MUSIC FOR PETS-- THE COLLECTOR'S BOX (Barking Pumpkin)
released in 1996
It's Dec. 3 '97, nearly two years since my and Beller's regrettable parting of the ways with the Zappa organization. I've never done an overview of the "Music For Pets" collector's box (which contains the "Music For Pets" album, a bone-us CD of leftover tracks, a video and a variety of things printed on paper) and now I feel like it. First, the album proper. I'll just let my thoughts drop where they may whilst I listen. Note: it may not be pretty.
The album proper:
1. Silver Lady Disco
This is the one which was used as the soundtrack for the ESPN spots Ahmet and Dweezil did, or so I'm told, as I never saw any of them. Stunningly appropriate drum sound. I got to play The Synclavier on this (the flute, string and horn parts), a unique thrill for me. I also did the vibrato-wah guitar in the right speaker, a too-timid performance. I now believe that I always played guitar too cautiously on Dweezil's recordings, as though I were afraid of revealing too much of myself. Sorry DZ. This is a good opener and probably one of Z's more successful studio achievements sonically. Hear the "Odd Couple" quote in the flute part at the end? This track is 57 seconds long.
2. Coyote Face
Dweezil struggled manfully to mix this album and it was a complete nightmare for him. I understand completely how easy it is to lose perspective in the studio. This is an interesting song with an odd mix, wish I could hear BB better. I like DZ's three-against-four rhythm guitar part on the left during the verse. I'm doing my Split Enz tribute rhythm guitar part on the right. This track is 1:46 long.
3. True Face
It's really a trip for me to hear this album again. I practically forgot this song existed. Geez, DZ sure mixed me loud enough there on the right. Thanks Dweezil! Arguably the weirdest instrumental bridge of all time resides within this song. It's hard for me to believe we weren't consuming vast quantities of drugs when I hear this. I like it a lot. Sheepers, I just figured out what the vibe of this song reminds me of - "OK Computer"! We were 18 months ahead of our time!
4. Feminine SDH
Sort of a regrettable title for what was a really fun song to play. Almost every vocal track on this album was distorted or altered in some way. BB has moments that leap out of the mix a bit on this song, you can hear him champing at the bit a bit. What pure misery the recording of this album was for him. There's me ripping off Jimmy Page during the middle eight and guitar solo. It was lovely of Dweezil to assign me the solo on this tune. Again, I wish I'd seized the opportunity by the balls a lot more. This track sounds great. Cool fade.
Great Dweezil riff-rocker. Yet more shockingly audible Keneally guitar on the right and I sound like I'm enjoying myself. This song was really REALLY fun to play, and a perfect showcase for twisted Ahmet-isms. I love the way he says "crash my Cadillac". Five songs in and at the moment I'm finding this album to be very entertaining. Good JT fill on the second chorus. Rockin' AZ/DZ/MK vocal harmonies in the bridge, and two low-voiced Keneallys saying "a boodle oodle dang". I'm still channeling Jimmy Page during my portion of the guitar solo, but my playing sounds more committed than usual for this band. Dweezil's playing sparkles. Know why? 'Cause he's comfortable enough to play like himself. I never allowed myself to feel that comfortable with Z. The drum fills are too loud during the solo section, but hey.
6. Music For Pets
Wherein my attention wanders. What an unfortunately anemic mix this sports. Give me a sec - I want to compare this to the French CD mix.
Unfortunately, there is no copy of the French MFP here at Chatfield Manor. Quirky little instrumental bridge. I HATE HATE HATE my last guitar note on the quirky little instrumental bridge, fucking little lifeless cynical no-soul guitar note. Further evidence of the low-level spirituality from the Keneally corner. Why should I have picked up a guitar if I wasn't going to be balls on the line all the time? No wonder Dweezil didn't have a problem with letting me go. It's all in that note. I do like my Dave Gregory tribute at the two-minute mark, wish I'd been a little more committed about the performance though. Fuck the Keneally which recorded this track!
Hey, what am I doing in the left speaker on this song? Slashing out "Sgt. Pepper" guitar chords, that's what. This has a cool groove but the song as it exists on this piece of round aluminum feels somehow disconnected (I seem to recall the mix on the French version feeling a lot more intergrated - am I high?). The loud hollow thwock of the snare drum sucks the life out of too many of these songs. I like the chords at the end of the vocal bridge. Hear DZ's "Sofa" quote at the beginning of the instrumental? Hear my barely-committed "Mr. Tambourine Man" twelve-string quote later in the instrumental? I'm starting to piss myself off.
