On A 70’s Kick. Forever.

zap_fmacMy favorite album of all time, ever, that will likely never change, that will be in constant rotation until I die, is Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 release Rumours.

Why? Because it’s effing awesome.

Well, there is also a bit more to it than that. This album creates an environment for me. It’s a very specific type of feeling I get when I listen to Rumours (which I do on an almost daily basis) and it’s one of perfect blending. Much of the album reminds me of pouring really cold half and half into a scalding cup of coffee and watching the two swirl together in a beige tandem.

The voices of Nicks, Buckingham, and McVie are like the coffee and half and half, as is the multitude of instruments used on Rumours. It’s fresh, nearly perfect, but always a little gritty at the same time.

And, despite being a ridiculous seller (nearly 20 MILLION copies), never does Rumours sound like a direct attempt to generate sales. It’s all genuine, the emotions the band conveys feels real, especially on tracks like “The Chain.”
“The Chain” may be my favorite track on Rumours. As it opens with a simple, melodic guitar part that swells with a blue Delta flavor. I imagine the scene beginning with two flamenco dancers who circle each other until …
“If you don’t love me now, you will never love me again.”

That’s one hell of an ultimatum.

It’s a perfect segway into “we must never break the chain.” The way that Nicks’ and Buckingham’s voices stagger makes it sound like wicked bickering between two people. It’s great. Then McVie’s wonderfully maternal and earnest voice floats over the top, almost like a guardian angel’s attempt to look out for the participants in this odd version of a quarrel.

The entire album sounds like a romantic breakup, or rather a relationship’s entire course of action. Each individual song can stand on its own as a single or a decent representation of Fleetwood Mac’s particular pop-rock sound, but to notice the actual connection between the songs and the environment it creates, one must listen to the album in it’s entirety.

Tracks like “I Don’t Wanna Know,” or “You Can Go Your Own Way,” are pretty cut and dry breakup songs.

Although Rumours isn’t really a breach as far Fleetwood Mac’s sound goes, since they still rely on vocal harmonies and jangly guitars and piano to add a touch of folk to their music, the personal issues surrounding the band at the time certainly allowed for them to get creative regarding the context in which they wanted to present the material. Bassist John McVie and vocalist Christie McVie separated, as did Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. I can’t imagine what it was like to record this album when you’re Stevie Nicks and you KNOW that a particular song is all about you. And to think, I think it’s awkward to see someone you dated at the neighborhood coffee place. It’s got to be so much worse to have to create and perform songs that are blatantly about your personal life and the affairs that take place in them.

I just got a pair of noise canceling headphones, and I now have a lot more appreciation for the instrumentation of music. When listening on the crappy Apple earbuds, the album is wonderful. When listening on my new headphones, it sounds like a brand new album to me.

Baby Baby Baby Oooooh Baby!

When one is feeling, well, I guess I’ll say “pseudo-depressed,” there are few better songs to listen to than “Superstar” by the Carpenters. Not the cover by Sonic Youth, and not by anyone else trying to cover it in an “look at me, I’m playing a song that kind of sucks in an ironic way so you will appreciate my attentiveness to being on the pulse of hipster kitsch, and hey, would you like another PBR?” way. This is a whole new level of sincerity. LOOK at their album covers, for God’s sake.

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They look like engagement photos. They were serious. That is why I love them.

First of all, the Carpenters are so…clean. The application of this song to a depressing situation should not be taken lightly. If it’s a ‘I wanna stay in bed and drink wine,” kind of depressed, look to Chan Marshall, and if it’s a “wanna put on some flannel and never move again from the sofa,” try Chris Pureka (who is AWESOME live, by the way….).

But the Carpenters? This is a sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of milk and a stack of old letters kind of depressed. Moving one’s head side to side during the part where Karen Carpenter sings “Baby, baby, baby, baby, ohhh baby,” is not only acceptable, but also almost impossible to avoid.

I really think it’s the horns that make this song a delectable-melancholy-saccharine nugget; so perfect…so 70’s…so chocolate milk. I don’t want to say cheese, because it isn’t cheese. It’s chocolate milk. Pre-cheese, if you will. No enzymes, no salt, no aging. Simply smooth, sweet milk.

The forced vibrato that Karen for is just so damn sincere. She reportedly felt a little bothered by the lyrics to “Superstar,” since they seemed a bit sexual to her. Good lord…how far it’s come? Honestly though, The Carpenters at least had some beef on them, and probably meant every word and note they created during their reign of high school prom songs.

Collectively Uninspired

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I know I’ve reached that age where I’m not really impressed that easily. Especially with music. I’m sure there’s bands out there I would have gobbled up four or five years ago, like MGMT, that kind of power pop that I kind of give a half a shit about now.

