NRVS LVRS latest single, “Whatever & Ever” is avail @ Apple Music.
by Andrew Gomez
Here are some records that shaped me as both a fan and maker of music. As tempting as it was to just pull albums from my favorite current artists and try to blow minds with some obscure deep cuts, I thought it would be more fun to revisit some albums that were big influences on the younger me, even if I don’t necessarily put some of these into my steady rotation anymore.
“Weird Al” Yankovic – In 3-D
This was the first record I ever bought or, rather, asked my mom to buy for me. I was very young and had been fooling around with my parents’ record player, no doubt scratching up their copy of CCR’s Cosmo’s Factory & various Julio Iglesias albums, and my parents must have felt like I needed my own records to mangle. I recall being in the Tower Records in San Mateo, CA (the one next to The Good Guys for all my San Mateans out there), but I’m not sure what compelled me to ask for this particular record. Was it the intriguing look the mustachioed man with a perm was giving me? Was it his beautiful shirt? Was it him emerging from the spacescape, which portended my future love of psych music? Upon further reflection, I’m sure it was the impossible promise of being able to listen to this music in 3-D, as my young mind was gullible and no doubt taking the album title way too literally.
In any event, it was mine now, and I played the shit out of it. From the smash hit “Eat It” to “I Lost On Jeopardy” to “Nature Trail To Hell”, I was treated to musically faithful renditions of songs I hadn’t heard yet coupled with humorous, satirical lyrics sung by a guy who looked and sounded like one of my dad’s nerdy co-workers. It stirred up a lot in me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know what a condo was as I listened to “Buy Me A Condo”. That was an adult thing, and Weird Al taught me that adult things are self-important and ridiculous, and they should be mocked mercilessly for the enjoyment of others.
Nirvana – Nevermind
Sure, there are albums I like better now. Hell, I like just about every other Nirvana album better than this one, but this is the one I heard first. As soon as I saw the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, I thought to myself, “I need to be doing that.” I didn’t have the confidence to think I could be out in front like Kurt Cobain, which led me to believe the tall, awkward Kris Novoselic standing-in-the-shadows role was more of a realistic goal for me. Never mind that I hadn’t been able to discern bass from the rest of the music at the time. I didn’t have lofty dreams. I just wanted to be near this mysterious clatter and rumble. Whatever it took to be in and around a mess of swirling noise would be good enough for me.
That week I asked my parents for a bass. They looked at me like I’d asked them for 20 pounds of ground beef, but I was deadly serious. After having to hear about all things bass over the following few days, they agreed they would, but only if I played their old, classical guitar first to show I was serious about taking up music. They got it out of the closet, I asked a friend write out the tab for the opening riff to “Come As You Are”, and after playing that and “Sunshine Of Your Love” for 6 months, a used Squire bass and Peavey combo amp were mine. After listening to my tuneless and arrhythmic thumping, they encouraged me to take lessons. Lessons! “Ha!” I laughed in their faces. “I’m gonna start a band, and I’ll learn as I go.” That was dumb of me, and thus began a career of not taking good advice and learning to become musically proficient at the slowest possible rate.
John Frusciante – Niadra Lades & Usually Just A T-Shirt
After choosing “bass player” as part of my young identity, it wasn’t long before I started listening to music that had bass lines that were easy to hear, and that included the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I would jump on my bed slapping Flea’s bass lines as I ignored the accuracy and finesse they were usually played with and concentrated on my dance moves. One day, I caught wind that the RHCP’s John Frusciante had released a solo album. Expecting more funky, goofy jams in line with his main band, I rushed out to buy it. I popped it into my CD player, listened from start to finish, heard no bass, was immediately turned off by this acoustic record with terrible vocals, and then tossed it in my backpack to throw away later.
The very next day my friend introduced me to psychedelics by way of a large amount of mushrooms and a healthy amount of peer pressure. At one point in the very long trip, we found ourselves sitting in an older kid’s car listening to music since he would be unable to drive for hours. I dug in my bag, threw on the Niadra Lades, and was greeted by an entirely different record. We loved it, laughing, crying, and cheering at different moments. I recall listening to “Running Away Into You” five times in a row as we giggled at the brash & psychotic squeals and squelches. Five songs later, I was grinning with a mix of respect & vicarious embarrassment at the raw, unhinged scream at the end of “Blood On My Neck From Success”. The entire album revealed itself to contain multitudes of colors and ideas with sounds that were difficult to describe, let alone determine what instrument played them.
