The Russian Wilds Demos

Howlin Rain

Catalog #: SC 18


Edition of 300 cdr, 150 Cassette. Silk Screen on die cut chipboard, hand numbered.

Below is a write up of song by song anecdotes that are intended to accompany "The Russian Wilds" demos.
 
Phantom In The Valley
        I’ve been toying with the first part of this song in various forms for years, maybe even since 1997 or so. It’s a song that has transformed over and over again to suit different phantoms in my life, people close to me who died, a haunting lover recessed deep into my past, different points of that duende kind of sorrow. Not just blinding grief or numbing pain but that deep beautiful sorrow that you don’t want to let go of because it’s so rich and has such strange, deep bruised colors of emotion but you also don’t know if you can take it very long in that place before you need to move to a place of reflection.
        Obviously the song is still changing, the lyrics are open ended so that others can use it as a similar shrine for their heart and mind to take stock of ghosts. Hopefully it will serve my own and other’s future ghosts and phantoms the same way. It provides a sacred place for them to be honored and not just feared, forgotten, colored by guilt or longing—a place for our phantoms to still be loved, cherished and respected in the present.
 
Self Made Man.
        This song went through a lot of changes in its time. The first incarnation was like a Mountain meets Judas Priest kind of thing with a couple choruses in the actual body of the song not just at the end.It was a bit of a quasi suite from the get go (or maybe a real suite? Hard to say) and I went back and forth with the band and Rick shaping and reshaping the thing until basically, after a few years, we were in the studio and there was no time left for rewrites! I suppose that process could go on forever when you’re working on a quasi suite! The final demo version of it actually has 3 and a half more minutes of jamming in the solo sections and other breakdown jam moments and Rick suggested we save the ultra jamming for live and reign it in a bit so we chopped it up, flipped some shit around, put this piece here, took this piece out and brought it down to a svelte 8 minutes and 1 second length for the final album version. Quite an editor!
        I had the lyric "Self Made Man" or "Who will love your self made man?" written down and was perhaps already singing it elsewhere in the song already but that final chorus came one day when we were jamming out the end chords and we were playing hot and I just started singing it, chanting it in melody and Joel started singing the harmony above it and it just came together. Moments like that are pretty rare and precious, especially in a song that a band works on and rewrites for years.
 
Can’t Satisfy Me Now.
        An anecdote about playing the demo for Rick Rubin for the first time. While we listened to the first round of demos we went through in early/mid 2009 he was looking at sheets of my lyrics making notes on them about the words or music or the song in general while we listened through. I was going through a period of what one might call anti-rhyme hysteria and in the first demo version of ‘Can’t Satisfy’ some of the lines in the 2nd verse went: "When I saw you the other day the sky seized the breath from my throat like a toad/ Your voice froze me stiff like I’d just seen the printed secrets of my life as a spy/ Your face was like a ghost, it shook me like I held on to an electric wire.
        As I sat there when those lines hit on Rick’s crazy state of the art, ultra-audiophile sound system that takes up half the living room in his pad in Malibu, extra proud of my little act of rhyme-scheme terrorism, Rick just kind of dropped the lyric sheet and looked at me and said "I’m not totally sure but I think you just tried to rhyme: Toad and Spy and Ghost and Wire."
        Looking pleased I nodded and said, "Pretty fuckin tough huh?" and he said "You should consider looking at a Rhyming Dictionary, they can be really helpful".
        And I think I followed that up with "But Nick Cave uses the bold anti-rhyme, don’t you dig Nick Cave?!" to which I believe he said something like " Yes, but even Nick Cave rhymes sometimes, man."
        So there you go. In this case Rick was probably right. Even Nick Cave rhymes sometimes and maybe I should too. I’ve since outgrown that anti-rhyme phase and my shit rhymes again almost consistently.
        An artist has to try different shit to keep growing. Learn the rules, break the rules, learn the rules, break the rules. You live life like that and then someday you die. It’s the cycle of creativity and life. 
 
