When I was in 3rd grade, I told my friend Billy throughout the year that I was an avid beer drinker. I'd regale him with tales of my exploits, telling him I had tried about every beer out there, my favorite being Stroh's. I think I chose Stroh's because I liked the look of the blue can. I'd tell him I was trying to cut down a little, but that it was hard, because I just enjoyed beer too much. I told him my least favorite beer was a brand I made up called "Laurie's Beer," I told him it tasted like shit, and I would make a sour face when describing it.
Back then I was pretty sure he believed me, but looking back I'm not so sure. The 80's were a confusing time.
One day in high school I found myself in the Principal's office for reasons I don't remember, and the Assistant Principal was chewing me out about something-or-other, and she decided to call my parents and leave a message on their answering machine.
After leaving the office, I remembered that my mom gave me some weird laminated card with codes on it that I could use to call home and play answering machine messages back remotely. I noticed to my delight that I also had the option to erase messages. That day at lunch, I used the pay phone near the cafeteria to call my house and delete the messages on the machine. There were two messages, and I decided in a panic to delete them both without even listening to them first.
I've always wondered what the other message was...
I had a dream last night that I was in a kitchen of a commissary with Doogie Howser and Vinnie Delpino, and we were preparing food in an assembly line. Vinnie had told everyone working there that he was a doctor, and we were all doing our best to cover for him.
We were taking french fries and fried chicken and dipping them in seasoning. At one point, Doogie took a lunch break and started eating the chicken. I was annoyed, because as a vegetarian, there wasn't much for me to eat. Besides, I wasn't sure that we were supposed to be eating what we were preparing. At one point Doogie announced that he had to leave for the hospital, but someone insisted to him that he was still needed in the kitchen, and motioned to a big pile of fried chicken that was yet to be seasoned. Doogie reluctantly agreed to stay. At one point we all stopped working, and were introduced to the attractive twin sisters who ran the commissary.
I had a dream last night that I was reading the liner notes of a Michelle Branch CD that doesn't exist.
There were instructions in the sleeve that explained how to use a knife to defend yourself from attackers. There was a Q & A section in the notes, and part of it read as follows:
Q: Should I defend myself from any sort of attack?
A: Yes, you should defend yourself from all attacks, even when a person is attempting to rob you for an amount as little as 10 dollars.
Q: What if Elton John is the attacker?
A: He's attacking you for 10 dollars?
I then woke up with the song "Everywhere" in my head. Love that snappy lil' tune.
The first Electric Grandmother show on June 19, 2004, essentially served as an album release party for Sin City Sex Mix, the 3rd self-packaged CD-R album we did. The tone of that release was more somber and featured less songs about TV than the first two. We got a good response from our initial performances, and I felt like the next release should loudly announce our arrival on the scene.
I had recently acquired a digital processor, and used it liberally on the album, whether it was for the synth tones, self-made percussion, or pre-programmed beats. This album would end up marking the end of an era; this would be the last "Casio-beat" album (although I actually used a Yamaha keyboard to create the sound), and the last album recorded on a 4-track. This album had a more dense sound to the previous three, because I figured out how to "bounce" tracks, a risky process that allows you to combine existing tracks on to one, thus allowing you to overwrite previous tracks with new material.
Mary Alice at the time was wary of my utilizing the digital processor so heavily, but in retrospect I think it adds to the album's charm. I also went into the recording process a little less concerned with how clear the vocals would sound, I was more interested in creating approximations that went well with the sounds and melodies (see: "Here Comes the Urkel.") Mary Alice was also wary of the obnoxious 48-second opening of that song, where I just repeat the phrase "Guns n' Roses" in a chanting sports arena-type manner. It may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing decision, but it's certainly obnoxious.
Mary Alice: One of the weird things about this album was the crossfade, which made it impossible for the tracks to stand on their own. So like, skipping Guns N Roses didn't even work because you had the end of it bleeding into "Urkel." ALSO remember that guy who contacted you about making EG his official club musician? Like he and his friends talked about 80s stuff together or something? I'm prompted to remember it because I think they had a thing on MySpace where they took the pic of the Stay Puft marshmallow man and captioned it with "Guns N Roses" x like 50.
(Note: I don't remember "that guy")
"Small Wonder (Popular by Demand)" is named so because people kept asking me to write a Small Wonder song. That one was a hit with a lot of people, and I'm pretty proud of the psychedelic it has to it. I love the processed sound of "Murphy Brown's In Your Town," but there's something about the song that never sat right with me, and I wished I'd spent a little more time with it.
Mary Alice: This song had a spot in the live set until we decided MB the show wasn't really Sitcom-Core because the show didn't have any kids in it and it wasn't goofy enough.
(Note: I don't remember making that decision, either. Also, I think MB is totally Sitcom-Core)
Before "Miami is Nice" existed, "Car Phone" was *maybe our most popular song overall. It always went over well with crowds, and it was fun to perform. I wrote the words and recorded the music for it in under an hour. "Depend on Balki" ended up getting a lot of radio play at WCSB, the radio station that helped EG immensely during this era.
