“When you were in Chicago in ’97, is that how you initially met Steve Albini?” I ask Bubba.
“Well, actually, I met him at a show in Minneapolis in ’95, or something. And then we wanted to try recording with him. It was after Beheaded came out, and we went and we tried the studio—which was then in his house. We recorded a few songs and we thought it was all right, but we weren’t that happy with it. We got to know him really well. He, Matt and I kicked off our friendship with a huge argument that kind of set the tone for our friendship—and we’ve been great friends ever since.”
“What’d you argue about?”
“Oh, you know, we were arguing about mixing,” he laughs. “That was when we first met—we don’t butt heads about that stuff anymore, but that was the first time we really butted heads about anything.”
“There’s such a stark difference between the first two albums you recorded, and then the last Bedhead album and the two New Year albums he recorded,” I say.
“Yeah. Yeah,” Bubba nods, reaching out to the table for his water.
“So after that first argument, Steve had to grow on you, in order to even make it through all those future sessions.”
“Well, that—and, the first recording we did with him, I still don’t like,” Bubba confesses. “You know, there were just a couple of songs, and it was recorded when he was building the new studio. We had talked about going back to try the new studio, and we went up to record all the songs that would be Transaction de Novo. So we went up there and we got to this new studio, and…you’ve been there?”
“Yeah,” I say, “it’s such a beautiful place.”
“Oh yeah,” he agrees.
“I worked at a studio just outside of New York—in Hoboken, New Jersey—last summer. I flew out to Chicago for my sister’s graduation from Northwestern, and went there for a day. The intern Andrew [Mason] gave me a tour. It’s just…”
“And so vastly different from where I was working. It was incredible.”
“Well, imagine Studio A completely undone—it hadn’t been constructed yet, so all there is is Studio B. I think we were the second band to ever record in Studio B. If I remember, I think Dirty Three had just recorded, and they were the first ones. So we go there, and you know, it’s a cavernous place. So we go and record; the first song we played was “More Than Ever.” So we recorded that, and it we thought it was the pits. We thought it sounded terrible—so much reverberation on everything. And it did sound bad, in my mind. We just got into a huge argument about it, and it was tense—really tense. And we were like, ‘This isn’t working.’ So we got in this huge—hours long—argument. And Steve eventually sort-of threw up his hands and said, ‘I can’t do anything about it. This is what it is.’ So Steve left at some point, and Matt and I were asking each other, ‘What the hell are we going to do?’ We talked about going to use a studio in Memphis, called Easley. It actually caught on fire recently…”
“Oh! Right, right, right. I’ve heard of Easley. ”
“We were seriously thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’” he continues. “So, we finally just went to bed and we were thinking about leaving—that’s how bad it was. We had basically written it off, and we were trying to figure out what we were going to do next. We woke up the next morning, and it turns out Steve was feeling the exact same way that we were—he was really upset about it. So he said, ‘I’ve got some ideas.’ Whereas, the night before, he put up a brick wall. So we moved things around, we put the guitar amps in the dead room. We got things balanced. We did things like putting some filters on the kick drums and snare to get rid of the—” he blows a lungful of air out his mouth, making a loud, washy sound.
“Yeah, both of those studios have so much natural reverb. I’m sure a lot of people think he just drenches everything in reverb, like that’s how he gets his sound. It’s really in the construction, though.”
“Oh yeah,” he nods in agreement, “it’s insane. We made it work. We re-recorded “More Than Ever,” and I’m really happy with it now. But you know, we had just gotten to know him at that point. We went from this period of just wanting to strangle each other to being great friends. Working with Steve turned out to be something that we obviously kept doing. Now, Studio A is, I think, just incredible—and it’s everything that Steve wanted it to be, too. When we go there now, we don’t have too many problems. We still have little things that he gets irritated with us about, and then new solutions come about. We’ll want to redo something and he won’t see the point. But, you know,” Bubba shrugs, “he’s not a producer, so ultimately, it’s the band’s decisions.”
“How long was there between when Transaction de Novo was released and when you pretty much decided that Bedhead wasn’t working anymore?”
