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 clich├ęd 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:

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