Jul. 18, 2012 - Issue #874: Musician’s Survival Guide: Songwriters on Songwriting
Fri, Jul 20 (8 pm)
With Flying Fox & the Hunter Gatherers, Doug Hoyer, Meagan Loves
New City, $8
The eclectic rhythm riders of Dub Vulture reversed the usual pattern of releasing music then remixing it last year, when they let legendary dub progenitor The Scientist craft the Snarl! EP out of songs that hadn't previously been recorded. Now, the "original" mixes are turning up on Brother, Can You Spare a Gun?, the band's second full-length, pairing Snarl!'s five songs with a half-dozen new ones to carve an engaging trip through the hazy landscape of reggae, rock and dub.
On the eve of the album's release, head Vulture Tim Balash took some time to answer questions about Brother, Can You Spare a Gun?'s creation process, which spans more than two decades. Sort of.
VUE WEEKLY: How long did it take to make Brother, Can You Spare a Gun?, from the initial songwriting through to the end of the recording?
TIM BALASH: "Blow On The Flame" is an old song fitted out with some new parts. I had to hunt through my Drawer of Forgotten Lyrics for the original set of words which had the date December 1989 scribbled at the bottom. Therefore I can accurately state that this record took 23 years to make. The title song is probably almost that old, too. Christ, I've been working on this record half my life! I think some people in the band were not yet born when it all began.
VW: When you were writing the songs, did you come at them in a particular way? Lyrics first? Music first?
TB: The words and the music are concocted in entirely separate laboratories, and usually exist for a long time as separate entities before they're poured into the same beaker. I usually have a riff or a bass line for a while before I start thinking lyrics, and I'm always writing words which rarely have a specific piece of music in mind. At most, I might think, for example, "This will work over something loud and ugly," but until I'm finishing a song off, the words are usually biding their time in a music-free notebook limbo.
VW: Did you take the songs to the recording sessions fully formed, or were they sketches that were then filled out by the band?
TB: About half the songs were complete and unto themselves before recording, and the other half we cobbled together as we went along. Brian [Golightly] and I had recorded a lot of instrumentals, some of which were turned into proper songs by Brahm [Olivierre] and Amy [Van Keeken]. That collaborative part of the band is a lot of fun. Amy had never even heard "Skull and Wishbone" until the day I asked her if she had time to add vocals to it. She asked if I had any lyrics, I duly dug some up out of one of those aforementioned notebooks, then she made up all those vocal parts in a few takes.
VW: What were the recording sessions like for this album? Did you record as a band live off the floor or did you piece it together one track at a time? Why?
TB: The sessions were all done on the instalment plan primarily due to busy schedules. I recorded the basic tracks on my own—this was before we had Duncan [Turner] playing bass for us—then everyone added their parts when they could.
VW: Production credit is given to Dub Vulture, rather than just one person. What did producing the album as a band bring to the recording?
TB: I'm a rank amateur when it comes to all this baffling digital wizardry—I miss my old Fostex cassette four-track—so my ears would get pretty exhausted mixing for hours on end, hours longer than it would've taken anyone with more experience. I found that running off mixes for everyone and getting their input would save me a lot of grief. They pointed out things that I couldn't hear and offered valuable suggestions I hadn't considered. One example of input was Brahm sending me a link to Lone Ranger's "Skank Steady" to show me what kind of delay setting he wanted on his voice for one track.
VW: Were there any other songs written that were left off the album?
TB: A few full songs were left because we thought we could do them better another time, a few we didn't have time to record, and we also have a few hours of instrumentals tracked awaiting Brahm and Amy's touch or some B-movies in need of a soundtrack. Also we had to pull a dub of the title song at the last minute because we'd exceeded the running time of the CD. You can get it as a bonus track on our bandcamp site.
VW: How did you decide which songs to include on the album? Did you have an idea of what you wanted the record to be when you started, or did the finished shape emerge as the writing and recording went along?
TB: A while ago we got a phone call from The Scientist saying he wanted to mix a record for us, so to meet his deadline at the time, these were the songs we scrambled to finish up. We released his dub treatment of some tracks last year, and it's taken us this long to get together the full performance mixes. There are no intricate themes tying the tracks together, despite all the reoccurring gunfire. Gratuitous and utterly irresponsible discharge of loud ordnance included, the CD is just a collection of the typical sounds you hear whenever we get together.
VW: If you were to trace the musical map that led you to Brother, Can You Spare a Gun?, what would it look like?
TB: A tangle of red arrows signifying many swims with the "Here Be Monsters" icons.
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