deconstructing the tape, part one.

That’s Toast, with the track “Math” from the Beatriz EP on Ratfish Records. If you remember from my last entry, Ron sent me a copy of the seven-inch and asked my opinion. I loved it. That, in turn, sparked Ron to send me what we would forever call “The Tape.”

Toast were a three-piece from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and they had two distinct types of songs. Songs written by their guitar player were very indie rock in nature, with a Pavement-esque quality of lazy singing and a noisy Les Paul with heavy sustain, as evidenced by the track “Math” above. Songs written by their bass player were very melodic – his voice sounded like Peter Gabriel, and the melodies had much more of a folksinger quality to them. And both their songs were backed by an outstanding drummer.

The first song on The Tape was called Continental. It was written by Jon, the bass player, so it was one of those melodic, emotional songs – and it remains the greatest description of the emotional drain of indie rock that I’ve ever heard. The idea of traveling cross-country on tour, getting further and further away from the person he loves, expressed in lyrics like “I set back my watch from three to two/I can’t wait to tell the same time as you,” were, to me, the flipside of touring that nobody ever talks about. And the lyric “I was drinking a Coke and listening to Seam” became my favorite lyric almost instantly.

Here’s the song, right from the tape:

Toast would record to four-track, and then add parts to them, clean them up, even layer drum loops on top. Sometimes they would augment studio recordings with added guitar parts at a later date, sometimes they would add tracks to existing four-track recordings. It was Toast that became the first band who’s four-track songs I could stomach listening to (I’m not much of a low-fi guy), and the only band who’s four-track songs I would ever consider actually putting out.

The Toast songs on The Tape were a combination of the homemade, friendly four-track recordings that I’d soon come to know as the band’s real signature, and better-produced studio recordings. I found that the guitar player’s songs translated better to the well-produced recordings, partially because his guitar work sounded very tinny on four-track and partially because his voice was thin and often off-key, in an indie sort of way, and because of that his vocals lent themselves better to a recording where the instruments behind him were clear. You can hear what I’m trying to describe in this song, “Pears,” also from The Tape.

Ron described Toast as being ready to put out records with any label that was interested. They were in the process of putting together a seven-inch for Dave Sweetapple’s Mag Wheel Records, which at that point was a seven-inch only label. The Beatriz 7″ EP was coming out on Ratfish. There were still plenty of unreleased tracks for Dromedary.

Toast’s drummer, Mike, was also the drummer in an all-female indie band called Motorpussy. All female except the drummer, I mean. Mike was a busy guy, shuttling back and forth between Toast and Motorpussy. When Motorpussy signed to Zero Hour Records and changed their name to Kittywinder, he became even busier. On top of that, he also booked shows for a Portsmouth club called The Elvis Room, and worked pretty tirelessly on promoting the Portsmouth indie scene.

I just loved their music.

It was such an awesome blend of nonchalant, slacker rock and earnest, emotional melodies that I couldn’t figure out what kind of band they actually were. Ron’s description of them as a “sleepy little band” was probably the best description I’ve ever heard of them.

Here’s another song from Ron’s Beatriz EP, a quick little acoustic track called “Captain.”

There were enough Toast songs on Side One of the tape that it almost hurt when the last one ended; each one had its own nuances and its unique flavor, and all together it was starting to give me a picture of this complex group of songwriters from New England. By the time I got through the last one, I so desperately wanted a Toast record on Dromedary that I was taken completely by surprise by the next band on The Tape.

Carrie Bradley was (still is) a violin player from San Francisco who played with a band called Ed’s Redeeming Qualities. ERQ was a folkie sort of band with humorous lyrics (I compared Kenny Young and the Eggplants to them in an earlier entry). She had also played violin with The Breeders, and rumor had it that she played with Nirvana during an unplugged set. I believe she also played with a San Francisco band called X-Tal.

The indie scene in San Francisco at the time was a very tight scene. I mentioned in an earlier entry that I had befriended a man named Sam, who played in a band called The Sarnos. As Sam and I got friendlier and actually spent some time together, I discovered that he knew all these bands. It soon became evident that everyone I met from San Francisco knew everyone else I met from San Francisco, even though I met them all independently.

Carrie Bradley, however, proved to be very elusive.

The solo recordings on The Tape were up-tempo and witty, with a great combination of acoustic and electric instruments. Her voice was absolutely beautiful, her violin playing captivating, and the song “Green Glass” captivated me to the point where I wore out the tape listening to it. Her music was very much the antithesis of what I had been releasing up to that point, and I quickly fell in love with the idea of releasing her music – she was more clever than Melting Hopefuls, friendlier than Cuppa Joe, and her band more talented than any other band I’d worked with up until that point.

It was “Green Glass” that I played for Rich before any other song on The Tape, right in my living room. When he heard it, his response was something to the effect of “Holy shit, you have GOT to put this out.”

I was in total agreement, and when I called Ron to give him my impressions of The Tape, it was Carrie Bradley that I asked about first.

Here’s “Green Glass,” the song I’m still in love with as if it were 1994 again. I’m sorry the recording is so muddy; the only place I know of where this recording is available is on this tape (I could be wrong), and it’s been played several thousand times.

~ by Al on March 22, 2009.

One Response to “deconstructing the tape, part one.”

  1. […] Carrie Bradley, the magnificent violinist who’s solo material was contained on the tape sent to me by Ron of Surefire, which was the tape that also introduced us to Toast and The Mommyheads, eventually went on to play with The Breeders.  She now plays in a duo called the Great Auk.  We never did meet, and I never wound up putting out any of her music.  But the song “Green Glass,” that I loved so much, wound up coming out on the album Big Grapefruit Cleanup Job, by Bradley’s band Ed’s Redeeming Qualities. […]

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