Song #40: Cuppa Joe – “Second Violin”

October 2, 2020
Song #40: Cuppa Joe – “Second Violin”

The Nurture CD by Cuppa Joe was the first CD we ever made, and it was a fucking nightmare from start to finish.

Today, anybody can make a CD. You can burn one on your computer at home, for Chrissakes. For a while in the early 2010s, I had a machine that would make four at a time, and print directly on the disc – I could produce something like two dozen CDs in an hour. Today there are CD replication companies everywhere – you can order in quantities as small as one at a time, with full printed materials, shrink wrapped in a jewel case, for a dollar each.

In 1993 there were only a couple of CD replicators in the country, and they would not deal directly with a small label like Dromedary, so there were a host of brokers that acted as middleman. Making CDs cost a shitload of money, and most companies wouldn’t make less than 1,000. You needed to be able to provide your mastered music on a digital audio tape, and you needed your artwork printed to color-separated films, with full-color, printed proofs. Pulling all that together required skill, expensive software and equipment. Not just anybody could make a CD.

Also, we walked ten miles to get to and from school, uphill both ways.

Steve Spatucci, the drummer of Cuppa Joe, is a wonderful illustrator who was very particular about how the band’s visuals looked. Everything was hand-drawn, from the band’s logo to the artwork on its tape covers. When we made the Busy Work 7″, we printed the sleeves in black and white, and then the band hand-colored each one in crayon one afternoon in our apartment. Each of the 7″s were slightly different, produced as a result of this “busy work” that saved us a bunch of money but looked fantastic.

We were a little concerned about how to translate the band’s home-made charm to the sterile, digital compact disc format, so we came up with the idea of producing hand-screened artwork to go with the discs. I had seen some beautiful two-color screen jobs on 7″ and cassettes, notably the ones made by Toast for Ratfish Records, and since we were silkscreening t-shirts and pillowcases, we were awesome at it, so we figured doing CDs would be a snap.

We bought some grey recycled paper for the covers and tray cards, and strung six or seven rows of twine across our living room so that we could hang the booklets to dry after making each color pass. Sandy took Steve’s original artwork and made screens out of it, and we were confident we’d be able to bang out 500 two-color covers and one-color tray cards in a weekend.

After ruining a half dozen or so and having to clean the screen once or twice, Sandy figured out how to make a nice, clean pass of the first color on the cover. Within a few hours we had made our first hundred covers, each of them attached carefully to the twine that stretched across our living room with a paper clip so the ink could dry. Then things began to go awry. Ink began to smudge, the screen had to be washed (and dried) repeatedly. The paper wasn’t absorbing the ink very well, and we were having a hard time applying the right amount to the paper.

By the end of the first day, we were starving, arguing, sweaty and gross, and had 550 covers hanging from paper clips, drying, finished.

“Finished” with one single color pass on the front only. We still needed to do the insides, plus the second color on the outside, plus the tray cards.

The following day, we made the inside of the booklets, which were supposed to be just one color. It was awful. The artwork included a photo of the band, along with a lot of small type for the liner notes. All the small lettering and the band photo were coming out blotchy and blurry, and the silkscreening was slow. The ink on the front was still not entirely dry, so as we applied ink to the back, the fronts began to smudge. It took all day Sunday to get the insides done. Sandy took the next day off work to do the second color pass, but by the end, we were so impatient that we were just sloppily slathering the ink onto the booklets, smudging both the fronts and backs in the process.

Between the two colors and the heavy amount of ink coverage, the drying booklets weighed the twine down, the weight of 40 or 50 slowly-drying booklets and paper clips pulling the twine toward the floor. Navigating our living room was like crawling through a military obstacle course, and the heavy ink coverage made it take forever to dry. While we expected to screen the booklets and tray cards over a weekend and ship them to the broker on Tuesday, the booklets instead hung on the twine in our living room for two weeks, and after two weeks they were still tacky. By that time we’d abandoned any plans of silkscreening the tray cards and had them printed at Staples, hand-cutting them to size with a paper cutter and folding them by hand.

When we shipped them to the broker, they promptly called us and explained that the ink was still wet, and the paper too heavy, and that they would not be able to feed them through their machines. As a result, each of the CDs would need to be assembled by hand, which would increase the cost of the job.

Then, the broker promptly went out of business, hijacking our masters, our printed material, and our money (as well as the masters and printed material for the Mommyheads’ Flying Suit CD, which we were making at the same time). If it wasn’t for the fact that the owner of the CD replicator finally took pity on me and agreed to make Nurture for free and Flying Suit at half price, we’d have gone bankrupt in 1994 and instead of writing about this record I’d be telling stories about my career in the cellular business, which was where I was working at the time.

Instead, Nurture came out, and partially because their style of twee pop was right up the alley of the kids buying indie rock records at the time, and partially because the distributors who carried Flying Suit ordered Nurture as well, we ran out. Not only that, but we also ran out of the Busy Work 7″, which we re-pressed (we never needed to re-press Nurture, thankfully).

At the time, I had this idea that every CD we did should have a “hidden track” at the end. At the time, Cuppa Joe had a semi-regular gig at an Irish pub in Trenton, and to play to the room, they learned a couple of Irish folk songs that they’d speed up and sprinkle into their set. One such song was called “Second Violin,” a traditional folksong popularized by an Irish band called Bagatelle. Cuppa Joe’s version was faster and noisier, actually more aggressive than just about any of their other songs. It quietly lived there, at the end of Track 13 on the Nurture CD.

When we reissued an expanded version of Nurture in 2010, I had no clue how to deal with the mechanics of cover songs, paying royalties or acquiring licenses or anything like that – so we just left “Second Violin” off the reissue entirely. The song – one of the most fun Cuppa Joe songs – disappeared.

So here it is. You can’t download it, of course, but you can listen to it right here, as recorded for the 1994 CD Nurture.

Remember that if you choose to purchase Nurture, or any other title in our catalog, before Election Day, we’ll be donating all the proceeds to Swing Left in our quest to rid the planet of the orange menace and his minions.

Also remember that today is Bandcamp Friday, meaning that Bandcamp waives all its fees for purchases made today. This means that if you buy any downloads today, more money goes to the artist, and if you buy downloads from us, more money goes to Swing Left. On top of that, if you order a Dromedary t-shirt, we’ll donate five bucks for each one to Swing Left!

Cuppa Joe – “Second Violin”

~ by Al on October 2, 2020.

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