wanna drag?

It was July 13.  A Saturday.

For some reason, I don’t think Lenny was there.  It was Jim, James, and Eddie.  I had spent the entire day sitting on the couch in the living room, staring at the television and wondering how long it was going to take me to get out of my work situation, how I was going to get these records out, and how I was going to devote the proper attention to them.  Then, when they arrived, I put on my best game face and greeted them.

After all the introductions were made, Jim handed me a cassette tape, and said “Wanna drag?”

I just stared at him.

“That’s the name of the CD,” he explained.  “Wanna Drag?”

I smiled.  Then I went inside and popped the tape in the stereo, and turned on the outside speakers.

The songs were great.  Absolutely tremendous.  Every last one.

They had re-recorded two of my favorites, “Car Song” and “Speedracer.”  And while the actual recordings were much better than the originals in terms of production quality, clarity, separation of instruments and that kind of thing, I do have to say that I thought the performances of the original versions were stronger.  More melodic.  At the end of “Car Song,” on the original version, the song ends by slipping into this jazz passage, with walking bass lines and syncopated drums.  On the new version, the drumming didn’t work as well.  The band’s new drummer was much more aggressive, but that didn’t lend itself as well to the more complex passages, which was also evident during the bridges in “Speed Racer.”

But it was still a great, great record.  In my estimation, far better than anything we’d put out up to that point.

It sounded great.  Very quickly, by the end of the opening track, “Overload,” I understood the difference between trusting your band to an excellent producer and going into any old cheap studio just to get a record done.  Wharton Tiers had done things with Jenifer Convertible that no small, local studio could have.  He coaxed outstanding performances out of the band, and mixed the whole thing together in such a way that every song had incredible punch.  It was absolutely fantastic, in every possible way.

We sat there in my backyard, eating hamburgers and hot dogs while listening to this incredible record, and I found it difficult to concentrate on anything.  It was exciting.  It was also scary.

Jenifer Convertible was an incredible East Village indie rock band that had unbelievable pop sensibilities.  Every song I’d ever heard recorded by them was, at its heart, a pop song.  Sometimes they masked it with noise, or jazz, or a complex interplay between the bass and guitars, but at its core, each song was a pop song.

On Wanna Drag?, the band had brought out an aggression that I didn’t know they had.  The record was closer to Gapeseed than Footstone, with lots of noise and feedback and power.

One song, “Taystee Cake,” contained a very obvious mistake.  After a chorus, when the next verse was about to being, the band paused for a measure.  The pause was intentional, and added tension to the song.  Lenny, however, began singing the next verse when the pause began.  Then, he stopped in mid-sentence, and waited for the band to catch up to him.  At the correct place in the song, he started singing again.

A lesser producer – and a lesser band – would have deleted the mistake, which is certainly an easy enough thing to do.

Someone, though, recognized how much it added to the song.  And so they left it in.  It’s a great song, but the mistake is the best part.  Its an Ornette Coleman kind of mistake, the one you make loud so that everyone thinks you did it on purpose.  Listen.

To me,he best song on the record was “Slide.”  It recalled the band’s early pop sound, but blended in the hard edges.  The chorus was so powerful that I recall getting goose bumps when I heard it that night in my backyard. While it was playing, Jim was talking to me about something – telling me a story about a show they’d done, or something like that – and I was staring at him, nodding my head and smiling, and totally listening to the song instead of whatever it was he was telling me.

We’d had success as a label with a few individual tracks – “Allnighter,” obviously, and “bottlerocket” by cuppa joe were two standouts. The Mommyheads’ “Annabelle Ann” had gotten a lot of positive comments. “Toothpick” by Footstone had also received a lot of attention. But I thought “Slide” was as good as any of them, and probably was the single song that was the best representation of any single band we’d worked with. It had everything that Jenifer Convertible was about – great melodies, lots of dynamic swings between the quiet and loud, some nice, noisy guitar work from Jim, some emotional vocals from Lenny, and a huge, loud crescendo at the end.

This is Jenifer Convertible:

We sat in my backyard, listening, as my mind started to drift toward the workload that was about to hit me. The following week, we had scheduled a show at Under ACME – kind of our “return” there – and Jenifer Convertible would be playing. It would be their first show as an “official” Dromedary band, and also the kickoff of a huge stretch of incredible busy-ness for me. My product line was coming together at the dayjob, and I would be launching it publicly at a trade show in September. The Footstone and Jenifer CDs would also be coming out that summer, and a Mommyheads CD on Geffen would certainly keep us busy with Flying Suit sales. The Baker’s Dozen lineup was almost finalized, and I needed to develop a strategy for advertising it. And we needed to plan the Shorefest concerts that we had begun talking about doing.

And we had a ton of work to do around the house, and a baby that had just about learned how to walk. And who had started talking. “Bubbles” was the first word, by the way. “Bubbles.” Not “mommy” or “daddy” or “Footstone.”

So Jenifer signed the contract, right there on my picnic table as the sun went down that July evening, as the final notes of Wanna Drag? faded away on my newly-installed outdoor speakers. Sandy had gone inside long before, leaving me to entertain the boys by myself – which was fine, as Sandy had, at this point, pretty much withdrawn from Dromedary altogether.

After the guys left, I went inside and opened up another beer and sat there in my living room for a while, just thinking.

Wanna Drag? was clearly going to be our best record, and a great opportunity to break out. I hoped, desperately, that I wouldn’t let them down, because I was way, way out of my league.

~ by Al on November 11, 2009.

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