Monday, April 25, 2016


So it was that Mike McAdam and I finally got together and  entered the studio at North Main Music to start knocking out vocals for the S.E. Apocalypse Krew album. It was the morning of April 6th, 2016.


In this age of contrived TV pop star contests like "The Voice" and our late, un-lamented "American Idol" (Okay---I'M not lamenting it----I guess it's not fair to drag you into my rotten attitude) the notion of being an untalented vocalist is probably some weird anomaly that gets scuttled early on in the elimination process and summarily forgotten in the maelstrom of yodeling, warbling, camera-ready ninnies, at least 'til the reunion special. But all or most of my heroes were guys with limited or no vocal ability; Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, John Lydon, Joey Ramone, Stiv Bators, Jello Biafra, Darby Crash, Alice Cooper, Lux Interior, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Alan Vega and any of the guys who were in Black Flag.
One of the great appeals of Punk Rock to me (and I'll confess I got to the party late---it wasn't until the early-to-mid '80s that I fully embraced the genre) was the beautiful, field-leveling effect of “anyone can do it”. In listening to the Pistols, the Heartbreakers, Flag or the Stooges it began to hit me that even a no-talent schmuck like myself could grab a mic, start a band and air out his sizeable beefs with the world under the auspices of rock'n'roll.
When Mike suggested reigniting the Apocalypse Krew and recording the old songs again I think I made some mention of his own vocals. Mike is technically a much better singer than I ever was. Don't believe me? Listen to his solo work. 

His immediate response was, “you're the only vocalist for this band!” For my money, Mike has several songs under his belt that fit just fine into the Apocalypse Krew milieu and his vocal histrionics on those numbers are equal to the task.
But who was I to deny the chance at tying this chapter of my life into a neat little bow and giving it to the world with a smile?
One thing I always loved about our music, though, was that we had a modicum of natural diversity and versatility, to where we could play a blistering punk rock rave-up and then switch gears to something more sludgy and metallic, throw a few weird little jazz figures into the mix, bust out the acoustic guitars for a funny folk tune, then go into kind of a weird funk jam. And even as a guy who can't sing, I can work with these changes and create something interesting to listen to. I like to think so, anyway.
I remember at some point in the late 90s/early Oughts, I went to see this metal band---I can no longer think of their name---they were a big deal in metal circles at the time---they'd just been signed to a major label, as I recall, and played one of the bigger local venues at the time. A well-known local band I was friendly with opened---they were playing without a bassist at the time and were definitely in a period of flux----it made no real difference to the music and they still blew the headliners off the stage.The headliners played music that was somewhat derivative of Iron Maiden----lots of dual guitar leads and some time changes....two or three songs into their set you'd heard everything they were going to do----there were no slow songs, no fast songs---no real SONGS to speak of----everything ran at the same pace and it all kind of melted together after awhile----no hills and valleys---the same thing over and over.
When you go to see a band like the Rolling Stones, they might start up with “Start Me Up” and continue with “Rocks Off” or “Brown Sugar”, but it'll only be a matter of time before they change it up with “Sister Morphine” or “Miss You”. Then they'll come back with a rocker like “Shattered” or “Jumping Jack Flash”, but you know in a few songs they'll change it up with “You Can't Always get what you Want” or “Sympathy for the Devil”.
Or maybe those Stones are a bunch of deadass old fogeys. OKAY: How about Faith No More? They might come darting out at you with “From Out of Nowhere” or “Gentle Art of Making Enemies”, but then they'll throw something like “Falling to Pieces” or “We Care a Lot” at you. Later on they'll bust into “Strip Search”, “Motherfucker” or “Evidence”--they'll go all gospel with “Just a Man” and then they'll goof on you with “This Guy's in Love with You” or “Easy”.
My point is that I kinda prefer bands that do that. To one degree or another, I try to do that.
Same goes for singers, including a lot of current bad singers. I hear a lot of people who are doing the Black Metal or the Grindcore or the Screamo or the Hardcore and it feels like they only do one thing. A lot of hardcore vocalists run on a non-stop menu of one-size-fits-all hoarse roaring that guys like Henry Rollins or Phil Anselmo put in the map---minus those vocalists' level of nuance (quit laughin').
And my point is, nuance is good. Switching gears is good.

