SLUGGO! (Immune Records)
released in 1997
Producer: Mike Keneally
Dig SlugFest, a sort-of brief Bizarro Sluggo! consisting of slices from rough mixes of Mike's latest opus. It's a 164k Real Audio sound file that runs 1:24.
This album's artwork is real light on liner notes - this time around I felt like letting the songs do the talking. But what's a web site for anyway, so I'll get a little more down and dirty here about these tunes and how/why they exist.
"Potato", first song. If there's a single on this album, this is it, so I put it first like at Motown. Written (mostly) in my little cottage-like motel room in Farmington, ME the night before BFD's show at the University there. Inspired, obliquely, by late-night TV. Briggs' charts really did fly away during that outdoor show, swept up in the aggressive winds (that part of the song was written after the show) and he silently sat out the last twenty seconds of "Day Of The Cow" looking like he'd had better days. He makes up for this transgression with his performance on this song, which is just about as huge and rock solid as a drum performance can get. Scott Chatfield thought highly enough of the guitar solo in this song to let it occupy an unusually large segment of the "Slugfest" clip-o-rama. As it happens the solo (one of a very small handful of Keneally solos which was worked out prior to recording) was composed in Scott's house - a/k/a Chatfield Manor. A chart of this song's drum part and a recording of the song (it might be a different mix, I can't remember what I gave him) will be in Frank Briggs' instructional book/CD "The Art of Boogaloo", available from Mel Bay in early '98.
"I, Drum-Running, Am Clapboard Bound", like "Cardboard Dog" and "TRANQUILLADO", was recorded piano first. All the grand piano tracks were recorded at Signature Sound, a lovely and sumptuous recording studio in San Diego, with engineer Mike Harris, a long-time friend of mine. The piano tracks were then brought to Double Time and overdubbed upon. I play drums on all these piano tracks, partly because the shifting times and tempos of these particular tunes is so peculiar that not making someone else do it saved a lot of time, but also because I think my weird, untutored drumming style goes well with my piano playing - they feel of a piece to me. "Drum-Running" is basically through-composed with a couple of solo spots - Beller's grand entrance on the album is way up in the mix (I wanted it to feel like "Whoa! Bryan's here now!"). (In general the bass is very audible on this album.) I'm very proud of this composition - there's some real pungent passages there - although I wouldn't have minded another year to work out the ideal orchestration and mix. What are you gonna do. The song is a very odd choice for second track; in fact the placement of this track has been a number of folks' primary complaint about this album. I stuck it on second because a) I like it a lot and b) I wanted to reassure anyone who was taken aback by the extreme straighforwardness of the first tune that things are still skewed in Keneallytown. Maybe I'd structure it differently now. Maybe not. Lots of tape hiss on this song.
"Why Am I Your Guy? " was written in 1985. It was originally on one of the Tar Tapes - "Fashion Poisoning", the first home to "Open Up!" and "Love Theme From Vulture Fun". In fact "Love Theme" and "Why Am I Your Guy?" used to be a medley. This song probably gave me more grief than any other on "Sluggo!" regarding its overall timbre and precisely what sort of musical message I wanted it to convey. I re-recorded the guitar tracks a minimum of five times. At first it was raging electric guitars all the way through and a much more antagonistic lead vocal but I got terribly bored with it - it was entirely too much like any number of featureless neo-wave bands that MTV had to show in its early years when they were desperate for programming. I wasn't trusting the song's own momentum. Finally I decided on the chiming acoustic guitars with virtually inaudible moodsynth, along with a more resigned vocal, for the first half of the verses and that felt like an alluring texture to me - it wasn't so pushy but the message was still conveyed. In that regard this song is more in debt to Radiohead's "OK Computer" than anything else on "Sluggo!". My album was well on the road to completion when I first heard the Radiohead album, which is probably a good thing - my indebtedness might well have been a lot less subtle otherwise. A rocking thing about the rhythm track on this song is that when we laid down the basic, Bryan and I were thrilled with Bry's bass performance (understandably, since it rules the world - I'm sure BB will have much to say about this track when he does his own rundown) but Toss was not happy with his own effort. So he actually re-recorded his drum track, in one take, while listening to the bass and scratch guitar tracks in his headphones. No click track. Absolute insanity. Toss is such a god.