“The album came out at the beginning of ’98, and we toured through March, April and May. We had done the big six-week tour in ’96, which was the biggest non-stop tour we’d done to that point. The tour in ‘98 was over seven or eight weeks long, with little breaks in between. It was all right. It wouldn’t be a big deal for a lot of bands. Next we went to Europe and by that point, that’s when it gets to the point where…I always say it’s like when you ask somebody who’s gone through a divorce to talk about it—they can’t really put it into words, you know what I mean?”
“Yeah…” I try to empathize.
“Everything just falls apart,” Bubba says. “Everything just fell apart in Europe and Matt and I just had it. So we broke up the band, I guess, after June or July of ’98.”
“And during the lull between the end of the European tour, and whenever you started with The New Year, what were you and Matt doing? Anything musically?”
“Well, we did that one last thing. The Lepidoptera ten-inch was the last thing Trance Syndicate released before they folded.”
“Then, later. Touch and Go re-released some of the earlier stuff,” I point out.
“Right. They re-released the three LPs. Trance Syndicate folded, the band broke up, Lepidoptera was the last thing that came out…there were a few songs, like “Gasoline,” and the song “Alter Ego,” that Bedhead had actually played on the last tour. They were getting worked out to be on the next record. “The Block That Doesn’t Exist” was starting to be worked out as well. Later on, around that time after Bedhead had broken up, Matt and I had about six songs, and we approached Corey [Rusk] and said—we had never submitted a demo to King, or anybody, King just said—and Corey would’ve too, I think—he just said, “You guys sound great; go and make a record.” We felt like approaching Corey in the traditional [method of] soliciting for a record contract,” he starts to laugh, adding, “even though there aren’t any contracts. So we said to Corey, ‘We would like to do something. We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do but Matt and I think that we want to make a record—just the two of us.’ So we went ahead and made a cassette and sent it to him, because people were still using cassette players up until five years ago.”
“Well, hey!” I say, motioning to the bulky Sony tape recorder sitting in front of him.
“Oh yeah, you’ve got one!” he recognizes. “Yeah… So Corey said ‘Cool.’ This wasn’t during the summer of ’98; a year had passed already. Matt was in Boston for sure, because he moved to New York in ’94 and then Boston in ’97 or ’98. During the end of ’99, into 2000, was when we were working on the finishing touches of those songs. We had just put the finishing touches on that Bedhead/Macha split that came out right at the beginning of 2000. Then what basically happened was, we figured, ‘Well, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to want to play, ’ even though we were thinking, ‘We have these songs, let’s record them.’ We’d kind of recovered from being in a band and all that. So we thought, let’s do it a little different this time—we’ll find some folks to play live, but we’ll be the core of the group. Since Brokaw lived in Boston, he and Matt had gotten reacquainted, and Matt basically asked Chris if he’d be interested in playing. We talked to Mike—you always tend to want to play with people you get along with. It’s not an easy thing to do—you hear a million stories about people trying to find a bass player, or a drummer or something, and we’ve been so fortunate—finding people has been so easy. Mike fell into place, and Peter we’d always played with. We’d played with him basically, off and on since ’94. Tench missed a lot of the biggest things when he was in Russia, and Peter was there for the Fugazi show, and things like that—the great moments. We decided late in ’99 we would get everyone together in Boston to see if it would work. The songs were finished. We’d given everyone the songs. I had gone over them with Peter, Matt had gone over them a little with Chris, and Chris was working out great. Chris is…” Bubba pauses, looking for the right words. “I love working with Chris.”
“He’s just an incredible all-around musician,” I add.
“Oh, yeah,” he agrees. “What’s so great for me is that I always wanted to play with a drummer who could play like Matt plays drums, because Matt’s a great drummer.”
“Oh, yeah! I saw him play with Consonant a few years ago. They opened for Shellac.”
“Oh, really? Wow. Oh, ok. I always loved the way Matt drummed. Chris plays like Matt—it’s the same kind of thing. It was great. We’d demo songs down to the second. It’s kind of ridiculous.”
“Would you use the world ‘perfectionists’ or is there too much stigma there?”
