Remixing Your Own History #2 Chris vs Drums

I haven’t posted anything about this in a very long time, but I haven’t forgotten. It’s been a while because since the end of August 2022, I’ve had two respiratory infections and three head colds — two really shitty and one mildly annoying that I’m still sort of dealing with.

I’ve done a handful of mixes of the album and it’s very very close. It’s in fact so close that I almost don’t want to finish it, because that closure feels like it will take me one step farther away from my best bud, Tim.

Tim died in a car accident in 2013 — ten years ago. This project is one of two projects that I have on tap that need to get done to have closure on this tragedy. Once those projects are done, my time working with Tim will be essentially over forever. The part about this that really kills me that I haven’t really gotten into was that Tim and I were planning on doing Squelch again. In fact, we had bones for three new songs in the can. These songs however will never be done. Tim’s song was never tracked, but it was a riff he was working on since the 90s and when we revisited it, the flood gates of ideas opened. My two songs were tracked but lost in a hard drive crash. I guess there’s some sort of poetic lesson here.

“The Plan” is to release this as a box set for friends and acquaintances who were around back in the day. Four CDs —

  1. Original mix, original master. Sam Carava and Tim Thomas mix engineers, Chris Siuty mastering engineer.
  2. Original mix, 2021 remaster. Sam Carava and Tim Thomas mix enigneers, Chris Siuty mastering engineer (but with more experience, better ears and better gear.)
  3. 2023 Chris Siuty remix and remaster.
  4. Literally everything else that we have, finished or not on one disc (or two if necessary.)

This will include a comprehensive booklet outlining the band’s history, members, releases, details about shows and photographs. Also a run down, track by track of each song. It was mentioned to me by an acquaintance that we could do a “commentary disc,” but we’re not gonna do that for a lot of reasons. The biggest of which is “we’re not those kinds of assholes.”

Onto the mixing process thus far.

So let’s talk about drums. The absolute most important member of the band is the drummer. I’m not kidding — if your drummer is shit, your band is shit and your songs will be shit. Our drummer was NOT shit, but he did lapse in care of his equipment back then. We rolled into the studio with beat-to-fuck drum heads to which the engineer rightfully said “you need new drum heads. There’s a music shop like two miles from here.” We rolled over to York Music in Elmhurst IL and bought drum heads — well, a few drum heads. They had a kick, floor tom and snare in the sizes we needed, so we did the best with what we had. Drum heads were replaced and tuned. The rack toms were taped to fuck. Years later, I learned a trick to recover fucked up drum heads which requires a heat gun or high-heat hair dryer. Had I known this back then, we would have been less fucked on the drums.

Mic selection was something like SM57 on snare and toms. SM58 on kick and Peavey PVM480 end address small diaphragm condensers on overheads and high hat.

I wasn’t crazy about how the drums sounded, but all things considered, it could have been a lot worse. It wasn’t Sam’s fault — he really did the best he could with the shit sandwich we handed him. This bit of karma would come back to bite me years later as a professional engineer multiple times. He too was doing the best he could with what he had (and was given.)

A quick side note about the Peavey PVM480. This is a budget mic made by a company best known for making high gain jobber amps, jobber PA systems and the 5150. On one side you have totally fine, acceptable getting-the-job-done-on-a-budget gear and on the other, you have the 5150. The PVM480 sounds like complete dog crap on almost everything, except cymbals. It’s legit one of the best cymbal spot mics I’ve ever heard. In fact, if this blog had a larger readership, I’d likely not even mention this, because I still wanna buy a pair for my home studio.

The thing about this mic though is that it has a rated sensitivity of -45 dB, which is pretty sensitive. Comparatively, the Shure SM 81 has the same sensitivity, as do many other condenser mics that are more expensive. A mic like the Neumann KM84 has a sensitivity of -38 dB and the Schoeps CMC6 with MK4 capsule has a sensitivity of -36 dB. These mics are more sensitive and significantly more expensive.

In an environment with low, hard ceilings, the mics positioned directly over the crash and ride will basically mean clipping every time you hit those cymbals. You can pad the input at the mixer, but those mics are going to clip at the element. While you can’t clip a dynamic mic, you can clip a condenser mic. If you don’t activate the pad on the mic, those cymbals are going to be distorted. That was an oversight on all of our parts.

The take away here is that it isn’t always the gear you have or how expensive it is — sometimes the room and how you utilize it is far more important. Treating your room acoustically and triple checking everything is equally important. As well as sometimes thinking outside the box with mic placement. In hindsight, it might have been a better approach to use the larger part of the room and rather than do overhead mics, set up the mics in front of the drum set — maybe three to four feet away — and do an XY pattern rather than spot micing the cymbals. But this is experience and time talking rather than the novice know-nothing walking into someone else’s house to record.

But I digress.

