In early 2009, my noise rock band TRAVEL released "Recorded/Recordings," our best-of / ten-year retrospective. We mutually agreed after that release that we had said it all. There was no more noise to be mined between the four of us. We had taken things as far as they could go (while maintaining our quality standard.) So the band was done.
Or so we thought... (cue the Disney-style trailer and swell of music...)
TYPECAST PUBLISHING got wind of the band and asked us to reform for a one-off new record. They would release a book of poems by TRAVEL singer Matt Hart and insert the new CD into the jacket. Definitely a non-conventional release, but when was anything TRAVEL did within the conventions?
I really didn't think I had anything more to add to the cannon, but I like the guys and it was an excuse to hang out. We got together in winter 2011 for one day and recorded 7 hours of improv tracks in our normal style. As usual, on the day, we left thinking we didn't really have anything spectacular, but we would fix it in post. Little did I know that this post would be the most involved mixing job of my LIFE! Not only did I have deadline pressure from TYPECAST, but it turned out we had massive amounts of interesting tracks. I took the 7 hours of improvs and sliced and edited until I had 45 pieces of music (about two solid hours). I whittled down further to 19 of the best bits. Then, we got together in Cincinnati, Ohio and Matt recorded oodles of vocals over the "songs."
It took another 4 months, but I mixed and mixed and mixed and mixed, until I had something resembling a record. Tracks like the opener, "New Noise," were the hardest numbers I've ever tried to mix and that track alone took days and days. There was so much noise, so many competing sounds, that it was difficult to separate everything and make it listenable. But in the end, that track sure does rock -- like an 80s punk 45 mixed on a boom box. As I cut and moved the vocal tracks, sometimes culling only a word or two from a track that had a thousand words, I tried to build choruses from the ground up. "The Girl Who Lived On Heaven Hill" is a good example of that. What you hear in the final result is not at all like it was sung by Matt. He provided me with ample bullets, but I needed a shotgun to get this sounding like I wanted.
I made a few choices on this record to make it different from other TRAVEL albums. Almost four years ago, we ended on a really great sounding record (before the best-of) called "Anti-Social Butterfly." I love that record and think that it, along with "This Is Our ~Music," to the best of our albums. Tempo-wise, though, there were very few fast songs on those albums. I felt like TRAVEL had kind of been settling in a groove (a good groove), but I wanted to break from that and pick up the pace. We're getting older. I don't want to sound old. During recording, I would ask Kelly to play faster, and faster, and faster. "One-Person Apocalypse" is an example track where the song started out mid-tempo; I stopped it and kept saying "double that, now double it again." And Kelly really delivered. Those drums are fantastic!
Along with speed, I wanted to make the songs more hooky. This explains why I so much time with the vocals. I've always thought TRAVEL songs were different and memorable. Even though it's a noise band, all of us also love pop music and can appreciate a catchy chorus. But, we let the hooks be in the guitars and not necessarily the vocals. Songs like "Disconnecting The Dots," "Singer So Vacant," and "Panic At A Picnic" are my attempt to have some vocal line stick in the head. And, ironically, "The Louder The Better" is the best hook and it's exactly as Matt sang it.
In the end, we had debates about which of the 19 songs should go on the record, opting for 14. I had hoped the record would be a little shorter at 12, and one I liked got cut. In the end, though, it's probably our best album. I'm not saying this because it's our newest. It really is much more fully realized than the ones that came before. The lyrics are all top notch and everyone really delivered strong playing. I think it helped that we were all playing our own instruments most of the time. Eric stuck with the bass and, for once, played it like a bass and not a guitar, so the album's got a great bottom end. Kelly was perfect, as always. Matt and I played off each other well -- him with the riffs and me with the washes. I used a Cathedral reverb for the first time as part of my setup so things are enormous sonically. And, of course, Matt's voice is as strong as ever. Simply one of my favorite rock/punk voices ever.
Will we make any more? Maybe... We do have a lot of leftovers from this session that may come out some day. But, no rush. I'm kinda sick of mixing.