Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oatmeal - Rabbitcore Demo

Oatmeal pays homage to the site of the Rokkhouse, SB, IN, 1994. One of us was thinking about doing a concept album about the history of jorts.

Oatmeal: I Do Not Know What “Rabbitcore” Means

Oatmeal was Jim Doppke and Jeff Jotz getting together at Jeff’s urging in late 1991 or early 1992. (The directors of Oatmeal Holdings LLC have knowledge of only one photograph of Oatmeal (above), taken after the demise of Oatmeal the Band, Inc. Therefore, the rest of the article will be illustrated with public domain images courtesy of NASA.)

Jeff had definite ideas about how we should sound, and I tried to do them justice: 1. Basic love-rock sound. 2. Cool-sounding minimalist instrumentals. 3. Tight, cut-off endings. 4. Cover “Do Ya.” I wasn’t really sure I was versed enough in playing actual rock music to do any of this, having previously invested some time in affecting a singer-songwriter persona. But Jeff was excited about it, and I was excited about playing with Jeff, so I gave it a go.

And by “gave it a go,” I mean: mooched incessantly off the good will of others. I was not well-equipped for this experience in any real sense. Think of the person you knew who had the weirdest gear. What’d they have? A mauve left-handed Strat with Hello Kitty stickers all over it, including the fretboard? A nameless amp that somehow had wood paneling on it? The infamous “Eat Me” bass? Well, I had ‘em all beat. I owned a white Gibson Explorer knockoff totally legitimate copy with built-in buttons that would supposedly produce chorus, overdrive, and other effects, but that, when pressed, made the guitar sound approximately like this: SQAAAAAAAPHHHTHPHT. This glorious racket was enhanced by the sheer power of my 6.5-watt amp. As we were fond of saying, permission to rock: denied.

So I asked many people for permission to rock, and they granted it. At various times, I borrowed guitars from the extremely cool brainiac Marshall Armintor, as well as goes-without-saying-how-extremely-cool-he-is Ted Leo. I also borrowed four-track usage from TL as well as extremely-cool-like-the-other-side-of-the-extreme-pillow Joe Cannon. We rocked at the Rokkhouse, a place at which I did not live and paid no rent (though Jeff did). I borrowed amps, microphones, patch cords, picks, orange Fanta, spare change, and pocket lint from God-knows-who. I had my own guitar tuner, though, thank you very little. Overall, if I had been any less materially invested in this thing, I would have had to pay a cover to see us.

I then set about trying to write songs that I thought Jeff would like. I drew on our shared influences: Unrest (“Caustic”), Bob Mould (“Met Myself”), the Feelies (“Honorablesque,” “Bridge” [Jeff’s words!]), etc. The process was: 1. Knock around on guitar in room. 2. Play song for Jeff. 3. Play song with Jeff. 4. Jeff goes “Alright! Rad!” 5. Song finished. I’m lucky Jeff was as enthusiastic about the whole thing as he was. I also learned some covers at Jeff’s suggestion, like the Wooden Soldiers’ “Commercial Avenue” and the aforementioned “Do Ya,” but note the attention to detail on that last one. I probably could’ve learned how to play the real bridge instead of just improvising my own, but I had to wash my mullet that week (the Seinfeld look was very big back then, don’t let anybody tell you any different).

Jim’s mullet is met with icy silence at Club 23.
I’m also lucky that Jeff took it upon himself to make sure that we recorded ourselves, and that we got some gigs. I apparently couldn’t be bothered, as I was too busy with record collecting, literary parsing, mullet adjustment, and so forth. Gigs first, all two of them, both from 1992 I think:
  1. Club 23, possibly an open mic, possibly not. I remember playing our cover of Chisel’s “Swamp Fox/Spike” to some stirs of recognition in the crowd.
  2. Opening for indie-rock legends and all-around nice people Vomit Launch at the Rokkhouse. I remember wearing a thrift-store tee that said “Heart Throbbing” on it. That’s right, a thrift store tee in 1992, yeah, I was born this cool. Read it and weep, trendinistas. Though the real story here is that I paid for the shirt with my own money.

