December 21, 2006

The Insidious Riptide of Doubt

Almost as soon as Frankie and I get out of the Volvo at Strands, we are confronted with the swirling cloud of chaos that is the De Luca twins, a phenomenon that I am not unfamiliar with, but which I instantly worry Frankie is totally unprepared for, Italian heritage or not. I’d last experienced the craziness of Richie and Donnie in the seventh grade, when their poor mother thought I was the only responsible friend they had.

“Roy! Been a while, man!”

“Roy, who is this you’ve brought us? Since when do you hang out with amazingly hot women?”

“Tactless as ever,” I say quietly to a smiling Frankie as the twins approach in startlingly abrupt fashion. “Gentlemen,” I greet them each in turn. “Meet Francesca Rossettini. She followed me home from Santa Barbara.”

“Ah, an Italiana!” says Donnie. Or Richie. I can’t tell anymore.

“Si, certo” laughs Frankie. “Pleased to meet you”.

“Oh no no,” says Richie (yes, I remember now, that’s Richie- the polite one), “the pleasure is ours”. Well shit, we just got here. Two hours of traffic and now I have to deal with these weenies.

“So what’s up, Roy?” Richie continues. “How you been?” Yep, here comes the flood. I start walking toward the stairs and Frankie follows. The twins keep up like pros.

Richie: “How’s UCSB?”

Donnie: “How’s Isla Vista, dude?”

Richie: “Is this your girlfriend?

I think that’s a record. “I should be so lucky,” I say. “To her vast and unflappable credit, Frankie lets me follow her around while she plots her next moves against liars and fakes everywhere.”

“Not everywhere,” she corrects me. “Only in the publishing and fashion industries.”

“Frankie? You let him call you Frankie?” Donnie this time.

“Sure do,” she confirms. “Be nice to me and I might let you do that too.”

“Ah, I see.” Donnie again.

Richie cottons on a little quicker. “Hey, you two wanna come back to Creek with us?”

“Creek?” I say. “What for?”

“Oh, there was a sweet set about an hour ago,” says Donnie, catching up. “Thought it might be the same down here but there’s nada. We’re on our way back right now. Jake’s up there too- come on, come and chill with us a while.” He says all this while keeping his eyes on Frankie. I feel myself falling off the twins’ plane of existence at a blinding clip.

We are, or rather I am, soon able to shake them off, but not before they unfortunately, enthusiastically and probably not unconsciously conform to every ethnic stereotype about Italians, in addition to every first impression any fearful parent ever had when dealing with Donnie and Richie at thirteen. I say no thanks to the sets at Creek, lock elbows with Frankie, and pull her toward the stairs.

“Sorry,” I say. “Haven’t seen them in a while”.

“Oh forget it,” she replies. “They weren’t so bad. Almost cute, even”.

“You’ve never seen them throwing rocks at passing cars, Frankie.”

“No,” she laughs again, “and I don’t plan to. Relax, Roy. Let’s just lay out for a while, okay? I’ve been in that car too long and I need some fresh air to mix with all this goddam heat.”

We end up staying down on the sand for quite a while, and the sun only gets hotter, but I don’t feel like jumping in the ocean right now. Frankie’s fallen asleep, and I lose track of time while watching the tiny, perfect blond strands of peach fuzz on her belly suddenly rise and fall with her short, sharp, clear breathing. Her skin is very white against her bikini, but not in an unhealthy-looking way. She’s on her back, so I can’t see if there are scars of any kind there. Couldn’t on the way down the steps, either; she didn’t take her shirt off until I was doing the same, and she did it faster and was laying down before I could remember to look. She’d been careful, or so it seemed, to only face me this whole time as we talk about next quarter’s classes or my new band or other random crap in a valiant effort to deftly dispatch our time together.

The waves crash a little louder. Some kids down the beach scream like banshees, but Frankie’s still out like a light. I need to know. I need to know if I’m being lied to- a little white lie or a creatively elaborate monster. I’m tired of being lied to- it’s all that’s happened to me this year. Nadia did it, Ally did it, my own fucking dad did it, and I’m sick to death of being continually body-checked by the awful truth every month or so. A lazy Saturday in sunny southern California is slouching its way across the cosmos, but I’m becoming more and more compelled to just up and flip Frankie right over- “sorry babe, musta freaked out a sec, dunno what came over me,” just to find out if she’s really been scarred by heroin like she said she was. Her arms are clean. Her fingers are perfect. Knuckles smooth. Am I really that gullible? That trusting? Why would my unerring suspicion, my utterly reliable fear of anything remotely risky or sneaky, choose to abandon me at this crucial moment?

Then, just as suddenly, I don’t care if any of it is true or not. Hell, I think- even if she offers to tell me, I decide I don’t want to know. All her next-door nemeses’ catty little accusations and late-night insinuations about Frankie wound their way through my brain during the entire drive down to South OC. All their superficial-suburban-Christian-virgin morality kept knocking over each argument propped up by my impulsive but weakening goodwill, and though I really, really didn’t want to cave, I was running out of common sense. You nasty, creepy little vipers, I thought. You’re killing her for no reason. You don’t care about truth- you just wanna see the freaky-deeky chick with supermodel looks go down, and go down hard. Why? Another notch under your envious little belts? I had to forcibly stop my runaway paranoia when I drove three off-ramps past my exit and had to exhume some long-dormant local geographical trivia in order to get to Strands.

So no, I never thought to bring up any of it when we were at her parents’ place, and now it occurs to me that maybe it’s better I didn’t. Why ask her dad if they really lived in Manila for eight years? I mean, I’ve seen Frankie eat lunch with all the Filipino guys all the time, so when she told me she could speak Tagalog I believed her. When she told me about their Saigon-embassy-like escape from Marcos’ thugs, I believed her. Because of our trip to see the church choir downtown, and her friendliness with the singers, I never questioned the whole lapsed-Catholic Italiana thing either, despite the inescapably WASP-ish vibe of her family’s home in Fullerton. I never once doubted the veracity of her worldy-Persian-boyfriend-from-Glendale story, even though I spent most of May in her dorm room and I never met the guy, ever. He never stopped by accidentally, never happened to call while I was there, never left her little gifts or anything. What the fucking fuck, Frankie?

Which comes back to the Mafia-ex-boyfriend-heroin story. No one abandoned you, Francesca. Nobody spied on you while you slept. No one forced you to inject yourself with junk for their own sadistic reasons. And I believed it! I accepted it all, uncritically, because this girl Frankie, whom I’d just met a few months ago, whose roommate had just moved out, then dropped out; she had her own room and let me come in and whimper like a child when I got dumped by Nadia and then Ally back-to-back and then again after I walked away from Olivia, who actually wanted me- for no reason! Frankie listened to all my shit, no matter what, let me in, no matter what- if I was bored, or if my roommate had a sock on the door, or whatever. Let me hang out when she went to bed, let me sit there in the dark listening to her music, and not once did she ever say no. I realize I could have asked this person for anything.

I go around and around like this for what must be a few hours and lose some more daylight. The tide starts rolling in and the wind picks up. The beach is quieter; most people have gone home. I notice my left arm stretching out to her, only inches away. My fingers are twitching like a gunfighter’s. I’m a split-second from preposterously rolling over a sleeping girl, a split-second from arguably harassing her in public, when her small breathing catches slightly and she shifts her body a bit. My friend Frankie sleeps on as she rolls her head, in my direction, off her towel and onto the sand, and all I can do is carefully brush, strain, and pick the grains out of her thick blond bangs. I turn away to rub my sandy hands on my own towel.

“Well hello there, sir.” I look around and she’s awake, but only just. Her eyes are heavy crescents and she smiles sheepishly. “Sorry, I think the sun put me down for the count.” It’s nearer the horizon now and the mercury drops another fraction of a millimeter. I smile back and watch her in silence as she looks around for her shirt. It’s on her right, picking up more sand. Slowly, she reaches her left hand over to pick it up, her back to me.

September 20, 2006

Bizarro World Series!

I wonder how fun a sort of Loser's Bracket postseason would be to watch? Like say, the inverse of the current baseball postseason structure of 3 division champs (west/central/east) in each league, plus 1 wild card each (team w/best record that's not already a div. champ). There's still a week left in the season, but I'm pretty confident that the Bizarro World Series would be culled from these, the currently worst teams in baseball:

American League: East- Tampa Bay Devil Rays (58W-94L); Central- Kansas City Royals (also 58-94); West- Seattle Mariners (73-79). Wild Card: Baltimore Orioles (East, with a record of 66-86).

National League: East- Washington Nationals (66-86); Central- those poor, poor Chicago Cubs (62-91); West- Colorado Rockies (71-81). Wild Card: Pittsburgh Pirates (64-87).

Here's a win/loss record benchmark to see how bad the worst really are- Both New York teams have clinched their respective divisions at this point: Yankees (92-60) and Mets (92-59). (Incidentally they last met in the World Series in 2000).

I don't remember how the matchups go as far as who starts off against who in the division champ series, so I just thought I wouldn't have 2 teams from the same division begin against each other:

Tampa Bay vs. Seattle
Kansas City vs. Baltimore

Washington vs. Chicago
Pittsburgh vs. Colorado

Also, here are the current records each team has against the other:

Nationals are 4-2 vs Cubs, 3-3 vs Pirates, 0-8 vs. Rockies.
Cubs are 1-2 vs. Rockies, 6-9 vs. Pirates.
Pirates are 3-3 vs. Rockies.