It didn’t happen immediately, but I quickly grew bored of Frusciante’s main band and a lot of other music I had been listening to up to that point. It now all sounded too clean, embarrassing, and safe. Now, I wanted bizarre sounds, lo-fi hiss, and uncomfortable vulnerability from artists, and Frusciante’s first solo album is to blame for that. It’s not a classic psychedelic album, but Niadra Lades And Usually Just A T-Shirt was the first to get me to crave the strange place unfamiliar textures can take us where time grinds to a halt and the edges of our vision start to distort. It also forced me to reconsider what was possible in terms of crafting arrangements, layering instruments, and making unique sounds tumble, twitch, and soar out of the speakers.
I still listen to this record all the time, and if I’m being honest with myself when I say I want raw beauty and human frailty laid bare in the music I listen to, then it’s probably my favorite album of all time. I still wonder how he got some of these sounds, like the droney chords at the beginning of “Untitled #11”. Are the piano chords played in reverse? It can’t be a synth. Maybe some sort of organ with tape effects? Part of me hopes I never find out.
The Smiths – Louder Than Bombs
This is cheating a bit since it’s a compilation, but it’s what my friend was listening to as he drove us down Baja California on the way to camp with friends on some deserted beach. I thought the guitar playing was nice, but, the singing struck me as pompous and annoying. “What the hell are you making me listen to?” I asked him, but he was obsessed and refused to play anything else. Of course, by the time we were driving back to California, I had tears in my eyes as together we screamed along to the words, “I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear!” Thus began a love affair with Morrissey’s music and lyrics, as I consumed everything I could find from Smiths B-Sides to his stellar solo albums, like “Vauxhall And I” to his not-so-great solo albums, e.g., “Maladjusted”.
I grew up listening to singers with voices that soared well beyond my range, but nowhere was a voice I could somewhat keep up with. After I had exhausted singing along with Morrissey, I would then try to develop a harmony line with Morrissey as I pretended I was a Pip to his Gladys Knight. What struck me most about Morrissey was the unique character of his voice. From the first few notes he sings, it’s obvious who you’re listening to. Love it or hate it, that’s him, and nobody does it in quite the same way. The bumps, dings, and scratches that make our voices unique are usually trained out of singers, and it’s a goddamned shame. Sing like yourself, even if some little asshole driving down through the Mexican desert makes fun of you. He just hasn’t caught up to your brilliance yet.
The Fall – Fall Heads Roll
Having started in 1976 and seemingly never taking any breaks, The Fall have a bajillion albums, but this is the one I heard first in the year it came out (2005). Being late to the party, I knew nothing about the band. I had downloaded the album after reading a review and shuffled it into my iPod on some new music playlist I had created. As is the case with most great music, I didn’t like or understand the first tracks I heard, but then “What About Us?” came on. The song started with a cold, simple synth line, then slapped me with churning, grinding guitars. Shortly after, the entire rhythm section tumbled down like an avalanche, and then somehow kept building and building into a frenzied wall of anger. Before long, dry caterwauling nonsense cut through the grime, and I wasn’t sure what the hell was going on. I couldn’t even tell if I liked it. I played the album in its entirety, and immediately had to know what was up with these guys. The first thing I came across was a picture of a prune-faced old fart and the quote: “If it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s the Fall.”
Here was a dude who was making music as a 48-year-old that was tougher, grittier, and more dangerous than artists half his age. Without picking up any instruments (with the exception of the earliest Fall stuff), Mark E. Smith was creating consistently interesting music that was focused, brutal, sonically and thematically consistent, and somehow all him, even if he had burned through 40+ different band members at this point. Somehow, his artistic vision was so intense that he willed the music he wanted to make into existence via other musicians and then added his jagged, rambling mumbles and yelps over it. At the time, I had never considered that a band wouldn’t be comprised of best friends creating democratically, even if they did occasionally disagree and fight amongst each other. Then I come to find this guy had spanned decades creating music designed to make people want to run through brick walls by doing whatever it took: raging at bandmates, firing a guitarist on the poor guy’s wedding day, sacking an engineer for eating a salad, and even scrapping the last couple months of work and mastering his crusty cassette demo, as he did on Bend Sinister. If I had to take a stab at Smith’s writing style, I’d say it’s probably: “Fuck your feelings, best idea wins, and it’s probably gonna be mine.” And, while I like to think I prefer a more diplomatic style when working with others, I still find channeling my inner Mark E. Smith is sometimes the quickest and, ironically, least painful way to get what I’m after artistically.
While musicians like Björk and Neil Young show us that aging artists can still retain integrity and honesty in their songcraft through the later years of their careers, Mark E. Smith, through his body of work & actions, reveals to us that the hardest, most forceful, and most urgent music can be made by your grandpa so long as he’s a snarling, angry sonuvabitch. He’s almost 60 now, and he’s still busy making uncompromising music and not giving a shit about his bandmates’ feelings. I don’t think I’d ever want to hang out with the guy, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t get results.
[17 June 2016]
NRVS LVRS WHATEVER & EVER
Bevin Fernandez – Andrew Gomez