    I also remember playing our cover of “Who Painted Whistler’s Mother?” by the Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (still a beloved favorite of mine, salaam to the Shadowy Men) at the VL show, and somebody from VL (Trish, the singer?) kindly praising our cover of The Feelies’ “Let’s Go.” Then, rather than brave the rigors of the Rokkhouse after the show, the VL folks stayed at my apartment. They were really funny and cool; they put up with my impetuous indie-rock self, and they made scrambled eggs for me the next morning. When I tell this story now, people seem surprised that I ate scrambled eggs prepared by people who called themselves “Vomit Launch,” but I didn’t blanch at it then and still don’t.
Recordings-wise, what you have here are songs (I think record industry people call them “tracks” or “slabs,” or, when drunk, “spuds”) we recorded at TL’s house in New Jersey in 1992. I made the trip out to NJ to visit Jeff after our graduation, and this is what we did on our holiday. And where on my diploma did it say that I had to grow up, get my own gear, and stop leeching like a medieval doctor? Nowhere!! Onward Moochapalooza!! (a very popular concept at the time which we were helping get off the ground, or at least that’s what we told 120 Minutes)

TL let me play his main Chisel guitar, and we used his drum kit as well. He recorded us on his 4-track, and he and his punk rock silver-spray-painted Stratocaster joined us on “Rokk-o-Medley.” (First one to name the song TL sings, and the original artist, wins a chance to enter a raffle in which the grand prize is a ticket for a drawing to win a cassette of Oatmeal’s other demo tape, the one recorded in the Rokkhouse basement on one microphone and featuring a cover of Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” [ed. note: winner will receive prize sometime within the next seventy-five years])

When we heard Ted play on the "Rokk-o-Medley" we said "my God... it's full of stars."
So yeah, TL was nails on guitar as usual, despite the silliness of the Medley, which I’ll claim as my idea. I had thought up perhaps an even less-advisable such medley when I was questing to be ND’s  the Sod Quad’s Flanner Tower’s answer to Elvis Costello  Billy Bragg John Wesley Harding. The old medley was in the key of A. When thinking of a similar concept for Oatmeal, I thought: since I’m in a band now, we should do songs in E. It had a certain logic to it at the time, which is more than I can say for the medley itself. But hearing it is still good for a larf, except that this version is marred by some snotty comments by me toward the end, which I have long since disavowed. Except that now they’re on the Internet and everything. Sorry, Jeff. You know I kid(ded) because I love.

Whenever I read this blog, I’m impressed with ND rockers’ dedication to their bands, even now. I wish I could say I showed that kind of dedication to Oatmeal, though I still do like our stuff a lot. Jeff’s game-for-anything drumming makes these songs for me, gives them the good nature and sense of fun that Jeff himself embodies. I also love to read, over and over, people’s expressions of thanks for the opportunity to have made music with their friends. I echo that sentiment wholeheartedly. As short-lived and small as Oatmeal was, it made a big impression on me, mostly because my good friend Jeff was having fun with it. And I was too, thanks to his infectious enthusiasm and sense of humor. I am forever glad that I got to experience them at close range, that he chose me to do this with him. And to cover “Do Ya.”

Thanks to everybody I mentioned, everybody I should’ve mentioned but didn’t, all our friends, all ND/SB rockers, the SBP90s guys for the time and care they put into this blog, and you for reading this.

--Jim Doppke


Oatmeal comes full circle.
All I'd like to add is that it was the early 1990s and minimalist low-fi bands like Beat Happening and Sebadoh were all the rage. So what better way to jump on the bandwagon then by creating a two-piece band comprised of electric guitar and 3/4 of a drum set? Actually, my old housemate John Dugan of Chisel fame was away for the second semester of his Junior year at the ND London program and he left us with an emasculated drum kit that lacked cymbals.

I've seen fellow Jerseyans The Feelies more times live than any other band, so naturally, a cover of "Let's Go" was appropriate for our live show. And "Commercial Avenue" was a cover by an obscure 1980s band from New Brunswick, NJ called the Wooden Soldiers. You can download the EP here. As for "Do Ya," it is still one of the most rockin' pop songs of all time, and I will never, ever get sick of hearing it. I celebrate Jeff Lynne's entire catalog.

Jim Doppke was a skilled songwriter due to being a Bruce Springsteen fan during his formative years, so I was always impressed with his song ideas. I don't really know what influence I had on him... perhaps I just made his tunesmithing more bizarre.

Our recording session in Ted Leo's Radium City in 1992 was held the same day as my grandfather's wake. Seventeen years later, I still feel guilty for rocking out in Ted's basement instead of standing solemnly at the funeral home that afternoon. My grandfather moonlighted as a lounge singer in Newark, NJ in the 1930s and 40s and perhaps he would have been proud that I was carrying on the Jotz musical genes.

