Having disbanded Big Black in 1987, and releasing only one record under the moniker of Rapeman, Steve Albini reemerged in 1993 with a kick-ass band named Shellac and solidified his place as my favorite artist. However, 1989 had dropped a bomb that I didn't pick up on until 1990... Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. Oh Yeah!!! Industrial, heavy, loud, guitar-driven, dark, angry and full of self-loathing. I had found another major influence for the music I would soon be making myself.
Not only did I absolutely love Nine Inch Nails but Reznor did all the music himself.
This got me thinking what I might be able to do by myself.
For over a decade, all this wonderful new music had fueled me and made me miss terribly not playing music.
Then in 1992, I met two fellows that would change all that.
I met Billy Oertel by responding to an ad (in Rolling Stone magazine, I believe) about trading Beatles rare recordings.
Although we lived several states apart and would not actually meet in person for about a year, we immediately hit it
off and became very good friends. Initially, it was so cool to find someone who was as fanatical about The Beatles as I
was but I soon learned that he wrote and recorded his own music. This was good music and it was recorded very well.
If he could do that, I should be able to do so, too. I was very envious of his recordings and knew I could do it.
But it still didn't get me off my ass.
1992 also saw me losing a job that I had held for nearly two decades (the business closed). As a result, I felt this was an ideal time to get some college education in. I entered college in the fall of the year. My first class on my first day was Composition 1. A fellow walked in the door of the class room that I clearly thought was a student but, in fact, he was the instructor. Long hair, purple shirt, paisley pants and tennis shoes... oh yeah, this was going to be an interesting semester.
His name was Eric Wallack.
Memory tells me it was the very first day but it might have been the second or third, in any case, for some reason, I had brought to his attention that I was very into music and had mentioned the band The Butthole Surfers. Apparently, the Surfers intrigued Eric. After class, he asked me just what music I listened to. I mentioned many of the artists that I list in part three. I told him, "If you like The Butthole Surfers, you'll also like Ween (who he had never heard) and, indeed, he did very much. He obviously liked my generally broad musical interests and we soon became good friends.
Shortly, I learned he was a classically trained musician who now played Butthole Surfers type music in a band called Satan Tortilla (known for the song "Jerry Garcia's Dead"). He looked like he came straight out of the late 1960s, he was a classically trained musician yet he played gutteral punk music. Pretty fuckin' cool! He also made his own one-man-band recordings as Baghiti. Damn, that's all I could take. I knew I could make my own music and set about getting to it.
At this time, I had minimal recording gear to do my own music but with my recording experience, I new I could get the job done. I already had a "music room" set up for my music collection as well as two electric guitars (the Silvertone and Harmony), my Fender Mustang bass, my acoustic guitar and my Shure SM-57 mic (a left-over from my band days) along with a handful of other lower grade mics. However, I had no keyboards and, most importantly, I had no drums. In addition, I had nothing to mix this mess through.
To remedy this, I bought an inexpensive Yamaha keyboard from a friend. Initially, I used a cheap toy Casio keyboard. It sounded quite cheesy but, hey, it was better then nothing. I managed to scrounge up a couple of old cymbols and stands from my old drummer, Bob. I conveniently found a toy bass drum that actually had a pretty good foot pedal lying along side the road in someone's garbage and I acquired a set of "Hit Stix" (a children's toy that produced a sound similar to a snare drum which I hardwired a line-out onto). Finally, mounting a couple of coffee cans, on an old TV tray stand, over the toy bass drum, I had a reasonable facsimile of a drum set that with the aid of a little sound equalization didn't sound half bad. I managed to dig up a surplus mono four channel public address system from my place of employment. This was an amplified PA (with only one master EQ) but it had a line-out which worked fine fore my crude purposes.
There was even one point, early on before I got the toy drums, where, to emulate a bass drum, I simply tapped the bottom of a very short mic stand (with a mic mounted) with my finger and recorded the thump. I had the real cymbols but for a snare, I placed several metallic objects into a coffee can and hit the plastic lid for a snare-like rattle. With that, "Crowded Studio" was born. I actually made several recordings with this rudimentary set-up. Many of those recordings showed up on my first album, My Garden.
