Song #25: Overlake – “From A Motel 6”

•September 16, 2020 • Leave a Comment

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.

Song #24: The Brixton Riot – “Might”

•September 15, 2020 • Leave a Comment

September 15, 2020
Song #24 The Brixton Riot – “Might”

How could I write a bunch of anecdotes about Dromedary without mentioning The Brixton Riot?

I have no idea when I met The Brixton Riot. Absolutely no recollection at all. They were just suddenly there, the nicest guys in the world, making perfect, crisp power pop music, and always the first people in line to do the benefit show, the spot on the radio, to write a song especially for your thing, to hop on a bill at the last minute.

They did just that in 2014. Camelfest had morphed into Sugarfest, as I made the wacky decision to shelve Dromedary in favor of the much more hiply-named Sugarblast Music Company. With Maxwell’s gone we had tried doing Camelfest 2013 at Asbury Lanes (it should be noted that the Brixton Riot played that show as well), a poorly-attended nightmare where we raised less money for Roots & Wings than I drank in beer at the bar each night. Although technically, I really drank a lot of beer.

In 2014, we decided we needed to move the shows back to northern NJ, even though nothing had taken Maxwell’s place as the cool Jersey venue yet (still hasn’t). We chose a place in Jersey City called The Citizen, mostly because they sponsored my radio show on WFDU. They’re gone already, perhaps a warning to any other venues that might be considering being a sponsor.

So I have a thing about the benefit shows I put together – I do them all the time (or at least I did, back in the day when you could go to a show at a music venue without, like, dying), so I try really hard not to ask a band to do one more than once every couple of years. It’s hard to be a band and play for free, and it’s also tough to ask people to come out to your show when it’s the same bands playing all the time.

But in 2014, I wound up in a bind. I had firmed up an excellent lineup for two nights at The Citizen. Printed up posters, had a radio spot airing on WFDU, sent press releases to local publications. When it came time to email all the final load-in and backline details to the participating bands – just two weeks before the show – one of the bands on the bill responded with something to the effect of “Holy shit, I forgot all about this show. We can’t do it.”

I was pretty incredulous. “What?!”

“Our drummer might have to work. Plus, I have tickets to see Drive Like Jehu that night, I totally forgot I bought them. I feel like an asshole.”

Probably the right way to feel. By the way, I’m super-grudgy, this happened six years ago and I’m still pissed about it.

I bitched, more out of venting than anything else, to Jerry, the singer of The Brixton Riot. His response? “We’re in. We’ll do it.” With less than two weeks’ notice, they jumped in and saved the day.

The Brixton Riot, opening Sugarfest 2014 at The Citizen in Jersey City

That’s always their response. They’re the first people to jump into a project, try an idea, get people together. They record a song every year for Jon Solomon’s excellent holiday radio show on WPRB in Princeton. Every year since I’ve been on WFDU, they either come into the studio or send a home-recorded holiday song for me. They’ve been guests on my show more often than any other band, they’ve volunteered to jump on every bill, they’ve quietly been there in New Jersey, filling slots on bills, helping people put shows together, introducing people to one another.

They’re from the Feelies/Yo La school of New Jersey indie rock, so they’ll often invite people from the other bands on the bill with them to jump onstage and play “Answering Machine,” or “Rudderless,” or some other classic power pop or indie rock song. People like The Brixton Riot should be super popular, but The Smithereens happened by accident and nice guys who write clean, clever pop songs and treat everyone well just don’t get the attention that boring poseur snot-rock wannabes do, and this is why Little Steven isn’t putting out Brixton Riot records. It’s not a perfect world, so it makes no sense to illustrate how things should be by opening with the qualifier “In a perfect world…” Donald Trump is the fucking president. We all know the world ain’t perfect. But in the tiny corner of the universe where I live, The Brixton Riot occupy the same space as The Smithereens.

There was no fucking way I was making a compilation of covers without asking The Brixton Riot if they wanted to be on it. And because they never say “no,” they jumped into the studio with Peter Horvath of The Anderson Council (another excellent band that was also on the compilation) to record the Archers of Loaf song “Might.”

Here it is. And like I’ve done for the rest of the week, if you buy this, the compilation, or any of its other tracks, I’ll donate the cash to Vote Forward, a nonprofit organization working to boost voter turnout among unlikely voters who are traditionally underrepresented in the electorate.