Darkside
        This song was inspired by a girl I knew when I was in high school. She was a bit older by about 7 or 8 years and when I first met her she’d been on this crime spree up and down the west coast with a couple other young women. Bad seeds. I think the other two had been criminals with one or both feet in the streets for longer even though they may have been younger than "Jackie Marie", we’ll call her.
        The three of them had a little black .22 Beretta pistol with electrical tape around the grip and the serial number rubbed off with a file. They were holding up hair salons and little unsuspecting establishments on the Pacific Northern Coast from Washington back down to Humboldt and sometimes they’d pick up men as if they were streetwalkers and then they’d rob these unsuspecting johns in their cars when they got to the motel or the liquor store before they had to put out. Wild shit. Dangerous.
        This woman was the epitome of outlaw to me at the time. She did what she wanted when she wanted to. And she was committing crimes, packing heat, wearing wigs. Darkly beautiful and fairly dangerous looking, like a bad guy out of a movie. Not undercover either, she flew the dark flag high.
        We were never actually lovers like the character in the song (although sexual intimacy between these characters isn’t exactly implicit in the song either now that I think about it).The characters in the song are fictional, just like everything that’s been written down since the beginning of time. There are no facts on a written page only perception and in the best examples, truth. Jackie Marie is based on a general icon that I made out of this woman in my mind. In some ways she was much larger than life back in those days than some of the things I can even remember or tell you about. In other ways she has resonated a truth and an inspiration far greater than the facts could have ever foreseen or dictated in the short time we knew each other.
        She was one of my good friend’s lover but they had, supposedly, a totally open relationship so I put the moves on her one night at this knock down drunk up druggy party and though I was fairly rejected and disappointed at the time I’m thankful now she didn’t let it go forward.
        In recent times I’ve heard she actually settled down, has a couple kids and lives the good old American dream now and I’m not talking about the one with a pistol in your pocket in an alleyway in the rain.
        But isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard? She led at least part of a life of crime that was almost like a living artistic experiment like something John Waters would have come up with. Usually when you hear about folks that were once wild and settled down to the suburbs, as they got older you think, "yeah, yeah, yeah, same old shit, happens to everyone, we all got bills to pay and grow up." But with criminals that made some kind of splash or statement in their crimes, especially a stylish one, there’s something either spooky or celebratory or maybe both about them just slipping back into the fabric of the mainstream, cloaked in the social code and functioning just as successfully there. It just reinforces this icon and her extraordinary quality that I have burning around in my head.
        Does she still have an outlaw heart? Does she ever go to the hair salon now, gossiping with the ladies while they set her up with a nice perm but she’s brought that old Saturday night special .22 just for old times sake? Maybe it’s buried in the bottom of her purse beneath the Costco shopping list and some part of her considers jumping out of that chair and taking that chatty-Kathy hair stylist and her co workers to the ground, pulling out that .22 and waving it around wildly screaming "GET OVER TO THAT FUCKING REGISTER BITCH AND EMPTY THAT SHIT INTO MY FUCKING WIG OR I’LL PUT YOUR FUCKING BRAINS ON THE FLOOR!!!!" 
        One can only dream. God Bless you Jackie Marie, I hope you live happily now in your new life and I will continue to find creative ways to make legend the glorious, fire at the edge of darkness that was your old one.
 
Strange Thunder.
        For the guitar sounds on the first half of the song (I performed all tracks up until the point that the drums come in) I hooked all these Line 6 practice pods into each other and then ran it back through the live room playback monitors and twins and vintage amps. I stacked layers of these guitar tracks to get that sound of the bursting reverb and compression. The compression in the line 6 pod on certain settings is so blooming it’s almost faulty in its extremity and I hadn’t heard this much-used but often maligned piece of new school digital guitar technology for this dirty, ultra-vintage, foggy purpose yet on public record. Also, nothing else really has that compression/reverb sound. I guess it’s a classic case of use the right tool for the job.
 
Cherokee Werewolf.
        Our homage or ode to Michael Jackson’s "Thriller." I wanted to blend elements of pop music, soul, Werewolf lore, S&M sexual fetish, pulp horror, small town murder and of course a classic star-crossed love song element. And by god that’s what we did!!! 
        In the studio when the lady singers (Susan Appe and Mandy Green) were singing the female backing stuff at the chorus I asked them if they could blow their voices out a bit on the word "love" in the line "My LOVE I found you!"
        I wanted them to take it to an almost Manson gang vibe of violent female group glee.Try and tap some sort of transgression beyond just old fashioned murder in this musical killing, the Cherokee Werewolf standing over Laura’s body, murdering her, choking the air out of her body with his hairy, smelly, bloody wolf hands and this kind of Greek Chorus or Sirens leaning into the shallow grave around them sort of egging him on, taking a vicarious thrill from the kill of this poor sweet innocent girl.
 
Collage.
        The first time we jammed this cover tune it sounded like something off of Pink Floyd "The Wall". Weird thing.
 
Beneath Wild Wings.
        The recording technique was a nod to Steely Dan’s ‘Gaucho’ and ‘Katy Lied’ era sounds. We were in the B studio at Fantasy and it was a room that was mostly carpeted with low ceilings and you could shut these long felt covered baffles over the walls and mirrors and deaden the sound down until it was like a vacuum. It was so dead in there that you could almost see the consistency of the air change, you can almost see the air itself in a room that dead, heavy and sparkling like sunspots behind closed eyelids. Maybe it was my imagination. It’s a strange thing.
        The tricky thing with this recording method is that once you deaden everything and close mic it you can hear every little ringing tone in the drum and then you get into this mega session making sure the resonance of one drum isn’t reverberating a weird note in another drum because you can really hear that under the close mic super dead vacuum playback in the control room. These are things you could never notice when there are all kinds of room sounds included in the recording. These little ringing and resonant notes in the dead close mic’d room almost drove Tim Green and Raj crazy. They were taping wallets to the drums and putting tea towels on them and tuning this one up and that one down for hours.
        It’s also really a lot harder to pass off a great performance that isn’t great and sneak by with minute mistakes gone unnoticed under these conditions and severe detail. There are no sonic washes of color or audio shadows to underplay a weak snare hit or a slightly messy fill or kick drum hit. What you play is EXACTLY what you hear on the tape. Everything has to be great or the listener will know it was a half assed or flawed performance.
        On ‘Beneath Wild Wings’ and on ‘Darkside’ you really get a sense of what a great drummer Raj is and what a tight and powerful rhythm section Cyrus and Raj are together when you hear how they can thrive and excel in that bone dry, magnified sonic environment. 
 
