A video put together by the always great Ramsay Midwood. It is both hilarious and sad for reasons that will become clear after watching it. .
If you haven’t checked it out yet please click on the link above and listen to No Show Ponies new album, A Manual for Defeat. I’m extremely proud of this record. It is three-piece independent rock n roll. We recorded to analog tape with the great Ramsay Midwood at in the production chair. Spread the joy. Make businessmen cry.
I should resume a fuller posting schedule tomorrow once my brain recovers from the Christmas party I attended last night. I ate and drank enough last night so that the finer points of the English language are evading me today. Or as my great friend Roman says, “I don’t black out, I time warp.”
No Show Ponies new album, A Manual for Defeat, will be released tomorrow exclusively through www.noshowponies.com. More formats to follow.
Once we got to Ramsay Midwood’s house, for the first group of sessions, it really was as simple as setting three of us up in the same room and letting us play. Ben’s guitar amp was put in a different room. Ramsay and Seth Gibbs, our engineer, were in another room with the tape machine. We played live, with Ben even stepping on his guitar pedals like an early Van Halen record. We redid the vocals later with Ben and me singing into the same microphone to give it an immediacy. The second group of sessions, done a few months later at Seth’s studio, was done the same way.
We used early Halen, Joy Division, and early Jam records as guideposts for overdubs. All of these records are rock records of various sorts that only feature three instruments with minimal overdubs. Overdubs, as being additional guitar parts, percussion, or other instruments, were only added as absolutely necessary. You lose a small degree of energy between performing live and when it is played back through the studio speakers. This is always the case for recording. If we felt something could use a little spicing up we added something to it. Otherwise we left everything as close to the original spirit of the performance as possible. There are several songs that, except for the redoing the vocals, were left exactly as they were played that day, imperfections and all. One of the things that is exciting to me about this record is that often you can hear the interaction of three musicians and nothing more. It is often primitive because of this, but it will never date.
Ramsay’s main guiding principle was that nothing should be longer than it merited. Songs were cut down so as there is no fat on anything. There are only three songs that breach the four minute mark and none that breach five. Ramsay kept the session productive and humorous. At different times he walked the studio with a golf club for reasons we still have yet to decipher.
When we got to the mixing stage our main rule was to do no harm when it came to energy. Even if something sounded technically better, we nixed it if it took away from the excitement of three people playing together. This also later led us to master the album as little as possible. Once we recorded everything to tape we did overdubs and mixed with a computer. Anytime we added effects or overdubs that didn’t sound natural and real, I loath digital reverb, they too were quickly scrapped.
We were in no way trying to make a “retro” record. Once we decided to go the tape route because of budget, every decision was made to make the record as live and authentic as possible. I have always believed in the maxim that the middle of the road is the worst place you can be. I always think the best recordings are either the ones that are primitive or the ones that have no budget constraints. Those would be records where the artist is allowed to paint on as big a canvas as possible. If you can’t go that route that stay true to who you are in the moment. If you can’t be ahead of trends then ignore them.
Basic tracks to this record were recorded in four days over two sessions. Overdubs took about two days and mixing not much longer than that. It captures perfectly who we were at that exact place and time. We were broke, yet never beaten. We played as if our lives were on the line, because in some sense they were. We were looking out at the senselessness of the modern world, coming back unbowed from the verge of defeat.
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…
The below words were written by Ramsay Midwood, recording artist and producer of my band, No Show Ponies, upcoming album. They were posted on the night of Veterans Day. Without any further delay:
My great great grandfather Shawi Koni “Raccoon Skunk”…afraid of losing his 6000 slaves made a difficult decision to fight for the Confederacy during the civil war, one of hand full of Native Americans to do so. He was captured on 9/11/1863 at the battle of Chustenahlah.
Prior to his capture and execution he had fathered 47 children with a variety of women of all shapes sizes and colors. While there are presently thousands of his descendants roaming the world right now, the most prominent being Lynndie England, noted for her involvement in the Abu Ghraib scandal and Michael Larson, one of the uncredited creators of the game show Press Your Luck, the one who has made the greatest contribution to this nation is Braylon Kingsly …who created the Eleganza Catalog.
