Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Butterfly Effect - Those Lights We Call Stars

This album stretches the boundaries of the Power 90s slightly, since it was recorded in March 2000 and actually came out a few months later. Ron masterminded the recording once again, and we enlisted the help of a number of friends to run the board while we made our joyful noise downstairs. The cover art was done by Chris Stackowicz, who raided the bookshelves of his roommate at the time, who was a physics major, in order to come up with the equations that model the birth and death of a star. The band photo was taken by John Huston the morning after the show we played with The Transoms in Champaign, IL. Ian Lynam printed the covers and tray cards. The title of the album comes from the poem "Tomorrow" by Raymond Carver.

A bit of track-by-track analysis:

1 - Do They Still Call It Rock and Roll?
Doug: I played this song on guitar for my housemate at the time, who was a physical therapist, and he said I was going to get repetitive stress injury in my wrists judging by the way I played.

2 - The New Gods of the Underground
Doug: The first of the songs rerecorded from Now Everybody.

3 - The Idiots Dance
Doug: The second of three songs rerecorded from Now Everybody. This version features Ron on vocals for the verses. The surprise is that our voices sound remarkably similar.

Ron: I remember that The Idiot's dance was about...well...the idiot's dance, that being moshing. I found it ironic (or maybe in retrospect I apply more smarts to my younger self) that the "grunge revolution" which led to people moshing for anything and everything, is partly to blame (at least in Joe Cannon's opinion way back when) for the rising interest in indy music that hit Notre Dame campus back in the 90s. Chisel was able to feed off of that zeitgeist, and a few young'uns looking for a place in ND college life found a community and a rather empowering voice.

4, 8, 11 - "..."
Doug: Tracks 4, 8, and 11 are instrumental bits culled from jam sessions during the recording. They were unlisted on the actual CD. I've always used "..." as a title for them, which is what David Foster Wallace used in his novel Infinite Jest to indicate a pause in conversation.

Vinny: I think its interesting that jam tracks are referenced to a "pause in conversation". To me, the jam tracks, which were improvised, represent the only true form of musical conversation. Performing and recording pre-written songs are more like recitations of beautiful poetry. Improv is conversation.

Doug: I tend to view improv as where you are working out your ideas that you want to refine into a finished form (for varying values of finished) before you present them to an audience. A pause in conversation is where you are thinking about what you want to say next and working out ideas (via an internal monologue) to refine them into words (in the external dialogue). I would say that improv is more of a conversation between the members of the band (an internal dialogue), whereas a performance is (or should be) part of a conversation between the band and listeners (an external dialogue).

Vinny: Improv is indeed a conversation between the members of the band. It can also be used within the framework of a finished product (Umphrey's and Ali Baba's did this well, I thought). I like the idea of the performance as a conversation between the band and listeners. There seem to be times however, when the audience doesn't really get it. Is there really external dialogue going on when people are just like, "Huh?" and not really listening?

Doug: If the audience doesn't get it, then the attempted dialogue is failing, just like when you try to talk to someone who either has no idea what you're talking about or simply isn't interested in having a discussion.

Vinny: And that's when Moe pulls the plug!!!

Ron: The jam tracks jump or fade into the middle of music that was already ongoing and then jump back out, I really like that, and the rawness of them makes it feel like a peep behind the scenes. While we didn't write songs by turning jams into compositions, we did refine Doug's song ideas into Butterfly Effect songs by playing them and playing with them until things fit together right.

Those particular jams were us playing with each other. We didn't jam in public as a band, but rather amongst ourselves, in an otherwise empty basement.

5 - Making Out at the Movies
Doug: The title is for Amy Bowman, who had never made out at the movies. Most of the lyrics stem from the fact we were playing an acoustic show at Lula's on Valentine's Day weekend and I wanted to finish the song for that show, so I figured it might as well be thematic.

6 - Cigarettes, a Phone Call, and Change
Doug: This may be my personal favorite Butterfly Effect song. The third verse references the lyrics to "Fireball" by Algebra One. I emailed the lyrics to Tyler, Algebra One's singer, and he said having his lyrics quoted in another song were about the best compliment he could receive as a songwriter.

Ron: I remember not really liking "Cigarettes..." as a song until I heard it recorded for the CD. Then it all fit together, lyrics and music, and gave me chills. Still one of my favorites now. It's funny what hearing your own music through heavy earplugs, stage fright, and reflections off of the back walls of sketchy venues does to your appreciation for your own art.

7 - Miniature Spacemen
Doug: This is about watching Josie Vodicka (still performing as Josephine Cameron) play at Lula's. The title comes from misremembering the wording of a photo on the flyer for the show.

9 - True Patriots Wear No Uniforms
Doug: On just about everything I've recorded, there is at least one song I want to skip on every listen. This song earns that dubious honor on this album. It was supposed to be a tribute to Phil Ochs, but I just don't think it works.

10 - A Laughing Matter
Doug: The only song for which I've written out guitar tab.

