Song of the Week: King of Beers

June 8th, 2013 by tim

tiffany

That’s Tiffany Levine. Now she’s a rock climber of some renown, but way back in 1988 she was the woman who inspired “King of Beers.”

Jay and I were killing time in L.A. with our friend Joe Williams, who had brought along his friend and that friend’s sister, Tiffany, who was gorgeous and funny, and who politely pretended not to notice as Jay and I fought all night over who got to sit next to her in Joe’s car, or at the first bar we went to, or at the second bar, and so on. At one point, in an effort to save some modicum of self-respect for both of us, Jay and I huddled, each of us trying to talk the other out of his hopeless pursuit.

“Tim,” Jay said, “she’s so beautiful, I’d sleep with her brother.”

“Great,” I said. “You do that, because I’m going to sleep with her. By the way, that’s a great line. We have to call a timeout so I can write that down.”

Because Jay is an honorable man, he helped me find a napkin to scribble the line on. Then we went back to our war, which I cannot tell you who won because I am a gentleman (Jay lost, though).

The rest of the lyric was inspired by and written during similar nights. It became such a staple of the live set that I’m not sure if there’s a night we didn’t play it, once it was released. It might be one reason we got a reputation as a frat-rock band, but at least one friend told me, “The thing I like about that song is it’s actually pretty honest about drinking. It’s not exactly a celebration.”

Since I tend to overemphasize lyrics, let’s see what producer Paul Fox and drummer Tommy Vinton have to say about the production and the music. Here’s what Paul sent me when I asked him if he wanted to contribute to this post:

2:20
What a great band, so different at the time from most anyone else.
The guys who could come up with stories inside their songs that could last for a lifetime.
And I guess that has come true, because here I am again looking at
“King Of Beers” one of the best of their tracks.
A driving track that reeks of the smell of beer, an acoustic guitar,
a band with no fear, a love of girls that they will never have,
but with a guitar that sometimes sounds like hell and then is saved,
by a solid drum kit and player who can’t drink beer, because he was also a cop !
Crazy fun !!
We had fun packed into 2:20, and to this day I love the crazy sounds,
the switch of the guitar to a nylon guitar and back again to the crazy
roar of Tim Quirk, the bass of Sandy Smallens, and the rest of TOO MUCH JOY….
Whooooooooo yah !!!

Gee, thanks, Paul. Cops can drink beer, though — I was  always a bit worried when we played NYC, because Tommy’s cop buddies would get plastered and do things like tear the sinks off the wall of the bathroom. In fact, Tommy’s recollections jump pretty quickly to memories of being drunk:

King Of Beers is one of the straight ahead rock songs on CK. I think Sandy and I did our basic tracks in one or two takes. Love Tim’s lyrics on this one. So much so that when playing this song live we emphasize the “why am I such an asshole, why am I here alone” lyric by dropping out all instruments. Always works and feels great as a live song. On a side note and not really related to the song, we were asked by Budweiser to do a radio commercial which we all reluctantly agreed to do. Once done it was played on all the big commercial radio stations, a first for TMJ. I actually did the speaking part, but it didn’t sound like me due to the large amount of jagermeister and beer that was consumed while recording…we were the literal kings of beer that day…and not in a good way…

If you want to hear Tommy’s drunken spiel on that Budweiser commercial, and read about  just how reluctant some of us were, I embedded the audio in a long post on my personal website about how that radio spot nearly broke up the band.

Song of the Week: Pirate

May 19th, 2013 by tim

Pirate might be my personal favorite song on Cereal Killers. Even the fact that Tommy Vinton just told me, “The two cymbal hits I do before the choruses and the cymbal swirls in the beginning of the song were inspired by Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee” cannot diminish my affection for it.

The bit about everyone being crazy was based on all the people I met on our first couple of tours. I had a habit of befriending female fans in different cities and going on long nighttime walks with them. Perhaps because I (almost) never made a pass at them, or perhaps because we were usually drunk, or maybe because of both they would share all kinds of details about their lives, which were invariably fucked up. It was uncanny: everybody I met, no matter how normal they acted in the daytime, seemed to be nuts.

And that seemed worth celebrating.

