December 25, 2011

30 Songs #22 - FM Blues: People Can Be Weird About Their First Band

The Clap at the Aliso Ice Palace, December 1996: Kevin, Keir, Adam, and Bryn. After almost 15 years, we re-formed in 2010 as Radblaster.

Way back in the last century (circa May/June 1996), my first band was called The Clap. We became the Mojo Wire a bit later. I bought my first bass guitar a few months earlier, and my brother and two of his friends asked me to be their bass player when I got home from UCSB (I was a freshman and they were all still in high school). We played dumb, dirty blues songs, recorded in an amateurish way, with simple goals: to crack each other up and make lots of noise. We also played some killer surf instrumentals (both covers and originals), also mostly twelve-bars—and so our sound developed a weirdly unique, raggedly retro sound. It wasn't anything to get excited about, but we did exactly that—and had a lot of fun, which is really what it's all about, of course.

Most of our initial originals were either Adam's or Bryn's songs—"12:15 Blues," "Your Mama's a Ho," "Long Black Leather Boots," stuff like that—and though I wrote a few riffs and otherwise helped out where I could, I didn't write lyrics at first. Well, I did…but I never considered them "finished" enough to present to the band. My original attempts at writing lyrics were basically juvenilia, which is kind of weird, because at 19 I was the oldest of us, and had already been away at school for a year—I should have purged all the silly teenage emotional silliness years before that, right? I don't think I kept any of it, which is just as well, because if I recall correctly it was pretty awful.

Since direct, honest lyrics didn't come so easily, I went at it sideways—with goofy parodies and tired clichés—and just didn't worry about making "serious art." I wasn't ever gonna be as spontaneously funny as Bryn and Adam, but my stuff seemed to work pretty well, considering what we were playing: retro-fifties and sixties music that wouldn't get us too many fans in the age of grunge, G-funk, punky metal, noodly jam bands, and a silly ska revival. So the first several sets of lyrics I ever wrote weren't exactly noteworthy, but of that original batch, we ended up using two—which happen to be this week's (and next week's) "30 Songs" posts. I don't have a lot to say about these, but that's kinda handy since they fall on holiday weekends and I'll either be too busy or too lazy to get verbose. Anyway, the first one is called "FM Blues," and it goes like this:

Chock-full of cheesy, vaguely-bluesy clichés—including my Enchantment-Under-The-Sea-Dance bassline and what our roommate Ryan Hart dubbed "the Wrigley Field baseball organ." It is what it is, I guess—a late-1997 recording for the first Mojo Wire demo album. By that point the song (like all the others on that album) was about a year old. "FM Blues" showed up near the end of our wave of tunes, and that was soon enough to get it recorded at our third-ever rehearsal in September 1996, at Kevin's house. Adam recorded it, using a Radio Shack microphone. We used these itty bitty 15-watt amps, and positioned our one microphone in between them and the drum kit. Bryn's keyboard was loud enough to come in relatively clear, but we were lucky to get any vocal signal at all:

mp3: "FM Blues" (rehearsal demo, 9/96)

Ah, glorious mono. Clearly, we had not yet discovered (and would not, for a few years actually) the "stereo panning" concept. We tried to update that demo (along with several others) about 8 months later, using Bryn's keyboard and its pre-programmed drum machine:

mp3: "FM Blues" (drum machine demo, 9/97)

Still in mono, still half-assedly goofy (and less funny than it's supposed to be)—especially when you figure in the lyrics:

"FM Blues"

Well, my life's become a bore

They don't play my song on the radio no more
Yeah my life's become a chore
They don't play my song on the radio no more
I thought times were tough, but now I know for sure

Don't play it on no station, don't see it on MTV
Please mister D.J., have mercy on me

I said what you're doing is a crime
if you don't spin my record one more time
I can't play it on the jukebox
cause you know I ain't got a dime

Well my baby, she done left me

and my best friend he just died
but the day that my good music stopped
was the day I broke down and cried
You just gotta help me, help me get back all my pride 

Please man, just play my song again
cause you ain't got nothin' to lose
Please man, just play my song again
cause you ain't got nothin' to lose
If it's the last thing that you do my friend
you gotta cure me of my FM blues

Harmless, silly stuff, sure—which is basically what "the blues" had become in America by 1996. Now that I think about it, I can pick it apart a little. Take that bit where the narrator is so self-obsessed with getting airplay that he counts a failure to do that as even sadder than getting dumped or even the death of a friend. It's Rob Gordon from High Fidelity to the nth degree: more concerned with his relationship with music than with actual life and real people, and…nah, I'm just kidding—that interpretation is full of shit. I'm just larding the post a little—because it's Christmas, and nothing says Christmas like lard, right?

Well, lard and gratuitous YouTube links—which is what you get now, courtesy of the stuff we were listening to at the time we first starting making music: the foul year of 1996. Speaking only for me personally, I admit I was totally out of touch with anything "cool" at the time, which was probably why I hated the radio enough to write the dumbed-dumbed-dumbed-dumbed down version of "Radio Radio" or "Radio Song."

But whatever—it was goofy blues that was fun to play (which we did, actually, at several of our alleged "gigs" back then: weddings, holiday parties, sparsely-attended backyard keggers, etc.). Have some videos, everyone. Merry Christmas:

BB King:



Stray Cats:


Song stats:
Music by Keir DuBois and the Clap (1996)/Keir DuBois and the Mojo Wire (1997).
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, September 1996.
Appears on the following albums:
Battery Acid Blues by the Mojo Wire

1 comment:

  1. Happy New Year! I can't wait for that self published pulp fiction.


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