The kick sounded like shit. It was bad mic positioning, but blended with the overheads, it sounded pretty ok and serviceable. If the overheads weren’t clipping every time the cymbals were struck, I could have saved a ton of time remixing this thing, but sadly they were clipped, distorted and fucked right to hell. Can’t go back in time to fix it, so there’s no point in dwelling on it. I can’t say something like a Beta 52, D112 or M88 would have changed anything, because it very well may have been the drum that needed work. It could have been the less-than-stellar Mackie mic pres of that era. Who knows at this point. (Editor’s Note: Mackie has improved their mic pres drastically since the 90s. The Onyx mic pres sound fantastic and are comparable to some of the finest Allen & Heath pres or even those found in the Midas Venice.)

The snare on the other hand sounded great. Like holy shit great. Even with no compression, the snare slammed, cracked and was a thing of beauty. I can’t remember which snare it was that we used. Our drummer had a series of snares that he obliterated — the original Tama Swing Star snare; a Ludwig piccolo (it wasn’t this one) and this gorgeous white Pearl snare that sounded like the fucking apocalypse. I think it was this one, but the time line is fuzzy.

Now I could have just fucked with the levels and called it a day, but after decades of not being happy with the recording, I ended up using Drumagog to replace the drum sounds. Also in the signal chain is a Waves SSL channel strip, Black Rooster LA2A compressor and Waves Pultec EQ. That’s the signal chain on each drum — not necessarily in that order. On a couple songs I used the Waves L1 limiter. This is just to keep the signal at -12 dB and not to color sound. This isn’t even on every drum. OH… ALSO, I used the Waves EMO-Q4 EQ on the kick and bass guitar to get them to play nice together.

Worth noting – I didn’t replace all the drums. I replaced the kick, toms and overheads. The snare, timbales and high hat remain, because those sound great.

Once I got a good balance on the drums, I bussed to a separate channel where I’m using an API 550B EQ and a UA 1176 compressor. This channel is then sent to the Abbey Road Plates reverb. It feels like a whole lot of overkill, but honestly, the drums sounds fantastic now and they still feel natural.

Why did I send a stereo mix to a mono channel? Because (shockingly) adding a mono bus to a stereo mix actually makes the stereo mix sound better and those right to left, left to right tom sweeps feel more natural. Think about when you’re at a gig and you’re standing in the middle of the room. Are you only hearing the PA or are you hearing the direct sound of the drums as well? Do they sound natural or does it sound artificial? Sounds natural, right? That’s because for all intents and purposes, those drums on stage are hitting you straight up the middle. Your ears aren’t going to be finely tuned to a left to right tom sweep or that the snare is slightly off to the left of the drummer. It’s essentially up the middle for you. However, the FOH engineer is panning out those drums so it feels like it’s going left to right, sounding enormous as if you’re directly in front of the kit. It’s all an illusion. What’s doing a lot of the work is the acoustic kit in front of you, keeping it real and making it sound natural. Same shit on record.

Let’s talk about Drumagog.

The trick with Drumagog — which is really a fantastic, life saving piece of software when used sparingly — try not to use the time correction unless you absolutely have to. The quickest way to get your drums to sound like you’ve done too much work is to let software time align them. Your drummer is going to sound like a drum machine. In some cases, you have to do this. In most others, playing to a click track is enough. If your drummer can’t play to a click, well, maybe get a new drummer — or maybe ask them to practice.

Going into the studio is entirely about being prepared (we were not prepared) and part of that preparation includes making sure your instrument sounds as good as possible and that you, the musician plays as good as possible. A lot of times that means playing to a click track. A lot of drummers hate it because they think they’re gonna sound like robots. The thing is, you don’t necessarily have to hit EXACTLY on the click. It’s basically there to help you keep the tempo. You fall off the click for a measure — it isn’t the end of the world. Trust me, you’ll still sound human.

Dan Felumlee from the Smoking Popes talked at length about how he learned to play to a click when the Popes got signed to a major, because he didn’t want to be replaced. If you listen to Destination Failure you can clearly hear he’s on time AND he still sounds human (and most importantly, he still sounds like Dan Felumlee.) Click tracks don’t exist to take the feeling out of your drumming — it’s basically there to say “dude you’re going too fast” or “dude you’re going to slow,” but ultimately they’re there to say “this is how fast you should be playing.”

Drumagog doesn’t care about your feel. In fact, it can say “fuck your feel — I’m here to fix your shitty timing.” There are times where you need that, but most of the time, if your drummer is even decent, you’re probably fine. In this case, our drummer was decent and we were fine. Not great, but fine. the problem with time aligning his parts though is that it would completely mess up everything else, because everything was already tracked.

I will say though, when used correctly, time align in Drumagog makes your life a lot easier. When I started recording bands using Pro Tools, if I wanted good timing, it would involve a click track and an entire day(s) of tracking just drums. Then when the band goes home, finding a few measures that were perfect and them copy/pasting those measures until you have a perfect take. I fucking hated this and once I was in a position to have an intern on hand, I was no longer doing this nonsense. (The amount of times I yelled “JUST GET A GOOD DRUMMER” while fucking around with this is astronomical.) So Drumagog really is a life saver on many fronts.