Pirate has all the elements that should make for an amazing live song: power chords, stops, “whoah oh oh!” bits that everyone can shout along drunkenly. But I don’t think we ever played it more than twice on stage for some reason. Maybe it was too complicated, as Tommy kinds of hints at with his recollection of writing it:

“The four of us were very unique in our own ways, which made for interesting songwriting. When the four of us were in a room trying to come up with cool riffs and ideas, it would usually result in a song that took crazy rights and lefts, ups and downs, short stops, you name it. Usually the song would then be dissected by either us or a producer to make it more cohesive, or dare I say ‘listener friendly.’ Pirate was one of those songs that never went through that process. The song starts weird, has different tempos, takes those crazy unexpected turns, but worked just the way it was originally written. The lyrics and singing, along with underlying music and rhythms just seemed to work. And I’m glad we didn’t fuck with the original arrangement. Song still stands strong today”

Sandy has this to say:  “For me, on a very short list of songs we didn’t play ENOUGH live — perfectly captures that rootless, post-college head space and one of our more fun vocal arrangements. I remember trying to do the post-chorus bass bit with a fancy (rented) fretless bass, as I always wanted to use one, but it just didn’t work out. Probably the last time I attempted to play/write with one. Don’t worry, it only had four strings.”

Song of the Week: Long Haired Guys From England

May 5th, 2013 by tim

This week’s Cereal Killers’ selection, like pretty much all our songs, is based on a true story. Or series of stories, as the phenomenon described in the tune happened to us repeatedly.

The title and the first line were Jay’s. I remember him singing me his original couplet and punchline as we walked across Kraft Avenue in Bronxville to rehearse or record at The Loft: “All the girls in the music biz/are high class whores with a business whiz/but they only wanna fuck/long haired guys from England.” I don’t think we ever debated the second line — I’m pretty sure I just said the title was great but that line had to go. While I’m not particularly proud of what replaced it, I do find it endearing that possessing a credit card once seemed like a sure sign of adulthood to us.

When I asked Jay if he minded my sharing that original lyric with the world, he said only this: “Why would I object to the sharing of artistic genius?” But there was a smiley face emoticon at the end of his email.

Sandy reminded me of something I’d forgotten: that we wound up touring with several long-haired guys from England after the song was written but before it was released, leading to some misconceptions about its intended target. I’ll let him explain:

“Even though the song existed long before we crossed paths with The Wonder Stuff, no band better embodied its true meaning. In the few shows we did together before they dumped us from their bill, they would even introduce themselves as ‘the long haired c***ts from England.’ Some say that song had a lot to do with their ‘firing’ us, but we prefer to think it’s just because they were tired of being out-rocked each night.”

UPDATE: Continuing his tradition of sending in his rememberances AFTER I’ve published that week’s song, Tommy just emailed me this:

“Our producer Paul Fox had this great idea for us to get drunk, bring in strippers and attempt to perform “Long Haired Guys From England”, which he thought would capture the true essence of the song. Who were we to disagree? We did what our producer told us to do. As the tape rolled, we were having the time of our lives and really believed we were recording an awesome rendition of the song. The next day we listened back. What we thought was our recording masterpiece sounded like….shit. Being kinda pissed that we didn’t nail LHGFE in our fun stupor, I remember arming ourselves with our instruments and banging this song out in one or two takes. The only way this song was meant to be recorded! A basic straight ahead rocker that to this day never fails to charge us up, or the crowd. “

Song of the Week: Sandbox

April 28th, 2013 by tim

Our Cereal Killers celebration continues with “Sandbox,” one of the songs on the disc that earned cries of “overproduced,” even though all the bells and whistles were put on there at the band’s insistence and, in a few cases, over producer Paul Fox’s strenuous objections.

This was one of the hardest to nail down during the couple weeks of pre-production in L.A. during which we played each song live for Paul over and over again, finalizing the arrangements. I remember Paul telling Jay the guitar part should sound like an Al Green number, and Jay’s repeated inability to mimic Teenie Hodges was a source of much frustration. All of which may explain why the song never made into the set on tour.

But I adored the finished product, and still do, as all the accoutrements — those horns, the effects on the harmonies, that odd guitar broing! in the “where is the sun?” bit — are exactly what major label production budgets are for, as far as I’m concerned. Plus, I love any excuse to attempt a falsetto.

Lyrically, the song owes a huge debt to Paul Quarrington’s novel, Whale Music, which itself owes a huge debt to the life of Brian Wilson. I can’t recommend the book highly enough: it’s funny and sad and incredibly wise about the creative process and what happens when it runs headlong into business concerns and an audience’s expectations.

I hadn’t encountered any of that, myself, but the mere act of Christmas shopping in a mall was giving me an existential crisis, so I found myself wishing I had a better excuse to go crazy.