8. Chicken Out
Songs 6-8 form a real bummer of a triptych for these ears at this moment. It's the sound of squandered potential. This song should rage relentlessly, and it just kind of happens and there's Keneally sort of playing a little Tom Petty guitar part over there. Better drum sound, I'll grant you that, but the band still sounds like it's a few rooms away. Good guitar solo from DZ, but this doesn't feel like the music of a band that wants to rage and rule the world, it sounds like a series of thoughtful gestures shaped into a rock music-like form for our own momentary amusement. I HEAR NO PASSION, except for the vocals. Let me tell you something, Z on stage, for all of our parody and self-conscious cleverness and anti-rock cynicism, rocked like rapacious motherfuckers. We were DEVASTATING on stage. I have some videos of us on stage that tear my heart out, they're so good. Our failing as a band, the reason why we went nowhere, was because we never came close to capturing that in a studio. No wonder Dweezil had to remix these songs a zillion times to try to find some life in them - there wasn't much to be found. And, fuck: this applies primarily to my own performance. Everyone else seems to be doing a fine old job.
Pay no attention to me. I'm just spewing out first impressions as I listen. It's just that I've learned a lot about passion and commitment and giving your all over the last two years - thank you, John Coltrane - and what I hear when I listen to my work on "Music For Pets" is a guy who's saving all the best of himself for his own solo albums. Conversely, I listened to disc one of "The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life" last night and enjoyed my performances there more than I ever have - I hear an eager kid playing his parts with style and enthusiasm and wit, happier than fuck to be on that stage playing those tunes. And when I listen to "Sluggo!" I hear a guy desperately and proudly tearing out pieces of his soul and presenting them unafraid for all the world to hear. On "MFP" I hear a too-old muso smirking at his predicament, feeling overqualified, hacking cynically through his little guitar parts. FUCK the Keneally on this album. I am really sorry, Dweezil. I should have given you more. I've learned a lot since then. I'm doing great now. How are you these days?
9. With You
On the original French version my piano has not been altered to sound like a cheap movie house spinet. On this version it has, effectively trivializing everything I play. After what I played on the last few songs I deserve it. I did have fun writing this song with Ahmet and being Elton John for a second or two. I wish I'd been in the studio the day the cello guy came to do his overdubs, I could have helped to arrange the fuck out of the middle section. Drums are again just too absurdly loud and huge upon their entrance. I know the French version is a better mix. The two best things about this version are Ahmet's completely sincere vocal performance and his naked picture in the booklet.
10. Song For S
47 seconds long. It's pretty, which is appropriate.
11. Father Time
Best song on the album. Great acoustic guitar part from DZ. No accident that Keneally does not appear, although I did help to arrange the harmonies. I declined Dweezil's invitation to sing on the song, I didn't feel right having my voice anywhere near it. Joe played the drum part (which is a very cool part), then doubled the whole thing so that there's two drum kits playing everything. Sounds good - big without being a parody of hugeness and the tom fills don't swallow everything in their wake. Pretty tweaked instrumental bridge, DZ at his most architectural (see also "Farfignewton"). I remember sitting in Frank's chair in the control room listening to AZ and DZ do their vocals and listening to the playback and burying my face in my hands trying not to cry.
This sounds fucking great on the intro! MK's guitar on the right sounds good, appropriate, committed. My performances on the 1995 recordings (such as this and "True Face") have a lot more spunk than the 1994 recordings which comprise the majority of the album, 1994 being when I was preoccupied with the illness and death of my father and FZ and the birth of my daughter and the creation of "Dust Speck" and various other traumas. My mind was everywhere but the job I was being paid to perform. AZ/DZ's devastation at the loss of Frank permeates this album. This song, like so much of the album, creaks with despair. No amount of surface goofiness or dog heads can cloak it. In fact as I listen I'm growing to appreciate the album for its accurate depiction of our state of mind, even down to the fatigue of my own performances (yeah, I was making an art statement, that's it - I WAS obsessed with the concept of ennui around that time, wasn't I?). It's a snapshot of a point in time, that's for damn sure. I just don't like the guy I was then. At least I managed to squeeze out "Dust Speck" while I was down there. This is a strong song and the performance and mix do it justice. (Something funny I just discovered in a "Paul is dead" vein: on page 5 of the booklet, behind the left column of text, the one picture of me which is not covered with a dog head looks as though I'm glancing directly at the words "Bryan Beller" - it looks like I'm thinking "I'm out of here, and I think I'll take THAT guy with me...")
One of the better of the 1994 tunes, with a really good mix and a firecracker snare sound. Fun fact: I play all the guitar parts on this song (except for the tacked-on Van Halen-ish textural intro). The real guttural sounding stringed insturments on this track are a couple of 12-string basses played by DZ. There is good music on this song: alive, weird, unique. Ahmet sounds good.
14. Mind Control
They sort of did this song while I wasn't paying attention. I just showed up at the studio and there it was. I don't play anything on it but I sing and did some vocal arranging on the "you don't need a reason" sections which I really like. Really nice acoustic playing by DZ. This song could have used, perhaps, a more varied verse melody, but it does make the more expansive melodies of the other sections stand in out in clear relief. BB finally steps out a bit on the instrumental bridge, although I wouldn't be surprised if he feels the same way about this performance as I do about some of mine - squandered opportunity. Drum sound is really good and the percussion overdubs really work. The ending is great, among the best music on the album.