“Well, you know, I think Matt’s right when he says that saying you’re a ‘perfectionist’ implies that you end up with perfection. I’d say ‘anal’ is probably a better word for us,” he laughs. “We’d demo this stuff and we’d tell Chris, ‘The fill needs to be like this,’ and he would do it great and then never forget a single part. Everyone got along really well. We had a few different people in the sixth position. Andy Cohen [Silkworm], for the first tour, was playing keyboards and another guitar—because now there are songs with four guitars, some percussion and keyboard stuff. John [Engle], from Codeine, played a couple shows in New York and Boston with us, also. After we played a few shows, we recorded the album with Steve, and it came out in 2001. Then we toured the U.S. Italy…we did some shows in Scotland, places like that. The second record, we did the same thing pretty much. When it came out we toured the east and then waited to do the rest until more recently, this past April. Between the two tours, we went to Europe. The band just played a festival in Spain and a show in London, and then Matt and I did a few of the two of us together.”
“How does that work, when you two play together? Is it acoustic versions of New Year songs, or is it like the Hell House soundtrack stuff?”
“When the two of us play,” he explains, “we don’t do any of the Hell House stuff, or anything like that. We pretty much play whatever works with just two guitars. Scoring for Hell House, though—that worked out so well. We did music for each section that they wanted, and aside from one section out of nine pieces of music, they liked what we did right off the bat, and we didn’t have to change anything. It was the easiest, best time I’ve ever had recording anything. We went up to Electrical and recorded it in, like, a day-and-a-half. So it’s pretty easy to do, and it wasn’t stressful. And we got paid ‘X’ amount of money to do it. Zach [Mortensen], who produced it, and George [Ratliff], who directed it, are great guys who are doing things for the right reasons. Zach actually produced the video that we did, the video for ‘Disease?’ It was a pretty big undertaking, bigger than I thought it would be.”
“Really?” I ask. “Where’d you film it?”
“We filmed it at The Echo Lab. The guy who did the cinematography on it does all the cinematography for that guy, Richard Linklater, who made Dazed and Confused and Slackers—they’re from Austin. The guy who directed the ‘Disease’ video did a movie about Rocky Erickson, from 13th Floor Elevators—now he is an Austin legend.”
“I talked to Jeff Mueller about this, because Shipping News has the same predicament…but, do you find it hard to be in different areas all the time?”
“There are a few things about it,” Bubba starts. “One, it makes getting together a lot of fun. We just have a blast—marathon sessions. We all get along so well—and then what we did for the recent West Coast thing was, we flew out to L.A. the day before and got a rehearsal space out there. That was the first time we’d ever done that, usually we go to a place where someone lives. It was cool. We go to this L.A. rehearsal studio—I didn’t know what to expect. But usually, something will start in Texas where I’ve got a place for us to play, or it starts up in Boston. The West Coast is the one place where no one in the band lives. We have these two bases—which is good, too; we’re considered kind-of local in both Dallas and Boston. Both can call us their own in some way. If we want to play just Boston or New York, or just Texas, only two or three people have to travel somewhere…not all seven. That’s always cool. It does make weekend shows in some place easier. As far as the question of, ‘Do I wish we could be together more and practice more?’ Oh, yeah. That’s the downside. We can’t casually get together. It’s not a huge deal, because of the way the band works—in the sense that Matt and I like to have it all together before it goes through the rest of the band, anyway. If we were a band that jammed stuff out, we would be at a complete standstill—but we’re not that kind of band. Little things and problem areas get worked out when everyone gets together to play it. What we generally do is, Matt and I make recordings, and I’ll make CDs for everyone where it has the [entire] song, and [additionally] for Mike it will have the bassline isolated, and for Peter it will have the guitar part panned to the right side.”
“Does trepidation or fear creep into your mind during extended periods when nothing is happening?” I wonder. “Or are you pretty much used to it at this point?”
“It’s not fear really about that—it’s more like disappointment, or longing, you know? It’s nothing really bad. Right now is a little weirder than it has been in the past, because Matt’s been so busy—and I’ve been busy too—that, at this point, we usually have more new stuff written than we do right now. Usually it works itself out.”
“How would you describe the community of artists in Dallas, if there even is one. Is it a close-knit group?”
“From my perspective, I guess not. But, I think it is for a lot of people. There are groups of bands that I don’t particularly like that I know are pretty close-knit. As far as the other parts go, I don’t know what necessarily is going on in the visual arts, or things like that. The writers—I would say they’re close-knit. I wish you could have gotten in touch with Robert Wolonsky. Did you try?”
