This is where we became a proper band for the first time, with a bass/drums/two guitars lineup that stuck for more than a day.
It started when Gord and I wanted to put together a Papa Ghostface band for the Air Jam, our high school’s version of a music-centric talent show. We weren’t sure where we were going to find a bassist and a drummer.
When Tyson learned of our quest, he told us he played drums. That surprised both of us. He played guitar in Fetal Pulp. That was his thing. We had no idea he even had a drum set. But it turned out Tyson really could play the drums. He wasn’t just foolin’. Gord recruited our old pal Andrew Whitelaw to play bass, and just like that, we had our band.
We started getting together about once a week and developed a rehearsal routine. We would run through the song we were going to play live (the Papa Ghostface tune Be Sorry) once or twice. Then we would forget all about that, I would hit the record button, and we would start improvising without any preconceived ideas about what we were going to do.
I was in a strange creative place at the time. I guess it was my brief fling with something approaching writer’s block.
I could still write songs. I was always writing things that went unrecorded while I was improvising things in the “studio”. The problem was, I couldn’t finish anything I was writing to my satisfaction, and it was really starting to mess with my head. The lyrics in particular just weren’t happening.
When I sat down at the piano and all I could come up with to go with some music I liked was a chorus of, “I’m like a truck you’d really like to fuck / I’m a truck / It’s true / You know, you know it’s true,” I knew something wasn’t quite right.
Having something like a real band for the first time in my life gave me an outlet to blow all of my frustration out of my system, and it galvanized me. Even when I felt like I had no ideas at all, inspiration would bubble up from nowhere. Dress Me Up is a good example. About ten seconds after hitting the record button, you can hear me say, “I got nothing,” because there isn’t an idea in my head. Before long I’m singing about a girl who’s really a frog with a large eyeball inside of her mouth, my guitar and Gord’s guitar are locked in, and a few minutes later you’ve got a song about cross-dressing love with a slight reggae lilt.
Speaking of love, Tyson was a big fan of Testicular Love. He played it for everyone in his high school law class. That still cracks me up, because…well…testicles. And high school law class. It’s a catchy tune, to be sure, but I’ve always preferred the more out-there stuff on this album like It’s All Coming Back and Orgy Clap, where I let loose with some inspired weirdness about bad people and bad sex.
Orgy Clap has an interesting ending. Just as it feels like the music is getting ready to explode, it fizzles out. My dad was on the phone in the other room, and he came into the music room (or “studio”, if you like) mid-song to tell us we had to stop playing. We were able to turn the unexpected lull into a natural segue and build the intensity back up again. Then he paid us another visit and told us we really had to stop, and it killed the song.
At first I was disappointed. Later I came to really enjoy the way the song got cut off out of nowhere.
One knock this album has against it is what could be the worst drum sound I’ve ever recorded. There was only one mic over the entire kit, like on WITHOUT DICKS. It worked on that album. This time I didn’t push the drums up high enough in the mix or place the mic well enough to get a full-bodied sound.
It’s still one of the better albums from the early lineup-shifting days, though, crummy drum sound notwithstanding. Be Sorry is really the only thing that doesn’t work at all, and that’s because my singing isn’t very good, Gord’s guitar is out of tune, and the original PG version rips it to shreds in every way. We weren’t going to top our original recording of that one no matter what we did. It came off better when we played it at the Air Jam.
Gord is pretty much on fire throughout, regardless of what instrument he’s playing. He has some especially tasty guitar moments on Princess in a Bottle (in the middle of the song there’s a nice moment of unexpected instrumental guitar telepathy between the two of us), and right at the end of Testicular Love when he just cuts loose.
Tyson takes the lead on one of the spoken word pieces this time out, railing against consumerism and waxing philosophical on The Stench of Wasted Currency, letting me take over behind the drums. Come to think of it, the only person who doesn’t play drums at some point on the album is Andrew.
Fun moments: Tyson shouting, “Hey!” as Orgy Clap starts to find itself, scaring the shit out of me in the process; Tyson using his pager to make some melodic sounds at the beginning of Spanish Onion and Gord saying, “That sounds so cool!”; Tyson joke-screaming that we need a break at the end of one of the longer workouts; Tyson poking fun at my sex-centric lyrics at the beginning of The Stench of Wasted Currency when he says, “I guess this is where you want me to say, ‘Penis,’ huh?”
Hey, those are all Tyson moments!
There’s also the hidden track, where we all sing a silly a cappella song, the four of us overdubbed about three times in unison, and Gord lets out a hilarious sound that’s like a cross between a yodel and a cow screaming. You can hear me cracking up about it in the background.
The album title came from Tyson. Back then I was always saying things were “sexy” instead of “cool” or “special”, and it had a weird way of catching on with other people. I was an influential guy in those days. It was funny.
As for our Air Jam performance, that’s a very long story, and one that inspired a one-act play. The important thing is this: I got to glare at a douchebag Vice Principal who tried to sabotage our performance while screaming an improvised addition to the song that went, “I hate you! I’ll kill you! I hope you die!”
Our most interesting music was still ahead of us.
Turtle Song / Tuning / Be Sorry
JuJu Ramona Ball
Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell
It’s All Coming Back
Dress Me Up
Princess in a Bottle
The Stench of Wasted Currency