Song #23: Cinema Cinema – “50 Ft. Queenie”

•September 14, 2020 • Leave a Comment

September 14, 2020
Song #23: Cinema Cinema – “50 Ft. Queenie”

We’d heard about this band, Cinema Cinema. They were part of a local artist’s collective that included a number of bands we liked, and when I checked them out, they were pretty fierce. A two-piece band, they consisted of Ev Gold on guitar and vocals, and his cousin Paul Claro on drums. My impression of their music was that it was heavy, screamy punk with super-aggressive riffs and a deep ’80s hardcore influence. I also completely got their music wrong when I described it that way back in 2012.

Camelfest 2012 was a bit disappointing to me, because the year before we’d managed to pull together a three-show bill with 12 different bands, and raise more than $1000 for Roots and Wings of New Jersey. The following year, however, a couple of the bigger bands we’d asked to play strung us along until the last possible second, including one really well-known indie rock band from New Jersey that initially agreed to play, and then scheduled a show in Manhattan for the same month. They decided that they couldn’t commit to playing our show (after they’d basically already committed) until they sold out their show in Manhattan, because they didn’t want people coming to see them in Hoboken (where they wouldn’t get paid), and not going to the Manhattan show. Since they weren’t able to sell out their Manhattan show, they bailed on us, but never actually told us – we found out about it through Todd at Maxwell’s, who couldn’t rightly give us a whole weekend of shows when the headliners couldn’t commit. So we had to cram six bands into a Saturday bill.

Tell you what: I ask a lot of bands to do a lot of things. Contribute a track to a compilation. Play a benefit show. Be a guest on my radio show. Put out a 7″. Sometimes, bands really want to do it. Other times, they don’t want to do it at all. We’re too small. There’s not enough in it for them. They don’t feel like it. Whatever. That’s fine.

One year I asked Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo to play a Camelfest show. Do you think I am unaware of the demands on Yo La Tengo’s time, and the draw that they have? When Ira responded – almost immediately – with a very polite “You’re way too small for us,” he did it in a way that let me keep my dignity, that legitimized our effort, that acknowledged me as a peer, and that also offered a solution. They couldn’t play our tiny show, but they liked the organization for which we were trying to raise money. That year, when it came to their Hanukkah benefits in December, they devoted one day to the organization. At that show, they raised $6,000 – way more than we raised that same year. How cool was that?

When I ask a band to do a thing, and the band says “I’d love to but we can’t this year, please ask again next year,” or “Sounds great, but you’ll need to talk with our manager/booking agent/record label,” or “Oooh, I’ll ask the band at our next practice and get back to you soon” (and then never call), it is super frustrating. Once they say “maybe,” I am then in a holding pattern until I get a definitive “yes” or “no” from them. I can’t ask anyone else because I’ve already asked them. Even though I’ve heard this same bullshit two hundred times and I know you have no intention of doing the thing, I have more class than to ask someone else to do it, because if by chance you come back to me and say “Yes, we’ll do it,” I now have to put somebody in a bad position. So I literally start sending out emails six months in advance, because it takes that long to get a “no” from the first bunch of bands I ask.

Just fucking say no.

Anyway, we wound up squishing six bands onto one Saturday bill at Maxwell’s for the 2012 Camelfest – Stuyvesant and The 65’s, along with the Brooklyn indie rock band Gold Streets, longtime Hoboken indie rock band Bern & the Brights, Asbury Park power pop band and good pals The Brixton Riot, and Cinema Cinema. When I reached out to Cinema Cinema, despite the fact that they were a heavy touring band, had a great following, and I’d never met them, the answer was, immediately, “yes.”

So Ev and Paul show up at Maxwell’s that day, and nobody had any idea what to expect. Ev is a scary-looking dude, built like a football player with a heavy beard and a shaved head and really intense-looking eyes. It’s only when he starts talking that you realize what a lovable, friendly guy he is. And happy. Smiley, even. Animated. He’s like a cross between Henry Rollins and Tom Hanks.

When it’s time for Cinema Cinema to play, nobody in the room has any idea what to expect. Ev steps up to the microphone, leans in, and says something to the effect of “Hi, we’re Cinema Cinema. We’re so happy you came to see us play. I want to apologize in advance – we’re not the kind of band that talks much from the stage, we just like to get up and play, so I don’t want you to think we’re jerks or anything. So, we’re sorry.”

And then they started playing.

For 45 straight minutes of the most intense, ear-shredding, mind-blowing, enormous music. Light speed, non-stop, not taking even a second of a break between songs. Screaming, shredding, pounding, pulsating avant-punk, one of the most ferocious live sets I’ve ever seen. Basically one 45-minute blast of crazy avant-jazz-hardcore with beefy riffs and insane, locomotive drumming.