These initial one-man-band recordings were done using my two Nakamichi CR-7A recorders. Layering was done by dubbing a new instrument onto a playback of a previous take while recording it onto the second machine. Luckily, due to my knowledge of recording and the quality of these high-end recorders, generation loss was minimal and the recordings don't sound too bad. The only other two people featured on these recording was my girlfriend, J.J. Gaylord (several songs), who is seen below and old friend Jerry Cox (shown briefly in Part Two) who is only featured on one song recorded sometime in the 1980s.
Two of the earliest songs I recorded were covers of Billy's and Eric's songs. Both songs ended up on My Garden. "On Hold" is Billy's song and "The Earth Is Hollow" is Eric's song. The next year, I recorded Billy's "Ex Con" for my Kaizen album. Billy would return the nod a year or so later when he recorded my song, "Forget It All" from my Kaizen album. It was really an odd feeling to hear someone do a cover of one of my songs. In 1995, I would record Julian Cope's "Julian H. Cope". However, at that time, I had never heard Cope's version. The only version I had heard was Billy's searing version called "Real Dead Loss". My version was clearly inspired by Billy's version and the song has become a mainstay in my repitoire. Later, in 1997, I would record the "October On Planet X" trilogy which consisted of three songs ("Phillip The Narrator", "Ten Year Storm" and "Stinkman") for my Stumbling In My Brain album. These three songs came from a fantastic project Eric did with Jay Leland called October On Planet X. Eric was gratious enough to provide lead guitar to my versions of "Ten Year Storm" and "Stinkman". More about "Stinkman" later.
RECORDING MY GARDEN IN 1993
The observant eye will notice all The Beatles items around the room.
My Garden - 1993
This also included a handful of recordings dating from the 1980s and, with the exception
of a handfull of songs, is so crude and amateurish that I'm sureprised that I ever let people hear it..
I knew from this point that I would probably make music for the rest of my life and began to provide as many sonic upgrades as my budget would allow and reach for the goal of a proper studio.
Then on Saturday, September 25, 1993, shortly after 12:00am, out of nowhere, on The Tonight Show
there she was...
September 24, 1993 PJ Harvey on The Tonight Show singing "Rid Of Me"
This performance can be seen here. I highly recommend watching it!
There she stood, slightly swaying, repeatedly strumming and abbreviated A-major chord on a black Fender "Telecaster".
Hmm... I had read some raves about her but knew nothing really. She looked cool. OK... let's see what this is all about.
Then she opened her mouth...
"Lick my legs and I'm on fire! Lick my legs and I'm desire!"
"I'll make you lick my injuries"
"mmm... you're not rid of me...
I simply could not believe the sound emanating from this slight English lass standing there with nothing but a guitar.
I melted away!
Within a couple days, I owned the first of MANY of her records.
As an added bonus, it was recorded by none other than Steve Albini!!! Oh, yeah!!!
I knew immediately that PJ Harvey would forever be a prominent musical figure in my life. And indeed today, thirteen years later, she's still not rid of me. Her music is a primary driving force in my life with no sign of waning.
I had always enjoyed music made by female artists but male artists were my primary interest. PJ introduced me to what women could really do and what I had been missing all these years. While it would take a while to take hold, women's music would eventually have a profound effect on my musical interests.
In the late 1990s, Kira and I would cover several of PJ's songs Some recordings can be heard here.
On May 27, 1995, in Detroit, I finally got to see PJ perform live.
After the show I was even able to meet her and chat for a bit.
By the end of 1993, I was in full swing making my own music. For the fun of it and also as a little practice, I did some covers of songs I had always enjoyed but for the most part, I recorded my own compositions. In 1994, I had finished my second album, Kaizen. This album featured two cover versions by two of my favorite artists, PJ Harvey's "Rid Of Me" (which, to this day is still a standard in my repitoire) and Steve Albini's "Racer X". Like the previous album and with the exception of my girlfriend J.J. Gaylord singing on a couple of tracks, this was a one-man-band project. But new horizons were lurking around the corner.
In late 1993, I had the opportunity for a trip to Virgina to see (for the first time) my friend Billy Oertel who was a primary influence for my one-man-band exploits. We visited Billy's friend Micky's home which was this cool big old farm house where Micky had converted several rooms into a studio. Nothing significant developed but it was great fun getting to jam with Billy (and this has been the only opportunity to date). We just jammed songs they knew so I just played bass, making it easier for me to follow along.