"Looking For Nina" is fucking weird. If you're a long time reader of Mike Types To You you might recall me writing about a medley of various fragments called "Taco Physique/Pasion/Cashola". That idea ended up getting folded into this one. The lyric is about me looking at an exhibit of Al Hirschfeld caricatures. Hirschfeld does wonderful drawings of celebrities - you've definitely seen his work even if you don't recognize the name. He hides the name of his daughter, Nina, somewhere in every work, frequently in the subject's hair. At this exhibit I spent a lot of time searching for the hidden names rather than admiring the artists' handiwork before realizing what a schmuck I was being. The track was constructed in Frank Briggs' garage studio, which was formerly Chad Wackerman's. Frank sampled small fragments of himself playing various rhythms and fills, and me playing various bass licks and fills. Then I sequenced the rhythm track using these fragments of our own playing, and overdubbed the keys, guitars and vocals in real time. The weird keyboard interlude (oboe and two vibraphones) was written in a hotel during the Vai tour, I think during the South America leg but don't bet the farm (I can't find the chart right now). Briggs gets a co-songwriting credit on this one - he's responsible for writing and performing the beautifully mood-setting keyboard pad during the spoken verses. He painstakingly constructed the synth patch from various sound sources, including a vocal sample from an earlier album of mine - hear it?
"Frozen Beef (Come With Me) " has been hanging around for over two years - for most of that time it was waiting for lyrics. Bryan, Joe and I recorded a preliminary version in '95, before I added a bunch of extra chords to the solo vamp. We played it instrumentally at a number of BFD shows, and on several occasions I used it as a vehicle for improvised lyrics (a la "Bob Dylan's Nose", a song which I'd planned to put on this album at one time but was never able to come up with decent lyrics for, so the "Soap Scum Remover" version may have to remain definitive). At one Bourbon Square show "Frozen Beef" became "Don't Play At Luna Park". Luna Park is a club in Santa Monica where BFD had just done a show and the attitude of management when it was time to get paid pissed me off a lot, so I vented in song. The one remaining Luna Park reference in the lyrics can be traced to all of that. The guitar solo was done with a black Gibson SG which was a gift from Rich Lewis - God bless you Rich. I'm really fond of this solo and wish it was just a touch louder. It's so easy to lose perspective during mixdown, and circumstances always seem to dictate that Jeff and I mix my albums in the time it takes most bands to get a snare sound. I'm grateful that the albums turn out as well as they do. Fantastic performances from the bass and drum lads on this.
"TRANQUILLADO" is, I think, the sort of song that takes a while to grow on people. That it ever sinks in at all is probably due to the chorus melody, one of my hookier hooks. I recorded a version with me doing all the vocals and never got off on it, the sound of my voice just seemed really featureless and doleful. I'm awful glad it finally occurred to me to get Mark and Bob to sing the lion's share of the tune. "hat." was the last album of mine which prominently featured singing voices not my own, and I realized that I missed the variety. I like the early-Steely Dan-ish guitar solo. This song stems from a piece of "fiction" which I wrote for Carbon 14 magazine's fifth issue (Summer '94). Wanna read it?
THE REASONS FOR ONE HUNDRED AND SIX THINGS NOT TO OCCUR, WITH TREMENDOUS
Insane Harry was blue and it didn't stop him. Exploding along the gutter like a sink, he ran but it wasn't really. Before long a woman whispered the truth and it sunk him.
Five years later we find Harry bereft, dangling and with a little furry puppy by his side in the alley. The pup's name is TRANQUILLADO and this is his story.
Once upon a time TRANQUILLADO explored options, now though he sits with Insane Harry and tries to plant positive thoughts through osmosis. Harry doesn't bite, he gets greasier and sadder and may die.