Cinema Cinema. This picture looks like what they sound like live.

People who had no business liking them – people from Roots and Wings, older people – were blown away. It was amazing.

After their set was over, I could barely speak. And when I went up to Ev to tell him what I thought of the set, he was the most gracious guy in the room. Soft-spoken and friendly.

Of course I immediately asked him – right there at the bar – if they’d want to contribute a track to the anniversary compilation we were doing. He immediately said “yes,” and a few weeks later, told me they’d settled on “50 Ft. Queenie,” the great PJ Harvey track from her album Rid of Me.

Before the band had it mastered, Ev reached out to me again, and said “Hey, we finished up ’50 Ft. Queenie,’ and we actually think it came out way better than we expected. We want to release it as a single. Would you be interested in releasing it as a standalone single on Dromedary?”

My answer was “yes” before I even heard it. I knew what it was going to sound like. But when he sent me the track, I still remember my response back to him. It was just two words:

“Holy shit.”

Cinema Cinema wound up catching some really important ears. Martin Bisi now records much of their music in his studio. Greg Ginn heard the band, and took them on tour, opening for Black Flag. They’ve done collaborative recordings with Ginn, and released an incredible improvisational album with Matt Darriau of The Klezmatics. They’re punk, jazz and metal, all rolled into one. They are fucking amazing. And the fact that they are so fucking nice makes it even better, because you actually root for these guys to blow your mind.

In 2013 we released “50-Ft. Queenie” as the a-side of our first vinyl 7″ since 1994, making white, pink, gray and purple copies. It didn’t make a dime. I don’t care (I don’t think the band does, either). It was a privilege to have become friends with them, and I’d work with them again in a heartbeat.

Here’s “50 Ft. Queenie” from the compilation From ’93 Til Infinity. Just like yesterday, buy it, the compilation, or any of its other tracks while I’m writing about them and we will donate to Vote Forward, a nonprofit organization working to boost voter turnout among unlikely voters who are traditionally underrepresented in the electorate. We’re also working on our own effort to contact some of these voters in the state of Ohio, in an effort to help turn that state blue in the upcoming election – we’ll tell you more about that soon.

Song 22: Varsity Drag – “Let’s Electrify”

•September 13, 2020 • Leave a Comment

September 13, 2020
Song #22: Varsity Drag – “Let’s Electrify”

We headed toward the end of 2012 with the realization that, if you didn’t count all the years we were on hiatus, 2013 would mark the 20th anniversary of Dromedary Records. Initially, we sort of snickered at the idea – Dromedary isn’t quite a vanity label, in that we release music by other bands and actually try and document lesser-known music we think is worth hearing. But contrary to what that Hudson County reporter thought at the first Camelfest, we’re not Merge Records, either. Still, despite being as tiny as we were, we’ve seen lots of other tiny labels get an enthusiastic start, have some success in the short term, and then for various reasons, shut down. Doing anything for 20 years is sort of cool.

So we wanted to mark the anniversary, but also with the understanding of who we were.

The year we got started, 1993, was an outstanding year for indie/alt rock. Some of the greatest records of the era were released in 1993, including excellent records by Liz Phair, Yo La Tengo, Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, Archers of Loaf, Spinanes, Versus, Superchunk, Seam, Sebadoh, Bettie Serveert, and a ton more. Just one classic album after another, all released in 1993. Perhaps beside 1979, 1993 is my favorite year for music.

As we started thinking of the best way to document 20 years of putting out records, I decided I wanted to focus on two things: the amazing friendships we’ve made along the way, and the excellent music that helped motivate us to start the company.

I love compilations. They’re a great way to discover a lot of bands with one purchase, and when they’re done properly, they document so much more than just the individual bands on them. And so we decided that it would be a cool idea to release a compilation album of music by our friends, but to ask them to cover songs that were initially released in 1993.

My favorite compilation is called Why Do You think They Call It Pop? It’s a double 10″ vinyl compilation released in 1994 by the excellent Pop Narcotic record label, and is an absolute work of art – from the beautiful jacket art to the bubblegum pink vinyl to the outstanding artist and track selection, everything about the record is perfect. I love it so much I have a sealed copy and a “play” copy, and when I find copies in the wild, I buy them just to give to friends.

When we put together the Make the Load Lighter compilation in 2010, I cast a wide net, reaching out to bands I didn’t know, figuring it couldn’t hurt to ask. With our 20th anniversary compilation, though, I wasn’t interested in that. I wanted to ask bands we were associated with. Our friends. That’s it.