So that’s where we’re at this that. Next installment, we’re gonna dive into vocals, which were a whole other ball of… not sure what word to use. Ever try and untangle a ball of badly wrapped mic cables? That. That was the condition of the vocals.


Remixing Your Own History #1(?)

Back in the 90s, I was in a band called SQUELCH hailing from Chicago Illinois. There were other bands and a DJ with that name and at some point we received a cease and desist from one of them. I’m not going to drag them here, because that’s not why I’m writing this. I still have that letter at my parents house somewhere and when I inevitably find it, I’ll frame it and hang it somewhere in my home studio. We changed our name to Stargazer, which is what I believe most of the handful of fans we had knew us as.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you probably have a pretty good idea what we sounded like. Kind of psyche rock, kind of noise rock, kind of shoegaze. We recorded our first album in a home studio in the suburbs by the recommendation of my old guitar teacher. He was in a band with the singer and did some of the engineering on the album. Needless to say, we weren’t happy with the final product. I don’t think any one person was entirely at fault and I’m not going to throw the engineer(s) under the bus, because we were probably the second or third band to record there. We were also outside the realm of what he was into and I could tell he didn’t dig it — and that’s fine. I hold no grudges against anyone.

The studio set up was pretty common for a home studio 1997 —

Mackie 2404 (with the meter bridge!)
3 ADAT XT machines
Alesis Studio One monitors (and I’m assuming an Alesis power amp)
Alesis Quadraverb FX unit
Digitech Vocalist (which we didn’t use, because “you need to know what key you’re in, bro.”)

No compression, no outboard EQ or preamps. For a bunch of kids who’d never set foot in a studio of any kind, this felt pro-as-fuck. But really, it was a pretty standard home studio. If we were recording a 7″ or a demo tape, it probably would have turned out fine. If more experienced hands were on the desk, it would have turned out fine. If we as a band were more prepared and had realistic expectations, it would have turned out fine.

Friends, the most important thing to keep in mind when entering a recording studio is the final product will only be as good as the source material. The source material wasn’t that good.

OK, that isn’t fair, because the songs were good and still are good, but the musicians who performed those songs weren’t as prepared as they should have been.

When the sessions were done, mixes complete and final DAT tape in hand, we payed our final payment and picked up our masters. (editor’s note: ALWAYS KEEP YOUR MASTERS. ALWAYS. If you’re recording in a digital studio, bring in a hard drive and ask the engineer to give you a copy of the session masters as well as the individual tracks bounced as “stems.” Then, back them up onto another hard drive and pay for a service like Backblaze to back up your masters in the cloud. Trust me when I say, this is absolutely vital to your existence as a band.)

We couldn’t afford proper mastering, so I did the best I could with my limited abilities and whatever software I had on the ol’ Gateway 2000. We spent HUNDREDS of dollars on the recording session. HUNDREDS. Possibly around a grand, which in 2022 dollars is about $1900.00. His rate for the studio was $25 an hour, which was comparable to some higher end project studios, or lower end pro studios. Comparatively, my first studio gig at a pro studio after college, our rates were $25 an hour or $500 lock out per day (editors note: “lock out” means you have full access, uninterrupted, starting and ended your “day” when you feel it’s done. So $500 could equal eight hours, twelve hours or twenty four hours. But when you go home or the sun comes up, your day is done.) That was 2001, a mere four years after the album was tracked. More comparison shopping, my last band locked out a studio for a week for a grand. We tracked the entire record and had the final mixes in about six days. That was 2010. One last comparison, my day rate right now is $200.00 as a freelancer. If you want to go into a studio, it’s $200.oo on top of the studio’s day rate. The space I most often work out of has a day rate of $150.00 without a house engineer, $400.00 with a house engineer (last time I tracked there — prices might have gone up.) Albini’s day rate is a grand (last time I checked.)

So the point is, we probably overpaid on the session, but we can’t travel back in time. It probably would have cost a lot less if we had our shit together. It might have even sounded better (spoilers it would have sounded better.) It was a very expensive lesson to learn. There were also a lot of personal tragedies that the engineer dealt with during the sessions too, but I’m not going to get into it.

This brings us to right now. Even though I was working in a studio that had ADAT machines and I could have remixed this record in 2001, the technology wasn’t quite there to fix a lot of the issues with the recording. We had a full Pro Tools set up, a very nice Neotek console, tons of great outboard gear and monitors, but the amount of processing power needed to correct many of the mistakes wasn’t on tap.

Flash forward to 2022. I’ve been in the process of building out my basement into a living space and recording space. My control room has been built out for some time and I have a lot of great gear and plug-ins at my disposal, because of decades of wasteful spending. :p The one piece I was missing though were ADAT machines. You can’t rent them, buying ones that work is a crapshoot and finding them in the wild is rare.

I put out a call to my Facebook friends asking if anyone in the Chicago area had at least one I could borrow. A friend contacted me saying “why yes, I do have an ADAT you can borrow,” so I drove out to the northwest suburbs and picked it up. I connected it to my interface via ADAT Lightpipe and got that fucker into my computer. The whole album, one tape at a time, recorded in real time. What could go wrong? Well, a lot.

