Friday, July 22, 2011

emiLy - riverrun CD (plus bonus tracks)

The Backstory:

Doug: Thanks to Finer Time being distributed by Ebullition, we ended up getting in touch with a bunch of people over in Europe. I corresponded regularly with a couple of them, including a French guy by the name of Yann Dubois, who did a zine called Sanjam. In late 1995, he told me that he was starting a record label and wanted emiLy to record a CDEP as the first release*. We went to Miami Street studios and recorded 11 songs over Presidents Day weekend.

We had to cut the CD down to eight songs to meet the time restriction for Yann. Now and then someone made some noise about trying to put the remaining songs (or at least "Trinity" and "Mulberry") out as a 7-inch. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, now everyone can hear these songs!

The original cover design was made by cutting and pasting a photocopy of the first and last pages of Finnegans Wake together in order to position the word "riverrun" about 2/3rds of the way down the page. All the text except that word would be faded out and the band name would be positioned above it. I forget why the cover got changed, but I'm sure it had something to do with my utter inability to do things like color separations.

The live photo is from a show at the Crawlspace in Chicago.

Joe: The photo on the back of the lightbulb is from my bedroom at the Miner St house. The Miner Street house doesn't exist anymore.

I walked around the lot a few years ago (I was interviewing for a one-year job at St. Mary's) seeing if I could find any of my Legos that the neighbor kids played with on our stoop (and ground into the ground and scattered around the block). I didn't find any.

D: Speaking of Miner Street, I think all the songs on the CD were written in the summer of 1995, when the three of us were all living at that house, along with my friend Kevin from PA.

When we played at Prufrock, Kevin made a flyer for the show using photos he took the afternoon that we let the neighborhood kids come in and play my drums. I remember that a bunch of the kids had a good idea of what they were doing, but there was one little kid who started flailing so wildly that half of the other kids ran as if afraid of injury.

Joe: I hate to admit it, boys, but I think that I may have been emo. As a lyricist, riverrun marks the completion of my shift from charmingly strident punk rock incompetence to full-blown early 20's pretentiousness. For my next significant era as a songwriter -- undersexed, painfully earnest graduate student -- please see my late 90's and early 2000's offerings, The Intelligibles and Check Engine.

Fortunately for me, the music on riverrun isn't bad at all, and I can claim just enough of the credit for that that it almost redeems the lyrical belly lint.

D: While poking about online, I found the Maximum Rock & Roll review of riverrun, which I remember reading for the first time in Orbit Records. It's pretty damn good:
Hey, this band really gets props for originality. Mining a vein symmetrical to bands like Mission of Burma, Rites of Spring or Sideshow, these guys manage to report their message to the world in a completely personal and unique voice. At turns, their sound is grinding and transcendent, their vocals poetic yet direct. I'd love to see these songs in a live context. Get this if you're tired of being jaded and tired of what's hip.

The Songs:

1) riverrun

D: I wrote the drum part at the laundromat next to Bai Ju's. I had been listening to a lot of Universal Order of Armageddon at the time. The tin whistle solo at the beginning is the Irish folk song "Finnegan's Wake."

J: Doug's drum part on "riverrun" still sounds amazingly studly.

M: I'm pretty sure the "drum noodling" going on during the tin whistle intro was a clip of Doug sound checking the drums from the Finer Time recording sessions.

2) Atoms Are a Boy's Best Friend

J: "Atoms" works well as a song; Mike's bassline and the sweet sweet aggression with which he plays it is so very nice, as is the kappakappakappa drums on the chorus. One of the very few emiLy songs that I remember how to play.

M: Loved this song title the first time I heard it. When we finished this one, I felt we'd evolved from post-punk quite a bit - this just feels like a great rock song.

D: A frequent show opener. Love the couplet "Drowning in the broth thought to be bread / Drowning in the bread thought to be alive."

3) ayin

J: "Ayin" is like an awesome song and a crappy one locked in a battle for supremacy, making for a song that in the end can best be described as "way too damn long". "Ayin" is the Hebrew letter "O" which means both "eye" and "lust". I thought that was, like, totally deep, so I spent four minutes committing crimes against Rabelais about it.

M: Wait, I thought were done with post-punk. Nevermind. Will never get it out of my system.

4) Little Bit

J: "Little Bit" is some good ol' self-pity pop-punk about aimlessness and a girl. Nice.

D: For reasons beyond my recall, this song was also known as "Sex Cat, " which had something to do with one of Mike's family's cats.

M: Yes. Every time Josh said "sex cat" to our cat, she meowed. I have no idea.

5) A Boy and His

D: The name for this came from a catalog for Wow Cool, then a zine and comic distributor from Berkeley, CA. While trying to come up with a song title, I started stabbing my finger down at random spots on the page and reading out whatever was printed above the spot. This phrase was the first one that sounded good. In fact, I thought it sounded so good that I ended up using it as a zine name and an email handle.

The song has another one of my favorite emiLy lines: "We become more familiar with what we would destroy."

