Sunday, October 28, 2007

*Wheelie* Insert

Ghost Notes is out the door, and I'm putting together the artwork for Songs from Memory this week. Let's talk Wheelie once again.

So, here's the insert of Wheelie.

Click on them for a larger view.

I should try to explain some of it. The front cover, the airplane, I talked about at length last week. The back cover lists the songs as property of Frosty Acres Music. I'd completely forgotten that we'd ever published our songs under anything but Chuckling Grunion Music. I don't remember the circumstances around either name, but I can assure you that these names got a laugh at one point of another, which was all the validation we needed back then.

You'll notice from the song list that the only song on Wheelie and not Fizzy is "Psychosis," an old Mortals song that was a staple of our live set in Wheelie days. ("Interstate" was rewritten post-Wheelie and made the cut for Fizzy. "Blue Collar Suicide" is another old Mortals song that literally came together in the studio while we recorded Fizzy, so it wasn't ready for Wheelie, either.)

This might be old news, but just in case you've never heard the story, "B.O.B.A." is an acronym for "Buffett on Bad Acid." We came to our senses and called the song "Mexico" when we recorded it for Fizzy.

The inside lists many names, and I'll try to hit on the ones that aren't obvious.

First of all, we felt the need to list our full names, middle names and all, so if you were ever curious, here they are.

You'll also notice Dusty sang all the backing vocals back in the day.

Dorothy Denham, Dusty's mom, was gracious enough to let a very loud band play in her basement for the first two years of its existence; hence, she earned the first thank you.

"Steve for the wagon" refers to Dusty's friend Steve, who loaned us his station wagon when Brian's van dropped a spider gear or something and we were out of a vehicle.

Matt Engstrom owned Gibson's, and I think Barett Rinzler was involved with it, too.

Tammy Fletcher I'm pretty sure worked at Yucca, but I'm not positive on that one.

Jeremy was the guy who designed the bomb flag and the drunken hot dog.

Jim and Jody at CHUD helped us design the CD package.

I think that's it. If you have questions, run them by me in the comments section.

Next week, Wheelie sales figures, as remembered by yours truly.


And the answer to the trivia question from last week:

Lo, Our Much Praised Yet Not Altogether Satisfactory Lady-Art (The title is a paraphrase of a line from an Ezra Pound poem.)

Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big and Buzzy-Brian (Yes, he woke up muttering it one morning.)

Bottle-Rog (A phrase roughly meaning, let's do it again, as in, "Bartender, give us a bottle and fresh horses, we're going out again," which we were at the time.)

Congrats to John and chole, who both nailed it in the comments section last week.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

More on *Wheelie*

As I finalize Ghost Notes and Songs from Memory over the next few months, I’m going to blog regularly on the Refreshments.

Someone asked about the cover of Wheelie, which makes me want to talk about the entire package, which is probably more than anyone wants to know but, hey, it’s my blog.

The title of Wheelie came from “Pop a wheelie,” a line Roger came up with and quickly edited down to “wheelie.” We all liked that it evoked something from childhood, and that it sounded cool and fun.

Of course, we had to completely undercut the title with the album art. Brian wanted something that looked the opposite of “wheelie.” We settled on some kind of jalopy wreck, preferably one of those doomed, multi-winged planes that crashed on its first attempt at flight.

We liked the juxtaposition of calling our CD Wheelie and having some kind of bad wreck on the cover. That’s the kind of stuff that made us laugh, and undercutted any attempt by people--especially ourselves--to take the Refreshments seriously. That was the key in those early days.

It became my job to find a crashed plane, and I spent all day at the Tempe Library flipping through books. I eventually found what became the cover, which wasn’t a jalopy at all but a normal-looking little plane crashing, but it was all we had. CHUD Graphics helped us turn it into a cover, and we were set to go.

Of course, every CD needs a band picture, and we had no idea how to go about getting one. Someone got the idea to have our photo done at Sears--phony pose, funky back-drop and all--and we all thought that was perfect. We went to the Goodwill, bought some snazzy clothes, and all piled into Roger’s Landcruiser for the trip up to the Pleasant Valley Sears.

The result, with Rog and me sitting on the table in front of Dusty and Brian, was the epitome of what the band was in 1994: clever, spontaneous, silly, and at all costs unpretentious, exactly the opposite of what every band in the universe was trying to bring across. After that picture, nothing could stop us.

Throw in some artwork of an inebriated hotdog and a bomb flag, and you’ve got Wheelie.

All this gives me an idea for a new trivia question: which Refreshments member was responsible for coming up with which album title? The album titles are:

Lo, Our Much Praised Yet Not Altogether Satisfactory Lady

Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy

The Bottle and Fresh Horses

(Hint: Roger, Brian and I each came up with one of the above.)

Take a whack at it in the comments section. I'll reveal the answers next week.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ticketmaster Unsigned Band Contest-1994

I’m flying home from Atlanta today, Songs from Memory in the can and ready to press. I feel especially blessed to get to do this record after ten (!) years away from recording studios, and it reminds me of another time when circumstance smiled kindly upon me and my musical life.

