For months, I had been going back and forth with Jim from Jenifer Convertible, first by mail and later by email.  Rich had received a copy of the band’s “Car Song” seven inch for review in Indier Than Thou! and given it right to me, and I thought the song was fantastic.  Their “Speed Racer” seven-inch was even better, and caused me to reach out to the band.

They were based in New York City, and after getting to know one another, Jim and I realized that there was some weird serendipity between us.  

First, when I was at WSAM, Jim played in a band called T’ang S’dang, whose CD made it into our playlist.  So I had actually met Jim because we spoke on the phone a few times in 1990 or so.  He had sent me a band t-shirt that I actually wore in college because nobody knew the band.

Then, Jim wrote the column in Alternative Press magazine that reviewed demo tapes.  It was his review of the Melting Hopefuls demo that Rich read and recognized that he had gone to high school with Renee.  That was how we had gotten hooked up with the band in the first place, and wound up including them on our Elizabeth compilation in 1992.

Jim was a super-nice guy, very friendly and supportive of what we were doing at Dromedary.  He and I became friends; I enjoyed his sense of humor and he seemed like the kind of guy that I really wanted to work with.  The problem was, of course, that we had a huge schedule of bands to release – cuppa joe, Mommyheads, Footstone, Toast, Gapeseed, Dots Will Echo and the Schoolhouse Pop compilation – that were going to take us well into 1995, and I didn’t want to string the band along by having them think that we were in any sort of position to put their music out any time soon.  I had no clue how I was going to pay for anything past Footstone.

At the same time, I really wanted to hear more of their music.  I had both the bands’ seven-inches, and all four songs on them were absolutely fantastic pop songs, and I found myself listening to them more and more during the fall of 1994.

Here’s the flipside of their “Car Song” seven-inch, called “Co-Dependency.”

Finally, I asked Jim if the band had any more music recorded, and it turned out that they had a whole bunch – Jim sent me a tape, some of which (in another burst of serendipity) had been recorded at the Melting Hopefuls’ recording studio.

The day I picked the cassette up at the post office, Sandy was away somewhere and I had the apartment to myself. I popped it into the stereo, made a cup of coffee, and sat back.

The band’s two seven-inches consisted of pure power pop – four songs’ worth – and so that’s what I expected to hear. What shocked me was the complexity of the songwriting. There were no straightforward songs, no simplicity. Unconventional two-part vocal harmonies, complex interplay between the guitars, bass lines that strayed from the root chord, dynamic loud and soft passages…

This wasn’t a good band. This was a great band.

Here’s an example – this is “Watertower.” Listen to the way this song builds, and the emotion that’s expressed in the musicianship.

So many bands have two guitar players, but it seems like there’s really no reason, other than two guitars sound great together when they play loud. In Jenifer Convertible, the two guitars were usually doing something different; playing harmonies or augmenting each other somehow.

At the same time, the songs worked as great pop songs, because the songwriting was so strong. It was almost as if you could listen to the band on a few different levels – passively, enjoying the pop songs, or actively, paying attention to the complexity of the music itself.

The song “St. Peter,” to me, best exemplified this. It was a great song, with the instrumentation vacillating back and forth between being lullaby and bombast. One guitar silently strumming, the other playing feedback, echoing in the background. Slowly, over the course of the song, it builds to a crescendo – but then quickly fades back to a quiet, plaintive ending.

Holy cow, did I love this. And I very quickly changed my mind about being too loaded up with releases.

Every other band I ever heard and liked, by response was “wow, it would be neat to put this out.” With Jenifer Convertible, I desperately wanted to put it out. I wanted everyone in the world to hear them.  I wanted to put every penny I had into making sure that their music reached every ear in the indie community.  They were that good.  

I had seen them live a number of times – they had done a show or two for us – and they were excellent.  But I’ve always found that it’s easier to understand an indie band when you know the songs you’re hearing.

Initially, my idea was to take the cassette – including the songs on the seven-inch – package them up onto a CD, and release it right away. Ahead of everything in our schedule except Footstone. If I couldn’t afford something, I’d put off Toast – it seemed like they were going to take a really long time before they would have something for us to release anyway.

What sold me the most about the band was their cover of “Pretty Ballerina.”

“Pretty Ballerina” was originally written and performed by the baroque rock band The Left Banke in 1967. Nobody remembers The Left Banke, but most people do remember their biggest (and really only) hit, “Walk Away Renee.” Barely a rock band, The Left Banke were entirely forgettable except for that one song, and when Southside Johnny covered “Walk Away Renee” in the 80s, there was no longer any reason to remember that the Left Banke were once a band.

Lenny from Jenifer Convertible had different ideas, though, and he and the band reworked “Pretty Ballerina” by taking its more memorable parts and turning up the volume, layering it with guitar, and pumping up the reverb on the snare to the point where the hooks pounded into your head. Where the original featured gently rolling piano lines, the cover boasted loud, distorted guitar, and the thickness of the chords in the hook sat in my brain to the point where I listened over and over again, to this one song.

My version of the song is on a cassette, and like many of the other songs I’ve posted in this blog, the tape is worn from overplay. But there is no song that I ever received from any band on any tape that received as much play as this one – it’s my favorite song that I ever received from any band during the entire time I ran Dromedary Records. You can hear the wear in the tape, but you can’t hear the tape squeaking from being on its last legs. I actually put the tape away in 1999 or so, thinking that someday, when I was 40 years old, I was going to want to hear it and there would be no way for me to get a copy.

Thankfully, home CD burning became a reality, and I was able to drag out the tape and turn it into an MP3. It still sounds worn, but at least I can listen to it as often as I want without having to worry about it falling apart on me.

Please, enjoy.

~ by Al on June 13, 2009.

4 Responses to “jenifer.”

  1. Holy cats, Al. “Ballerina” is terriffic. The Left Banke version is a fave of mine for the way it (probably unintentionally) marries the sweetly innocent poetry of new love with the menacing cello that reminds me of horror movie music. But the JC version is another thing entirely. Good save.

  2. The little chorus parts still give me chills. It’s one of those few songs that I own that I try desperately to refrain from overplaying because I don’t ever want to get tired of it.

  3. I don’t usually blush but this is just hugely flattering, Al, thank you! Even though things did not work out as we all hoped, I want you to know how much we appreciated all your support, not least of which, giving us a reason to record an LP with Wharton Tiers (incidentally, years later, he and I now work together at my recording studio.). Thanks for posting those songs; it’s been a while since I’ve listened to any of them and they still sound OK to me. I will see if Lenny can send you a better copy of “Ballerina.”

  4. Hi Jim! Wow, I’m glad you read this. If you haven’t figured it out, I’m actually telling the story of Dromedary chronologically – at the time I’m leaving this comment, I’m in mid-1995, so I’ve got a ways to go before the JenCon story reaches its end. But I’m glad you like it so far, and I hope you keep reading! And by the way – I’m really glad we’re back in touch.

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