toffeethief asked: Just wanted to say I really appreciate your "Time & Place" pieces. I'm always trying to get into new (well, new to me, anyways) bands and when a musician I love and respect suggests/gives some insight into one of their favorite bands, I check'em out and I can't thank you enough for introducing me to Dog Faced Hermans (They're so enthralling! I don't know how I haven't gotten into them sooner). Keep'em coming. Hope you're doing well. Thanks, man!
Thanks! I started doing those pieces as a writing exercise, but I also just generally like talking about my favorite records. Glad to hear folks are enjoying ‘em. I’ll try to keep ‘em coming.
And yeah, Dog Faced Hermans are fucking great. Sadly, it took me ten years to learn to appreciate them.
Anonymous asked: Hey Brian! I noticed that you did some modifications to your Ripper and changed the 4 Way pickup switch with one that looks like a 3 way switch. Is this new switch a regular Gibson pickup selector that is known from Les Pauls,Sgs, or is it something different? Are there some favourite Settings on the Ripper? All The Best. Justus
I have two Rippers, but both of them seem like anomalies. The Ripper on the right has the 4-way rotary switch that was customary for the original models. But the bass doesn’t have a serial number, the body is actually slightly larger than other Rippers, and the Gibson logo on the headstock looks a little suspect. So I think that Ripper is actually one of the Japanese knock-offs from the ’70s. It’s my favorite of my four Gibsons, though.
The Ripper on the left came with a three-way switch. The serial number is 5667451. I’ve tried to do some research on it based on that number, but Gibson wasn’t very consistent with either their numbering system or their hardware set-up on Rippers and Grabbers, so it’s hard to figure out if this model is legit and customary for the year of manufacture.
But ultimately, both basses play well and I got ‘em both for pretty cheap, so I’m not overly concerned with their authenticity.
Oxeneers or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home, the first album by my old band These Arms Are Snakes, turns ten years old this month. I mention this not because I think the album deserves some sort of commemorative treatment, but because it seems really strange that an entire decade has passed since this record came out. I remember buying albums by Dead Kennedys and Minutemen back in ’91 and thinking that they were relics from another era. Dead Kennedys had only broken up five years prior and D. Boon had passed away at the tail end of ’85, but to a thirteen-year-old, that seemed like a whole generation ago.
Obviously, the older we get the shorter a year feels in relation to our age. Ten years doesn’t seem as near infinite now as it does when you’re eight years old and grappling with the distance of high school graduation. But for me, there is some sort of significance to a piece of music being a decade old. I tend to think of different eras of music falling into neatly packaged intervals of decades. It’s sort of stupid, I realize. Nothing changes on the cusp of a new year, but it’s still kind of strange how apt the decade designations wind up being when we discuss certain genres of music. There’s a huge difference between ‘60s rock and ‘70s rock, ‘70s punk and ‘80s punk, ‘80s hardcore and ’90 hardcore, and, in this case, ‘90s post-hardcore and post-hardcore in the new millennium. While These Arms Are Snakes really resented being lumped in with “post-hardcore”, it would be foolish to deny being a part of it. And yet, after recently listening back to this record, I was a bit relieved by how well it’s aged. You spend your twenties cringing over decisions you made in your teenage years and you spend your thirties embarrassed by your twenties, so I was ready to cringe while listening to Oxeneers. But as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, it’s hard to believe this record is a decade old. It still feels very contemporary to me for some reason. And my memories of making the record are remarkably clear.
A few bits of trivia I remember about Oxeneers:
Shit Sisters: This is one of the first songs we wrote for the album and I don’t think there was ever a show where we didn’t play it live. Though Erin Tate played drums on the album, this song was written with our original drummer Joe Preston (note: not the Joe Preston of Thrones/Melvins/Harvey Milk fame). The title is a reference to the movie Sleepaway Camp 2. I have no idea why.
Angela’s Secret: This is another one that we played at pretty much every show. Steve referred to it as our “Blood Brothers song”, maybe because the keyboard line makes it sound like a more rudimentary take on “Cicilia and the Silhouette Saloon”. I always thought it was a bit more of a rip-off of “It’s Catching Up” by Nomeansno, mainly because both songs have a middle section where the bass rides one high note while the guitar carries the riff underneath it. Erin and I were big fans of the Canadian group, and we often used Ryan and Steve’s lack of familiarity with them as an excuse to lift ideas from their catalog. Steve suggested the title, which is another Sleepaway Camp reference. I learned later that Blood Brothers’ song “Meet Me At The Water Front After The Social” was a Sleepaway Camp reference too. So maybe this really was our “Blood Brothers” song.
