Day: September 13, 2010

Now who wants to go to hell?

Here’s a bit of a change of pace.

A few years before Closed Casket Funeral came to exist, one of the best bands to come out of Windsor’s metal scene was arguably Fetal Pulp. Oddly enough, half of the band doubled as my band at the very same time.

A little less than two weeks after GOOD LUCK IN THE NEXT LIFE was committed to CD, I brought most of my equipment over to the Walker Power Building where Tyson and the gang had their jam space, and in spite of the drummer (Brandon, or “pogo’s dope” as he liked to call himself) being drunk and high on acid, all instrumental tracks for the songs were recorded within a few short hours on the evening of November 24, 2001.

It was kind of amazing how well Brandon could play drums in his condition. You’d never know to listen to the album that anything was amiss. These guys were all tight, though. Just about everything was done in one or two takes, and it was clear they’d honed these songs down to the smallest detail.

I was wearing black leather pants and a blue dress shirt. I have no idea why I remember a useless detail like that, but there it is.

Tyson double-tracked his guitar parts to give them a punchier sound — something that was kind of a foreign concept to me at the time, what with the “everything must be raw and live” credo I was following with my own music — while I enjoyed not having to participate beyond engineering and recording, which didn’t feel a whole lot like work when I liked the people I was recording. I still remember the decrepit thing that was brandon’s drum kit…the top head on the snare was just barely holding on for dear life, and the whole thing looked like it had come out of a garage circa 1832, somehow surviving a chemical explosion at some point over the intervening years.

I came back the next day to record the vocal tracks. Which doesn’t make much sense in hindsight. You’d think Jay (lead screamer) and Tyson (pulling harmony screaming duty and providing all of the deep, guttural moments, and even a bit of “clean” singing on the final track) could have just come over to my place and the end result would have been the same. For whatever reason, it seemed sensible enough at the time to bring everything over to the jam space one day, take it all apart and bring it home that night, and then bring it on over again the next day and do it all a second time. Tyson had quite the facility for those especially deep, evil-sounding screams, and he let one out that was so powerful, he looked for a moment like he’d been punched in the stomach.

For the one song that was sort of quiet — at least for the first few minutes, before the breakdown kicked in — there weren’t really any words, so I had fun whispering some mock-evil passages under my breath. Tyson heard what I was doing and tried to talk me into recording the vocals myself.

I laughed and said, “It’s your song, man, not mine. I don’t know what to sing.”

“You were just doing it!” Tyson said. “What you were just doing was perfect!”

I told him I didn’t have any ideas, so he got Jay to give me what lyrics he’d written for inspiration, but it was too strange for me trying to sing to someone else’s music. I mean, some of the Guys with Dicks stuff was getting a little heavy at this point, but it wasn’t metal heavy. I also just didn’t feel it was my place to butt in. This was Tyson’s band. He wrote the music and played all the guitar parts (this was before the drums became his weapon of choice).

After a bit of friendly arguing, Tyson finally gave up on me and chose to record ominous sounds in the place of vocals. He played with a screw on the floor. He played with the padlock on the door. He made weird sounds with his pager vibrating the strings on Gord’s bass. He whispered a little bit of gibberish. He threw a beer bottle on the ground three times before it finally broke.

These days I kind of wish I did a shot at recording the vocals after all. It might have been kind of fun to be able to say there was a Johnny West vocal cameo on a song by a metal band. I guess it wasn’t to be. Opportunities missed…

Over the next week, Tyson would swing by once in a while and I would work on mixing the songs. He gave me a few tips about how things should sound, since I wasn’t used to working with this kind of music, and he brought along his four-track tape recorder to dump a few things onto the mixer, including what sounded like a sound collage of televangelists that would end up serving as the opening track. There were standout moments from a woman who was looped to repeatedly say, “Now who wants to go to hell? Would you want to go to hell?” in a creepy singsong voice. He also had me mute a few of Jay’s screams where he thought they were superfluous or sounded too much like rap metal.

Super Mario Bondage

Tyson would later read me part of an MSN tirade Brandon sent him about how they recorded the album too quickly and it didn’t sound good enough or capture their full potential…which is pretty funny when you consider he was the only one who wasn’t entirely “present” during the recording sessions. I think everyone else was pretty happy with how it turned out.

In some ways the songs are closer to typical death metal territory than what Tyson would go on to do with other bands like Blindly I Follow, Cleansed by Fire, and Closed Casket Funeral. I don’t think there are any tricky time signatures, though there are some cool off-kilter breakdowns (one of them is in 6/8) and at least one passage in 3/4. There’s a surprising amount of melody in some songs, with some passages of clean guitar and guitar harmonies, and Gord plays a few things on the bass that sound like they belong in GWD songs (Tyson noted this himself at the time). Since I had no idea what most of the song titles were, for my own copy of the CD I came up with a few silly names of my own to fill in the blanks, like “Super Mario Bondage” and “Your Friendly Neighbourhood Waterbed”.

I never got too deep into metal. It never really moved me. But Tyson helped to crack the code for me, and with his help I was finally able to appreciate the amount of talent and ferocious technical skill involved. What did it for me was tuning out the vocals at his suggestion, concentrating on the music. Some of the screamers just seemed so ill-suited to the material, it made me wish a few metal or metalcore albums were instrumental.

