Back in 1995, my pals in Blister Freak Circus and The Sick contributed some music/acting to a 1970’s inspired exploitation movie called “SHANK.” I’d forgotten completely all about it until I stumbled on this clip just now (the movie was never released, as far as I know).
I recently had to reinstall Windows on most of our computers. While I was at it, I turned my old Dell desktop into a dedicated audio workstation. It’s isolated from the Internet, which means it is secure, distraction free and only contains recording software. It also means that it’s ready to record at a moment’s notice. I’m excited!
I began recording stuff in high school with my brother, Loco. In college, I bought a used Ross 4-track from our pal Will. Will’s dad worked making software for Yamaha or somewhere and they had a nice tape 8-track studio in their basement. We were very fortunate to have access to all this stuff, including video recording equipment. I learned great deal about music, recording and composition – a fine thing to have at a young age.
The discovery of DIY Punk Rock in high school offered freedom from the unreachable production values of Rush, Iron Maiden, etc. and even the brain numbing MTV. During my senior year in high school, it occurred to me that Hondo guitars and Peavy amps were good enough – if you had a mic and tape recorder, you could make something. One could even run a tape label out of a high school locker.
Tim Cookson gave me a mix tape that had “Lady Sniff” by the Butthole Surfers, and that song made a huge impression on me. Again, very freeing. I didn’t see it as a gag song, although, I can see how it could make you gag. It got me thinking about noise and rhythm what music can be about. Eventually, I’d compost Ornette Coleman, the Amphetamine Reptile bands, Captain Beefheart, Curlew and the crazy shit that comes out of the Knitting Factory in NYC in my brain, along with what I learned about composition in college.
After graduating from college, I had had access to several used record stores and an endless supply of used recorded materials. As such, I was able to fund and complete my first real studio, the Dead Chicken Ranch, which lived in the basement of our row home in Hampden, Baltimore.
The first Dead Chicken Ranch
This room was amazing – none of the walls were parallel to each other in order to reduce standing wave forms, and none of the walls touched the existing structure of the house, which made it virtually soundproof to the neighbors. It was a great space. Yet, if I had it to do all again, I would have made the room half the original size, as this took up most of the basement. I also would have spent more time tuning the room instead of making it completely dry with Sonex™. I recorded several records in this room, some of which were released commercially.
Which brings me to the point of this post – what started out as a tidy Alesis ADAT studio 18 years ago has become a mash-up of handheld recorders, cheap software and miscellaneous effects processors rack mounted on a wheeled bread dolly that I found in a parking lot. The wall mounted monitor lets me view the screen from behind the drums or any corner of the room. It’s all very mobile and easy to use.
I think that one of the best records ever made is Tom Waits’ Bone Machine. I consider this to be a perfect record. The songs are wonderful, and it likes to be heard as an album. But there’s also a story about this recording, where they set out in a fancy studio and just couldn’t capture the spirit of the songs. So, they moved the stuff into the boiler room and SNAP! it all clicked into place. This collection of parts feels like that to me.
I’m a low-fi kind of guy and what appeals to me might not work for the next home studio enthusiast. I’m just so happy to have these parts reassembled. My plan is to start posting new music here on this site, in whatever form the songs end up taking. As with previous sketch projects, there’s never enough time to complete everything and I’m going to try applying my working principle to this: “record quickly, post often.” Hope it works!
Frank Zappa was a lot like Yoda. For example, he said the best things. This weekend’s statue dedication was opened with the following FZ quote:
“If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.”
Gail Zappa offered it might be possible to do both, bless her. And this quote, in part, is why the new bust of Frank Zappa has come to rest in front of the new Highlandtown (Southeast Anchor) branch of the Enoch Pratt library in Baltimore City. Zappa was born in Baltimore, adding to the impressive list of unique creative geniuses from this town.
