punk haiku 8- leaside found, first demo

 

APRIL 1977, TORONTO

 

 

All of the songs  from Punk Haiku 6-10 are collected and available on the free/by donation album "See Me Smile" at  Dream Tower Records.

These are from our basement practice room, Mark French on drums, the spring of 1977, a week or two before hitting Mushroom Sound studio to record (what ended up being) half of the Sunshine World CD.

 

I'M HURT 

These two songs, one written by Andy (Hurt), and one written by Ken (Caves), are the last two songs on Sunshine World, and have the highest improv quotient  on that CD.

Hurt has pools of sound that head off in various directions, in between verses and choruses. Caves has quiet sections at the beginning and between the verses, and then a rave-out at the end. 

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SCENIC CAVES                                                                                      

One of the last times the Scenics ever played this song. (I guess the version on Sunshine World may have been the LAST time we ever played this song. I'll have to check.) It didn't survive into the next stage of Scenic sound. Why? Read on dear reader, and next installation, all will be revealed.

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Punk Haiku 9  introducing full time drummer Bradley Cooper.

 

 

  For the next four years, our practice place was the heart of Scenic life, Our god awful glorious sound rising up through  the street gratings in front of our building. We created an interior world soaked with mix tapes, Kinky Friedman and his Texas Jewboys, the Left Banke, Big Star, Flaming Groovies.                                    

Our songs would sprout up in a rhythm back and forth  between  Ken and I.  We never wrote together unless the song showed up as the whole band jammed. Almost Tender, I Wanna Touch, Underneath the Door, the 'hits' kept on coming right through till 1981. Every rehearsal, the cassette machine spinning, spinning, getting it all down.

A couple months would pass and we’d head out of the basement for a gig, and more or less annually we’d go into the recording studio. We recorded demos that anyone else would have released as LPs, but our heart was in the private space where we took the world of sound apart, we were impatient to continue, and didn’t care to “waste” time finding out if the rest of the world got it.  And when it really mattered, we tended to get too high and let it all go.

 

(Ken Badger in the basement, photo Brian Molyneaux)
 
 

   While there was no denying that our first drummer Mike Cusheon’s departure was in some ways a relief, it again left us at square one, and one IS the loneliest number. We  decided that if we didn’t in fact have a functioning band, we could pretend we did by getting a drummer to play with us at least long enough to record a demo. (We figured this would help us land a drummer- they'd be able to hear what the band was going to sound like.)

   Paul French had been a tight buddy of mine in High School.  He had an non-identical twin brother Mark. Mark had  been set back a grade from Paul and I due to the time honoured response to twins- “They move as if they are one. Let us seperate them and make one inferior. Let them deal with that.”

 

(Paul and Mark in 1974. )

  Anyway, Mark and Paul were also the sons of William French, the Toronto Globe and Mail’s (and one of Canada’s finest) literary critics. More to the point, Mark was a drummer.

The first night Mark came out he forgot his sticks and played with pencils. Later he confided that drummers were cautious that way- didn’t like to leave themselves exposed- would check out the situation before committing.

  Mark wouldn’t join the band but he would commit to being our drummer while we recorded a demo.

  Mark was not just a drummer, he was a good drummer, and a cool dude.  We wanted to make this experience last as long as possible, and decided to record an enormous demo, 10 songs. We even threw more songs at him, trying to woo him into sticking around, but he had one eye on the door and didn’t bite.  To this day I don’t know why not- he didn’t have anything else lined up. Years later, a Queen Street regular, he spent a year or two drumming for  Canadian Roots Rockers Blue Rodeo, which is, as the say, 'the big time'.He continues to play, doing all sorts of things. In the eighties when there were a profusion of alt country rock bars on Queen St. He left his drums there for a year and a half, and just wheeled them from gig to gig on a flatbed dolly.

 

       For a month and a half we rehearsed hard- I have tape after tape of us doing the same 10 songs, with vocals, and then as bed tracks, (like they would be recorded in the studio), and the great thing is that for most of the songs, the takes all sound so much the same and yet are all filled with so much life. We managed to hone in to the exact pinhole of where we wanted to be and then repeatedly pound the songs home there, full of focus, pulling it tighter. For the songs like the two on this page we did the opposite, not limiting them, repeatedly jumping off the cliff and finding out where we landed. 

 

(I believe Mushroom Sound was housed in the garage of the house on the left. If not, in one very much like it, altho everything was looking more run down in 1977. Except us.)

   Ken and I had taken a walk through Toronto’s gracious Annex and found Mushroom Sound, a four track studio operated by Barry Steinberg, a long haired, perpetually smiling Bjorn Bjorg fanatic. He was also a Bahai, and later the best man at my secret wedding.

(This is a picture of Bjorn, not Barry, but Barry actually looked kind of like Bjorn, or rather, accessorized like Bjorn, with the long straight hair and the headband. He was a tennis player too. Barry was a really nice guy and is the one member of the Scenics circle we have been unable to locate.)

    A week before we went in to record, the bands broke loose and we jumped off the deep end for a night of  noise making, free improv, wild covers, the opposite of the surgical focus we had been employing. The tape was spinning, spinning, and we called it “Smashing of Hamsters” after Hendrix’ “Smashing of Amps” and at the bottom of the track listing is the comment “This is the Scenics finest hour” (At this point “Scenic Caves” had become too long and static a name,  and we managed to avoid the more obvious “The Caves” when Ken walked in one day and said Sue had taken to calling us “The Scenics”). I felt it was our finest hour because it was the first time we had thrown the playbook away and gone into free playing and kept going, and kept going, and discovered there was no back wall to the room we had entered. It was a realization which never left us from that day forward.