For starters, ADAT tapes have a short shelf life. Like, FIVE YEARS short. This was recorded in 1997 and it is now 2022. All logic dictates that these tapes should have been useless and unplayable. Even the backup tapes should have been garbage, but after importing all the tracks in to Reaper, I let off a very loud sigh of relief.

Next, one machine means three tapes need to be imported one at a time. Each ADAT tape can hold eight tracks. So doing this in real time, means you’re introducing a margin of error. Every time you hit play on the machine and record on the computer, your timing WILL be off. Our album was recorded on two sets of three tapes, so it’s a total of six tapes. I created two separate “tape stacks” in Reaper, or in other words, two different sessions. Session One, which was the first set of three tapes, which equals the first half of the album. Then Session Two, which was the second set of three tapes, which equals the second half of the album. My source of anxiety was worrying about aligning the tapes, but fortunately there was an artifact on track four of every single tape, so I was able to align each tape to the little blip of electronic noise at the very beginning.

When this was all done, I had a beer, smoked a bowl and had one of the best nights of sleep I’ve had in a very long time.

A few days later, I dug into the mixing process, but that my friends will be in the next installment.

No Age

I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to NO AGE. They’re a really interesting band for a lot of reasons, but I think the most impressive is their ability to go from garage rock to ambient shoegaze to post rock and back to garage rock all in one album. They embrace the idea that a band or musician can do whatever the hell they want and I’m absolutely on board with it.

Depression is really difficult, especially when it pushes you away from the things you love — specifically music. I was “in the shit” for a little while there and I couldn’t find joy in anything. However, coming out of it, NO AGE has been in heavy heavy rotation.

Here’s some of their more rock oriented stuff —

I’ve spent days listening to their records recently and they’ve been doing the heavy lifting in getting me out of this funk.

Also, a few years back, I discovered Letterkenny through NO AGE and that has added yet another fandom for me to be part of. If you’ve never seen Letterkenny, go check out Letterkenny. It’s a great show with a great soundtrack.

Here’s a KEXP live performance —

Falling Apart When I should Have Been Just Falling

I feel like that’s a lyric. I don’t know if it’s something someone else wrote, or if it’s something I wrote. No idea.

I have a lot of posts in my brain, but I’ve been going through a lot right now, including some family health issues, personal depression/anxiety issues and remixing my old band’s first album (this will be its own post actually.) Instead of focusing on one topic like I normally do, I think I’m just going to post a bunch of bandcamp links to things I really like.

Editors Note — for some reason, embedding isn’t working, so just follow the links. Sorry.

  1. PETROL GIRLS – BABY (2022)
    A co-worker based out of Germany recommended this band and I have zero regrets checking it out. It harnesses the the energy of the Riot Grrl movement while taking influence from the more intersectional and diverse “Now Wave” scene of the 90s/early 00’s. Think bands like Erase Errata, Scissor Girls or current heroes No Men.
    I used to think Shellac was Big Black with a live drummer. This was wrong. Shellac with a drum machine would probably sound more like Austerity Program than Big Black. It’s a dumb mental exercise, so let’s just say if you dig Steve Albini and his disciples, you’ll probably really like this record. I really like this record. There’s some really great, kick ass stereo stuff going on here too.
    So these dudes are from Australia, so they already have a leg up on everyone else. Same mold as bands like The Saints or Radio Birdman, but with a legit shredder on guitar. It has some awesome proto punk vibes as well as Cock Sparrer’s earlier pub rock stuff. Fuckin’ solid and has become what I listen to walking from the train to work on days I go into the office.
    Lofi punk from Minneapolis featuring ex-members of Condominium, Bruise Violet and Baby Guts — all bands I love. It sounds pretty much exactly how you think it sounds.
  5. SPONGE TUNNEL – 1989 (1989)
    I blew the dust off of this 7″ recently. Sponge Tunnel was lead by Russ Forster who was the founder of UNDERDOG RECORDS, who were responsible for putting out some of my favorite Chicago punk records in the 90s.
    I hadn’t listened to this single in a while and regret not revisiting it sooner. I heard this 7″ before I heard the Stooges, so the reference was completely lost on 15 year old me. They were a diverse, weird punk band and worth time exploring.

OK, enjoy exploring this stuff and drop some recs in the comments. Music is one of the few things that gets me through this life and I appreciate all recs.

Dead Rider Kind of Rules

Chicago has always been an experimental music kind of town — at least in my lifetime, so it doesn’t surprise me that there’s a lot of good, exciting music going on right now. Specifically, Dead Rider.

Dead Rider features ex-U.S. Maple guitarist Todd Rittman, doing a bit more structured, but equally weird music. I’m very stoked on them. What does it sound like? Well, their first record came out two years before Bowie put out Black Star and it’s in the same key as that record and they’ve only continued to evolve that style of experimentation. It’s both dark and uplifting, if that makes sense.

Check them out. They’re playing April 2nd at The Hideout here in Chicago as well as hitting the road.