Flash forward to 1998. The same woman drives up returning and whispers the truth again to Harry, but it's been updated and works somewhat more efficiently. Harry smiles and flies, leaving TRANQUILLADO alone by himself even!
TRANQUILLADO thinks: "What if anything have I done to deserve this? Thoughts?"
The woman suggests that it's time the pup examine his own motives and perhaps get a bite to eat in the process. The two of them buy cones at the Denta-Freeze and mull.
There was no reason for what happened next and I don't feel like writing about it.
Five years later TRANQUILLADO was doing OK, not great, exploring options at a convenience store in one of the more detail-intensive areas of Phoenix, not far from where that thing happened that one time. These two kids who look like they have bad intentions wandered in, one of 'em made fun of TRANQUILLADO's matted fur.
The pup really has to bear down and not lose it. He has the power to decimate these ragged youths. What to do, and how not to do it?
Insane Harry descends at the right moment and passes the truth, updated yet further and really slick, on to TRANQUILLADO just when he like really really needs it. TRANQUILLADO smiles and flies with Insane Harry, just to where Harry's been for the last few years (a fine old place - a lot of trees), leaving the ill-intentioned youngsters to consider changing their ways.One of 'em did! He's doing great now!
And the other?
Well, that's another story.
It goes like this:
You don't wanna know.
- Mike Keneally
"What Happened Next" was recorded during the "Boil That Dust Speck" sessions, it's one of a bunch of little link items which I recorded with Tom Freeman (others were "Lemon-Freshened Borax" and "Bryan Beller's Favorite Song", and yet more were collaged into "Helen Was Brash" and "O'Bannon"). There's still a couple of good ones I haven't released yet. Tom plays fantastically well on this. I like to play bass and this song is my chance to make believe I'm capable of playing a bass solo. In the original running order for "Boil That Dust Speck" this song was to come right after "Blameless (The Floating Face)", and if you check out the lyrics to that song, the title of this one makes more sense. However if you read the story above carefully enough you'll have seen that I provided myself with an equally good reason to insert this piece after "TRANQUILLADO". The modular approach to album sequencing: a never ending source of wholesome fun.
"Chatfield Manor". My ode to the home of my long-suffering webmaster and his noble wife. Scott has been in on virtually every step of the construction of "Sluggo!"; after every session I'd bring tapes of rough mixes to his house, and he was privy to just about every important step along the way. So it was a struggle non pareil to keep the existence of this song a total secret from him and Karen (a/k/a Mo and Mo) until the CD was actually in their hands. I DID IT, DAMMIT. Maybe Scott will chime in and describe his reaction. Maybe not.
Maybe yes! 'Twas one of the most wondrous of our life's surprises. Mo and I were sitting in the car after attending a preview screening of "Kiss Or Kill" (two thumbs down) when I suggested we listen to the newly Suzanne-delivered CD during our ride home. Before departing, I allowed myself a few seconds to thumb through atticus wolrab's too-cool-for-words booklet. I hit a mental speed bump when I saw the song title-- before name recognition dawned, I was struck by a fleeting indignant stab of "what's this unfamiliar song doing here, then?" before it melted into the genesis of comprehension. The peculiar sensation of shock blossoming into exquisite surprise is something neither of us will soon forget.
At this point, Mo recounts my making numerous n' noisy "exclamations of delight." To savor the event, we listened to "Potato" first as we drove, then punched up Song # 8 (code-named as part of Mike and friends' elaborate and successful deception). The song unfolded like an exotic, evocative, yet somehow familiar, dream and we were re-humming the chorus after first listen.
Any mild embarrassment I feel due to the song's eponymous-ity (I can't sing along with the chorus without feeling a mite self-conscious) is more than offset by my radiant thanksgiving for friends like Mike, Bryan, and all the others who somehow decided that Mo and I and Abode were worthy of such vast creativity and conspiracy. But even if it were called "Flapjack Junction," I do believe the song would still be one of my favorites. Bravo!