Devil Rays are 5-13 vs. Orioles, 3-6 vs. Mariners, 5-1 vs. Royals.
Royals are 1-5 vs. Orioles, 3-5 vs. Mariners
Orioles are 4-6 vs. Mariners.

So, for those of you who can stand bad baseball, who do you think would win?

Since I don't know enough about any of these teams this year (even the Rocks, though I follow NL West teams!) I'll base my predictions purely on the above win-loss records (which usually worked in high school football pools):

Nats beat Cubs in 3 (how it hurts this Ryne Sandberg fan to say!), and it looks like Pirates-Rockies is a tossup. Washington would have an easier time against the Pirates, though- they haven't fared well against the Rockies at all. Let's assume the Rockies, who have more wins than Pittsburgh and would have home-field advantage, clean the Pirates' clocks in the thin air of Denver. Rocks in 3. They still have a better record than Washington, too, so down go the Nats in, let's say 4 games (best of 7 vs 1st round's best of 5).

Mariners also take the Rays in 3, and the Orioles beat KC in 4. That's not what I'd want- underdogs lose- but whatever. That makes mine an all-western Bizarro World Series: Seattle vs. Colorado. Pitchers' park Safeco field vs. homer-land Coors field. The Rockies are often tough to beat at home, but the Mariners do currently have the better record by 2 games. Let's say that Seattle wins in 7 games. Maybe the creaky old Mariners will also find the Denver air home run-friendly.

UPDATE 10/8: So after spending most of yesterday watching playoff baseball- which included, among other things, a Padre win to stave off elimination by St. Louis despite the Padre perennial sin of leaving men on base, a Yankee elimination by superior Tiger pitching, and a Dodger elimination at the hands of several ex-Dodger Mets- I've been wondering again when the definitive take on post-1994-strike baseball will come to light.

Sure, it's only been 12 years since the players' strike put the kibosh on the World Series, but in that time we've seen all kinds of records broken, all kinds of steroid use, all kinds of annoying (and often justified) arrogance from Yankee central, and probably most importantly, the rise of Wild Card teams to championships, and that by a large margin.

Maybe give it another ten years.

September 10, 2006

Performance Enhancement

Honey White displays a rapidly expanding sonic prescence on back-to-back live albums.

Anyone in a band will tell you that deep down, they don't feel like they're truly in a band if they don't play live. They might loathe the logistics of booking, travel, payment, and all the other crap that working bands endure on the road, but usually the time on stage makes up for that. Gigging bands form tighter bonds, and if those bonds hold for even a little while, playing live shows can be awesome.

Honey White defined ourselves right away as a formidable live act—one immediately different from what Bryn and I had accomplished (or didn't) in the Mojo Wire. We rehearsed weekly for most of 2002, so we were pretty much ready to gig anywhere—which we did, about once per month. Our first show was in downtown Santa Barbara (always inaccessible for the Mojos), it succeeded on all fronts, and things only got better from there. We did time in Isla Vista too—many of our earliest shows were backyard keggers, and we played three times at Giovanni's Pizza, so we endured our share of drunks and cops and random fuckery. It was all worth it, though, and thanks to these two self-produced live albums those wild eighteen months got thoroughly documented for posterity.

Since many of our earlier shows were free from the time constraints of a conventional club gig, we could compile a massive arsenal of songs for the 2002-2003 sets. The originals from our My Band Rocks E.P. alternated with sped-up Mojo Wire songs, two Bryn solo instrumentals, and some inspired cover choices like Jeff Buckley's "Lover, You Should've Come Over," Cracker's "Been Around The World," Neil Young's "Dead Man" theme, Johnny Cash's version of "Wayfaring Stranger," and the occasional Radiohead song done solo by Bryn. By the time we scored a gig on campus at UCSB, we could shuffle the sets at will, sometimes throwing them out altogether pre- or mid-show, but we always performed a good cross-section of our tunes, which is what I tried to display on these live albums.

Live and Unprofessional was assembled and released quickly—who knew if we'd get to do it again?—so it feels rushed but fresh. I recorded everything on the fly using my Roland VS-890 digital 8-track, capturing our 2002 shows in all their (mostly) open-aired, semi-organized glory. It's still surprising to hear how fast we meshed as a performing unit, and how streamlined and focused the shows became. The sound was consistent overall, too—Bryn's and Brian's straightforward guitar tones charged through each song, my bass sound was thick and creamy, and Bill's light, flexible drumming pushed and pulled rather than anchored us. Bryn's vocals soared above, and mine stretched around, everything else in the mix; with lots of room for each instrument, our live sound became huge when compressed on disc, a unique mix of snappy and epic.

The key ingredient was speed—usually more nervous excitement than chemical enhancement—but live takes are almost always faster than what's recorded in the studio anyway. Live and Unprofessional used power via accelerated tempos—not necessarily with overdriven guitars—and things rarely spun out of control. "So Cold" set a quick pace to start the album, and we raced through the next four songs (Mojo retreads all) at breakneck speed. Several other songs ramped things up later in the sequence, ("Windward Mark," "Unprofessional," and the exceptional "How Far Away"). The album closed with two behemoths: Bryn's "My Second Shipwreck" saga and my echo-bass propelled "Lightning Rod."

Epic Noise Now! followed only five months later, but it drew from a smaller group of gigs and showcased a slightly different vibe. Our 2003 shows moved inside, and the ambient crush of indoor air cramped our more epic impulses, but each performance still got better. Every song repeated from the previous disc saw improvement: "So Cold" and "Shivering Sand," pummeled heavily despite being tracked in mono, and both "Heart On A Platter" and "Mercy Rule" got tighter and cleaner. "You Let Me Fall" got leaner and meaner than its recorded version, and "Pisces Lullabye" almost became a power ballad. The disc also hinted at our next sonic phase, both on the "Distorchestra" freakout and dry-run takes of budding monsters like"Dead Man" and "Sweet Oblivion."

Everything sounded really good, and it was so much fun that I thought I could get away with leaving chatter on several songs to help convey the shows' buoyancy. I have no idea if it worked, but it's still hilarious to hear Live and Unprofessional open with Bryn declaring "we're called Honey White and we're gonna be playing 'til we get shut down!" (spoiler: we got shut down). Both he and I mouth off all over the album—about degenerating into a jam band, navigating I.V.'s vomit-filled streets, impressing girls in tight pants—but the casual hubris only goes over the top when we respond to the inevitable "you guys ROCK" from the crowd with "YES, I know" from Bryn and "it's pretty easy, actually" from me. We relaxed a bit on Epic Noise, keeping it to band introductions, cover credits, or buttering up Brian and Billy.

I revisit these recordings a lot, because they're fun listens, they contain tons of material, and they're great documents of our creative growth and performance skills. At the time I thought that justified releasing both in quick succession, because our studio E.P. My Band Rocks only showed a fraction of what we could do, making the live albums more than simple stopgaps. However, as amateur warts-and-all compilations (topped off by goofy Photoshop-filter cover art), they definitely carried the vibe of "minor release." They didn't come close to the quality of our studio recordings, and the exhaustive effort of self-producing these live albums after eighteen months of nonstop activity was one of many reasons we took a sudden hiatus in mid-2003, just as Epic Noise was released. True forward momentum would have to wait almost another year.

Play these albums:

Marring Posterity Forever

“I just can’t picture you doing that.”

I was watching a bad swing-revival band play an outdoor gig at Chico State in late April 1996 when the girl next to me told me this. We were in the middle of one of those “this relationship isn’t going to work and this is why” talks, and for some reason I’d mentioned that I’d wanted to play bass guitar in a band, and that I’d wanted this for a few years now. I’d actually bought a bass the month before, after being dumped by a different girl for a guy who I’d eventually end up in a band with.

This was on top of getting thrown out of my dad’s house the previous Christmas, so I had sort of been through the wringer in the last few months, and apparently the only thing that would fix my problems was Loud Rock Music. Naturally, when informed that this wasn’t a sensible thing to do, or that it was unlike me somehow, and by someone who thought they knew better than I did, I immediately chose to become absolutely bent out of shape enough to become exactly the opposite of what everyone expected.

Well…that didn’t happen either- at least not in that exact way. What did happen involved me spending the next decade of my life making much more music, noise, art, and fun than I had any right to expect from something that was originally a blatantly selfish act of revenge. Well, as much revenge as a white suburban Californian male has any right to invoke on the world at large. Sure, there was some rejection, apathy, and outright hostility from people in and out of the music industry who I hoped would care about the bands I was part of, but not too much, and only some of it was justified by my absolute ignorance of The Way Things Are. Once I figured out that the only important part of the puzzle was simply playing, writing, creating, and making it all exist outside of our own heads, actually getting on with it was much easier. That figuring out part took long enough, though.

So why write about it? Why bother? The historian in me says it’s because ten years have passed since that fateful day when Bryn called me to say that he and Adam had written “the best blues song ever!” with Kevin. The realist says I’m doing this because no one else will care enough to do it. They’re both right. The four bands I’ve played in (actually two, but the first had three lineups) kept me sane as far as balancing the other stupid inanities of life, like work, school, and busted relationships, though I think I might have driven them all insane at one point or another over time.

