After recording and mixing three albums on our own we were ready to pass that responsibility on to someone else for a bit and just concentrate on being a band. We had a hand full of songs, but decided to pick just two and record them with our friend John Thompson. John is a very talented engineer and has recorded most of The Magic Twig projects here in Roanoke. It was also very convenient that John's studio was in the same building as our own. He was also recording on vintage equipment. Recording on tape was a first for us.
I remember setting up in his studio, it was an exceptionally hot evening. There was no air conditioning and we even had to shut the fans off while the tape was rolling. If I recall correctly, Gene confessed half way through the session that he had eaten mushrooms and was having a difficult time holding it together. You really wouldn't know by the recordings. He thought we were going to kick him out of the band. We just chilled with him for a half hour until he got his composure back and we finished the session. So, after a crazy night of recording and maybe a few nights of mixing we had our two songs done, 'Yellow House' and 'I Need You.' I think that I consciously wrote these more traditional songs to show some roots. I felt like we were being pegged as a 90's revival band, which I can understand. We probably could have been in band in the 90's , but in no way were we trying to emulate bullshit that we grew up with on the radio. The conversations we had about music revolved
around Nina Simone, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Brian Eno, Funkadelic, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. We were putting those influences through the filter of being a rock & roll band today.
I have always been into George Orwell's 1984. It is something that I reread every few years. I think that my favorite part of the book is an aspect often overlooked. The two main characters, Julia and Winston are both trying to find ways to escape the oppression of the totalitarian State that they live in when they fall in love. Winston wants to escape, but wants to find out about who Big Brother is and how they are being controlled. He wants to find the truth about The State, history and himself. Julia wants to discover the simple pleasures of the world. The forbidden pleasures that make life worth something. Love, sex, chocolate, books and she revels in being this kind of rebel. In the end they sell each other out because there was some mistrust in each others motives even though they were both rebelling against the same thing, just in different ways. This is the story that inspired 'Chestnut Tree Cafe.' The song starts out with the traditional lyrics about various Churches in England. This Traditional is one of the referenced themes in 1984. The lyrics move on to describe the numbness of knowing that you sold your lover out and she sold you. How do you face that person again?
I recorded the basic track alone singing and both micing my acoustic and running through a treatment of effects. Doug came by the studio and we layered some drones. I remember having a filtered guitar placed on top of the piano just on the verge of feeding back. As the song progressed we banged out the chords on the piano vibrating the guitar forcing it to swell. We miced the guitar amp to catch the resonating drones. At some point Paul added the legit piano that comes in toward the end of the song. We felt like 'Chestnut Tree Cafe' rounded out the EP nicely.
This EP was also dedicated to our friend James Hooper. James sublet the new building to us after the fire. We had two separate recording studios. Many Roanoke bands made this their home for about 5 years and even more regional bands recorded there. James was a talented carpenter and a good man. He helped us build our
recording console among other things. He gave us the space that allowed our musical community to gel. He lost his battle with cancer shortly after this EP came out.
There are free versions of some of these songs available here:
You can see performances of 'Chestnut Tree Cafe' and 'Yellow House' here.