15. Flibberty Jibbet
What used to be a fast song all the way through (on the French CD) gets remade and dragged down into the mire of this album's general despair, at least on the verses. The bass and the overall arrangement on the fast chori sounds fabulous, though. The ubiquitous distorting of the vocal tracks starts to get on my dick around now, then I remember again how unhappy we all were and it feels right - it makes sense that we'd try to hide behind effects.
16. Based On A True Story
Joylessness. Maybe a childhood reverie will cheer us up! Nope, maybe not. Funny, despite everything we laughed as much as we ever did while we were making this album, but most of what made it onto the tape was the sadness and fatigue underneath the facade - the tape don't lie. There is, though, something I really love about the sheer stupidity of the way DZ and I sing "Na na na na na. I had a rabbit". This song was released as a single in France. It was the biggest selling single of all time there, although I might be confused about that. Even Ahmet's monologue about the Six Million Dollar Man sounds disaffected, unhappy. Sigh.
17. Silver Lady
Killed in the mix. I swear that the mix actually drains the song of its humor - there were rough mixes of this song which had me sore from laughter, because in addition to the truly idiotic lyrics and vocals, the song itself really rocked, which made you feel good about laughing at it. In this mix Dweezil opted to make his rhythm guitar, the cornerstone of the arrangement, virtually inaudible. There's nothing to latch onto. You sure can hear Joe though. The hollow snare thwock and overall low-end rumble returns. This song is a mess.
I almost can't listen to this, it's so lifeless. We used to completely explode on this song live. This version seems unconvincing, distant, almost confusing. Many of the songs on this album could and should have been salvaged by a hired professional to help with the mix. But really, I understand what the mixing process can do to a brain and I sympathize. Still, listen: there's actual interaction and creative thought from all involved parties, even me, during DZ's extremely inventive solo. Band involvement! Spontaneous musicality! A taste of what we could accomplish when we cared to! Notice how much better the song sounds on the ending, after the solo, than it does before the solo? All that playing energized us. We should have re-recorded the whole first part of the song again and edited it onto the good stuff.
19a. Singer In The Woods...
"Nice trees, they're still there, OK..."
Sounds great. No sign of Keneally mucking things up, just good slodgy power trio rock. I'm digging it. As simple as can be and absolutely fine. Ahmet sounds great, and the lyrics feel like something the listener can relate to and be chilled by, not just self-pitying musings of the privileged (of which I've been as capable as anyone, I'm not just pointing fingers here). This is a good song and a strong way to end a strange, half-baked, depressing but all-too-accurate (regarding the mental state of its makers) album. While these songs were being recorded I was also writing and recording the "Dust Speck" and "Mistakes" albums, both of which also feature their fair share of despair, don't they. A low point in my life (except for Jesse, thank you, thank you) thoroughly, vividly documented. All better now!
Things printed on paper:
My favorite is the heart-shaped sticker which says "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful, Goddammit". That's inspired. There's also a Z/Ahmet & Dweezil Zappa sticker which is kind of cool, two bitchin' postcards (one of which bears the very entertaining caption "Bing Jang & Arkansas consider mysterious cloud formations while visiting ancient Rome" - that too is inspired), a survey card and a little sort of semi-poster semi-pamphlet with some actual solid information about dog care, although I'm not sure about "Crates are an invaluable tool for housebreaking and destructive chewing as well as a safe place the dog will love to be". Then there's the box itself which is a nice piece of design work and is covered with lots of groovy text (trivia question #4: who am I quoting here?). Dweezil is a damned entertaining writer. There might even be a little backhanded tribute to me on the back of the box there: when "hat." came out Dweezil told me he was especially entertained by the way the word "accoutrement" was delivered in "Eno And The Actor" - he found it absolutely reprehensible and important. And there's the word "accoutrement" on the back of the "MFP" box. I'm moved. Grade for things printed on paper: I'd considered giving it a B+, but I'm in a good mood, so A-! Great job, guys! (Sheesh.)
The Bone-Us CD:
Good mix! Sounds good! The Bone-Us CD makes a good first impression, in fact it starts off sounding a lot better than a lot of the album proper. I'm pretty sure I have absolutely no involvement in this song. I am not missed. Guitar mix and tone are really good. Killer solo, I think I like this solo better than any of DZ's solos on the album proper. Darn that album proper. At 3:35 Ahmet, in the midst of improvising some rockin' vocal interjections, destroys everyone present by singing "44...hips about 20", demonstrating his complete innocence of the specific meaning of female measurements. He willingly copped to his ignorance while the rest of us struggled not to die from laughter and, of course, it was kept in the track. This song sounds great.
Wish this had a super-present mix with no reverb on the vocals and super tight and loud rhythm guitars but it doesn't. I don't believe I played on this song, but I did some backing vocals. It's a good song with a washed-out arrangement. We played it really well live though.