So thanks to Bryn, Adam, Brian, Bill, Joe, Kevin, and Brandon for letting me be in their bands and putting up with my maniacal managerial failures and steadily less rudimentary bass playing. Hopefully all of this shit will continue to mar posterity forever with our unapologetically unprofessional, noisy fun. Thanks also to our friends and fans (and musicians and engineers) who supported all this by coming to shows, buying CDs, offering advice, and generally showing impressive reserves of patience. It was not wasted.

September 06, 2006

Twelve-Bar Ruse

The Mojo Wire built our debut album Battery Acid Blues with two of rock's primary colors: blues and surf.

First albums are special. First albums by first bands are exponentially much more so. People can be a bit weird about their first band—I definitely have been and will be again—and I think first recordings are one of the big reasons why. There’s nothing quite like the first the first rush of converting creative impulses into good, bad, and ugly originality; nothing like getting it out of your head and on tape to make it real.

Another great reason is that there’s no one correct way to do this. Anyone who says so is lying. Some bands stick their toes in the water first,  working their way up to competence and maybe greatness on later records. Some others jump in head-first, splashing talent (or lack thereof) all over everything. Some debuts come out of nowhere with surprising freshness, and some crawl out of the distant artistic past via long-ignored or discarded stylistic roots (and routes). Some are labors of love, some are by-blows made to avoid boredom, some come from improvised chaos, and some are complete accidents.

All of the above is true for the first album I was ever a part of: my first band The Mojo Wire’s debut Battery Acid Blues. By the time we created it, Bryn, Adam and I had more than a year of writing and playing together (with or without drummers), and plenty to throw in that stew called “your life up to this point” so often poured into debut albums. We had no agenda other than having fun, being creatively expressive, and cracking each other up. All the other usual, motivations applied too—friendship, discovery, revenge, guilt, and impressing girls—but when we arrived in Isla Vista we’d nailed down the basic twelve-bar/three-chord classic rock & pop template. We’d been recording since starting the band in May 1996, but the actual “album sessions” didn’t start until October 1997, only a week or so after we’d recruited drummer Brandon Klopp for a few jam sessions and keg party gigs.

We created a unique sound on tape almost in spite of ourselves. Bryn, Adam and I were almost completely ignorant of established recording methods, but thankfully Brandon saved us with actual technical knowledge. We took a few shortcuts, like using an electric drum kit to make live tracking easier, which made the final product a strange but original mix of old-school low-fi and cheap-tech sounds. Songs that started as basic blues and surf numbers now resembled wall-of-sound mono recordings from the early ’60s.

Like every Mojo Wire recording, the songs themselves were simultaneously awesome and awful—maybe even more so on this first album—but I still really love many of them, especially the simpler blues tunes. Bryn’s galloping. Bryn’s galloping “12:15 Blues” grew from an embryonic three-verses-and-solo take into a bonkers showcase for the whole group. Each of us took a twelve-bar solo before the song ran out—to “introduce” the band on the album’s first track. The strongest, and best song on the album came next: “Long Black Leather Boots”  a collaborative blooze belter that crushed everything in its path with not two, but four dueling Bryn and Adam guitar solos.

That initial spasm of recording also included “FM Blues,” my slapstick whine about radio dominance topped off with baseball-stadium keyboard from Bryn, a cover of “Nobody Knows You when You’re Down and Out,” and “Your Mama’s a Ho,” the oldest and most notorious song in our short repertoire—dumb and crude and not nearly as funny as we thought. Two more quick-and-dirty twelve-bars rounded out this batch: the lazy groove “Can’t Keep Warm” and Bryn’s Stevie Ray Vaughn instrumental pastiche “The Witching Hour.”

Every other song with actual structure and arrangement took longer to finish, but all of them were good blueprints of how to do it better in the future. Brandon’s drumming transformed the instrumental “Whitecap” into an unstoppable force of nature. Adam’s ballad  “Stay With Me” gave the album a mellow break in the middle, but not for long. “Wishing Well Blues” jolted the sequence back to high gear with more surf-rock and some bizarre “Pinky and the Brain” backing vocals that defied intelligence and taste, but balanced my lyrics’ ham-fisted ambition.  We tracked two more that worked at gigs but didn’t make the final cut: another surf track called “El Nido Thunder” and a noodly jam called “Sammy’s Spitcan” that got another life four years later as “Fatal Flaws.”

The album title came from my semi-fictional, gonzo-lite music columns for UCSB’s student-run Daily Nexus newspaper. Most of the lyrics—intentionally and not—became goofy parodies of every clichéd theme in classic blues-rock. This was entirely down to Adam’s vocal delivery; anybody would be hard-pressed to sing “Leather Boots,” “Wishing Well,” or especially “Your Mama’s a Ho” with a straight face, but Adam totally sold it. The lasting result was a streak of bent, sub-Yankovic humor on all our following albums. Battery Acid Blues ending up feeling like a weird dilution of some 1966 party record, made by four people who weren’t there and didn’t know anything about it.

I can’t emphasize how little all of this mattered to the late ’90s Isla Vista/UCSB scene, which mostly ignored us. Everyone and their dog was in a band, everyone threw backyard keggers, and everyone who thought they really cared about music went to downtown Santa Barbara clubs to see “real” bands. The Battery Acid CD-R languished on the (now defunct) I.V. Morninglory Music shelf, and locals paid more attention to a dying ska revival, lifeless jam bands, and rotating brat-punk and metal monoliths. Playing styles at least a generation older than our peers guaranteed a hopeless disconnection with our immediate surroundings, but ultimately that didn’t matter. The album’s songs came alive at every show, and we pulled a small but steady crowd of hard-core friends and fans each time.

Like all great stretches of pure fun, it didn’t last. By the time we finished the album, we’d already dove deep into weirder sonic territory. It eventually resulted in a dead end, but going sideways from straight blues and surf staples to self-indulgent cheap psychedelia on the next record was just as much fun at the time. However, twelve-bar structures and traces of crunchy blooze-rock popped up on all our later albums, and many of the Battery Acid songs stayed in our live set until we fell apart in 2001. Some musical reflexes just aren’t forgotten, especially if they’re all-important formative ones.

Play this album:

August 15, 2006

Some Reassembly Required

With only a few original compositions to their name at the beginning, Honey White fleshed out their live sets in 2002 and 2003 with anything that fit. This included a few of Bryn’s solo instrumentals, some covers, and eight Mojo Wire songs, all re-worked to suit Honey White’s economy, speed and power. Some songs became more complete, a few still needed work, but each tune gained strength from the trial-by-fire exposure in myriad Honey White shows.

How Far Away: This swift surf-rocker had already gone through one upgrade in the Mojo Wire, when that band took the original folk-pop version from the Seaside Hamlet Skids album and beefed it up with Adam and Joe’s double-gain guitar attack and some more refined lyrics (and vocals) from Keir. “How Far Away” was the uptempo closer for the last series of Mojo shows in 2001, but when Honey White got ahold of it, they streamlined the tune into a leaner, more economical meld of the two Mojo versions. The song retained, even gained, speed under Billy’s propulsive drumming, and cruised along well anywhere it was placed into Honey White’s live sets. Later, it even developed into a fleet-footed preamble to Bryn’s stomping, epic “My Second Shipwreck” instrumental, which led into the homestretch of many a Honey White gig. Definitive Take: 9/27/02 in Isla Vista.

The Shivering Sand: Keir’s sleek bass line ensured that this song would keep its basic, surf-noir form no matter what, but “Shivering Sand” went through the same double rebirth as every Seaside song played by the Mojo Wire and Honey White. It gained a furious tom-tom intro from Billy and a full-stop break after the bridge, and was further punctuated by an immediate, screaming, dive-bomb guitar solo from Bryn. An old classic was made new again, and it survived in the set until early 2004. “Shivering Sand” hasn’t been heard live since then, but Honey White has been preparing a reggae version for a third rebirth. Definitive Take: 4/30/03 at the Wildcat.

I Fly Free: Bryn’s standout Seaside track didn’t fare well in the pulverizing Mojo Wire lineup of 2001, but Honey White’s more empathetic sonic approach suited it much better, even if that band admitted they still hadn’t nailed it perfectly. “I Fly Free” finally got something close to the performances it deserved in the Honey White live sets of 2002-3, first as a subtler variation on the speedy, stripped-down surf rock of the other Mojo songs, and then, using Brian’s heavily reverbed tones, as a gradual upper when segued from the mellower “Sandman.” Definitive Take: Closest is 1/30/03 at UCSB.

So Cold: Drastic changes happened to this Seaside song once Honey White got ahold of it. Originally a slow 6/8 waltz of Bryn’s, “So Cold” underwent a process of fusion with a furiously rampaging rocker called “Bleak” (also written by Bryn) which hadn’t made the cut for the final Mojo disc in 2001. Honey White cemented this fusion/rewrite in fall ‘02, and “So Cold” easily became the most blatantly, unabashedly loud fast rock song in their set. Live, it was the song most likely to clear a club, but during outdoor gigs (such as Del Playa) its intensity seemed entirely appropriate, especially when Bryn let fly a hyper-paced blues solo that reeled through an already speedy song. Definitive Take: 4/30/03 at the Wildcat.