The surprise for me was pulling out the fetal pulp CD for a listen after not thinking much about it for years, and enjoying it more than I ever had before. I like Jay’s screaming more than most other screaming I’ve heard even in much more established metal bands. He was always a really nice, quiet guy, and then he would step up to the mic and this huge voice would come roaring out of his throat. I was always amazed he could still speak after a show. Brandon, even for being frazzled, does a solid job on the drums, and I still can’t believe I got that kit of his to sound as good as I did. Gord was always a solid bassist in any genre, and he throws in some nice unexpected jabs of melody here and there. And while Tyson would justifiably go on to carve out a reputation as one of the best drummers around, I think he held his own as a guitarist too. there’s an impressive balance between dissonance and melody in these songs, and some startlingly original riffs. I’m not sure I’ve heard of any other metal band using the airship theme from Super Mario Bros. 3 as an intro.

The overall master volume is a little quiet compared to commercial releases. Other than that, I think I did a pretty good job with the recording, especially considering what I had to work with at the time: a handful of dynamic mics (nothing better than a few Shure SM57s and an SM58), the ART preamps, the Aphex compressor, and the same Roland VS-1680 I use today. Truth be told, I’m a little surprised by how good it all sounds today. This was not at all the kind of music I was used to recording or mixing, and I had to make creative use of the mixer’s middling built-in EQ to get some of the sounds to sit right.

A few years down the road I would have better equipment and the means to produce a cleaner recording, but all in all this one sounds pretty good. Hell, the guitar and bass parts weren’t even mic’d up — they were recorded direct from the amplifiers — and they still have a decent amount of body to them.

After listening to the CD a few times and jogging some memories (only the best tracksuits for them), I almost find myself wishing I’d put a bit of an effort into recording more bands at the time. My equipment was portable enough that I could go to anyone’s practice space and just set up and no, and my ears weren’t sensitive enough yet that the high volume really bothered me. Though maybe I would have ended up with some unwanted hearing loss if I recorded too much heavy music and I’d be paying for it now.

Aside from the friends’ bands I recorded, there was a lot of interesting stuff going on in the heavier pockets of the music scene back then. I wasn’t into everything I saw at the Gino (I never quite understood the popularity of Daylatehero, for one thing), but there were some bands I really liked, and I imagine some of them never got the opportunity to have a decent recording of their material made. A lot of the bands didn’t even stay together that long. I mean, Fetal Pulp — and Guys with Dicks, for that matter — only made it from about 2000 to 2002, and that was considered a pretty long run. Back then I wasn’t yet completely averse to making a bit of money through music-related means, so I could have made a few bucks and helped some people out at the same time.

One band I wish I recorded was called Curse the Sky. I’m not sure if they were from Michigan, or Guelph…I know they weren’t that far away, but they weren’t from Windsor. They came down a few times to play at the Gino and showed up at a party or two at Gord’s house. There’s another band on Myspace now with the same name, and I’m almost positive it isn’t the same group. These guys were pretty typical death metal, I guess, but they had a breakdown in the first song of their set that was so powerful I felt like it was going to force my lips back over my face. It still stands as my favourite breakdown I’ve ever heard in any metal song. I wish I had more than just my memory of it to fall back on.

I had a stoned epiphany during that breakdown one night at the Gino and realized it was my mission in life to get a twelve-string electric guitar and then record the most melodic breakdown in the world, with clean guitar arpeggios in place of the usual distorted chugging. I haven’t got around to that yet, but there’s still time.

There was also a band called Kanada (i think Joey from Phog was in this group?) that ended every set I ever saw them play with a cover of Neil Young’s  “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World”. They were much punkier than a lot of the other bands I saw live at the time, but one performance of theirs stood out. They played on a pretty stacked bill one night at the Gino when I was high on shrooms. For some odd reason the set they chose to play was almost entirely instrumental. At times it bordered on ska and surf. It was cool stuff.

I was never really one of the “Gino kids”. I just went to shows here and there for something to do. But there was some interesting stuff going on at the time, and everyone seemed to be pretty friendly, with no elitist scene bullshit. I mean, I was a long-haired guy wearing a leather jacket that usually had a Ziplock bag holding a few joints in the inside pocket. I didn’t look or act like a metal or punk scenester, mostly because I wasn’t one. But no one ever gave me any crap. Everyone was there to have a good time. If people wanted to get high, they’d go outside and get high. If people didn’t want to get high, they wouldn’t. I don’t remember any drama. We even talked about renting the space and playing a GWD show there, though it never quite happened.

I guess my point is it’s been fun to reacquaint myself with that Fetal Pulp album and remember how much fun we had recording it. The album art up there is just something silly I threw together. I never got a copy of the CD with the proper artwork, however many of those were made. Gord is now one of the only remaining founding members of local band Surdaster, Brandon is in Vancouver playing in a band called the Electric Demons (or at least he was; apparently the frontwoman passed away recently), Tyson is in PEI in a hardcore band called Get Bodied, and I’m still here, doing what I do.

Funny thing: I had a dream last night that I lucked into discovering all of the song titles I wasn’t sure about while ambling around on the internet. Of course, once I woke up I couldn’t remember what any of them were. But they made a lot of sense in the dream.