Thursday, March 27, 2008

Infinite Potential - Freemasonry

(Insert cover for the Freemasonry/Scout Split LP)

Download the stuff here: Split LP with Scout

Freemasonry in my opinion was the best band that ever existed in Atlanta. I will just put it on the table right there. They took the power of a John Reis band (e.g. Rocket from the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu), and combined it with the melodic elements of post-punk bands like Jawbox to make such an amazing mix of power and melody. This was a combination you got sometimes in bands like Naked Raygun, for example, but in this case sounded completely different. Sarge, the singer/guitarist had a great voice that was powerful, melodic and completely original. The dude was also one of the funniest guys I have ever met. I remember going to see them play a show in Andy Stivers’ basement, and he told me that "anything was okay in moderation" – yeah thanks for the tip Sarge. Bruce, the second guitarist, had a guitar sound that was unbelievable – especially when matched with Sarge’s guitar. Kip’s drumming might not be the most versatile out there, but it was solid and 100% Freemasonry, and was perfect for the music they played. Even later, when I played with him in Chocolate Kiss, I would hear Freemasonry whenever he played the drums. Not Fiddlehead, or Galanas Cerdd, but always Freemasonry. Also, all of the printing on the Freemasonry records were in his handwriting, so I always had him make our Chocolate Kiss set lists just to remind me of them. Lastly, Marcus was a great bassman, adding all these extra little flourishes and melodies into the guitar layers, and one of the nicest guys I ever met. I have included in this posting the songs from the split 12” with Scout, which was their 3rd and half of their 2nd demo tapes. Also included is the non-LP instrumental “Acacia”, and the last half of their Live at WREK show. If anyone has a good copy of the entire Live at WREK show (Kip?), please get in touch.

(Lyric Sheet for the Freemasonry/Scout Split LP)

The first time I saw Freemasonry was when Car Vs. Driver played with them in the fall of 1993 at the Liquid Bean. They were only a 3-piece at that time (Bruce hadn’t joined the band), but already they were amazing. Chad Wiener and I thought it was awesome that the drummer was named Kip. We kept on asking if his name was Kip Winger, and I think he got really pissed at us. Sorry Kip, we were in high school. We played with them a few more times, but things really kicked in when they added Bruce Bohannon from Fiddlehead on second guitar. That guy can play guitar like nobody’s business, and somehow had the best sound in Atlanta. I have played his guitar since then and could not get anything near his sound, it is true that so much of what makes a musician sound the way he does is not so much his or her equipment but how they play the instrument, and that dude could play. This addition improved the band’s sonic depth and composition exponentially. They were now able to add more power to the songs as well as an additional melodic element that was missing in the 3-piece lineup. For example, when they used to play “Freemissionary Style” as a 3-piece, Sarge would play harmonics on the guitar while singing the chorus, and it was very difficult to tell what was going on in that part. However, once Bruce joined he added a thick guitar melody which perfectly complemented Sarge’s vocal on the part. I don’t know why they didn’t put that song on their Sky LP, it was one of my favorites, how can you beat that opening line: SO YOU DON’T WANT ME ANYMORE - YEAH SO WHAT! They released the Pool Hall demo tape (Kip – I need a copy), and the Sensible demo tape as a 3-piece. Both “Everyday” and “Easy” are from the Sensible demo, so although they were great in that lineup, you can see what Bruce contributes to the sound. Once the 3rd demo was released, with Bruce on guitar, we knew something on a level much higher than any of us was taking place. When Car Vs. Driver was approached by Sky records to do an album, we played for them the 3rd Freemasonry demo tape and told them that this is the band they should sign, and they promptly went ahead and did it. I will post the Sky record soon, but I wanted to post all of my non-Sparrin’ with the Varmit tracks on this post as the golden years of Freemasonry.

I can’t explain in words how much I loved this band. The music is hard for me to listen to these days, because in my mind they could have been one of the biggest post-punk bands of the 90’s, easily on par with any of the Touch and Go, etc. bands of the time. And they were gone so fast, with such tragic consequences, which makes me miss them even more. As for Marcus, I don’t know if I believe in any kind of afterlife, but I hope he is at peace and wish more than anything that he was still here playing bass for us. I would love to hear “Everyday” or “Sensible”, or any of their songs played again.