J: The guitar part on "A Boy and His" is one of my favorites, and the lyrics are simple and short enough that I almost didn't embarrass myself. My comment about this song at the time was: "Watching TV like you're casing the joint."

M: This was absolutely one of the most difficult songs for me to play. I'm not sure I ever made it through this one cleanly. Love the song, but I can hear my mistakes too clearly on the recording.

6) Sap

J: Yeah! Pop punk instrumental with Jawbreaker-worship pauses. That little descending line of Mike's rules all over.

M: So much fun to play. I think I stole the line from Mike Watt.

D: This originally followed "Man Made Boy," almost as a second part to that song.

7) The Liar at Work

J: "The Liar at Work". If I ignore the self-important self pity of the lyrics, this song is a hell of a lot of fun. I like how my jingle jangle guitar suddenly goes "rar!" We played this at the NAZZ and the reviewer in the Observer went "tsk" at my cusswords, which impelled me to write a letter to the editor full of half-seriously intended French-philosophy nonsense about what the song lyrics really meant. I think I used the phrase "sous rature". For a while there, writing silly letters to the editor of the Observer was a bit of a hobby of mine. It's really not my fault; they kept printing them...

M: This and "Atoms" were two of our strongest songs of the time.

D: Hands down, my favorite emiLy song to play. One of my favorite drum parts to play period.

8) Talking God, Talking Girls

D: The bit at the end is a recording of James Joyce reading from "Finnegans Wake." A pen pal from Slovenia referred to it as a "sermon."

J: The little warbly thing that happens at 0:56 may be the favorite sound that I have ever been recorded getting a guitar to make. To this day I have no idea how I did it.

It's like this one time in fourth grade I tried to blow through my cupped hands and make a birdcall like I saw some other kids doing. There it was, clear as day, "whoo!"...Then I tried it again. No dice. Every so often I'll remember and try it again, and still can't make it work. Hold on a sec, I'm going to....Nope.

M: Joe's sound effect sounds like a sample from "Star Trek."

J: In conclusion, who's down for 2013?

SBP90s BONUS TRACKS (aka the rest of the Miami Street sesison):

9) Man Made Boy

D: As mentioned earlier, this was originally paired with "Sap," though we ended up playing "Sap" a whole lot more than this.

10) Trinity

D: This seems like it was a staple of emiLy sets for a long, long time. I'm surprised it took us so long to record it.

11) Mulberry

D: The last of the three emiLy songs that were built around drum parts (with "riverrun" and "Minuteman" being the other two).

* The CD is still listed on the SanJam site, though it's now out of print.


see also:
emiLy on MySpace
emiLy on

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Voice Of Man Who Took Wheelchair - Metallica Party Live, 1998

Vinny: Napalm Hearts was easily the worst band I have ever played in... sure was fun, though!

Joe: Worst?! You crazy. I've been in much worse bands than Napalm Hearts. I think maybe all of my bands have been worse than Napalm Hearts. I still think that Voice of Man Who Took Wheelchair is a much better name, though. That's the name of the band I was playing in.

Chris: After the anticlimactic flameout of The Hick-Ups I wanted my next band (whatever it was) to be called "Napalm Hearts," from the Iggy and the Stooges song "Search and Destroy" : "I'm a streetwalkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm... I'm the runaway son of a nuclear A-Bomb... I am the world's forgotten boy, the one who searches and destroys." Pretty exciting, thankfully I never got it tattooed on my forehead like they do these days- there have been at least two other lousy bands since then who took their names from those lines. Regardless, by the time we played this, our only show, we were definitely called VOICE OF MAN WHO TOOK WHEELCHAIR.

Joe: We were in the Canary House, watching TV with the sound down (because we're so fuckin' cool). Some sort of news interview show was on. On the screen pops up stock video of a tape recorder rolling and the caption, "Voice of Man who Took Wheelchair." We didn't bother to turn the sound up, because, again, we're so fuckin' cool. So I have no idea what the show was about. We decided to name the band after it. Then, later, someone decided -- incorrectly -- that Napalm Hearts was a better name. I have no further information.

Chris: Joe is right and describes the image on the screen perfectly. It was either on the consistently entertaining South Bend local evening news (I still have hours of VHS recordings) or CrimeStoppers (“It works!”), I cannot remember which.

But before TV gifted us I had told someone we were going to be called the Napalm Hearts. They made a flyer for a show with that name on it, not knowing that in the meantime we had come up with the best band name of all time. The inscrutability of this flyer is itself of note-- the party was called a "Metallica Fete" for no apparent reason, particularly since the photo used was of Joan Jett(?!?!). This was before text messaging or the telephone, so information travelled very slowly.

Ultimately it is really best if we only call it VOICE OF MAN WHO TOOK WHEELCHAIR. The Napalm Hearts existed only in the bent, unhipped mind of the person who made that flyer.

(...and thus ends discussion of the most interesting aspect of this band).

Joe: Well, listening to the recording the title of the blog post must be either "That's fuckin' right goddammit!" or "All right, ladies and fuckers!"

