Today and for the next few weeks we’ll be handing the reins over to poet-in-residence J.E. O’Leary, so he can tell the story of his band Trousers as he goes track-by-track through the band’s only release, 2004’s We Pitched a Hut and Called it Providence.
In 1998 I moved from Albany, NY, where I attended college, to NYC. The days that followed were completely magical. I’d fallen in love, formed a band, played live, was doing some of the best art of my life and had a tight crew of some of the best friends I’d ever had. Two whirlwind years later I was out, on my way to Maine, having run out of money and goodwill. I came back about 13 months later, but much had changed. A lot of those friends had left the city. When those that remained would get together, it was different, stressful. I was learning the hard way that when people changed they changed all the way, and that while the past might not be past, one could live in such a way that it effectively was. By the time Trousers formed in late 2002, my life looked pretty different. My girlfriend had left me, and I was now living by myself. One by one the friends that remained left the city, or moved on in their own way. I guess I was pretty lonely a lot of the time.
This song was inspired by a chance encounter, sometime in 2003, with an old friend from that era. We decided to get together for a drink one night and she ended up coming home with me. Our fling itself was pretty brief, fraught with old anxieties, resentments, and brought up a lot of unpleasant stuff on both sides. What brought us together was this feeling of having been discarded, and that kind of hopeless, frustrating, desperation is not exactly the kind of thing that makes for long, happy love affairs. It is kind of perfect for a rock song however.
The song started with the bass figure that I end the song with. I’d written that two note ringing figure on the acoustic bass I had, itself leftover from the pre-Maine days. But when the song was complete enough to bring to the band, it was clear that that riff wouldn’t work for the bulk of the song, as it made everything too busy. So I reworked the verses to be this kind of plodding E-string riff. Joey kept things real simple on guitar to contrast with the power chords on the verses. The final version features some of Becca’s best cello work; in retrospect, all her parts on all the songs were so tasteful and perfect. She had such a great ear for where to put her notes – you can hear this clearly on the “bridge” of this song, where her and Joey do a double-solo, weaving in and out of each other seamlessly.
The thing that made this song perfect, however, was George’s insistence on doing this four-on-the-floor figure in the chorus. We couldn’t really seem to make it work for anything but I remember this so clearly: one time in the middle of rehearsing it, when George was getting ready to do his thump-thump part, Joey and I stopped playing at the same time and then crashed back into it. It was so perfect, we all looked at each other like YES!! and it was done. One of those magical moments in the studio I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It must have been towards the end of the session because when we were wrapping up the next band (they were either called X the Owl or they were the refugees from when X the Owl broke up) came in and seemed even more excited about it than we were. “We were listening outside, that was great!” one of them said. It was one of those artistic moments where you just know you have something great. We worked the song into our live sets pretty quickly.
I have a pretty decent vocal performance here, though I don’t really remember it being that way. This was one of the songs I was having a real problem with, as it was at the higher end of my register and I had all those high note screams to do. But listening back it seems ok. There are decent rasps where I wanted them and was able to summon my best Gordon Gano impression for the last bit of the third verse. Lyrically I was extremely satisfied. At the time I considered it one of my better lyrical efforts even though ended up I literally going through a thesaurus looking for words related to “Leftover” and worked a bunch of them into the song: “retrieve” “salvage” “scrounging” etc. I think the song has a lot of power. There’s a great reverb on the cello, and Joey’s guitar soars on the outro. I don’t recall any specific conversations about the recording, but knowing that we all had pretty similar ideas about album track placement, we must have been super high on it, slotting it in the coveted “track #3” slot – where generally the best song is supposed to go.
As for the subject of the song, I’ve said enough, though she eventually did hear the song. She said it made her “sad”, but not much else. I probably felt pretty satisfied about that at the time, though I no longer try to evoke that emotion in people. There’s more than enough around already.