Sunday, March 30, 2014

Early 80's Archival Photos from the Collection of Travis Ballou

L to R: Gary Hall, Travis "Kim" Ballou, Ashley Bell (in tree), Scott Brookman.

The original membership of my best known early band*, the Poisonous Sewer Fish, included Joey Cheatham (who wrote most of the originals, played guitar, and snarled his vocals), myself, Ashley Bell (at first on an early monophonic Roland, i.e. no chords, only single notes. See photo below), and usually two drummers: Gary Hall and Roger Lawrence. There was no bass player. It was very, very loud.   *there were earlier iterations with me, Joey and Roger only under a different name.

This week Travis Ballou unearthed two photos of the next version of the Poisonous Sewer Fish. We might call it PSF MK II. Joey left, or was more likely thrown out, I guess Roger lost interest, and we became a more normal line-up adding Travis on bass. I guess that made me principal songwriter. Maybe. I think the loud experimental stuff probably continued as did the random covers. Both versions of this band mostly practiced. The very few gigs may have been years apart. There were and are a lot of recordings, though.

Below I've adapted email between Travis and myself earlier this week into a Q and A, or an S and T.

S: Wow. I have copies of these myself somewhere. Is this a post-Joey edition of the Poisonous Sewer Fish, or were we called something else?
T: I was hoping you would know. I think it was the PSF post Joe. I seem to remember that we stopped playing after the photo. Go figure?
S: I don't think we stopped playing then. And this dates from ca. early to mid 80's, right?
T:  '80 or '81 I'm sure. It does not show in the digital images but by handling the actual prints (paper type) and the contrast I can tell I processed them at college. Judging by the lack of foliage it was the fall of '80 or the spring/fall of 81.
S: These will go on my blog very soon, sir. Thank you sincerely. Got any more? Of any band from that era.
T: I found these while going through the correspondence I inherited from my Father. Nothing else that I know of from that era but if I find anything of interest I'll post it to you.
S: They can always go on the Chuck blog if I'm not involved.Pocket Fishermen? Dumbsters?
T: Pocket Fishemen, cool name, escapes my memory: The Dumbsters - That was me, Joe and Kent (Musselman). Don't think we ever played out. The Dumbsters was an evolution of The X Fish which was Joe and I getting together on summer break, writing songs and getting Kent to drum. Around '83  Joe, Ashley, Kent and myself formed Holy Moly. An ambitious concept of a ska band in the Roanoke Valley. We did play out in a club in Cave Spring. No photos that I know of. I did have a cassette of The X Fish (basement mix) and Holy Moly live! Unfortunately, I think it self-destructed the last time I tried to play it.
S:This is why I haven't put Troy is Queer online for purchase at Bandcamp. I am afraid the tape will unspool and crinkle as I play it. Too bad because that one was really Joey's masterpiece, his meisterwerk in the area of his layered tape sound and absolute obnoxiousness. 
Same day in 1980 or 1981. The Bell family backyard in Salem. The bridge crosses a little creek. The open field behind us has a delightful pool in it now. Yes, I am holding a Rickenbacker. It sucked. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Roland Wolff: Smellicopter Major Players Interviews with Scott Brookman

Roland, along with Yani Martinelli, are my new collaborators on Smellicopter. Each is a huge  reason this album is likely my best. Roland's contributions came first chronologically, but I've already forgotten specific dates. He turned a simple folk tune, "Tim E. Redmond," into a full-blown country pop masterpiece with little input from me, contributed heavily to the Wilson sound on "Summer's Two Weeks Notice" and provided significant parts for three other songs. Let's hear what he has to say for and about himself in the following interview. 

First, let’s have a little recap of your musical career. What have been the high points so far? 
The success we had with Riviera (his excellent pop duo with sister Julia) was a high point. I remember I was on an all time low in 2000, nothing happened, I quit my studies at University and stayed in bed until noon when Julia jumped into my room to tell me that there’s a Japanese label that wants to offer us a 3 album record deal.

Another highlight was singing "Love & Mercy" with Brian Wilson at the encores of a show in Mainz. Probyn and Billy (Hinsche) brought me on stage. The sound was horrible and I remember Probyn saying:"just sing whatever comes to your mind. It will be alright!"

When did Riviera really take off? 

That was in 2001 when we signed that 3 album deal with Philter, a small indie label with Sony Music as distributor.

I remember a point at which you were “treated like rock stars” in Japan. Was there Roland Wolff music before Riviera?

Sure there was. Me and my sister Julia played in a brit-pop band called My Flavour Jasmine. Our highlight was a UK tour in 1993. But we never signed with a label. 

What has come after? 

I have a new band "The Riviera Brothers". It’s more Brit style, guitar driven pop music.

 Where do you live?

I live in Moenchengladbach, a smaller city in Germany, mostly famous for its glorious football (soccer) team.

Do you have a job that involves music? 

Yes, I teach music at a music school.

Where do you record? 

I have my own studio.

