Monday, March 9, 2009
Tweak was Bryan J. Lanahan (guitar, vocals and songwriter), Noah Gray (bass, vocals), Bob Hoffman (drums). Following are the members' unique perspectives on the songs, group, and experience.
BJL: The Tweak idea began in mid-August 1992 when Bob Hoffman and Bryan Lanahan met outside Grace Hall at a freshman orientation event. Bob had just finished a summer of playing the suburban Philadelphia scene with Darkhorse, while Bryan had just completed his western NY tour with Honeytree (formerly Willy and the Poor Boys). The group was completed when the two teamed up with Noah Gray in the fall of 1994, who himself had played bass for 2 years in a nasty punk band called Duck around the greater Pittsburgh area.
BH: If by "suburban Philadelphia scene" you mean graduation parties and Maddie’s in Malvern, then okay... Three mod-quadders, our first rehearsal was in the penthouse/attic of Grace Hall.
NG: With drums being the instrument I could actually play without reservation, I was a bit nervous to join these fine musicians as the bass player. But Bryan was patient enough with me, ironed out most of the wrinkles in my technique and essentially made me into the subpar guitarist that I became. With the album being the pinnacle of my bass-playing talent, one can only imagine how low I started coming out of high school.
BJL: Tweak's sound can be best described as theory based cerebral rock and roll with driving rhythmic grooves. The goal was to take the campus sound in a new direction and intersperse jazz chords and unconventional time signatures with a driving rhythm and groovy tracks.
NG: With a hint of the hard stuff, Bryan's innovative and classical guitar-influenced riffs and Bob's anti-Ringo style of drumming, we surprisingly captured a small, but satisfying following.
BJL: The album was recorded in two different locations: "Hiding" and "An American in Paris" were taped in the basement of the girls who lived on Bulla Rd. The acoustics were particularly suited to the live Tweak sound, the band having set up multiple microphones strategically placed about the basement to capture how they would sound to people crowded at a house party. These tunes most accurately capture how Tweak sounded live. The remaining tracks (with exception of "Ardent Palaver") were recorded in the basement of 717 S. St. Louis Blvd.
BJL: The first Tweak song. The time alternates between 6/4 and 7/4. The fade-in brings this song from the primordial ooze of the minds of the guys, only to explode with Bob's driving drums, Noah's punctual bass line, and Bryan's sliding chords. The transition section is led by Bob’s drums, which unintentionally turned into a well structured drum solo. Bryan throws some major 13th chords over the top of Noah's steady anchor.
NG: I think this is a perfect opening song for the album because listeners immediately realize that the band’s sound is not going one to which they can tap their foot or relegate to the background while washing the dishes. Bryan's songs were designed to be listened to, demanding attention and effort.
Track notes: The vocal track was recorded by singing into a floor tom with a microphone on the other side. This gives a hollow effect without special effects.
"She Said, She Said"
BJL: Beatles cover from Revolver. The track intro catches Bob's question "how are you going to overlay the beginning?", alluding to the fact that the guys didn’t know how they were going to properly time George Harrison's intro lick. A great cover tribute to the Beatles from a great time period (1966) as they were transitioning from old school (Hard Days Night, Help) to the new sound (St Pepper's, Mystery Tour).
BH: Noah and Bryan sang some really nice harmonies on this song. I was very impressed.
NG: The joy derived from playing this song ultimately opened Pandora's Box when Tweak was faced with playing a shockingly long gig – The Architecture Ball in the basement of the Knights of Columbus building. Tweak rarely performed for more than an hour or so... ever. So when it became known that we had to perform multiple sets at this gig, we needed to increase our repertoire fast. The solution? Learn the White Album. Thus, Tweak continued its tribute to The Beatles by becoming The Roaches one evening in that basement, playing most of Disc 1 and some of Disc 2. All songs were learned in marathon practice sessions 36-48 hours prior to the big night.
BH: A comment on our cover tunes: Conscious of the consequences of being relegated as "a covers band" in the "South Bend Power 90s" culture, we put a lot of thought, and debate, into our cover song choices. I think it showed. They also reflected the range of tastes within the band.
Track notes: Originally recorded in the proper key, Tweak modulated the final track a half step downward to unnaturally slow down the song and accentuate the drug trip intention of the Beatles' version; the effect is most notable on the words "dead" and "sad." The "she" in the song is actually a tripping Peter Fonda, with whom a tripping Lennon was arguing when Fonda was reassuring a bad-tripping George Harrison that he knew what it was like to have an acid trip go bad or make you feel "dead." Note the vocals are just that much slowed by the artificial modulation, as if under the influence of a mind altering substance.