3. Fuckin' Glad
Another confusing mix. My first guitar performance on the bone-us CD, Townshendisms in the right speaker. I like this song despite the mix. Interesting vocal assignment: DZ/MK on the verses, AZ on the slow bridge. Distinctive, and I become accustomed to the mix as I listen. We did this one well live also. So far this CD is starting at least as strongly as that danged album proper.
4. Happy Song
Oh yeah! This is a really good song, although the drums are still too loud in relation to the guitars. This was a very important part of the French version and a major loss to the album proper in my darned opinion. Fun fact: Paddy Mahoney's tin whistle solo was actually played a half-tone off from what you hear (can't remember whether it was sharp or flat) because he didn't have any whistles which were in the same key as the song. 'Twas I who suggested he play it through a harmonizer and saved the day, but he had to struggle with hearing the basic track in his headphones a half-tone off from the solo he was playing. This bone-us CD is good. Anyone who bought just the "MFP" CD and not the box should be unhappy with themselves.
5. I Wants Me Gold
You know what? Stupid as this song is, I like it a whole lot, and the mix is really good for most of it. Contribution of which I'm most proud: the line "they took out my money shot" (to which Ahmet appended "where I'm burning children for fuel").
6. You Used All My Soap
This song is a lot better than you think it is. We RAGED on it live. All power is missing from the recorded version, except for the ending which offers a taste. You know what it reminds me of? I saw Missing Persons a bunch of times in the early 80's and they were stunning on stage. Then they started putting out albums and I was totally stymied by how small and unexciting the albums sounded in comparison to the live shows. That's the story of this song. Inspirational couplet: "I want to fly like a bird/I want to stink like a horse".
7. What It B
Bryan and Joe just loved this song when Dweezil wrote it and wanted really badly for it to be on the album. I thought it was unbearably 80's and was happy for it to be hidden away. I was wrong! It rocks and grooves and the album would have benefitted from the addition of it (and the subtraction of one doom-and-gloom-fest of your choice). LOVE the way Ahmet says "Malt liquor": total Cheech Marin. We, the vocalists, sound committed during the "feeling is building" bits. Hear the "beelding" on the last pre-chorus?
I had nothing whatsoever to do with this! This madness is all from the mind of Dweezil (except for the last five chords, which I wrote [DZ edited them from an unused section of "The Finger" - the edit collage which leads from the backwards stuff to those "Finger" chords and the angular drum fill which follows to the opening chord of the next song is startling and musical and wonderful, my fave moment of both discs so far]). He can be pretty tweaked when it's needed.
9. Ask Yourself
Not only a cool song, but a good performance and a fine mix! Why 'nearth isn't this on the A.P. (album proper)? Good singing from DZ (lead) and MK (backgrounds) with help from AZ on assorted lines - I like how it expands into three-part harmony here and there, Ahmet's voice is such a "lead" texture that it's really interesting when it's used for background parts. The harmonies on the ending are great. This song is inspired.
10. Polar Bear
It sounds great and it's genuinely funny and we're enjoying ourselves. We laughed SO HARD while Ahmet was doing his vocal tracks. Moon Zappa on background vocals on the second line of the second variation. We also did one with Moon singing lead as Cher - sorry you can't hear that one. It's official, kids - I like this bone-us CD a LOT more than the A.P.
11. The Finger
Here it is! Dweezil and Keneally's only truly collaborative songwriting effort! Really good mix! Hear how interested I sound over there? Beller always hated this song for some reason but it sounds really good to me on here. What you're not hearing, and not missing, is the five minute middle section wherein DZ and I struggled to play a couple of interesting solos. It works a lot better as a two minute attention grabber. I'm a lot prouder of this song than I thought I was. I came up with the main intro riff at Dweezil's request that I "write something like 'Rosemary Girl'". The riff is like "Rosemary Girl" sideways, sort of.
This Bone-Us CD is fucking great!
12. Not My Fault
And the inclusion of this song clinches it. It might be Dweezil's best song ever. Perfect performance from everyone, even me. The mix works and Ahmet sounds terrific. It's SAD but it's not DEPRESSING - big difference. This is a real song. And DZ's solo rules the earth - wish he'd mixed himself up a bit more and me down. Oh God, I'm reeling with regret at the fact that the existence of this recording is such a secret to the world. Perfect ending. This song is the shit. Over here, world! Check it out! We were so proud of this song after we recorded it. How many copies do you suppose this collector's box actually sold? The Bone-Us CD rules.
13. Rice Pudding
DZ recorded, I think, four different versions of this in quick succession. I think we were waiting for Ahmet to write some lyrics so he could finish his vocal tracks and DZ whipped this out in the meantime. It's a real-live solo performance, he's singing and playing at the same time, very impressive considering he was barely proficient at that particular discipline (chip off the old block) when the DZ band started rehearsing in 1990. Again, we did a lot of laughing.
