SONG OF THE WEEK: "Unkind" (1999):
This was my first 45 rpm release in Japan. John Wesley Harding and I were invited there to tour in 1999; three different labels released two CDs and this single that week. We were given the royal treatment, hosted dinners every night, fans lined up politely for autographs, and I had my own CD listening station in the Tower records. I loved the attention, but on the other hand, I didn’t know what to do with it. That is to say, going into it, I didn’t understand Japanese culture and the delicate matter of minding your manners. I knew to bring gifts there, but then I gave gifts of my own albums to our hosts.
The recording of “Unkind” was more involved than usual, as I was being ambitious after having recorded Wood + Wire with a full band and hired studios rather than recording at home mostly by myself. Dennis Diken happened to be in town with The Smithereens, so I got to thinking...why not recreate the Wood + Wire recording ensemble scenario that worked before? It’s not so easily done, actually. I begged Dennis to make time on his day off to record, and eventually he went for it, nice guy.
I had some trade time at Brilliant Studio in SF, but then had to pay the assistant. I had to borrow a drum set, bring that in, buy drum sticks, heads, 2” tape. Suddenly this was becoming quite a project. Pete Straus was on board to play bass, Chuck Prophet on lead guitar, and no one knew these new songs of mine. A fully loaded cart and no horse.
I handed out charts, but who was I kidding? Rock musicians don’t just read off the page and give you their magic; you need to roll around and make out for a while and find the groove. These days I guide people through this process as a producer, and on this session I was learning the hard way. The recording assistant had good equipment to work with, but his greatest feat that day was successfully writing his full name on each and every track sheet. Chuck was shooting guitar fireworks in his tone corner, eyes on the music stand. Pete said to me, “I’ve never asked you to change a note the whole time we’ve played together,” but recommended I remove half of the bridge section. Dennis eventually said I should order out for dinner- “Spag and balls, a salad, a dinner roll...what more could a guy ask for?” As usual, food was the last thing on my mind.
We got through the session, I knew I didn’t have a finished take of anything. People had freely given their entire day to me, yet I was left dissatisfied. Dennis requested I’d pick up ten sets of drumsticks, and I should have known to give them all to him to keep.
In the end, I stripped away everything but the drums on “Unkind,” overdubbed everything by myself and mixed it for this 45 rpm release. It was the last-ditch effort and the one sure-fire way of getting the job done, when it comes to me and recording.
I remember wanting to incorporate some kind of Third Eye Blind element into the chorus section, after being introduced to their singer. Stephan Jenkins said, “Chris, I have to be honest, I haven’t listened to your records yet,” to which I quipped, “That’s okay, I don’t even have any of yours.”
In the song I sing about fearing the unkind people out there in the big world, leaving my rural town, but then discovering that I only get what I bring to whatever world I’m living in.
11/6/2013 07:52:17 am
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Chris von Sneidern is a musical artist living in San Francisco.