"An American in Paris"
BJL: Written in early fall 1995, inspired by Bryan's trip to Europe in summer 1995, the hottest summer in Europe on record at the time. The "silent beauty" he sings about is the Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre. The song describes his anger toward the crowds hoarding the masterpiece, flashing pictures, damaging her and others like her with each click and flash despite the no photography policy. The second verse describes his fantasy of walking through the museum "with a squirt gun filled with turpentine", putting the paintings out of their misery and suffering caused by the greedy, disrespectful crowds. Never mind what you see here.
Track notes: For Bryan, this song more than the others has stood the test of time. The groove lay down by Bob and Noah really grabs a hold of you, and Bryan "paints" an efficient amount of complex chords over the top. The minor 9ths accentuate the anger within the lyrics.
BJL: At 100 seconds long, "Grey Man" is the most efficient Tweak song. Noah's bass carries the tune as Bryan sprays some major 13th and 9th chords over the top. The lyrics sing about a young man losing his sense of childhood right and wrong (black and white), slipping into what feels like a world of grey in which he can't grasp or feel what are proper beliefs in a now complex world. The song’s narrator recognizes what this young man is feeling and offers words of recognition and encouragement.
NG: If I remember correctly, this was one of the few times in the "studio" we had problems getting useable material in the first or second attempt. But despite the challenges and mishaps here, in retrospect I must say that Tweak was an amazingly efficient recording trio. And with only the use of 4 tracks. I can't remember, did Bob think he was thinking too much before or AFTER having a few Boddingtons at Bryan's house??
BH: Maybe I was just trying to figure out why Bryan spelled gray with an "e."
Track notes: Despite its brevity, the "Grey Man" track was extremely difficult to time and lay down, as evidenced by Bob's frustration in the outtakes.
"The Unspoken Understood"
BJL: "The Unspoken Understood" is an expressive prayer of a young man who feels he is falling out of the grace of God by his own choices, as he explores the new temptations of the world with vivacious licentiousness which results in spiritual instability. This song contains the simplest chords and form of any Tweak song, purposefully lending itself to be played as a power rock and roll song live. Note Bob's explosive fill-ins in which it sounds like he grew extra arms. This song was covered at one time by emiLy, an unexpected tribute.
NG: All I remember is how much fun I always had playing this one. Of course, having said what I did in the description of "The Hiding," one can certainly see how this track was an indulgence. Bryan let loose with some of the best screams and shouts in the recording that have never quite been duplicated since.
BH: Bryan screamed like a rock god on this one.
Track notes: The mumblings in the beginning of the track were purposely recorded at a level such that only the very interested and/or attentive could make out their meaning. The first stanza goes "So I stared down at Time, the crumpled, bleeding infinity at my feet. Time looked up and begged for my mercy; I smiled." The second stanza will remain un-interpreted in these notes. In the "unstable man, waiting for" section, the chords are structured in a very unstable manner with the bass and guitar reversing traditional roles, the bass playing the major and minor thirds with the guitar on the root and fifth. Stacking the chords this way attempts to create a musical instability that goes along with the "unstable man" lyric.
BJL: One of the first songs played by Tweak, "Brave Captain" by fIREHOSE was a perfect cover by nature of the power trio format. Noah does a great job mimicking Mike Watt's playing style.
BH: When this song came together pretty quickly early on, I knew we really had something special in terms of musical chemistry. This was really fun to play live.
NG: Are there any cover songs that would have been a better fit for Tweak? What we have with "Brave Captain" is an anchoring bass line, providing most of the melody, while the guitar does its separate thing with the minimalistic chords to make the song interesting. All accompanied by tempo changes and intricate drumming...
Track notes: In the early days, this song tended to lead off live performance, eventually giving way to "The Hiding."
"Patterns on the Wall"
BJL: Affectionately referred to as "Brubeck" by the band, this tune starts side two's journey beyond power rock and roll into the realm of cerebral grooves. The song alternates between 5/4, 6/4 reminiscent of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." The vocal track is sung in 10/4 time, synching up with the instrument track every two measures. The lyrics describe the mental journey one may take at a South Bend house party for someone having overindulged in something.
BH: I vaguely remember when Bryan started teaching Noah and me this song, thinking, this is some really cool stuff – it couldn't be more different than the other bands on campus at the time.