…Still Walking, Still Stone
        I had been listening to a lot of Brazilian music with Joel. The progression and the vocal melody were originally a thing I thought was Brazilian sounding but with the momentum of the guitar solo and the way Mandy’s voice sounded in the end it came out sounding more like an old world French pop thing with a healthy dose of cocktail CTI jazz thrown in. A French girl on a bicycle thing, ya know?
        I loved the guitar solo that Isaiah did on the live recording that we used as a final demo so much that Tim and I asked him to use the beginning phrases from that performance in the album version, that’s not something he would have done normally, that’s just not the way he plays solos, it’s more of a ‘whatever comes from the heart’ kind of thing. You won’t hear a lot of replicated long phrases from night to night like that in Isaiah’s solos but I’m glad we had him recreate some of those phrases even if it’s a little unnatural to him, they are very musical and loaded with a good electrifying melodic energy. 
 
Walking Through Stone
        We worked hard and long and reached for our own weird kind of perfection on ‘The Russian Wilds’. Of course what any artist finds out in the pursuit of perfection is that it doesn’t exist in nature and art. It’s an unobtainable goal, an obsession, an ideal. BUT much like Ahab also learns from chasing the White Whale is that the journey after an unobtainable goal is also an event. Usually it turns out to be THE event. So is poking and prodding that goal endlessly until it turns around and eats you.
        Once the album was finished I accepted these notions. Perfection is a fool’s errand but one that creates interesting results born of obsession. As some byproduct of this acceptance I’ve developed an affinity for the "flaws" in the recording that I can find here or there. I am fond of them. They are buried and never glaring but they are there taunting and thrilling me in a playful way reminding me that perfection is an illusion and even obsession is, in its way, a form of visionary flaw.
        On Walking Through Stone the Wurlitzer A200 Electric Piano at Fantasy Studios was out of tune. It wasn’t drastically out of tune but we began to hear some clashy sounds amongst the guitars and Wurli as we worked on tracking the tune throughout the day. We opened it up and Tim and Alberto and Cyrus tried to tune some of the worst keys (tuning a Wurli is a tricky thing as it has to do with the way the wire coming off each key is embedded in solder so you have to heat the solder and move the wire around then let the solder harder around it in the new tuning position). Finally we thought we got it passable and moved on.
        Later back at Tim’s in mixing there were certain places that just sounded slightly dissonant when we had a lot of the tracks down and the Wurli up against the guitars and vocals. There was that Wurli, still out of tune. Tim and I wondered if we should re-track it but in the end we decided Joel had played such a great performance, fluid and paced with great subtle melancholy licks throughout that it would be impossible to recreate that "feel" in overdub as he’d tracked it live with the band in the original take. So we kept it.
        In the end product, the final mix that you hear on the album, you probably have to have a really discerning ear to tell the Wurlitzer is out of tune but you may be able to hear a couple notes that make some deep down part of your ear prick up a little or you may be able to detect a subtle, dissonant shimmer to the song in it’s sonic aura. This shimmer in the aura is something I’ve come to love about the song. Instruments out of tune, the unstoppable reality of dissonance in music on a small or large scale, almost undetectable free radicals that set off a shimmer in the musical DNA strands that create the depth of color in the sonic image, these things are their own language and character, the yang to the yin of perfection and control. After working so long and hard and in such detail on this album, to have it finished and come to know and comprehend the purpose of some of these flaws (no matter how minute) really brought my head back in for a landing. It let me take the obsession over this thing out of my head and put it inside the record sleeve where it lives its’ own life on my shelf and others shelves and record players and in other people’s imaginations but no longer inside mine.
        That’s a beautiful thing about making records; the closure. You create the songs, you obsess over how to get them documented the right way, you fuck around, mired in the logistics surrounding the art and work and then it’s done and released into the world. Out of your control. Gone from you and in the hands of fate and the wind.
        Some people say that the songs you write are like your children and you love them and raise them and then have to let them go and have their own life. But an album is a different beast, it is a stranger, someone you thought you knew but as soon as it takes a few steps from you and begins to turn away you realize, all along, you’ve never really known it at all.

 

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