I sent out about 30 emails, included a list of albums that came out in 1993, and wound up with 16 excellent covers – including a cover of a song that we released in 1994 (the Mommyheads’ “Sandman,” which originally appeared on the band’s 1993 demo tape).

For the cover, I wanted to pay homage not only to 1993, but also to 1979, another of my favorite years in music and one that defined a lot of my early musical discoveries. I also wanted to acknowledge the great Pop Narcotic compilation. We commissioned the artist Lauren Kelley to create a pinup-style illustration in the vein of Alberto Vargas’ cover art from the great 1979 Cars album Candy-O. Lauren’s illustration featured a woman lying in front of a hi-fi, with records scattered around her – including, in the foreground, a copy of Why Do You Think They Call It Pop? I loved it (even if the woman is getting her fingerprints on the record she’s holding).

Lauren Kelly’s design for our 20th anniversary compilation, with the “Why Do You think They Call It Pop” cover in the foreground. Under the model’s head is PJ Harvey’s “Rid Of Me,” the album that included “50 Ft. Queenie,” which was covered by Cinema Cinema on the comp.

Over the next couple of days, I want to point out a couple of the songs from that compilation that are very important to me.

Today’s song is “Let’s Electrify,” by Varsity Drag, and it has meaning to me for a few reasons. First, is the band itself – I mentioned in yesterday’s entry that Varsity Drag played at the very first Camelfest weekend, at Maxwell’s in 2011. I neglected to mention in that entry, two different things that made that special to me: first, nobody in Varsity Drag knew me when I asked them to play. Second, Varsity Drag was from Boston. I reached out to this guy I didn’t know, who was a founding member of one of my favorite bands of all time (the Lemonheads), and asked him if his band would drive four hours to New Jersey to play for free, and without hesitation, they said “yes.”

That’s about as cool as it could be.

At that show, we formally met Ben for the first time, but also Lisa Deily (who played bass) and Josh Pickering (who played drums). These people were fantastic. We wound up having a lovely time with them, and I decided to ask Ben if Varsity Drag would be interested in contributing a track. The way I remember the story, Ben asked Lisa what song she thought would be fun to cover, and she said “Let’s Electrify!”

What’s amazing about that is that in the time we were putting together the compilation, we met Richard Baluyut from Versus (who also plays in the band Flower, and as much as we love Versus, we looooove Flower), and became friends with him. Versus is one of the bands that appears on the Pop Narcotic compilation. So the Varsity Drag cover of “Let’s Electrify!” became a song originally recorded by a friend’s band (that happens to be legendary), covered by another friend’s band (that also happens to be legendary). It’s about as meta a song as we’ve ever released.

So here’s Varsity Drag’s cover of “Let’s Electrify,” from the compilation album we called From ’93 Til Infinity. What a privilege it was to put this out.

If you buy this song, the compilation, or any of the other track on it that I write about over the next couple of days, we will donate the proceeds to Vote Forward, a nonprofit organization working to boost voter turnout among unlikely voters who are traditionally underrepresented in the electorate. We’re also working on our own effort to contact some of these voters in the state of Ohio, in an effort to help turn that state blue in the upcoming election – we’ll tell you more about that soon.

Song 21 – Stuyvesant – “Ever”

•September 12, 2020 • Leave a Comment

September 12, 2020

Song #21: Stuyvesant – “Ever”

The very first show we put together was in the late winter of 1993, a nine-band show that coincided with the release of our piss-poor first effort, a ten-song compilation of New Jersey bands called Nothing Smells Quite Like Elizabeth, a record that gave me serious misgivings before it even came out, and that we don’t sell today despite having a shit ton of copies left in inventory, just because I wouldn’t want to take people’s money for such a subpar thing. The artwork was dark and shitty, the bands on it were inconsistent, we made way too many copies (including 500 cassettes). The experience of putting it together, the amount we learned and the lifelong friends we made were all tremendous, something I wouldn’t change for anything, but I’m certainly not going to subject you to the thing.

The show, though, was a blast. We held it at Live Tonight!, a venue on Washington Street that’s now home to “a new classic American tavern.” We decided that we’d make it a benefit show, with the money going to a local food bank, and the show was a smash – one of those shows that was teetered on that tightrope between being an anxiety-riddled nightmare, a smashing success, a breakdown-inducing horror show and a shitload of fun, managing to be all four things at the same time. It established my going-forward plan with shows (and also with any other kind of event): when I organize a thing, I’m hoping for bedlam. I want the place to be too full. I want the bar to run out of beer. I want the police called. I want there to be car accidents out in the front, because of the traffic it generates. I want lines of angry people who can’t get in, trapped outside.