*"Hangin' Out With Mr. Cooper Sucks" was possibly more popular than "Car Phone." The song "Watching the Cosby Show" has a lengthy outro that contains a sample of Richard Nixon announcing his resignation to the press. This outro was eventually used as the time of the show where we would release garbage bags full of balloons into the crowd. Also before "Miami is Nice" became the standard closing song to our set, "Bob Saget Marches On" held the distinct honor of sending everyone home with a smile (usually - we would occasionally encounter hecklers early on, especially if I didn't look entirely confident up there).
Pee Sells... But Who's Buying?, a behemoth of 32 songs clocking in at 65 minutes was to be released to the world in June of 2005. The album was mixed by me, and mastered by our friend Jason Gonzales at the now-closed Supraphonic Studios in Columbus. The title is a parody of Megadeth's "Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?" I was retroactively inspired by a memory of this tough-bully kid in my middle school who had the album title written on his jean jacket.
I do have a couple regrets about the album. For one, we didn't take the time to create individual files for each song without the album's aforementioned signature crossfade effect that we put on most tracks - it just would have been nice to have. Also, it could have potentially enabled the cry babies out there to skip the "Guns n' Roses" chant. For another, while I don't hate the sounds of the songs themselves, I think it's silly that I felt compelled to include two political songs on there. Both "Real Reds" and "Rain Down With the Thunder" are inspired by the Bush administration/Iraq War. While it's stuff that I care about, even halfway-serious political expression has never sounded right coming from me, and it especially doesn't belong in an Electric Grandmother song. This marked the last of any such attempt.
For the album cover, we went and bought an old black and white TV from a thrift store. While waiting in line to buy the TV, Mary Alice explained to a woman in line that we weren't going to actually watch things on this TV, but that "we just liked it." That has been an ongoing joke between us, as a signal that someone is offering too much information that will only confuse the listener.
That's Mary Alice's handwriting on the screen, and she carefully took the picture so as to not get too much of a reflection. This is what the original cover looked like for the CD-R, the border with band logo was later added for the INS release.
I scheduled a release show at Cafe Bourbon Street for June 11th. To open the show, I invited young local rock upstarts The Squares, Cleveland hip-hop duo Johnny La Rock & Mush Mouth, and the Ocean Ghosts, a Columbus hip-hop trio that included my friends Scotty Boombox and J Rhodes. I had been in contact with a writer at the Columbus Alive attempting to get an album review, and a few days ahead of the show, it finally came. My (now friend) Stephen Slaybaugh ripped it to pieces, famously describing the album among other things as "moronic," "sophomoric," and "the sound of one man amusing himself." (I have a photo of the newspaper clipping somewhere, but I can't locate it at the moment) I was taken aback at first, but then later decided this was all complimentary stuff.
Mary Alice: In the context of the EG philosophy, particularly the part about the "sound of one man amusing himself" spoke volumes about your ethic of making art to make you laugh first, me laugh second, and if anyone else likes it so be it.
The show itself, while reasonably well-attended, had it's good and bad moments. The Squares played first and were great, and they did a cover of the EG song "Tom's Girl" from our prior release. Johnny La Rock & Mush Mouth played their smooth sounds, and had a ton of fun joking with each other on stage. The Ocean Ghosts played and burned the fucking place down, doing an intense cover of our new song "Summer Circus." Our set was when the bad moments began. I came out on stage to start our first song, and the goddamn crummy tabletop CD player we had started skipping. I wasn't savvy enough yet to know that the power of a PA can send "shocks" to your playback source, which spells doom if you're playing a CD. It was a major disruption for the whole set, and pretty much ruined the experience for me. This was the very last time we used a CD player on stage, we went digital after that and never turned back. That night I had a nightmare that I was watching a bloody leopard roll down a hillside into a pile of haunted tarot cards. I attribute that to stress. Fortunately the next weekend we got right back out there, and used a laptop when playing at Andyman's with The Whiles and The Receiver. It erased the bad taste from our mouths.
Below is a photo of a poster board that Mary Alice made for the release show, taken shortly before we tossed it before our DC move. (It had been in my closet for years, and if you look closely, you can see that our late cat Milo peed on it. Note the delightful "Straight-Edge/Hard Core" parody, adjusted to "Sitcom-Core/TV.")
Mary Alice: We made the whole thing with a yellow theme. I got a yellow plastic table cloth for the merch and arranged the new discs in a basket with yellow easter grass. I believe we used yellow balloons as well. Hence why it was a "Pee Party."
So I think that mostly covers it. This was an important time for us, a time when we really "got out there" and reached people. Crowds began to form at our shows, people began to know our songs and sing along to them. Most of the friends we've made over the years have been because of the band. That's really special stuff for me, and I've never forgotten what an honor it's been for people to even care. We're really lucky, and thanks for giving a hell.
Mary Alice: When we think of the songs we performed in Columbus on this album, the memories are pretty strongly associated with friendship and hanging out in Columbus. You sort of say it, but when you were writing this and started talking about these songs I was like "Jeez. Alcohol and Columbus."
Below is a video shot in 2007 featuring show footage and an interview with mostly me, this is prior to us becoming a duo. This captures the tail end of this particular era, complete with bubble machines, balloons, and disco lights. I don't watch this much, because it makes me feel weird to watch myself move around, it always has.