OLD SLOW SAD ONES
Thank you, very kindly, for the inquiries about my musical past.
I was (am) conflicted about any merger between my writing life and the music I’ve made and still, on occasion, make. At times, I’ve attempted to disown the records I’ve taken part in; in the case of a particular album, I’ve bought every copy I can find in order to destroy evidence of its having existed. Obliviously, and despite the musical tales in Songs Only You Know, I hoped I’d be able to keep these lives apart—an ironic notion on more levels than one, if you’ve read the book (and consider the internet).
Though I don’t view Songs as music autobiography, I know a small audience was attracted to the book due to an awareness of my first band Thought of Ionesco (a going concern in the first 2/3rds of the book). To my view, TOI (in which I played from age 17-21) made for good storytelling due not to its artistic merits (if it had any whatsoever), but for the hysteric and pathetic missions we undertook as young men. For those who’d like a sample, my suggestion would be to seek out the song “Figure” from the 1998 album A Skin Historic. Recorded live in one take (save vocal overdubs) and mixed just as hastily, it’s a seven-minute piece of sludge that evokes several things the band was known for, including a narcotic improvisation section. We considered it “headphone music.” The following year, 1999, saw the band’s sound change to a less complex and dare-I-say “rock influenced” brand of chaos. Our listeners did not like these final recordings (made when I was 21), though I felt the “screams” were better captured at these final 1999 sessions, as on the song “Learning an Enemy.” A mentor named Tim Pak recorded each of the band’s four records (in three years) and numerous singles in a former wig shop called Wonder Wigs on Nine Mile Road. Tim worked on a truly proletariat level, making records for pennies, and was invaluable to the Detroit music scene of the ’90s.
Known as a “hardcore” band, TOI operated with the low-budget, DIY spirit of hardcore punk, but aimed for a high form of sonic destruction and did so with the blind conviction of sad, angry young humans. I’ll vouch only for its honesty. If you’d like, uou can read an interview I gave about the Songs Only You Know and Thoughts of Ionesco: HERE.
As for what followed, it’s no exaggeration to say that I wrote and recorded hundreds of songs between the years 2001-2006, under my own name as well as with various bands. Stylistically, it was a nearly schizophrenic turn away from “hardcore,” a change accelerated by my sister’s death and my ensuing reliance on expressive, consoling records by Nick Drake and The Red House Painters. Much of the music I made haunts me, as it was always marred by the troubles of those times. There’s such a keen difference between wild obsession and focused intention—volumes were created, yet so little material was truly realized. Some of these songs, though, thrived in a small community of music lovers and friends, primarily in the Midwest and, especially, in Detroit. Flattered by the book-related interest, I’ve done my best to compile a few songs to supplement “Part Three” of Songs Only you Know.
I’ve called this collection exactly what it is: Old Slow Sad Ones. [download/stream]
What unifies this batch of songs is that they were recorded by David Feeny at his Tempermill Studio. Some of these were written in a Kalamazoo cemetery, and I remember weekly drives toward Detroit on I-94, propelled by cassette copies of albums I loved and a dream that someone out there might someday listen to my songs on a long, dark road—that’s what I wanted it to be, I suppose: music you feel when you’re alone. Sloooow, loooong songs that evoked the wee hours and quiet Michigan terrain. The bands who helped me make this music broke up before anyone heard these recordings. We were in our early to mid twenties. Over ten years later, I still have no perspective on how bad (or good) the music might have been.
A few of these tracks were performed with a band called Leaving Rouge. On others, I was joined by whatever friends I could coerce into learning the songs. Which leaves me with a feeling I should have expressed in Songs, during that hazy moment at the end when the faint rays of Now begin to slowly dissolve the past: The music was never in vain; it gave me friends, and love, connection to what’s right here.
Photos in this post by CJ Benninger, one of a few photographers who documented our corner of the Detroit music scene.