We are not stupid boys but we want to do it wrong”

Mike opened up Pro-Tools on his computer.
Okay----as a Video Editor, this one was familiar to me. It was not unlike looking at a timeline on Final Cut Pro or Avid.
“So, you wanna softball one?” He asked.
I thought for a few. “How about 'Melissa'?”
Mike brought up a timeline for “Melissa”. It was a natural starter where we could calibrate things. “Melissa” was probably the simplest song in our consists of one simple goddamn riff. Our old theory-headed drummer once told us the riff was a Vamp. We laughed at this at the time, but he was a well-read cat who probably knew whereof he spoke.
I got into the booth and the feeling-out process that would accompany every song went down. I put on the headset and bellied up to the mic and the de-S'er screen as the familiar, bouncy riff kicked in.
“I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” I screamed, kicking the song off.

“You were once immortal
Now you're a pig
You were making motions
with the other side”

Mike killed the music. “Okay---is that how you're gonna do it?”
“Yeah, more or that okay?” It was a question I would ask about six hundred times over the next two days.
“Yeah, it's good---I'm just trying to find the right level. Stand back from the mic a bit.”
We would routinely go through any given song a few times. Mike would need to find the level that was appropriate for however I wanted to do the vocal. I'd have to run through it once or twice in order to “find” the arrangement or at least get acclimated to the song. And then there were the snafus.
One thing I'd gotten very bad about after twentyish years away from the mic was nailing my cues.
A couple of takes into “Melissa” he told me, “there's a lot of stuff in here where you're coming in late to your lines but it kinda works...there's a whole raw, imperfect kind of rock'n'roll vibe to it.”
I came out of the booth and gave it a listen. Mike was right---I was coming in late on the shit. As it was landing I could accept all of it except the last verse, which was so bad even I couldn't deal with it. We punched in the last verse and I nailed it after a time or two.
“Melissa” was very much Mike's song....with the new recording I heard that it was a fair bit longer than it was originally and so the last verse was one I came up with.

“All day long I'm walking 'round with shank eyes,” I squawked.
“All these jokers got a walking blowjob, I want an open door, I get platitudes and snowjobs!”

It's not a nice song. It's not a mature song. It's probably one of the single most obnoxious songs we ever did.
I remember partying with some co-workers back in the Apocalypse Krew days. One guy referenced a female co-worker we'd had once, saying, “we called her Merry-Go-Round, because all the guys got a turn riding her.”
I got all dark and said, “I never rode her.”
My friends ignored me and went on to another subject, which was probably smart.
I liked the girl in question. Part of me was bothered by hearing her referred to as “Merry-Go-Round”, but a bigger, darker part of me was angry because I would have liked a ride. What the fuck was wrong with me? The endless refrain. I couldn't step outside that conversation at the time, of much of what these guys said was smack talk? Was the fact that I was this outcast, this imploded Asperger's case, the reason I couldn't hook up with a girl?
Yeah.....that probably had a lot to do with it.
“Melissa' is the ultimate piece of freaked-out, horny's the stupid, raging Boy-Id on parade.
The imagined charges by the emotionally and politically dainty types could be seen mounting. Those awful guys in the SE Apocalypse Krew. They're sexist, they're misogynist, they're homophobic, they're racist. They have less than your maximum daily allowance of Roboflavin.
“Melissa” is not a song that will help in this regard.
When I exited the booth, Mike was laughing. “Sung like an insolent five year old throwing a temper tantrum,” he chuckled.
Was that a good thing? Under the circumstances, yes it was.
“Melissa” is not just a song about being rejected or ignored---it's a song about being slighted in favor of someone you consider to be way the hell beneath you. It's the musical equivalent of being bitten in the face by a retarded dog.
We listened back on it. “Whaddya think?” He asked.
“I'm okay with it,” I said. “What do you think? Is it any good?”
“Yeah,” he said. “The thing about it is, this is one of the easiest songs we're going to do---we have a lot more to go through and a lot of them are going to be more complicated than this one. One of the things that's working well in our favor is that this isn't the way I'd normally record vocals. With you, it's like, what am I gonna do? Say, 'Try it again----you were a little flat!'?”
Well, I told you already about the advantages of being a bad singer.
We were off and running.