This pumps along right nice. Still bears the oversized snare which mars very many of these mixes but the overall mix is totally pleasing. MK on acoustic, I believe my only appearance on that instrument during the entirety of these sessions. Very cool intervals at the end of DZ's solo, and nice vocal thing after the solo. Texture! Features! Dynamics! Nice solid song-y way to wind up the album! No secret bonus shit, the point is made and the CD is over! I feel a lot better now! I played well on these songs, my mind wasn't completely elsewhere all the time, just for a lot of the songs on the damn A.P. What a weird venting excercise this has been. I wonder if I'll even bother letting the world read it. Oh what the hell.
I'm going to have to listen to "Shampoohorn" again and see how it stacks up. I was shocked by how good "Loser" sounded when I watched the video that comes with this "MFP" box. But at this moment "Bone-Us" is my favorite Z CD. It should have traded places with "Music For Pets".
The video: Although the most devastatingly funny parts of the "Master Pets Theatre" segment were edited out of this video, it's still funnier than the Halloween episode of "South Park". Ahmet shines. The songs "Music For Pets" and "Based On A True Story" sound better on the soundtrack to this video than they do on the CD, but I'm not sufficiently motivated to discover whether that's because the mixes are different or if they're benefitting from video tape compression. The live snippet from the Viper Room demonstrates how much more energy we invested in performance on stage than in the studio - hardly a unique phenomenon, but in our case the distinction was just way too drastic for comfort.
But we had our moments in the studio, as "Bone-Us" proves. I guess we were better than I tend to give us credit for. I guess I wasn't the total slug I thought I was. I guess I guess I guess. Blah. Given the opportunity to do it again I'd do it better. And while it would have ended, I wouldn't have let it end the way it did.
Gonna take a break and listen to "Shampoohorn" and see what that does to me. First, though, here's what I wrote about the French "Music For Pets" at the time of its release; an interesting contrast to everything I've just written...
MUSIC FOR PETS (CNR Music-France)
at this writing, available only in France
released in 1995
CD song list:
Guitar and background vocals all over the place; piano on "With You"; synclavier on "Silverlady (Disco)"; co-writing on "Singer In The Woods (Again)", "With You" and "Silverlady (Disco)"
Comments (written in 1995):
When we started making this, over a year ago, the idea was to jam it out really quickly and get it on the shelves by summer 1994 or so. Heh. Heh HeH HEH. HA HA HA HA HAHAHHAAAAA!!
Anyway, it's a very cool damn album and I hope people other than French ones will be able to buy it soon. It's actually a very good thing that we didn't rush it, because we continued recording sporadically throughout '94 and the beginning of '95, resulting in some of the album's best material. My favorite little block of music is the four-song set of "Polar Bear", "Happy Song", "I Wants Me Gold" and "Boodledang"...great attitude, great playing, great sound, just great. I crank it in the truck and become very happy. "Silverlady (Disco)" is one of several pieces we recorded as background music for "Manetti", a cop show done with marionettes that pops up on MTV every once in a while. "Flibberty-Jibbet" and "Coyote Face" is a manic medley, lots of fun to play live.
It's good this album exists because it's the first Z record which is uncut Z all the way through...it's a band and it sounds like it. The sound quality itself is a huge step up from "Shampoohorn" as well...UMRK is the magic. "With You" is a piano ballad for which Ahmet brought me a tape of himself singing the lyrics with no musical accompaniment. I then wrote the accompaniment but he had the whole form of the song (except the instrumental in the middle) plotted in his head, just from the vocal...very cool. "Father Time" I don't play on, I just suggested harmony parts for DZ, and it's an incredibly affecting piece; you'll know when you hear it. Recording it was an intense experience. Overall this is quite an accessible album...will we finally get airplay? Stay tuned.
(available in record shops in France and hopefully soon through 818-Pumpkin in the US...distribution to stores in the US and the rest of Europe coming soon)
MY BEEF MAILBOX (CNR Music-France)
released in 1995
Comments (written in 1995): The first 3000 copies of "Music For Pets" in France were accompanied by this bonus CD containing a live 43-minute version of "My Beef Mailbox" (with bunches of solos) and a 10-minute studio version of "Purple Guitar", an instrumental we've been playing live for ages. Both tracks are excerpted from "Live Beef '94", to be released later this year, and I'll speak about them in more detail at that time.
"Live Beef" was, obviously, never released, and in light of subsequent developments I'm sure it never will be. [I have no idea what's going to happen to "What The Hell Was I Thinking?", the sprawling and ambitious instrumental work to which I allude in the song "Beautiful", but I hope Dweezil finds a way to finish and release it someday, and I hope he keeps my arrangement of "Chatanooga Choo Choo" on there.] The last time I listened to this French bonus CD I was bummed, yet again, by my inability to relax and be myself during my solos, but impressed with the amount of solo time Dweezil allotted me - what he did was edit together boatloads of solos, of which maybe three or four were mine, recorded on DAT during the course of our 1994 tour and create a monstrous, ungodly long improv section for "Mailbox". A very cool and interesting idea, and by far the largest dose of MK improv playing on any official Zappa release. Unfortunately the "Purple Guitar" on this CD was absolutely emasculated in the mix. This song is justifiably legendary but if you never heard it live, it's a good thing that you haven't heard this version.)
