No monkeying around

Baboon finally gets free of its label and releases its best, most grown-up record yet

"I'm not really sure why he wouldn't [release us]," Barnett says. "I guess he wanted the axe to drop by his hand, not by ours. Maybe he wanted to have the control and not us. But we didn't want on the label anymore, because we could see, obviously, the direction the label was going in, and we weren't going in that same direction."

Of course, Barnett and the others could probably see the axe falling. When Wind-Up began sending the band CDs by the groups signed in the wake of Creed's dubious accomplishments, it was as good as over; the label might as well have mailed the band a recording of "Taps." Wind-Up had filled out its roster with groups ready for modern-rock radio--in addition to its Pearl Jam knock-off (Creed), it had its versions of the Cranberries (Stretch Princess) and Tool (Finger Eleven). And even more distressing was what the label had decided to do with Baboon: The band was to be Wind-Up's answer to Korn. "They were going to market us toward the metal crowd," Huffstetler says. "I think they were confused."

To say the least. Baboon has never been afraid to display the soft side that lurks underneath its rough surface. One listen to We Sing and Play confirms this, as the disc includes two of the most astonishingly beautiful songs the band has ever written, "Angels" and "Endlessly," slow-burning songs that are more melody than malady. Even the other tracks on the EP--especially the blast-first "Lush Life," which sounds like Fats Domino sitting in with The Jesus Lizard--are more about the songs than about the noise that comes with them, even when Huffstetler is doing more screaming than singing and the rest of the band might as well be playing three different songs. That's what has long been misunderstood about Baboon: They may have been in the Fraternity of Noise, along with Brutal Juice and Caulk, but the band has long since graduated. The pointy edges may make the songs hard to get a grip on, but they're worth holding onto.

Wind-Up never quite agreed, paying for the band to stay at home and write songs, encouraging the members to listen to the radio so they could hear what kind of songs would work. When it became obvious that the demos Baboon was turning in (one of which, "Tidal Wave," turned up on last year's Scene, Heard compilation) weren't fitting into the label's plans, the group received its walking papers. Even though it was exactly what the band had wanted since beginning of its relationship with Wind-Up, its members were still caught off-guard.

"When I first heard it, it was kind of like this shock, like 'Whoa,'" Hughes says. "It kind of felt like a rug had been pulled out in some way, but after a couple of days I got adjusted to the idea. I think I went home and drank a bunch of wine, and just listened to all the music I like, thought about why I was playing music and why I was involved in a band. After that, there was no question that I wanted to continue."

It didn't take long for the band to regroup, landing at Crystal Clear Studios less than six months later to record We Sing and Play, with The Paper Chase guitarist John Congleton on board to produce. Congleton had long been a fan of Baboon's--he even wanted to join the band a few years ago--and he felt the group had never been properly recorded. A veteran of Dallas Sound Labs (where he helped record Kirk Franklin, among others) who has also worked with Steve Albini, Congleton felt it was his job to get it done this time. He took pains to make the band sound more organic through such methods as having Huffstetler sing through a handheld mike, the way he normally would onstage. And he recorded everything as loud as he possibly could, pushing the sound levels until they fell off into the red.

"You can hear a little bit of that crackle," Barnett says, still surprised more than a month later. "You can hear it overdriving the system. There are a couple times, during some of Mike's guitar parts, if you listen closely you can just hear the tape melting." He laughs. "I was very happy that he took that approach to recording."

The entire band is quick to sing Congleton's praises, as well as the list of guests that appear on the record, including The Dooms U.K.'s James Henderson, Gospel Swingers keyboard player Kari Luna, Jon "Corn Mo" Cunningham, and Reznicek. The band knows it couldn't have made it without them, and probably wouldn't have anyway. Doing things themselves, playing with their friends--those are the reasons Baboon formed in the first place. And the members of the band couldn't be more pleased that they've ended up back where they started.

"They all came in on one day," Huffstetler remembers. "It was like Super Bowl Sunday. We had them scheduled, and they all came in at various times, and we put down all their tracks. It was a great day. It was like the best 12 hours I've had in my life. Being a band in a studio and having these great musicians come in. And this whole project. We did it all ourselves, and paid for it ourselves. Doing the artwork. Using our friends, you know? That's the best thing about being in a band. Just to do it, for the music and ourselves. No strings attached. Put out music, put out songs that we write. And it's awesome to have people like them."

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