Anyway, this song demonstrates my desire to have some songs on this album that normal people might conceivably be able to relate to; I think a lot of people have a sort of "home away from home" which acts as a fortress against the vagaries of a cruel and brutal world, or something. Scott said this song reminded him of the song "Paisley Park", but whereas to me Prince's material often feels like "this is my world - you can't come in, but you can check out how fucking cool I am", "Chatfield Manor" has, I hope, a more welcoming vibe - as Scott points out, I actually give you directions to the place. This is Toss and Frank Briggs' favorite song on the album. Joe didn't care for it so much at first, but he's warming to it. It's definitely a new sort of thing for me - I've rarely been relaxed enough to let a vibe sustain itself for very long without screwing with it somehow, but this song takes its sweet time (eight minutes worth) and is, I think, all the better for it. What makes me happiest of all is that this song actually feels the way the Chatfields' home feels to me - I attempted something reasonably abstract and was successful. The guitar tuning, low to high: D A D A B D.
"Beautiful" - yeah, this all happened, there's not a word of exaggeration. It took place on December 2, 1993. After the windshield was cracked I continued on to At My Place and saw Chad Wackerman's band perform, then went to a restaurant and scribbled the lyrics on a page of an issue of BAM magazine. They weren't especially meant to be lyrics, I was just purging. During the blueprint stage of "Boil That Dust Speck" I had pencilled in a song called "A Comforting Thought", which was going to be these lyrics set to a far dirgier musical backdrop and culminating in a hail of Janov-style primal screaming. Thank fuck I didn't let myself get away with that. Nearly four years of distance from the actual event allowed me to take a lighter view of the whole thing and set it to this jaunty groove. A grand piano track for this song was recorded at Signature, but Toss felt his groove hampered while attempting to overdub drums onto my erratically paced performance, so we scrapped the piano and recorded it from scratch at Double Time. Good thing - this is the sort of groove which Toss was born to devour. The guitar solo at the end was a trip since I hadn't studied the underlying changes to any great degree since writing them, so improvising over them was a challenge. The results are a semi-persuasive argument for the occasional merits of ignorance. The vocal/guitar melody in the verses were not recorded simultaneously, but have since been performed that way live. It's sort of a "Jazz Discharge"-for-the-masses trip, but Steve Vai was kind enough to tell me that after he heard "Beautiful" a few times, the technical aspects of the performance assumed less significance and it just turned into a cool melody. Actually he said "how DARE you do something so cool". That was nice to hear.
Aside to Beach Boys enthusiasts: conceptually, "Chatfield Manor" and "Beautiful" together sort of add up to "Busy Doin' Nothing", hence their proximity in the running order.
"I Guess I'll Peanut" was scored out very carefully on manuscript paper, sitting at the dining room table at Chatfield Manor. The version on the album is actually only one-third of the entire composition, but after completing that much of the song in the studio I felt that anything further would be superfluous. Maybe I'll do the second and third sections on later albums. The title is something from a dream: it was a televised live Beer For Dolphins performance, and Linda McCartney introduced us (we were like a ten piece BFD with horns and stuff, we sounded amazing) and when we were done playing and the audience was applauding Linda came over and put her arm around my shoulders and said "I Guess I'll Peanut!". I woke up laughing of course. The last noise in the song is a humpback whale.
"Voyage To Manhood" was based on yet another true story, this of a night spent with my brother and a bunch of our friends drinking copious quantities of imported beer and throwing all of our host's precious coaster collection at the ceiling fan in his loft. We must have done it for at least four hours. We were possessed. When it was over I drifted off to sleep, totally exhausted, in a guest room, to the sound of Neil Young's "Live Rust" album being blasted in the loft. Those moments were a rare instance of unfettered bliss, a perfect capper to an incredibly bizarre and wonderful evening. The third quarter of "Sluggo!", the album (it's not an accident that the songs are divided into four sections on the back cover), is sort of the "weird" quarter, and this song and "Peanut" have the goofy eccentricity that turned on a lot of "hat." enthusiasts but which has been in shorter supply on the subsequent albums. I was generally in a great mood while making this album and allowed the dopier side of me to surface. It's fun to do. I like the way the feedback sounds at the end of this song, and I again thank Rich Lewis for loaning me the electric mandolin which gives this song some unique character.