October 15, 1993
Chazz Avery - bass and vocal, Billy Oertel - guitar and drums, Micky - drums and guitar, J.J. Gaylord - vocal
I had decent guitars, keyboards, mics and the mixing and recording would suffice for the time being but I really wanted a better drum sound. Sometime late 1993, I bought a Yamaha DD-7 drum machine which had actual impact-sensitive strike pads. Along with its pre-recorded beats, I was able to mount it on a snare stand and I could program the individual pads to different sounds such as snare (much better than the Hit-Stix), a hi-hat (which I didn't previously have) and true sounding toms. In conjuction with the rest of the cobbled-together drum set, this unit provided a considerable sonic step up. Shortly thereafter, I bought a cheap set of real drums (seen in a photo below). This set only consisted of a bass, snare, hi-hat and one tom-tom but it was real drums much better than the toy stuff.
My first real drums
Also, throughout 1993, my sound processing improved as I got a new (old) guitar amp. Previously, since I had blown my old Fender Bassman amp, I had to run the guitars and bass through the record section of an old Fisher cassette deck as a pre-amp in order to get any drive out of the guitars. I managed to find, at little cost, several effects processors and a nice reverb.
In December 1993, I got my first 4-track recorder, a Fostex cassette machine. This unit was a very versatile and user friendly machine. I was on a roll now and I recorded several things throughout 1994 and assembled the Kaizen album that year.
Fostex X-18 4-track cassette
Regrettably, no images exist for this time period.
Shortly after Kaizen was finished, I bought a great addition to my gear. Although I play drums, I'm clearly not an accomplished drummer. Thus, the Roland TR-707 Rhythm Composer allowed me to write material for drums that I, otherwise, would not have been able to play.
Roland TR-707 rhythm composer
A seed of change, that would grow into a profound impact on my musical direction would be planted a few years earlier. Even before I had begun to make music again. On a Thursday night in late 1988 or early 1989, I was introduced to a local girl named Kira Jones but we didn't get acquainted (we were introduced only because our respective families had a long history of friendship) and I all but forgot about her. Then in November 1992, we crossed paths again. This time, we slowly began to get acquainted (and it took me quite a while to realize this was the same person I had met over three years earlier). Over the next year, it was learned that we both were very fond of music and, in fact, she was even very fond of The Beatles. Especially, John Lennon. Soon, it was acknowledged that we both play music. I gave her some of my tapes to listen to. She seemed at least a bit impressed. Her comment was, "Wow, that 'Twisted' song was cool. How did you get those sounds?"
A short while later, she gave me tapes of her songs. I didn't really know what to expect because I didn't really know what music inspired her. I thought, perhaps, cover versions, silly love songs, songs about sunshine or something which were the typical topics I heard anytime some female whom I knew picked up a guitar. Much to my surprise and pleasure...
I WAS WRONG!
For starters, she wrote ALL her own songs. The chord progressions were simple but they were the perfect fit for the complex textures of her lyrics. She was an excellent wordsmith with a bent for the dark, hurt and angry which could immediately provoke images and emotions in the listener. Lyrics were never quite my forte and I was a bit envious. All this on top of a great voice able to hit great range. Pretty fuckin' cool, I thought!. Dammit, and she even liked The Beatles, too!
A short time later, I finally heard her play some songs in person, strangely enough, in the backroom of where we both worked. In person, I really knew her music was real. We were employed at the same job together for about a year. Meanwhile, we swapped tapes and talked a lot of music. One time, we happened to both be at a party and played guitars a little bit. Remembering working with Lisa Marquez a decade earlier, and my interest to work with a female singer (fueled by PJ Harvey), I wanted to make music with her. But nothing ever developed from it. Our individual worlds didn't really cross paths.
One evening in late 1994, she came in to work and told me of a dream she had the night before. The dream was that she had died and was buried at night. However, the coffin had a glass top and, as she was buried, she could see the bright, full moon. As the evening progressed, she began to write down some lyrics on a scrap of cardboard. Once she was finished, the song that would be our first joint effort, "Burry Me Under The Moon", had been born. Some time later, she made two demo recordings of the song and soon gave me copies.