--Jeff Jotz


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

V/A - Incubus 1993: ND Music Compilation

A new campus band CD is on the way

by Pete Dedman

"Somebody said the music was not good enough to play"
--"Green, Red, and Blue" by Brian, Colin, and Vince

Well, apparently somebody was sorely mistaken. Not only is good, original music being produced here at Notre Dame, but the music scene has developed, especially over the last year, into a rich and diverse assortment of bands ranging from punk to folk to jazz. Two years after the WVFI Jericho Sessions were released, a new CD [Incubus 1993], sponsored by S.U.B., is in the works, documenting the present campus music scene through the work of 16 bands playing their own original material.

The bands are as diverse as they are talented and have all played a major role in creating a vibrant music scene at ND. The CD will feature popular and established groups such as Dissfunktion, Chisel, The Sister Chain, Brian, Colin and Vince, Palace Laundry and Victoria’s Real Secret, as well as younger bands fast on the rise, including Grope For Luna, Bother and Bovine Solution. Rounding out the playlist will be Mr. Head, 2-10, the Porkchoppers, Emily Lord, Access Denied, XYZ Affair and a jazz group, Thee Accent. The CD, as of yet without a name (though an accompanying booklet has been designed by Peter J. Pultorak), is due out soon after spring break, according to co-producer Steve Sostak.

"There’ll be a final mixdown of all the songs on March 10. Then we’ll take the masters down to the Sony plant in Terre Haute, and, if all goes as planned, we’ll have it out a couple of weeks after break," Sostak said. Sostak, who is also the lead singer for Victoria’s Real Secret, has found the work as producer to be easier than expected. He added, "Most of the real work was already done by the end of last semester, thanks to [co-producer] Ryan Hallford," who is on a leave of absence this semester.

Hallford was also instrumental in the success of Acoustic Cafe, which has been taking place regularly in the LaFortune basement each Thursday night for over a year. Acoustic Cafe features an open-mike setting, which allows for musicians to experiment and try out new songs before a live audience. "Especially with Acoustic Cafe, Ryan’s been very instrumental in trying to push original music," he said.

Joe Cannon, lead singer and guitarist for Mr. Head, credits the recent success of an original music scene on campus to certain artistic fountainheads. "A few very original, talented and active musicians have sparked a large interest in creating original bands/music, especially among the younger students," Cannon said.

Ted Koterwas, assistant producer for the CD, is more specific in giving credit where it is due. "I think the success of Brian, Colin and Vince really opened up the way for original music being accepted more readily." Koterwas, who plays drums for Grope for Luna, added, "Joe Cannon has been something of a powerful original musical force as well."

The rising acceptance of original bands on campus has also been spurred on by the success of St. Mary’s Dalloway’s Coffeehouse. Each Wednesday and Saturday night, the Coffeehouse, charging little or no admission, had presented full-length shows by acts featured on the CD such as Brian, Colin and Vince, Chisel, Mr. Head, the Sister Chain, Grope for Luna and Bother, as well as brilliant performances by other bands such as emiLy, and most recently, Severinsen.

As opposed to Acoustic Cafe, Dalloway's is a forum for bands who have already proven themselves to perform in a full show setting, when an optimum number of people can be expected to come. On Saturday nights, while the rest of campus is partying themselves senseless, the Coffeehouse draws 100 people on average. "I’ve been pleasantly surprised by its success," remarked John Dugan, drummer for Chisel, whose performance at the Coffeehouse in January drew 175 people.

With such live successes, stated Dugan, "there‘s obviously enough interest out there for original music." Dugan hopes that the success of the new CD will result in organizations getting more cooperation from the Student Activity Council, in terms of being able to get smaller bands to play at Notre Dame, "so that our campus bands can get a chance to play with them. This will give these bands more exposure to playing live, as well as a chance to get their name passed around the larger music circuit," he said. Last fall Victoria’s Real Secret opened for They Might Be Giants and Chisel will open for Velocity Girl on March 31 in the LaFortune Ballroom.

For many, though, just the CD itself is a huge accomplishment. Everyone involved expects this compilation to enjoy more success than 1991’s Jericho Sessions. As Cannon described, "Yeah, this should be better. The idea behind this is campus bands. As a result, almost all the bands are very well-known. Jericho Sessions, on the other hand, was originally meant to be a sampler of acoustic acts, and there ended up being more of a hodge-podge of musicians just recording for the sake of contributing to the CD. At the same time, (former WVFI station manager) Kevin Flaherty’s work with The Jericho Sessions was indeed seminal."

