pez.

The cover to the Wretched Soul demo tape.

The cover to the Wretched Soul demo tape.

So we loaded the band’s gear into Sweetcakes’ Bronco and Sandy’s little Toyota Camry and we made the trip north to Hartford.  It was a Friday night, and we got a late start, so we unpacked the gear into the station and headed over to Walt’s apartment for the night.  We ordered pizza from Domino’s (which was a treat for me since Sandy and I were still living on a $40 a week grocery budget), Walt bought some beers, and we popped in the new King’s X record.  King’s X was a favorite of ours at WSAM, and we were clinging to them despite the fact that they had already peaked.  

 

The band was loose, maybe even too loose as I got the impression that a couple of them didn’t spend much time away from home.  They wound up staying up almost all night goofing around; I remember thinking at one point that I should just head down to the station and start setting up Joe’s drums for him.  If he hadn’t had a kit like Neil Peart’s, I might have given it a try.  

Eventually I fell asleep.

When I woke up, the guitar player and the singer were gone.  No idea where they were.  Joe, the bass player (who I think was named Wayne), Rich and I went down to the station so that Joe could set up his drums.  Walt stayed back at his apartment to wait for the singer (who I think was also named Joe) and Andy the guitar player.  

We got the drums set up pretty quickly, and then Rich and I set about miking them.  We quickly ran out of mic stands, so we climbed up and slung the cords through the drop ceiling so they hung down over the drums.  We had mics draped everywhere.  We had eight mics running into a cheap Boss 8-channel mixer that Paulie stole from his job at a music store, with the output running into the large mixing board.  Joe Sweetcakes sat behind the kit and Wayne (I think) plugged in his bass, the two of them jammed for 10 or 15 minutes and it sounded great.

Then we waited.

No sign of the guitar player or the singer.

Eventually, they showed up at the station with Walt.  They had gone for a walk.  Andy came into the control room and I cranked up the monitors while Joe and Wayne ran through “Through the Eyes of the Dragon” (really) a few times, and I saw Andy smile.  It really did sound good.  

Andy plugged in and played a bit, and then we decided to start recording.  The song opens with a big, scary, dissonant chord, and the first time they ran through it, that chord sounded amazing.  As the song was building, Rich and I looked at each other and smiled for a second – for the first time, it felt like we actually had a record label.

Then, they stopped playing.  Andy didn’t like the way it sounded.  So they ran through it again. And again.  And again.  Finally, I went into the studio and explained that he couldn’t possibly hear how it sounded out there on the floor, and asked him to play the song all the way through without stopping.  It was hard for them to hear – we tried giving them monitors but they didn’t work right, and the bass was running directly into the mixing board so it was tough to hear the bass out on the floor when we were shut in the control room.  So we sort of dragged on through the morning until, finally, we got it right enough that there were only a few minor flubs that we felt we could fix in the mix.

After that, we blew through a second song, “Forever After.”  And then, Joe and Wayne were done for the day and it was time for a second layer of guitar.  So we rewound the tape to the beginning of “Through the Eyes of the Dragon” and started.

Within just a few seconds, Andy was playing something out of sync with the original track.  So I stopped the tape and asked him to start again.  On the second take, at the beginning of the song, during a quiet passage, he started playing a solo that was not part of the song.  So I stopped the tape again, and asked him to start over.  He did, and started playing another solo.

“Andy, there’s no solo there,” I explained.

“What do you mean, ‘there’s no solo there?'” he asked.  “It’s my song.”  Everyone was sort of on edge at this point.

“Right, I understand,” I said, “but that part of the song has never had a solo before.”

“Well, it feels like there should be a solo there.” 

“But the power of the song is because everything starts so quiet, and gradually builds into something heavy,” I explained.  “If you kick in with this screaming solo right at the beginning, it dilutes that.”

“You have this idea that we’re just some metal band,” he said, beginning to rant a bit.  “That’s not what we are at all.  I feel like playing the song differently today.  I don’t ever want to play a song the same way twice.  That would be so boring, playing the same song the same way every night.  I just want to jam.  I want to play a different set list every night.  I want to totally improvise, like a jazz band.  I want to be more like the Grateful Dead than Metallica.  I love the Grateful Dead.  Do you think the label tells Jerry Garcia where the solo belongs?”

