Blister Freak Circus at SoWeBo ’94

Beef Platter Records posted several videos of Blister Freak Circus at the South West Baltimore Festival, the hot summer on 1994.

Sincerely,

Doorjam, bass guitar

The Green Lantern

Here’s a cool thing!

I came into this B.C. Rich Warlock for $40 though a combination of goodwill, generosity and luck.

It was in very good condition, with the only issue being a ding on the 7th fret that catches when I bend the B string. That’s not a big deal. It adds a little character.

Character is exactly what I hope for in a guitar. I wanted a laboratory instrument that I could hack and modify. Some features that I especially like about this guitar:

  • The price and condition
  • It’s heavier than the cheapie Stratocasters that are coming from India (or where ever) – it’s solid!
  • The neck feels good in my hand
  • It stays in tune
  • There’s no tremolo mechanism
  • It’s so weird
Step One

I bought a really, really cheap single coil pick-up on Amazon for around $2.00 and swapped out the neck position humbucker.

single-coil

fat-charlie-lends-a-paw

Fat Charlie ate the neck Humbucker. He eats everything.

wiring

At the time, I didn’t have an amplifier, so I tested it through a POD. Oh, and I added strap locks, too. It helps with the body shape.

bich

Since then, I found a Line 6 Spider IV 15 15-watt 1×8 Modeling Guitar Amplifier at Goodwill for $20. It’s easily the best small amp I’ve ever played through  – better than any of my old Fender Champs, or anything I’ve seen at this size. Best of all, it has a button labeled “INSANE.” We all need that.

Line-6-Spider-IV-15-15-watt-1x8-Modeling-Guitar-Amplifier

Step Two:

I strung the guitar with four .012 gauge “E” strings (on the low “E,” “A,” “D,” “G” strings).  I often drop the low “E” to a “C,” and I envisioned the typical tuning of these four string to be that of a cello.

cello-tuning

Listening to my Leezle practice inspired the cello tuning idea. I love alternate tunings. I love cello. I love bass and lower playing in lower registers. I thought that this tuning might make an appealing guitar for her, too.  The added tension of the three heavier strings is the reason I wanted a tremolo free guitar, as intonation can get wonky. The tonal interactions between four string with the same gauge is interesting. Back in the noisy Bazooka Joe days, Jeff “Guppy” Caplin and I spent many hours exploring dissonance, overtones and seeking harmonic resolution. I still find that fascinating, but perhaps without quite so much distortion.

So far, so good – the guitar plays well and has offered some great musical possibilities. I would like to do some recording with it. Soon.

Step Three

I am inspired by the work of Yuri Landman. In particular, I would love to have multiple line outputs and a denser pickup array under the strings (See below).

yuri

So, the next step is add outputs and more pick-ups.

Here’s a recent-ish TEDx talk from Mr. Landman.

More soon, stay TUNED (omg).

SHANK

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).

The Dead Chicken Ranch

I recently had to reinstall Windows on most of my 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 of punk music (which he got from his brother,  J Cookson) 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. Tim and I recorded the song “Whisker Biscuit” as our two man band, The Infected, in my basement and kitchen the summer before we left for college, and Lady Sniff’s influence can be heard in that song.

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 material. As such, I was able to fund and complete my first real studio, the Dead Chicken Ranch, which lived in the basement of my 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. My favorite is Pet My Kitty, Mr. New York City by Diana Froley (Skoda Records, 1998).

Diana Froley, Pet My Kitty Mr. New York City

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 have an appreciation for low-fi production, 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!

The Infected

My late friend Tim Cookson and I recorded two songs together under the moniker The Infected. We both contracted mono at the same time, although Tim was living in Alaska at the time, and I was in Chestertown.

The first track was called Whisker Biscuit and it was recorded in the summer of 1986.

Tim’s older brother, J Cookson, had given us a couple of mix tapes with Punk songs. That music was transformative to me. Lady Sniff, by the Butthole Surfers, made quite an impression on both of us, and inspired Whisker Biscuit.

Whisker Biscuit, 1986

We wrote and recorded another song the following summer. I had discovered Thunderbird, a fortified wine, during my freshman year of college. I had been playing guitar and bass for about a year or so.

I remember my mom came home from work and we were in her bathroom singing, trying to get a little reverb from the shower.

I was using a crappy little Fender champ that was bolted to a piece of plywood and J’s old distortion pedal. The “Electric Cowhead” was my grandfather’s electric razor.