Big News: The initial writing process for our songs didn’t often include every member of the band. Sometimes Steve would be absent. Sometimes whoever was drumming at the time and I would flesh out a structure to the song before Ryan came on board. There were even a few songs where Ryan and I would piece together a song without drums (“Subtle Body”, “Seven Curtains”, and “Mescaline Eyes” were written that way). But “Big News” is the only song where I wasn’t around for the initial writing process. This was “the single” off the album.
Tracing Your Pearly Whites: We played this one a few times early on in the band’s existence, but we had almost completely phased it out of our sets by the time the record came out. I remember we played this song first at a show where the guys from Jade Tree Records came out to see us and they grumbled that we hadn’t started the set with a song off our demo, even though at that point we had no music available to the public.
Gadget Arms: Jade Tree wanted to cut this song from the record and have it as a bonus track for the Japanese license of the album. The song is a play off of Mark from Blood Brother’s last name (Gajadhar). He played auxiliary drums on this one. Other guest appearances here include Dave Knudson and Demian Johnston on guitar, Ben Verellen on bass, and Ryan’s older brother Derik flipping a light switch and spraying a can of Lysol. Also of note, the main guitar line is an accidental note for note rip-off of VSS’s “Sibling Ascending”. Oops.
Greetings From The Great North Woods: This was originally supposed to be the opening track of the album. We were all super-pumped on it when we wrote it and it seemed to go over particularly well with audiences as we were leading up to the recording session. But for whatever reason we didn’t really manage to capture the spirit of the song, and I think it came across a little flat and lifeless on the record. We relegated it to the latter half of the record, but we probably should’ve just cut it completely.
La Stanza Bianca: We called this song “White Room”, but for some reason we opted to list the track as “La Stanza Bianca”, which was a completely incorrect Spanish interpretation. I always thought the main keyboard line sounded like the theme from Gremlins.
Darlings of New Midnight: We played this one live quite a bit, and fucked up the drum break around half of the time.
Oxeneer: Steve made this track on his computer. He’s reading a diary entry from one of his relatives detailing the events of their house burning down.
Idaho: We named this song “Idaho” because both Ryan and I played keyboards, so we thought of it as the twin keyboard song. Then it became “Twins”, then it became “Twin Falls”, then it became “Twin Falls, Idaho”, then finally just “Idaho”. I always loved playing this song, though I wish the bass dive was a little louder in the mix and had some side-chain compression on it so that it sounded like the bass dives on the Shizuo album. Still probably one of my favorite tracks by the band.
Other random factoids: Jade Tree hated the initial mix of this record, though we found out later that they first listened to it on a set of mono computer speakers. We got more complaints about the nudity in the artwork for Oxeneers than complaints about the artwork for This Is Meant To Hurt You, because apparently photos of penises are more offensive than pictures of women tied up with Christmas lights. I wanted to name the album Oxeneers while Steve wanted to name it The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home, so we compromised and gave the album two names.
There you have it. More than you ever needed to know about a random album from a random band from ten years ago.
Time & Place: Undertow At Both Ends
When you’re in your teenage years, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll view the world through the narrow lens of your own microcosm. In my case, it was very difficult to look at anything the world had to offer without assessing how it pertained to hardcore. It was a scene that provided a code of ethics, a platform for self-expression, a social circle, and, of course, entertainment. Hardcore provided a blueprint for how to live your life and it provided a small canon of albums that were, in my opinion at the time, the pinnacle of musical evolution.
Twenty years later, that viewpoint seems pretty ridiculous. Obviously, looking to my underage peers for insight into how the world should work is a pretty faulty strategy. And as much as I love those old classic hardcore records, they hardly represent the zenith of musical expression. It’s no wonder hardcore kids grow cynical in their twenties. Hardcore is so idealistic, so serious, so all-or-nothing. One minute you’re singing along to your favorite straight edge band at an all-ages matinee show, the next minute you’re selling your Judge records on eBay for beer money.
I love the hardcore bands I grew up on, but I no longer view them as the singular renegades I thought they once were. Sure, Black Flag and Discharge definitely operated on the fringes, but they were hardly pioneers in circumnavigating the larger music industry and disavowing standard rock conventions. Once you take in a little rock history, and once you expand your horizons beyond the insular bubble of punk, how do you continue to appreciate hardcore on any level other than nostalgia?