This is not about MGMT, instead, it’s about seeing one of my current favorite bands, Animal Collective, live, and how let down I am after seeing them.

In the past two and a half years, live music has changed for me from a spectator sport, to a breathing, visceral, transformative experience. There’s a whole raft of them that do that for me.

Animal Collective didn’t do that for me tonight. They were staid, stale, and relatively uninspired. That’s so odd to me. Their records brim with inspiration and contain this almost tangible quality. It invades your ears, nose, mouth and your imagination.

Tonight just felt like three dudes with samplers and delay pedals, playing for themselves.

There was a rather large heaping of their material off of the just-released “Merriweather Post Pavilion”, but it wasn’t proportionally placed throughout the setlist. Case in point: Excellent tracks “Summertime Clothes” followed by the classic “My Girls”. I feel had they been seperated, they would have resonated with the audience a bit more.

Okay, they’re not completely guilty: Avey Tare had moments of genuine enthusiasm and attempted to connect to the audience, may it have been a small hop or dramatic cymbal crash. That excited me. The new songs were enjoyable, but didn’t do enough for me to enhance my concert experience.

There was no material off of 2007’s superior “Strawberry Jam”, and a one song encore – Panda Bear’s “Comfy In Nautica”. It was Avey-less – apparetly he blew out his voice during the set. Or maybe he just wasn’t up to it.

The show wasn’t terrible. It just wasn’t what I was expecting from one of the most exciting bands making music today.

Perhaps it was an off night. I’ll give them another chance. Let’s hope it’s different then.

Regrets, reminiscing and other embarrassments

Live music has become one of the cornerstones of my life as I creep into my mid twenties. There’s been countless great shows I’ve been to over the years, and I could write several posts about how amazing they all were, but let’s be honest – that’s not always that fun. Instead, I’ll engage you with moments of my musical repentance.

Here’s some concert experiences that I’d want a do over.

February 20, 2003 – Phish. For the most part, these guys blow chunks. Before this current breakup and reformation, Phish was dormant from late 2000 to late 2002. This was their first tour back , and being a junior in high school, thinking that jam bands were totally where it was at for two months, I thought it would be cool to try and snap up GA tickets for their show at Allstate Arena. Somehow, I did, and managed to piss off all the hippies I went to school with. Example:

Like, come on mannn, I’ll totally give you a hundred bucks for those tickets. That version of “Chalkdust Torture” on A Live One is the best thing I’ve ever heard! Totally dude, like, I totally, like, love Puh-hish. I mean, come on man, do you even smoke?

I forgot to mention some of them were pissed of the mediocre review I gave Round Room in my high school’s newspaper earlier that winter.

My best friend Jordan, who probably got an even worse dressing-down than I did, was my companion for this gig. We spent the night making our way through a sea of patchouli, hemp necklaces with those cute little blown glass trinkets, and my personal favorite – fainting hippies. I was not impressed, but Jordan didn’t seem to mind. He was totally groovin’ his way through tried and true classics like “Gotta Jibboo”. Really?

May 16, 2005 – The Mars Volta at the Riveira Theater. The Riv is a shitty venue, with piss-poor sight lines. It didn’t help that I actually payed to see the kings of pretentious art-rock. What’s equally embarassing? This glowing review of Amputecture I wrote a year later. Humiliating. You want a new Floyd or King Crimson? Listen to these turds. I’ll pass. Thanks.

October 3, 2005 – Foozer tour at the Allstate Arena. It was a dream bill – two of my favorite bands at the time, Weezer and the Foo Fighters – playing together at one show at the premier suburban arena. If only I could remember it. Largely incapacitated due to some incredibly strong prescription medication, this is more just a collage of moments than what should have been one of the happiest moments of my life. I remember next to nothing of Weezer’s set, save for their cover of ‘Big Me’, and that the Foos opened with “In Your Honor” and “Cold Day In The Sun” was somewhere near the end of the set as I wandered around the arena. Also, if you ask the right person, apparently I wanted food at a a ‘sit down place’, despite not having any money. I do not recall this.

August 6, 2006 – Missing the entire 17-member lineup of Broken Social Scene at Lollapalooza 2006 for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Lolla ’06 was my inaugural festival experience, and I was still figuring out the ropes of how it all worked. I realized that you can’t see everyone you want, no matter how hard you try. So, I opted to see the Chilis, a group I had been “totally jamming to” since the summer of 2000. The show was alright, from what I remember, but because of the steel toe boot to the head from an errant crowdsurfer things are sort of fuzzy. According to my friend (and fellow obviate-er) Evan Thorne, who attended the show with me, he heard the THUD of when the boot kicked me in the head, and then turned around to see me down. I remember still feeling like i had control in my feet, but it was just easier to fall. I think I got pulled out of that one during the encore.