Pisces Lullabye: This somnambulant ballad debuted Keir as a vocalist on Seaside, but failed badly when attempted by the Mojo Wire live, and Honey White didn’t try it until late 2002. By that time Keir had overhauled the lyric completely, reconstructing the entire melody to suit a tighter Honey White arrangement that Billy was able to coax out of the band in rehearsal. “Pisces” gained a chorus, sort of, a slinky slide riff from Bryn, and a dissonant ending on an unresolved F-sharp chord. Definitive Take: 4/22/03 on Musical Café TV.

Heart On A Platter: A major-key pop tune from You’re On Your Own, the final Mojo Wire disc, this song became even poppier for Honey White. After mastering it quickly, they used it as either the opener or second song in almost every show of 2002-03, playing it so fast that nearly sixty seconds was shaved from its original Mojo running time of three and a half minutes. Keir’s lead vocals got quickly shoved aside by Bryn’s jubilant, soaring solo, and before you could adjust to its arrival the song had finished. Of every Mojo Wire song appropriated by Honey White, this one made probably the most successful transition. Definitive Take: 1/30/03 at UCSB.

One Last Hallelujah: The Mojo Wire played “Hallelujah” like a demented twin of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse: loud, pounding, and out of control. Honey White didn’t exactly tame this beast, but they did allow it a nice big space to roam around in. “Hallelujah” sprang to life when they released it live, bouncing along as all the other old Mojo songs, swinging furiously beneath Keir’s shouting vocals before Brian’s and then Bryn’s solos took it off on divergent trails of sonic safari. Post-2003, “Hallelujah” was revised to an ambient, moodier arrangement that better complimented the How Far is the Fall material, but that version has only seen a few performances. Definitive Take: 11/16/02 on Del Playa.

Fatal Flaws: The second Mojo monster tackled by Honey White, “Fatal Flaws” was condensed from a six-minute freeform jam down to an armed-and-dangerous four-minute, twelve-bar based blast of wah-wah riffage that kept the energy level high at every HW appearance until 2004. More shouting, self-absorbed dementia from Keir was again ably countered by Bryn’s and Brian’s dueling axes and Billy’s sharp snare. As many songs do, it got faster and shorter at every show, but that progress was slowed by Keir throwing in snippets of other bands’ lyrics into the break, like BRMC’s “Spread Your Love,” U2’s “The Fly,” and (on several occasions) Wilco’s “Outta Mind, Outta Sight.” Definitive Take: 11/16/02 on Del Playa in Isla Vista.

Windward Mark: Bryn’s snarling emulation of Dick Dale kicked off his solo My Second Shipwreck album of instrumental demos, but it was never integrated into any Mojo Wire sets (which, over the years, had seen covers of “Wipeout,” “Miserlou,” and “Pipeline,” among other surf classics). Honey White gave “Windward Mark” a proper airing, placing it early and prominently in their live sets from day one (even once as an opener), and it quickly became one of the high-energy peaks of any Honey White performance. Definitive Take: 12/05/02 at Giovanni’s in Isla Vista.

My Second Shipwreck: Written and arranged by Bryn in a matter of hours for his solo disc, “Shipwreck” became Honey White’s own humongous live workhorse in their first year of shows, stretching out a surfy, epic instrumental waltz over six minutes of falling and rising intensity. What sounded like a jam was actually a controlled, fully-formed piece of music that often created a long coda when segued from “How Far Away,” but was just as much if not more powerful when unattached. That segue, though, often brought the right amount of energy when leading into the aforementioned home stretch of the show-stopping “Lightning Rod” and the cover of “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over.” Definitive Take: 10/31/02 in Goleta.

Lover, You Should’ve Come Over: When not closing a set with their cover of the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger,” Honey White often employed this Jeff Buckley composition to stately effect at the end of their shows. Bryn, a huge Buckley fan, already had this song at his command before teaching it to the rest of the band, who tied together a somewhat simplified and condensed version in rehearsal. Singer-songwriter Johanna Reed, a friend of the band, sealed the deal by insisting Honey White learn the song for their shows. They did this rapidly, and the cover made its Honey White live debut at their second-ever show in Isla Vista. Definitive Take: 10/31/02 in Goleta.

Play the definitive takes!

July 18, 2006

...and Yet I Still Don't Feel Like a Grown-Up

So Emily and I threw a big party a week or so ago that many of you attended, and we appreciate that very much. It was a blast. We ate, we drank, we arranged the legality of certain loose ends, and my new dear cousins-in-law played dress-up with my Jetta.

Em and I then promptly ditched everyone and took a much-needed vacation to Oahu, which we just got back from today. I'm jetlagged and comatose, but I did manage to assist in perusal of the plethora of photos that captured said partying event, and this is one of them. Many many more will be up soon at a web location to be announced asap. Those of you who were there, revel in the nostalgia. Those of you who weren't, well, now you can pretend you were.

UPDATE: A little later than I thought, but here's the website with all of them:

So there you have it- everyone can now be subjected to my Hawaiian vacation slides. Not to mention hot shots of Em in her wedding dress.

You're welcome.

May 08, 2006

Protracted Sagas of Paralysis

An unashamedly self-centered analysis of Honey White-era song lyrics.

The Lightning Rod (December 2001): This lyric is the one that mercilessly gave me the most hell and was the hardest to finish. The actual music was composed in December 1997, and ended up on the second Mojo Wire album as "Under The Sun," but that lyric did not age well at all. We refused to give up the tune, cause it's good, but finding the right combination of lyrical point of view and attitude to go with such a huge, sweeping piece of music, and not come off as a pretentious wankers was a tough thing to do. Basically, how do you write a clear, direct lyric to such an epic monster? It's a tough contradiction, and thematically it's probably still the most pretentious thing I've done, meshing several narratives into a complete whole (and I know that sounds like something Sting would say, but it can't be helped) that amounts to the last of the abandonment songs. The narrative is I vs. You yet again, and it's mostly a conflation of 1) getting kicked out of my dad's house at Christmas when I was 19, 2) every breakup I've ever had to go through, and 3) (warning- this is where things get pretentious)- concerning the expulsion of a certain angel from heaven after he decided to do his own thing. Seriously.

It was going to be my last lame biblical allusion; I was taking a Milton class at the time and we'd just started 'Paradise Lost', so that makes it a little more significant. The first verse just runs from there. "Tonight the town's electric" is something I actually said at the time. There were some evenings around 6pm in Isla Vista with that weird spark in the air, where you just knew it was going to destroy itself utterly that night and then become semi-reborn the next morning, like some retarded phoenix. I could feel it in the air, all that potential energy and tension and anticipation building up to a ridiculous degree. "I used to want to be the main attraction" refers to me and that devil again, but for very different reasons. The devil of course wanted to be the bright star of heaven, the main attraction. I, of course, wanted to be Elvis Costello (the frontman of the Attractions). The line in the second chorus about giving up my heart to anyone on the spot stems from a weird resigned desperation of someone in "fuck it" mode. I actually never made it there that night and I think this is why after all this and the 3rd verse, the resolution, was so difficult to finish. It happened, though ("tomorrow ain't a threat to my behavior"), and it's the end of something, and not much more.

Unprofessional (January 2002): Another gripe about the band being amateurs, only what I tried to do here is to ask, "well, why is being a rookie such an awful thing?" Why do you need to be recognized and respected by a group of random elitists in order to get anywhere in the world? I decided to make noise about how I don't think it's all that bad to be unprofessional, at least in the music business, and not for all the old dumb reasons about selling out. We don't need to be famous to do what we like doing, so why get all worked up? Well, because I hate elitism and exclusionism in many of its forms. I hate how people seem to expect you to play the game according to their rules and if you don't, you are deemed to "not have what it takes" to succeed in your efforts and you should pack it up and go home. Of course it's a lie, but people stick to it like gospel, and it actually doesn't bother me too much, except to the degree of dedicating 3 minutes of my time to address that with this song. "We know better, we know best, and we'll endure nevertheless."

Mercy Rule (September 2002): This song is probably the whiniest result of my journey into the world of the 40-hours-a-week working crowd. I stole the first line from the title of a book I'd been reading on the ins and outs of being a professional freelance writer. I think my main point of view here was just trying to get across that stereotypically stifling feeling I had from wasting 8 hours of every beautiful day inside an office cube. The other thing about this lyric is that I was glad it got finished, and I'm relieved I don't resemble the narrator or that attitude too much anymore. I had to get it out of my system just so I wouldn't think along those lines, cause it's just so lazy, selfish, and weak-minded. Still, it's a side of myself that I found relatively interesting to explore, even if it did make the women in my life think that I was a negatively bent and depressed guy.

Sweet Oblivion (February 2003): Took a while to finish, but that became my default modus operandi in those days and unfortunately it remains that way. I pulled this one out of the ether as I was just beginning another long 18 month stretch of irresponsible unemployment- the kind that people usually indulge in when they need to "find themselves." The only thing I found was that this guitar part Brian wrote sounded a lot like something drifting endlessly in a sea of doldrums. That's how I felt, though- at the time, no one wanted to give me a job, and nobody "important" wanted to book my band. The lyric has to do with that theme, frustrated aimlessness, which was a relatively soul-sucking experience for someone spoiled by circumstances such as myself. Like "Mercy Rule," I had to get that crap out of my system too, and hopefully I don't resemble that narrator much anymore- at least superficially anyway.