And while over the years, it’s very rare that those things happen at an event I organize, at one time or another, all of those things have happened.

Once, for a company I worked for, I organized a grand opening for a retail store. I’d hired an ad agency to help pull it together, and at one point, I saw the owner race out the door to the grocery store next door, race back with an armload of cleaning supplies, and rush into the men’s room. I looked at her business partner and asked “What’s going on?”

He looked back at me and shook his head. “You don’t want to know,” he said.

“Really, I do.”

“Well,” he looked at me somberly. “She heard someone complaining about the men’s room, so she poked her head inside to take a look. Somebody had shit on the walls.”

Somebody shit on the walls?” I asked, incredulously.

“Somebody shit on the walls.” he confirmed.

“Like, somebody got some shit on the wall?”

“No. Somebody shit on the walls.

She came out of the men’s room and went right into the ladies’ room. Ten minutes later, she came out of there, a little green around the gills. I made a beeline for her. “What the hell is going on?”

“People are gross,” she said. “Men are gross. I don’t want to talk about it.”

That’s when I added “I want people to shit on the walls” to the list of stuff I’m shooting for when I set up an event. Even though it’s only happened that one time, probably thankfully.

Anyway, in 2011, I decided that organizing one show wasn’t enough, and I really wanted to have shows over the whole weekend. So we organized what we called “Camelfest,” a weekend-long benefit show at Maxwell’s. The first Camelfest included Richard Barone (of the legendary band The Bongos), New Jersey power pop band Readymade Breakup, The Mommyheads, the Brooklyn band Robbers on High Street (an excellent band that included Benny Trokan of the Reigning Sound and also Spoon), Yung Wu (many members of the Feelies), Wild Carnation (Brenda of the Feelies), Speed the Plough, Charlotte Sometimes, The Library is On Fire, The 65’s, Stuyvesant, and Varsity Drag (Ben Deily, original member of the Lemonheads).

Bands represented in this photo: No Pasaran!, American Watercolor Movement, Overlake, Stuyvesant, Friends Romans Countrymen, Varsity Drag, The Lemonheads, The 65’s, Shirk Circus, Balloon Squad, Puggle, Voice of Doom, and I’m sure a bunch more I’m missing. This photo by my cuz, Tom Hespos.

The whole thing was tremendous fun, and while we didn’t have anyone shit on the walls, we did have a near fistfight between bands, we had a night when none of the performing bands thought to bring a hi-hat stand and a Hoboken local had to run out and find one, and we had three nights of various band members jumping onstage with one another, playing each other’s songs.

During the show, I was interviewed by a reporter for one of the Hudson County newspapers, and the following day’s article identified me as the owner of Merge Records (an easy error for a lazy reporter to make since I was wearing a Merge Records t-shirt that day). I wondered if Laura and Mac employed a clipping service, and wondered how they’d feel about me hijacking their label for a day.

(Oddly enough, as I’m writing this entry, I realized I’m wearing the same Merge t-shirt today).

I fell in love with the Lemonheads fairly early, and was a little bit of a fanboi when it came to their members. Stuyvesant wears its Lemonheads influence on its sleeve, and often covered the Lemonheads song “Ever,” written by Ben Deily. In August of 2010, Stuyvesant opened for Varsity Drag at Maxwell’s, and invited Ben to jump onstage and sing “Ever.” Some asshole with a tiny record label brought a video camera with him and captured the whole thing, although the fidelity is awful:

Stuyvesant – “Ever” from Dromedary Records on Vimeo.

The following year, the band released a cover of “Ever” on the Fret Sounds album, and Varsity Drag came down to play the very first Camelfest. After the night was over, our pal, photographer James Damion, took a version of the picture above – still my favorite picture of anything Dromedary, full of people from some of the greatest bands to ever come from the area.

Here’s the Stuyvesant cover of “Ever,” from Fret Sounds. Buy it today or tomorrow (September 12 and 13), and we’ll donate the proceeds to Brand New Congress.

Song 20: Stuyvesant – “The Oatmeal Song”

•September 11, 2020 • Leave a Comment

September 11, 2020

Song 20: Stuyvesant – “The Oatmeal Song”

I miss Maxwell’s.

I mean everybody misses Maxwell’s but right now, tonight, at 3:40 AM as I write this, I really miss it.

