the mechanic’s guide.

Footstone eventually did go into the Womb with Ray, to record three songs.

We had, as I stated in an earlier entry, told Ray that we were considering putting out a Footstone 7″.  We weren’t.  We were still planning the cuppa joe and Melting Hopefuls 7″s to come out simultaneously in October, and then we were planning to talk with Ditch Croaker about doing a 7″ after the first of the year.  We anticipated selling a few hundred Melting Hopefuls 7″s, and between that and the “Suck My Heart” sales, we figured we’d come up with enough cash to get out a new 7″ from someone in the winter.

I had a phone conversation with Floyd from Ditch Croaker, which was prompted by Ray, where we talked in broad brushstrokes about Dromedary releasing a Ditch Croaker 7″.  Although he seemed open to the idea, he was clear that he wanted the entire band to talk with me about it and agree.  I was trying to woo the band, so I found myself attending a few of their shows and hoping that they would see what we were trying to accomplish with the label and buy into it.

Meanwhile, Ralph had sent me some cassette copies of Footstone rehearsals, and asked me to cull through the songs to make some suggestions to him on what they should record.  With the Footstone rehearsal tapes I suffered from the same mental anguish I suffered when listening to doug cuppa joe’s homemade, 4-track tapes: the fidelity was so poor that I couldn’t bear to listen to them.  doug’s tapes were actually better than the Footstone tapes; Footstone essentially propped a boom box up in their rehearsal room and let a cassette tape run, where at least doug was actually recording things on individual tracks.

When Footstone went into the studio I was definitely not expecting much.  After the first day of recording I called Ray to ask how things went.

“Man, Dave Noel is a hell of a drummer,” he said.  I was starting to think that Ray qualified bands by the skill of their drummer.

“Yeah, he is really good,” I told him.  

“It’s not just how well he plays,” Ray elaborated, “it’s that he knows exactly where to hit the drums to get the perfect sound.  He hits them at just the right volume, in just the right place.  He plays the drums very musically, rather than just banging the hell out of them.”

That was actually pretty high praise.  Ray didn’t often talk about his drumming, because he was so deeply in tune with the production and with the entire band.  But he was, in fact, a drummer, and a fairly good one at that.  He played tastefully, didn’t use the cymbals enough for my liking but was also that rare drummer that didn’t try and overplay, or overpower the band.  He kept time, and added tasteful accents to the songs.  

“How are the songs, though?” I asked.

“Too early to tell,” he replied.  “I’m still working on the drums.”

I don’t recall whether Ray recorded Ditch Croaker first, Footstone first, or both bands simultaneously.  What I do recall was driving into Hoboken with a cassette tape of the songs that would become the cuppa joe and Melting Hopefuls 7″s, as well as with some press clippings, art samples, and various other Dromedary stuff.  The idea was to sit down with the entire Ditch Croaker band and come to an agreement on doing a 7″ together.

Tim, Tim, and Floyd were really nice guys.  We sat in the living room of their apartment and talked about music for what seemed like an hour, before we even began talking about working together.  Eventually, though, our discussion would stumble into one of those rare conversations where you just felt like an absolute idiot, and realized exactly how stupid you were – and just couldn’t get out of it.

I was explaining to them how helpful it could be to have an actual label – regardless of how small – working on helping promote their band.

“We really like the idea of releasing our stuff on our own label,” Tim said.

“Sure, I can’t blame you,” I explained – and was being completely honest.  “If I were in a band, I would want to release my own music.  I’d want to do everything myself.  But I would also try and team up with other labels to try and get stuff out as well.  Look at Superchunk.  They have their own label, but they work with other labels, too.”

It seemed like a good sales pitch, and it seemed like the Ditch Croaker guys agreed with me.  I continued.

“By the time your 7″ comes out, we will have just finished working on two other 7″s.  Your record will be our fifth release.  By that time, we’ll have built up a pretty decent profile, and we’ll still be building on our name.”

“Will you be putting out two 7″s at a time with us, too?” one of them asked.

“That’s not my plan right now,” I said, “But that could change.  Footstone is in the studio now, and I’m also sitting on a couple of demo tapes I really like.”

They told me they liked the idea of two 7″s at a time.

Then, Tim got back to the idea of his own label.  “You know, when we first started, we were all big fans of Simple Machines,” he said.  Simple Machines was a great DIY label that put out some excellent music – some of which I’ll get into later.  “So we got a copy of the ‘Mechanic’s Guide’ and decided to start our own label.  It’s such an inspirational thing, you know?”

I stared at him, blankly.  “What’s the ‘Mechanic’s Guide?'” I asked.

The room was quiet for just a split second – just long enough so that I would know that I just asked a stupid question.  Tim answered.  “It’s a book that was written by the people who run Simple Machines,” he said.  “It tells you how to put out your own record.  Everything from manufacturing, to starting a label, getting a business license, producing artwork, promoting it.”

I was pretty dumbfounded.  I had been floundering around like an idiot, making things up as I went along, and there was actually a book that would tell me how to do this shit?

“Huh,” I said, nonchalantly.  “I’ll have to get my hands on a copy of that.  It’s always good to compare notes with other labels.”

Always good to compare notes.  Heh.  Simple Machines was, at the time, a fantastically successful indie label that had an awesome reputation and had released some of the coolest records the indie community had ever seen at that point.  I was some knucklehead from Jersey that put out a shitty compilation and then mailed out a bunch of copies of someone else’s 7″.  Compare notes.  It was like suggesting I should compare notes about driving with Richard Petty, seeing as we both had cars.

It was times like this when I realized just how dumb I was.

We talked for a while longer, and I was angling a bit to learn more about this Mechanic’s Guide.  I thought I was being pretty cool about it, but eventually Tim said “You should just call them up.  You know, they give the thing away for free.  Anyone can have it.”

The fucking thing was free?!

I hung out with Ditch Croaker for a while longer.  They asked if I would mind if they put their own label’s logo on our 7″, even though it was coming out on Dromedary, so it would appear like a joint release.  I told them I’d have no problem with that.

As I was leaving, I looked at Floyd and asked “So, what do you think?”  Floyd seemed to be the most into working with Dromedary, so I was directing a lot of my questions toward him.

“Sounds good to me,” he said.  “Get a copy of our new stuff from Ray and figure out what two songs you’d like to put out.  All I have is this one, but I’ll give it to you.”

He handed me a cassette.  I clutched it like a trophy – I walked out of their apartment feeling like a fool, unaware of the existence of this free resource that was published by one of the most respected young indies out there, but I had this cassette.

I got in the car, and immediately popped in the tape. The song was called “Lotus Eater,” and it blew me away. Here’s the rough mix, from that tape that Floyd gave me that night. I think I listened to it a hundred times between Hoboken and Lodi, and I fell asleep listening to it on my Walkman. The little bridge between the verse and the chorus was, to me, just magic.

~ by Al on February 18, 2009.

One Response to “the mechanic’s guide.”

  1. […] had given me a cassette tape of one song – “Lotus Eater” – that I thought was utterly fantastic.  So I looked forward to hearing the rest of the […]

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