(Acacia 7" cover - notice Kip's handwriting in all Freemasonry texts)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Jeru in Montana – Sunset On Tokyo 1997 Demo

(Jon Rothman and Sunset on Tokyo rocking his basement in Missoula - April 1997)

Check it out: Sunset On Tokyo - 1997 Demo

Car Vs. Driver ended on July 21, 1995. One of the main reasons was that Jon Rothman was supposed to go to school in Montana to study forestry (actually in 1993), but he delayed his trip by two years because he was having so much fun playing in CVD. So in the fall of 1995, he finally left for Missoula to follow his dream of becoming a park ranger. However, when he got there he ended up starting this completely amazing band called Sunset on Tokyo. The hal al Shedad played with them in Missoula and Portland during our Spring 1997 tour, and both times they were unbelievable. They had a great live sound, and Jon’s guitar playing grew exponentially from Car Vs. Driver days. I look at this demo as a glimpse into songs that might have been the basis of CVD songs, had we stayed around another year or two. Jon really got along with the other guitarist in the band, and I believe formed several other bands over the years with that guy (although I don’t have any recordings), and eventually joined up with the Long Winters out of Seattle. Go check him out next time they come through your town.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Spacebird Takes Flight - Seventy Spacebird Unreleased Album from 1999

(Marcus Lowe giving us the 'Lakemonster' at the Living Room in 1999)

Here is the unreleased “album” by Seventy Spacebird that we recorded at the Living Room in 1999:
Seventy Spacebird Unreleased Album from 1999

The lineup for the session includes myself on drums and guitar, Marcus Lowe on drums, percussion and I believe some keyboards, Justin McNeight on guitar and bass, Mathis Hunter on drums, guitar and percussion, Rich Morris on keyboards and Ed Rawls on bass. There are no overdubs for this music – it was all created and improvised live in the studio as it happened, with all the noise, rough edges, etc. as part of the package. Here is some background information on Seventy Spacebird to read while you listen to the music:

(Mathis Hunter and the Seventy Spacebird setup during the 1999 recording session - notice the equipment spreads across two rooms with keyboards, drums, and amps everywhere)

Seventy Spacebird was the first band that I played in which relied almost entirely on improvisation. My introduction to playing music in an improvised manner came from the late nights playing music in the movie theater where I worked in the 1990s. My friend Josh Bohannon was great improviser on the guitar and especially keyboard, and we would set up in the theater after closing time (around 1:00 or so), and play whatever we felt and came out of us until dawn. I have no recordings from these sessions, but I remember them being extremely long freak-outs or spacey, droney pieces, in which we would run movies on the screen above us, providing our only source of light for the room, and jam on essentially one piece the entire length of the movie. Many times Mathis Hunter would also join us, and every once in awhile we would have Justin McNeight and Rich Morris (who are both amazingly creative musicians) playing along. After Josh moved back to San Diego in 1997, Rich, Mathis and I started playing at the Good Friday Experiment practice space on Armour Drive, once again from around 1 to 5 or 6 in the morning. As I am usually asleep at that time, playing whatever comes out of you that early in the morning can be a surreal experience, and one in which very interesting and unique things can happen. These jams were so primal and rudimentary, but would have moments of something that for me truly approached transcendence. You forget what time it is, where you are, what you are doing, and just let your body take over playing without any connection to your mind. It was like playing music as a religious experience.

(Outside the Living Room in 1999)

Over time we started honing our skills and making things happen musically on the fly, this eventually led to what I would consider a musical collective that ran from the late 90’s until the mid 00’s under the name Seventy Spacebird. I believe it was Marcus Lowe that came up with the name, as it seemed to describe our music in literal terms, and was also intentionally hilarious. The first incarnation of Seventy Spacebird was myself, Rich Morris, Justin McNeight, Marcus Lowe, Mathis Hunter and Ed Rawls. I would trade off on drums and guitar or percussion with Mathis and Marcus (but always 2 drumsets going), Justin would normally play guitar or bass, Ed on bass or guitar, and Rich on keyboards. This was more or less the improvisational arm of The Good Friday Experiment, and we even played some GFE shows when the situation necessitated it.