Famous Last Words (February 2004): All these "ending" lyrics obviously have to reach a conclusion at some point, and so I tried to do that with this one, since I was tired of writing things that were self-obsessed and pissy. I mean, I was 27 at the time, and I was still churning out this hypersensitive diary stuff, so I had to kill that impulse off sooner rather than later. Conveniently, this was also at the time when all my friends and I were planning to get out of Isla Vista after overexposure to that place and everything that went with it. Especially me- I was too old and too out of it to survive among raging demons a decade younger. Someone pointed out that it sounded like a suicide song, which was disappointing, but then again there are only 2 chords and it's seven-plus minutes long on the album, so I can sort of see the inducement there.

Island Fever (August 2004): The coda to all the abandonment and ending songs- but done detached and clinical as through the prism of not having to deal with those particular problems anymore. The symptoms are described from knowing experience but also from relief and gratitude that it need not ever happen again, like writing about being lost on a desert island once you're back at home. The big steps here, though, were brevity (four syllables per line in the three verses), and distance (no first person hypersensitive narrative). While the maturity level is still developmentally sluggish considering the age of who wrote it, it's at least one removed from the destructively narcissistic stuff so recently obsessed over in other songs. In other words, I grew up a little, and was happy to do that, and didn't want to go back. I only thought I became cool.

Blacking Out (September 2004): Brian's take on the music for this one was that it resembled an acid frenzy, but I don't know what that feels like, so I went with a binge and hangover type theme, and blew it up to national-geopolitical proportions while still trying to hide it within the clinical view of Isla Vista. After 9/11, America's long national hangover of psychotically raging behavior reached epic heights of fear and loathing, so I thought it appropriate to give the narrative over to the collective "we" once again, but with a few caveats: no one knows what's going on, and everyone's unreasonably scared shitless. This totally irrational abandonment of logic and common sense struck me as absolutely medieval, so "blacking out," the phrase, also refers to the oncoming fits of Dark Age ignorance that threaten to envelop everybody. It's only got worse since then.

Hold Still (September 2005): If "Blacking Out" was nebulously political in a compulsive-addiction way, then this one is the same, only as a throwback to more stalker-ish lyrics like "You're On Your Own." This is the first lyric I've written that is unambiguously evil- it revels in the use of brute, coercive assault in order to illustrate the deliberate emotional fascism inherent in the point of view taken up by so many ideological, warmongering Republicans. They know what's right, and you don't, so just shut the fuck up and take it. Since it's been finished for a while, I've also thought of it as a plea to get someone to do something for their own good that they refuse to do, but the last verse still obliterates that option. It's a nasty piece of role-playing, and I'm still not sure that it's any good, but there you have it.

May 04, 2006

Instant Gratification

Honey White kick-starts their career with ease on the multifaceted My Band Rocks E.P.

Demo discs are strange animals. They're tangled up with unwritten rules about recording skill, song sequence, palatable hooks, smart (but not too smart) lyrics, professional composition, and a million other subjective attributes. Demos without those things will allegedly never, ever get noticed by anyone whose opinion matters. And yet the least boring, most unique demos often sport amateur production value, tentative or unfocused aesthetics, and limited musical proficiency.

E.P. discs are weird too; a relic of the vinyl era, they're often the first release by emerging indie groups. Not a single, not an album, but maybe more of a bargain than either, an E.P. needn't be encumbered by concepts or themes inevitably attached to full albums. An E.P. is free to be the incomplete opening salvo in a band's never-ending war to make people care. Honey White's first release, My Band Rocks  is both a demo and E.P., with all the benefits and drawbacks of both formats. However it also displayed more range and promise than we had any right to expect after only four months playing together, and that was down to all four band members.

When Bryn and I took a second plunge by forming another band after the Mojo Wire imploded, we gambled and scored big with bandmates. Our longtime friend Brian Wolff joined as second guitarist, we recruited jazz-trained, Colorado-seasoned punker Billy Fedderson on drums, and in no time we started jamming at Earl Arnold's Table Salt rehearsal space. We clicked immediately on both musical and personal levels, fusing our differing aesthetic tastes and playing styles into a deft, subtle expression of power. Thanks to our tiny Mojo Wire-era network of friends & fans, gig offers appeared within days, and Honey White played our first show only a month into the band's existence.

We got really good really fast, but recording was a tougher nut to crack. I tried taping rehearsals, but soon got in over my head trying to improve on the low-fi Mojo Wire albums, so I enrolled in a studio course with local engineer Mark Anthony. I didn't finish the course—turned out engineering wasn't for me—but Mark offered to record our demo, and so we soon did just that at his home studio. It was the first time Bryn, Brian and I had ever recorded with a professional engineer, but thankfully he let us track most of the songs live, and we didn’t do many overdubs of anything we couldn’t replicate live. The result was minimalist in execution but also showed stylistic range, a big difference from the final Mojo Wire lineup that excelled at no-frills garage rock newly en vogue thanks to the Strokes and White Stripes.

The ruthlessly economic approach imposed by me and Bryn may or may not have been fashionable, but it was also absolutely necessary. We'd refined and strengthened the various Mojo songs in our set, going from competent to speedy, and that spilled over into how we played anything. Studio time was expensive, and we lacked the money for extensive exploring, so with few exceptions, we abandoned extraneous effects and complicated arrangements. If we did include something strange, like my echo-bass on "The Lighting Rod," it became more agile than epic. Bryn and Brian mostly kept their guitar tones clean, and other than some subtle compression, Billy’s drums went down on tape clean too.

Another crucial decision was recording only new songs. It was important to establish Honey White’s identity on record, and since our sets were full of Mojo Wire songs, we thought any new recording should contain new songs. "New" in this case meant tunes not properly attempted or completed by the Mojo Wire; every song here except "Wayfaring Stranger" had been floated to the Mojos in some form, and either stalled or never started. For example, ”Unprofessional" would have fit comfortably on the final Mojo Wire album, but Honey White sped it up to a two-minute burst of gritty garage-rock on stage, galvanizing the rare tanking gig back to life. "Unprofessional" was a gutsy, forceful way to kick off our debut, and it basically became our theme song from then on.

And then there’s “The Lightning Rod,” an absolute beast and the short disc’s centerpiece. It wasn’t completely new, but Honey White transformed it from its original incarnation as the Mojo Wire’s plodding “Under the Sun” into a live showstopper and fan favorite. It's a huge song, propelled by my echo-bass riffs and a precise yet frenzied drumming performance by Billy. The guitarists took a back seat as additional rhythm elements, but Bryn held his own on vocals. The lyric was a bloody four-year tooth pull, but became a crucial accomplishment for me and is still probably my best. It’s a preposterously multilayered rejection/revenge narrative that amplified the posturing denial of latter-day Mojo lyrics into delusional confidence

Bryn's songwriting voice finally got some space too, first with sensitivity on "The Sandman," then with power on "You Let Me Fall," and finally with pathos on his arrangement of "Wayfaring Stranger." A somber, jazzy ode to Morphine's late frontman, "The Sandman" was completed at least two years previously but never became a Mojo Wire song. Likewise, "You Let Me Fall" was a bit older but didn't see release until this E.P. either. "You Let Me Fall" had a biting lyric vilifying manipulative love, backed by Billy's bravura drumming and a snarling lead riff from Brian. "Wayfaring Stranger" makes a fitting coda, ending the disc (and many a live show) with a haunting slice of history poured through a supple Honey White filter.

At first, starting with a demo/E.P. felt incomplete and under-defined, but My Band Rocks got us immediate results on release, opening doors around town and earning us a surprising amount of positive recognition in the local music press. We hit several gig milestones that the Mojo Wire never came close to, like on-campus shows at UCSB, local TV appearances and club gigs in downtown Santa Barbara. That was all great, and we loved it, but the E.P. was still rough enough to make us even more determined to do a proper recording session. When that finally happened two years later, we finally accomplished what the songwriting and interplay on this debut had always promised: a good album we could proudly show off to everyone.

Play this album:

May 02, 2006

Americans Are (Still) Geographical Morons

So sez here. Now, every once in a while it has occurred to me that despite my ridiculous retention of geography trivia (which, if I recall correctly, I was never required to be taught or tested on in school), I am still not gleefully paid voluminous sums of money for the sake of knowing it. I think it's a matter of absolute immaturity that I still sorta resent this.

I don't mean money in a Jeopardy sense either- getting that's all about timing. I mean being genuinely rewarded for taking the time to learn and remember all this crap simply cause I found it interesting. Now, that may or may not show proof of other sorts of brain damage, but when I see that many, many 18-24 year old red-blooded prime fighting age American kids can't find Iraq on a map, even after we've been killing people there for a few years, I can't help but get a little impatient with the stupidity of it all.

Worse, a sizeable chunk of Americans can't find Louisiana on a map even when you spot them the word "Katrina". That's appalling. That's not like silly me knowing the capital of Kreplakistan or how to draw Libya or whatever, that's knowing where a big fuckoff hurricane destroyed a major American city not even one year ago.

Granted, the last time I was seriously tested on this stuff, at the '89 Geography Bee in Sacramento, I bombed. I got my ass handed to me after the first round- after the first question, even. So even with all my map mojo I still ain't the best. Ten to one there's a 12-year-old out there right now who could eat me for breakfast and then go on Letterman and laugh about it. But still, I know my shit.

Schools should be required to teach geography, not shamed into it by National Geographic. Of course, they should teach art and music full time too, but do they? Hell, even science and history are electives where Em teaches. That's even more appalling.

