Hello and welcome to the world of The Harvey Girls’ postdated recording diary. We always mean to write about the experience of recording, but then become too busy actually doing the recording to add yet another layer of crap to worry about, so with this new record, I’ve Been Watching a Lot of Horror Movies Lately (shortened to IBW from here on out; to be released in either June or July of 2010), I am going to do it all after the fact. Melissa may jump in from time to time, but I’m guessing I’ll write most of it. I’ll go over each song in due time, discussing the recording process and any meaning behind the text/subtext of the album, hopefully without being boring, pedantic, academically stuffy, too self-effacing/-deprecating (I hear I have a problem with that), or as close to king pretentious dipshit as it all is starting to sound to me. We’ll see. We’ll also offer you some special treats–alternate versions of the songs, live videos, songs that didn’t make it, albums we’ve given away at shows… you know, things that you can download and trade like Topps cards with your friends and enemies.
IBW track list:
1. The Body Without Any Eyes
4. Only Apparitions on the Lawn
5. Smile Like Gwynplaine
6. A Letter to the Bees
7. Caerse Muerto
9. Alpha Invasion on Delta Waves (Lullabye of Brueghel)
Now that you know the track listing and actual titles (as opposed to the working titles most people who have heard this will know), I’ll take a step back and start at the beginning.
This album has a long history, at least in band/internet years, starting back in early 2008. Back then The Harvey Girls were functioning as an “actual” band with Adam on bass, keyboard, occasional drums; Hiram on drums, guitar, and vocals; Josh on guitar, banjo, occasional bass, and vocals; and Melissa on keyboard and vocals. This was the best lineup since we’d left Lawrence several years before and we got along with everyone swimmingly.* We started recording a lot of the songs we had written at Adam’s house in his basement studio on his Pro Tools rig, working toward an album with the working title The Wolf Album along with a bunch of other songs. We were also playing shows as much as possible.
Unfortunately, several things started happening in Melissa and I’s life that would distract and later kill the project.** First our male cat and band mascot, Mushi Mushi Gila Monster, somehow broke his leg and had to have it removed. It doesn’t sound like much, but the vets weren’t sure he was going to make it because of a heart condition. Then there was his recovery period in which we had to keep him in our room and our other cat, The Big Delicious, out. It was really expensive as well; he’s now known as the cat without the golden arm around the house (among other things like flopalong cassidy, turdy johnston the one armed fighter who never won a match but who had a lot of heart, thumpity thump, mu mu). Don’t worry, though, he’s fine now and is probably faster since the loss of the limb because he’s actually more streamlined when it comes to running for food or up the basement stairs or walking under your feet. He’s also more pathetic looking when he tries to tap you with his stump, which garners him a lot more food off the plate of Melissa and a lot more love from both of us. Don’t be fooled, he uses it to his advantage.
Soon after his recovery, Melissa’s mother died after a long illness and in the saddest imaginable circumstances.
A couple of weeks after that, I started a new job that involved a lot more thought and effort on my part as opposed to the easily-forgotten-at-home job I had had before. We also found out that Adam was going to be moving back to Milwaukee (the big one, not the one spelled -ie that’s the home of Dark Horse Comics). All through the first half of 2008, and all of these events, there was recording on The Wolf Album with a newly purchased copy of Pro Tools, which only seemed to work on our PC about half the time,*** but that came to a stop soon after the hard drive holding the Pro Tools files died. Completely. With no chance of resuscitation. The files hadn’t been backed up in a couple of weeks, the couple of weeks in which a lot of stuff was becoming finalized, and since these were all lost and Pro Tools wasn’t cooperating with the computer, it was going to be more months of re-recording and pain and sweat to get back to that place.
While all this was going on, Melissa and I both were becoming more and more unhappy with the band. Not really the individuals who were helping us, as we said we loved and still love them, but the fact that for Melissa playing out was more and more horrifying and time consuming. As for me, I was really coming to hate the poppier songs that I had written to make everyone else happy. The experimental side of our music was gone and I was becoming bored. Switching to playing drums helped for a time, but its appeal was limited and made me a bit apathetic towards the entire enterprise. I think the fact that we were trying to promote our album Nutate ourselves with absolutely no luck was also wearing on us both at the time.
So, as Adam was getting ready to move back to Milwaukee to be with family and Melissa and I decided to not play out**** anymore and I sat pulling out my hair about lost files and rerecording, we told Josh the band was over and I sent everyone involved what was left of the songs we’d recorded. We were done with the band and it was kaput.
It took about three weeks to decide that there was no way to leave the band like that, so we reversed the earlier decision. Of course, since Melissa didn’t want to ever play shows again and I did, I decided to come up with some new songs that I could play out on my own. The idea of a one person band that wasn’t just a folky with a guitar (my nightmare, actually) is something that I’d wanted to do since the mid-90s after seeing bands like Drums & Tuba and Spaceheads with their live looping skills, along with countless hip hop acts, but never had the equipment or the money to buy it. It was actually something I wanted to do with The Harvey Girls from the beginning as well, but since it was easy in Kansas to get friends to play and we had the wonderful Brent Piepergerdes to play drums, we went with a band. I’d also by this time played/seen shows with Circle Into Square labelmate cars & trains, whose live looping skills are amazing. But without a laptop or copy of Ableton, and no money to buy them (yeah, it’s usually about money, but what isn’t?), I started using the equipment I had around already.