“Yeah—I left him a voicemail, and wrote an e-mail, but he didn’t respond.” I tell him. “You and a few other folks were kind enough to give me more names to call and e-mail, but those second-generation contacts were even less responsive than the bands I was initially asking.”
“Yeah, right,” Bubba chuckles. “Well, he’s a busy guy. The music writers are all involved. Not only are they close-knit, I don’t think there are any real rivalries or anything. They’re all pretty nice people.”
“Do they treat local acts with a little more…emotion?” I ask, recalling Jeff Mueller’s assertion that Stephen George treats music fervently.
“Maybe. We’ve always been on the receiving end of good press, locally. If you were talking to a lot of other bands from around here, they might say, ‘They’re all a bunch of assholes.’ The press is pretty harsh, usually. They rip bands to shreds on a regular basis. That guy, Wolonsky, is a master at it. Hilarious. He’s a great writer. He not only writes, but he has a show on Mark Cuban’s HDTV network that’s like a Charlie Rose-style show. All the big movie stars that come through here—he interviews them. So he does a lot of stuff like that along with his writing, and…I was on a plane back from California and he had an article in the American Way magazine. He’s like,” Bubba begins to say before laughing, “one of those guys who sleeps three hours a night. He’s awake reading novels this thick—” using both hands, he measure the thickness of a supposed book in question, “—to interview someone about the next day. He’s one of those guys. Yeah, I think there has been a pretty good longevity with all those writers—now that I think about it, they’ve been in their positions for a long time. I wouldn’t even know about the other arts. I know a few people who are involved in different mediums, but I don’t think about it like that. My life is kind of…day-to-day is like…I work here, then I’ve got a wife and two kids, so I go home and eat and we hang out from five-thirty until eight o’clock. Then, the kids go to bed, and from eight to midnight or one o’clock, I do music, recording, business, answering e-mails. My brother does some of that, but I do the bulk of it. So it’s just a non-stop thing. My days are really segregated, and scheduled like that. There isn’t so much that I want to do in those three or four hours that I have to use.”
“As far as the normal Dallas resident is concerned, how into local artists are they? Would you say they respect what you do?”
“Respect might be a weird word to use, Bubba says. “But, do local bands get popular? Yes. Your average fucker on the street—if a band gets played on commercial radio over and over again, their shows are going to be big. Just like any other band in a big city. All you have to hit is six-hundred people and your show is huge—you can pack a club. And really, Bedhead got to that point here at the end of our run, when we were still kind of—I think—considered a local band. Most of us lived here, except for Matt. We were playing shows that were, like, five- or six-hundred people. In Austin, we would draw seven-fifty, or something like that. People might not think that we were that big…I think there are people who think we were bigger than we were, and people who think we were smaller than we were—like we were this totally unknown band except to them and their friends. So, really—and for us it didn’t come about from things like commercial radio— a lot of the bands around that time and since then won’t be able to do anything outside of Dallas, except for a band like the Polyphonic Spree or something. It’s so weird—people may not realize how many real huge bands come from here.”
“I totally forgot they were from here,” I admit.
“Oh, yeah—Polyphonic Spree, Dixie Chicks, the Toadies…”
“And, yet, everyone remembers the Toadies,” I say.
“All that shit—millions of records. Shitty band—but millions of records sold. I think the one thing that’s different about this area from other areas—like, say, bands from New York or L.A. or San Francisco, is that a lot of these bands, because they’re so wild and different from each other, don’t get placed as a Dallas band. You don’t think about the Dixie Chicks as a Fort Worth band, but you do think about The Strokes as a New York band. You do think about Mötley Crüe being an L.A. band. You think about all those Chicago-area bands being Chicago bands. Austin bands are Austin bands. It’s the one thing that people don’t realize. Not that any of that is worth writing about—but I think when you look from city to city—I don’t think The New Year is seen as a band from here, which is one thing I really like. I don’t like being pinned down. I think this whole idea of cities and locations and how it effects bands, and how it plays into things like bands being popular in places where they wouldn’t be just because they’re from there, and then the exact opposite—bands becoming popular in other places because they’re from a certain area—that’s true with Chicago. In Europe, Chicago is a big deal—at least, it has been. These things ebb and flow, but the Chicago thing fits in other places—whereas in Europe, there really aren’t any other cities like that.”