Someone, I don’t know who, came across the announcement for the Ticketmaster unsigned band contest in 1994 in the New Times. We’d never heard of it, but it sounded like something cool to do: 36 different cities hosting a first round, then a bunch of regionals, then the final five bands head-to-head in Los Angeles. The winner got a check for something like $5,000 and a week’s worth of recording time at Bad Animals Studio in Seattle, enough time for an efficient little outfit like ours to make a whole record.

The Phoenix event took place at Minderbinders on Hayden Lane in Tempe. Five bands participated that Saturday afternoon, on an outside stage with no shade. The only other band I remember participating was Azz-Izz. I’m pretty sure we went on last. There was almost no one in attendance. We probably had a gig later that night, so I doubt anyone intent on the Refreshments experience bothered to go to Minderbinders that afternoon.

Strangely, I remember the gig being one of the best we ever played. We were getting better, gelling into something more than four guys who drank too much and hammed it up for the audience. We were a band getting ready for its close-up.

And we took Phoenix! Ticketmaster awarded us with an all-expenses-paid (although I remember Rog having to call the home office at one point to shake some cash out of them for things like tips for baggage handlers) trip to Seattle for the semi-finals.

I can honestly say I don’t remember a thing from the Seattle show--the venue, where we stayed, nothing--except for the fact that it was in Seattle and that we won again. (Thank goodness I’m getting this stuff down now or I may have lost it forever.)

So the finals, Los Angeles, five bands ready to claim the ultimate prize.

And we knew we had a big advantage over the other four bands going into it. Our fans got wind of this not-too-far-out-of-town show and many--a hundred or so, I‘d guess--made the pilgrimage to L.A. to cheer their boys past the finish line. It was greatly appreciated. If any of you are still out there, thank you.

Ticketmaster, fresh off the Eddie Vedder run-in, was out to prove how band-friendly it was, so this show in L.A. was pimped out. Grand ballroom with hardwood floors, video cameras flying here and there, dozens of monitors. I remember seeing the footage of it, and it reminded me of some elaborate MTV production mixed with a dash of American Bandstand.

We went on last of the five bands, which made us look like the “headline band,” especially when we went onstage and a good chunk of the heretofore ambivalent audience rushed the front of the stage and started dancing. We played “European Swallow,” “Suckerpunch,” “Down Together” and maybe “Mexico” or “Mekong.” The four other bands, all competent, were doing some variation of the grunge thing, and there we were, four guys from Tempe playing fun pop songs way too fast, and one hundred folks dancing their asses off. It felt inevitable, even as far back as that first gig at Minderbinders, that we’d take the prize. But it was still surreal after our set when the head of Ticketmaster announced our names and we himmed and hawed onstage, got our pictures taken, feeling both elated and ridiculous.

It turned out that 7,200 other bands submitted for the contest. 1 in 7200. It was a good thing no one told us the odds.


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Wheelie and the Beeramid

Finishing Songs from Memory in Atlanta this week, I'm in the mood to ramble on about another independent recording project.

The Refreshments were offered many things in those first months of gigging. Lots of bands wanted to play with us, and lots of club managers wanted us to play their venues. People offered to be our fan club president (thanks, Kathleen) and to run our official Web page (whatever that was; this is 1994 we’re talking about.) We could feel that people wanted to help us, wanted to be part of this thing we’d started. If they thought they had something that would be of value to a fledgling band, they offered it.

Don Salter was one such person. Don approached one of the band members after a show in what must’ve been the early summer of 1994. Don owned and operated the Saltmine, a recording studio in Mesa, Arizona. Don loved the band, and he wanted to have the Refreshments into his studio, so much so that he offered free recording time to get us there. If we didn’t mind coming in at odd hours--times when Don didn't have a paying act in the studio--we were welcome to have a go at it.

Free? The price was right.

We got ready to make our first record by doing what we always did, playing and practicing. There was very little discussion of how we wanted the record to sound, no pre-production; we were proud of how we sounded live, so we were done, as far as we were concerned. The only thing we really had to decide was which songs we would record, having more than an album’s worth of material by then. We quickly decided to record only our “first batch” of songs, more or less what we had going into our first gig, plus “Mekong.” We would go into the Saltmine and play these songs, just like we were playing a live gig, only this time tape would be rolling.

And that’s what we did. We went into the Saltmine, usually late at night, set up, cracked a twelve-pack, played our songs, cracked another twelve-pack, played some more, broke down our equipment and went home. This happened maybe two or three times for basic tracks, once for guitars, twice for vocals, once for mixing. It was all done by the end of the summer, Wheelie in the can, our first record.

Don Salter’s fond of telling the story of the Beeramid, and he tells it well, so I’m reluctant to repeat it here. Basically, one night while we recorded basic tracks, the band started building a pyramid of beer cans in the window between the console room and music room. By the end of the night (sometime early in the morning) the Beeramid was so tall and impressive that the engineer had to struggle to see around the thing to view the band.

The Beeramid. It’s an adequate symbol for the whole project. Anyone who’s heard Wheelie knows why. It’s still out there somewhere, Wheelie, if you can find it. I was careful to keep a few copies for myself, but over the years I’ve found reason to part with one here, one there. I’m down to one copy, and that one’s staying with me.

We’ll do more on Wheelie later, as it fits into our time line. There's plenty more to tell.