When did you first become aware of your musical talent and do you come from a musical family? 

I was always aware of my musical talent. In our family, music was crucial. We played a lot together. My parents gave house concerts, my dad played the organ, my mom used to be a great singer.

Would you say your hometown is musical? 

When I was a kid I remember that there were lots of activities in our hometown. Many bigger names played here. Due to my parents activities I was always part of the musical scene. I also had great music teachers at school. Our hometown, Huckelhoven, was a coal mining city, very working class.

I think you and I “met” on MySpace and shared a kindred spirit of having both recorded our first albums on ADAT-XTs. Is that right or am I misremembering? 

That’s correct, sir. I used to record on 7-track ADAT (one track was broken and I never got it fixed).

What do you recall about the time during which you were laying down tracks for the Smellicopter album? 

I don't have too fond memories of that time. We got dropped by our Japanese label after our latest album bombed. Julia [had]  just recently moved to LA. I didn't really know what to do. Kinda clueless about the next step.

What other projects were you working on at the time?

I can't really remember. I always work on some songs and decide later what to do with them. I have tons of stuff on my hard disk that never got released.

 What was going on in your life? 

Two trips to LA. A dear friend died and left us in a state of shock. A lot of every day routine, working in the studio, trying to be inventive.

What do you recall about your role as arranger of “Tim E. Redmond”? 

Although I felt our career was at a full stop I still received big pay checks from our publisher. I bought a lot of gear and instruments. Tim E. Redmond is full of that new stuff, Baritone guitar and banjo.

Most of the released version is actually you. I play a usually inaudible guide track acoustic guitar and sing lead, with some harmony vocals. The simple piano lines are me. Everything else, other than drums, is you. My own recollection of writing the song is of a miserable time, our very worst trip to the beach as a family. Lots of slamming and yelling. I remember sketching out this amazingly simple tune about a real kid I remembered and finishing the words later. You really transformed the song. Do you recall anything about your process of contributing so much to it? For instance, did one part occur to your first? 

I loved the lyrics, those stories inspire me. I pictured this scenery, early 70ies, that kid Tim stealing all these vintage bikes. The station wagon with the fake wooden panels. All that kinda stuff.

Did the simpleness of my song help or hinder your process?

It definitely helped.

Mixing “Summer’s Two Weeks Notice” held up the Smellicopter release for some time. This was very frustrating for me and there are still unresolved issues in the released version. I’m not sure who we actually hear on drums in the released mix, but other than my piano, lead vocals and one of the electric guitar riffs, the rest is, again, you. The glorious pile of vocals at the end is all you, in fact. What do you recall about working on this song?

I could comprehend the vibe of the song. It’s pure summer, with a little twist that only a grown-up could think of. It’s like a tongue-in-cheek Beach Boys tune. I laid down most of the tracks in a few hours. Everything was obvious; there was no pondering or doubt about parts. I remember that you had problems with the drums. They could swing a little more, right?

I remember your initial enthusiasm about working on such a Wilsonian number. What are you proudest of here and are there any regrets? 

I love the bass sound, I loved my recorder and the backing vocals at the ad libs. I also loved your little guitar lick in the verse. You can be very proud of that idea, Scott. Overall, I was happy that I could do the Pet Sounds thing all over a track. 

You did so many tracks on the first two songs, we agreed that you’d be listed as arranger. Your other contributions to Smellicopter (“Daisy Von Zeppelin,” “Iceberglar” and “To Find Your Happiness”) are very important, but more along the lines of standard collaboration. Listening back now, what are the favorite moments of your input on these songs?

I liked that prep[ared]-piano part that should be reminiscent of "Curb Your Enthusiasm", I liked that guitar solo that was a little tacky. I played cornet or french horn on one of those songs although I can’t play that instrument at all. I was having a tough time learning how to play those 4 notes and then gave the instrument to my brother in law Probyn.

I learned a lot in recording this album. For instance, I relearned that less is more. I had worked out all these fancy piano arrangements for the three songs above and had to abandon them all when it came time to record using Palmer Wilkins’ upright.It’s not that I couldn’t play the parts, it just became obvious that each part was too busy, too in the way. We did take after take, and each time I subtracted notes and played on fewer and fewer beats. I forget which song, but I remember laying on his couch in the control room and getting really mad at myself, letting out a big sigh, and saying, “Okay, scrap all that. I know what to do.” The result is leaner and better. Did you learn anything in doing this project? 
Recording is a constant process of learning. Sorry that sounds like Chinese cookie wisdom but it’s true. Chinese cookies for musicians, we should bridge that gap in the market, Scott! Can you smell the bucks? [You know I can!]

And to close out what projects are you working on these days? 

I am working on new Riviera stuff, editing a video clip for Riviera, and my band The Riviera Brothers is going to tour this spring, so we rehearse a lot. I am also working on some friends’ songs, very sweet Carpenters like material! Ah - and I will release a solo album. Besides that….nothing special.