We were not Maxwell’s regulars. There was a family around Maxwell’s, people who worked there and people who lived nearby and people who were in bands and grew up there and were on a first-name basis with anyone who walked in. We were not that. When we were young, we lived 15 minutes from there, but there were a million places to go and we were going a thousand miles an hour. When we got old enough to appreciate it, we lived more than an hour away. Living that far away, with young kids, you sacrifice the ability to be a “regular” and try and focus on getting there for the best possible bills. It still felt like home.

I first learned Maxwell’s existed by listening to WFDU in the 1980s. I have a radio show on WFDU now, but I can still hear the voice of my favorite DJ there, Jerry Rubino, reciting the station’s club calendar on the air, and holding the “M” and the “L,” saying “and Friday night, X, and the Del Fuegos, at MMMMMMMAXWELLLLLLS.”

Maxwell’s

Sandy and Rich saw Liz Phair there, on the Guyville tour. Once, when we were just sitting at the bar, our Melting Hopefuls single “Pulling an All-nighter On Myself” came on the jukebox (we felt so fucking cool to have one of our records in that awesome jukebox). For a while, our friend Rich published a zine that we’d pile onto the cigarette machine for people to take. There are all these little snippets of memories.

My first Feelies show wasn’t at Maxwell’s – it was at the University of Hartford, in 1990 or 1991. My second Feelies show was at Maxwell’s, as were my next eight or ten. I saw Codeine there, and the Coctails, and Jesus knows how many great bands in the 90s. In the 2000s I saw Unrest (finally), and X, and countless other amazing bands. Everyone did.

I should mention it’s September 11, which reminds me of Hoboken. On September 18 of 2001, my friend Paulie and I went into Hoboken, parked my car, and walked to Frank Sinatra Park (I think) and watched the towers burning across the river. There were emergency vehicles lined up the West Side Highway, half the length of Manhattan. The air was so thick with soot and godawful stench and I felt like I was wiping rocks out of my eyes. We gazed like zombies at the makeshift vigils, reading every handmade poster that pleaded “have you seen my mommy?” with pictures of people we knew weren’t coming home. We cried there as we realized how much we’d lost. People were jogging, walking their dogs, trying to live life in the shadow of that hell.

In 2014 when Stuyvesant was readying their new album, I was toying with the idea of mothballing Dromedary again in favor of a new label. At the time I felt that I’d put out too many different types of music, and the label had lost any identity it might have had. I thought maybe a new label might be a better idea. Brian Musikoff, Stuyvesant’s bass player at the time, suggested that if I was considering starting a new label, he would rather have the first record on my new label than the last record on my old one, which made perfect sense. So Shmyvesant was released by the Sugarblast Music Company, our new label (Lysa texted me when the record came out and said “congratulations on Sugar Tits!”). Sugarblast released three titles between 2014 and 2018 while I was working on growing my radio show and then I shelved it and went back to Dromedary.

Anyway, one of the tracks on Shmyvesant is “The Oatmeal Song.” It’s not my favorite Stuyvesant song, it’s actually one of my least favorite Stuyvesant songs, except for one thing: the video. The video is a long tracking shot, in slow motion, approaching the side door of Maxwell’s, walking in, looking around the bar of the front room, walking down the hallway, opening the door to the back room, and seeing the Stuyvesant guys lounging near the stage. The video was taken in 2013 the night of the band’s final show there, at the club they called home, just a couple of weeks before it closed. It’s filled with familiar faces, and you can almost taste the black and tans.

So maybe you want to see Maxwell’s too. Maybe it’ll warm you up the way it did me.

No donation today, just dig.

Song 19: There Will Be Fireworks – “Foreign Thoughts”

•September 10, 2020 • Leave a Comment

September 10, 2020

Song 19: There Will Be Fireworks – “Foreign Thoughts”

I guess if I’m being honest with myself I can probably trace my love of both Scottish rock bands and my love of power pop back to the American television appearances of the Bay City Rollers in the 1970s. Once in a while I’d see them on a kids’ television program, and even though I thought myself way too cool to fall for any of that teenybopper pinup bullshit, I’d save my allowance money to buy copies of any magazine with Kiss on the cover and then read every article inside, thereby learning all there was to know about the Rollers (and Kristy MacNichol, Shaun Cassidy, Donny Osmond, Leif Garrett, and more).

As an adult I found myself drawn to Scottish indie rock bands, mostly because of the way many of them incorporated the dramatic flourishes of post-rock bands like Mogwai into rock songs. The Twilight Sad were great at this, as were Idlewild and We Were Promised Jetpacks (whose name was enough to make me a fan). But the band There Will Be Fireworks was my favorite. Their self-titled debut was filled with the quiet/loud dynamic of post-rock, with unique instrumentation, melodic arrangements, and a fantastic vocalist who strained to hit the most important notes in the song – voice cracking with emotion.