BASED ON A TRUE STORY CD single
released in 1995
Comments (written in 1995): This is the first single released from the album for the French market, "Based On A True Story" (about AZ/DZ's childhood). The other track on the album is "In My Mind", which was on the American "Shampoohorn" but has not previously been issued in Europe.
SHAMPOOHORN (Food For Thought-UK & Europe)
released in 1993
CD song list:
Guitar on tracks 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16; sitar on tracks 8, 15 & 16; piano on tracks 8 & 15; backing vocals on everything...the credit on the album says "special harmony arrangements for guitar & vocals & above & beyond the call of duty musical assistance provided by Mike Keneally."
Comments (written in 1994):
We recorded this, over a very long period of time, at Joe's Garage, the facility owned by the Zappas where we've always rehearsed. This is the only album that's been recorded there in its entirety (most of a Shankar album which included myself and Thunes was recorded there too---but it may never be released). During the sessions for this album we recorded something like 60 tracks, from which these 16 were chosen. A lot of good stuff from the sessions remains unreleased, none of which will be on the upcoming "Music For Pets" album. There's going to have to be a box set someday.
The parade of drummers on this album became necessary when Josh Freese, who had played on the road with us and on "Confessions", suddenly became not in the band anymore on the first scheduled day of recording for "Shampoohorn". Rather than find a new guy capable of recording the whole album right away, we found a lot of capable gentlemen and had them do a few tracks apiece...Terry Bozzio, Mark Craney, Keith Knudsen, Morgan Agren (from Zappa's Universe), Tal Bergman and my buddy Toss Panos. Toss actually became a member of Z for a few weeks before another work opportunity forced him away. Eventually he returned and joined my band. When Z suddenly found itself drummerless once again, I called up Joe Travers and the rest is something resembling history.
None of the leftover "Shampoohorn" tracks were used for "MFP", and there were some really good leftovers, particularly the infamous "Dragonmaster" which has lyrics by Frank Zappa and music by Dweezil, and a great jam with Bozzio called "Therapy". I hope DZ gets around to them eventually, even if a box set seems a remote possibility at this point. The Shankar album has still not been released, and I think all my parts have been redone by another guitarist. Aynsley Dunbar and Doane Perry also drummed on a number of tracks during the "Shampoohorn" sessions, more potential gems in the vault.)
(available from Food For Thought, 102 Belsize Lane, London, NW3 5BB UK)
SHAMPOOHORN (Barking Pumpkin-US release)
released in 1994
Comments (written in 1997):
It's been at least two and a half years since I heard this album. I actually feel nervous. Will I like it even better than "Bone-Us"? Let's watch...
1. Singer In The Woods
Toss Panos on drums! Scott Thunes on bass! MK on pseudo-jazz guitar! And Ahmet sounding relaxed and happy, and all involved having a good time. I remember these days now. The concept of "Singer In The Woods" arose from a painfully funny re-dubbed version of "E.T." (the actual film, but edited down to about 20 minutes, and with newly recorded dialogue, all done purely for private fun) with Dweezil voicing Elliot, Jan Hooks (at the time an SNL cast member) as Mom, and Ahmet as the lounge-singer E.T. - the "singer in the woods". The fact that we would open an album with something as arcane as this says something about much fun we were having in our little bubble.
2. In My Mind
Bryan Beller and Joe Travers burst, LOUDLY, onto the scene. Listen to how fucking great the drums and bass sound on this intro! DZ rages! Ahmet just started singing - Cripes! Background vocals rock, DZ's guitar is present and loud and killing. God, listen to this song! The shattering of bones is heard! How tumescent was Beller when he heard this bass tone coming back off the tape! OK, forget everything I said about "Bone-Us" being my favorite Z CD - just on the basis of the first minute and a half of this song this CD is my favorite. Now THIS sounds like a band. A happy, raucous, jizz-filled band wanting to eat the world. This song could sit completely proudly next to any King's X tune. Ah, would you listen to that SOLO for a second?!! OK, NOW I remember - we were fucking bouncing off the walls at Joe's Garage (where this album was recorded) listening to playbacks of this song - we KNEW it was amazing. Why does this sound 157,000 times better than "Music For Pets"? Joe's Garage is a rehearsal studio, for pete's sake, with far from state-of-the-art recording gear, and UMRK (where MFP was done) is, well, UMRK. And this RULES!! Could it have something to do with Marque Coy? And the fact that it was mixed at Saturn Sound? The song just ended. It rules the world. I'm going to listen to it again.