I guess I should say that it's getting harder and harder to not heap total scorn on the willful ignorance of so many people, but then again I don't think it'll come to that. If people aren't going to take the time to learn about the world around them, it's their problem. After all, I've only actually been to seven U.S. states and Baja California, so I shouldn't be too mean.


April 23, 2006

Feeling Gravity's Pull

How Far is the Fall, aka "Welcome to the rest of your life. Do not pass Go and do not quit your day job."

Some people are fearless in the face of the unknown. Some people long to test themselves against the most sublime experiences life throws at them. Some people need to push every boundary, voraciously explore every avenue, and risk danger in order to feel alive. Honey White's full-length debut album How Far is the Fall is not about those people. Instead it revolves around the feeling of standing at life's cliffs and taking a long, hard, appraising look at every possible detail before making choices about anything.

That wasn't a pleasant revelation when it first occurred to me, well after the album was completed and released—but listening to it with a year's removal from the writing and recording process threw everything into stark relief. Paralyzed indecision and self-conscious over-analysis pervade almost every lyric of each song, and everything is blown up to newly epic proportions by a hazy, spacious void of sonic effects and instrumental textures. It's not the soundtrack to the rest of your life. It's the background noise for the time right before you have any idea what the rest of your life will bring.

The creative process that spawned this album didn't begin auspiciously, but it turned out to be just what we needed. During Honey White's first whirlwind year together, we'd navigated the Santa Barbara scene on the bare-bones strength of our debut E.P. and semi-chaotic live shows. Throw jobs and other obligations into that, and everything became a lot to handle, even for four guys in their mid-twenties, so by mid-2003 we agreed to put the brakes on Honey White. Bryn took off for a three-month European tour, Brian finished school and left for San Francisco (with a brief detour to Tokyo), and Bill joined up with punk band Futureman to play and record in Austin. While everyone else recharged and sought inspiration, I found myself in a familiar place: stewing in Isla Vista, bashing my head against the wall of an anemic local job market and Santa Barbara's perpetually indifferent music scene.

The hiatus wasn't permanent, though, and when when we finally did reconvene in early 2004, we knew it had to be for good reasons. Making music had to be fun for everyone, with no preconceived agendas (especially from me) and no single correct way to play. What that meant was an organically-grown Honey White sound; it developed without forcing anything, but profoundly redefined each player's role into what it probably always should have been. Once that happened, we began exploring a new pool of material that was challenging and exciting to create together. Billy and I truly became the rhythm section in ways we hadn't before, creating a solid base for Bryn and Brian to drench with their galaxy of new guitar tones. I stopped singing except for backing harmonies, which freed Bryn up to explore his full vocal range and style.

Bryn brought home three songs from his trip, "Let Go," "Keep Moving," and "Bottlerocket," which we rehearsed and quickly mutated into porously monolithic slabs of echo, tremolo, and reverb. We also worked the new sonic colors into other recent loud, downtempo songs like "Sweet Oblivion" and "Famous Last Words," and even touched up live staples "Mercy Rule" and "Polarity" with a few shiny tricks. It was so much fun that we actually lightened up, thanks to Brian's obtusely crazy instrumental "Sean Goes to Africa"—which to me, drew a straight line back to the bent humor Bryn and I knew from our previous band The Mojo Wire.

Those laughs were rare enough among the new lyrics, though. Everything Bryn and I wrote oozed frustrated impatience, false bravado, mild boredom, and an absolute lack of solutions to all of the above. "Mercy Rule" covered a bouncy, semi-syncopated groove with my morose attrition of confusion: "too smart to waste the effort/too stupid to appeal/to any one too superficially unreal." "Sweet Oblivion" seized on a drifting, wavy rhythm guitar only to shrug, mumble "if only you could see me now," and passively float out to sea. "Keep Moving" tried to "keep busy, keep moving, go on" as if mere forward movement was the only course. "Let Go" imagined a love affair at the precipice of dissolution, wondering not about the fatal impact but instead "how far is the fall?"

Without the lush instrumental backing (or Bryn's sensitive vocals), the words—and songs—would be hopelessly insufferable. Some lyrics accepted holding patterns at face value; "Island Fever" admitted there's "no surprise on this horizon" and "Famous Last Words" lamented "familiar wreckage in the aftermath of fucking up again." Distractions curdled into alcoholic cynicism on "Bottlerocket" and bewildered hangovers in "Blacking Out." Lyrical malaise even seemed to infect Brian's instrumental "Polarity," which ambled perilously between quiet and loud. The one exception, "Sean Goes to Africa"—inspired by a friend of ours who escaped to the wider world and made good—is the only relief, flipping a giant middle finger to the rest of the album.

The best thing about mentally purging all this crap was getting it out of my system, and I suspect that was true for Bryn too. We solidified the songs further with a few local gigs, which went well enough for us to pull the trigger and properly record everything. We chose Nate Perry's Take Root Studio in San Francisco, enlisting engineer Jonathan Mayer, a total pro who proved masterful and empathetic for the duration. The sessions encompassed day-long (and state-long) drives, gallons of caffeine, baseball on the radio, and an entire Simpsons VHS library. Our first trip alone was massively productive; we warmed up with Neil Young's "Dead Man" theme, then powered through three takes each of our originals and spat out two formless jams. With Jon at the helm refining, arranging, and employing Take Root's full arsenal of noisemaking flotsam, the album steadily came together with overdubs, mixing, and mastering over two weekends per month in fall 2004 and winter 2005.

By the time we began gigging regularly again, we'd comfortably become the model Bill proposed a year prior: Bryn's vocals took precedence over his solos, Brian's effects took over the lead guitar work, and I stuck to backing vocals, keeping in lockstep with Bill's drumming. At shows, we ditched most of the covers and all the Mojo Wire songs in favor of the longer, epic tunes from How Far is the Fall, which was finally released in April 2005. It was a bargain at about $8,000, our friends and fans loved it, we got great press, and we finally felt accomplished as musicians and songwriters. Where My Band Rocks flexed and posed, How Far is the Fall threw punches with precision. Where My Band Rocks defined range without filling it, How Far is the Fall exploited and redefined that range. Life's background noise can seem like a crushing deadweight, but it can also be a push in the right direction, or even a catalyst for explosive inspiration. It was for me; making this album was the best creative experience of my life.

Play this album:

April 21, 2006

Things Fall Apart

Every band has a document of their dissolution. For the Mojo Wire, that document is You're On Your Own.

When rock bands destroy themselves on record, it's usually a group effort. The Beatles bickered like babies on Let it Be, the Eagles slouched into the sunset on The Long Run, and the Police drove each other crazy making Synchronicity. Some musical self-immolations, however, get sparked by one band member's driven, monomaniacal fixation on Finishing The Project At Any Cost. Elvis Costello did it to the Attractions on Blood And Chocolate, and David Lowery did it to Camper Van Beethoven on Key Lime Pie. On a much smaller and justifiably ignored scale, I did it to The Mojo Wire during the making of You're On Your Own, a slab of vintage indie-rock that would prove to be our final album.

In hindsight it was totally predictable, but I didn't realize it during the summer of 2000, when we began recording again after a long layoff. The full band hadn't been playing much because of jobs and school, but Bryn and I briefly filled the gap with two extremely low-profile releases: the first experimental Low Tide E.P. in July 1999, and Bryn's all-instrumental solo disc in April 2000. You're On Your Own began as a real effort at a new album, but soon devolved into an open-ended, directionless morass that veered from new songs to live material to remakes of old tunes. Real-world interference slowed progress, but band member interest faded in and out too, and what we finally released in June 2001 was more like an outtakes compilation than a bonafide new album.

The new Mojo music was strong, though. Our final lineup's chaotic amalgamation of blunt force translated well to tape, and with real effort might have yielded our best release. Everyone was writing: Adam and Bryn continued the acoustic surf-noir of Seaside Hamlet Skids, churning out songs like "Happy Birthday," "Breathe," "Blue Lantern Cove" (all by Adam), "The Sandman," and "You Let Me Fall" (both by Bryn). Adam tossed off another surf instrumental that I combined with my own latest narcissistic-messianic lyrics to make "Water Into Wine." I finessed some obsessive-compulsive lyrics over one of Joe's blistering, guitar-dominated tunes to make the "You're On Your Own" title track. As for my own stuff, I added "One Last Hallelujah," "Heart On A Platter," "Fatal Flaws" and "The Peak Of My Career" to the new pool of material. The songs were there, but properly recording them all never seemed to be in the cards.

I scrambled to try anyway—first on tape, then digitally—since we had great songs arriving thick and fast, but I foolishly tried to hustle gigs at the same time. I pressured myself to finish something, anything—even as I ineptly tried gate-crashing a passively exclusive local Santa Barbara scene that couldn't care less about us. The three other guys shared an apartment in I.V., but nobody seemed to be in the same place at the same time very often and I never bothered asking for help. We ended up putting on our own shows, which usually meant buying two kegs and destroying the backyard of 6710 Sabado Tarde with a party. Most of these shows were recorded too—a Mojo Wire first—and those tapes went into the pile with everything else.