Music Rec – clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned – Sub Pop Records

Visions of Bodies Being Burned by clipping. is one of the darkest hip hop records I’ve heard in a while. It came out in 2020, but I didn’t give it a fair listen until mid 2021 and I sort of regret that. At the onset of the pandemic, I was specifically looking for fluff — things that were a distraction from the world around me, so if this was on my radar at that time, I wouldn’t have given it a fair shake. In fact, when I heard the first track in late 2020, I just added it to my wishlist on Bandcamp with plans to revisit later. Holy crap am I glad that I took the time to go back to this one.

Sometimes wishlists become “dead letter offices” where well intentioned music fans or shoppers put things to come back to, but never do. I’m as guilty of that as anyone else (I swear, I’ll go back and buy that HEAT MACHINE record!) Fortunately one Bandcamp Friday, I was looking at my recently added items to my wishlist and gave this another spin. I immediately added it to my cart, because it hit a little bit different this time. I wasn’t scared anymore — I graduated to angry, sad and disappointed. This album feels like it echoes many of these sentiments and really feels like an ally during these new dark ages.

I can’t quite tell you exactly what or who it reminds me of, but what I can do is tell you that it’s dark, tense and I suspect it’s coming from a similar place as Moore Mother or if we want to go back in time, Tricky or Portishead. Just to be clear though, it isn’t trip hop at all — I think similar influences are present though. It’s worth your time to explore this release. It also looks like LPs are back in stock too.

Give it a listen, if you like it, buy it.

A Love Letter to New Orleans and Its People

Dear Residents of and the City Called New Orleans,

Many many years ago y’all stole my heart. Your city is my second favorite in the entire world (#1 going to Chicago, my home) and I often refer to your city as “other home.” I never feel lost in your city, even when I don’t know where I am or where I’m going. Your entire city, with its grit, grime, music and culture makes me feel comforted and at home — at ease even.

Sure, I’ve been to bigger cities that resemble my own big city, but New York and Los Angeles will never hold a candle or place in my heart the way your city does. You can literally draw a straight line between Chicago an New Orleans and our greatest heroes have traveled that path to and from several times. Chicago’s musical legacy is also New Orleans legacy as it is Memphis’. The triode of these three cities make up American music regardless of style or color.

The first time I ever stepped foot in your city was not unlike many others first visits — I was in town for Mardi Gras. It was several days of pure joy and from that moment on, I spent the rest of my life (thus far) trying to carry those feelings of joy — the spirit of Mardi Gras to those I love and those who need it.

There was a moment in 2013 where I was looking for direction and insight and I was feeling very emotionally lost. My wife and I were trying to have a child and not having success. I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras (not my first time), hoping to find a few pieces of of the puzzle. One of those pieces that fell into place was hearing and seeing Bounce music live.

I’ve struggled with identity and gender my whole life — literally since I was a kid. Male and female never fit right. I didn’t (and don’t) belong on the gender binary. Through Bounce music, I fell down a rabbit hole of gender identity which lead me to fully understand non-binary/gender queerness and in turn explained every fucked up feeling I had growing up. When I realized that I wasn’t in fact a “he/him” and dressing as a “she/her” felt like a costume, a giant weight was lifted from my shoulders and heart. I came out of that haze of sadness and uncertainty as a “they/them” gender queer, non-binary trans person. All because I saw Katey Red spit rhymes on Mardi Gras day.

I didn’t shoot this video… I was just there watching this amazing, life changing spectacle.

To the wonderful people of New Orleans — from trans Bounce rappers to woman at the register at the Walgreens on Canal Street who greeted my drunk ass with a big smile and a hearty “how’s your momma and them” while I was buying a bottle of water. From the NOLA beat cop who once told us where to find a sweet hidden goth/vampire bar to TOAST, the ghost tour guide who was a Chicago ex-pat. From the excited rockabilly girls who talked my ear off about Rocky Horror to the gutter punks on Decatur Street who were excited about my ABBA/Dark Throne mash up shirt. From the wonderful and talented Meschiya Lake who makes some of my favorite Jazz-punk to Hollise Murphy (rest in peace, brother) who came up to me and introduced himself because I was wearing a Los Crudos shirt and talked to me about Chicago hardcore — thank you for being who you all are. I feel honored and lucky to have existed on this planet at the same time as you.


Chris Decay
Chicago, IL

I didn’t shoot this video.
Rest in Peace my brother. I only met you once, but you made a lasting impression on me.

PS – Instead of a mix tape or listening list, I suggest you dig into the history of New Orleans music, because it is the roots and beginnings of all American music. Every note every one of your favorite artist sings or plays goes back to Congo Square, the birth place of not only jazz, but American music.

It Has Been a Minute, Hasn’t It?

Well those two years kind of zipped by, didn’t they? Go figure, you’re in a global pandemic, raising a kid and dealing with both major depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder during a time of great turmoil; I guess everything just becomes a blur.

Anyway, the good news is I think I’m back for a little while again.

