroes, etc. As both songwriters and humans, we're sprinkled across this gargantuan yet simultaneously microscopic sphere, floating majestically through space. If we have anything at all, it's something to observe. Artists are champions of observation. Songwriting is among the most accurate methods of human communication. We can convert our ideas and emotions into lyrics and melody. I'm going to go clean the house now, because I feel bad about myself.
Other Stuff from cancelled issue of Eighty-sixed Fanzine: