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Thursday, February 22, 2024

WHY WE DID IT: 12 Hour Edition



You could just LISTEN to what I'm about to write, but you're already here so why bother? 

Matador had to buy out our contract from Jade Tree, who we owed a second album after Hidden World. That whole year was a crash course in the business of music for us - phone calls with lawyers, contracts an inch thick, greed, pressure. You sign your name on a piece of paper and it determines how the next few years of your life play out. I'd never had a career, I never earned a salary. I still haven't ever signed a contract for a job.  I've signed record contracts with three labels, and thats what they'll be able to find of me in a hundred years.

Jade Tree walked away with almost twenty grand in lieu of getting another album from us, and promptly stopped being a label a few years later. That amount was added to what we were about to owe Matador the minute we signed the paperwork in 2009 - an amount that we are still working off in 2024 (please by the Chemistry repress lol).  We were still playing basement shows in Pittsfield and sleeping over night at airports to get cheaper flights. At the FU fest in maybe 2007, I had 15k in cash in my hand from the door, from the merch we sold, most of it owed to other bands and to pressing plants. I felt like a millionaire.

It was getting to be the business. I'm trying to put myself in the mindset of why we came up with the 12 hour show back then. On tour for the DAVID repress a few years ago, Robin told me that she thought I had Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Brigitte used to always tell me I needed to "come from a place of yes" instead of from a place of you know what. I think in these stark categories - black and white. I try and fight that urge for the songs - I want them to be about understanding. But we are different in our lives from what we put down in the booklets, in our songs.  We imagine the world as against us - their world vs ours. Hidden World - that was a secret, that was the blackness underneath the world that we imagined ourselves to live in. You think that way when you are younger, trying to make sense of the world around you by fighting through it.

We never really trusted anyone at Matador. We obviously wanted to put the albums out on their label, we wanted the cash, the exposure, we were going for it. It stank of success, and we just stank. It's a great label full of wonderful people, but we never trusted that side - I think we imagined ourselves to be taking advantage of them in this punk way or whatever. You know what I'm talking about. We weren't really trying to work together, we were still trying to work against it, like all the songs we knew.

Matador shared this huge office with all the other Beggars labels - Rough Trade, XL, the other one, 4AD, down near the tunnel to New Jersey. We'd be going there a lot - Damian would walk out with a box full of records every time, I'd be trying to flirt with Brigitte while she was working, Jonah would be outside looking for somewhere to park the van.  They had these "FAT" meetings they called them, some acronym - to come up with ideas on how to sell the albums.  It was just these people who loved music, trying to do right by the bands - I didn't trust it. It's naivety, its fear. I was 28, still just a kid, a bit autistic, trying to put walls around the world around me to help understand my place. 

In school I'd often have to leave group presentations, whisper to the teacher in the back that I wasn't gonna say anything because I was so nervous. Just a scowl on my face, from fear. That's a lot of punk. Ask why you burrowed down so deep away from everything.  I was afraid. I'm smart enough now to have come up with ways to negotiate these sorts of adult situations, to be charming, to be funny - it's a front, we all know this. It's hard.  In 2008 I was in the back room of the office with like, 25 people? I'd met Chris, Patrick, maybe Miwa, Nils, Brigitte, Claire. A room full of people trying to make my dreams come true, can you imagine?  It was like in a movie - me scanning the room with my special glasses on, trying to keep a safe distance from the aliens, trying to stay safe inside the categories I was constructing in my head.

I thought - All you people - you work in this office, you have these boring lives - that's you. Us - we're pirates, we travel the world in our little van screaming - we're not like you.  I said we'd play a show that lasted 12 hours long, we'll pretend we're like you for a day. Just rudeness, a stunt, or like a dare even, like a toddler would pull, or someone trying to tank a relationship. Try and accommodate my difficulty, try and normalize this behavior. Everyone in the band I think thought it was a stupid idea, but the label was into it. They wanted to help, you know, they wanted to accommodate what we were trying to be. They probably understood what that was more than we did in 2008.

Everyone put their notebooks down and started getting to work on the idea. Dean and Gabe started to scour the LES for a place to have the show - the first idea was the Russian and Turkish baths on 10th - can you imagine.  Someone must have had a friend that worked at Rogan, because a clothing store didn't jump out as an obvious possibility, but it was perfect.  This old beautiful corner building, it looked like the first shop ever built in New York. 

It was in the glare of CBGB, which we could count as our past - Ian booked us there with Forward, Tragedy (the drummer tried to pick up my girlfriend from the van as we drove away), one of the most insane shows of all time. Me and Josh drove down to see one of the Kraut reunions, I sat on that crows nest thing for the entire show. 2009 and we were a block further along the Bowery.

So we set off into our camps - the band needed to figure out how to play music for that long, and the label had to figure out how to sell the idea, which ended up just saying that all these celebrities might show up. That felt like something we'd do ourselves. I think Seal was on the flyer? Seal didn't come. There was a fridge full of free Vitamin Water, there was free beer. People came. Katy Perry reviewed one of our songs that month I think in the NME? She didn't like it. The Municipal Waste guy did the same thing. He didn't like it either.  Damian was on the cover of NME, we tore up MTV on that cycle. We put a motorcyle in the bathroom in the basement and Damian almost lit it on fire. We were going for it.

 We invited friends to shore up some of the time - Vivian Girls played, I can barely remember what else. People came and did cameos, that's been covered.  We aren't an amazing live band - we barely practice, we don't live in the same country anymore. We just play really fast for people who move really slow. We're like a train going by you so fast you can't see the details - all you see is the marvel. 

I think we opened the show with Crooked Head - we made Jonah play the drum intro for maybe 10 times as long as it was meant to. The rehearsals for the show were just like "that'll eat up some of the time", and "Get Jonah to do his part longer". I've long said Jonah is a pure Newtonian object - once you push him in a direction, he'll just travel along that axis to infinity unless something gets in his way to send him careening in a different direction. I met Jonah at a hardcore fest in Streetsville in 1999. He bumped into me maybe during a Drowningman set, so I picked him up and threw him - he's still hasn't landed.

They got MOBY to show up. I'm gonna skip the music part - he thought we were Youth Of Today. I stood next to him outside during a break while he was being interviewed by Rhapsody, and he was telling them about the first time he saw us, at the Anthrax Club in CT in the late 80s. He thought he was filling in for Porcell. MOBY EXPLAIN YOURSELF.

I used to make fun of Vampire Weekend a lot on this blog when they were coming up (I switched to WAVVES I think a few years later). Ezra came and did a Blitz song with us for maybe the perfectly inverse reason as the reason we were doing the show in the first place. He called the audience nerds, wearing a vintage rugby and docksiders, and it was great, he disappeared down the Bowery. J came and ripped a guitar solo for 25 minutes straight (tell your children this). If we had booked the show in 2015 I would have lobbied to have Phish come do a song. We were trying to be Phish, but we had no chops.

The label got us this trailer van that we parked around the corner that we could go chill out in. Imagine needing a lunch break. They filled it with pizza.  We set this thing up like we were going to D-Day. We were doing an honest day of work for god's sake. That was the point - but WE were the point, without realizing it. It was this stunt, to try and shine light on a working day. Imagine filling that with a show? Imagine trying to fill a work day with some useless musicians? And we're still talking about it, 15 years later.



Friday, February 02, 2024






In November, we were doing the Europe leg of our touring for that year, hitting a few places on the mainland that we'd missed for years and years.  Our first ever trips east would lead us to all sorts of places - Hungary, Slovakia, Czech, Serbia - we'd land at Schipol and just drive east and east and east - they'd always be on the itinerary.  Over the years as people started having families and the deeper parts of life and age, we'd have less time to travel around, and stick to the fundamentals - the UK, and if we had time, some of Germany.   In 2023 we released a modest album at the beginning of the year and headed straight for England, then did the east coast of America, and found ourselves with extra time, so we toured across Canada for the first time in a decade, and by the end of the year we were back on the mainland.

Josh found us a nice place a bit north of Gracia in Barcelona, and it had a roof that looked over the full stretch and twinkle of town - a hundred miles away was the spire of the Sagrada Familia, that eternal construction, time crystalized in a never-ending piling of bricks. To the west you could make out the mist of Montjuic, the roving lights hitting the clouds in the darkness.  We dipped our toes into the still pool on the roof, it was freezing and I was just wearing my 'one day' t-shirt.

We designed these t-shirts (pictured above) for the album based on the title card from As Tears Go By, Wong Kar-wai - I was in the middle of a Maggie Cheung obsession while I was working on the album, even watching the weird shit like Green Snake and the Heroic Trio. The title card looked so bold, so striking, and I wanted to make a shirt like the punk shirts I remembered seeing as a kid at the Warped Tour - NOFX shirts that looked like the snickers logo, you know the ones. We only made like 30 or 40 of them, they weren't a hit - but I liked them, and I liked how my title looked as Hanzi, I could imagine them blown up in neon, above a bar or something. One Day.  I almost put it into the CD booklet.

We took the tiny European back downstairs with an older Chinese couple, almost squished together.  The man read the front of my shirt - "One Day" he said, with recognition and some slight disbelief, nodding.  I smiled and affirmed. I proudly turned around to show him the english on the back "FUCKED UP" - he laughed and said "Disgusting!"

I did a lot of talking and explaining about the album last year, sort of poking around my intentions with people in interviews but I never felt like I really got to lay out in full what the intentions with the album were.  Now that it's a year old and we're in the middle of the last leg of the tour, here I go:

When the album came out at the start of 2023 we hadn't done a record in almost five years, but there wasn't ever a point in that stretch that felt like a break.  After Glass Boys ("after glass boys" is gonna be the ongoing current in these post 2014 posts) we all almost went our separate ways. Jonah moved to England, Josh got a job, ect. It felt like we toured forever for Dose, but I'm only now just remembering that something else big happened that stood in the way of time.  The last bit of touring we did for that record was to Australia and New Zealand, towards the end of 2019.  Coming home from NZ felt like coming back to earth after an impossible amount of years like in cryosleep on a space ship - its so remote man.

I dusted off for a few days and tried to stretch into some time off at home, having been away for essentially a full year, or whatever it was. There and back, all that nonsense.  In Toronto I live alone, and had just gotten my party era out of my system with Dose.  I unpacked, did the laundry, went to the gym a few times, picked up my holds from the library, saw the family, etc.  The odd thing about not working a day job, is that your time off feels like the weekend, even if it stretches out over months and months.  Even after an album cycle, you've got little weekends to play - that feels like Monday, even if its six months away.  On weekends you rest, you get the groceries, you wait for the responsibilities to return, and the days start to blend together while you wait.  You can only take so many weeks of waiting for the spout to turn back on.

As it turned out, I was able to take roughly two weeks of it, before I called (texted [emailed]) our trusted engineer Alex Gamble (esq) to book myself a few days in the studio.  As fans of FU should know by now, we don't record our albums in a normal way, even before doing it in this even less normal way that we've settled on post-One Day.  Jonah moved to the UK about a decade ago, which splintered our ability to get into a practice space to jam out songs with any regularity, yadda yadda.  Since then I'd been waiting for him to get to town to book sessions, mostly to poke away at the various Zodiac projects, but after this tour I couldn't stand to wait around doing nothing for more than the few weeks I'd let myself sink into.

We booked four days at Candle Studios on the old Sterling Road, this weird industrial street that broke through the bridge at Dundas (rip) and snaked along the path of two train tracks. You'd walk by a huge chocolate factory where they make Kit Kats and shit like that, until you make it to the giant vacant lot that now houses Toronto's contemporary art museum.  You know what comes next - about a year after we recorded the One Day tracks, the loft complex that housed the studio handed out their eviction notices so that richer, more priviledged art-appreciators could eventually move in without having to live in the glare of any art actually being produced within their vicinity, once all the sweat and blood had been soaked out of the ground with the orange machines of industry.

I really loved that Mike Leigh film Another Year.  It was the gift of squeezing meaning out of the mundane, putting a shining spotlight on the everyday, the elevation of a daily struggle into something heroic and meaningful.  To me it's romantic, thats why we have art in the first place, not just so we can take big swings, but also to validate what we must do every day to muster the energy to take our chance.  The last song on Dose is "Joy Stops Time" - I had that Situationist pre-occupation with time in me, daily this, recaputilation that, every day every day.  

On tour you get used to living your life in segments. Today we're in Barcelona, tomorrow we've got to drive all the way to Milan (we truly just did this). You have to make peace with finding a little home for yourself to live in every day, in a different place, far away from your actual home. A day becomes a place, because the place you are in is just time - and it's limited. Your friends hear about the places you go and you don't understand the shutter - you get a glimpse, that's it. It's just one day - that's your home, over and over.  In order to not simply convalesce, you have to learn to grasp what you can from this day, before it trips over into the next one.  The van door shuts closed before it speeds off into the horizon.  It's hard to make plans for tomorrow when every day is yesterday.

After so many decades of this way of life, it starts to seep into my life at home. A month becomes a day, waiting for a tour to come. It's hard to plan things, to hold onto friendships, to build. But the fact of it is, One Day is all any of us really have. We wake up, we do the things we have to do, and then it all happens again, and the growth, the achievements are only build on all the other days behind us, incrementally pushing us over our walls. That's romantic to me as well. How we achieve, and how we live.

What could you do in just one day? I had become sick of waiting - not just to leave again, but for music to materialize in my life. I don't even really like touring - I'm not performative by nature and I have a lot of issues being onstage, being perceived. I'm much more comfortable inside of a studio where it's just me and Alex and sometimes Jonah.  But time is different in the studio. The song you write today rarely see's the light of day inside of a year, if you're lucky. Year of the Horse took five years to make, and after you hand in your album you are still looking at six or seven months before it gets released.  So I gave myself a day to make an album, divided into 4 equal segments. We'd track for six hours per session, with about an hour or two left from an eight hour day to do a bit of editing and fucking around.  Plus maybe 20 minutes for me to nap on the couch while Alex did his thing or ate lunch.

You set up and then have to play your instrument for a while so Alex can dial in a sound and fine tune the EQ. I put my hands on b, but low down the neck so it was on the a-string. B is a big chord for us. We use B chord a lot in our songs, it's been sort of our center. While I was warming up I found the opening riff for "Found" and off we went.  Over the four days I ended up with about 16 finished songs, with 12 ear-marked to possibly go on an album.

Did I consider doing the whole thing in one 24 hour go? Of course, and for a while. But I also considered the quality of the songs, and Alex's sanity and to a lesser extent my own. The convention would only stretch so far, and I tried to take it just that far.  This time, the idea was more important that it's exact execution. What could you do in a few days, in just one day, in an hour, in a lifetime? To me there is an equality in those questions, each of them matters as much as the other while you're inside.

So it's been a year, and thank you for going along with our experiment. I envisioned these "Day" albums a bit as a reaction to the sort of stuff we'd been putting out - long form, double album, big swing - I wanted a more modest approach, one that (ironically?) focused more on the music and the sound than the conventions, or the length, or the contrivances that have weighed down some of our weightier albums. We each spent a day with the music, and now we've been able to stretch that out into a lovely year with the album and with you. We'll be on this tour with heroes Superchunk for the next week, then we go home to come up with something new again.