Steady Hands meets Shaking Through…there’s a fantastic pun in there somewhere. On November 15th, Weathervane Music released the latest installment of their extremely excellent “Shaking Through” documentary series that dives deep into the the makings of a record and the humans behind it. Up this time is Steady Hands, the project of Modern Baseball’s Sean Huber that is rounded out with Andrew Kirnan, George Legatos, William Lindsay, Evan Moorehead, and Richard Straub, all familiar faces from around the Philly scene. It’s Huber’s project, but it’s one he wanted to share with his friends. “From the beginning, I just wanted to be more of a collective than anything. I’ve always wanted the energy of everyone just collaborating, enjoying what they’re doing.”
The episode follows the making of Steady Hands’ track “Magazines” at Miner Street Recordings, where Huber worked as video editor and recorded his first Steady Hands songs when they were just a small side project as a favor from producer Brian McTear. Continue reading →
Longtime Philly singer-songwriter Cynthia G. Mason is ready to emerge back onto the scene after an eight-year hiatus. Mason, who was previously a mainstay on the local acoustic circuit, took some time off after 2007’s Quitter’s Claim to focus on her family. But, as she tells it, she started to “ache” for the need to create music again, and luckily for us, she’s returned with Cinematic Turn, her first EP since retreating from the music world. During a recent phone call, Mason shared details about her transition back into music and what’s so special about this album. Continue reading →
Ben Walsh likens it to being in a relationship with someone nearly eight years when they to suddenly tell you, “I can’t do this anymore.”
“Obviously it took us by surprise when they told us that they weren’t going to continue on with the band,” he says of when three of the five members of his Scranton-bred, indie-leaning pop punk band Tigers Jaw decided to leave. “We kind of weren’t sure what was going to happen.”
Walsh and band mate Brianna Collins broke the news that vocalist/guitarist Adam McIlwee, bassist Dennis Mishko and drummer Pat Brier to fans via their Tumblr page in March 2013. Many followers interpreted the message as a definite end of the band. But now it’s more than a year later, and Tigers Jaw’s just released its third LP Charmer – an album that debuted at number 49 on the Billboard charts, and one the departed members still helped Walsh and Collins record when they decided to carry on as the band’s sole permanent line-up.
“We talked about the record and got them back on board because it was something that we all worked so hard on and were really proud of the songs,” Walsh says, adding that more than half of the songs for the album had been written when McIlwee, Mishko and Brier announced they were leaving. “We all wanted to see it come into fruition.”
What came to fruition on Charmer is what Walsh calls the band’s most cohesive record, and what Collins says is “exactly how I was picturing our band would sound recorded at the time.” If the album art for their break-out 2010 self-titled release – an unidentifiable 20-something preparing to eat a slice of stringy cheese pizza – was a sign of Tiger Jaw’s then youthful energy, Charmer’s artwork – an ornate doily handmade by Collins – is an apt sign of the band’s maturity.
“There’s a mix of slower, more delicate parts and there’s plenty of faster, more hard-hitting parts as well,” Walsh says of the album. “We were able to cover a lot of ground on the record, and still managed to make it sound pretty cohesive. We were able to experiment a little bit more with dynamics and layering not only vocals, but layering acoustic guitars and things like that that we haven’t really done a lot of in the past. Another big difference was getting Brianna more involved with writing and singing.”
“Working with Will had a huge impact,” adds Collins of Studio 4’s Will Yip, who produced the record. “Layering vocals and all of his little input and ideas that were really on the same page with, at least in my opinion, what we were trying to do.”
Walsh and Collins have been through a lot in the past few years that has forced them to grow up, not only stemming from their experiences with Tigers Jaw. Both came to the end of college and were faced with many new responsibilities, along with new freedoms. It’s this transition that Walsh is responsible for Charmer’s darker vibe, both lyrically and in the way it sounds.
“There’s still a lot of energy put into it,” he says. “Maybe [it’s] not as raucous as some of the earlier stuff, but just as much enthusiasm was put into these songs as any other songs that we’ve written, if not more.”
Though he’s sometimes heavily influenced by what he’s going through personally, writing for Charmer was the first time that Walsh really turned to another medium for inspiration. More specifically, it was interplay between characters on the show Twin Peaks, which is even cited by name in the song “Nervous Kids.” Both Walsh and Collins really enjoy the show.
“It’s so interesting. It’s so in depth and the themes are so dark,” Walsh says. “I got pulled in by just the small town interactions that everybody has, where there is so much going on underneath the surface. I think that’s the really cool thing, you go to a place that may be completely different than what you expected based on its outside appearance. I think there are a lot of themes on this record of duality, and things that can maybe be taken more than one way. That’s definitely something that we pulled from a lot of the stuff that happens in Twin Peaks.”
While they’re not writing music or binge-watching TV, both Walsh and Collins have also almost completed all requirements for becoming teachers in their designated fields – Collins for art whilst living in Kingston and Walsh for speech therapy while working at a school in Central Pennsylvania.
“Nobody at my job knows what I do,” Walsh says. “None of my kids, none of my coworkers or anything, know that I play in a band or anything like that. It’s kind of a strange separation. It’s almost like working two full-time jobs [because] we don’t work with a manager, so we both have a lot of extra responsibilities apart from our jobs and also from writing and practicing music. So it’s a lot, it’s a big commitment, but it’s been totally worth it.”