UPDATE:  Drummer Tommy Vinton just sent along his own memories of this one.

I was definitely the “anti-production purist” in the band. Give me raw drums, guitar, bass, vocals, and I’m a happy camper. Enter Sandbox. Not the Metallica song, but the TMJ song. I remember having to go back and forth between LA and New York to play cop in the Bronx, all while the CK recording process was going on. Each time I would return to LA to continue recording, it seemed “Sandbox” was growing producer tentacles. Horns, bells, whistles, keyboards…you name it! Being the purist I am, I suggested (it might have been Sandy and I that suggested) we do this off-tempo breakdown part in the middle. It was a cool 3/4 to 4/4 time signature, back to 3/4 and 4/4 and so on (a half-assed attempt at trying to be like Rush). Nothing that complicated, but complicated enough to cast doubts in the mind of our producer Paul Fox as to whether or not it should be part of the song. Paul reluctantly agreed to the part, and it soon became this part of the song where Sandy and I, drums and bass, stood alone for a few seconds, away from all the crazy other production going on in the song. That, mixed with all the other cool stuff going on made me like the song. A lot.

Song of the Week: Sandbox

April 28th, 2013 by tim

Our Cereal Killers celebration continues with “Sandbox,” one of the songs on the disc that earned cries of “overproduced,” even though all the bells and whistles were put on there at the band’s insistence and, in a few cases, over producer Paul Fox’s strenuous objections.

This was one of the hardest to nail down during the couple weeks of pre-production in L.A. during which we played each song live for Paul over and over again, finalizing the arrangements. I remember Paul telling Jay the guitar part should sound like an Al Green number, and Jay’s repeated inability to mimic Teenie Hodges was a source of much frustration. All of which may explain why the song never made into the set on tour.

But I adored the finished product, and still do, as all the accoutrements — those horns, the effects on the harmonies, that odd guitar broing! in the “where is the sun?” bit — are exactly what major label production budgets are for, as far as I’m concerned. Plus, I love any excuse to attempt a falsetto.

Lyrically, the song owes a huge debt to Paul Quarrington’s novel, Whale Music, which itself owes a huge debt to the life of Brian Wilson. I can’t recommend the book highly enough: it’s funny and sad and incredibly wise about the creative process and what happens when it runs headlong into business concerns and an audience’s expectations.

I hadn’t encountered any of that, myself, but the mere act of Christmas shopping in a mall was giving me an existential crisis, so I found myself wishing I had a better excuse to go crazy.

UPDATE:  Drummer Tommy Vinton just sent along his own memories of this one.

I was definitely the “anti-production purist” in the band. Give me raw drums, guitar, bass, vocals, and I’m a happy camper. Enter Sandbox. Not the Metallica song, but the TMJ song. I remember having to go back and forth between LA and New York to play cop in the Bronx, all while the CK recording process was going on. Each time I would return to LA to continue recording, it seemed “Sandbox” was growing producer tentacles. Horns, bells, whistles, keyboards…you name it! Being the purist I am, I suggested (it might have been Sandy and I that suggested) we do this off-tempo breakdown part in the middle. It was a cool 3/4 to 4/4 time signature, back to 3/4 and 4/4 and so on (a half-assed attempt at trying to be like Rush). Nothing that complicated, but complicated enough to cast doubts in the mind of our producer Paul Fox as to whether or not it should be part of the song. Paul reluctantly agreed to the part, and it soon became this part of the song where Sandy and I, drums and bass, stood alone for a few seconds, away from all the crazy other production going on in the song. That, mixed with all the other cool stuff going on made me like the song. A lot.

Song of the Week: Susquehanna Hat Company

April 20th, 2013 by tim

Bill says, “It was always nice to start a live show by yelling, ‘Fuck this town.'”

I love that line, too, and it’s not braggy to say so, because I didn’t really write it so much as I misheard it. I was playing a Dinosaur Jr. album (very loudly) while in the shower, and could have sworn J. Mascis sang, “So she said, ‘Fuck this town.'” “What a brilliant lyric,” I thought. Once I dried off, I picked the needle up and dropped it back down, trying to find the line again, only to discover it didn’t actually exist.

That made me sad, for like one minute. Then I realized if J. Mascis hadn’t used the line, we could. The title and the rest of the lyric were inspired by an old Abbot and Costello routine, which you can see above, and which still makes me laugh out loud. It seemed like a decent metaphor for the way you can feel about an ex after a break-up, when any mention of the person’s name can turn an otherwise fine day into misery and woe.