I was speechless.  On one hand, this was the most frustrating conversation ever.  On the other hand, the guy had a point.

Then again, this was a metal band.

“Andy, the name of your band is Wretched Soul,” I pleaded.  “You are a metal band.  You can incorporate all that stuff into your live performances if you want.  But we need to get this song down on tape the way the band wrote it, and the way your fans have become accustomed to hearing it live.  This is the studio version.”

He agreed, reluctantly, to play the songs the way everyone knew them.  But we raced through those two songs as fast as humanly possible, as I didn’t want to have to re-live the discussion.  He played decent enough solos, stayed pretty faithful to the recording on the rhythm parts, and aside from going a little too heavy on the digital effects, wound up playing it well.  All along the way we had problems in the studio, as I began to realize the extreme limitations of what we were trying to do, which was, essentially, to put together a professional-sounding recording on low-budget radio station equipment.  We spent hours jury-rigging things that in a real recording studio (remember that phrase for later) would take just a few minutes to accomplish.  And it actually sounded pretty good.

But I was really starting to dislike heavy metal.

We finished.  It was time for lunch.  We went to a McDonald’s in East Hartford.  Then all hell broke loose.

“Remember Pez?” said Joe the Singer.

“Yeah!” everyone said.  

“I want Pez now.” 

“Well, I have no idea where to get Pez in Hartford,” I said.  “I promise I’ll buy you some Pez when we get home.”

“NOW.”

I thought he was joking.  Surely, he was joking. Nobody says “NOW” like that and really means it.

He looked at me and said “I’m not singing until I have Pez.”

Really.  That’s what he said.  Still, I thought he was joking.  But then he said “You think I’m kidding.  I’m not.  I won’t sing until I have Pez.”

I lived through these guys staying up all night.  I lived through the guitar player and singer disappearing all morning and holding us up for a few hours.  I lived through slinging microphones over beams in the ceiling, running wires everywhere to try and patch together a halfway decent recording studio.  I lived through the Jerry Garcia rant.  But this was too much.  This singer, who was just a kid, is actually pulling a prima donna act?  “Does this kid realize that he’s recording a fucking four-track demo in the production studio of a carrier current radio station?” I thought.  “For a nonexistent record label?

I looked at him and said “You’re not getting fucking Pez.”

He looked at me and said “Well, I’m not fucking singing.”

Time for a cigarette.  I stepped out of the car and lit up, and took a walk around the back of the McDonald’s.  Rich came with me. “Do you believe this shit?” I asked him.  I wanted to just leave them there and go home.

“Look,” he said, “You can get into a battle of wills with this guy.  But you’re up here for one day, and it’s getting late.  If he doesn’t sing, you drove all the way up here, inconvenienced Walt and Art, wasted a whole day in this studio, and you come home with nothing.  So if he’s going to sing if you buy him some Pez, buy him some Pez.”

I just stared at him.  I hadn’t slept in a day, I was trying to record a masterpiece on the worst equipment in the world, I had microphones hanging from the ceiling, I hadn’t showered, I had an egotistical guitar player and a prima donna singer who thought they were Van Halen, and I had to find Pez.

It took about an hour.  Apparently, in 1992, there was some great Pez shortage or something that made it impossible to find anywhere but in the cheapest, nastiest dollar store in East Hartford.  But I found it, gave it to Joe the Singer, and started driving back to campus.

“What are we going to name the CD?” Andy asked on the way back.

“Four Grown Men on a Quest for Pez,” responded Joe.

We got back to the studio and went inside.  Art was in the control room, listening to what we had recorded that morning.  Art is a pro.  So when he said “You got this drum sound here?!” I figured we were doing well.  We listened through the two tracks once, while Joe the Singer dimmed all the lights in the studio so he could set the mood for singing.  Then, he reached into his knapsack and pulled out two circular saw blades and two pieces of plastic hose, about three feet long.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Sound effects.”  He began whipping the hose around in circles, creating a whistling noise.  “For the songs.”

“The songs don’t have sound effects,” I explained.

“They do,” he countered.

“We don’t have any tracks left for sound effects,” I continued.  “We have one track left, for vocals.”

He hit the saw blade with a drumstick, making a ringing sound.

“If you’re recording sound effects,” I said, “You’re recording it with the same microphone, on the same track, as your vocals.”