3. Did I Mention It Was Huge
OK, this doesn't sound anywhere as good as "In My Mind". (Just as a reminder, "In My Mind" and "Beef Mailbox" were later additions to the US version, recorded a year after the inital recording sessions, hence the difference in tone). This title also comes from one of DZ's re-dubbed extravaganzas, an old Brooke Shields TV movie called "Wet Gold" (retitled "Wet Beans" in its Zappafied incarnation). The guys from the Russian rock band Gorky Park helped sing back-up on this. This song is so early 90's it makes me smile. Tal Bergman on drums driving it home.
4. Jesus Clone
Wacky intro time. DZ liked doing those. Toss Panos on drums. Not enough Thunes in the mix. I think my only guitar playing on this is during the "Kumbaya" solo. More early '90's vibe. (JT just walked in and said: "This song used to kick ass." It definitely was a killer on stage, we used to surround it with different little medley bits and have a blast.) Doing background vocals on Z albums was always fun - that was where I got to spread most of my Keneally-ness over the arrangements.
We beat Beck to the punch on this. This should have gotten some airplay. Yeah. Morgan Agren, Swedish phenomenon with the snare that goes BAAHHH, arrives to play this song.
6. Kidz Cereal
The "Catbox" intro is the sound of us having real live fun. Ahmet was like 18 or 19. We were all kids. Somehow I'm not feeling driven to write so much about a lot of these songs, but this song sounds perfectly lovable. I'm now wondering, listening to these songs going by, sounding pretty cool, whether or not I really like this album more than the "Bone-Us". How about this: "In My Life" is, without question, my single favorite Z recording at the moment. I'll give you the final verdict after the album's done.
A fairly chilling video was fashioned for this bit of Zappafried grunge. This was great fun to play live. Yep. Sorry if I'm running low on scintillating commentary. I think the "Bone-Us" CD was more exciting to me because I'm not so familiar with those tunes.
Whoa! Snap me back to attention why don'tcha! What a lovely little intro. Me on Yamaha electric grand piano all chorused out but not sounding all goofy like the US "With You". This song is a little too sprawling structure-wise to be really classic, but it certainly works as a change of pace, and the overall timbre is utterly winning, and my little Brian May interjection at 2:09 just took me by surprise. Love the harmonies at 2:17 and the piano lick right after it. God, DZ could write some torturous melodies - coming up with harmonies for "anything that I wouldn't do for you" taxed my brain but the results are bitchin'. This song is mostly a collection of really fun moments, but how very fun are the moments! My second fave song of the album thus far. Good drum sound - who's playing? Mark Craney! Kick ass! Cool ending! Me all over the place! I like playing electric sitar! Fuck, I forgot all about this shit! I'm gonna listen to this song-shaped collection of moments one more time! (Boy, this essay is self-indulgent - thanks for reading this far.)
DZ and Bozzio heaven! Dweezil has a very cool touch on fretless guitar. I think this is one of Bozzio's best recorded drum sounds - wonder if he likes it? Case study in Dweezil's completely twisted approach to odd rhythms in the section after the percussion solo. Who else would write lines like that and make a drummer play them? Bozzio kicking ass on the fade. Good!
10. Mountains On The Moon
Not enough bass - it should have come in raging after the basslessness of the last tune. I think this song was more fun to play than it is to listen to. One thing is clear from listening to all of this music - Dweezil is not a dilletante, he's got loads of interesting musical concepts and realizes them and compiles interesting, unique albums. The lad deserves more props than he gets. Seems like the bass gets louder as the tunes progresses, dunnit? The "love or limerance" line derives from a book which my psychology-major wife loaned to Moon (not being a psych major self I'm at pains to define limerance accurately, but it is, in layman's terms, a crush). The book was never returned but the exchange was immortalized in song, so I guess that's some sort of reward.
11. Lucky Jones
Home of the "I can make a lion swallow soup" line which I subsequently ripp-- ah, appropriated for "Land Of Broken Dreams". This is just a fun tune, kind of a throwaway of the sort which Dweezil could and did write in about four minutes, but it rocks and it was a lot of sweaty fun to play live. It was great watching audiences writhe in pain during DZ's long sustaino feedback note at the end of his solo.
OK, here's awesome song number three from this album. What a great sound. I've never heard anything else like it. Dweezil wrote, and we recorded, this song really quickly. This is another one where there was an incredible sense of fulfillment upon listening to the playback. This might be favorite MK recorded guitar tone on a Z album, that real weedy Beefheartian Fender tone. Dig it to death. Kill groove. Craney nailing it down. I think even Thunes got off on this song. I like the little twirl Ahmet achieves on "inside meeeeeeeee". I loved playing this song live, even if it was a struggle to get it to sound as good as it does on the record. Pure catharsis playing the section starting at 3:28 - it was completely vicious on stage, all of us attacking our instruments. I'm feeling it now, I remember what it was like to stand on stage and play this fucking thing. Totally great feeling.
