You may want to read this post if you haven’t. What I’m going to say today will only sound coherent if you have the backstory.
After our initial two gigs, our bass player left on a Mormon mission. We had known this from the outset and were actively searching for a somebody. I can’t remember how we found Jeff Hubbard, but he came by the house to talk and listen to music. This was probably October, 1989. That summer, I had lived in Oakland with my sister and her family in an apartment where I lived in their large walk-in closet under the stairs. I knew the bartender at Yoshi’s, when it was at its tinier location. I got to see a few great acts perform there, one of them was Bill Frisell in support of his album Before We Were Born. Bill Frisell was part of the downtown late-80s scene that included John Zorn amongst others. I bring up Bill Frisell because it was the tipping point for Jeff Hubbard wanting to play in Swim Herschel Swim. He was a huge Bill Frisell fan, saw the disc in my collection and Jeff felt that if I was cool enough to know about Bill Frisell, everything else would be gravy. As a plus for us, Jeff had already done his mission and wanted to play in a band that did original material.
Like most of us, Jeff was not a super ska freak or “dedicated to the scene”. Sure, I had mod shoes and a parka as well as spent a summer on a Vespa P200, but Rod (lead singer) and Rick (guitar) were by far the most versed in the genre and brought a lot of cover influence as we started up and started to write songs. Before you label me a fashion poseur, I never wore those clothes onstage. Yes, we were a ska band, but that was just the biggest influence. As you’ll see, we had other influences that crept into our music and I believe that helped us stay popular with the kids.
Our first shows featured one or two originals, the rest of the set being covers of ska classics. Over time, we’d bump off the cover songs and be able to do complete sets of all original songs. We probably should have just started this way, but people wanted us to play after they found out there was a new ska band in town.
This song, “Clueless”, was one that Jeff brought in pretty early, probably November or December of 1989. Since he wrote it on guitar, he got to play guitar on it and it shows. It wasn’t a strictly ska guitar sound or technique and the chord progression says more about Jeff’s taste in music than ska purity. I think that’s why we liked it so much and it stayed in the set list pretty much the entire time the band was alive.
During the mixdown, Merkley (and I think Rod) wanted to have the guitar solo sound less “mainstream” and thought that by jacking the EQ, that would make it more alternative/punk sounding. I resisted, but not strongly enough. The engineer (Ron Saltmarsh) stopped us and said, “I’m a guitarist. If somebody messed with my tone like that, I’d kill them.” Ron was a super easy going guy and great to work with, but we clearly had crossed a line. He begrudingly took all of the meat out of the guitar sound and that explains the “back in the distance” sound that ended up on the stereo mixdown. Of the myriad things I could change, I’ve always wanted to hear this song with it’s proper solo sound intact and not butchered for the sake of trend. Would it sound too “commercial”? I don’t know and I don’t care. Alas, Jeff’s full, meaty and deliciously worshipful-of-the-Guitar solo is lost to the analog gods.
The female vocal on this one was my first wife. She’s a great singer and at the time we recorded the vocal overdubs, I pushed a bit to have her in the band as a full-time member. Merkley resisted (he had been through a disastrous break-up and I believe went through at least a few years of hating women; that’s how it appeared to me, anyway) and Rod seemed to kind of like the idea, but it was nixed when it was clear that we were coming dangerously close to the Janine character in This is Spinal Tap when Nigel and Ian quit and Janine began to manage as well as play tambourine onstage. Sidenote: There is probably a weird Janine/Merkley thing that surfaced at this time as well. Merkley is a strongly opinionated personality and he asserted himself as producer very heavily. His ideas and influence were, then as now, hit or miss. He was the one that suggested a female backing vocal for this track (excellent choice) and he was the one to power through the notion we neuter the guitar sound (not such an excellent choice).
As with the previously shared track, I’ve done some extensive work on the EQ as well as trying to find a balance between purity and compression so that the sound is as true as possible while also being consistent with aural expectations of today’s ears. God, does that sound pompous.[audio:http://media.libsyn.com/media/dooce/Clueless_-_Remastered.mp3]