Ron: A Laughing Matter was probably our most folky and nostalgic song. I love it. It brings to mind the sweet reminiscent bits of Billy Bragg that heavily influenced Doug. I remember watching Doug play Billy Bragg songs at acoustic cafe my freshman year, before I really knew him.

12 - The Counterforce
Doug: The title references the final section of Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow". God, I was obsessed with that book for a while. This song is actually responsible for what may be my favorite recording story ever. When it came time to do the guitar overdubs for this and "Do They Still Call It Rock and Roll?", I enlisted my friend Andrew to run the 8-track for me while I ran down to the basement to play my parts. In order to check levels, I had Andrew put the guitar on and told him to make noise while I went upstairs to adjust the appropriate knobs and sliders. I walked downstairs to find Andrew grinning madly and saying "Wow, this is fun. Now I know why you guys like doing this so much." He went upstairs, we ran through the necessary takes, and I went back up to tell him we were finished. He said, "You're done recording? Cool. I'm gonna go be a rockstar some more!" and proceeded downstairs to continue making noise with the guitar.

13 - Twenty-three on Twenty-four
Doug: Also rerecorded from "Now Everybody", but this time we played it right all the way through. One of the guys from Clark told me he put this song on mixtapes, which I took as a tremendous compliment.

Vinny: I do remember that many of the songs were recorded in just one take. We didn't just practice to sound good at shows, I LOVED practicing. We rarely practiced parts of songs, we mostly just played songs all the way through until we were all happy with what we were doing. So when it was time to record the songs, we pretty much just nailed them the first time. "Twenty-three on Twenty-four" was one marked exception. I recall that it took a lot of takes to get the one we were happy with. I think we even stopped at one point and went on to another song due to frustration with not getting it right. It was mostly my fault the first few takes, and then we all started screwing up. In my mind it was worth it because that is my favorite song on the album. I'm still as proud of that recording as any song on any album I've recorded before or since then.

Ron: Twenty-Three on Twenty-Four is one of those songs I loved to play. It has some great rhythmic idiosyncrasies that just work, and I always like rhythmic and tonal idiosyncrasies, and energy shifts throughout. Very dynamic. It's funny today to read a song title about the passing of time now that I'm Thirty-Three on Thirty-Four.

14 - The Long Way Home
Doug: We played this for the first time during our one show in Memphis. One of the guys from the local band complimented me on the song right after we finished. Mike Larmoyeux said he was impressed to hear the crowd singing along to this at the last Butterfly Effect show. Vinny sings back up on the last five lines.

Vinny: The Long Way Home was my favorite Butterfly Effect to play live. I do still remember the crowd singing the lyrics at the last show. I was also screaming out the chorus and almost started crying during the song. I forced myself not to because I knew I wouldn't be able to play and cry and sing at the same time. Certainly a defining moment in my life. I have since been able to sing back up vocals for many bands while drumming. That was my first time trying it.

15 - Killing This Town (unlisted track)
Doug: That is John Huston saying "Rolling" at the beginning. This song was originally unlisted on the CD because I intended to put out A Boy & His 8 at the same time as this album, and my entry in that issue was the lyrics to this song. That turned out to be one of many plans that didn't quite work out in the spring of 2000. So it goes. I remember writing the first line of this song as a specific reference to the first line of "Do They Still Call It Rock and Roll?", but I don't remember being conscious of having the first lines of the opening and closing tracks mirror each other.

16 - Do They Still Call It Rock and Roll? (Solo version - special SBP90s blog-only bonus track)
Ron: So how did this bonus track become part of this post? Well, I recently headed over to SouthBendPower90s central (i.e. Ted and Faye's home) to remix The Go Lightly's for posting to the site. In my box of 8-track tapes from back in the day I found one titled "Dougie-Pooh's 688 adventure" (the 688 being the 8-track). Of course I was intrigued, so I threw it in, cued it up, and found this wonderful re-(or pre-?) interpretation of the song. Ted and I agreed that this piece had to surface. I think it does a good job of capturing how Doug's songwriting for electric guitar is influenced by the acoustic. Doug once told me that when he was a kid his dad would walk around the house playing the Beatles on an acoustic guitar. Could this have had an influence on a young Dougie-Pooh? I think so.

Doug: I believe this is from 1998, when the song was first written. You can hear me trying to work out just how to fit the lyrics to the music. And yes, I was certainly influenced by having my dad play guitar around the house all the time when I was a kid. However, pretty much all of my songwriting (especially for this CD) was actually done on an acoustic guitar, since that is what I had with me in my apartment. My electric was always over in Ron's basement, where we practiced.


(The Bandcamp download contains the songs plus a plain text version of the CD booklet, with lyrics, credits and what not.)

see also:
The Butterfly Effect on MySpace


Mike L. said...

The Long Way Home is still my favorite Butterfly Effect song, and perhaps one of my very favorite ever to emerge from the campus band music scene. It's perfect.

chris o said...

great photo!

Vinny said...

great photo?! That's all you have to say, Chris Owen?! May you suck the balls of a rabid elephant!

Vinny said...

Thanks, Mike. Your elephant can be healthy!