These aren’t exactly rehearsal tapes, but they are a bit rough, so we figure they qualify. These 5 tunes (and the accompanying interview) were recorded in a Manhattan studio whose name I can’t recall sometime in 1992 for a syndicated radio program called The Other Side, which was hosted by Curt Smith from Tears for Fears.
We actually thought we’d lost these tapes in a flood, but TMJ fan Paul Gutierrez contacted us via Facebook to let us know he’d taped the show. So here it is.
Mr. Smith, as you can hear, was both funny and gracious, and since it felt weird to be interviewed by someone more famous than us, we wound up asking him more questions than he asked us.
As with all Rehearsal Tapes episodes, we’re including a way to obtain the downloads. Sometime next month we hope to do away with the a la carte pricing on these things, and implement a way for folks to pay a single price that will unlock access to every single current and future download on the site — so, hundreds of tracks for one low price, which seems like a reasonable compromise between fans who ask very nicely for downloads of everything we post and band members who tend to think only the stuff we officially released was ever meant to walk around proudly in public.
We have no idea what would be a non-evil price to charge for such a thing, so please give us some suggestions.
We’re focusing on a track from Mutinythis week. Here’s what Sandy remembers about “Sort of Haunted House”:
The initial riffs for SOHH were composed to my rinky dink drum machine. It was a period of time when we were ripping off beats from some of our favorite hip hop songs (need I add, clumsily) and seeing what came out (“Unbeautiful” began the same way). Of course, when we took the song into a live setting, Tommy brought it to life in his own inimitable way.
When we recorded it we laid down that original rinky dink beat to retain some of the loopy vibe, and you hear a snippet of it in the song’s outro — followed unceremoniously by Tommy destroying said drum machine. Tim and Jay must have taped it back together.
Since Tim can’t say it, I will: these lyrics are awesome – maybe some of our best – and the song was fun to play, though rarely performed (while I was in the band).
My own recollections pretty much match Sandy’s, though I’m not quite as fond of the lyric as he is (personally, I think the bassline is what makes the song; it’s up there with the bass riff in “James Dean’s Jacket,” in terms of bouncy goodness). To me, the lyric was just an exercise in writing a story-song that Johnny Cash might sing. The title comes from a stray line in Don DeLillo’s Libra — a particularly DeLillo-ish sentence in which a character describes the overall vibe of some location with five simple words: “Very sort-of haunted house.”
Like a lot of DeLillo sentences, that one made me pause in admiration, and the song grew out of that pause, as I tried to imagine what a literal sort-of haunted house might be like to live in. I figured the phrase “sort-of” meant there’d be a ghost, but not one you were particularly afraid of.
For some reason, this one never found a permanent home in our set lists, although we did play it live a bunch before we recorded Mutiny. I remember, because the band had an argument about whether or not to play it at some show in Minneapolis that was being broadcast on a local radio station. I wanted to play it, because then we’d have a decent recording of a brand new tune, but the other guys feared it wasn’t solidified enough to get documented for all time like that.
I don’t believe the bashing metallic noise you hear at the end is an actual drum machine being broken. We may well have recorded Tommy kicking a drum machine to bits, but if memory serves the actual sound of that wasn’t particularly dramatic. So we set up a microphone in the kitchen of Messina Music and did numerous takes of us dropping a container of a bunch of random metal objects (washers, hammers, and other stray crap) onto the tiled floor. We kept adding more metal junk and dropping the box from an ever higher point until we got a noise that sounded sufficiently cathartic.
The fact that it also sorta sounds like a guy with a noose around his neck kicking the chair out from under him and making whatever pipe he’s tied the other end of the noose to go “Sproing!” is just a bonus.
Update: Bill just sent through his own blurbage about the tune:
When we first discussed my producing the album that was to become Mutiny (or, Don’t Worry, Bea Arthur) one of the songs on the demo the band sent me was “Sort Of Haunted House.” And in many ways this was the song that helped me ‘get’ them. Its lyric sensibility (like the fact that it’s a SORT OF haunted house) seemed to me to typify the band’s whole smart, arch, self assured (wise ass!) but also self deprecating aesthetic.
These eight songs were recorded during sound-check at the Newport Music Hall in Columbus, sometime in 1991. We were touring on Cereal Killers, but gearing up to make the next record, so had been working on new songs in hotel rooms and during long drives (“Donna Everywhere” was written in the van, in fact, while a roadie drove us 90 miles an hour through Oklahoma, and my girlfriend seemed impossibly far away).
Two of these never got much beyond this stage – “You Can Count on the Moon” because it was too overwrought, and “Death Ray Machine” because we were too stupid (this is a different version than the live-to-two-track version that wound up on Gods and Sods).
The rest made it onto Mutiny, although in somewhat altered form for a couple. “Walled City” evolved into “What it Is” once we wrote a chorus and some more verses – here we’re just jamming on a single verse, trying to find a shape for the tune. “Strong Thing” went through the opposite process – the song’s fully formed, but half the words here got tossed out and replaced (not that it was any help; I love the music, but the lyric was doomed to suckage from the outset).