   Tight and loose, we brought  our buzzing amps and temp drummer and Ken’s fearsome Morley power wah into Mushroom Sound and recorded 10 songs in stereo live from the floor, with 2 tracks left for vocals, harmonies, wild gtr, and my enlightened amateur alto sax.

   What we got kind of surprised and stunned us.   Our music was urban folk rock improv noise, a bit softer-edged in those early days. Even my dad  loved it, said it was very accomplished for our first try. It was probably the last music by the Scenics he enjoyed.

(me and my dad, Gordon Meyers, in the backyard of our house in 1974.)

 My dad sent a copy to a friend of a friend who was an A&R man at Columbia records,  who demured, saying it was not what they were looking for at this time.

(weird- they made a mistake dating it. This letter was actually written in 1977.)

Later CBS signed the Diodes and released a couple of their LPs, including the wonderful Tired of Waking up Tired single.) More their type, I guess.

  I was learning bass,  (I played bass on Ken’s songs, and vice versa) and songs were series  of sounds we strung together. Sometimes pop, sometimes noise. Riffs sketched out chord progressions, there would be pools where the sounds could collect space before heading off into rhythm again. Ken and I quickly and naturally developed a language where almost anything could happen, soundwise. We loved a big chorus with harmonies; we loved the freedom to step outside with just each other’s open ears to fall back on- defining the shape and sound of the piece moment to moment. At times in certain songs we would  slide back and forth between the world of bars and chords and phrases and a place where there was just a torrent of noise.

We recorded Do the Wait, and Not Dead Yet, Wild Trout and I’m Hurt, So Fine, See Me Smile, Great Piles of Leaves, Riptide with our group instrumental break instead of guitar solo, and we ended with eleven minutes of uninterupted flow on Scenics Caves, up down, quiet, loud, rhythm, space.   Ken layered guitars on Not Dead Yet and See me Smile, I added sax on I’m Hurt and So Fine, and there where harmonies all around. The sessions were relaxed and focused. It would take a few takes, but we got what we wanted. Barry was friendly and supportive, got great sounds, stayed out of our way, and cost $8 an hour. We wrapped it up, and there was only one song,  my I Want Something Bizarre, written as an early reconoiterring of our chosen course, that was pointless. 

 

     Early on,  (autumn '76), while walking Ken back to the bus after practice at my suburban spread, (I was probably going to Carol’s place, she lived just beyond), I asked Ken point blank what he wanted from the Scenics. He said he just wanted to hear these songs of his done AS he wanted to hear them.  I wanted much more- I was transfixed by what we were doing and wanted the music to get out to a larger audience, to bring the outside world into our musical dialogue.

   But our first demo was merely the first time that I didn’t know how to take what we had and bring it to the world, and lacked the confidence to do it. I was young and stoned. I didn’t know enough to release it. 

   Of course, at this time there weren’t a lot of  Punk/new wave releases on the market. Slowly over the weeks, they arrived. Horses, The Ramones 1st, Marquee Moon, Talking Heads 77, the first Blondie...

 

 

  I can remember standing in Records on Wheels and seeing these first five major label titles layed out amongst the Bob Seeger, ELO and Eagles and marveling, feeling like this was way more than I ever expected there would be. There was no guarantee that any of this stuff was going to get heard- it so flew in the face of everything that rock had become- it’s rhythms were jagged, it’s guitars and vocals thin and squelchy. Rock had become totally safe and was responding incredulously to this music. Now I can look back and see these bands were building on what the Velvets and Stooges and Dolls had kept  from the Kinks and Stones and Electric Dylan, and Bowie and Roxy and Bolan were doing it big time in England (Always more style than in the good old USA, and Canada full of bearded rustics and really good folk singers,)  but  from 72 to 78 bands playing this sort of music had to keep the faith and do it because that was the only way thru that they knew.

 

The independant scene, while burgeoning, was still new, and I didn’t yet know how to shape my world as I wanted. We were, of course, clueless. We didn't have a lot of money,  but we should have released the whole session as an LP.

But we didn't. Not till 2009, anyway.

(the only outstanding, or, rather, existing picture of  l-r Mark French, Ken Badger, and Andy Meyers- The Scenics lineup for their first studio session,  spring 1977.  Picture taken at the Scenics' third gig back, April 2008, the Dakota Tavern, Toronto. Photo- Andy Meyers' long left arm.)

 

 

PUNK HAIKU 9 coming June 15, 2010. Devo, Brad Cooper, (The Scenics' first full time drummer,) and Scenics talk on the radio.

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PUNK HAIKU 8 CREDITS

 

I'M HURT (Andy Meyers, Allowed Sound Music).  guitar/vocals Andy Meyers. bass/bgs Ken Badger.  drums Mark French.

 

SCENIC CAVES  (Ken Badger, Timmy's Music). guitar/vocals Ken Badger .   bass/bgs Andy Meyers.  drums Mark French

  

Recorded May, 1977, The Scenics' basement, Toronto.


PUNK HAIKU AUDIO produced by Andy Meyers  ©2010 Dream Tower Productions.

PUNK HAIKU written by Andy Meyers.