By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
First, a clarification: It appears that when Street Beat relayed--rather breathlessly--that popular Beatles cover band Hard Night's Day had moved into the big time by taking off on a brief national tour, it was having its perineum tickled by new handler-agent Traci Parsons. What seemed to be club dates are actually corporate gigs, playing something like one song an hour for day-long employee pep rallies, and with lyrics rewritten especially for the occasion.
The mind reels. "Baby You Can Drive the Company Car?" "Sales Report Writer?" Is this what happens when you really love a band? Or is this just another case of a band signing on for something before it found out what it was really getting into? He doesn't claim that his decision is based solely on this ridiculous "tour," but founding member and guitarist-keyboard player Jim Savage has decided to leave the popular cover group, which plays a heartfelt tribute to the Fab Four--complete with vintage equipment like Vox amplifiers and Epiphone and Hofner guitars--early every Friday evening to a loyal and adoring crowd of regulars at Club Dada.
Band members are obviously bummed. "All we wanted to do was let people know we'd be out of town," says bassist Mark Ehmann. The corporate gigs, he adds, "started out as five songs and ended up as 13. They first said there'd be a 'little' rewriting--like one verse--and then they end up rewriting every bit of every song. We were like, 'oh my God.' It's definitely left a bad taste in our mouths."
When contacted, Parsons set new standards in not "getting it," "it" in this case being the difference between playing in a bar crowded with dancers and serenading Amway's best salespeople in between motivational skits. Pointing to the fact that other groups like Cowboy Mouth and Maylee Thomas do the same kind of shows--and brandishing an entire pair of confirmed, non-corporate gigs like a holy blazing cross of redemption--Parsons set about babbling about "big ballplayers" and wielding the image of Vince Vance like some enemy's skull on a stick. "They'll play for general admission after the [day-long] affair!" She cries. "There's lots of money in tribute bands...I want them to be Vince Vance!"
That sound is the blood rushing from the faces of Hard Night's Day fans across the Metroplex. Parsons just doesn't catch that what makes the magic for a band like HND is the words, the familiarity, and--yes--the integrity of the fans' shared memories. One doesn't have to bear Vince Vance any ill will in order to hope that HND doesn't begin to resemble his act.
"The money was so good," Ehmann sighs. (In fact, Parsons will refer any questions about the expectation/reality gap to Ehmann, calling him the group's "business leader.") "We were told that there would be a few changes, and we didn't love the idea, but the saving grace was that these were private deals, so it wouldn't be like we were letting our fans down."
Still, the group is honest about their unease. "We were very uncomfortable with the fact that we were doing something that the Beatles themselves wouldn't like," Ehmann admits.
Although he didn't like it either, Savage denies that his leaving was triggered by the corporate "tour." "I had decided a long way back to leave," Savage explains. "This was just one more factor pushing me that way."
"I wish the guys well," Savage says, allowing that for the band his timing was less than opportune, but maintaining that "it was time for me to go."
"I asked him if there was anything we could do to fix things, and he said 'no,'" Ehmann says a bit ruefully, noting that Savage's heart hadn't really seemed in it as of late.
Savage--who said he started out "doing it for John [Lennon]"--was reluctant to say much for the record, but it appears that internal dynamics and the boundaries inherent in being not only a cover band, but a cover band doing just one band's songs, were beginning to chafe him, corporate gigs or no. "It's gonna have its limits," he admits of the band's format. "But despite the unpleasant things, I can't help but have fun, which is why I always seemed to come alive about halfway through the second set."
Savage--who will be replaced by guitarist John Cartwright, previously the group's occasional harmonica player--sees a certain karmic appropriateness to his departure. "Sometimes I think that history is dictating what happens to the band," he says. "Our first drummer was named Pete; our original bassist didn't work out and was replaced with a left-hander." Savage himself is leaving the group to pursue his own creative muse, although in his case there's no Japanese conceptual artist egging him on. "Unfortunately," he says with a chuckle.
"I'm sure not done playing music," Savage vows. He plans to focus more on his piano playing with his other band, Big Chief and the Boogie-Woogie Wig Wam, a band that he describes as playing Crescent City R&B in the spirit of artists like Dr. John, Professor Longhair, and Snooks Eaglin.
In the meantime--except for the sabbatical foray into corporate America--Beatles fans need not fear an interruption of their weekly Friday fix: "This thing will go on without [Savage]," Dada owner Doak Boettiger (one of the forces behind the band's formation three years ago) maintains.
That is the one thing that everybody seems to agree on.