"The Jericho Sessions certainly paved the way for what's going on with the current CD," concurred John Dugan.

Dugan, Cannon and other musicians who appeared on The Jericho Sessions, have agreed that the recording studios for this effort are far better facilities than those used on the last sampler. Most of the bands have been recording over the past two months at Miami St. Studios in town. The recording process gave several of the musicians their first opportunity to put down their music in a studio environment. Miami St. engineer John Nuner was very helpful in making the process rewarding for the more experienced bands as well as the "rookies."

"For the most part he [Nuner] took direction from the bands, and allowed them to come up with their own sound, the sound they wanted on the CD," said Cannon, who was quite pleased with Mr. Head’s recording of "Weather," their offering to the CD. Cannon also attributed the ease of recording to the fact that "an analog recording was made first, instead of recording directly to digital, so it was a more natural recording process." Mr. Head bassist Dave Holsinger, for whom the recording process was a first-time experience, found himself quite pleased with the outcome as well. "We heard some bands took 9 or 10 hours, so relatively, I found the whole process to be somewhat easier than I'd expected," said Holsinger.

As Bother bassist and Dalloway’s Coffeehouse manager Kelly Daugerdas attested, "It was a lot more work than expected, at times even tiresome, but by the end, we really felt exhilarated." The band is also elated at the success of their recording for the CD, "Kill the Popular Kids,” even before the CD has been released. Their explosive song has garnered enough airplay on WVFI to crack into the station’s weekly Top 20, and thereby warrant mention in the nationally distributed College Music Journal.

For other, older bands, the CD is a chance to document what may be swan songs, as members graduate or leave. For Brian, Colin and Vince, whose co-founder, Brian Muller, transferred to Boston University at the end of last semester, the CD is just that. Featuring the a capella intro, "Yahtzee," the band has recorded "Green, Red, and Blue" for the CD, with astonishing success. "The recording fortunately occurred at a peak for us as a band,” said guitarist Colin Clary. "‘Green, Red, and Blue' is a bit more serious than our other songs but it's really almost beautiful, and I don't use that word a lot; well, I do, I guess, but it was really good," he eloquently added. Later this spring, Clary says he will finish a CD of Brian, Colin and Vince’s last semester together. To be titled Bucket o’ Fun n' Stuff n' Yeah, the CD will feature at least 15 songs from the band.

Whether half the campus knows it or not, the music scene is alive and well at Notre Dame. A large amount of ignorance is due to the fact that many bands play at private parties rather than overcrowded bars, and some people just aren’t open-minded enough to pass up those bars for a show at the Coffeehouse on a Saturday evening. Nevertheless, the campus CD is for all to enjoy, so, as your spring break tans begin to fade, keep your eyes open for great original music that’s been under your noses all along.

-- from the March 4, 1993 edition of Scholastic, Notre Dame's student magazine. The musicians pictured in the article are members of Grope for Luna.


It's funny to have this Scholastic article come back to light. I was a little haunted by it in hindsight - and by hindsight I don't mean sixteen years down the road, I mean a month after it was published. That is, I rued not having spent more space presenting the featured bands in an in-depth way. Although to my mind, Chisel, Brian Colin & Vince and so many other of the acts were by that time household names, that familiarity may have only been present for hundreds of devoted fans on campus. This article was an opportunity to really introduce the excitement of the 'SB Power 90s' scene to the uninitiated thousands. I missed that opportunity a bit, but hopefully the music took care of my understated oversight!

--Pete Dedman, October 2009

Track Listing:
1. "Fish" - Victoria's Real Secret
2. "Dream Bar" - Chisel
3. "Angelina" - Emily Lord
4. "Kill The Popular Kids" - Bother
5. "Yahtzee/Green, Red And Blue" - Brian, Colin and Vince
6. "Follow Me" - Access Denied
7. "In The Crowd" - Grope For Luna
8. "Take Me To The Funktion" - Dissfunktion
9. "Peter Pan Syndrome" - XYZ Affair
10. "My Name Is Sky" - The Sister Chain
11. "Weather" - Mr. Head
12. "Smitherman" - 2-10
13. "I Don't Look Back" - Thee Accent
14. "Never Had The Time" - Palace Laundry
15. "Pyramid" - The Bovine Solution
16. "Punch The Clown" - The Porkchoppers