At first I was using an old sampler (Dr. Sample 202) I’ve had for years as well as a drum machine for the backing tracks while playing guitar and keyboards on top. This lacked any sort of spontaneity, not to mention if I screwed up the count of bars with the drum machine the song was quickly off track and worthless. Because of the new job, I was able to finally buy a used RC-20, a looping pedal that could be used with a mixer in order to do live loops.***** I started watching videos of Juana Molina live to see if I could figure out her setup (she uses two RC-20s to play her music). I actually had figured out the logistics, but found it was harder than I thought to pull off the timing of live looping. Mostly it was just frustrating to not get the loops correct, so I stuck with the prestaged tracks for a bit. I did a weekend set of shows in Olympia, Tacoma, and Seattle, and it was actually a show that I played with tUnE-yArDs in Tacoma that pushed me over the live looping edge. I watched her loop all the instruments in a way that wasn’t necessarily a straight 4/4 and knew that I could do that. I stopped playing shows for about a month, got a stereo memory man pedal to use as a second looper for the guitar, and settled into the basement to figure out how to time live loops.
And that’s where the songs on IBW come from. With the exception of ‘Smile Like Gwynplaine’ and “Alpha Invasion…” these songs were worked out for the live show. The only reason I never played “…Gwynplaine” live was because the logistics were too complicated. “Alpha Invasion…” was actually written at the end of the recording process to replace another song. It’s a favorite of both Melissa and I’s called “Picher, Nowata” that just didn’t quite fit what was going on and will appear at some point somewhere.
The title of the album comes from the fact that during the last couple of years, I’ve started watching a lot of horror movies again. As a teenager, horror movies were my favorite kind of movie. I had a poster of Freddy Krueger on my bedroom door (which actually led to one of my younger cousins calling my parents’ house ‘Aunt Freddy’s’… my poor mother and the shit she had to put up with from me) and I can probably still recite dialogue from movies like Creepshow and Psycho. There was also a period last year where I began to listen to horror movie soundtracks a lot while at work. It always made for some interesting days. Another fun soundtrack to a work day is listening to stuff like this.
It should be noted that I’m not the only horror fan in the house since Melissa is a horror geek as well. She used to read Fangoria, whereas I was more apt to read Option or RIP. RIP was a pretty bad magazine along the lines of Hit Parader, but they would have interviews with metal and punk bands–Anthrax and Hüsker Dü or the Cro-Mags and Ozzy. I may even still have those in a box at my parent’s house somewhere. To a 14-year-old in the sticks it was a way to find out about some of my favorite bands and new music pre-internet and it was on the shelves at the local grocery store for some reason. Anyway, watching horror movies became a coping mechanism for what was going on in our lives and, as I said, I was surrounding myself with them. Probably a strange coping mechanism for outsiders (although it shouldn’t be since psychologically it makes complete sense), but it worked for us. We like horror movies that tend to be gothic in texture and are more atmospheric rather than the torture porn that tends to be pumped out by Hollywood. And ‘Shawn of the Dead’ is brilliant and we’ll fight you if you disagree.
Finally, just to add a wrinkle, the title IBW was actually first used for a CDR that I’ve been giving away at shows since March 09. You can download a zip file of the collection now simply known as THG Shows CD from that link. The album/collection contains some demos of songs that will be coming out this summer on IBW, some cover songs, a collaboration with our friend Alantl Molina, and a couple of songs from The Wolf Album sessions. Here’s the track list:
1. Monster (rock version, demo, also appears on the pop tomorrow comp that’s out now!)
2. Plastic deer (from an uncloudy day)
3. Ocean (demo of song that didn’t make it to the final version of IBW)
4. Denver (featuring alantl molina; this one was written by Alantl)
5. Lazlo, Buddy (slow tiger demo; original demo recording of the song from our Declinate album)
6. Slinky Saturday (an instrumental written for Nutate, but never released)
7. The Book of Love (Magnetic Fields cover we did for the It’s Meaningless compilation)
8. Watching E.T.’s Mom in Other Movies (recorded for The Wolf Album, never released)
9. Vigilant Always (The Swirlies cover, to come out on Reverse Engine comp at some point in the future)
10. Tickle (demo of song now titled “FWIW” on IBW)
11. Rod Carew (song recorded for The Wolf Album, never released)
12. Nothing New (Chisel cover; never released)
13. Lazlo, Buddy (stairstep version; never released)
14. When We Sleep (Butterglory cover; never released)
So that’s how this album came to be.
Next time, I’ll talk about the recording of IBW covering equipment, software, techniques, and all that good stuff. Take care.
* The Harvey Girls have always had a fluid lineup. We’re like The Fall that way, except with less speed, less alcohol, less accent, and people tend to leave because we move or quit or something, not because we throw them out or fight them or why the hell ever Mark E. Smith does what he does. There’s a list over here of everyone who has been a Harvey Girl in some form, although that looks like it could use some updating.
** Our next album will be a revisiting of The Wolf Album project… we think. That’s the plan as of 1/15/10 at least.
*** We’ve since gotten a Mac laptop and new recording setup, but the PC gets used a lot still for various other reasons/software applications. I’ll go into that in another post. Oh, and after not using it for a few months, when I began recording IBW, Pro Tools suddenly worked fine on the PC. I hate you Pro Tools.
**** This happens a lot, to the point where people don’t believe us. We’re in one of those times right now, made to look foolish because people keep asking us to play (like cars & trains for his CD release show on Feb 6!). Yeah, we suck and can never make up our minds. We know that.
***** You can check out my live setup over here at our flickr page.