October 31, 2007 – Shouting “YEAH!” very loudly in a quiet room after Craig Finn explained before the live debut of “Lord, I’m Discouraged” that it was a “sad song”. Man, talk about a buzzkill. The dude next to me patted me on the shoulder and said “nice job” as I sunk my head into my shoulders. Ouch.

Gino-ology: Tracing the Development of Gino Scarim

He nails the guitar part in one take.

Gino Scarim looks surprised as he makes a series of clicks in a program called ProTools, editing the track he just recorded.

Behind him with guitar in hand stands Eric Grossmann, the guitar player of northwest-suburban mainstays The Brokedowns, who’s joking with his bandmates about being able to play the guitar part despite learning the song minutes before he recorded it.

Scarim listens to the playback on speakers above his head, and after some short deliberation with the bandmembers, decides it’s time to move on to the next track. What he’s doing isn’t making him a lot of money – but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

At 28, Scarim is responsible for two of the northwest suburbs’ longtime music businesses – record label Duckphone Records, which he’s run for almost a decade, and promotion company Decal Productions, which is responsible for booking local acts in local venues. In addition to this, he performs as a sound engineer at the Clearwater Theater in West Dundee, as well as at the Metro in Chicago, and he owns a recording studio, Red Door Studio in Fox River Grove.

Since Scarim’s operations are small, he admittedly doesn’t have much money to pack into promotion or touring for his bands, but there are some success stories. One of Decal’s early bookings was political punk band Against Me! in Elgin, in November 2003. The band went on to sign a major label deal and recorded their latest album with the producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind.

Scarim looks more like a defensive tackle and less like someone who works in the sound business. He’s got a shaved head and a trimmed beard, is heavyset and stands a little over six feet. Physically, he’s a bit imposing, but the fact that he’s wearing cargo shorts and a T-shirt with the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man kind of dispels the notion that he’d hurt anyone. His co-worker at Clearwater Theater. Co-worker D.J. DeNoon says, “He doesn’t drink, never had a cigarette, doesn’t do drugs and he tried to stop drinking pop.”

There’s no doubt Scarim loves music – that’s very clear when he talks about starting bands with his high school buddies. His musical tastes range “all over the charts,” and he says he likes hardcore bands like Converge, Dillenger Escape Plan and the Lawrence Arms. Taste doesn’t really factor in picking what bands to record. To him, what’s rewarding is providing a launching pad for those who are in the same position he was 10 years ago.

“I try to keep it real light, friendly – joke around. Productive and professional. There are so many added pressures in the studio. My studio is rather inexpensive, but the bands still get a higher quality recording,” he says. Scarim also says it helps if the bands have home recordings. That way he can get an idea of how the band sounds and see what direction he can help take the songs in.

There is no way to deny the influence of Scarim on this community. It’s not outside the realm of possibility to assume someone in his position could be difficult or out of touch. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There’s no discernable trace of and that’s what endears him to the people he’s worked with and worked for.

Jamison Butcher, one of Scarim’s former interns at Clearwater Theater credits Scarim for “single-handedly” nurturing the music scene and without him “it would have died out a long time ago.” Scarim’s former bandmate and co-worker Mustafa Daka says, “He will do whatever he can to help people and has done a lot, and is so humble he won’t admit it. He’s made a lot of things possible for a lot of people, and keeps things fun for a lot of people.”

“It’s somewhat generational. We were working with younger kids doing shows – high school type kids, kids are getting into music earlier – and it happened to be a good thing at the time,” says Grossmann. “In high school for me, there were no shows around here. People in bands weren’t the norm, now it’s the inverse; there’s a ton of shows all the time.”

Scarim carefully explains that his promotion company, Decal Productions, provides him his necessary income. It’s the reason he can keep the label and recording studio going. The success of the company allowed him to move to different venues – and as a result, present more shows. Duckphone Records is something he enjoys doing, but isn’t necessarily crucial to his income.

Only one of Scarim’s businesses allows him the freedom to not have to hold any other supplemental jobs. The music scene in this corner of the northwestern suburbs went from nascent to populous in a short amount of time. Once it was hard to find shows in the area – now Scarim’s company Decal runs seven shows a week.

“It’s weird,” he says. “The more involved I get, the more I have to be. They all transfer into everything. I couldn’t do one without the other. They feed off each other.”
Back in 1999, the northwest suburbs started to populate itself with high-school-aged kids starting bands inspired by their favorite ska-core staples, the Voodoo Glow Skulls and Slapstick, which later spawned regionally-known acts such as Alkaline Trio and the Lawrence Arms. For the kids in this area, however, there was one big problem – nowhere to record, or play.

