Song #25: Overlake – “From A Motel 6”

September 16, 2020
Song #25: Overlake – “From A Motel 6”

I met “Lysa Farfisa” for the first time around 2012; she contributed some organ to Stuyvesant’s Linden Calling album and some piano to Fret Sounds. She had a long history in New Jersey music and played with a number of excellent bands; at one point I saw her rock out with a Jersey City band called W.J. and the Sweet Sacrifice, and not long afterward, she released a solo record under the name Big Lake. I got my hands on the CD because we had some friends in common, and I really liked it.

I don’t remember how it happened, exactly, but I was made aware that Lysa and Tom Barrett had formed a new band called Overlake. I knew of Tom through a number of bands, including the excellent No Pasaran!, The Everymen, and the aforementioned W.J. and the Sweet Sacrifice. Tom sat in on drums with Stuyvesant for their 2012 Camelfest set and fit right in. Tom plays just about every instrument with proficiency (though I have yet to hear him on the er-hu), and he and Lysa began formulating the idea of combining their mutual appreciation for the shoegaze bands of the 90s into a new project.

When it came to drummers, Overlake was sort of like Spinal Tap, until they finally hooked up with Nick D’Amore, a super aggressive player who pounds the shit out of the skins but plays with pretty outstanding technical skill. Unfortunately by that point they were pretty much over as a band; Nick toured with them, but after two excellent albums, they called it quits.

Before they started to take off locally, I spent an evening in Jersey City with Lysa and Tom to discuss the possibility of Dromedary releasing their debut full-length. We’d agreed to do it, though I had reservations because I thought Overlake was probably looking for something I couldn’t really give them, in terms of promotion. Regardless, as we were starting to plan the release Sandy and I were hit with a number of earthshaking bullshit personal issues at the same time, so I had to let Lysa and Tom know I couldn’t do the record. Before any of this happened, though, I’d asked them if they’d like to contribute a track to our 20th Anniversary compilation, and they worked out a faithful version of the great Yo La Tengo song “From a Motel 6.” Since the compilation actually came out before their debut album Sighs, Dromedary can lay claim to putting out the very first Overlake track.

Not putting out that first Overlake album was probably the best thing I could’ve ever done. Here’s why.

Overlake were really good, and they had goals. I suck with bands that have goals, because Dromedary Records is, like, a fun thing that I do to help turn people on to new music. There are no rock stars on Dromedary Records. Sometimes we’ll put out a record that accidentally finds a decent amount of ears, but most of the time I’d reach more people if I just stood out in the street and yelled really loud.

For a band, making a record is hard, both physically and emotionally. You pour your soul into writing your songs, then you pour your soul into the performance, the mix, the artwork, the mastering – by the time your record is done, you’re exhausted and anxious and scared and proud, simultaneously wanting everyone in the world to hear it and also wanting to hide it in the closet out of fear nobody will like it. But once you’ve gotten to the point where you’re emotionally ready for it to come out, there’s a part of you that wants it to be well-received, by a lot of people. Dromedary Records is a tiny label with a dependable audience of a hundred people or so, and very little chance of getting the message out further than that. There was no fucking way Dromedary Records would’ve been able to give Overlake what they wanted or deserved, and it would’ve ended in disappointment, and maybe bitterness.

And that would’ve sucked. And I’m leading up to why.

I travel the country by car a lot. A couple of times a year I’ll take three or four weeks and just go, following a semi-itinerary that involves a few business-related destinations, the in-between dates filled with random visits to friends around the country, sightseeing stops, weird antique malls, interesting places to sleep. The main reason I do it is for work, but a really important secondary reason is just to experience things, because that’s what life is supposed to be.

For a couple of years, for whatever reason, it seemed like I always found myself on the road either right behind, or just ahead of, Overlake, while they were on tour. Once, I was three hours north of them in fucking Idaho, of all places, and almost re-routed my entire trip, just so I could see them play, thousands of miles from home. Another time, I was in middle-of-nowhere, Louisiana, and Lysa and Nick were vacationing just south of me. It’s like there was some weird cosmic magnet, drawing us together, and even though we never connected, it was fun sending the occasional DM, saying “I’m just north of you,” or “I was just there yesterday!”

Sandy and I like to go see a few of the Yo La Tengo shows each Hanukkah. We found ourselves bumping into Lysa and Nick at those shows, meeting for a drink beforehand, and then standing together in the balcony, bullshitting between songs. We started looking forward to the Yo La shows almost as much because we were going to see Lysa and Nick as we did because of Yo La Tengo.

Eventually, we mentioned to them that we were leaving New Jersey and moving to Kingston, New York. Lysa said “We love it there!” and told us that she and Nick had planned to move up to the Hudson Valley as well. Another weird cosmic magnet thing.

Sure enough, as were were moving to Kingston, so were they. We started going out together, seeing bands, grabbing a meal, having drinks and enjoying each other’s company. When they can get a word in edgewise around my yammering, they are fascinating, brilliant and beautiful people, and we quickly became super-close friends.

Socially-distant pandemic saviors, slowly getting soused on our porch.
Also, in real life, Lysa is not blurry.

And then the pandemic happened. And when it did, I nearly lost my shit. A lot of people did, I guess, but I just sorta came unglued, between the politics and the then-unknown terror of how it spreads and what percentage of people it kills or seriously fucks up, whether our kids or parents would get it, how it would impact our livelihoods and how I sort of felt alone in our new town. We have no doctor here. We have no support network. Very few friends. We haven’t lived here long enough for there to be a pandemic, for fuck’s sake.

It was Ralph that started to organize Saturday night Zoom calls, and I think I stayed in bed for the first one. Later I started making it to the laptop for the call, zonked on benzos but at least upright. And as time moved on, I got a little closer to being okay, looking forward to sitting with Sandy each week, Zooming with Ralph and Diane, Lysa and Nick, Sean, Brian and Eric from Stuyvesant, and Mark from Footstone/American Standard. It was comforting, and I think we all needed those Saturday night calls to ground ourselves, make sure everyone was okay, and make fun of Billy Squier. When really bad shit is happening, there’s nothing more comforting than having people to love.

Lysa and Nick’s geographic closeness to us meant that we could do these little drive-bys, where they’d drop off some homemade bread, or we’d leave them a bottle of hand sanitizer. Having some level of connection with someone made us feel more human somehow, in the middle of this shitshow.

One day when it felt semi-safe to try it, Lysa and Nick came to the house and we sat in the backyard, socially distant, listening to music, drinking and chatting, eventually laughing. It was fun. The feeling of that first night, sitting in the yard, unsure if we were being risky but still excited about talking and enjoying the company of friends – I will never, ever forget it. And I will never, ever take it for granted. Even though we do it every week now.

They are like family now. Jesus Christ, how we love them. Neither of us would’ve made it through this pandemic without them. We are thrilled to be doing this Hudson Valley part of our lives with them.

And if I’d put out that Overlake record, and it had ended in disappointment, there’s no way we’d have this relationship that I will cherish forever. For-Ev-Er.

So there’s that.

Anyway, here’s the Overlake cover of “From A Motel 6,” from the “From ’93 Til Infinity” compilation. It’s really good, but not as good as the stuff Nick and Lysa are working on now. Wait ’til you hear it.

As we’ve been doing all week, we’ll donate any money from sales to Vote Forward, a nonprofit organization working to boost voter turnout among unlikely voters who are traditionally underrepresented in the electorate.

~ by Al on September 16, 2020.

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