We -- Bel Argosy -- played our first show of the year at Don Pedro's on Wednesday, February 1st. Nina's brother Michael booked the show for us. He's trying his hand, I think, at being a show promoter / all-around music guy. I made the poster for this one. It's the first poster I've made since, gee, the one I drew for The Headliners back in 1998, in ball-point pen, with Billy and Chris and Simon as Abraham Lincoln (there was no photo of him to work from). I think I used it in my college applications. For this one, I went with a paper-and-Scotch tape 80's hardcore aesthetic. I think it worked out okay. As part of the Bel Argosy 2012 marketing initiative, Chris and I went out to Bushwick the weekend before the show to hang up flyers. Don Pedro's has changed, babies. The last time I was there was several years ago, when I saw Fuck School and Cerebral Ballzy, and back then it was a bit scarier. It looked like a rec center that'd been trashed during a World Cup, all crumbling asbestos tile and Latin-American soccer club banners. It's gone through some design iterations since then. In addition to an overall renovation, there's a photo booth and two Skee Ball machines, clearly an attempt to draw a hipster crowd, and they've got a menu with pulled pork "sliders" -- a sine qua non, I think, for trendy bars with kitchens. We hung up all three of my painstakingly photocopied flyers and then settled in for a drink. The band on stage, which I think was called Born Loose, finished their set and retired to the bar to have a drink themselves and receive well-wishers from the audience. "Isn't that the guy from The Candy Snatchers?" Chris asked, nodding at the lead singer and referring to a band we saw a few times in high school, notorious for their blood-spraying live act and an interview with Maximum Rocknroll that left our teenage selves tittering over the phrase "brain ass." He didn't want to bother the guy, but I was drunker and maybe a bit less star-struck than him, and so when he went to take a piss I went over and introduced myself. He was super nice! And his new band is very good. Celebrity!
On the night of the show, I trained it up to Billy's house to pick up our equipment, and then he and I took the train back downtown and into Bushwick. We lugged the drum stuff, a guitar, and a guitar amp the six or so interminable blocks from the subway to Don Pedro's. I'd bought a new snare drum a week or so previous, as part of the Bel Argosy 2012 Capital Improvement plan, and this show was its debut. The old snare drum was part of the ancient Headliners drum kit we'd bought (cymbals included) for something like $250 from a sneering, dismissive clerk at Sam Ash back in freshman year of college. It's served us / me very well over the years, but was starting advertise its age and quality pretty obviously -- despite replacements and tuning attempts over the years, the tom and kick drum heads are all slack and wrinkly, and the snare drum itself is covered in a criss-crossing pattern of black electrical tape to patch tears in the heads and keep the tone appropriately flat.
So Beau and I hit up the Guitar Center at the Atlantic Ave. mall on an overcast Sunday afternoon -- they may be Kryptonite for local music stores, but they're way friendlier. I didn't know exactly what we were looking for. We struggled to describe our "drum sound" to the salesperson, a big guy with an Australian accent and a scar running down his forehead. If there's a vocabulary for drum tone -- surely there is -- I surely do not know it. "We want, like, a really... 'crack' kind of snare sound," I said. "Kind of flat and military-sounding. As little melody or resonance as possible." Ultimately we had to resort to mouth noises to explain. But the dude was game and showed us a bunch of different snare drums, and we found one that I think sounds really good, a steel-shell Pearl with a really crisp sound. And it was only $200!
The first band of the night was called Yankee Bang Bang. They're a three-piece who play poppy, guitar-oriented punk songs with some strong Raga flavor. Their frontwoman, Sita, took singing lessons in India, and they do a mean cover of "Jaan Pehechaan Ho" -- no small feat once you see first-hand how fast and tricky that lead line is. After them came Stuvoodoo. Their Facebook page says they're "what comes after Green Day," but they sounded a lot more like, say, The Doors. They've got a kind of bluesy, cock-rock sound, and a frontman who looks like Victor Creed. I particularly like their song "Grow My City Goldmine," although I suspect that it may be about Warcraft. We played last. The new snare worked great! Crack crack crack.
Meeting Sita worked out to our mutual advantage: Her band was playing a show at Cake Shop on the 16th, and one of the bands on the bill had dropped out; she asked if we could fill in. Of course, we said. It was good to be back at Cake Shop! It's a very comfortable venue to play -- there's an actual green room (of sorts); they've got a real backline; and the sound guy, always recognizable in his tights and knee-length sweater, provides a clear mix, at least for us on stage. The first band up was Cave Days, a three-piece who play moody, drone-y guitar songs. We were after them. We played a new song we'd been working on called "Albert Chasey." I think we sounded good! I got a little too drunk and made the mistake of playing around with the tinsel hanging behind the stage, which led to a private moment of panic as Billy started a song while my hi-hat hand was firmly entangled in the stuff. Yankee Bang Bang was after us, and they played a really great, tight set, even better than the last time we saw them. They were followed in turn by Clinical Trials, a really awesome guitar-and-drums two-piece who were kind of like a female version of Ken South Rock -- or maybe KSR is a male version of them, since Clinical Trials has been around longer. They played bluesy garage punk songs, with shreddy guitar parts and hoarse, Distillers-style vocals. Their drummer was particularly impressive, breezily rolling up and down the kit without breaking a sweat. She was nuts. It was a fun night!
It's the middle of February, though, and we've only played two shows so far this year. How have we been spending our time? We're trying to press some vinyl! Billy and Chris, veterans of a half dozen bands that are no longer of this earth, had the observation that the rush to record might have stunted the development of some of their earlier projects, and so we spent our first year playing out and not worrying about putting anything down on tape. But people had been asking for full-band recordings of our songs, and Cenk let us know that he'd help us release something once we had something to release. So we prepared the Practice Hole Mark II and started experimenting with microphone placement and cable configurations, and over the course of several months we've found a process that so far seems to serves us well. Here it is: Billy records a "scratch" guitar track to a metronome in Logic. We use three mics for the drums -- two dynamic mics, one for each of the kick and snare drums; and one condenser mic for the cymbals and other drums. I play the drums to the metronome and the scratch track, and we record it to a four track tape, which seems to lead to a more forgiving sound -- less echo-y and with a little bit of microphone hiss. After that, we "bounce" the drum tracks back to the computer, and Beau and Billy and Chris record the two guitar tracks and the bass track directly from the amp to the computer. It usually takes me the most takes to get a workable track -- a testament both to my particular level of skill but also to how "clean" the drum track needs to be -- followed by Chris. Billy and Beau can usually nail their tracks in one or two takes. It's not a race. In the end we get something great!
We've decided to name the record "Tug Job," for a couple of reasons: One, because we liked the cheeky, obvious innuendo, which puts me in mind of similarly-titled albums by The Dickies, The Queers, and The Dwarves, among others; and two, as a tribute to how long it's taken us and how much effort we put in to get it done. "Getting this album out has been a real tug job," Billy suggested as an apropos example usage. It sounded plausible enough that I took it as a piece of idiom with which I'd been hitherto unfamiliar. It's not -- give it a Google and see what, uh, comes up.