That’s when Scarim took matters into his own hands. He founded Duckphone Records in 1999 to record his friends’ bands so they’d have something to sell at their shows.

It wasn’t an instant process by any means. When Duckphone formed, Scarim was working for the Classic Cinemas chain of movie theaters, where he became the youngest general manager in the theater’s history at the age of 19. Two days after he graduated high school, he accepted a job at the theater that paid him $19,500 dollars a year. It was good money, he says, but quit a year later after he was offered a position at musical instrument store Sam Ash.

“I bought equipment slowly – used stuff for a good price. I … never had a ton of extra cash,” says Scarim. “[I started in] my parents’ basement. They gave me an entire basement to do my stuff.”

In his parent’s basement, Scarim started with a basic four-track tape recorder that he ran into an Analog recorder.

Daka, or “Moose” as he’s known to most, used to be Scarim’s co-worker at Sam Ash and was a bandmate in their onetime band Slim Jim Conspiracy. He was instrumental in the early days of Duckphone, as well as when Scarim set out to start booking shows.

Daka and Scarim would take items discarded from Sam Ash – soundproofing and cables – and built a closet with those materials. Even if some of the materials were half broken, they’d try to use them. According to Scarim, they’d “Frankenstein” microphones where they took working parts of some and put them together with parts of others. They fashioned the closet into a vocal booth using found materials. When finances allowed, he would upgrade the equipment in his studio. The patchwork studio setup lasted for several years, until Scarim moved equipment into the studio he’d purchased in January 2007.

Scarim and Daka at first teamed up to find shows for their band. “Me and Gino did a lot of calling around, because a lot of VFWs and Moose Lodges wouldn’t do shows. When we heard bands playing places, we’d call and try getting our band on there,” he says. “We ended up playing a lot of Battle of the Bands so we could play.”

Moose had started booking shows at the Warp Skate Park in Elgin, which originally overwhelmed Scarim. “I was like, I can’t do what Moose does, having bands calling him all the time,” he says incredulously. “But then I started doing it independently of him.” Not long after, Scarim got in contact with Grossmann, who, like Scarim, was struggling to find shows for his band.

The pair heard through mutual friends that they both had wanted to book shows, so Grossmann took the dive and called Scarim. They held meetings at Denny’s in Carpentersville, about the direction they wanted to go in. There, Decal Promotions was formed as a partnership between the two. In 2003, the fledgling company scored big early – they negotiated a deal with Clearwater Theater, a fairly new venue that hadn’t invited may local bands to play. Decal began hosting shows on Mondays and Tuesdays. “Things snowballed from there,” says Grossmann. The success of shows at Clearwater led to slots at Penny Road Pub in nearby Barrington and Just For Fun Roller Rink in McHenry.

About a year ago, Grossmann left Decal to focus on his day job as an IT recruiter and on his new family. Scarim then took over full time.
But he’s not without help.

DeNoon, a co-sound engineer at Clearwater says, “Gino … told me how to set up and run sound. Before [him] I had never done sound – and he needed people who knew how to do it, so he taught me to run it when he couldn’t be there.” Because of his experience at Clearwater, DeNoon now assists bands he’s worked with on shows at larger venues such as the Metro.

Several years ago, DeNoon hit a rough patch where he was unemployed and didn’t have a place to stay. Scarim’s parents took him in. “The job I have now I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t because of Gino,” he says. “I wouldn’t be at the place I’m at now with a place to live without Gino and his family.” He pauses. “Wow,” DeNoon says. “I don’t even think he knows about this.”

Eddie Tsikretsis – the former bass player of Me, Myself and Eyepatch, one of Duckphone’s earliest bands – is far removed from his days on Duckphone’s roster. Yet he agrees that Scarim’s approach remains the same.

“He’s dealing with kids with no musical ability and he’s pretty awesome at that. He championed us the whole time,” Tsikretsis says. “The motivating factor is that he wants to see bands doing something, even if it isn’t his thing.” Scarim recorded an entire album for Me, Myself and Eyepatch, but the band disbanded shortly thereafter. “Gino gets good involvement from kids who have burgeoning interest and he incubates them,” Tsikretsis continues.

Back at the studio, Grossmann struggles to lay down a guitar track for another song, despite his earlier successes. Scarim calmly offers encouragement and provides direction on where Grossmann can come back in on the track. Eventually, after several more takes, the tracking is completed. He takes a seat and listens intently as Scarim cues up the track on the computer screen. After the playback is done, Scarim turns to the guitar player and smiles.

“Good job, Grossmann.”

Then it’s back to work.