Wait You Guys, Let's All Shut Up, Troy Apparently Has Something To Say
So this space seems to have sort of become the place where I go behind the scenes a little bit. I feel like I've told the story behind Good Ache, but apparently not here, so here goes.
The Lanai songs were written in this order: Danny, Your Name Here, Flowers, Ache. Vampire's Reflection was actually written (and recorded as a demo, and even rehearsed for a gig but, I think, never played live) back in 2001. Point being, we wanted to record five songs, maybe six if you count NASA, but at least five, and a month before our main studio session -- the week where we recorded everything but overdubs, really -- we only had four.
This was almost exactly two years ago. Phil wrote me on Jan. 19 YES YOU NEED TO KNOW THE EXACT DATE to say he wanted to write one more song for the EP. He even had the title, and probably a lot of the lyrics in his head. And he knew he wanted it to be 'epic.' By way of example, he sent me a Superdrag song that sounds nothing like Good Ache. I ignored that and told him I got it, and that I too wanted us to write a *great* song. By way of example, I sent him a couple of Elliott Smith songs that sounded nothing like Good Ache, and that did about as much for him as his Superdrag song did for me. Yet somehow, we were on the same page. I wrote half of the song that very night in my head as I was trying to go to sleep, wrote the rest the next time I had a guitar in my hands, and three days after Phil had proposed the song, I was sending him the instrumental demo, 'epic.mp3.'
Sending demos to Phil was always fun. If it wasn't obvious, the music for most of our songs strikes me as sort of run-of-the-mill; it's when Phil adds his vocals that the magic happens. So I always sent him the demos with a feeling of intense nervousness about whether each one was any good at all and whether he'd like the song (along with a bunch of disclaimers probably meant to lower expectations), even though I can remember exactly one thing I ever sent him that he declined. Then I would wait to hear back from him whether he liked it. With Danny, he wasn't really sure at first; in fact, he kind of tried to get out of turning it into a song, I had to tell him several times that I was sure he would figure it out before he went after it (and figured it out). With Ache, Phil wrote "right off the bat, you definitely seem to understand what I was asking for. You even understood the tempo and that sort of straightforward approach I was thinking about. And once again, what you actually wrote is a complete surprise to me." I responded by saying how I wanted to change a lot of it, but as we listened to the instrumental demo again and again, we decided we liked it as was. Phil, on Jan. 29: "I've finally understood how awesome 'good ache' is. I think is the maybe the coolest song you've written of the bunch and this is certainly our #1 in Sweden hit song. The trippy interplay of the guitars is just dazzling. I can't wait to write vox for this song, it is going to blow everybody's minds."
I have a thing where the first time I hear a demo with Phil's vocals, I can't process what I'm hearing, and I don't like it, and I panic just a little. But the second time I listened to his Ache demo, I realized how great what he'd done was, and what's more, I had the epiphany that this song was going to come out sounding exactly as it had in my head. Hell, Phil's melody for the chorus was even exactly what I'd been envisioning. But it was more that I knew we would nail it in the studio, which isn't always the case. As the song fell into place piece by piece, people kept adding things I couldn't have envisioned exactly, yet it all sounded just like it had in my head. Mike Parillo's drums are the best example of this, but I could just as easily point to Allen's bass, or the amazing compilation work our engineer, Tyler Whitlatch, did on the two or three takes of feedback I put down.
* * * The Good Ache song, of course, is only roughly half of the Good Ache video. That story is probably even longer; there was the rooftop shoot with Mr. Three Fiddee and the generous Matt Kalman, and Phil's dogged pursuit of the rest of the footage you see in his video, including the one that got away. Somewhere in there, there's gotta be room for the fact that I wanted to make four different Good Ache videos, which I admit is insane even as I admit I'm still considering doing it. But that all is a story for another day. Or maybe not.
Oh, that photo? It's a mandala. Pretty, innit?
So Phil sort of invited me to explain why, on the TWE t-shirt he designed, where he is saying "picture it, troy -- a world full of westfields!" I am responding "don't talk to me like that, owlface, I don't work for you yet." Phil already having done a fine job explaining why he is saying what he is saying.
I thought I'd take the opportunity to give anyone interested enough to click a mouse one extra time a little behind-the-scenes dish on how Phil and I work together, how the record got named ... AND why I answered him the way I did.
Our story begins a year and a half ago, when my records show that we were already trying to figure out what to call the EP. First idea we both seemed to like OK was an homage to Bill O'Reilly, whose early-career tirade on Inside Edition amused us to no end while we were making the record; eventual homage was made in the form of Phil's and my one-act play at the beginning of Danny the Street.
