Ramsay Midwood’s Maybelline Grease

Although I wasn’t actually recording today, I had the pleasure of going into the studio to watch one of my favorite Austin artists, Ramsay Midwood.  He was recording his song for the Ted Hawkins tribute record that everybody is working on right now.  He calls his music psychedelic country-blues.  I like to call it honkey tonk music from another dimension.  He definitely is dancing to the beat of a different drummer.  He is an acquired taste, but once you acquire it, you won’t be able to get enough.  He is one of those rare artists that has found his own voice, outlook, and even groove.  The song above, Maybelline Grease, is from my favorite album of his, Larry Buys a Lighter.  Most alt-country is just sentimental singer-songwriter stuff with a bit of twang in it.  This is roots music that is bending space, time, and light.  In some parallel universe, Patrol Boats are blasting this shit in the Mekong Delta while young soldiers twist their minds with LSD.

Christmas Time Warp

www.noshowponies.bandcamp.com

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.”  

The Making of A Manual for Defeat: Part 3

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.  

The Making of A Manual for Defeat: Part 1

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…

Ramsay Midwood’s Tribute to Veterans Day and His Ancestors

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/

Lou Reed Lyrics Day 6: The Last Shot

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.