Burn Swim Burn – Shut Up

I thought I’d do a similar thing that I did with I Wish I Had a Raygun with the CD Burn Swim Burn that my college band, Swim Herschel Swim, released in 1994. I’ll be posting each track and share a story or two.

The making of Burn Swim Burn was traumatic, took too long and was painful. Listening to these tracks to do a remaster brought back a lot of bad memories, things I wished I’d done and said differently and finally a realization that at the time we broke up, we were really tight.

In the fall of 1991, our original drummer, Rich, left the band to take a post-college job in California. It was a devastating blow for the band at the time. Rich brought a lot of punk energy to his playing and pitched in with song structure amongst other things. In rehearsal, he was a strong voice for those early songs, “How about we play it four times here and then we do the other thing and then we go back and hit it two more times?”

That same fall, a guy called Matt whom I had seen in jazz combos and masterclass approached me in a computer lab on BYU’s campus and asked if I played in Herschel and if we were looking for more horns. He had a blistering, up front trombone style that was perfect for the band. He joined up pretty quickly afterwards. So we lost a drummer and gained a sweet tromboner.

In our desperation, we grabbed a drummer from BYU who was in the audio engineering program. He only lasted a few months. It was clear we should have done auditions. After we started auditioning for the replacement drummer’s replacement, the guitarist, Rick decided that he would quit after we had several conversations about where the band was going and why we were pushing so hard to find not only a talented drummer, but somebody who fit the personality of the band and would be willing to tour. At that point, we had decided to push for a record deal, but ska bands were not exactly the hottest thing going in 1991-92. Our new direction meant a lot of shows, a lot of time on the road and a lot of rehearsals.

So we were going to need a guitarist as well as a drummer. We auditioned a bunch of great drummers, but I’ll never forget the day Pat came in and set up his kit.

Pat had a vintage silver sparkle Camco kit (drum nerds should be drooling) and he had a double headed kick drum with a reflective head facing outward. I knew Pat’s brothers from jazz combos and the summer I spent playing bass drum in the marching band of a local amusement park. Pat’s brother Greg is a superb musician (that whole family is, honestly) and I figured that if the genes carried, we’d be in a good place to have Pat in the band. We started playing and from about the third or fourth bar, it was over. Pat had the jazz chops to improvise, finesse and listen to others as well as the tight rhythm that we wanted. But what really turned me on was the sound of that kick drum in our rehearsal space. Side note: the summer before my junior year of high school, I attended a music clinic (definitely not a band camp) where the percussion advisor was none other than Pat’s dad, Bob. Dude was awesome. Bob was also the percussion composer for the amusement park marching band. Utah is small.

During all of this, Jeff said the only way he’d stay in the band is if he’d be the guitarist, which was his main instrument. That meant we needed a bass player. I had played with a great bassist named Kent during the 1989 winter/spring semester in the short-lived band Scuba Bus. Back then, Pat’s brother, Jeff, had recommended him as an up and comer. Kent was back from his LDS mission and had been playing with a couple of other bands in Provo. Kent wanted in as soon as we told him we were looking for a bass player.

I’m not sure, but I think Kent was there when we auditioned Pat. That audition session was the first when I felt like losing Rich and Rick might not be as bad for the band as I thought it would end up.

I can’t quite remember exactly when, but at some point in 1992, we lost Jeff and Sam (sax), who both quit at the same time. By then, Jeff had contributed a few more songs, which made it onto the CD, and are still some of the strongest songs we did. Sam was a great energy in the band, but at that point, we’d all been listening to a ton of Fishbone (The Reality Of My Surroundings) and that’s the direction we wanted to go with our horns. At least that was the direction I wanted us to go. We added a smoking sax guy at this point called Andy. Andy played the tenor like nobody I’ve ever known. Soloing was never a problem for him and he brought intensity and fire to his playing. Fit perfectly with what we were trying to go for.

After lengthy arguments and conversations and auditions of a bunch of different kinds of guitarists, we added Lou the super metal guitarist and began to redefine our sound as less strictly ska and more of a horn-infused metal with inklings of ska. This would be the final line up of the band:

Rod: Vocals
Jon: Keys
Kent (King Loses Crown): Bass
Pat: Drums
Lou: Guitar
Matt: Trombone
Andy: Tenor Sax

During our final months together, Rod and Kent had half-aligned by wanting us to move more towards punk, less pop. I figured that with a keyboard and horns, the only way we’d get signed is if we followed Fishbone. At that point, No Doubt had not broken huge. They had massive support in California, but they were still not a household name. Fishbone played SNL the spring of ’92 and toured with Biohazard. That show was off the hook. I digress.