“I can’t even think of many bands in New York like that,” I say.
“New York is New York. It’s huge in a worldwide sense, and in that sense it’s not really a big deal. So I think it’s one thing I would throw out at you about a place like Chicago. A lot of times, because we’re on Touch and Go, foreigners think we’re from Chicago. They see it as this, you know, group of people that’s more of a collective than it really is. You know a lot of bands there.”
“That goes all the way back to all the American underground stuff in the ‘80s. Big Black were huge in Europe.”
“Yeah,” Bubba agrees, “and you know, I guess, here in the U.S. the last time something like that would have happened was in Seattle, with Sub Pop. Because a band was from there, they got out. I don’t know—it’s a funny thing, because when you’re in a band on the road, and you just had a shitty show somewhere, or you just had a great show—you’re trying to figure out ‘Why?’ It’s hard to figure out, especially if you’re just blowing through a town. Touch and Go has always done a good job with us on press, so there will be an article on us everywhere we go. The beat is out on us everywhere, so we can’t say, ‘Oh, well, we got lots of press—that’s why it was great.’”
“As far as my own experience with press links,” I add, “Touch and Go was always the best to work with. Chad Nelson…anything I wanted to review and anyone I wanted to interview, he would accommodate me. What a great person.”
“He’s a great guy—a super guy,” Bubba says. “He’s actually leaving there in a few months. He didn’t say what he’s going to do, but he’s been there since right around ’94 or something.”
“Do you think there is a healthy level of competition between bands in the Dallas area, if any?”
“Here in town now?” Bubba says.
“Yeah, or during the Bedhead days…” I offer.
“I don’t think so. I feel like we hung out with the kind of people who weren’t like that, anyway. I wouldn’t know what’s going on currently in a place like Denton. I would think it’s friendly. A lot of weird things have been happening with Denton. A couple bands have been signed to Sub Pop…like, four bands have been signed to…do you know that label, Bella Union?”
“Oh, yeah! That guy somehow randomly contacted me through the Internet, I don’t even remember for what.”
“He contacted us about—” Bubba begins to say.
“He was such a weird guy,” I interject.
“He’s a freak,” Bubba agrees. “He contacted us about wanting to put out the last New Year record, and I mean, I could barely understand his e-mails, they were like—” he makes a sound like a dying fax machine, followed by blips and bleeps. “They were so scatterbrained. I turned it over to Touch and Go, and said if they could work something out then whatever, it’s your deal. I immediately called Matthew [Barnhart], who knows all the bands that got signed and he said a couple of the bands thought it was great because they toured all the time. It turned out the guy wanted some insane deal that Touch and Go wasn’t really going to do—I can’t remember what it was, but it was dumb—there are weird things that go on. So anyway, he signed, like, four Denton bands; a couple got signed to Sub Pop—Baptist Generals got signed to Sub Pop. I can’t remember the bands on Bella Union. There are a couple other bands that are getting a lot of airplay on KCRW and things like that—things I didn’t even know about. My only connection to that stuff is Matthew. He’ll let me know if something is going on. Matthew used to work here for us for a while.”
“Are there any other outside factors impeding upon arts in Dallas?
“I don’t think so. Like I was saying earlier on, I think it would surprise people how many venues there are here. People do play in these places—or Bar Soap, the coffee shop, some other—”
“The New Amsterdam Coffeeshop had a show tonight, too,” I say.
“You went that way?” Bubba asks, surprised.
“Well, I walked around the block a few times to see what the area was like.”
