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. Today: Track 7, September 10th
One of my favorite things about being in a band and starting out was those hour long jam sessions. No agenda, no “working on” anything, just the band, some beers, some weed, and saying GO. It’s an exercise in improvisation, in creativity, and in endurance, both mentally and physically. We had to physically be able to play for that long – wasn’t the goal headlining shows? We would have to be able to play without taking breaks. We wouldn’t be able to walk off stage in the middle of a set and take a smoke break. Long jamming sessions also tested my mental creativity, and listening skills. If we could keep things interesting for long stretches, just jamming, not working on material, that meant we were listening well and exploring, flexing those creative muscles. These sessions were also great for writing as a band. I loved writing a song and bringing it to the band, but I also loved coming up with something brand new as a foursome. September 10th was one of those songs.
There’s no big meaning behind us calling it September 10th. The jam session where we came up with the skeleton of what became the song was literally on September 10th. We probably passed the tape around and at subsequent rehearsals would label it “September 10th jam”. Also we thought the jam sounded foreboding and sinister, and naming it after the day before an awful day seemed to fit. I don’t remember specifically how it came about, but I remember collecting those basslines from a D minor jam and putting them together – the arrangement just kind of came together. I tried to write words for it once, but the vibe was really off putting. I think in the Tape Box somewhere there is a really early version of me singing over it, but we ditched the idea pretty quick. It didn’t need a vocal part.
I definitely sound like a broken record at this point, but Joey’s guitar parts on this are perfect as usual. He had such a great feel for the dynamics of a song and how to push it forward. And having a classically trained musician like Becca in the band was such a great asset. She was always careful to never overwork any part, and knew exactly how to find her place in a song, even loud of busy parts. I could probably count on one hand the number of times we got too loud/busy/crazy for her and she just threw up her hands and was lost. There’s such a great achy quality to her parts here, especially in the first movement.
There’s a little studio magic happening in the way the two sections were bridged, but listening to it all these years later, it sounds fine. George is really hustling and pushing on the second movement, and though there’s a bit of a hesitation as we come out of the first, you can hear the moment we click, and it really takes off. The overall performance is solid, and, like Nothing Is Wasted, a good representation of what we were doing when we were at our best, and indicative of the kind of collaborative, urgent vibe we would have pursued, given a little more time.
When we walked in to the studio for the first time, we saw they had a gong set up behind the drum kit. “I don’t know what song it’s going to be,” George said. “But I’m hitting that gong on something.” We were all in agreement. When we were listening to the first mix in the booth, we all kind of looked at each other at the same time at the part. George made a hitting-the-gong motion. We did the overdubs right there. It sounds righteous. We were all so thrilled to have a gong on the record, we specifically called it out in the album credits.
None of us were sure where that little curly tail of a note at the beginning came from. It’s definitely Joey, We assume it was a trailing note left on the tape from whatever song we did before, but we did not notice it until it came time to master the recording. We’d gathered at a little basement in Chinatown on a Sunday with a “budget” master guy we found off of Craigslist. The little note is another one of those happy accidents that you find during the process. But by this time we were already aware that the end was near for the band, and the mastering sessions had an air of melancholy to them, even though we were all finishing something we were really proud of.
The one thing I remember from the mastering sessions is that it ended up being more expensive than we thought. I came in to it thinking it was going to be $60 each, but I must have read the email wrong because it ended up being almost twice that, and I went out to one of those bodega ATMs to get more money. It charged me a fee and left me with less that $20 for the week, and that depressed me even more than any of the other stuff going on. I remember thinking, at the ATM, I’m flat broke and I’m losing my band. If this isn’t a sign I need to get my shit together, I don’t know what is.
It would take me a little longer, in fits and starts, two steps forward one step back, but more than anything that was the moment. By that time next year I would have a new job, and more money, but I was in a new band I wasn’t happy in. But that’s a story for another series.