Seventy Spacebird played probably less than 10 shows in its lifetime, but they were always an event. Just setting up the equipment took longer than the show itself. We played our first show at the Yin Yang CafĂ© in Midtown in 1999 I believe, where we brought so much equipment that we had problems fitting the audience in the room. My favorite memory of that show is Marcus playing a hand drum and dancing around the room like something out of the jungle, completely tweaking the crowd. We played a party at the U-Haul warehouses in the West End with the Flakes (another Atlanta improvisational band), and the bass cabinet died right at the beginning of our set, reducing the entire performance to drums, guitars and keyboards. However, my memory of that show was us playing this amazing drone/dub jam that went on well into the morning. People were literally sleeping on couches in the audience while we played – for us that was the best compliment. We played Album 88 on the air once, which I will include in a later post, as well as a Live at WREK session which I do not have in my recordings, but have heard played on WREK since then. That show is interesting, because I remember driving in my car years afterwards and listening to WREK, and thinking that the drummer in the song was playing just like me, and then realized that it actually was me playing on the radio as a re-broadcast of that session! Also, for that Live at WREK show we used Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies in the performance of our “songs”. Basically, Brian Eno created these small phrases to help inspire his musicians during recording sessions, and we transcribed each of these phrases on separate pieces of paper and put them into a hat, and at the beginning of the songs each of us would pull a new Oblique Strategy out of the hat and let these statements guide our playing for the song. I believe I pulled one like “play everything backwards”, which helped me step outside of my normal habits during the session and really loosen up even though we were playing live on the air. I highly recommend techniques such as this when playing this kind of music. We played the main floor of Eyedrum when it was on Trinity Street (not in the basement), as well as the Caledonia lounge in Athens, and at the Engine Room in Athens during Athfest. For that show, we supplemented the band with Aaron from Ocelot and Craig Dempsey from At the Price of the Union, etc. both on guitar and called it Seventy Spacebird Psychedelic Orchestra. So for that show we had two drumsets, keyboards, bass, and 3 guitars. I have pictures from that show where Aaron, Craig and Justin are all soloing above the 12th frets of their guitars at the same time, which must have sounded awesome.

Eventually, the desire for us to create improvised music channeled its way into Noot d’ Noot, which brings a great deal of magic into that band (some would call it goofer dust), and helps to stretch the music further and create new and interesting songs and sounds to experiment with. Seventy Spacebird was like my music school. I probably learned more about playing music in that band than any other in my life, and had a great time doing it.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Band Genome Continues...

I have made several updates to the band genome - here is the latest version (see attached). Thanks to Ben Davis for the link to John Coltrane, and Gray Kiser for the path to Youth of Today, and to all of you for commenting and tweaking it over the past few months. Insert your comments here so I can further refine it with regards to accuracy and completeness, and I will keep updating!

Monday, March 17, 2008

The hal al Shedad - Live at WREK May 6, 1997

So these pictures are not from our Live at WREK show, but at a live performance at a radio station in Los Angeles (I believe it was KXLU, but I'm not positive). As you can see, this was on April 14, 1997, during our Spring 1997 US tour, and our Live at WREK was May 6, 1997 right after we returned, so this is in the same general time period. We only did one Live at WREK session, and it was between the first and second albums. Two songs were from the first LP (Unification and The Art of Mapmaking), one song from our first 7" (Local Seeing), two songs from the 7"s between the two albums (Yesterday's Bullets, Human Again), and two songs from the yet to be recorded second album (1/1/97 and Ivan's Devil). I hope you enjoy, there will be plenty more hal al Shedad to come.

Here is the link: The hal al Shedad - Live at WREK May 6, 1997

As a piece of trivia, Ben still plays that Ampeg V9 bass head and cabinet on the right side of the picture in his current band - The Forever War (as well as the same Music Man bass!). I gave away that silver spray painted drumset years ago, and heard that the drummer from Deerhunter was using it for a time, but I know he got a real drumset later on. Also, Ed's 'Going to Grandma's' case for carrying his volume pedal and cables is in the foreground - classic hal setup.