A Hard Night's Day's show on January 3 will be Savage's last with the group. Big Chief and the Boogie-Woogie Wig Wam plays the Dark Room January 9.
Death with dignity
Swans, the experimental brainchild of Michael Gira and Jarboe, could suffer from an air of contrivance at times. Nevertheless, the duo were ambient before ambient was cool and samplers back when samplers usually contained chocolate. Their show on January 7 at the Orbit Room will be their farewell. "It gets to a point after which it becomes undignified," Gira--who denies having recently talked with Jim Savage--says. "It's been 15 years, and we've done about all we can do...this last album was one of our best, so why not?"
"Quit while you're ahead" is indeed an under-appreciated dictum in music, and for Gira & Jarboe it's time to move on. "I want to be an impresario," Gira says. In addition to starting up Young God Records, on which their final album, the double-disc Soundtracks for the Blind was released this fall, he's also exploring changes in his stylistic sensibilities, perhaps even mellowing out a bit: "Now I'm more interested in the way the voice and music color the story."
His two current projects are bands: Body Lovers--which he describes as "more ambient and cinematic" than Swans--and Pleasure Seekers, defined by "more acoustic, narrative-type songs." The farewell tour is "one last exoneration, if you will," Gira says. He'll then devote his time to his two bands, the label, new bands, and managing the Swans legacy: a series of reissues on Young God much like what Rhino did for Robyn Hitchcock--old albums sweetened with B-sides, demos, and other alternative cuts probably never heard before. "Many of our fans are young, fortunately," Gira says. "And I want that music to be available to impressionable young listeners."
Code 4's Tim Sanders is placing the industrial group on indefinite hiatus while he and his wife, Jacqueline, pursue another project they call the Terror Couple, a title inspired by the Bauhaus song "Terror Couple Kills Colonel."
"We want to define an avenue for the music we want to pursue," Tim explains. "Beck is the future...what we want to do is take trip-hop and industrial and use it to explore the nature of dreams and fantasies. It was go into therapy or start another band," he jokes. "We want to get back to having fun, but without having anything to do with the Deep Ellum scene."
The Terror Couple will be a "massive sampler campaign," according to Tim. "We have been collecting samples for three months now, and we have thousands of beat loops and organic noises like horses and whales." It's those organic samples--called "squealies" in the trade--that will be the building blocks of Tim and Jacqueline's new music. "We're trying to come up with the scariest fare possible," Tim says, describing the results of those efforts as "Marilyn Manson meets Timbuk 3."
"We've got some squealies that were taken from these bizarre religious rituals in Spain that involve--" he searches for a moment, "--ah, unique methods of sacrificing animals, like throwing a bull off of a third-story roof. We've got squealies made from the sound it makes when it lands, and it's pretty unsettling."
Not exactly your average fare, but Tim and Jacqueline aren't your average bears. "We're like the complete opposite of the soccer mom demographic," he says, rather unnecessarily. "We want to appeal to people with fucked-up childhoods, and our message it that you can control your daydreams. It's not a love song album, but it'll be commercially viable."
The Sanderses see those daydreams as the key to determining personality. "The difference between Mozart and Manson were their fantasies," he explains. "Mozart dreamed of reforming the music of his day; Manson, of starting 'Helter Skelter' [the race war he imagined the Tate-LaBianca murders would trigger]...both Ted Bundy and JFK had childhoods that were fucked-up in remarkably similar ways, but one dreamed of obtaining power through politics and the other, by murdering college girls."
The labor-intensive nature of sampling work dictated that Code 4 be put on hold. "Each song that we're working on takes at least 100 hours," Tim says. "With Code 4's last album, we sold 3,000 copies ourselves, which is damn good, but it was the hardest work of our lives--that's time that could be spent sampling."
In keeping with the closure theme, say goodbye to the Eddy Band. After three years of slogging around the lower Greenville-Deep Ellum circuit, Todd Pfefferle, aka Bob Hate, and company could no longer ignore the fact that they "always made more money when we were playing horrible and tiresome cover gigs," as Todd/Bob said in an e-mail announcing the band's demise...On Thursday, January 2, One Ton Records is hosting a benefit at Trees for Casey Hess, the Caulk frontman laid low by some scary complications following heart surgery. All proceeds will go to the Hess family, and there will be an auction of donated rock art collected by Deep Ellum bands. Slated to play are Course of Empire, the Tomorrow People, Cottonmouth, Texas, and Centromatic ...February 25 has been set as the release date for the new Jupiter Coyote album...
Street Beat welcomes your tips, comments, and abuse at Matt_Weitz@dallas-observer.com.