Once again, you've judged a reflection of yourselves. Your children will rise up and kill you...LA will burn to the ground. Los Angeles will burn to the ground.”

At this point I'm delivering a ballpark memory of the docket as we tackled it (I was allowed to dictate the songs and the order in which we recorded them).
“Threats and Warnings” would not, by my guesstimation, be a really tough one to do, but it was a big one. Initially, I think that we wanted to entitle our first album “Threats and Warnings” and it was obviously one of our big numbers.
It's a heavy and dynamic song and there's a lot going on in it, musically speaking. When you listened to the SE Apocalypse Krew we pegged this as one of the songs that defined us.
The song kicks off with a descending fireball of a riff, accompanied by avalanching drums.
“ You shielding the kids from the power of choice/they'll be fine, just don't give 'em a voice/
Keep their brains shut and feed them video sedatives/preserve the future from the power to know/
Keep on lying in the lid's gonna blow”
I actually took it down a peg on the vocals, here, compared to the old demo, where it was just a lot of leather-lunged bellowing. The words are important, give 'em emphasis.

And as that cascading riff-hem subsides, I bark, in a militant staccato, “S!E!A!K!” The main riff starts in earnest.

One thing I've always loved about hiphop (and, to a somewhat lesser degree, hardcore punk, especially the old stuff) is the exclusive lingo, the tribalistic language, the fact that you have to be in the fold and know all the secret phrases---it's gangspeak. In Punk, Suicidal Tendencies were the absolute kings of this---a lot of the fan uniform art you see on their first album reads, “gang”---it's all very tribal. To paraphrase John Shelby Spong, don't ever discount the power of tribalism. Tribalism is the reason people fly planes into buildings. Black Flag also understood this back in the early days----those tags of the Bar Logo were everywhere in they were very much regarded a gang sign and an emblem of quasi-terrorism on the punk scene. Chanted initials comes from the same place. I was trying to create the same tribal impulse.

“The lies you've built will explode in your face/
Your petty fabrications will rip themselves apart/
Joke of your deceptions is an open book/
Our songs are Threats and Warnings”

On “T & W”, more than anything else we did, there was a push toward the Mansonian Credo of “Make it Witchy”. I wanted to make it plain that if proper, puritanical society went down the tubes and suddenly we were dealing with violence and riots per Ms. Good's social prescription, the S.E. Apocalypse Krew understood and we were okay with that.
Yeah, my mind goes to dark places sometimes. Frequently. Okay----most of the time.
The original ending lyric for “T&W”, almost spoken as the furious intro-riff kicks in again, went something like, “when someone reaches out to you/ you smile and say, 'I don't see it, everything's great'/and then you wonder/why people like me are so full of hate.”
For the new recordings I scrapped this and shoehorned in a bridge section from “Caustic Youth”, an older number of ours that fell by the wayside.

“ 'Don't worry, be happy' says the man on TV/
something about that fails to impress me/
like rats in a maze you obedient scurrying/
now I think it's time to start worrying”