13. Doomed To Be Together
This was actually released as a single to radio stations, I think there were reports of it getting some moderate airplay here and there. Wasn't it a minor hit in Belgium or somewhere? Keith Knudsen from the Doobies on drums. DZ writes a straightforward tune, but of course can't write a song which stays in 4/4 all the way through - part of his considerable charm. Jeez, are my vocals loud enough on the chorus? There's absolutely nothing wrong with this 'un. Rockin' ass song number four. Killer - KILLER three-part harmonies on the double chorus at the end. Cool DZ/MK two-part harmonies on the fade.
14. My Beef Mailbox
GOD! I forgot all about that killer flange bass sound! Beller, you must have shat for weeks after hearing this! Guess what makes me happy? The fact that we played this twisted thing, with these TOTALLY twisted lyrics, on Conan O'Brien's show, the same episode that Letterman was on so people actually saw it. (This was well before Conan got hip.) OK, so far we've got a completely rocking five-song EP out of this album.
Make it six. Lyrics are a bit naive but obviously heartfelt but I dig the music all day long. I now take exception to our decision not to put a bass on this, DZ and I were in love with the airy sound we'd gotten without one (Thunes correctly thought we were nuts) but I still relish the uniqueness of the instrumentation, the composition, the vocal harmonies and the sincerity with which we executed all of it. The actual "bass instrument" on this song is me playing piano, which is a cool texture but we should have boosted the lows on it more, or at least turned it up a touch. A good remix was all this song needed to make it completely satisfying, but the mix it has does not kill all the fun. And Bozzio sounds great, surprise surprise.
Looks like seven. This album sure comes on strong at the finish line, doesn't it? You'd be surprised how many of the guitars on this song are me; I did all the electric guitars and sitars for the first three minutes of the song (DZ is playing the acoustic, which gets totally swallowed up by my millions of overdubs). DZ finally enters electrically, to great effect, at 2:54. A very interesting piece of music is this. That's DZ doing the guitar harmonies at 3:11. How about the drum fill going back into the modified head? More Keneally-rama from 3:48 out. I can't believe how much stuff I played on this song. I literally forgot all about it. I'm proud of this! What a thing to rediscover! Blimey, listen to those Whammy'd guitars at 4:18. This ending is killing me to death! I'm in love with this fucking song!! Thanks for letting me play all over this, Dweezil! I'm really happy right now!
Phew. That was nuts. OK, nothing on "Bone-Us" made me feel as absolutely giddy as the songs "In My Life" and "Shampoohorn". "Shampoohorn" is now my runaway favorite Z album.
Comments (written in 1994):
Same as European release, except substitute "In My Mind" (4:07) for "Real World" and "My Beef Mailbox" (3:09) for "Bellybutton". Also the US version has a peculiar sound collage at the end of the album which is not on the European version; it's made from backwards snippets of the two European songs not on the US release, plus a sample from a Godzilla movie. The two new songs feature the new rhythm section of Joe Travers and Bryan Beller. Bryan now plays bass in my own band as well.
(1997 comment: Isn't that just precious?)
(available by calling 818-PUMPKIN and in record stores)
CONFESSIONS (Barking Pumpkin) released in 1991
CD song list:
Orchestral guitars on "Earth" prelude, piano on "The Kiss", backwards guitars on "Any Time At All", guitar orchestration and ending weirdness on "Stayin' Alive", twisted harmony guitar part on the intro to "Obviously Influenced By The Devil."
I wasn't actually a member of Dweezil's band at the time this album was recorded, I was hired as basically a session guy and did all my parts in one night. For our first experience working together it was very productive and enjoyable, and boded well for the future. A few months later we were a band. Ultimately the most memorable thing about this session was having my truck locked into the parking lot where I'd left it, and me sleeping on the couch in the control booth until 6:00 AM when I could get at it again.
(available by calling 818-PUMPKIN and in record stores)
CD song list:
Guitar and vocal on "Panties."
These songs are all from "Confessions", except for "Panties" which is a live recording from our June 1, 1991 concert in Fresno, California, and is exclusive to this EP. Sometimes artists will put useless rare junk on singles to lure people into buying songs they already have. In this case, it's very entertaining rare junk, and wholly worthy of purchase.
(available by calling 818-PUMPKIN and in record stores)
CD song list:
Guitar orchestration on "Stayin' Alive", guitar and vocal on "Panties."
This is sort of the UK equivalent to the "Vanity" single. Besides the replacement of "Stayin' Alive" for "Vanity", distinctions include minor alterations in song titles 2 & 3, new liner notes by Dweezil and a different cover shot from the same photo session. Wow! I thought I was writing for "Goldmine" magazine for a second there.
(available from Food For Thought, 102 Belsize Lane, London, NW3 5BB UK)
"What The Hell Was I Thinking?", an instrumental album that Dweezil has been working on for ages, is still being worked on---I have no idea when it's coming out.
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