Songs trickled out eventually, mostly in demo form. The first sessions I did with Joe and Bryn saw release as a single/demo for "Heart on a Platter" backed with "Water Into Wine" and "One Last Hallelujah." The takes were crude but powerful; I mostly shouted over Bryn's drum bashing and Joe's dominating guitar, but the prevailing raw power didn't bode well for the subtler songs from Bryn and Adam. The frontman dropped in for some vocals on "Shivering Sand" and "Water Into Wine," but his heavy school and work schedule, plus the intense recording habits Bryn and I had assumed often kept Adam out of the loop. We even played two shows as a power trio without him, capturing live takes of "You're On Your Own" and "Fatal Flaws" complete with tuneless yelling from yours truly.

Bryn and I were also keen to improve on the shambolic amateurism of Seaside, so we tried making another demo of old songs, starting new takes of "Run From Me," "Pisces Lullabye," "I Fly Free," "How Far Away," and "The Shivering Sand," but only completed the latter two. More band apathy also kind of scuttled Bryn's attempts to finish "The Sandman" and "You Let Me Fall" (though they rightly later graced the first Honey White release). The same went double for all of Adam's songs, with two exceptions: the gorgeous solo instrumental "Blue Lantern Cove" and the token goofy novelty "Stuck On Chapter Nine."

Joe and I didn't get everything we wanted either; a semi-acoustic "You're On Your Own" went nowhere, as did an echo-bass driven "Peak of My Career." Any initial excitement we all felt for each others' tunes soon dissipated. The downhill rush was halted for two great gigs in April 2001 and another, higher-profile show in June (to date, the Mojos' last), but otherwise nothing was working and it was obvious. I hated that nobody seemed to put in as much effort as I did, Adam hated when we scoffed at his heartfelt lyrics, Bryn hated being unable to push his own songs from behind the drum kit, and sometimes it seemed like Joe hated to even be seen onstage with the rest of us. The operative word was almost always "seemed," but young men are terrible communicators, and at the time I was probably the worst of us all.

I was desperate to promote in spite of everything, so I compiled nine songs into You're On Your Own  scribbled out an album cover, pressed a handful of CD-R copies, and shoved them at anyone who got within arms-length at our final show. We played a six-song set as part of a huge bill, got offstage, and stopped doing anything Mojo-related for the rest of the summer and most of fall 2001. Bryn briefly went back to Orange County for work. Adam put his nose to the grindstone too. Joe left for two months in New York. I tried to keep momentum going in any direction anyway—this time by taking recording lessons and booking practice space in Santa Barbara's Funk Zone. Once again, though, not much happened apart from four or five rehearsals in October and November—and the whole band showed up for only two of those. The Mojo Wire immediately lapsed into a hiatus that became permanent when Bryn and I formed Honey White in early 2002.

When I listen to it now, the final Mojo album certainly sounds like chaotic implosion, but there are bright spots. Almost all of the eleven songs (two more were added to post-2003 pressings) ooze a wildly lurching swagger, topped with lyrics that sneer with revenge. Like all musical epitaphs, though, the hardest lesson learned was how good this thing could have been if we (or maybe just I) found a way to ignore every selfish hang-up and simply cooperated. It's a lot to ask four smart, talented, twenty-something people to do, and this time, it was too much to ask.

Play this album:

March 27, 2006

Another Fab Four

The new and improved African AIDS Awareness Campaign team in Windhoek, Namibia. Left to right: Tuuli Saarela, Nathaniel Calhoun, Sean Blaschke (sporting the Honey White shirt), and new guy (cause there always has to be a new guy) Michael Breece. All their travel blogs make for vivid reading, Nate's especially.

They are a little over halfway through their trans-continental African odyssey, and have recently had some whiplash-inducing culture shock: going from war-torn Angola to suburbia-infested (?!?) Namibia. Along the way they've endured almost anything us floppy and useless Westerners can imagine, and then some more stuff we'd rather not think of. Go see the site- give it a good thorough perusal, and if you can, stuff their wallets some. They can't eat rats and rabbits all the time, and that Stingray needs constant help.

I just hope they're not sick of the Honey White tape yet. I mean, I can't listen to that album all the time, and I play on the damn thing.

March 21, 2006

Neville Freaks Out!!

See, even "professionals" like me can indulge in cheesy Photoshop crap every once in a while. I even uncovered the reason why Neville became popular in wizard college during the Decadent Summer of 1999. Oh sure, the books say that there's no wizard college, but I say as soon as this kid becomes popular, there will be a massive demand for, erm, higher magical institutions and methods of learning.

As you can see from the true-to-life image, magic is clearly a gateway behavior to other, nastier things. Plus there's the added bonus of double the lame puns what with Lord of the Rings thrown in. Boooo!

March 13, 2006

Add It Up

So I belatedly found out today that the company I work for won lots of awards from the local American Advertising Federation branch. We turned it lots of work from 2005, much of it websites I made myself, and we got a healthy chunk of bronze & silver "Addy" awards for our efforts. We also got one gold Addy, awarded for the work done on the BBM&D homepage that I built based on Amelia's brand design (which itself uses some photos by Mia) when we re-branded the company after moving from Pierpont to Midtown in Ventura.

Yep, I won a gold first prize best of everyone else bow down to my staggering genius award. I warned everyone at work that I may become insufferably pigheaded for a few days, but my boss says that's ok because winning a first place advertising award after only working for about 2 years in the industry is a big deal. It's funny, though, that the award was for a self-promotion piece. Sure, I'm happy with the site, it's one of the few that I've made that I actually like (and lots of that had to do with everyone elses' contributions), and it was a vast improvement over the older version of the site (which, ugly as it was, still dated from about 1995 or so- an impressive lineage I guess), but it's interesting that we were rewarded the most for our own self-promotion, as oppose to work we actually did for paying clients!

Anyway, I bashed this thing out in about a month at the beginning of this year, and it's cool to have it recognized by people who think it's worthy of whatever kind of praise they choose to give. Since I'm still sort of a newbie in the design world I probably won't get too excited about it, but it was nice to be able to make a site without the constraints of budget or clients clamoring for completion NOW.

Guess I've arrived. Must be all downhill from here. Wrote a song about that once, actually...

February 23, 2006

Our Secret Weapon

Little did Owen realize what feats of genius he would encourage in Bill, Drummer of Awesome Power.

February 05, 2006

No Lifeguard On Duty

Washed up and dried out, the Mojo Wire goes acoustic and flirts with minimalism, which doesn't flirt back.

"Trouble in Paradise" is one of the oldest and most superficial clichés in the history of popular songwriting. Exposing the nasty, poisonous underbelly of some idyllic Shangri-La is thematic gold, and every songwriter gets seduced by its charms sooner or later. Even Randy Newman couldn't resist it. As a rebellious impulse, though, it wears out pretty quick. Righteous anger and smug superiority don't have much of a half-life, even if they go down easier with plenty of sweetness slathered on top. For better and worse, that was how the Mojo Wire tackled our third album, crossing escapist disillusionment with loosely-focused surf noir to create Seaside Hamlet Skids.

Bryn, Adam and I were in rebuild/regroup mode during spring and summer 1998, chilling out after the previous year's frantic activity. Our unfinished second disc stuck out like a sore thumb, and was already aging poorly, so we steadily collected new tunes while spending a few months apart. Bryn and Adam refined several Isla Vista-created songs on multiple Baja California treks, jamming around crowded campfires in the middle of nowhere. Their tunes "Key West Tapwater," "I Fly Free," "Baja Blues," "So Cold," "The Ratlands," and "Run Back To Me" told tales of hapless characters seemingly marooned by good fortune and screwed by circumstances.  Back in I.V., I hunkered down at the Bedrock to wallow in my own self-absorption after a roller-coaster of personal relationship crises. I churned out questionably sane screeds like "How Far Away," "Sunset Down," and (in a marathon six-hour fit of inspiration) "The Shivering Sand," but dressed them up with bouncy music and pretended that solved my problems.

We had plenty of new material, but lacked a drummer after Brandon Klopp departed for Arizona, so we decamped to O.C. in September '98 for a session with our old pal Kevin Nerison behind the kit. He helped power us through initial versions of the new songs, and even nailed a frenzied, tossed-off cover of "Wipeout" that proved strong enough to earn its place on the finished album. When we returned to the Bedrock in I.V., however, we struggled to polish off the raw tracks using our rudimentary, self-taught recording skills. School, work, and Isla Vista's usual social hazards pushed the project into 1999, and by then we'd added two more tunes to the running order: my new ballad "Pisces Lullabye" and a jittery instrumental featuring thin layers of keg-party noise called "Rocked By The Magnum."

The songs hung together comfortably as a whole, but each of us used our lyrics to pull the album's story back and forth between several different moods. Adam indulged in some sun-fried malaise by shamelessly blending Jimmy Buffet with his own pop sensibilities and considerable gift for melody, resulting in arguably his best Mojo Wire song: "Key West Tapwater." Earning its album-opening slot with a potent pill of casual, indifferent escapism, "Key West Tapwater" condensed the album's themes into two minutes of snappy verse-chorus-bridge glory. The song's narrator claims "a life on the coast is a life without cares" but admits that "I don't know what I'm doing here" before covering that with "but I know I can't go wrong." It's bravado on paper, and similar sentiments pervade his other tunes like "Baja Blues" and "Run Back to Me," but Adam sang them like hollow real-estate taglines, tourism-office slogans, and Johnny Cash selling greeting card copy, and he totally nailed each one.

