losing footstone.

On September 6, 1995, we sat in front of the television and watched the Baltimore Orioles on national television.  Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played, and I sat there like a blubbering fool, baby in my lap, whispering “We’re watching history here, buddy.”  I was finding it difficult not to be a blubbering fool; it seemed as if Sandy spent nine months being hormonal and emotional, and then it was my turn.

In addition to being new parents, we had tons of shit to do.  Sandy spent every non-baby-related waking moment packing the remainder of the apartment, and I spent a lot of my time over at the new place, getting things ready.  I crawled around on my hands and knees a lot, used up a lot of cleaning supplies.  My uncles helped me lay down a coat of polyeurethane floor finish on the hardwood floors downstairs (we ripped up the circa-1970 shag rug that was in the living room), we did lots of painting, lots of scrubbing in an effort to move into a nice, clean house.  

Suddenly – and with good reason – everything sort of took a backseat to getting the family situated, and getting into the new house.  Dromedary eventually got packed into boxes that would be, eventually, unpacked into the new space in the basement that we were reserving for the label.  We planned on putting everything music-related in the basement – Dromedary, plus all our records and CDs, plus the stereo system.  I planned on drilling some holes in the floor and running some wires upstairs into the living room so that I could put a pair of speakers in the built-in living room bookshelves, but that would be the only music-related thing you’d be able to see in our actual living area.  

I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but at some level, I figured it was time to grow up.  Not many adults with families keep their record collections in the living room.

While we sputtered about, getting ready to move, the Dromedary bands kept chugging along.  I realized that they weren’t going to stop being bands just because we were moving and having a baby.  Our problem was that there were no Dromedary bands; there were a lot of bands that we were talking to about doing one thing or another, but aside from a few reel tapes of my grandfather’s lounge music, there was nothing concrete in our plans.

One Saturday in September, Ralph dropped by unannounced with a pizza and a cassette tape.  The band had been recording in the studio with Rob Weiss, who was the sound guy at Coney Island High, if I remember correctly.  When the band had told me they were recording again, I was a little put out – first, Lippy was still brand new and still selling copies and generating press well into the summer.  Second, I had recorded the band at CBGB and was still considering a live record as a promotional tool for Lippy.  Third, Ralph was cagey on what his plans were for their next studio recordings – I was worried that they were going to release the new recordings on Maggadee Records.

I had been burned once by a band that I had invested a ton of time in jumping to another label, and I didn’t want that to happen with Footstone.  I had promised myself it would never happen again.  I had also promised myself that I would always give Footstone a place to release music if they wanted to – still guilt-stricken over the debacle with our seven-inch, I didn’t want to sting the band’s feelings again.

After showing him the new house, we sat in the living room and ate pizza amidst the boxes.  The stereo was still hooked up (I wasn’t about to unhook it until moving day), so I was able to pop in the tape and listen.

The recordings were crisp, but very different from Lippy.  With Lippy the band had gone over the mixes so many times, redone so many things, that it came out sounding fantastic – the drums were wonderfully recorded, and the bass had some sort of effect on it that made it really growl down at the bottom end.  Ralph and Eric’s twin guitars were crystal clear, and there was outstanding separation between all the instruments.

These recordings were somehow muddier, as if everything was all at the same level – pinned.

Just the same, they still sounded good, and captured the band’s growing grit – it was a very rough-sounding recording.  The biggest complaint that I had was that Ralph’s vocals sounded very thin and the bottom end seemed to be lacking.  Ralph had this amazing, powerful voice, and it seemed like all its richness had been engineered out of the recording.

The first place I noticed it was in my favorite Footstone song, “U.S. Bebop.”  It was such a good song, with such powerful hooks, but it seemed to have lost a lot of its power.  I thought this was partially due to some holes in the lyrics.  The song, which had evolved to be some sort of political statement, was still missing some meaning in the lyrics – in the second verse, built around the cool phrase “one hand in the cookie jar, the other down my pants” was weak in the rest of the verse.  In the last verse, it seemed like the words “sacred calf” were just plopped in there because they rhymed.  But then the song closed with the awesome line “take the crap they give you with a smile on your face, and mark the letterbombs ‘First Class’ and let the powder lobby in your place.”

It felt like it could have been a super-powerful political song, but some of those lyrics seemed rushed – but to top it off, the production should have been so heavy on the bottom end, and instead it sounded very thin up top.  I felt like, with a little more work on the lyrics and a little more emphasis on the punch in the bottom end, “U.S. Bebop” could have been a monster song.

Listen:

Still a very strong song.  My favorite Footstone song except for one more that they had written at roughly the same time (which I’ll play you later).  But after hearing them tear it up live at CBs that night in the summer of ’95, when Ralph was scrambling to make up lyrics and the band was scrambling to keep up the breakneck pace of the song, the studio recording had lost some of its power.

The song that surprised me was “Ivana.”  “Ivana” was a song that was named before it had complete lyrics; I always thought it got its name because the riff in the verse sounded so much like Nirvana.  In fact, a lot of the song sounded like Nirvana.  My problem was that I didn’t really like the song, and the band seemed to have fallen in love with it.

When I heard the studio recording, though, I changed my mind – I really liked it. But again, the recording sounded very thin to me.

Here’s “Ivana:”

Now, in defense of the recordings, they’re not as bad as they sound here on this blog.  I don’t even have the cassette of this anymore; it’s been misplaced.  You’re listening to a super low-quality MP3 that I made of the cassette tape in around 2000 or so.  You can hear all sorts of digital glitches in the playback, mostly because I didn’t have enough RAM in my old computer to properly transfer analog audio to digital without the computer occasionally crapping out.  You can also hear that the bass is practically nonexistent in this file – that’s because I was playing the song into the computer with a Sony Walkman.  

But still, I wasn’t thrilled with the recordings, and as I sat there with Ralph, I wondered what to think.  On one hand, I desperately wanted to keep Footstone on the label.  On the other hand, I wasn’t thrilled with the recordings.  And as I sat there, trying to square those two thoughts in my head, Ralph solved the problem for me.

“We’re not real happy with the way these came out,” he said.

“No?”

“No,” he responded.  “In fact, we’re already going back into the studio.”

I couldn’t keep track of the number of times they went into the studio to record or remix.  As I was preparing this post, in fact, I remembered another song that they recorded at one point or another, and since I can’t remember when they recorded it, I’m just going to leave it out of the story.  But I asked anyway: “When?”

“Like, now,” he said.  “We’re going to try Water Music.  They did such a great job with AmStand, and Rob is such a great engineer.  Plus, Bill is going to help out with production.”

Bill is going to help out with production, I thought.  Great.  I figured that meant – for sure – that Footstone would be leaving Dromedary and putting their next record out on Bill’s label.

And I immediately decided not to make a big deal out of it.  I could lose a band, but I wasn’t about to lose any more friends over this company.

It was pretty heartbreaking, though.

~ by Al on September 14, 2009.

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