Chris: Yeah I am listening to this again. What a band! The power... the fury! As I make sure to say at the beginning, this was the first band in which I ever played guitar. I think I wrote a couple songs on the guitar, had Joe solo over the whole thing and told Vinny to play as fast as possible. Joe had some folky things he written already and I tried to find things to play over that. Sometimes when we were sitting around the house watching TV with the sound turned off Vinny and I used to play The Poorly Rendered Folk Blues, so it was very convenient, if cognitively inconsistent, to perform these things as one band.

OK... the songs:

"I Don't Wanna Fuckin Talk to You" - Too bad we started with the best song. We should have played this one again at the end. Oh my god, is that Allison Wolfe from Bratmobile on guest vocals?!? No, it is Kristi from The Go-Lightly's. Hey that sounds pretty good.... to poop on!!

The name of the second song is "Lo! This... is a Bullfight!" Another non-sequiter from television. Joe thought this was a hilarious name for a song and I had some music so you can send us each a Grammy thank you very much.

"Locket Rocket" - this is our attempt to play "Locket Love" by the Ramones, but we couldn’t do it, so we made up our own song with some of the parts. A few months later I really perfected this song by mixing it with a Prince tune in another band in San Francisco that never played live, so this is a real treat for you completists.

Joe: None of this explains why I played that lame fingerstyle thing in the middle of our god damn rock show! God damn! Why didn't someone talk me down? Or (I gasp at the implications) did someone put me up to it?!?

SBP90s: I was wondering about that, it seemed like an odd interlude given the context. Maybe the other guys just needed refills from the keg.

Chris: Indeed, after a Ramones ripoff, I can’t think of a better time to throw in a long instrumental called "Hegel's Aesthetic." Hey brother, that was your bag, who were we to bum your trip? You were just doing your thing, maaaaaaan.

Actually, it was a bit insensitive you didn't notice how miffed Vinny was he didn't get to show the contents of his bag (15 minute hand drum solo).

It reminds me of the movie A Mighty Wind. At the end when the Folksmen are filling air time while the producers try to find Eugene Levy's MIA character, they display their tendency to take themselves way too seriously by following the ridiculously corny and upbeat audience participation song "Barnyard Symphony" with a dirge "The Skeletons of Quinto." Harry Shearer's character indulges in a drawn out introduction contextualizing what they are about to play: "In the Late 1930s of the last century, Spain was wracked by civil war blah blah blah" and everyone in the audience is looking at him like "Play another one where we can make a MOOOO sound like a cow!!"

In any case the dialogue throughout this recording is funny. When we cut him off Joe kind of mumbles "That was the first third of Hegel's Aesthetic...”

Joe: Its full name is "Hegel's Aesthetic in G." Because it is in G. Which still doesn't explain who thought it was a good idea to play it.

Chris: We needed material!

"Wild Thing" - So I thought this was the end of college, big party, one-off band, we should play dance songs! Once this groove was established we thought it would be funny to get someone in the audience to sing “Wild Thing” by the Troggs, you know like the classic party anthem type thing. Except once we had someone up there we would play it like Trio or the Shaggs, just rip anything that could have been groovy right out of the song. The problem is no one volunteered. I mean, who doesn’t know the words to “Wild Thing??” (Answer: a room full of Notre Dame students). So someone volunteered John Huston (whose band The Transoms came up next) who was the perfect victim for this poorly executed prank.

John Huston: Dude, I still have nightmares about that. It was clearly a joke, but I for the life of me had no idea what that joke was. I was game to play along, but wouldn't have known how. I felt like I had water in my brain. And you wouldn't give me any clues. You just kept yelling at/about me into the microphone. Is that the song where you wrapped four of your guitar strings with a dollar bill? Then asked me to strum it? It's fucking David Lynchian.

Chris: Listening to it now... "John, you have to take your shirt off if you're going to do this."

"Our Satan is Better Than Your Satan" - Pretty sure Joe made up that name on the spot. I think this was supposed to be like a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion type of dance tune thing. At the end someone says "What was that?" and we say "It's fucking rock, girl!" Well alright.

"Hoedown" - An itty bitty titty ditty Joe wrote with me hitting the strings of my guitar with a metal coat hanger to make that irritating syncopated sound you hear. Incidentally, that guitar (a collectible 1976 Ibanez Hummingbird “Lawsuit” Les Paul copy) was purchased from a Mishawaka pawn shop with 100% credit from useless CD singles stolen from WVFI. Later I was pissed when I realized I had ruined the finish by hitting it with that coat hanger. It was later stolen from the back of a car in San Francisco's colorful Tenderloin district. I could go on?

Well, I wish we had more songs, it sounds like that was fun. People seemed into it. I do remember Vinny was totally embarrassed, he truly thought this was going to ruin his reputation as a musician. He closes this recording sadly, reluctantly, confusedly talking to no one in particular: "Thanks for being open minded and shit man, that's badass..."

Well put.