"Egg Zooming" was entirely scored on the road during the Asian and South American Vai tours in 1997, in airplanes, airports and hotel rooms. Mike Mangini clinched the drummer position on this song by glancing at the score on an airplane, taking note of some ridiculous simultaneous rhythms in the guitar and keyboard which were never meant to be played by one person at one time and offhandedly commenting that he could do them simultaneously on the drums (it takes place twelve seconds into the piece). He did, and any drummer with an interest in polyrhythmic madness should have a field day with his performance. Beller spent a lot of time with his bass chart before the recording session, came into the studio and nailed his performance (multiple bass tracks and all) in about an hour. What a pleasure to be able to write something as fucked as this song and have these deities just come in and hammer it down. I am the luckiest boy in the world. There's one instrument I forgot to list in the liner notes; the horrid whining noise at the end of the drum solo is a blue balloon I stole from Jesse. It has a little hole torn in it, and by manipulating the tear-hole with an index finger while blowing into the main hole you can make it sound kind of like Anthony Braxton.
"Own" is in part an homage to the magic of running a guitar track through a real live Leslie speaker. This song had kind of a dead sound to it until I tried that time-honored technique (we ran a previously recorded scratch guitar track out to a Leslie speaker a few months after the track was recorded, I sat in the studio and manipulated the speed of the speaker as the song played and we recorded the results onto a separate track); now I think the whole track sings. Try it, kids! I showed this song to Bryan and Joe mere seconds before recording of the basic track commenced. I'd wager that there are no other musicians in the land who could've learned something this complex in any less time than they did. I know I brag about my boys a lot but I can't help it, they just rock so hard. The little painting of the bunny coveting the cookie jar which accompanies this song in the CD booklet was one of the first paintings of atticus wolrab's I'd ever seen, and it convinced me that he was something special. I'd planned at one time to have that painting as "Sluggo!"'s cover before I decided it was too muted - I wanted an album cover that jumped out like a mofo (a friend of mine who works in advertising regretfully informs me that this "jumping out" is referred to in the ad biz as - gulp - "Shelf pop". Sorry to have had to tell you that). Can you believe how amazing all the "Sluggo!" artwork is? atticus is my hero.
"I'm Afraid" is, of course, my completely unapologetically sentimental ode to my precious daughter and a purging of my paralyzing guilt feelings over having been away so much during the past year, photographically illustrated with my burnt sneakers from the Vai bus fire (Jesse was fascinated when she heard I'd been on a burning bus, and told everyone "Daddy was on 'The Big Bus' and it was on FIRE, and he lost his SHOES and his GLASSES". She was really bummed out, somehow, that my shoes got burned). Although I suggest in the lyrics that I've found it necessary to say "don't be cryin'" to her in the past when Daddy had to leave again, in fact she's never cried when I had to go, she's always been sophisticated and understanding about it and treats me far better than I deserve to be treated in that regard. As does my wife. I really am the luckiest boy in the world. I like the fact that both Joe and Toss perform on this song, a first for our little group. This vocal was a challenge. I've rarely set my voice in such a stark, naked setting, and there was much I needed to convey emotionally without sounding too mannered. I did OK, I think, but I wouldn't mind another hundred or so shots at it.