And I'm aware that I'm really dating us with the Bobby McFerrin reference—-in the end, what can I tell you? We're products of our time.
What had been going on in my head since I started reworking the song was this---”T & W” is one of our better songs, hence it was worth recording, but it has no contemporary context to speak of. I wrote it as a reaction to authoritarian bullies like the Moral Majority and the PMRC. That climate no longer really exists...mostly society seems ensconced in kind of a blanket blandness. As much as people ballyhoo Orwell, I'm more of a Huxley guy. Who needs jackbooted oppression when you can just feed everybody their Soma and give them all the soft-pedaled convenience they want? The Revolution will not be televised----the Revolution may not be happening. Fuck, man, “The Kardshians” are on.
Which is why I did a double-take when we wrapped it up and Mike said, “it's truer now than it was back then.”
Is it? Okay, nice if that were the case. We'll see, I guess.
Coming in late on my cues was a chronic problem for me. It would continue to be a problem for the entire session. Mike espoused the belief that rock'n'roll is not a perfect art, and corporate rock acts like Foreigner, Styx and Journey, with their squeaky-clean precision, were, in essence, a ruination of the form. I was never a huge fan of any of those bands, and I wasn't about to argue.
Where the mess-ups were sufficiently “Rock'n'Roll”, we just let it bleed. Where they were so outlandish and stupid that even I couldn't let them go, we went back and did them over. And we kept on going.


Truth is Parallel”

“The Blind Leading the Stupid”, aka “Truth is Dead”, was a weird little anomaly we could softball. It's actually a very tasty, atmospheric little jazz jam that jumps out from the pack of crunch-riffing, screaming and fury. There's a fun little bit of guitar/bass interplay while I read a short spoken word piece.

“Truth is Dead. Facts, whatever 'facts' are,
have been replaced by factoids and carefully-orchestrated
pie charts. Educators are being outmoded by ass-kissers
and line-towers. Soothsayers are being rubbed out by
statisticians and polltakers. Truth is dead and exhumed
as a neon cartoon character. Truth is a subjective whore,
up for grabs to the highest bidder. But why take my word?
After all----what am I but another liar?”

I wrote that in the mid '80s, watching the 24-hour News Cycle in its full, infantile glory, watching the guy from the right wing of the CIA argue with the guy from the left wing of the CIA on “Crossfire”. Now? We're on to some next level shit....the adherents of Fox News and the adherents of MSNBC are running around with two different sets of “facts” in their head and in the infotainment cyclone perceptions of reality are hitting a level of schizophrenia we've never seen before. People live in different realities.You can argue all day as the veracity of my ravings on”Threats and Warnings”----with “Truth is Dead” it gets truer and scarier by the day.
I'm sorry I got that right. I'm sorry I got that right.
There were several cuts of “Truth” (mostly instrumental) floating around on various tapes over the years...until I was recording, there was one thing that never hit me, and it was that the current version Mike had whipped together was much shorter than I was used to. The earlier rendition had me spew my little hypothesis and then let the jam breathe for a while. As I nailed the final version in 2016 it occurred to me that as the last word was leaving my mouth, the last note of the song was fading. I always thought Mike's tasty instrumentation was the highlight of the song, but the current version never got out from under me.
Listen good to that music while I ramble, 'cause it's worth hearing.


Someday a real rain'll come and wash all the scum off the street.”

Time Bomb” would be an easy one, because we knew it well and it was a song that remained fundamentally unchanged since the early '90's. It comes charging out of the speakers like a mad bull and before you know it, it's stampeded over you and it's over. Except for Mike's sharper, more concise guitar work, you could liken it to something an Oi band like the Exploited or Discharge might have pumped out.

“That picket fence that I can't get behind/
the barriers that burn inside my mind/
one look at you and I get bad ideas/
I lost my head, now I'm a time bomb!

Can I co-exist with you/Can you co-exist with me
Can I even pass your test?/ Not as far as you can see!”

The protagonist of “Time Bomb” is a guy who can't cut the mustard in society. He can't even get in the front door. And somebody----probably someone who doesn't deserve it---is going to pay.

“And now I've got a big surprise for you/
Bullet with your name on it!

Can I co-exist with you/Can you co-exist with me
Can you even pass my test?/ Not as far as I can see!”

I think that we wrote a whole slew of songs along the lines of this theme---”Time Bomb” was the big winner.
We got through it pretty quickly.
We'd hit our stride.


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