Let’s talk about albums that changed our lives, shall we? I picked five last night. They aren’t ranked, but rather chronological. These are sort of the big ones and while they aren’t as musically challenging as music I discovered following these records, they were big turning points for me that changed my trajectory in some way.

This was the first punk album I heard and bought. I guess you could argue that some of the records I convinced my mom to buy for me as a kid could have been somehow loosely considered “punk.” I mean, New Yorkers love to talk about how punk started at CBGB’s and will with a serious face call The Talking Heads an Blondie punk bands (both of which were in my small, childhood record collection) and act like The Stooges didn’t happen six years before anyone knew a Ramone. But for the sake of my time and yours, let’s just say this was the first actual Punk Rock album I heard. It was the left turn I needed to get me away from mainstream pop music and hair metal. This was thee album.

I’ve long since worn out the original cassette, scratched the shit out of the CD I had in the mid 90s and have since replaced it with the LP. The album is a ripper, but I rarely listen to it anymore. When those songs come up when I’m shuffling my MP3s, I still sing along, but they absolutely don’t cut the way they used to and that’s entirely because of my age. I appreciate the musicianship much more than the content of the lyrical themes. I worded that sentence carefully, because while the songs speak to a much younger person, Greg Graffin never talks down to the listener and doesn’t cut corners with the vocabulary. That’s the strength of a Young Adult writer though — you don’t assume your audience is made up of rubes. You talk to them and with them, but not at them or down to them. Graffin nails it.

This came out in May of my sophomore year of high school and I was an early adopter. I was burnt out on hardcore and thrash metal. The Cure and The Smiths were good and I loved their music, but they weren’t my generation of bands. They were the music of kids older than me. GISH was the right amount of angst, the right amount of technical musicianship and just enough experimentation to wake up my ears and point me in a new direction.

Some people say NIRVANA was their left turn, but for me it was GISH.

I was already a fan of BRAINIAC when this album came out, but the jump from SMACK BUNNY BABY to BONSAI SUPERSTAR didn’t feel like they went from one step to the next — not even like they skipped a couple stairs. It felt like they leapt from one landing to the next like god damned superheroes.

There was a moment while listening to this for the first time where my best friend and I looked at one another and realized that all of those goofy experimentations we were doing late at night with a boom box, toys and the radio dial could be music. That was the moment when I realized all those rules I learned from my guitar teacher weren’t rules at all. Nothing mattered other than sound. Sound and how our ears perceive it was all that mattered. This album drove us to be different musicians and it ultimately drove me to become an engineer. That’s basically it. This is the best BRAINIAC album.

When OK COMPUTER came out, I was bored out of my skull with music. There wasn’t much coming out that got me excited, except SPIRITUALIZED. Honestly, it was kind of a coin flip here — I could have just as easily plugged LADIES AND GENTLEMAN WE ARE FLOATING IN SPACE here, but while that is one of my favorite albums, it didn’t quite impact my taste the way OK COMPUTER did.

Right around the same time, one of my favorite bands, THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN put out their MUNKI album, BECK put out MUTATIONS, JON SPENCER put out ACME and a lot of other bands I liked put out less adventurous, mostly disappointing records (like SONIC YOUTH, which was heart breaking because THOUSAND LEAVES isn’t a good record.)

OK COMPUTER signaled a bit of a sea change for me, much like GISH did when I was sixteen. The songs were catchy, weird and explored all of the sad emotions I was feeling at the time. It pulled some of the shoegaze sounds I loved, but it also featured a lot of new, broken sounds that gave my ears the warm fuzzies. This was the first in a chain of albums that caught my attention (I’ll add a bunch in mix tape section at the end of the post) and really woke up the sleeping bear so to speak. I feel like my band got a lot better pretty quickly after hearing this record.

In 2000, a friend of mine made a mix CD featuring mostly emo bands of the time. BRAID, BOY SETS FIRE, BRANDSTON and a couple more bands that start with the letter B. Also on there was a DEFTONES song and a TYPE O NEGATIVE song. We’d talked about how I didn’t quite “get” those two bands, so he tossed on a song each that he though I might dig. They still didn’t grab me, but the band that did grab me was the lead off track on the mix, Fishing The Sky by THE APPLESEED CAST. That singular song blew my mind. They had elements of emo without the sappiness or hyperbole. They were post rock without any of the pretension. They had elements of post-shoegaze bands like RADIOHEAD and a singer who had notes of Perry Farrell hidden in his unique voice. All of the elements were there for them to become a favorite band of mine.

The next day I made a trip over to Clubhouse Records and managed to find a copy of this album. I played it for my bandmates and it was a huge source of inspiration. It absolutely had a positive affect on us, pointing us in a direction after searching for a missing piece. I even accidentally lifted a couple riffs from these songs only to change them after realizing what I did.