any way thank you for your service Shawi Koni and thank you for your Catalog Braylon Kingsly
You can check out more on Ramsay Midwood at http://ramsaymidwood.com/
Today I am remembering why I rarely ever drink. I only wished that I had remembered yesterday. I have a crushing hangover as the result of an excellent Ramsay Midwood set. I’m sort of cheating all of you today that have been kind enough to read my Lou Reed lyrics posts throughout the week, but at least I’m admitting it. I don’t have the brain power for any kind of intellectual deconstruction of lyrics. I promise to make it up to y’all tomorrow with something better. In the meantime here is a Lou Reed song that seems fitting for my condition:
The Last Shot
The last shot should have killed me, pour another drink
Let’s drink drink to the last shot
And the blood on the dishes in the sink
Blood inside the coffee cup, blood on the table top
When you quit, you quit, but you always wish
You knew it was your last shot
I shot blood at the fly on the wall
My heart almost stopped, hardly there at all
I broke the mirror with my fall -with my fall – fall – fall
Fall – fall – fall
Gimme a double, give yourself one too
Gimme a short beer, one for you too
And a toast to everything that doesn’t move – that doesn’t move
But when you quit, you quit, but you always wish
You knew it was your last shot
Whiskey, bourbon, vodka and scotch
I don’t care what it is you’ve got
I just want to know that it’s my last shot – my last shot
I remember when I quit pretty good
See, this here’s where I chipped my tooth
I shot a vein in my neck and I coughed up a quaalude
On my last shot – my last shot
Here’s a toast to all that’s good
And here’s a toast to hate
And here’s a toast to toasting and I’m not boasting
When I say I’m getting straight, when I say I’m getting straight
But when you quit, you quit, but you always wish
You knew it was your last shot
When you quit, you quit, but you always wish
You knew it was your last shot
This is from his Legendary Hearts album. It is one of three incredible albums in which the great Robert Quine was on guitar. These albums include The Blue Mask, the already mentioned Legendary Hearts, and Live in Italy. If you are a fan of Lou’s work these should all be in your collection. Lou was at the top of his game on these albums, and he had a band that could match him. Quite honestly, and I know this could get me crucified in some circles, I enjoy these albums as much as any of the Velvets stuff. I think it’s the quality of his writing during this period, and again the fact that he had such an incredible band. Even the two studio albums are recorded very simply, with few overdubs. Just the sound a great playing with someone that could write like hell.
This is one of the less literary and less serious songs on these albums, but i think one can at least appreciate that Lou was willing to take himself to task in such undignified fashion. There is no sugar coating going on here. When Lou took on others you tended to believe him, because he never spared himself.
I just wanted to remind all of you that if you live in the Austin area I’ll be performing at Sam’s Town Point tonight with my band No Show Ponies. We are opening for Ramsay Midwood. I wrote a blog about him earlier today if you are interested in what he does. We go on at 8:30pm. Tomorrow I’ll be in San Antonio with Shinyribs. You can find the details at http://www.shinyribs.org. I hope to see some of you out tonight. Listening to Warren Zevon’s The Indifference of Heaven and trying to get my head in the game…
Jesus is #1
The rest of you is #3
And all I want to do is lift weights
And praise Jesus all day
So go the lyrics in Ramsay Midwood’s Jesus is #1, from his Popular Delusions and the Madness of Cows album, which inexplicably has a rhino on the cover. Ramsay Midwood often writes characters that seem as strange as Tom Wait’s Eyeball Kid, a song about a kid who is literally an eyeball in a freak show, but Ramsay’s characters are a real living breathing tapestry of the American dream. There is some Flannery O’Connor in Ramsay Midwood. She wrote stories that many called Southern Grotesque. But Miss O’Conner said that her stories were only grotesque if you were from the North. What I mean by this is that Midwood’s characters, which often appear grotesque, are really only that upon first inspection; if you travel enough of this country you are bound to run into them.
My band No Show Ponies is playing with Ramsay Midwood tonight, Friday November 1st, at Sam’s Town Point in Austin at 8pm. I thought this would be a perfect time to digest and discuss Ramsay’s music. He is a true original and one of my favorite artists. I should disclose before I go any further that I know Ramsay, and that he produced my band’s upcoming album. However, my appreciation for what he does began long before I ever befriended or worked with him.
If I’m going to be honest, and I have always sworn to be in my writing, I didn’t get Ramsay at first. That goes the same for James McMurtry and many of my other favorite artists. Most, although of course not all, music that is immediately accessible evaporates upon closer inspection. Ramsay’s Midwood’s music might take a little work at first, but it’s built to last. The more you listen to it the more you enjoy it, until you eventually become addicted to it. When it all clicked for me was when I saw his Chicken on the Lamb video. In the video Ramsay is wearing a leisure suit and dancing while holding a chicken and the 911 commission report. YouTube it. It has to be seen to be believed. It’s true art. Inscrutable and yet at the same time full of meaning and wonder.
Another Midwood song, called Planet Nixon, goes as follows:
Planet Nixon spins on
Shine on Confucius, son shine on
What I believe that Ramsay does so well is he writes subversive tales of America. Although he is not without empathy for his characters, I also know that he is smart enough to know that there is something seriously wrong with a country that produces them. His songs are really funny, but it is a droll humor that is played close to the bone. He’s not begging for attention or laughs, but because his humor is often so understated, especially in his delivery, it ends up being way funnier then bands or artists that seem to beg for you to see how witty they are.
