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

June 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 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.

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.

Song of the Week: Underneath a Jersey Sky

September 5th, 2010 by tim

Dear New Orleans

August 24th, 2010 by tim

Today’s the official release date of Dear New Orleans, and you can hear the entire, epic benefit album right here.

OK Go, Mike Mills from R.E.M., My Morning Jacket, Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, Jill Sobule, Flobots, the Wrens…do I really need to go on?

Spread it around.

Oh, if you just want to jump straight to “The American Way,” the latest salvo from Tim and Jay’s Wonderlick project (complete with three trombones), you can play/share this little widget:

What Tim Did With His Summer

August 14th, 2010 by tim

cover I spent a good part of the summer helping my friends from Air Traffic Control pull together the Sandinista of benefit albums: Dear New Orleans features over 30 tracks from a wide array of indie, country, hip-hop, jazz and r&b artists, all doing songs dedicated to (and in some cases specifically about) one of our country’s most precious and musical cities.

The album’s being released to mark the 5th anniversary of the flooding caused by the breaking of the levees after Katrina hit, and proceeds will go to the community organizations still helping to rebuild the city and preserve the wider Gulf area.

I’m biased, of course, but I think the album rocks pretty hard. The full line-up will be announced next week, but for now I can tell you that A) it includes several of my personal heroes, B) all the participating artists are alumni of the artist-activism retreats ATC and the Future of Music Coalition have been hosting in New Orleans for the last few years and which I blogged about last March, C) it comes with a booklet featuring artwork by the Mekons’ Jon Langford and some liner notes by yours truly, and D) Wonderlick has a new track on the album.

That track is a new version of “The American Way,” complete with a brass band — multiple trombone parts were arranged by Mark Mullins from NOLA’s own Bonerama, and the Bonerama horns recorded their parts in New Orleans just a couple weeks ago.

More details will be coming over the next week, including news about how to snag the triple album for the price of a 7″ single (really) the day before it comes out.

Song of the Week: That’s A Lie

June 9th, 2010 by tim

For some reason, our video for “That’s A Lie” has disappeared from the interwebs, which is a shame, since we made some crappy videos, and that one was far and away the least crappiest.

So we’ve taken the liberty of rectifying the situation with this here fifth-generation copy. It will also live permanently on our Videos page.

The cover tune came about in the first place because we were listening to LL Cool J’s Radio album (well, cassette, actually) in the van somewhat obsessively, and every time “That’s a Lie” came on we’d all remark on how much like a Too Much Joy song it seemed, lyrically.

So we punked it up a little, made up our own suburban lies, and wrote a new third verse (my dad really did used to tell me, “Never tattle, never lie,” usually when I ran to him after my older brother had just punched me in the face for being younger than him). When we played the song live, it had a choreographed dance routine, which we thankfully did not film for the video.

LL Cool J did the shoot as what I can only assume was a favor for our shared PR maven, Leyla Turkkan. Years later we ran into him at the Mondrian Hotel in L.A. and talked to him like we were buddies. He was pretty clearly mystified, so we reminded him about the video, and he said, “Oh, yeah, those Too Much Joy guys.”

We figured some poor shmoe at MTV would have to slow down the part with all the text on the screen to make sure we weren’t cursing or telling kids to kill themselves, so we included a message just for him telling him his job was kind of lame and he should quit. Years later we ran into that guy, too, though not at the Mondrian. He came up to us after a show and told us we were right, some shmoe had indeed had to scroll through all the verbiage frame by frame, and he was that guy. He hadn’t quit, but he’d appreciated the offer to come tour with us. He was less enamored of the bits in Latin, which he’d had to translate to make sure they didn’t include curses or instructions for kids to kill themselves, either.

It all seemed pretty hilarious at the time.

The track itself was recorded at Radio Tokyo in Venice Beach, California, along with the rest of Son of Sam I Am. I think the sessions lasted six weeks. I had to fly to Maine in the middle of them to watch my mom get married, which I was not very pleased about (though I was less displeased than my younger brother, who got drunk and punched the groom after the rehearsal dinner).

I don’t know why I’m making my family sound like brawling maniacs. There was very little punching among us, if you average it all out over twenty or thirty years.

Anyway, the point is that when I returned to California, the band had laid down the harmonica, which was played by some guy they saw in some restaurant, but who turned out to be a relatively well-known harmonica dude, and who later recorded the theme to Roseanne.

And it sounded awesome.

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