kyle cassidy (kylecassidy) wrote,
kyle cassidy

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In the Studio With the Dead Milkmen

If you don't know the Dead Milkmen, you probably should. My favorite song of theirs used to be Stuart which is weird and hysterical and funny, but in the intervening years between the album Beelzabubba and today the Milkmen have grown up (a very little) and I think my favorite song now is Caitlin Childs which is a crazy true story about a 16 year old girl harassed by the FBI and various other government organizations for protesting outside of a Honey Baked Ham factory. I'm not kidding. They're both great songs and I think they show that whole range of this wonderful band. (Ok, there's also Punk Rock Girl.)

They're in the studio right now doing a followup to their last album The King in Yellow. And, because that's how things roll, I'm in the studio with them, along with Brian Siano, whose shooting some video.

Rodney Anonymous (on the right) playing keyboards. Clickenzee to Embiggen!

I'd noticed over the years that frontman Rodney Anonymous had excellent taste in movies and music. He had a list on his web page and I agreed with everything. Later he started a radio show called Rodney Anonymous Tells You How to Live where he played amazing bands like Rome and VNV Nation, and Ego Likeness. He's not just an elder statesman of punk rock, sitting around trashing hotel rooms and being down on things -- that was never the Milkmen's style anyway (I have a feeling they might have made their beds when they left hotel rooms on tour) he's actively helping other people out and doing all sorts of fun things. Lately he's been live-tweeting Downton Abbey and if you haven't witnessed that you need to get out your whatever and follow @rodneyanon and wait for the next installment. It's very funny. Probably even funnier if you're actually watching it too. I know Amanda Palmer's played Dead Milkmen covers, and she & Brian both love them. I can't find video of it (post it in the comments if you do.) But I did find a writeup from when Rodney went to dinner with Neil & Amanda which you can read about here. The circle tightens, and all your idols end up in your living room, playing Parcheesi.

Joe Jack Talcum tunes up. Clickenzee to Embiggen!

Joe wrote (and sings) Punk Rock Girl, he's the one you remember from the video. (Though Rodney's the one who handcuffed himself to Downtown Julie Brown when they played Club MTV, so you might remember that.)

Drummer Dean Sabatino and a $6,000 AEA ribbon microphone. You may clickenzee to embiggen!

I had no idea how difficult it is to record drums. I figured you just miked every one of them, but there's a big science to microphone placement which is measured with a bunch of strings attached to each drum and then making some weird geometric shape at which Legrange point a microphone is placed.

Dandrew on bass. Clickenzee to Embiggen!

One really odd thing about being in a situation like this where most of the basic tracks are done at once with everybody in one room is that unless you're wearing headphones, all you hear are drums. You see people hitting keys on keyboards and you see people strumming guitars, but it just sounds like a drum solo with some words being completely drowned out by them, so you kind of have no idea what the song sounds like until they play it back.

It's a guitar! Clickenzee to Embiggen!

I was shooting with a Panasonic GX1 and GX7. The GX7 is a better camera and has a silent mode, which is very nice, but it's just so dang ugly I have a difficult time picking it up, so I shot a lot with the GX1 as well. I used mostly a 45mm f2.8, a 14mm 2.5 and an 8mm f 3.5 -- the 8mm was pretty useful in the booth, and also for shots that captured the whole room. Most of the rest of the time it was the 28mm and closeups with the 45mm. I did a few studio shots with a flash too but I wasn't paying attention to the focus and they're all a bit off.

View from the booth. Clickenzee to Embiggen!

They're recording at Miner Street Studios, which I can say without violating my Non Disclosure Agreement, because they're not there anymore, but it's a lovely place owned by producer Brian McTear.

They're recording on TAPE. Which is very punk rock. Clickenzee to Embiggen!

If you've listened to the song Stuart, that's pretty much just Rodney talking. Everything he says is like that. Someone just needs to put recording device around his neck 24/7. The rant I remember best was someone telling him that some old fort was haunted and him saying "Why does everybody say 'some old fort is haunted' why are ghosts drawn to some old fort? If I die and come back as a ghost I'm going to haunt the grotto at the freaking Playboy mansion and watch bunnies @#$ing. If there actually are ghosts that place should be packed so tightly with incorporeal beings that you couldn't slide a piece of paper in there and you'd have no idea where all the moaning was coming from, but no, everybody says the ghosts are in some creepy old basement." It went on like that for about 15 minutes.

Listening to the takes. You may clickenzee to embiggen!

So months after this, overdubs get added, then things get mixed and eventually an album comes out the other side, it's a long process, even for punk rockers. Which, I should point out, is why you should buy your music from artists -- because making it is time consuming and extremely expensive.

That said, what's your favorite Dead Milkmen song?

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