“New Amsterdam—people will play in there,” he says. “People will play in a new place, but then, two blocks away, there are two more places. So that’s a lot of places in the area—and you haven’t even gotten to Deep Ellum yet. That’s not counting the theaters or larger venues, either. A band like Polyphonic Spree will play the Granada Theater, which is in a totally different area, too. And there’s the Deep Ellum area, too—a lot of the clubs are totally cheesy down there. There’s a bunch of tattoo shops and shit. It’s still the big club. We played this club called the Gypsy Tea Room, which is a really great place. I don’t necessarily love the people who run it, but the venue itself is great; it sounds great and everything. The Tea Room holds, like, two-hundred people and the main ballroom holds maybe eight-hundred? We’ll get maybe four-hundred people in there. We played with Tortoise there last year. There’s [also] a place called Trees that’s been there forever. I just don’t think anyone has too much trouble getting a show…now, building an audience? That I wouldn’t know about. I have a kind of a different vantage point, too, working here, because a lot of the local bands come here—some which I’ve never heard and wouldn’t care to ever hear again—and you’d be surprised that after getting five-hundred CDs made, they sell them and need more. I can’t figure it out. I have no idea what kind of stumbling blocks [there] are for bands these days.”
“Do you have a lot of Dallas-pride?”
“Yeah, I do,” Bubba admits. “I’m pretty proud of our contributions, musically. I think that there have been a lot of cool things that people still don’t know about. There were a lot of bands here that were even moderately successful, that were better than people gave them credit for. All these different things that—because there was never an identifiable, singular sound like there was, maybe, for Seattle—that the area didn’t get much credit. There’d be a band like us, and then a band like Bad Livers or something—guys who came from rock bands, but with this…for them it was one guy playing the banjo, and guys would go to shows to see the banjo guy, to get lessons from him—and I always thought, ‘This should be huge.’ It was really good, too. I didn’t even like it for reasons like technical virtuosity—I just thought it was great music. They’re an Austin band, by the way. Other things like that, just different things. Peter had a really good rock band that burnt out at the height of their popularity. I think there are still some decent bands. As far as Texas goes, you know, I’ve lived here my whole life.”
“That alone shows a lot of—”
“Right. Exactly,” Bubba interjects. “I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I think that I like the people from here. Of course, you like people who you can kind-of relate to—who you’ve grown up with—but even someone like Albini once said, ‘I’ve never met a person from Texas that I didn’t love.’ He was real good friends with the Jesus Lizard guys, who were in Scratch Acid, out of Austin—so I think that whenever people come here, they’re like, ‘I can’t believe how friendly people are.’”
“I’m sure by the time my stay in Dallas ends, and I go down to Austin and San Antonio before heading through the panhandle, I’ll be able to form a similar opinion for myself,” I tell him.
“Oh absolutely. You’ll be surprised, I think. Also, I think that it changes in the bigger cities—but it’s mostly true. I kind of feel that even places like Austin, or Houston, or maybe Dallas…they’ve always been short-changed. Back in the days when Bedhead was touring and playing a lot in Dallas, Austin was getting a lot more credit for music—and we thought that was ridiculous, because there were so many better bands from the Dallas-Denton area. I still think that’s true of the time. There are little things like that, that I don’t think about anymore—but I’m definitely so out-of-touch with it now that I don’t think about it.”
“There are only two other questions that have popped into my head as I’ve been sitting here,” I tell Bubba. You mentioned your tour with Silkworm, and Andy [Cohen]’s sitting-in with The New Year…What was it like for you hearing the Silkworm EP where they covered ‘Lepidoptera’.”
“It was really weird,” he says. “I had no idea they were even doing it. I heard right before it came out what it was, and at that point they had some MP3s on a page on their website, and I checked it out. I liked their approach to it. At first I thought, ‘This is kind of weird,’ and then it kind of grew on me.”
“Yeah, the first time I heard it, the first track—the Shellac cover—is pretty jarring. But the more I listened to the album as a whole, the more I really grew to enjoy it.”
“Yeah, I thought the Robbie Fulchs song…”
“’Let’s Kill Saturday Night’?”
“Yeah—that was great. Of course, it’s always an honor when someone you like does something like that. I did, too—I definitely thought it was weird at first, and after the second or third time I heard it I thought…‘I like it.’ They did a good arrangement and, you know, to keep it within the limited instrumentation that they used.”
“Speaking of instrumentation, but a more technical question, I guess—one can only read so much about the slowness of your music before they start to wonder…when you write songs, do you have a tempo range you shoot for, or is it literally that slow all the time.”
