No Show Ponies new album, A Manual for Defeat, will be released tomorrow exclusively through www.noshowponies.com. This is an album that was forged out of necessity. That is both the necessity of expression and the necessity of circumstances that lead to the way this album was made. This is a rock album about hard times, which was made by and for people that are going through them.
My brother Ben and I moved to Austin about 8 years ago from Central Pennsylvania. Although we had always played rock music, we started out in the Austin scene as an acoustic duo. We slowly climbed up the Austin ladder, found band mates, and recorded the album The End of Feel Good Music. We recorded that album with Kevin Russell and Keith Langford of Shinyribs and the Gourds. We had cameos by such Austin luminaries as Jon Dee Graham and Jimmy Smith of the Gourds. We had a successful CD release party and then a residency at the Saxon Pub. Everything seemed to be going right, but then as often happens, trouble found us. Our live band imploded.
Suddenly we found ourselves without a steady band. Although Ben and I never quit working, we found that we were lacking a distinct sound and direction. Out of the blue, or possibly through an internet ad, the drummer Alex Morales walked into our lives. He is a drummer with an encyclopedic knowledge of drumming. His apartment looks like a drum museum. He not only could play whatever crazy idea we had in our heads, but also could inspire us and push us in new directions. He is the perfect drummer for the songs Ben and I write. He has rock solid timing, a deep pocket, and more importantly he intuitively understands the kind of music we play, shares many key influences, and writes unique and distinctive parts for each song. A band is only as good as their drummer and suddenly we had a great one.
However, we were still lacking a distinctive sound. I was on bass at the time and Ben was on acoustic. At one practice, when Ben and I found ourselves alone with Alex, Ben decided to pick up the electric guitar. All of a sudden, in about three songs, that sound that we were always looking for, but weren’t sure where to find it, came to life right in front of us. My brother could jump with ease from beautiful chimy arpeggiations to blood thirsty noise solos. We decided right then and there that we would remain a three piece. We were limited in what we could do, but as often the case in art, limitation is the mother of invention. While we always believed we could write and sing together, we suddenly, for the first time in a long time, had a “sound”.
The next step that we knew we had to make was recording an album. We asked each other how we could make a record that would do justice to the sound that we were hearing for the budget we had. And the truth of the matter is that we had no budget. The Great Recession had come through like a hurricane and wiped out whatever financial stability that we had. Luckily I had the experience of recording with Ramsay Midwood on his quarter inch tape machine. Shinyribs had recorded a song called Dollar Bill Blues for an English Townes Van Zandt tribute record. In one day of working we had the song recorded, mixed, and ready for action. There wasn’t the fussing about that plagues most recording sessions. Most importantly the recording we did had a vibrancy and life that is missing in most modern recordings.
I knew that if we had any chance of making a good record for a nonexistent budget, then this is the route that we had to go. If we were well rehearsed we could knock out basic tracks within a couple days and end up with something we believed in. For the next several months Ben, Al, and myself rehearsed like mad. We got every song that we had into a definitive three piece arrangement. Anything that didn’t work with only three instruments was thrown out the window.
When it came time to record we picked the best songs we had given the arrangements that we had. We also had our eye on the whole and picked songs whose meanings would be enhanced by the songs around them. We wanted to make an album and not just a collection of songs. Once we had the material where we wanted it, we contacted Ramsay, who picked engineer Seth Gibbs, and headed out for his house, where the first batch of songs were to be recorded…
To Be Continued…