Trebuchet Exposes their Unusual Process in a Documentary and After-Party Performance
Courtesy of Trebuchet
Denton rock experimenteers Trebuchet have a recording idea, and it sounds a little cockamamie. 'Course, the way they write music isn't exactly some safe-bet formula either, but we'll get to that. Four Nights in December, their new making-of documentary (initially meant to be only music video footage), is about a bold experiment. Stay with me, laymen. I'll explain.
Their plan to lay down new songs went against the grain of the recording studio playbook: they would set up in one big room, hit record, roll video and play (what some artists would hastily label "taping a rehearsal"). Normally, you would separate the different band elements, so that you could later shape each sound individually: vocals in an isolated booth, guitar amps set in empty hallways, etcetera. It's called multi-track recording. It's a costly process for a local band, both in time and money. Trebuchet wanted to be frugal with both, but that's not to say their hearts weren't in this. What they did took balls.
Thus, Friday, as part of Thin Line Film Fest 2013, an interesting rock doc was debuted...born purely by accident.
In December of 2011 (on Christmas day, mind you), Trebuchet hauled a shit-ton of music, recording and film gear up a flight of stairs and into a loft above Atomic Candy on the square in Denton. It wasn't some test of their dedication, nor an escape from holiday family drama. It was for the acoustics of a room.
They were willing to place a big bet on that room sound. Chris Galt, Trebuchet's live recording engineer, demonstrates this in the film with a couple popping, reverberating claps. "Such a cool room tone!" says Galt in the film, known for his unorthodox recording methodology. "We just set the whole band up live, like, no amps in closets...anything like that."
Sure, live concerts are recorded this way..and bands make quickie "scratch" recordings for their own use like this all the time. But, to cut your new studio album that way? None the bolder, together with techniques they brought out of a rehearsal space shared with fellow Denton rockers The Phuss, they said, "Fuck it" and attacked their new album by being well-rehearsed, setting up in an acoustically sound room, implementing a secret weapon in engineer Galt (a mad scientist of sorts when it comes to thinking outside the box, if not altogether destroying said box) and just charging the gate.
Photo by Rachel Watts
Now, that's not all there is to the film. There's Trebuchet's mathlete-ish quirks (they don't name their songs 'til the 11th hour, they number them; sometimes writing the number sequence on their arms for a setlist), and the hilarity of bassist John Yett's interview, cut in a handicap parking space on the square while he sat (feet in a kiddie pool, ass in a lawn chair) gripping a wine bottle. Moreso, it's a message also covered nicely in documentary Sound City: the subject of feel. As in, to have musicians playing directly off of each other, and experiencing musician chemistry you witness with more famous bands having a "good night on tour". Stuff like eye contact. Body language. "Visual cues," adds Galt. "You feel everybody that's in the band," says Yett in the film. "You know what to read, you know what to get. You know what's going on a little bit better."
Four Nights also has candid honesty: the van guitarist Dustin Fleming drives while being interviewed is shamelessly cluttered with crap, and the room they perform in is no testament to décor, either. It doesn't seem to occur to them. There's something bigger going on, and that's prog-influenced rock songs that really don't sound like shit-all else...and they perform 4 of them in the fifty-minute film, shot lovingly by first-time director Patrick Flaherty, who employed strategies like placing a camera operator at the end of a big rubber band, and using it to orbit her in the middle of it all. After the screening at Denton's Campus Theatre (and after enduring a question from your author about how calm they all seem to be while performing in the film), Trebuchet took the stage at Dan's Silverleaf.
Whatever sort of calm demeanor they might have portrayed performing in the film had been jolted with real belly fire. It made sense, considering in the film they had no live audience to speak of. One thing you learn about this band, watching them perform alone in a loft to record a new album, and then on stage with friends sending (literally) dozens of shots to them, is their unfettered ability to remain focused, and really just lose themselves in their music. Trebuchet checks out and rides their songs to an altitude with a real view.
It wasn't a perfect show, by any means. The vocals could have been louder, and the lights didn't do any sort of a song and dance. The crowd got extra chatty as drinks flowed, filling the holes of some of the more gentle dynamics of their songs. But what was there, like in the film, were five people playing as one, and throwing out songs that mixed Justin Hawkin's 70's-white-soul vocals, plenty of surprise turns in mood and speed, Keith Naylor and Dustin Fleming's tasteful guitars (which focused more on painting the air than on uppity solos), and a glue-y rhythm section in bassist Yett and heartbeat-er Bobak Lotfipour. Their songs leapt, stretched out and ran. At times, Trebuchet's music bites you, and at others pleads forgiveness for it's volatility. In simple terms, it's free-form rock that runs the full gamut of emotions, if you pay attention enough. And you should.
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