Bubba laughs loudly and smiles. “It’s funny, you know—Matt and I were just talking about this. We were at a bar before a show and we were talking about the things that we wanted to do from here on out, and I said, ‘I just feel like, so many times, stuff ends up being slower than I’m perceiving it at the time.’ I’ll maybe have the perception later, ‘That was pretty slow’—but at the time I’m wrapped up in that particular groove so much, and I hear things more slow than fast. You take a particular song, and it’s more likely to feel rushed to me than slow. But then, really, the songs don’t ever vary that much from the way we initially originate them. Like, uh, we’ve never taken a song and said, ‘This is cool, but let’s slow the shit out of it.’ We don’t take it to that extreme. It always just comes out a certain way, and, you know, people forget we have faster songs.”
“Absolutely,” I agree. “‘Psychosomatica’ is a great song—and the last two or three songs on Newness Ends are all varying degrees of faster tempos…”
“Right,” he agrees. “Those were never slow songs that we decided to speed up, or anything. Some people have a weird conception of how records are made, you know? Especially on a level like ours, where there isn’t a lot of money in it. We have anywhere from ten-to-fifteen-thousand dollars, which is a great budget—a lot of bands don’t even have that much money. They think so much of the creation is happening in the studio, but for us, we just don’t have the time for that. We’re taking the songs and trying to capture a performance. There are no times when we think, ‘Hmm, I wonder what that would sound like if we revved it up.’ The only time we ever took a metronome into the studio was when we were recording Transaction de Novo. We knew that ‘More Than Ever’ and ‘The Present’ we wanted to be right at sixty beats per minute. Those both sounded good at sixty, and it turned out that it was a clock-tick, heartbeat kind of pulse. The beat is really on the second-hand of a clock. All we did was have a metronome, and we kind of—when we were practicing these songs, I said, ‘I bought a metronome, I’m going to play around and figure out what tempo this feels good at, and we’ll see what it is. We’re going to take this motherfucker into the studio and we’re not going to dick around,’ you know? We’re going to know that it sounds good and leave it. So, we made demo recordings with that. We knew it sounded good, and as it turned out, both of those were—by chance—the same tempo. We basically plugged that in to the headphone mix, and we told Steve that about ten beats into the song to fade out the click, so we’re not listening to the metronome and playing like terrible robots. So, on ‘More Than Ever,’ it goes through the guitar transition build-up and then it’s out—and ‘The Present’ it was in for a few rounds of the melody chord progression, and then it’s out. That was really a time-saving thing, just to have everything plotted out before we went in. There’s never an agenda. It’s just the way shit comes out.”
“This might be a stretch,” I preface, “but do you think that, inherently, it might have to do with having written for so long with Matt, and having grown up in a small-town, laid-back environment—like a comfortability thing?”
“It could be that it,” Bubba allows, “it could be a little bit of that. We played those early songs in bands prior to Bedhead, where we’d play it a little faster and it sounded ridiculous. To us, it gained a little more weight and substance—especially for songs like ‘Liferaft’—where earlier versions were too fast. It just didn’t have any weight to it. It didn’t grab you in the same way. It simply blew by, and each note didn’t ring with any sort of gravity. The same was true for—we used to play ‘Liferaft,’ ‘Living Well’ and ‘Dead Language;’ their prior recordings were all faster and they weren’t as good, in my opinion. It became better when you relaxed them—they were too revved up. We slowed them down, and we became better performers as well. We did the songs more justice by doing that. I think that it was—you can look at it two ways. You can look at it the way you’re talking about, and it definitely has to do with background. Matt and I don’t consider ourselves extroverts. I think I’m speaking at a normal pace, and people think I’m speaking slowly. So, I think there are parts of our personalities that you’re absolutely right about. You come from a certain kind of small area, and you’re maybe kind-of more laid-back, so you may gravitate towards that eventually. Or you can look at it from my perspective, where we did all those things, and then we had a negative reaction to that. Yeah, it may, on some level, eventually be what you’re talking about—but because it’s me I see it differently because we went through these stages, you know? I don’t know, it’s come up in interviews before and Matt has addressed it too, but…a lot of—and this might have to do with certain locations, too—a lot of what we had to do was a rejection of things—a rejection of the culture that we grew up in, and a rejection of the way that we did things. We wanted to change that. I think there’s the opposite thing going on also—like when you have a music town with a cliquish music community, where all the bands sound the same, and started playing around the same time, and they all started releasing stuff…sometimes something will come out of that, that sounds mature—but most of the time it doesn’t sound fully-formed, because people haven’t gone through a process of really—they’ve had too much positive feedback for what they’re doing, and they’re resigned to just release something because it sounds good to them. I think that happened a lot in the early ‘90s, when the demo-ish, ‘lo-fi’ releases started happening. We didn’t feel like a part of that at all. We used to get lumped in with some of it. Now it seems to be really different.”