Phil had some ideas about deriving the EP name from lyrics on the record. Also "Mr. Daddy vs. Zuben El Genubi." I countered with "Hide the Salami, It's the Troy Westfield Experience!" Phil: "The Troy Westfield Experience Sell You Lloyd Memento."
But as I started alternating tributes to Monty Python and the Wire and Arnold Horshack and, yes, the film Fletch, Phil took a more serious turn. He suggested "Throwing Yourself at the Ground and Missing," and "Hitchhiking to Lyra." And "A World Full of Weirdos" and "That Would be Wonderful."
Phil started asking me things like "What do these songs mean to you?" And "What has been really talking to you lately?" But all I could think of was how awesome I thought the songs were, which I didn't think lent itself to a great title, and how hard it was working together on them -- all the logistical issues and differences of opinion that can stress a motherfucker the fuck OUT, even when you're working with your best friend.
Phil wrote me an amazing explanation of what our previous record's title, "Tantric Scrimshaw," meant to him. I, on the other hand, just thought it was a funny combination of words. I tried to compromise, offered some serious ideas, some passages from the Tao te Ching that I thought were fertile. At this point, we started considering how incredibly different we seemed to each other, yet were willing and able to make music we both loved. From the Tao: "These two spring from the same source but differ in name." But, you know, good luck getting a pithy title out of that. We got a good exchange about the Tao out of it, but no title.
I wanted to be vague and profound-seeming. Phil wanted to be specific and actually profound. There was a moment where Phil knew exactly what he wanted to call it: Kubrix Rube. Had to do with a series about Kubrick that was really resonating with him. At this point, I wanted to compromise, but I hated that title. Phil graciously acquiesced. He recommended "In the heart of the citadel lies the other," or just "In the heart of the citadel." I would have gone for "Lies the other."
Finally, six months after discussions started, we started whittling down a list of favorites. Most were humorous; I think Phil had given up on 'actually meaningful' and was settling for 'meaningful to us.' We eliminated "Not right next to each other," from Fletch, and "Nowadays people want something wittier," from Python. And we were left with "Business on the Lanai: a refresher course."
As Phil wrote, it was his idea to do the t-shirt, and to make it an homage to the Weirdos shirt. With the EP now titled in honor of Fletch, a Fletch-derived response for the t-shirt made sense. Fletch was the movie that we watched in high school, along with some other friends. All of us could recite all the lines verbatim, and often did. Usually, we were reduced to watching the film when it was shown on UHF tv, if you can remember that. And on those channels, when Tim Matheson insults Fletch one time too many, instead of calling him "assface" -- as in the theatrical release -- Chevy says "Don't talk to me like that, owlface, I don't work for you yet." Sorry if it's a little anti-climactic, but if it's poignant you want, re-read Phil's tale, which I thought was great.
Oh, that photo? It's of a good-looking, funny, high-quality t-shirt Phil made. If you've enjoyed any of the music and are looking for a way to show it, it can be ordered here.
So maybe somewhat ironically, since it's only a couple days after that guy jumped off the damn world and made NASA obsolete, today we release our song NASA. It comes with a story. It was written 11 years ago but only recorded in demo form, with the exception of a performance of it at the Museum of Television and Radio, where Phil and I were invited to participate in a September 11 benefit/tribute.
As we hatched plans in 2010 to reunite to remix Tantric Scrimshaw and record a new record, we got it in our heads that we maybe could record NASA in a studio. Once we'd written the songs that became Business on the Lanai: a refresher course, the prospects of recording NASA seemed less likely. We've historically tended to underestimate the time it takes us to record, so it seemed like Lanai would take more time than we'd paid for, not less.
Months later, back in the studio one final time to do final overdubs for Lanai, we finished not so much at a reasonable hour, but also not completely drained. I asked our generous producer and friend, Allen Towbin, for a favor: 10 minutes to record NASA. One take: a couple minutes to put down the guitar track, a couple minutes for one vocal take, and that would be it. He graciously agreed, although I seem to recall getting punched repeatedly, hard. He is kind, Allen is, but also very violent. I suggest you stay the hell away from him.
We recorded my guitar, then Allen dialed up some plug-in for Phil's vocal, and Phil sang it. Now maybe I was just high -- I mean, I was definitely high, but maybe that was the reason -- but Phil's performance was amazing. Hell, you can hear it for yourself. There was an overdub here and a guitar edit there, as it turned out, but what you hear today is really just about exactly what it sounded like in Greenpoint. I even did my one-line vocal harmony in one take, no AutoTuning required, which, I mean, what were the odds of that? It felt like an amazing way to close the project. We hope you like it.