Mix Tape Recs:

– Bad Religion – No Control
– Goo Goo Dolls – Jed
– Gorilla Biscuits – Start Today
– Nomeansno – Wrong
– Naked Raygun – Understand

– My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
– Dinosaur Jr – Green Mind
– Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque
– Slint – Spiderland
– A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory
– De La Soul – Is Dead

– Massive Attack – Mezzanine
– Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty
– Mercury Rev – Deserter Songs
– Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
– Mogwai – Kicking a Dead Pig
– Swans – Swans Are Dead

– Grandaddy – Sophtware Slump
– Clinic – Internal Wrangler
– Badly Drawn Boy – Hour of the Bewilderbeast
– At The Drive In – Relationship of Command
– Cursive – Domestica
– Elliot – False Cathedrals
– Orchid – Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow!


….is a question I’ve never asked, nor did I think I’d want to see something like that. Ya know what though? It’s 2020 and all bets are off about literally everything. What you have here is just that — an electric interpretation of John Coltrane’s A LOVE SUPREME and it’s unofficial sequel, MEDITATIONS.

Here’s the thing — A LOVE SUPREME is one of my all time favorite albums and probably the one record, more than any other that properly introduced me to actual real jazz. Before hearing the Coltrane masterpiece, I looked at jazz as a punchline to a joke. I was a teenager, so all I knew was the smooth jazz they’d play at the dentist’s office, scatting cartoon beatniks and something old people listen to. A much wiser person than I — the clerk at Dr Wax records in Evanston Illinois was talking to another to another customer about jazz and I was eavesdropping on the conversation. I couldn’t wrap my head around this longhair wearing some obscuro indie band shirt talking intelligently about jazz as if it was something you speak of in serious, hushed tones. The conversation kept going back to Coltrane and I made metal note.

I didn’t buy any Coltrane that day, because that would have been a poser move. Instead, I asked friends at school what they knew of John Coltrane. Most of them were like “is that the dude from that one hardcore band?” But one of my friends — one of the most musically educated sixteen year olds to ever live — said “yeah, A LOVE SUPREME is what you want.” So I did just that. I made a run for Rolling Stones Records in Norridge IL later that day and bought the album on CD. It didn’t click — like at all. It was one of those “what the fuck am I listening to” moments, but it was a primer for what was to come for me. I persisted with the album — listening to it everyday before bed until it finally clicked. Once it did, I was sold on jazz. This is pretty much where my journey into experimental, jazz and psychedelic music actually begins. A long hair and a sixteen year old metal head telling me what time it was.

Now that we’ve established that I *love* Coltrane’s album, lets dig into this.

This is Mike Watt of Minutemen/Firehose/all-around-bass-bad-assery fame; composer and saxophonist Vinny Golia; Chicagoan and band leader of the John Hanrahan Quartet — John Hanrahan on drums; guitarist Henry Kaiser who has worked with everyone from Fred Frith to Weasel Walter and lastly but not leastly, Wayne Peet on piano, who has worked extensively on the west coast, working most recognizably with Alex and Nels Cline.

Knowing the personnel should give you at least a little bit of an idea of what you’re getting into here. The recording itself is clean and sits somewhere between jazz and rock production and manages to illicit emotions — maybe not the same emotions Coltrane’s but emotions none the less. I need to pick up the physical release of this soon. It’s excellent and I recommend checkin’ it out.


The 90’s were a really great time for experimental music — especially for noise and psychedelic rock music. The explosion of bands like The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Radiohead and a laundry list of other like minded acid eaters and dope smokers lead the way for some of the most interesting music of the previous century. I’ve spent a little time writing about noise rock, no wave, now wave and other sort of “angular” music, but I think I should take a little time to talk specifically about some of my favorite bands of the last century.

In an attempt to make things easy, we’ll just do a list of my favorite 90’s psych rock bands, which should help set up the late 90’s really nicely. I like lists, you like lists lets make a list! This is by no means definitive of anything other than bands I like. I’m not Rolling Stone or Spin magazine and I’m not going to rank things in a way that’s outside of my own taste. You might disagree — I HOPE you disagree! Make your own list! Comment with your list.

  1. MEDICINE (and really anything Brad Laner does)
    I saw Medicine open for someone… Swervedriver maybe? I don’t know. I saw the video for 5ive on 120 Minutes, bought SHOT FORTH SELF LIVING, but was not prepared for what I saw. Holy shit. God damn.
    Seeing them at THE METRO here in Chicago was an experience. For a very long time, I felt that the historic Chicago venue had the best sound system in the city and even after they updated it to compete with The House of Blues, with the right engineer at the helm, the system still slammed. I’ve heard bootlegs of MEDCINE at Lounge Ax and it just didn’t seem like it was the same. That Metro show was a revelation for me. I didn’t want to play punk anymore. I didn’t want to be hardcore or metal bands anymore. I wanted to do whatever the hell MEDICINE was doing and after graduating high school, I did just that.
    So back in the 80’s and 90’s my grandparents lived in Ukrainian Village on the near west side of Chicago. We lived on the northwest side. I spent a lot of time in Ukrainian Village, West Town, Wicker Park and Bucktown as a child in the 1980s, but at that time, those parts of town weren’t the yuppie and hipster wastelands the are now. Back then, it was rough and gritty. There were drug dealers, prostitutes and a slowly growing artist and punk community coming up. I hate comparing things to New York, because Chicago isn’t and never will be New York (it’s much better in every possible way… except the subway system), but for people who aren’t from here, Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town and Ukrainian Village were essentially the Lower East Side and East Village. After my step-grandmother died, my grandfather would commonly come over on Sundays and then we’d have to drive him home, which I always liked because it was an adventure. In 1992, when I was seventeen years old, I went with my mom to drop him off. On the way back, I decided we were taking the scenic route so she could see where these stores and venues I frequented were. As we drove up Damen avenue, we rolled passed the newly opened DOUBLE DOOR, which was a 21+ venue that I’d never been to (obviously). What grabbed my attention was on the fence under the L tracks next to Double Door were all of these posters that just said “FLAMING LIPS.” My mom was like “what are Flaming Lips?” I took a guess and said “they’re a band, mom.”