When we decided to release Make The Load Lighter to benefit Haitian earthquake victims in early 2010, I wrote an email to the band Lions.Chase.Tigers and received an immediate “yes” in response. This sort of emboldened me, so I wrote a similar email to There Will Be Fireworks.

I got an immediate “yes” once again. Ultimately we wound up with four bands from Scotland on that record, and wound up releasing an EP and a number of singles from a band that sprung out of the ashes of Lions.Chase.Tigers.

There Will Be Fireworks released a second EP in December of 2011 (that included the greatest Christmas song ever made), covered Vic Chesnutt’s greatest song on a compilation for mental illness awareness, and released another full-length in 2013. I asked them several times if I could release their music in the States and the answer was always “no” – but they’re good guys anyway, and rumor has it they’re actually working on a new album.

The track from Make the Load Lighter was called “Foreign Thoughts.” They gave me this track specifically for Haitian earthquake relief, so if you buy it today I’ll donate the cash to the Red Cross in Haiti – but I’ll also make a donation to Justice Democrats. Either way, just listen. It’s pretty great.

Song #19: Guy Capecelatro III – “Like Anything”

•September 9, 2020 • Leave a Comment

September 9, 2020

Song #19 Guy Capecelatro III – “Like Anything”

Listen:

When we put this record out in the winter of 2012, I was fascinated by this particular song, because it develops and ends so quickly. You can hear the room it was recorded in, in the ambience of the snare, which blasts above all the other instruments in many places, Guy’s voice quietly pleading in the background. A singing saw adds tension and beauty to the track. I was crazy about it then, and I’m crazy about it now.

Listen to it again.

It was one of the first songs on Dromedary, believe it or not, that I tried to decipher lyrically. Guy is a writer, he tells wonderful stories in both his lyrics and in his other writing, and he’s the kind of writer that leaves details out, using small descriptives and visuals to let you fill in the blanks yourself.

Guy Capecelatro III - North for the Winter
Guy Capecelatro III’s “North for the Winter” album

So when I listened to “Like Anything,” here’s what I heard: the protagonist is in love with someone that he lives with, in an apartment above a bar. He’s been struggling with how to tell the person. He dotes on the person, listens to everything s/he says and writes it down in his notebook. He finally decides he has to tell them, so he writes it in a note, and leaves it near them while they are sleeping. He’s terrified that s/he does not reciprocate, and will be upset to learn that the boundaries of their friendship have been crossed (“Don’t be sad with me now”). The note concludes “I’ll be in the bar a while,” and we’re left to wonder if s/he comes downstairs to join him when s/he wakes, or remains upstairs.

It was a wonderful, romantic story that Guy sang timidly, almost fearfully. I could hear it in his voice, I could hear the tentative, almost pleading way he delivers the lines “I remember everything you ever said, I wrote it down.” It was a beautiful song about that point where you lay it all on the line with someone, expressing your feelings and not knowing if those sentiments will be returned. In a lot of ways, that’s when you’re most vulnerable.

Of course I’m an idiot, and my interpretation of the lyrics was completely wrong. Here’s what the song is about:

The protagonist cheated on his significant other. He’s terrified to tell them, so while s/he is sleeping, he leaves a note, begging for forgiveness (“Don’t be sad with me now”), and then, not wanting to be there to face whatever happens when s/he wakes up, he goes downstairs to drink.

I have pretty much stopped trying to interpret song lyrics.

Anyway, buy this song for a dollar today and we will donate the cash to Swing Left. For more info about Swing Left, or to make a donation yourself, you can visit them here: https://swingleft.org

Song #18: D. Smith – “Flip Your Wig”

•September 8, 2020 • Leave a Comment

September 7, 2020

Song #18: D. Smith – “Flip Your Wig”

For a while when I was in high school, I lived in a small town called Wesley Hills, in Rockland County, New York. The house we lived in had a tall deck in the backyard, and I had a lot of time to myself – my mother was a teacher and worked a second job, and I’d catch a ride home after school from a friend, and usually beat her by a couple hours. I’d spend that time sneaking cigarettes, blasting music, and laying out in the sun, on the deck.

It was 1986, and I’d discovered the album Flip Your Wig, bu Husker Du, and it changed my life. Before that, I was all metal and prog rock, along with whatever commercial rock was on the radio. I’d started to discover some less mainstream sounds, and a friend of mine loaned me Flip Your Wig along with Let it Be, by The Replacements. The two albums are intertwined in my psyche, and always will be.