Oh, that photo? It's of a coral crab, immediately after listening to NASA. Little feller looks content, doesn't he?
It has occurred to me that some of you might be going into Friday night's Sullivan Hall gig without fair warning, and that I am the man to warn you.
So considered yourself warned: We are going to rock Sullivan Hall and everyone in it on Friday night.
If you are bringing friends, you might want to warn them. We have a long history of doing this, this rocking of people and places. We were rocking people before George W. Bush, and now we're rocking people after him. Sorry, that's all I could think of from 2000. I'm a little drunk right now.
Anyway, we would love to see you Friday night, but only if you are prepared. To be rocked.
Oh, that photo? It's of a monkey with a bottle of iced tea in its tail. It walked up to my kid and ripped the iced tea out of his hand. Then it mocked him. I mean, it seemed to, I don't speak Monkey, much less understand monkey miens. But then my kid's cousin walked up to the monkey and ripped the bottle of iced tea right out of the monkey's hands and gave it back to my kid, and my kid drank the rest of it while looking that fucking monkey square in the eye, so who had the last laugh? Not my kid, that's for sure; he ended up in the hospital with dysentery. But that monkey sure wasn't laughing, not with his dried, cracked lips and dehydrated mouth. Stupid dehydrated monkey.
In short, you should come see us Friday night at Sullivan Hall. Thank you. Won't you?
This right here – right before the release of our EP – this is the most exciting time.
For me, the music starts in my head. Sometimes Phil might already have lyrics he likes, and decide that the music on the demo I send him would be a great fit, but from my end, it starts in my head. Some chords that go together right, which then have to be played on an actual guitar in order to find the rest of the chords for the song. But the heart of the song is still in my head, the arrangement and dynamics and everything but the lyrics forms itself there. I might play what I’ve got but not like the verse, so I put the guitar down and in a few minutes or hours or days, the chorus pops into my head. And in my head, it sounds perfect. The guitar sounds are badass, the drumming is exactly the way I want it … perfect.
So the next thing I do is turn it into the shittiest-sounding demo you’ve ever heard, because I have zero recording skills/equipment, and not much more in the way of playing skills. And the rest of the process is all about trying to bring the song back and make it sound as good as it did in my head.
There are a lot of exciting moments along the way. I send the demo – a couple of guitar tracks, drum machine, maybe bass, maybe not, all of it sounding just as bad as it possibly can – to Phil, and wait to hear whether he likes it. Then comes the day he sends it back to me with vocals. That’s nearly as exciting as this moment right now, an awfully close second. As you know if you’ve listened to any of the songs, he applies his gifts for melody and imagery and takes an unextraordinary progression and turns it into genius.
It’s also exciting to hear the rough mixes from the first set of sessions in the studio. There’s some compromising, too, and some failure; the part that sounds great in my head but isn’t convincing Allen and Phil, or the solo I can’t nail no matter how many times I ‘play’ it. But coming out of there with rough mixes with actual drums instead of a drum machine, and Allen’s bass playing, and Phil’s vocal ideas 90 percent realized … that’s a good time.
Then it’s months remixing, different sounds, adjusting levels. And it gets to a point where you realize it’s about time to release the thing, and it’s still not right. That one song, you know it could be the best song ever recorded, but it isn’t right now, and there’s so little time to find the solutions.
As I write this, Allen has found the solutions, and is just finishing applying them. At this exact moment, three of the songs are done, and two just need a little more of Allen’s time. And that one song? It sounds perfect.
From there, it’s largely up to you. If people like it and tell us so, that’s incredibly exciting. If people share it, and those new people share it with even more people … that’s a different kind of thrill. If we could recover our costs making this record, that would be exciting, obviously. If we had 300 people rocking out with us at our record-release gig, that would be a monster rush.
But the excitement peaks here. No idea whether a few people will like it a lot, a bunch of people will like it a little … like Kevin Garnett will tell you, anything is possible. So it’s a dual hit of excitement: the excitement of that uncertainty, and the excitement of knowing that all the time and money turned into five songs that sound exactly and every bit the way you hoped, except in the ways that Phil, Allen, Mike Parillo, Steve Donnelly, and Tyler Whitlatch made them sound better. The future is uncertain, and obviously a total lack of response from the universe would be disappointing. But I’ve heard enough of the record to know: The record alone is enough.