BAND PERSPECTIVES ON THE NEW EP: ‘DEAR SIR’
Little Red Radio is an experiment of sorts. Ever since I heard Stereolab’s early 7 inches I have been itching to write a rocker sans guitar. I used my trusty lil’ Ace-Tone organ patched in to a few ancient tube amps and a Leslie spinning speaker that were all turned up as loud as they go (I’m anti-guitar pedals, y’know). One died in the process…I think it was worth it.
One dull day paging through random books in the library I came across a picture of a young, stern looking woman all gussied up in military garb. The photo was old and sepia in tone; it must have been taken some time early in the past century. Considering the age, of course it was interesting to see a woman depicted as a soldier, but what really got me was her face…it seemed forced and a bit artificial as if she was really trying hard to live up to her butchy wardrobe. This spoke to me and I quickly wrote out a bunch of thoughts that became Citizen’s Army Uniform. As a footnote I later went back to the book to find that the woman was Constance Markiewicz, a.k.a., the Countess of Irish Freedom, a dear friend of William Butler Yeats.
The track Dear Sir wasn’t really written as much as it just happened. If memory serves we were practicing one long afternoon at Panic’s mansion and from the tedium that such exercise causes we decided to throw up some mics and, excuse me for this, jam. During playback someone suggested that this musical thing could be a song. Thus it was decided that I would have the next couple of hours to write lyrics and to record the vocals. This is a first for PAS/CAL. Normally I pain over each track for months – it’s all quite miserable & exhausting. With Dear Sir we harkened back to our roots and experiment with improvisation (the only other group our drummer & myself were ever in was a hopeless noise/improv/space-rock outfit a la Amon Duul II, Spacemen III, with a heavy dose of Syd Barrett’s Interstellar Overdrive). IMPORTANT TRACK NOTE: Dear Sir is very STEREO, so be sure to listen to it on adequate equipment.
When I first heard the song that would become The Lot We Came Home With I thought, “this is good, but a bit too long.” Originally the idea was that this was going to be a Gene instrumental with the tentative title, Gene’s Theme. If there is no voice yapping at me it is hard to keep my ears pricked up longer than two minutes. So I made a suggestion that Gene lob off a minute or two. Instead he stopped asking me for advice, added a couple more sections, re-did some percussion and guitar tracks, and by the time I heard the track again there was this rather elaborate & pretty vocal arrangement by Bem that just made everything make perfect sense. Thus, I didn’t do a damn thing on this track except listen and flip up both thumbs.
Wake Up (x3) was written/recorded in one night by request…and I hesitate to reveal this…for some horrible film staring Matthew McConaughey. Needless to say—and perhaps thanks be to God – the producers didn’t like it.
I am an expatriate living in Brooklyn. It’s a daunting barrier to recording, practicing, being in a Detroit-based musical group. I have a regular chair at Metro Airport’s Chili’s. And I’m on a first-name-basis with the rental car shuttle bus driver. The time I spend in town is precious…we must get things done, and quickly! Dear Sir was unusual in that it changed the direction of PAS/CAL for a day, and if only a little bit – permanently. It was freedom from the tedium of practice, yes… but also freedom from the confines of a preconceived formula. It is the opposite of fitting a nugget of writing into a verse or chorus or bridge. It’s only one take; Panic didn’t even know we were recording. And later, while we milled about upstairs over pizza and on-demand viewings of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, Caz crooned his cuckoo melodies beneath our feet. That evening we drove around in the convertible Solara (a free upgrade) and listened to the newly christened Dear Sir on repeat.
I was told the story about Caz begging his mom for a red radio well over a decade ago and the truth behind it gave me a peek into the youth of the poor Detroit boy I was playing music with. When I first heard Casimer’s demo for Little Red Radio I remember thinking, “damn I love that drum break.” I’m not sure what Caz was thinking or even if he meant to do it, but when the down beat moves from the 1 to the 2 during the organ solo, without even consider the lyrics, I instantly fell in love with the song. PAS/CAL learned it straight from the demo for a live show and some weeks or months later Burgundy and I went into the Romantic Air Recordings Workshoppe to record a foundation for the final version. It is one of the tightest tracks we have ever put out. Note to self: I still need to read Electrifying Mojo’s The Mental Machine.
That real-time experience of improvisation has always held a strong hold on my heart’s beat. After setting up what I think was a single mic at Panic’s mansion, Caz began checking levels. I went straight into something akin to what you might hear on Can’s Tago Mago, loosening my limbs and finding the red. Before we began to record Caz stuck in his head and hinted at a tempo and rhythm, “baba-bababa…..baba-bababa…” Burgsy jumped right on and off we went. I love this, the back and forth and forth and back, the ride up and right back down the slide. Burgs is right there with every suggestion. After breaking a stick it trickles down and the bed is made. A few hours later there is more to it and Caz has fancifully made it into something you can put a title to: Dear Sir.
Via text message from Trevs: “Fuck! Little Red Radio just continues to blow my mind.”
Dear Sir, as it stands, is a pretty unique track in the Pas/Cal canon. If anything, simply for how it was organized, performed and recorded. We were all at Panic’s luxury resort house. It was sunny outside, but the basement studio we all huddled in was particularly dark. LTD and his drum kit were closed off in the wine cellar (note: Panic has since made this room into an Amphibian study center). The rest of us, I believe, were in an adjacent room, armed with our instruments. I was sitting on a revolving staircase, my amp resting behind me on a higher step. I could see Burgundy, Casimer, Panic and Gene just below. Once we got going, the song nearly made itself. A live improvisation, later enhanced and edited by Casimer and his magic ear, into a fully realized song with vocals.
A few more observations:
Gene’s guitar sounds like a wild elephant!
Panic was naked during the recording of the keyboard!
Amy’s voice it’s so still and warm.
Little Red Radio is such a great song.
Wake up x3 literally got me out of bed this morning.
I, being a soprano my whole choral carrier, still cannot understand how Caz rides the high octave with such ease! Dang.
Apparently no words can convey his sense of.
(with regard to the song ‘Dear Sir’)… I think the song is a real tribute to the magic that PAS/CAL had/has as a band of talented & synched musicians. I love the way LTD & I lock arms & glide under the tumultuous electrical storm of Trevor & Gene’s guitars. We’re two clumsy & unwieldy men who, when united musically, can nimbly & deftly navigate the most challenging of straits.