I’m pretty sure I’ll be a crispy old guy with wrinkled, dry, brown skin, because for weeks my junior year, I’d get home from school, grab a stick of fucking butter, smear it all over my body, and then lie out in the sun, listening to Flip Your Wig. I used to think I smelled like the movies, I used to think the butter would help me get more tan, and there’s no explaining the shit we do when we’re in high school.

So years ago, I asked Dan to cover “Flip Your Wig,” thinking he’d do a faithful cover. Instead, he gave me this. It’s today’s song. We made it available back in June of 2014 as a streaming track only. Listen to it today, and I’ll add to yesterday’s donation to Citizen Action of New York (first organization we’ve done twice, I think).

Song #16 & 17: Stuyvesant: “Dated” and “Hellbent for Heather”

•September 6, 2020 • Leave a Comment

September 6, 2020

Song #16: Stuyvesant – “Dated”
Song #17: Stuyvesant – “Hellbent for Heather”

I was on a train somewhere with Ralph and Brian from Stuyvesant when they told me the name of the free EP we were going to release would be Jihad Me At Hello. I nearly died laughing. Up until then, the band had a penchant for puns in their titles, or references to New Jersey, or classic album titles. Songs called “Bi-Polar Bears” and “Yahweh From Rahway” dotted their catalog, their first full-length was called Linden Calling and they had settled on the title Fret Sounds for their next.

The plan had been to release Jihad Me At Hello as a free EP, as a way of promoting the band in advance of the release of Fret Sounds. The EP would include a few songs from the band’s back catalog, which we’d send out to radio stations and press. Then, a few months later, we’d put out Fret Sounds with a ton of marketing and promotion behind it, and the band would support the record with a tour and a video for one of the songs.

It didn’t wind up working out that way; the completion of Fret Sounds was delayed. We announced Jihad Me At Hello at the end of July, 2010 but didn’t announce Fret Sounds until almost a year later. My love of Ralph’s songwriting is pretty well-documented in these pages, and by mid-2010 I had dived headlong into the revival of Dromedary, fully expecting that bigger budgets and better distribution would enable us to make a bigger dent than we did in the ’90s. If running Dromedary as a full-time endeavor was no longer a goal of mine, helping its bands still was, and I wanted Stuyvesant to feel comfortable that they weren’t just handing over a record that I’d slowly drip out there into the world. So I had big promotional plans. Again, I’m like Don King but not good at any of the stuff he does.

One of the things that really interested me about Jihad Me At Hello was the demo song that it included. Ralph felt that building an EP out of nothing but old Stuyvesant songs that were available elsewhere would be boring. So we pulled “Bi-Polar Bears” and “Ode to Bish” from the band’s debut EP Quit More Often, we took “Tape Hiss”and “Liars Poker” from the Linden Calling album, “Chocolate Phoenix” came from the B-side of their “Victorian Lawns” 7″, and then the EP included two songs yet to be released: one, “Broken Red Wing,” had been written by Sean. The other, “Dated,” was a demo written by Ralph.

“Dated” was built around a dynamite power pop riff that opened the song, and Ralph’s use of a stutter as a rhythmic device, in a “My Generation” sort of way. Ralph often uses the guitar to accentuate the rhythm section, muting the strings with his palm, but this was the first time I’d ever heard him use vocals the same way. I thought it was cool, but also thought I’d never hear the song again – as long as I’ve known him, by the time Ralph puts a song out in the world, he’s done with it, and gets tired of playing it live. Sometimes, by the time the song comes out somewhere, he’s already done playing it, and sometimes even sooner; there are songs on Stuyvesant albums I’ve never heard live, and there are Stuyvesant songs I’ve heard live that never made it onto an album.

In this case, though, the riff was too cool to deny, and the song made another appearance, nearly five years later. The song structure was mostly the same, but the title and lyrics had changed – it became the song “Hellbent for Heather,” with new lyrics inspired by the great short film Heavy Metal Parking Lot. It also became the most streamed Stuyvesant song on our website, and probably the most popular Stuyvesant song in their catalog – which, of course, they rarely play live.

Here’s “Dated” and “Hellbent for Heather,” back to back. Buy either one today and we will donate the proceeds to Citizen Action of New York, a grassroots membership organization focused on ensuring quality public education, ending mass incarceration, ensuring quality affordable housing and health care for all, getting big money out of politics and promoting racial justice. Also, you can learn more about Citizen Action of New York or make a donation of your own by visiting https://citizenactionny.org/about/.