NG: Coming from a jazz background in high school, I had already played "Take Five" as a drummer in my earlier life. It was gratifying to transition that 5/4 feeling over to the sound of Tweak.
Track notes: Although easy to record in the studio, this song was extremely difficult to simultaneously sing and play, as the vocals and guitar were sung/played in competing time signatures. Live vocal versions of this song are very rare, coming out regularly only toward the end of spring 1996 just prior to the band's break-up. This song also contains what Bryan feels is the coolest musical section of the album. Found just after the "keep it there" lyric, Noah's bass line leaps up and down on major arpeggios underneath an efficient collection of guitar chords, accented by the drums' well timed crash cymbals. Also notable is the laughing guitar just after the "see me laugh" lyric.
BJL: The riff for "Xanthippe" was written in the third floor flat of 34 Leinster Gardens in London. Although a significant stand alone guitar lick, the guitar played in conjunction with the bass line embodies what could embody what would have been defined as the "Tweak Sound" – syncopated guitar and bass who's independent licks together outline the chords of the song competing over a foundation of "taken-to-the-next-level," unexpected driving drum beats – if the band had continued its musical development after 1996. This sound is most evident in "The Hiding," "Xanthippe" and "Red(2)." All have similar structure: a theme introduced in the beginning (Exposition); a first transition section (T1) helps the song switch into the Development section in which the music is taken into a randomly improvised direction during a live performance. Following a second transition section (T2), the band recapitulates the original theme in the Conclusion. Xanthippe's T2 transition back into the Conclusion is marked by a section in which the guitar and bass play only diminished chords and arpeggios for an extended 24 measures.
BH: Our voyage into psychedelia, with only Guinness stout to thank. Noah and I called this one "Kita the Dog," mostly because we both thought "Xanthippe" was an Olivia Newton-John movie from 1980.
NG: Bryan kept me on my toes with this bass line. This and the end of "Red(2)" (forthcoming) almost drove me to use a pick, but I finally got enough calluses to push on through.
Track notes: The back-track recorded over the song's Development section begins with a Bob, Noah and Bryan conversation describing disobedience unique to Notre Dame students, and ends with a backwards recording of an Ethan Haimo (Professor of music theory and composition, Notre Dame) composition performed by Jeanine Wynton (violin) and Miriam Eckelhoefer (cello) of ND's chamber orchestra.
BJL: Performed live only twice, "Red(1)" is a beautiful ballad of a day's progression. Each of three verses describes one section of a day: morning, noon, night. The "red" theme comes from viewing these parts of the day through rose colored glasses.
Track notes: "Red(1)" is structured around major seventh chords that wander upward and downward throughout each verse. This track also contains some very complex overlay harmonies that add an aural depth to the sound. An unexpected mistake by Bryan between verses 2 and 3 ended up adding a nice twist to the song.
BJL: The first of the "Tweak Sound" songs, "Red(2)" was the tune with which the band closed all of its performances. Performance length ranged from the recorded 4:45 to the marathon 15:00+ at the band's final performance at the Sheistszimmer.
BH: To me, the quintessential Tweak song. The ending is a musical tornado.
NG: Playing this song live also produced some of my most horrifying Tweak memories. The climactic ending was designed to exude power and elicit emotion, but only with each part precisely in the proper place. I can remember a couple shows where the chronically fucked up Crate bass amplifier had problems and cut out at the most inopportune times. As one can imagine, without the deep undertones, the overlaying sound storm was left nakedly exposed, forcing us to end the show with me kicking the amp.
Track notes: It is difficult to capture the essence of "Xanthippe" and "Red(2)" on a track, as the songs are meant to be performed in a live setting.
BJL: "Ardent Palaver" was originally composed for the Sphere Quartet in spring 1994. This version capitalized on the talent of Jeanine and Miriam and captured a tighter (yet not as raw) version on the after-thought portion of the Tweak tape. Sphere Quartet's version of AP was performed at Clarissa Dalloway's by Andy Druckenbrod (cello), Rick Alvarez (double bass), Bryan, and Bob. Unfortunately, the group made it only 1/8 of the way through before the feedback from the cello forced them to abandon the song for the sake of the crowd's hearing. "Ardent Palaver" was never performed live by Tweak.
NG: This is one track that blew me away when I heard the final product. In places, the dissonance was haunting, ultimately leading to a merciful resolution, like a massive rescue from a haunting nightmare.
Track notes: "Ardent Palaver" was recorded in a practice room of Crowley Hall.
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