Ramsay has another song called 911 where in the first half of the song he sings nothing but the numbers 911 over a laconic beat. My interpretation of this is Ramsay parodying American culture after the events of September 11th. Not that he is parodying the events of that day themselves. What he is doing is mimicking how that day and phrase were used so often that at some point they ceased to have any definitive meaning. When someone like Giuliani runs for president and chirps 911 every other minute like a parrot, he ends up debasing the day and the term. 911, a very tragic event, was beaten over our heads until we became desensitized to it. Much like how those color coded terror warnings were used so much that they became a joke. Ramsay captures this in song with simplicity better than any other kind of long form poetry ever could. He then shifts to talking about going to play municiple golf with his friend Allen that is a roofer who looks like a burnt match. A seemingly random fact that has every bit as much meaning as 911 does after we have been desensitized. The first half of the song has a bluesy laconic gait to it. In what may be one of the most indescribable but beautiful transitions in music ever, the second half of the song switches to a major key complete with a wistfully joyous fiddle. In this section of the song Ramsay starts singing about a woman and a train. This song is highly interpretive and you are bound to interpret the meaning of this section, and how it fits in with the first, completely different than me. It almost seems like a dream sequence. Beaten down by the post 911 world Ramsay slips away to remember a time and place in his life and America that was free from all of this. It’s even possibly a version of America that never really existed. A mythological past not tainted by the burdens of the present.
These are the kinds of places Mr. Midwood can take you in his songs. Although his music has enough intelligence in it that makes it easy to intellectualize it, like most great artists Ramsay can be enjoyed on a purely surface musical level as well. Ramsay has a slow groove that is all his own. It’s somewhere between country and slow soul music. I’ve tried to play bass with Ramsay several times and could never really figure out what was going on, until I discovered that while his guitar plays a slow country train beat at times, the bass is often playing a soul line. This combination gives his music an identity and a hypnotic groove that is easy to get lost in. It transports you to another time and place. I once called his music juke joint music from another dimension. One of the strangest things about Ramsay is that somehow, no matter who he plays with, he gets his sound. It’s the work of a true magician.
All of Ramsay’s records are worth getting. They all have their own charms and reasons to recommend them. Once you get hooked on him you are going to want to keep going further into his world. Although I would definitely purchase the songs I quoted from above, if you are unfamiliar with him, I would start with Larry Buys a Lighter. This is of course just my own personal recommendation. It’s his newest record and I believe the furthest realization of his art. It was recorded to tape, I believe mostly if not all, in his house. It’s his most low fi record, but because of the graininess of the texture it is also the most timeless sounding. It could have been made 50 years ago, or it could have been made yesterday. You just can’t tell. It’s a short and perfect record. The kind you can put on while on a road trip and find yourself starting over before you even realize you have done so.
Even though the way I write and the kind of music I play are ancient oceans apart from Ramsay, I feel a certain kinship with Midwood. I feel that he is a fellow traveler. We are regionally and musically different from a standpoint of style. Many people that would hear his records and ours, even our upcoming one that he produced, would hear nothing in common. He works a slow groove until it transports you, and my band, in our current and most pure incarnation, is a high energy rock n roll band. But in his subversive nature and his keep it close to the breast humor, I can relate completely to what he is doing. Somewhere in an alternative universe, if I had traveled widely different roads, I think that his music is the kind of music that I would want to make. However, I grew up in the North East with rock n roll blasting from my stereo. Sweet Jane was my Old Kentucky Home. It was simply the path that I was meant to take.
This is going to be a great bill tonight. We are so happy to be sharing the evening with cosmically strange and always great Ramsay Midwood. Venture down to Sam’s Town Point. It’s one of the few venues untouched by time and space. Doors are at 8pm.
Tonight I will be with Shinyribs at the Rockin’ Rodeo with Shinyribs at 9:45pm. On Saturday the band that I have with my brother, No Show Ponies, is going to be playing Austin at the One 2 One club. That show starts at 9:30. Opening act John Neilson starts at 7:30pm.
I would like to try to attempt to explain my band No Show Ponies. As a friend recently commented to me, writing about music is like dancing about architecture. However, I write about music all the time to various degrees of success, so I will wade into the deep end again. Writing about oneself, and one’s own artistic endeavors, is even more challenging. Oneself is infinite, while others, although they may be filled with mystery, take up a more defined space in one’s mind.
No Show Ponies is first and foremost a rock n roll band. Although our sound is completely different, much like Shinyribs we genre hop quite a good bit. This is great for creativity and I believe makes us more interesting, but is not good for the modern idea of branding. However, primarily again we are a rock n roll band. That is our bread and butter and our driving principle.