Gail Zappa, the Zappa kids (Diva, Dweezil and Ahmet) and Zappa archivist Joe Travers kindly spent some time answering questions at the Creative Alliance in Patterson Park. Tom Hall from WYPR was on hand to help get things started.
Here’s what I learned.
- Gail and Frank met in an airport in LA. Their first date was a packed Zappa show. At the time, in the mid 1960’s, Folk music was hugely popular and Gail thought to herself, “This is the ballsiest music I’ve ever heard!”
- What did Frank like to do when not making music? Write MORE music and tickle people
- Frank loved Christmas trees and tinsel (not necessarily Christmas, though). Aside from the huge tree in the living room, he had fully decorated trees in his studio, his office and the kitchen
- Ahmet’s favorite Christmas present was a pair of stilts
- It was asked if the presence of Do-Whoop vocals in his music was a parody, or did he genuinely like it. Frank truly loved Do-Whoop music.
- He had a station wagon he called the yellow submarine (this was pre-Beatles, too). He went to renew his drivers license and was asked to take both a driving test AND written test. He left, and never renewed it
- He often asked the kids when they were upset “Do you want a beer?”
- Uncle Meat will be re-released
- Diva is super cute and a die-hard knitter
- There are a lot of die-hard Zappa fans in this world
The real surprise for me today was Dweezil.
I’ve always had a lot of respect for Dweezil. He was the wittiest VJ on MTV and a crazy-good guitarist. As a kid, I was a little dismissive, though – he had access to the best lessons and gear, his dad helped shape the careers of Steve Vai, Terry Bozzio, Warren Cuccurullo, etc. I mean, how could he NOT be awesome?
What I failed to notice as a youngster is how hard he worked to be great. Talent is only a small part of what it takes to be good at anything.
In his adult life, Dweezle has turned into an articulate, super nice guy. And he still has amazing hair. All the Zappas were approachable, gracious and very sweet. But, especially Dweezle. He seems like a truly genuine guy.
Dweezle described how he took two years off to undergo a process most people wouldn’t want to do. He set out to learn how to play as Frank did, ignoring 25 years of musical instincts and developing new ones. While nothing Zappa wrote is easy to play, Dweezle said the real challenge was a mental one – to learn how to think and anticipate like his dad. Frank was an improviser on stage – he would see shapes in his head and express them musically with his guitar. He got choked up while talking about this – I was moved (wiping eyes on sleeve) and can imagine what this must have been like. Not just the task of learning to play like someone else, but learning how to do it like your father.
Dweezil also gave some insight into Frank as a (musical) dad. He said that Frank let him pursue whatever musical path he wanted to, and was eager to office advice and help if asked for it. He said that Frank would advise people to examine what motivated them to make music, and follow their inner musical ear where ever it leads. He wasn’t concerned with academia, or being labeled as a composer, guitarist, producer.
The Statue & Dedication
The statue is a replica of an original that sits in Vilnius, Lithuania. In an act of true democracy, the people of the city signed a petition to have the statue installed there.
It’s very tall, sitting about 20′ off the ground looking out onto Frank Zappa way.
Gail spoke without notes. Dr. Carla Hayden of the Enoch Pratt and mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake proclaimed this a huge win for libraries (Baltimore used to be the city that reads, didn’t it?) and Baltimore. Today will always be Frank Zappa day in Baltimore, and the mayor hinted at future Highlandtown music events to commemorate it.
A faculty member from Peabody was on hand and told the story of how Frank had once reached out to Peabody, and Peabody didn’t know how to react. Pierre Boulez has since proclaimed that Frank Zappa is one of the greatest American composers. Dr. Faculty explained that Peabody would now know how to react. Love it.
There were a lot of wet eyes during the dedication – it was very moving, and the Zappas seemed truly honored.
Finally, Dweezil gave a concert with Zappa plays Zappa. So good. It was a great, great day.
It’s unfortunate that I’ve had Cee-Lo Green’s song stuck in my head all day.