Here’s what Sandy remembers about the song: “I believe Jay stole some of the chords from his college band, and I remember playing it through at the Loft in Bronxville during rehearsal one night and all turning to each other and saying, “Holy Shit!” At the time, some of us were dating or had dated ladies with three names, like serial killers or mass murderers might have. I realized shit was going to get real when we added the glockenspiel with Paul Fox. By the time we’ve played the first notes of this song to open a gig, we can tell how that entire gig will go.”

Ahhhhhhh the 90s

July 12th, 2011 by sandy

Alt Rock for the Alt TextClinton had just been elected. Edgy ‘alt rock’ ruled the radio.

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The Twin Towers stood viagra professional proudly. And an intrepid and inebriated http://cialistadalafils.com/ foursome from the tony suburbs of NYC were at the peak of their live powers. Don’t believe us? Then download this recently unearthed, cassette-only audience recording of Too Much Joy live from the now-defunct A.L. Gators, somewhere in Maryland. No, it ain’t in dolby sound, and should probably be labeled “for fans only,” but that’s pretty much the only folks reading this post right now. The canadian online casinos recording comes courtesy of Portland, OR radio kingping/Arena Rock records founder Greg Glover, and was lovingly mastered by TMJ studio collaborator Roy Matthews. Thanks to both of them.

Download the show track by track here.

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Download the entire show in one file here.

Budweiser Bought My Baby

March 14th, 2011 by tim

The other weekend, at an annual gathering called the Pop Conference, I gave a presentation called Budweiser Bought My Baby, which used my own experiences licensing music to sponsors to investigate the way indie bands’ and fans’ attitudes toward commercials have transformed over the last 30 years.

By popular demand (where “popular” = “2 people asked me”), I’m posting that presentation here. What follows is my own personal take — the other band members probably have their own opinions.

Full presentation after the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

Song of the Week: Thanksgiving in Reno

November 25th, 2010 by tim

As the lyric says, this is a true story. True-ish, anyway; we always reserve the right to improve upon reality.

Jay and I had spent most of the Fall of 1988 couch-surfing in San Francisco, working on the “Making Fun of Bums” video and playing the occasional show at the Paradise, but mostly just drinking and playing pool. As T-day approached, we realized we were wearing out our welcome with the various friends at whose apartments we’d been crashing, and decided a road trip was in order.

It seemed like a good idea at the time: hotels in Reno were pretty damn cheap, and so was the food, and we figured the place would be relatively empty. Wrong.

Depression set in at dinner, at an honest-to-goodness $5.99 buffet with turkey and cranberries and a smorgasbord of other selections. The single folks sitting at tables by themselves made sense. It was the families that got to me. I wondered aloud what they were doing there, and Jay, who is prone to uttering pearls of wisdom every so often, said, “Dude, what are WE doing here?”

So we smoked and drank and gambled a little more than we might have, otherwise, trying to erase that feeling of wrongness, and, of course, failing.

There was no girl to save me, as the song eventually confesses, and we didn’t win any money from a slot machine (though a roadie of ours did actually win $600 in Reno a year or two later — only he won with triple clowns, not triple bars, a detail I changed because, weirdly, it felt too fake). There was only melancholy, mitigated slightly by the fact that we were friends on an adventure. So it makes sense that in my sad stupor I would have a vision of a red, white and blue angel trying to soar above and beyond the neon and the debauchery.

At the end of the weekend we drove home the long way, through Lake Tahoe, where we stopped to gamble some more, and Jay balanced the karmic scales by being the opposite of a wisdom-spouting Buddha, standing drunkenly in front of an ATM machine on a casino floor, shouting, “This machine’s the best! I always win!” as it spat out more twenties for him to go lose at the Blackjack table.

Tim and Jay, Live in DC

September 25th, 2010 by tim

Tim and Jay will be appearing at a Dear New Orleans benefit concert at the Black Cat in Washington, DC on Monday, October 4th. They’ll be performing a few songs, backed by Bonerama, the NOLA R&B band they’ve been working with on several songs for the next Wonderlick record.

If you’re in town, you should come by the show, as the bill’s pretty stellar: it also includes Damian from OKGo, an even rarer live appearance by Jenny Toomey, Jonny 5 from Flobots, Rebecca Gates and some surprise guests we’re not allowed to pre-announce. More details, including how to buy special VIP passes that get you into soundcheck to hobnob with the artistes, can be found here.

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