At the end, Merkley had a bunch of songs we were doing and some of those made it onto the CD. It made the tenuous arrangement with him easier and more difficult. I don’t mean to make it sound like Merkley was the only tenuous part of the band dynamic. I had a couple of rough semesters in ’92 and when my day job took off in ’93, I was not sleeping very much, playing a lot and working a ton of overtime. I was pretty frayed. I said things I shouldn’t. I had considered quitting the band a few times during all of the line up changes, but when we opened for No Doubt, I really wanted us to finish the CD, so I stuck it out.

* * *

With all the new members, we were adding new songs pretty quickly. I can’t remember who brought this song in, but I remember that this was when it was clear that Rod and I were coming out as liberals. It’s kind of quaint to remember it like this. Being a liberal in Provo is only a few clicks above being gay to the rabid fundamentalists down there. In my family, my outspoken rants about the Gulf War (fought for oil, I felt) and my subscription to the Village Voice were scary. I was in dangerous territory for them and being a liberal was not of or about the path to Jesus in their eyes. I would mark this period as the time when the most deep cracks began to appear in my Mormon beliefs. It’s not that the band or the “rock and roll lifestyle” appealed to me more than LDS living. It was how people responded to the band. That only made me want to play harder, make more art and push boundaries. In some ways, my energy that should have been spent in therapy talking through religious issues was spent playing Dm9 chords as hard and loud as I could while jumping up and down as much as possible. It was definitely cheaper to use the band as therapy.

The lyrics in “Shut Up” reflect an incident where the first President Bush (or someone in his administration) told somebody to sit down and shut up. I think the lyrics are also prescient about the “nanny state”, where we expect our leaders and our governments to be our parents.

Recording this song was a blast. Lou was working an internship at a studio in Orem. The studio was part of the complex of the Osmond Studio. It has been renamed a few times, but at that time, it was being run as a separate entity from the video production part of the complex. As part of Lou’s internship, the owners said that Lou could come in after hours to learn the equipment. As part of that, Lou thought we could go in for a couple of nights and record. I’m guessing this was in the winter/spring of ’93. Our first all nighter in, we recorded five or six songs. That included separate takes for vocals and punching in to fix playing problems. Pretty incredible, I think. We came back a second night some time later and pulled another all nighter doing sweetening and mixdown. The studio and all the outboard equipment at that time was like a candy store. It was far nicer than the studio where we had done Raygun and the board was automated. We were in way over our heads.

I had been using a combination of my Roland D-50 and an Ensoniq EPS sampler to get my keyboard sounds, but the studio had a Hammond B3, which is the bread and butter of any serious rock keyboardists arsenal. The problem with B3s are many. They aren’t made anymore, they use tubes to get their sound and the leslie speaker that is paired with it is heavy and a bitch to haul around. My digital keyboards fit the bill ok for a small band trying to make it big, but I wanted the B3 sound so badly I could taste it. I had never played one before and by the time we got to my tracks (I had laid down scratch keyboard parts earlier in the night) it was about 7:00 in the morning. Kent and Pat had to get going, so they were loading out their gear while I was trying to track my B3 parts. The sound wasn’t as ballsy as I wanted and everybody in the control room was complaining that the organ sounded weak. I pushed the volume pedal to the floor and the organ came alive. I recorded all of the organ parts in about 30-45 minutes, with dudes standing next to me waiting for me to finish so they could move drums to Pat’s car. I think it worked out well.

The most immediately noticeable thing about this track is the vocal track. Back then, we wanted to sound like we were “current” and recorded Rod’s voice through a guitar distortion pedal. I think it suits the song, but it’s a huge departure from Raygun.

Epilogue/Production notes
These remasters were done using a different set of software tools than I Wish I Had a Raygun. The stereo separation and tracking were fine, it was just that the sound of the tracks on Burn Swim Burn CD are so thin. In subsequent conversations with Merkley, I think the person who did the mastering for the CD was new at mastering and the tools of the trade have gotten better and cheaper as computers have gotten more powerful.

After I discovered how much better the tracks could sound, I did a quick pass over the CD tracks and I’m now in the process of refining the other tracks. For those of you expecting strictly ska, give this track a listen. It’s not that ska.


Direct download: Swim Herschel Swim – Burn Swim Burn – Shut Up (MP3, 320kbps constant)

More to come.