"It's really about, like, four different things," Burette explains. "The verse was 'I hear this melody,' and that would inspire some lyrics. Then I'd hear a different melody and work that in, with words to match--"
"It was like, 'That sounds like a song,'" Gabrielle interjects.
"Some of it's pretty literal. That part about 'facing a room full of faces that couldn't care less' is about being in a band. The part about T.J.'s rocket comes from when we were out at the lake," Burette explains. "We were shooting off fireworks with our nieces and nephews--one of whom was called T.J.--and we'd be saying, 'Hey, T.J.--here's your rocket.' It really doesn't mean anything."
"It's like, by telling somebody what a song is about, you get in the way of what it might mean to them," Lee offers, fitting a shiny black drum into its case.
"Right," says Meador, sipping a can of Budweiser on the floor. "It reminds me of something I was reading about Paul Simon, where he was talking about 'Mrs. Robinson' and how it was just a bunch of words thrown together, then it became a big hit and all these people were trying to read all this extra meaning into it." Meador--who's the newest member of the band, having joined early in 1996--was a welcome addition. Prior to his coming on board, Burette had to cover all the guitar chores.
"I was playing most of the leads and really doing a bad job," Burette says with a chuckle. "I was doing the best I could, but I'd mess up all the time live. Tommy's a much better player."
"But we don't really divide things up like 'you're rhythm guitar, so you play this,'" says Meador--who is just one of the millions brought to the altar of the electric guitar by Mr. Edward Van Halen, but also places Neil Young and Bob Mould on his short list of faves.
"It's whoever has the best feel for a part," Burette confirms, mentioning their common love of Queen and Billy Gibbons.
In a world about to be buried beneath an avalanche of wacky, quirky, crappy three-piece power-pop bands, Shimmer's density bucks the trend. In a world about to induct the word "electronica" into the Hall of Tedium--where it will sit alongside such plagues as "Madonna" and "Seinfeld"--the band is almost fiercely analog; even the odd squeaks, blurts, growls, and screeches that decorate Shimmer like sprinkles on a doughnut are "mostly just guitar noises," according to Burette. "It's all organic, except on 'Orbiter,' which is sort of a gadget-like track. [Producer Dave] Castell had this digital box that messed with the guitar part."
Castell was a major influence during the recording of Shimmer, introducing the band to the wonders of the Echoplex (a vintage reverb unit) and tricks like using a tiny Pignose practice amp in the studio for what Meador calls "that really high-pitched fuzzy sound."
"We love power pop," Burette explains. "But we love bands like Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, and all that, too. We just try to write pop songs and be as noisy as we can and still be listenable."
"Castell really helped," Lee agrees. "He'd just sit there watching this little computer monitor, and when we were done, he'd say 'OK, that was good. Now let's try it through this amp.'"
"We really wanted to experiment with different sounds, and he was real excited about that," Meador says, remembering the ubiquitous local producer (Course of Empire, Funland, and cottonmouth, texas) going "from amp to amp and pedal to pedal, looking for that exactly right sound."
The band would spend six months working on the record. "We wanted to make a work of art," Meador explains. "An interesting pop album that you could put on and go, 'Wow, what cool sounds'--like the new Radiohead album [OK Computer]. Every time you listen to it, you hear something new that tickles your ear."
"We like noise bands--" Burette begins.
"But as a part of the song," Meador interrupts. "A cool noise added to a certain spot. Some of those really noisy songs, if you strip away all the sounds and effects, they're really just chord changes. There's nothing left that you could just play on an acoustic guitar."
The band took their time--Shimmer was originally due out in February--with Castell fitting them in between his other clients. The band had a roster of songs that they'd been doing for months, and it was a bit hard at first to regard those worn-in arrangements as anything but gospel.