Wednesday, October 20, 2010

II of Jackanapes: An Experiment in Ridiculousness

Over the weekend, I traveled south of Chicago, way way south, to the Carbondale area, my old stomping grounds, to make a spontaneous record with my good friend and old music chum, Josh Murphy.  Josh has a house in West Frankfort.  The front door sticks.  After you kick it in, you're greeted with wood floors and a vintage red sofa (which, as it happens, is very comfortable), an old chair, and several beat-up suitcases.  I felt like I had come to an old place, the kind place you want to listen to vinyl or create a series of watercolor paintings in, a great place to make a record.  Josh mentioned his place lacked a kitchen and I told him it was no matter: I was bringing scotch and soda.

It started a bit rocky.  Neither Josh nor I knew exactly where or what to begin.  We tuned the guitars and bass to the piano - which was approximately a fourth of a step out of tune, giving its sound a slight warbling effect.  Very pleasing.  Then I stumbled around a bit with some chords on the piano.  Josh picked a beat on the drums.  We tried different instruments.  Josh squawked on a clarinet.  I hit a djembe.

This frightened improvisation went on for a couple of hours and then Carly Lappin and her cousin, Marcuss, showed up.  We found the spark we'd been circling around all night.  We recorded five of the eight songs that would end up as the record that night.
It began with the jam, "Cheeseburger Cosmos."  We needed a tribalesque piece and out came "Sakajaweeuh Cheetah."  Spontaneity or inspiration - whatever you want to call it - really hit with "Kid Cudi Died in a Coma," so much so, in fact, that the next morning Josh, Carly, and I awoke with the song stuck in our heads.  Carly declared, "It's a hit!"

We drank more whiskey.  More beer.  Josh and I recorded a song the next afternoon called "The Heat" because it was so intense.  We also re-recorded "Kid Cudi..."  Somehow, we'd gotten serious about the whole thing.  We wanted it to sound, gasp, pretty good.

More whiskey.  More beer.

Josh and Carly's actual band, The Black Fortys, played at Tres Hombres later that second night.  It was a really surreal show.  First, because the band lineup was so strange: one man acoustic band to nightclub DJ to dark indie rock.  We returned to Josh's house in the near-woods late that night and recoded until dawn.  A big group vocal to the gospel song "Going to Heaven (Legless)."

The final day of recording started with some grilled chicken and funk bass.  Chris Wittman, former drummer of Carbondale rock legends Exhusband, came over.  Once Josh and Carly and I had heard Chris sing, it was decided he'd lay down the lead vocal track as well as drums to the James Brown song.

We mixed the record in late afternoon and drank much more whiskey: nearly finished a bottle of Jameson and a bottle of Dewar's, and ate a lot of grilled chicken.  I can't stress that enough: a lot of grilled chicken.  There was a Young Loves show that night - another band from the Carbondale area we all loved - and if we got the record finished in time (which included naming the songs and ourselves), we could hand it out to people at the Young Loves show.

Marcuss made it back from work in time to help with the mixing and, finally, the packaging.  After an intense debate, we decided to make the record one long song cycle as opposed to eight individual songs because, well, what could be more ridiculous than that?  Perhaps this: we put the record in brown lunchbags and drew the band name - II of Jackanapes - along with cheeseburgers and little green men and other absurd things on the front and back.  We went to the Young Loves show and handed out all 10 copies of the record and returned to Josh's house around 3am, feeling as though we'd sensually massaged our egos and even had a happy ending (incidentally, this was the name of the record: Sensual Ego Massage/Happy Endings).

The songs are ridiculous, of course.  The lyrics were mostly thought up on the spot or written around things we'd only just seen.  For instance, during a trip to the liquor store, Josh and I saw a man and a woman walking by a furniture store.  The couple were wearing capes.  We went home and wrote a song about it.  There's mention of chicken and charcoal.  Where the tube tops and hot doughnuts came from is anybody's guess.

What I'm getting at is: of course it's silly and not all that put-together and, hopefully, at times, hilarious.  But there's an enthusiasm in this song cycle.  We goofed around a lot, but there's also a sense of fun, of creativity in the spontaneity that shines through, something that is sometimes lacking during the recording process.  Given more time and with lyrics that actually mean something, I wonder what these songs could've really been.

Here's the website where you can go listen and download for free:

-Dustin J Monk

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