I owned other hardcore records prior to hearing Undertow, but the Seattle straight edge band was the group that served as my gateway to the hardcore community. I can’t listen to At Both Ends without remembering what it was like to be a part of that tight-knit scene. Because of that, Undertow serves as a prime example of what I liked about hardcore as a teenager, but sonically, they also represent why I still like hardcore (albeit, in a different capacity) in my thirties. I’ve grown to like a wide variety of music, but the majority of my interest still lies in stuff that falls under the umbrella of rock music, whether it be Faust, Funkadelic, or Flying Burrito Brothers. What I love about rock music is the sound of a small group of musicians pushing and pulling. I like the sound of straining. I like hearing things walk on the brink of collapse. I like the sound of a drummer barely nailing a fill. I like the sound of a guitar breaking up. I like hearing a singer’s voice crack. I like the sound of the needle going into the red. I love a solid melody or an interesting beat, but those things don’t mean much if there’s not a certain amount of grit and sweat involved.
Hardcore downplays melody and rhythm, but it emphasizes the grit.
And maybe that’s why I still think hardcore is a great thing. And maybe that’s why I haven’t become completely cynical about it’s primitive nature. Yes, there are greater musicians out there. And yes, there are greater compositions that touch upon a broader array of human emotions with greater nuance. But hardcore took the things I loved about rock music and amplified them, made them the central component. Hardcore may not be the pinnacle of Western music, but it distills the urgency and angst of rock music to it’s most concentrated form, and that’s something I can still appreciate to this day.
Anonymous asked: Hi. Is that 810 cabinet on Mike's side of the stage used for guitar with one of his own heads or ran off on of your amps across the stage, to act as a monitor for him, as does one of his cabs on your side of the stage. I vaguely remember playing guitar through our bass players setup (a sort of unisex Bassman head and Ampeg cabinet) at some point and not being overtly impressed by the EQ spread by itself, but maybe it works wonders in conjunction with a more traditional guitar setup. Thank you.
Both Mike and I play Verellen Meatsmokes through an 8x10 on our respective sides of the stage. For overseas dates where we play on rental gear, Mike usually plays an SVT Classic through an 8x10. So yup, that’s his rig on his side of the stage. Mike and Dave don’t like having me in any sort of monitor situation because they have to focus on keeping time with Mike’s loops. We could actually get by with striking all the front monitors as we pretty much don’t use ‘em, other than an occasional hint of kick drum.
Mike started using a bass rig after our van accident a few years back. His amps were fucked so he checked his gear through my rig and was like “holy shit, that’s the sound i’ve been trying to get all these years.” It’s funny, we realized a little while ago that both our Meatsmokes have pretty much the exact same settings. Apparently we’ve found the one frequency range that works well for our band. But Mike also runs a Verellen Loucks and a 4x12 on his side, so the two amps blended together are responsible for his final sound.
For most of our touring this year (barring our last couple of UK dates), Mike hasn’t had any cabinets on my side of the stage. The extra cabinet on my side is for the Moog Taurus/minitaur and a few auxiliary samples/noises.
Anonymous asked: Mr Cook, for the life of me, I can't figure out the high octave harmonic lead melody part on Seven Curtains... Can you help a bearded bass bro out?
I think you’re referring to the part that comes in around the fifty second mark in the song. If that’s the case, it’s a harmonic on the 8th fret of the D string, the 6th fret on the D string, 8th fret on the G string, 6th fret on the G string, and one hit on the 6th fret of the D string again before the pattern repeats. You’ll need to use the one-octave-up function on the Digitech Whammy. I also had some sort of distortion on for that song, but I don’t remember what I was using at that point… maybe one of the little Big Muffs? Hope that helps!
charliedor asked: Hey there Brian! How did you guys enjoy Arctangent? Your rainy set stole the weekend and a flawless set-list too, gutted I didn't bump into you over the weekend for a white russian and some serious bass talk ;) hope you all had safe travels back home.
ArcTangent was a good time. I wish we’d gotten to enjoy more of it. We got into Bristol at 9am in the morning after being up all night. So we slept for 6 hours, grabbed food, sat in traffic for an hour, then did the whole loading-in thing. By the end of it, we got to catch the last half of This Will Destroy You’s set, and that was about the entirety of my ‘hanging out at the festival’ experience. We flew out at 9am the next day. Such is the nature of touring.
I do think ArcTangent has a cool thing going. I love that it’s a niche festival. I love that they do it without corporate sponsorship. And I love that people actually attend it and brave the crummy weather. We had a blast playing and I really hope we’re invited back in the future. Next time we’ll schedule a little more down-time so we can hang out a bit more.
Thanks for coming to the fest and thanks for the kind words!