“It was weird today, I had to tell my bosses that because they were like, ‘What are your plans for the summer?’ being like, ‘Yeah, I’m traveling and having a life. I am actually in a band,’” adds Collins. “‘My hair will be blue tomorrow, so be warned.’”
Tigers Jaw will start their summer tour on Monday when they headline Union Transfer. Playing in Philly feels much like playing to a hometown audience, Collins says, with Walsh adding that it’s one of the next best things now that Scranton is almost devoid of places to perform.
“It’s definitely different working with different musicians when we’ve played with the same people for so long,” Walsh says. “It’s sort of refreshing. I kind of miss the styles of the guys who aren’t in the band anymore, but at the same time it’s cool having some new experiences and drawing influence from the new people we’re playing with.”
Walsh says that he’s still very much on good terms with the band’s former members. McIlwee is still making music under his solo moniker, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, while Brier and Mishko remain in Philly’s own Three Man Cannon.
“They’ve always been one of my favorite bands and they don’t get nearly as much attention as they deserve,” he says of Three Man Cannon, who released a new album just one week before Charmer was scheduled to drop.
“Hopefully more people start to pay attention. I’ve definitely been seeing them get some more press, seeing song premieres on different websites and stuff, which is not something their band has really gone after too much in the past. But it’s really nice to see them getting some credit for the great art that they create.”
When news broke that Three Man Cannon was set to release its new LP, Pretty Many People, on May 27 via Lame-O Records, most headlines made sure to include that the band featured “ex-members of Tigers Jaw.” Drummer Pat Brier deems that widespread association, well, kind of silly.
“Dennis and I, we were in Three Man Cannon for about two years before we joined Tigers Jaw,” he says. “We weren’t actually in the band, we were just filling in. … For me, and I think Dennis and I have talked about it, it’s so silly because none of us really thought about it like that with either band. It’s something that is very much, unfortunately, fabricated. Not fabricated, but just totally taken out of perspective.” Continue reading →
Re-animated punk rock satirists The Dead Milkmen are getting all seasonally affected on us. With a big Halloween show at Union Transfer happening at the tail end of this month, the band let some spooky vibes seep into the recording sessions they’ve been holding at Miner Street Studios. Check out this YouTube clip drummer Dean Sabatino posted over the weekend – amp noise, echo, eeriness. It’d be kind of awesome if the entire next album from the Milkmen sounded like this. For more Milkmen, dig into their Key Session from 2010.
Driving to the studio, I was imagining layers and layers of distorted guitars rumbling under piercing riffs. And I wondered how that could possibly come from a band that wrote the dream-pop gem, “Bite Yr Tongue.” (Perhaps it was in Big Troubles’ reach, but it wasn’t something the band had tried on its previous LP, Worry.) I arrived with the Pelly twins as the band was laboring over the guitar part that carries the song’s bridge; lead singer Alex Craig was trying what seemed like the fifth different way to finish it off. The final take took strummed guitar bends into overdrive while multiple sustain tracks derailed underneath. After enough takes, Alex came in the control room so we could all listen to the complete mix of bass, drums, and guitar.
“I was expecting the general sound quality to be better than on the demo, but I wasn’t expecting anything that huge,” said co-curator Liz Pelly. “In comparison to Worry, it almost sounded like a totally different band.”
It was one of those moments where—as it played back—everyone quietly smiled and nodded heads. The sound was massive. The bass guitar punched back into the verse section before the song stopped altogether. The band hadn’t finished yet—but it was a sample of what could be done in this caliber of studio. Producer (and Weathervane co-founder) Brian McTear oversaw everything that went on in Miner Street. While Big Troubles grew enamored with the possibility of tones and effects, McTear stressed for them to trust the quality of the song. After all, they had access to gear they’d never touched, only listened to, and certainly couldn’t replicate.
“I remember (engineer) Jon Low and Brian doing take after take after take of this maybe 30-second snippet of the song, doing it over and again until the blend was just right,” said Y Rock’s John Vettese (who was photographing the session). “The attention to detail is what makes the song. When you hear it mixed together, it’s this towering, dense, epic thing—and the reason it is that way is because the Weathervane team spent so much time working though it.”
Admittedly, most of the recording sessions I’ve had the privilege of sitting in on grow tedious. But there was a different energy about my experience at Weathervane. So much effort and documentation was going into creating a single mp3. Who has time for something like that anymore? —Chris Zakorchemny
Via Weathervane Music’s Twitter: Mariner Nine—the band Weathervane Music co-founder and local producer/engineer extraordinaire Brian McTear originally formed with David Boyd, Jason Knight, and Matt Neal (as Mother’s Garden) back in 1990—would have officially turned 20 years old today. (The band’s first show was on January 12, 1991, at The Hill School in southeastern PA—which McTear, Boyd, and Knight all attended.) To celebrate the occasion, the four original members of the band (along with “manager” and honorary member Tyler Harold) returned to the studio last year to record a few new tracks. The three-song EP, appropriated titled “Twenty,” was recorded at Miner Street Recordings in September 2010 over Labor Day weekend. You can listen to the first track, “AZ-yoosa Plane” (featuring lyrics and vocals by McTear) below; all three songs are available for free download via Mariner Nine’s Bandcamp page. You can also check out a handful of older songs (and an extremely detailed bio) at the band’s MySpace page.