We went through “Through the Eyes of the Dragon” once, complete with ringing circular saw blades (that sounded oddly cool, much as it pained me to admit), and then Joe lethargically sang the song.  I asked him to sing it again.  Two or three times we went through it, with Joe sounding as if he was falling asleep each time.

“Dude, do you think you could sing the song with a little energy?” I asked.

“That’s how I sing,” he replied.

“That’s not how you sing when I see you live.  Live, you put your heart into the song.  Let’s hear your voice crack a little.  Let’s hear you put some emotion into the song.”

“The emotion is in the lyrics.  I prefer to let the focus be on the lyrics.”

Through the Eyes of the Dragon is the name of this song.

“Have you ever heard Pearl Jam?” I asked.  It was still early 1992, Pearl Jam was not a big band at all.

“Sure,” he answered.

“Do you like them?” I asked.

“They’re awesome.”

“What’s the singer’s name?” I asked him.

“Eddie Vedder.”  I didn’t know the name of Pearl Jam’s singer.  

“Do you know that song ‘Once’?” I asked.  “In that song, he’s singing the chorus, and his voice is straining with everything he’s got.  At the end of that song as he’s going through the chorus, the voice is more powerful than the rest of the band.  He’s putting everything he’s got into that vocal.”

“Oh, okay, I get it,” he said.  “That’s a cool song.  I’ll try harder.”

We did it again and again.  The other guys in the band disappeared, came back, disappeared again.  Andy pulled Joe the Singer out of the studio and yelled at him.  Art pulled me aside and said “I need to leave.  If I don’t get out of here, I’m going to beat these guys senseless.”  Rich left.  We ordered pizza and ate dinner.  

Finally, we got it down.  Two songs.  An entire day.  

The band started breaking down their equipment and Walt started cleaning up the studio – which was a disaster.  Meanwhile, Rich and I played the song back over and over, adjusting settings and trying to get it to sound just right.  

It was getting late when we finally finished up.  And then I realized that I had forgotten to put the song on a cassette tape to listen to in the car.  So quickly I grabbed a blank tape from the production studio and popped it into the tape deck.  I ran off a quick copy, and then a second, wrote “Four Grown Men on a Quest for Pez” on both, and handed one to Sweetcakes.

He was exhausted, and he had tried really hard to keep things together all day.  He realized that his band made things really difficult, and he apologized.  “I’m going to leave.” He said.  “I’ll talk to them in the car.”  With that, they left.

As soon as they walked out the door, Rich looked at me and said “We can’t work with them.”

“I know,” I said.

They weren’t bad guys.  They weren’t even a bad band.  The experience was miserable, but I think they were just having fun with it.  But I was tired, and cranky, and not ready to come to grips with the fact that this was a big mistake.

We listened to the tape in silence on the way home.  I had messed up the recording levels on the tape deck, and the recording sounded horrifically muddy and low.  It was a shame, because the reel tape sounded so great.  It was also a shame because I knew that it was very unlikely that I’d ever listen to that reel tape again.

I’m writing this in early 2009, and I still haven’t taken the reel tape out of its box since that night at Hartford.  It sits in a box in my attic, nicely labeled “Wretched Soul – Four Grown Men on a Quest for Pez.”  

The next day Sweetcakes called me.  I expected him to tell me that the band was sorry about the way things turned out.  Instead he told me that they decided they didn’t want to put out a CD on our label.  He explained that he was really into it, but the other guys, not so much.

Saved me the trouble of having to say the same thing to him.  I really liked him, and I hate pissing off people I really like.

Tonight I dug around for the “Pez” tape.  Unfortunately, while I found the cover, inside it was a Third Eye Blind cassingle.  I bought it for my son when he was a baby, because he really liked the “Doot doot doot” in the chorus.  Somehow it took the place of my Wretched Soul tape.  Which is a metaphor for a lot of things.

At any rate, I unfortunately cannot post the recording of “Through the Eyes of the Dragon.”  Instead, I will post the original demo of “KDMS,” which I did happen to find.

I’m not sure what happened to Wretched Soul.  I stayed in touch with Joe Sweetcakes for a while; he was always a good guy and a good friend.  I heard he got married to his long-time girlfriend, which is great.

~ by Al on January 8, 2009.

One Response to “pez.”

  1. […] The master reel of the demo, Five Grown Men on a Quest for Pez. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: