“If you're crazy enough you'll get your own band.”
It took me three or four years to make the vocal end of the Apocalypse Krew album happen. The bitch of being a working class artist never ends. I watched the recording of the basic tracks happen from afar. Musicians were introduced to the project----some contributed, others had to bail. I got sent most of the basic tracks through Dropbox. I tried to send lyrics back through Dropbox but that didn't work so well. Oh, well. Technology turns to dried shit in my fingers.
Mike and I needed to address some things going into the project---most notably the fact that close to 25 years have passed since the Apocalypse Krew were actually a “Thing”. It's a different world, and goddammit, we're two very different people from the guys who formed that band back in the mid 80s. Do we come at it from a different, more mature perspective? Or do we pick up where we left off?
To put it bluntly: Does the S.E. Apocalypse Krew, in our old age, clean up our act?
Short answer: Hell no. To quote Mike, “political correctness is getting pretty ridiculous.”
“Getting”? Shit. It was an idiotic proposition when it first reared its ugly head in the late 80s/early 90s...I made up my mind back then that no one would ever convince me to call short people “Vertically Challenged”. Despite media fueled hysteria I'm personally convinced that ninety per cent of all people, whether they're on the right, the left or the two-headed giraffe contingent, don't give a rat's ass about political correctness. It has next to no bearing on anyone's actual life outside a handful of handwringing campus radicals who live in a bubble world they can't see outside of, but which disappears shortly after you graduate. Whatever will they do?
I've been a free speech advocate my whole life. It's been a driving factor in most things I've done. From the time the Chelmsford City Council decided to ban “The Warriors” at the local cinema in the late '70s to Tipper Gore and Susan Baker and their PMRC witch hunt in the '80s to the Dead Kennedys and their bullshit “obscenity” trial over the H.R. Giger art in the “Frankenchrist” album, my path was pretty much laid out for me. This was going to be my fucking war.
I carried that aesthetic with me from my days as a zine publisher to my days as a public access TV producer, where my crew and I actually faced an obscenity hearing. Yeah----thanks for presenting me with a battle I spent my entire adult life preparing for, douchenozzles....I got to make monkeys out of an entire city administration and all their sycophantic buddies in the newspapers who threw in to help make their arguments for them. And I got to dog them all for years afterwards.
My journey (I hate that term, by the way---why's everything gotta be a goddamned JOURNEY these days?!) as a free speech advocate has been a bumpy one, though. Most of today's Free Speech Poster Boys are troglodytes and morons and I can't relate to them at all, don't want to be associated with them and am not interested in their quandaries. I was having a conversation a couple of months ago with an old colleague and we were touching on some pet peeves----political correctness, censorship, morality policing....he was alluding to a lot of the nonsense going on on campuses these days, what with PC brain police, trigger terror, Social Justice Warriors et. al. And he told me, “Gamergate was really just the tip of the iceberg!”
And that was about where my brain broke.
“Gamergate”. Okay---my read on Gamergate (as a non-gamer) was that it was primarily about a bunch of dingleberries who couldn't get any and who lived in their parents' basements freaking the fuck out because GIRLS were actually trying to assume a place in gamer culture and so they reacted the way any enlightened individuals would---with verbal abuse, harassment and threats of rape and murder. Yeah, gee, who couldn't get behind that?
“No, no,” goes the other side---”it's about ethics in Gaming Journalism!”
AH. YES. Okay---that explains away all the rape and murder threats PERFECTLY.
So it became apparent my old colleague and I were at a philosophical stalemate. I'm of two minds when it comes to the SJWs----more often than not I agree with them, at least until they start policing peoples' language and trying to put Trigger Warnings on everything. If their meds are balanced enough to where they don't need to go there, maybe we can sit at the table and talk.
This was a philosophical inner conflict that might not dominate the recording and rewriting of certain songs----but it came up periodically and it was always worth writing about when it did.
But from bands to writing to the zine to political activism to video and now back to the band, I knew in each and every instance the fight I was probably in for...I've fought against the death of irony since people declared it dead after 9/11 and I fought for the importance of context since 2007 or 2008, when a number of citizens fell all over themselves in an attempt to ban books in the local school system...they later wound up forming the crux of the local Tea Party---a much-overlooked blow to anyone who thinks these clowns are the new champions of freedom---the only freedom they're concerned with is their own.
And I'm still fighting for the importance of context—--something that should be a no-brainer to most people. It'll come up several times in this series.
Not that it should have to, but......pleebs.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BRANDING
“Know who you are...know where you're going to.”
If there was anything we were good at with the Apocalypse Krew, it was forging a distinct identity. Whatever the hell else was wrong with us---from living in a suburb without much culture to musical schizophrenia to our inability to find and keep musical collaborators----we were good at drawing a concrete picture of ourselves.
We were washing dishes at a hotel at the time—our white (and more often than not stained and mottled) work shirts became part of our visual identity; we began drawing band graffiti on our disposable folding paper hats and it was only a matter of time before we started defacing old work shirts with similar graphics. The “Band”, such as it was (and it was barely a band---it was more of an attitude problem on wheels), turned into a lifestyle. We'd rove around at night, stop in various fast food joints, people watch with glaring contempt toward everyone and scribble lyrics, legends, cartoon art and slogans in our notebook, assigning wherever we wrote the designation of “Pit”. Friendly's Pit. Mall Food Court Pit. Denny's Pit. They were all pits. We looked around us and there was no hope.
My original vision of the Apocalypse Krew was of less a concrete band and more of a loose collective engaging in a series of terroristic, random “performances”----home invasions set to music. I saw us as kind of an amalgam of the Fugs, the Sex Pistols and Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, pulling up in a truck in a shopping mall parking lot, berating the consumers with horrific, antisocial acoustic “songs” and then blowing out of Dodge before the cops showed up.
Mike was learning to play guitar (his original musical experiences were as a drummer) and as he learned his way around the fretboard the band's music began to take shape. The vehicle was hard rock, although if you looked at any of our “Musicians Wanted” flyers you would have seen the immediate problem...musical influences included Van Halen, the Velvet Underground, the Mothers of Invention, the Sex Pistols, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Suicide, the Stooges and Black Flag.
Do WHAT, now?????
So we'd get guys who were trying to put together a Fate's Warning cover band and they thought we were too punk. We'd connect with a Clash fan who thought we were too metal. We briefly had a Lynyrd Skynyrd-loving, music theory-obsessed drummer who wrote all his songs in G (“It fits my voice”) and whose frequent response to our songs was “I don't know where THAT'S going!”
It was best typified by us showing up to rehearsal wearing “The Two Dead Guys”----Mike in a Jimi Hendrix tee-shirt, me wearing an Ian Curtis shirt. No one would ever understand.
But goddammit, no matter who we confused the hell out of, we had our branding down!
A lot of the visual identity we crafted revolved around logos and catch phrases (“What your subliminal mind is coming to”, “Your worst nightmare come true: People who think”, “I hate Everything/Everyone/You”) and these little cartoon characters we called “DREGS”. They typically wore white short sleeve workshirts, long bangs that covered their eyes (a defense mechanism?) and were often seen curled into fetal positions as if they couldn't take one more minute of living. One Dreg I drew was all red-faced, aggro and enraged, with tears in his eyes, screaming, “go ahead, pig---beat me up----I'll make you pay!!!!” The guy knew he was going to get his ass kicked and there was nothing he could do about it-----but he would devote the rest of his life to hurting his oppressor/persecutor in every way humanly possible. The Dregs were what we saw as caricature proxies of our assumed audience, but also, to one degree or another, ourselves and the brash-but-maladjusted attitudes reflected in our songs.
I was coming up with phrases like “Nerd Rock” or “Loser Rock”----Mike preferred the term, “Fuckup Rock”. In the run-up to re-recording the songs I thought of “Postal Rock” (we were natural maladjusts who were fascinated by the trend of “going postal”---”Taxi Driver” was a common favorite movie and we even entertained the notion of writing a concept album about a guy going postal).
By the early 90s we had drifted apart a bit----I had begun focusing on novels and short stories (I eventually started this little zine that did okay for a while) and Mike had begun playing guitar for this prominent local prog rock band. Still, it was hard to let go of a beast like the S.E. Apocalypse Krew. A lot of our material was damned good---Lollapalooza was happening, Alt Rock was happening, bands like Jane's Addiction were breaking out and a lot of the old, archaic barriers between “Punk”, “Metal” and whatever else were falling apart...we liked this and we kept recording demos but it was never enough.
Mike got busy with a legit gig and I drifted further down the rabbit hole of writing and xerographic publishing. His fortunes took him on tour around Europe, mine took me across America, where I eventually landed in Northwest Arkansas and that led to eighty billion other things.
The Apocalypse Krew, though, like some latent tumor, never really left our brains.
SPIRIT, NOT THE LETTER
One thing I began noticing with the recuts of the old material was that not all of them were According-to-Hoyle. I had enough oldass demos on ratty, 20-plus-year-old cassette tapes to where a number of the arrangements were burned into my brain. This wasn't a major issue---it enabled me to mess with some arrangements and write some new verses to flesh things out. It led to some things getting interesting when we set down to record.
Mike informed me, while we were recording vocals, that when he and Brad the drummer recorded these tracks he went more from ballpark memory and didn't rely on the old recordings for a reference point at all.
And having learned that, I thought he did a stellar fucking job. For an intuitive methodology, Mike nailed it.
THE DEVIL SENDS THE BEAST WITH WRATH FOR HE KNOWS HIS TIME IS SHORT
Riding into Boston with my brother Steve we immediately went into planning mode. How many nights would I be spending in New Hampshire? Three. How much of that would be spent recording? I guesstimated, maybe two and a half days. “You guys are doing, what? Nine or ten songs?” I guessed---I had a few lyric sheets in my overnight bag. I really didn't feel like digging through it for an official count. “That's pretty rough, trying to get through that in two and a half days,” he said.
I inwardly shuddered. I hadn't done any serious singing, recorded or otherwise, in the twenty-someodd years since the Apocalypse Krew first stomped around Nashua, throwing our ugly business around however we could. Practice? You've gotta be joking. I've spent the last twenty years in Fayetteville living in a succession of tiny apartments, usually with paper-thin walls. “Practice” wasn't about to happen.
A daunting challenge, but where there's a will there's a way. I'd overestimated on one point: That first half day of recording wound up being a wash. And I'd underestimated on another. Nine or ten songs to lay down vocals on? No.
There were seventeen.
Seventeen songs in two days....quite the challenge indeed.
We had one strange bit of luck that was going to turn the whole circumstance in our favor, though; I'm a bad singer.
That's not to say I'm a badass singer or a really super-awesome singer....I'm a terrible fucking singer. Always have been.