    Anyway, I went to the RECKLESS RECORDS on Broadway and stumbled across their section and bought HIT TO DEATH IN THE FUTURE HEAD and was blown the fuck away.
    Do I need to go into this? Do I? Really? OK, I won’t. LOVELESS is the best album of the 90’s and one of, if not THEE most inventive psychedelic rock albums of all time. If you can find the all analog remix of the album MBV released a few years back, pick it up, because it’s earth shaking and brilliant. I legitimately cried after hearing it. Also, pick up the analog remix of ISN’T ANYTHING, because it sounds far and away better than the original version.
    I did an entire post on this band a while back that you can find here. They’re awesome, I named my daughter after them and I don’t know if I can say anymore than I already have elsewhere.
    Obligatory sophomore slump statement. Their second album isn’t great. It’s good, but not great. Yes, the single I Got a Girl is kind of annoying and paints them as a shitty post grunge alt rock band. None of that is true though. They’re a fan-fucking-tastic psych rock band that spent their career flying under the radar of so many people who should LOVE this band.

    Like most people who aren’t from Texas, I heard TRIPPING DAISY because of the single, “My Umbrella” from their first LP, BILL. I was hooked on how fucking catchy it was and how much I felt like they sounded like an American NEDS ATOMIC DUSTBIN or a British JANES ADDICTION. You pick. I don’t care. The album is so great beginning to end. It was the soundtrack to the summer after my senior year of high school. However, I don’t think TRIPPING DAISY really hit their stride until their third album, JESUS HITS LIKE THE ATOM BOMB. They fell into a peer group with bands like THE FLAMING LIPS, MERCURY REV and GORKY’S ZYGOTIC MYNCI. I feel like on some tracks they even channel — and maybe even pre-date WILCO at times (I’m gonna have to revisit those early Wilco albums, because I keep hearing SUMMERTEETH when listening to songs like Sonic Bloom).

So this brings me to the point. The late 90’s got really exciting if you were into weird music. While the mainstream was skanking to third wave ska and mainstream pop punk, the freaks were in ecstasy with the eruption of bizarro noise and sugar coated fuzzed out melodies. It felt like every city in the United States had a band or three doing exciting stuff. In Chicago, we had a few — NOVASONIC DOWN HYPERSPACE ( who would later change their name to MIDSTATES), PLASTICS HI FI and I’d even dump WILCO into this family. (The band I was in at that time was in this group of bands, but not nearly as successful or recognized, which is fine… really. No, I’m fine. No, I’m not crying, you’re crying.) Dallas Texas was no exception; they had TRIPPING DAISY.

TRIPPING DAISY was a band I’d all but forgotten about — for the most part. I still listened to BILL pretty regularly and the follow up never grabbed me. Then out of nowhere, I saw a promo copy of JESUS HITS LIKE THE ATOM BOMB at EVIL CLOWN RECORDS. I took it over to the listening station and was floored. I bought it, popped it in the CD player, turned it up and went for a drive. My best bud was sitting shotgun and we couldn’t get over how great it was! It was one psych rock gem after another after another after another. We were in love.

Flash forward to THE YEAR 200o. The self titled album came out. We got word that their keyboard player, Wes Berggren died of a drug overdose and his father played his parts on the new album. Tours were canceled and the band broke up. We were heartbroken. Anytime a talented person dies it’s sad, but this one hit a little harder. We felt like we’d just rediscovered the Daisies and they were on a whole new trajectory into musical greatness.

Most of what followed for the members of the band was found in the POLYPHONIC SPREE, who were good, but never grabbed me the way TRIPPING DAISY grabbed me. Do yourself a favor — if all you know by the Daisies is I Got a Girl, go listen to the last two albums in order. If you don’t fall in love with them the same way you fell in love with other like minded bands, then I don’t know what to tell you. They’re awesome and deserve to be heard, celebrated and sung from the rooftops.

While you’re at it, go check out Tim DeLaughter’s current project, PRETEEN ZENITH. It’s in line with everything we’ve talked about here today. Super pretty psych rock that grips your heart strings.

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