Bryn stepped up his game for this album too. He wrote "I Fly Free," his best song on the album, while stuck in L.A. traffic. A shimmering slice of surf-folk, it dragged a dashed relationship over the coals, with several nods to Paradise Lost for good measure. Another Bryn tune, "So Cold," began life at the end of our sessions for Rocket Fuel (inaugurating his tradition of starting new strong songs after the record's done). After that, Bryn sang "The Ratlands" himself, delivering a CB-radio-sounding jolt of cynicism from south of the border. Finally, he commandeered the drum kit for most of the I.V. sessions, bashing out blunt backbeats for seven Seaside songs.

My material gave a (very) slight nod to the Bob Dylan albums I'd re-absorbed during summer '98. "How Far Away" and "Sunset Down" showed up soon after two awkward back-to-back breakups, feeling more like the holding-pattern Dylan of Another Side than the classic Blood on the Tracks. "How Far Away" compensated a little with a propulsive, bright tune, and some light acoustic guitar from Adam did the same for "Sunset Down." Conversely, "The Shivering Sand" is an unapologetic lust jingle, driven by a slippery bass riff, a spiraling bridge, and some ice-cold surf guitar. Penultimate track "Pisces Lullabye" is a sincere but turgid mourning song, atmospheric as a Cure B-side and almost as humorless. Bryn played a great slide riff, but that couldn't save this version of the song from clumsy lyricism and my weak vocal debut.

The song sequence itself might be the most perfect of any Mojo Wire (or Honey White!) album, but it also highlights the record's emotional isolation. Things start snappily enough with "Key West Tapwater," "How Far Away," and "I Fly Free," then take a brief detour into the jittery grooves of "Rocked By The Magnum," before going back uptempo for "Baja Blues" and settling Side One calmly with "Run Back to Me." Side Two blasts off with the Kevin-powered "Wipeout" and jumpy surf-funk of "The Ratlands," then plunges into the minor-key deep end with "The Shivering Sand," "So Cold" and "Pisces Lullabye" before coming up for air on "Sunset Down." The overall mood feels tidal, ebbing and flowing up to the final rip current that disproves the final line  "nothing so wrong will happen today." The album's escapism gets fried, drenched, and tossed in a Rosarito jail cell before cynically curdling into some seriously poisonous denial.

We ultimately showed a subtlety on Seaside that we hadn't before, but that didn't survive the transition to actual live shows. The Mojo Wire's lineup shifted again in fall 1998, when we recruited guitarist Joe Zulli to beef up our sound. He did that in spades with excellent lefty Telecaster power chords, and we were all stoked to turn up the volume and match him. That worked great for our handful of gigs, but when the new Seaside songs got louder and faster they lost almost all traces of the softer/acoustic recorded versions, relegating the album itself to a mere precursor. And maybe it was a precursor after all, despite the perfect sequence and unique position in the Mojo discography. Seaside hinted at deeper meaning without actually delivering any, alluded to historical importance without actually learning anything from it, and permanently imprisoned itself in a state of mind that only thrives on the slow creep of crippling nostalgia.

Play this album (with 4 bonus tracks!):

February 04, 2006

Useless HW Trivia Survey!

Enveloped in yet another round of hopeless, soul-sucking vanity, I ask the HW legions to, as the Scoop sites say, "take the poll". Truth optional.

1. What's your favorite Honey White song and why?
1a. (for the old schoolers) Favorite Mojo Wire song?

2. How many Honey White shows have you been to?

3. Do you know who Sean is, and why he went to Africa?
(Note: Again, reasons listed need not actually be The Truth)

4. Can you identify at least two covers we have played, either live or on CD, and who originally wrote them?

5. During our Isla Vista days, how many times had Honey White been shut down by the Foot Patrol?

6. How many times have I worn the very same clothes to multiple gigs?

7. Should we get fuck-off money endorsement deals from Fender for so prominently showing off their fine four- and six-stringed products?
7a. Should we then pose in poorly-designed ads in trade magazines and pretend we really matter?

8. Adam and Sean famously fought a brutally short boxing match before a Mojo Wire show in 2000. Which Honey Whiters would be most likely to do this and why? Who would win?

9. How many ways can us four guys in HW be divided into 2-on-2 basketball teams?

10. What band(s) would you most like to see us team up with for a live show?

11. Which Honey White song was remixed by a kickass DJ?

12. The floor is open. Ask and answer as many more Honey White-related questions as you want.

January 29, 2006

Don't Mix Your Drinks

The Mojo Wire prematurely stumbles into sophomore slump on our sprawling, schizophrenic second album.

Stop me if  you’ve heard this one before: a confident, well-oiled machine of a rock band has a banner year. They’re full of new wild ideas and dying to show the world what they learned. They record anything and everything, using words like “progress” or “growth” in earnest, lovable, and hopelessly deluded ways. And then they cough up a formless gob of tunes that makes everyone wonder what the big deal was about them in the first place. That’s not exactly what happened to The Mojo Wire in 1998, but it comes closest to describing how we made our second album, which we inexplicably named Rocket Fuel Malt Liquor.

Released hard on the heels of its predecessor, Rocket Fuel gave off a distinct whiff of undercooked tunes dipped in myriad gooey sonic effects. When I listen to it now, the thing can’t seem to decide what it wants to be—rock or prog? Blues or psychedelia? Stripped-down, disciplined writing, or free-form freakout? Any real explanation feels like over-analysis, but since a few of these songs were actually good, and many of the rest have gone on to bigger and better things, it’s worth another look and listen to see how things really ended up this way.

The disc’s weird split personality is more like two mini-albums mashed together than one coherent whole. Some of that’s from overenthusiastic experimentation, but the disc’s overall feel is much closer to our collective contemporary mindset in late 1997, when we’d charged into the deep end of Isla Vista’s nubile cesspool. Our old 12-bar tunes sprouted weird sounds via new and bizarre effects pedals, multiple (and often backwards) tape loops, and extensive overdubs. Indulgent experimentation came easy, but the music we loved back then made a huge impact too—especially Radiohead’s recently released OK Computer. That album wasn’t a direct influence, but its galaxy of sonics inspired us to find out what we could do with what we had.

Rocket Fuel‘s first side started off conventionally enough; the uptempo, surfy blues swung along to the same groove that electrified Battery Acid Blues, but every song on that album had more than a year to develop before recording and release. Most of the first seven Rocket Fuel songs—the title track, “Margarita,” “Jackson Hammer’s Theme,” “Trash and Trouble,” and “Evil Train”—were written either at the same time or shortly after the Battery Acid songs. The tunes for “Run From Me” and “Blackout Baby” dated from even before that, enduring more tinkering over time, but finished at the Bedrock in demo form by the end of the year.

It got weirder (and arguably worse) from there as Bryn, Adam and I explored the full range of our new toys. Sometimes the effects worked well almost in spite of themselves, like Adam’s cello swaying its way through “Kid Icarus” and my echo-bass guitar powering “Under The Sun.” In most cases, though, things just got messier. Almost every song has some sort of treatment on the vocals, guitars, bass, or keyboard. Adam’s voice didn’t need thick layers of reverbed chorus on “Run From Me” or “Margarita”, and didn’t need Wolfman-Jack-gain on “Trash And Trouble.” To this day I have no idea why we didn’t realize all those effects were overkill.

Finishing the album in a presentable form was tough. Our sometime-drummer Brandon Klopp was less and less able to help out (most of his electric kit tracks came from two long Bedrock jam sessions), so we had to wrap it up in fits and starts.”Blackout Baby” got dubbed over the drum tracks for the Battery Acid song “Stay With Me,” and “Drown the Heart” has no percussion at all. The more scattered things got, the more I wanted to organize it into something presentable, and while Adam and Bryn were agreeable, my impulse to complete it fast probably doomed the whole thing, especially when it came to what I thought was my strength: words.

Lyrics weren’t a problem on Side One; except for “Run From Me,’ those songs pretended at nothing more than they were. However, Side Two got bogged down in clunky metaphors posturing as Major Statements of Profound Importance. Strong tunes that could have (and, years later, did) become meaningful merely posed as Significant without truly saying anything; “Kid Icarus,” “Under The Sun,” “Blackout Baby,” and “Wound Down” buckled under my sub-par, self-absorbed, and sloppily incomplete lyrics. Even the album’s central theme was juvenile: it traced the arc of a hangover, starting out strong and crazy only to end up pathetically crashing and burning in a haze of foggy excess. That wasn’t an original observation in a town full of partying, spoiled rich kids, but it was the only glue connecting all twelve songs.

A few tunes slouched toward completion in concert. “Run From Me” got grittier and louder live in 2001, and “Margarita” was a live Mojo hit to the end. “The Worst Way” became a nondescript workhorse, and “Kid Icarus” or “Wound Down” were good breaks between the heavier numbers during our 1999 shows. The two worst lyrics took the longest to mature, doing so for another band: “Under the Sun” endured a glacial, four-year rebirth as “The Lightning Rod” for Honey White, and “Blackout Baby” experienced something similar before resurfacing as “Blacking Out” two years after that. Neither showed much trace of their original gene pool.

Rocket Fuel seemed stale and embarrassing almost immediately. We couldn’t use it to get gigs, and with no drummer, we had no idea if the Mojo Wire was done for good. Personally, I thought the only reason to keep going after that was to simply supersede this thing with better songs. That happened in theory if not practice—no Mojo Wire disc is listenable all the way through—but even among Mojo albums, Rocket Fuel Malt Liquor was definitely the problem child, and before long we all knew it.

Play this album:

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