With that, the record button on my cassette player pops up, and we both glance down at the now-still cassette deck. Bubba asks what time it is, and I tell him we’ve been talking for about three hours. He looks startled by my response, and I inform him that I’ve long-since run out of questions pertaining to Texas. He remarks that he thought it went well, and I agree. He asks again who I’m going to be speaking with from now until the end of the trip, and seems surprised that I don’t mention Steve Albini. When I tell him I’d like to, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to, Bubba comments that it’ll probably be a very informative and unique perspective—just don’t treat him like a deity or ask him about his perceived “asshole” persona. Ask questions just like the ones I asked him tonight.
He inquires as to what my plans are for tomorrow, and, after a slight hesitation, I tell him about my infatuation with the Kennedy assassination, and how I’d really like to drive downtown and go to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. He writes the name of a Barbecue Restaurant down for me, and also gives me the names of various places to visit when I’m in Austin. Make sure you take a day and drive to San Antonio to see the Riverwalk and the Alamo, he says. If you’ve got time, drive out to Driftwood. There’s really nothing like it. I assure him I will take his advice, and after another few minutes of small talk, we bid each other farewell. I exit ACME and walk slowly to my car. The drive back to my hotel is leisurely, as I snap photographs of Dallas lit up at night. At times, it feels like I’m the only car on the road.
Back at the sweltering Quality Inn Market Center, I fell asleep with the air-conditioning on full-blast, jostling for top-volume against various FoxNews talking heads. A few hours later, I was aroused from my slumber. I glanced over at the clock on the bedside table and it read an ungodly morning hour. Almost nine o’clock.
“Housekeeping!” a female voice yelled.
“Unnnngh,” I muttered.
“Housekeeping!” it came again, this time more boisterous.
“Unnnnnnnnnnnnnnngh” I let out a sustained bellow.
“Privacy, please!” I pleaded. This time, there was no reply. I tried to close my eyes and drift back to sleep, but within five minutes I was out of bed and the shower was running. When I exited my room, dragging my suitcase behind me, I noticed someone had stolen the Room 420 courtesy-card from my door. I had a sneaking suspicion that this heinous crime was perpetrated by a savage group of drunken Mary Kay girls, but I kept this theory to myself.
After checkout, I headed a few blocks to downtown Dallas. I turned from Market onto Elm and drove the final route JFK traveled on November 22nd, 1963. I parked in a designated lot, paid the attendant and proceeded to spend an hour or two visiting the Sixth Floor Museum, wandering Dealey Plaza, and generally witnessing firsthand a surreal site of American history.
I snapped photograph after photograph of the two X’s that mark the precise spots where Kennedy was hit. I walked the “grassy knoll,” where I was greeted by a middle-aged black man. He asked if I wanted a tour of the wooden fence that stands on the knoll, and I followed him as he showed me—in his estimation—the location from where the “kill shot” was fired. Turning around to point in opposite direction of Dealey Plaza, he showed me the railyard where the supposed second gunman retreated. The tracks are still in use. As a train quickly approached us, we headed back to the front of the knoll. Once there, he offered to me a fake newspaper that contained articles related to conspiracy theories. In thanking him for the mini-tour I purchased one. He blessed me for letting him show me around and for buying one of his newspapers; I left him there and made my way to the Sixth Floor Museum.
The museum doesn’t allow photography inside, but you can take photos of the exterior. Inside, the window where Oswald supposedly fired from is sectioned off, but you can look out over the plaza from the neighboring window. As I wound my way through the last corridor of the exhibit, I realized I needed to be on the road to Austin if I wanted to get there at a reasonable hour. There were appointments that needed to be finalized, and I was hoping I could keep this recent string of solid interviews going. I wanted to burst into Austin like a freight train that was still picking up speed.