In the fall of 1989 at BYU, I formed a ska band called Swim Herschel Swim along with my drummer roommate Rich Hillquist, lead vocalist (and tromboner) Rod Middleton, bassist Russell Cluff and guitarist Rick Anderson. I wrote a bit about Herschel in 2005, here. It should be noted that the Merkley mentioned there has since let his light out into the world a bit more than I was aware of then and has released a book (warning, NSFW) as well as created a sizable and well-deserved following on flickr (warning, NSFW).
I recently discovered digital files (copied digitally from a DAT) of the stereo “master” used for our first cassette released in 1991. Over the next while, I’ll be sharing these tracks along with a little bit of needless tidbitery. This is mostly a selfish endeavor and I’ll ask most of you to bear with me as I exorcise a segment of my glory days. I’ve used Logic Express to mess around with EQ as the frequencies tended to the treble. I also did some widening, compression and other enhancements to fatten the sound and get it closer to what it sounded like when we played live. I’ve tried to stay away from the George Lucas tendencies to create a new reality with the sound and structure. I’m still blown away that 18 years later, I can do this work easily and quickly in the comfort of my home with a computer and a $300 off the shelf application. At the time we made these recordings, one piece of pro gear was around what I paid for my computer. A good studio would have a few rackfuls of pieces of pro gear and cost at least $100/hour.
Minor Audio Nerdery
In the fall of 1991, we had survived the dreaded summer break and added a saxphonist, Sam Reisner, to our lineup. At our first big gig of the fall semester, we had a great take from the door proceeds and decided to take very small individual payouts and pool the money to record. We recorded these songs live over a two weekend period and then came back in to record vocals and add sweetening. All the recording was analog and the studio was super inexpensive. I believe we used a 16-track and mixed down to analog stereo and DAT (digital audio tape, for the uninitiated). We sent the DAT off to be mastered and I can’t remember if I duped the DAT or I had the original DAT to make the files that I used to remaster these songs.
Forgive the performances as we didn’t have the time or budget to do retakes (for the most part). These are single take performances with minor overdubs. Even the vocal overdubs are single take performances. I can’t believe we made recordings like this back then. And that I’m using the words “back then” is doubly painful.
This first post is a long one, the following posts shouldn’t be quite as long.
Ever since I returned from England in 1986 as a Mormon missionary, I had wanted to start a ska band. I figured we might not get a label deal, but it would be a hell of a lot of fun and we’d be able to play a lot as the music is extremely danceable and features horns. I’m a big fan of horns.
In 1988, drummer Rich found a duplex to rent that featured a sizable basement for rehearsal. For two semesters after we moved in we had a couple of different bands and the basement was key in being able to rehearse. Those first two bands were cool and all, but personal and creative differences forced splits at the end of each semester. It was difficult to sustain a band for longer than a semester in Provo. The first, Room 13 was a cover band that spanned late 80s britpop and alternative genres. I think we had 3 shows. The second, Scuba Bus, was a whiteboy soul funk cover band that featured a freshman bass player who would later become one of my closest and lifelong friends. Scuba Bus played three shows, clearing the rooms at two of them. Imagine a less tight, pre-Blood Sugar Sex Magik Red Hot Chili Peppers and a super white Truth & Soul Fishbone sans horns and that was Scuba Bus. I’m sure Rich has a cassette or two of those shows. Rich is a fantastic archivist.
In the spring of 1989, I met Rod Middleton, who was acquaintances with Rich & I’s roommate Bill. I don’t recall how, but toward the end of that semester, Rod was sitting in our living room talking about ska. Rich and I said that we needed to get together in the fall of ’89 and see what happened. Rod knew Rick (who was a bass player by trade, but wanted to play guitar in a ska/reggae band) and I believe that Rick and Russ (who Rich and I had played with prior) had been talking as well.
Over the summer of ’89, Merkley moved into our rehearsal space and took it over. He had painted crazy shit all over and made the room look less like a set from a horror movie and more like a creative space with his detritus strewn about. We were going to throw him out, but he agreed to give us back our rehearsal space and we agreed to have cheaper rent because the rent stayed the same and we just split it four ways instead of three. Sweet deal all around.
Rod and I were marching band nerds in high school and as the band was forming, we talked a lot about powerful horns and how the first notes a marching band plays have to be loud enough to peel paint off cars a quarter mile away.
One of the first songs we wrote as a band that was Swim Herschel Swim material was this song, which features a very pep band horn line with a kind of minor key modal bridge that would set the tone for most of the music we’d write over the next four years. The original bass player, Russell Cluff, left on a Mormon mission shortly after we previewed this song and was replaced by Jeff Hubbard on bass. More about Jeff in subsequent posts.[audio:http://media.libsyn.com/media/dooce/Baby_Babaar_-_remastered_1.mp3]