sweetcakes

At the point where we decided to start our own record label, we were sort of at a loss for how to begin.  Obviously, we needed a band.  Without a band, we weren’t really sure what kind of label we’d be – obviously I dug the indie rock, but I also kinda liked the harder stuff, too.  And I knew more people who were into the harder stuff, being from New Jersey and all.

So we decided we’d let the bands (as if there were bands) tell us what sort of label we’d be.

We started buying copies of the Aquarian Weekly (which, at the time, had the unfortunate name of East Coast Rocker) just to see what sort of bands were in New Jersey.  We started to familiarize ourselves with the bands that played out often at the New Jersey clubs – Maxwells and Live Tonight in Hoboken, Connections in Clifton, The Brighton Bar and The Fastlane down the shore, City Gardens in Trenton, and the Court Tavern and Melody Bar in New Brunswick.

My friend Paulie, an old friend from high school that I have stayed close with all my life, suggested that our mutual friend Joe had a band we might want to hear.  Joe was a great drummer with a lot of hair, and we spent a week with him in Virginia Beach during college that was one of the most fun weeks I’d ever had up until that point.  By the end of the week he had gotten the nickname “Sweetcakes,” mostly because he liked to wear these tight, spandex cycling shorts, but the nickname was even funnier because Joe was a big, hairy, thrash metal guy.  

Anyway, Joe played in a band with the unfortunate name of Wretched Soul, and Paulie gave me their demo tape, which was pretty horrid as far as thrash metal goes.  They actually had a song called “KDMS,” which stood for “Kill, Destroy, Mangle, Slaughter.”  If I recall the lyrics of the song, the first two lines went something like this:

“Kill, destroy, mangle, slaughter-

Satan’s wrath is growning broader.”

I listened to the tape and didn’t have the heart to tell Paulie that I couldn’t stand the band, and cringed when he invited Sandy and me to go see them at a club called Obsessions, in Randolph, NJ.  

Now, at the time, we were living in Lodi, which is about 15 minutes west of Manhattan.  Our world didn’t go much further west than Lodi, so the trip to Randolph might have been a trip to West Virginia.  To see some thrash band.

We dragged Rich along with us, expecting the absolute worst.

Except one thing: the band impressed us.  They had sort of moved away from the stupid thrash thing and gotten more into a dark, aggressive metal with a really powerful groove and lots of noisy parts that were punctuated by melodic breaks.  They had a singer who was just a kid, and lyrically they were still pretty weak, but at some point during the show, Rich pulled me aside and said “You know, they’re pretty good, and it’s not like it would be a bad thing to get started with a band where you’re actually friends with one of the guys.  You’re going to make lots of mistakes, and you’re going to be feeling your way around, and someone who is your friend would be a lot more understanding than some jerk who wants to be a rock star.  You could do worse.”

So after the show, I shook Sweetcakes’ hand, told him I was starting a record label and I’d be interested in talking with him about putting out a record.  I invited him and the rest of the band over to my apartment to talk about it.  Then, we left the club, feeling pretty good about things.

The night they came over was not my best sales pitch.  

The band sat down in my living room and I offered them beers.  As I recall, the guys in the band didn’t drink, so I wound up sitting there, drinking the beer I had bought for them.  Sandy and Rich were there, too.  I was nervous.

I was ready with props – I had copies of CMJ and Rockpool to give them an idea of what college radio was about, and how the metal charts worked.  I had some info on other indie labels and what sort of ground they were breaking.  I talked about the benefit of being with an indie label, and how as my first band, they’d be sure to get lots more attention from me than they would from some other company.

The guitar player (who I think was named Andy) seemed hesitant.  So I picked it up a notch.  He suggested that I release their demo tape, and I basically told them their demo tape sounded horrible, and the songs were awful.  I explained that the band I saw at Obsessions was a much better band than the band on the demo tape.  I told him that I thought I could get a CD of their new songs on the college metal charts, and get them some decent press.  I didn’t promise anything as far as sales went (mostly because I had no idea how that part of the equation worked, which is a ridiculous piece of the puzzle to be missing when the goal is supposed to be to sell records).

If I remember this right, they actually had a second demo tape that they recorded at a studio where a local band they loved – Eternal Vision – had recorded.  That tape sounded like it was being played at the other end of a tunnel – all muddy and reverb-laden.  You couldn’t hear the aggression of the band, you couldn’t hear Joe’s great drumming, it was just one big garbled mess with the guitars way out front.

So I suggested that we go back into a studio together, maybe record an EP’s worth of songs.  Very stripped-down, very few overdubs, just a straight-up loud rock record that showcased what the band really sounded like.  Then, if we liked how we worked together, we’d talk about putting out the CD.  

We agreed, and they left.  Afterwards, I asked Sandy and Rich how I did.  Sandy said “You came on a little strong.”  Rich said “You were an asshole.”

Since I didn’t want to invest money into recording costs, and since the band had a demo tape that they already liked, we agreed to spend a weekend up in Hartford, recording live in the production studio of WSAM.  The previous semester, Art, Tucker and Walt (who were still students there because at the time they were a year younger than me – although they’re much older than me now) had realized a goal of moving the station into a new location.  Art, who now builds radio stations for a living, was like a kid in a candy store, and he tricked out the station’s production studio with all sorts of goodies, and having seen the end result, I thought I could do a decent job recording the band.

I also knew I could get permission from Walt, who was now the station’s general manager.  I think it was spring break, maybe March or April of 1992, so nobody would be around.  The station was off the air, the production studio was wide open for me to use, and since Walt and Art were both still on-campus, we had a place to stay overnight for free – and in Art, I had a real engineer that I could call in case I ran into trouble.  Plus, we’d give the station the right to broadcast the result, so they could have a tape of an actual CD that was recorded at their station – and they could also use it as a demo reel, so they could start charging campus bands money to record their demos.  Given that the University of Hartford has one of the country’s best music schools in the Hart School of Music, it was a win-win.

My plan was to mic the drums and run them all into an 8-channel portable mixer, than run the mixer into the station’s 24-channel mixer.  Then, I’d run the bass right into the mixing board, mic the guitar amp, and record everything onto three tracks of the station’s four-track recorder.  That would leave me one open track for guitar overdubs.

Once the four tracks were recorded, I’d bounce the whole thing down to a two-track recorder they had, which would leave me one open track for vocals.

I had it all figured out, yep.

~ by Al on January 7, 2009.

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