To confound those of you even further we have also gone through a very extreme sound change in the last two years. When we first moved to Austin my brother Ben and I were without a band. We had also spent the last seven or eight years playing loud guitar driven rock n roll. We were tired of this approach, and as I said we didn’t have a band to base our sound upon anyway. During our first two years in Austin we primarily played two man acoustic shows. When it came time to make our record, The End of Feel Good Music, we wanted to make a record that was acoustic in nature, although with loud drums like early Rod Stewart records. Because of the friends that we had made, and used on our record, the record ended up sounding more alt country then rock n roll in a lot of places. This is a genre that Ben and I don’t listen to in any great deal. There is no one to blame but us, but this was not a natural fit for our talents. That being said I am overall proud of the record, as there are several, what I deem anyway, great songs on it, and we will always have the great memories of recording with members of the Gourds, our friend Missy Beth, Jon Dee Graham, and others.
We eventually developed a live band, that sounded completely different from our debut record already, but in the months following the recording that band disintegrated. Over the next two years we picked up the pieces and rebuilt the band. Although we had strong identities as writers, we didn’t have a strong identity when it came to our band’s sound. In these two years we found that sound. Part of the missing puzzle was finding the incredible drummer Alex Morales. For the first time since moving to Austin we had a drummer that could play the complex polyrhythms that we so desired. I moved to bass, which is the instrument I primarily grew up playing. The biggest and most essential key move, the move that I believe for the first time gave us a unique sound, was moving my brother to the main guitar spot. We also decided to be a three piece, partly out of necessity, and partly because we realized, even in its infantile stages, that this was the start of something that was sonically exciting.
My brother, who grew up playing acoustic guitar, can not play a traditional blues solo to save his life. However, if you know anything about the history of rock n roll, you will know that limitations are often essential for invention. Because of my brother’s extremely strong right hand picking technique, which again was developed from acoustic guitar, he is able to play extremely intricate arpeggios in the style of Johnny Marr and Lindsey Buckingham. And again, because he can’t solo in the traditional sense, he is able to jump from highly intricate and musical rhythm playing, to post punk noise solos that are pure raw energy. I’m telling you there is no one that plays guitar quite like this kid.
I would call what we do independent rock n roll. That is in my mind different from indie rock. That is splitting hairs with language, but as Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lighting and a lightning bug.” Rock n roll pushes the vocals up in the mix and doesn’t shy away from big emotions. A lot of current indie rock seems to me to be almost shy of expressing anything too definitive, as the singers are often weak or purposely buried in the mix.
What we do is an amalgamation of the kind of powerful rock n roll that came from the 60’s combined with the more experimental music that came out of the post punk scene. I’m not kidding on the new record we go from a song that was influenced sonically by Public Image Limited, noise rock, and New Order, into something that could almost be a Beach Boys song. However, for the first time in our history as a band since moving to Austin, I believe that we have a sound strong enough to bridge these different worlds.
I think that our sound is also unique for Austin, largely because of our origins. None of us our native Texans. Ben and I derive from the North East and Al comes from New Mexico.
The North East influences us in ways that we probably didn’t even realize until we moved to Texas. It informs both our sound and our lyrics. Sound wise I believe that this makes for a much tougher rock n roll sound that is a descendent of the music that came out of the large North Eastern cities in previous decades.
I have noticed, since I moved to Austin, a kind of almost scatological and surreal sense of humor. The way people often speak truth to power in Texas through humor is often through word play and drawing conclusions between disparate things. We grew up on the darker, more vengeful humor of the North East. People like latter period George Carlin and Bill Maher come to mind. It also helps if you understand that we are reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter Thompson, and other writers, whose modus operandi is to point out the absurdity in the American system. We also love those songwriters like Morrissey, Leonard Cohen, and Lou Reed, whose humor is jet black. Please believe me that I am not saying better or worse, only different.
When you add all of that in with Al, who brings the tribal rhythms of the South West, and a passionate encyclopedic knowledge of rock n roll drumming, you get something exciting and unique. I call Al’s apartment the “drum museum” for the incredible collection of vintage drums and percussion that seems to be in every nook and cranny. This is a guy with a serious dedication to his craft.
I realize in looking back on what I’ve written, that I have sort of described what we do in long form, written around things, and not given one an easily descriptive blurb for what we do. I’m fine with that. If something is too easy to define, unless it’s the Ramones or AC\DC, it’s probably simpleminded too. If rock n roll still means anything, then that is what we do. This is music that is both literate and primal, that is both aggressive and beautiful, and that wants to have you both sing along and make you feel uncomfortable at times.
Recently we recorded an album to old analog tape with the great Ramsay Midwood. This new album, when it debuts, will showcase this new found confidence and sound. If you want to get a taste of what we are doing before then, please come and check us out this Saturday at the One 2 One club. Again we start at 9:30. In closing to describe what we do, I would like to co-opt and paraphrase Paul Westerberg: This is rock n roll played in a hurry, with sweaty hands and unsure reason. This is our blood.