schmeckle.

In the mail came a cassette copy of Schmeckle City Rubdown, courtesy of Bishop.  It had a handmade cover that featured a cover photo that was clearly from the 70s, of a young adult with a porn mustache, afro, and a flowery shirt with wide lapels that was open just a bit too wide.  Standing next to him was a young boy in a powder blue leisure suit, and I could only assume that the kid was Ralph.

The cassette had seven songs on it, and none of them were “U.S. Bebop.”  That was a huge disappointment to me, as soon as I pulled the tape out of the envelope.  There was also no “I Will Not Allow,” the Westerberg-esque pop song I’d heard on the rehearsal demo that Ralph had sent.

It wasn’t the most magnificent cassette dub, but at least I could get the picture – Rob Grenoble, Bill and J had decided to strip the band down a bit.  Whereas Lippy was a very dense record, with big, fat bass and drums that were way out front, Schmeckle City Rubdown leaned much more heavily on guitar.  And it wasn’t an overly processed guitar, it was very raw and garagey.

The result of this was that the recording took on a lot more urgency than previous Footstone recordings, and the guitar was crunchy and steady – it was almost as if they had made a conscious decision to do everything at one level, and eschew some of the quiet/loud dynamics that we heard on Lippy.

Here’s an example – it’s called “Quick Quick,” and it had become a staple of Footstone’s live set by mid ’96.

It certainly wasn’t the band’s best songwriting, but it was another typical, aggressive Footstone song – hard driving, with very subtle changes to the song as it progressed. By the end of the song, Dave was leading with his ride cymbal, the guitars were letting the chords ring, and Ralph’s vocals were doubled.

It’s very tough to hear the harmonies and backing vocals in parts of this recording. Again, a cassette dub. Maybe someday I’ll post the actual, digital tracks, so we won’t be subjected to all the pops and glitches.

Anyway, here’s another track, called “Unravelled,” which was one of their best pop songs of this period, and probably the best of the seven songs on the cassette.

At the time it was recorded, “Unravelled” was a newer song, and showed the band moving in a much poppier direction. Ralph’s voice was in fine form on this recording; I can only assume that the producers had him sing this one over and over, because you can hear him reaching and his voice cracking right in the first verse. Ralph had, in my opinion, the best voice in indie rock (still does), and it was often easy for him to hit the notes in these complex melodies that he wrote – but when he really dug in and belted out a verse, it was something else.

He also had a great sense of harmony, and the more he layered his vocals, the more interesting the songs became – the last verse is a great illustration of that, even if it’s just a few measures.

And then there was “Keep Me Blinded.”

When I saw it was even on the tape, I got excited, but I also had a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had played horribly, unoriginally, and basically very weak. Even as I walked out of the studio that day I knew that I was putting the band in a shitty spot; they’d asked me to play on a track and I did, but in playing so poorly they had to make a decision about whether to leave my horseshit playing on the track, or to shitcan it and risk hurting my feelings.

Honestly, I was hoping for the latter, and when I played the track I was pleasantly surprised for the first couple of verses – the piano was gone.

Then, suddenly, during a longer instrumental passage at the beginning of the song, there it was. Buried in the mix, barely audible, and just as horrifically bad as I remembered playing it. It sounded as if I was standing on the damper pedal when I played it, and the gliss at the end of the verse was horribly botched (how you botch a gliss, I don’t know, but I managed) and way too long. It was embarrassing to hear, and simultaneously a little insulting to hear so far back in the mix, if that makes any sense.

Then, it disappeared again. Mercifully, they had decided to just drop out all the toy piano, Ben Folds, made-up crap during the verse, and just leave in the Jerry Lee Lewis thing, which came back in again in the last verse, just as the song ended.

I was happy with the songs, unhappy with my playing, and unhappy with the number of songs on it. Seven was just not enough. Flying Suit had eight, and even it was too short. This was much more of an EP than a full-length.

When I asked Ralph about it, he explained that the band had recorded on the cheapo rate, the one where you come into the studio when there’s extra time and everyone can make it. It had taken forever for them to piece together seven songs, and they could have kept going back until the end of time and still not had enough music recorded for a full-length. So eventually, they just said “Fuck it, we’re finished.”

I knew that they had the unreleased tracks that were recorded by Rob Weiss a few months prior – and those tracks included “U.S. Bebop” – but the band was unhappy with them, and I personally thought they were tinny and lacking bass. But in order to get a full-length out, we were going to have to pull some songs from those sessions.

I wasn’t sure of the best way to bring this up with the band. And as things would have it, I’d never have to.

Fine. Turnabout is fair play, and since I’ve recounted every uncomfortable conversation, sour note, and bad performance that any of our bands had in five years, I should also post my own poor performance. Here’s “Keep Me Blinded.”

~ by Al on November 9, 2009.

One Response to “schmeckle.”

  1. […] 16 different mixes of, that we still couldn’t find one we liked.  They played songs from Schmeckle City Rubdown, the record we never put out.  They played songs like “Frothy” and […]

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