Throughout 1995, we no longer worked together and almost drifted apart when, late in the year, I decided to embelish one of her vocal/guitar demos of "Bury Me Under The Moon" with additional instruments (Note: the finished song is heard on the Worm album, After Z...). Sometime around New Year's Day 1996, with the finished song in hand, I came knocking on her door. "Here, put this tape in." "What is it?" "Just put it in, you'll see." When she heard it, she almost began to cry.
Almost immediately, it was decided to get together to make some music. Our partnership had begun.
Meanwhile, during the latter part on 1995 and the first part of 1996, I was working on my best set of recordings to date.
After Z... would be my first album to include new songs featuring someone other than J.J. Besides Kira's song, I also recorded a song with my old friend Joe Wickerham. This song, "I'm Available" was written by Joe when he was in a band several years prior (he too, had not played music in years). He really enjoyed the experience and, after nearly fifteen years, I was finally working with new musicians.
After Z... became a full onslaught of sonic experiments. Inspired by Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio, I even produced my first orchestral composition "Synphonia". Of course, I didn't have an orchestra. All the instruments, except the drums, were created by my Yamaha keyboard.
Recording After... Z at Crowded Studio in 1995
At the onset of these sessions, I finally bought a nice five-piece set of drums (seen below).
These drums are heard on all subsequent recordings (with the exception of Frank's Closet).
After Z... - 1995
It was during the summer of 1995 that I had another opportunity to play live again. As mentioned earlier, this was when I sat-in on one set when Lisa Marquez did some performances in town. Because I had returned to playing music, the timing was perfect and I believe this is what prompted me to work on Kira's "Bury Me Under The Moon". It was also, at this time, that I recorded a version of Lisa's song, "Darkside Of My Heart" (featured on After Z...) which I don't think she's ever heard.
In 1996, I finally got a top-notch multi-track tape machine. This was a TEAC 1/4" 4-track recorder and was an incredible advantage to my projects. This was a real tape machine! In addition, my knowledge and techniques had improved substantially which provided much improved sonics for my next album, Stumbling In My Brain.
TEAC A-2340 1/4" 4-track recorder
My first actual session with Kira was at my home studio on February 16, 1996. Initially, our work essentially served as a platform for Kira to record her songs and the opportunity for me to work on original music that wasn't actually mine. This was my first real step into the producer's seat. In producing my own music, I had only myself to answer to. With Kira, I had to consider her strong-minded opinion. Our first song was her new song titled, "Betrayal". A dark, broody, hellish song of unrequited love. Four takes were done and I worked on it for a long time with the intent to use it on my next album, Stumbling In My Brain but I couldn't find what the song needed. It wouldn't be until 2003, when Stumbling was finally finished, that I would come up with a good mix for it. In the meantime, a second and much superior version was recorded. The second version, recorded in 1997, made it difficult to produce a cool mix of the original version.
During the rest of 1996, we recorded about ten songs, most of which would rarely surface again. Late in the year, I came up with a song that I simply could not find words for. Finally, during a session on January 29, 1997, I mentioned to Kira that I had a song I needed words for and wondered if she thought could come up with something. She took a tape of the instrumental song and on February 12, 1997, returned with the lyrics. She said, "Get your guitar and play the song". I got the guitar, hit the record button and the song "Queen B." was born. For the next month, I worked on an arrangement integrating her words then, during a late night session on March 18, 1997, we recorded our first truely collaborative song. This early version of "Queen B.", found on Stumbling In My Brain, is quite blistering compared to the second version which would appear on our first album, Frank's Closet.
Also, at the February session I asked her if she'd like to sing on a cover of a friend's song I was recording. Thus, during the March session, "Stinkman" was also recorded. With a new vocal this instrumentation was used for the version found on Frank's Closet and with yet a newer vocal in the "October On Planet X" trilogy on Worm's Stumbling In My Brain.
"Stinkman" would remain a part of our regular repitoire.
Stumbling In My Brain - 1997
Most of this was recorded on my TEAC recorder.
Again, no images exist from this period.
It's difficult to theorize how things would have continued from there. That is, if things in our personal lives had stayed the same. As it happened, within the next month, both our lives would suffer drastic changes. Instinctively, we both turned to our music for sanctuary and the coincidence of us both experiencing trauma simultaneously brought a closeness. You know how it is... misery loves company.
On to Part Five