"Cardboard Dog" is, of course, the sequel to "Spearmint Pup". Once I finally figured out what "Spearmint Pup" meant (it's ugly) I felt a compulsion to wind up the plotline, at least in my own head. I had to get pretty thoroughly altered to write these lyrics; once I did I played a cassette of the piano track and walked around the house for hours singing them over and over again until I felt I understood instinctually what I'd written. It was an interesting process. The piano part on this song is a beast, but a lot of fun to play, and overdubbing other instruments to it (especially the drums) was sheer joy for me. The first part of the song, the bit with the lyrics, is me in my "art song" mode, and for me follows on from a sequence of tunes which consists primarily of "Spearmint Pup", "Here Is What I Dreamed", "Spoon Guy" (original studio version), "Top Of Stove Melting", "Blameless (The Floating Face)", "Natty Trousers", "There Have Been Bad Moments", "Career Politicians" (original studio version), "Ennui (prelude)" and "Airport". I'm hard-pressed to specify precisely what it is about these songs that makes them one cohesive group in my mind, but there's something there and if any one of my albums didn't contain at least one such specimen I'd feel that there was something terribly important missing. Regarding the massed vocals on the restatement of the opening melody towards the end: in my handwritten notes to myself for this song I wrote "BG Vox on end: EQUAL VOLUME DOUBLED REVERBED HUGE. THIS IS THE CLIMAX OF THE ALBUM, DORK". "Equal Volume" means each note being sung in the chords must be equally audible - I wanted those chords to rage. This whole song is a great triumph of hard work for me - it is exactly what I'd hoped for it to be and I'd hoped for a lot. I'm thrilled to be able to present this song to you, it means more to me than I can state intelligently. I hope you like it.
"Sluggo" (no exclamation point in the song title, just the album title) is my unveiled tribute to Thelonious Monk with a little Vince Guaraldi on the side, especially the very ending. I'm not a trained, or even an untrained, straightahead bebop piano player, and I had to practice this piece a whole lot before I started to feel comfortable, but I'm proud to say that the solo in the middle is a genuine improvisation based on the chords to the head. If I sat down right now and tried to play this song it would be a shambles - in fact I haven't played it since I recorded it. But I managed to get in shape enough to get it on tape. I'd give anything to have the swing and virtuosity of Bud Powell in addition to the sort of thoughtful and scholarly (Joe Travers thinks it sounds like Marcus Roberts) feel which this piece has, but one step at a time - I'm still sort of young and I've got a lot of living to do yet.
MIKE KENEALLY & BEER FOR DOLPHINS- HALF ALIVE IN HOLLYWOOD (Immune Records)
released in 1996
Double CD set
Disc One - Live In A Studio - 68:39
Disc Two - Live On A Stage - 73:29
Producer: Mike Keneally
Here are the liner notes as they appear on the back cover:
"These two CDs were each recorded in much the same location during two successive Februarys - CD 1 in 1995 (in the digital studio at Musicians' Institute in Hollywood), CD 2 in 1996 (on stage in the concert venue of the Institute). Both discs were recorded live direct to master tape, with minimal mixing options available afterward. Sonic anomalies exist and are detailed within, but it sounds fine. The titles are largely drawn from my solo albums, but the treatments are massively different, so hopefully the Keneally faithful won't feel rooked (I was planning on delaying the release of this album until after the next solo album, but my "following", such as it is, has demanded to hear it now, so whatever). There are also a few songs which haven't been released before, and some cover tunes. Above all these discs are documents of what Beer For Dolphins circa '95 - early '96 (MK, Bryan Beller and Toss Panos) sounded like when we were in a mood to rage. Now dive in."
If you've heard my studio albums but haven't heard BFD live, be aware that it's definitely two different animals. Up until one show in late '97 BFD has always performed as a power trio - sometimes I bring a keyboard, often I don't, depending on how much gear I feel like hauling around on a given night. The arrangements on my studio albums tend to be fairly layered, with lots of instruments playing lots of stuff, but on stage things necessarily need to be stripped down. The shorthand description for the performances on this album is "Cream plays Keneally". I lucked out in that not only did I manage to get releaseable recordings of these two live BFD events from a sonic standpoint, but both recordings just happened to catch us in a very inspired mood. The charm of this band lies in its cavalier disregard for the insanely difficult material it is charged with playing, while somehow (at its best) maintaining a respect for the songs themselves, if that comes close to making sense. It's a tricky trick, and sometimes we err either on the side of caution or surplus disrespect, but on these two discs we're lucky to have numerous incidences of us getting it right. The liner notes in this release are exhaustive in the extreme so I won't do a song-by-song blow-by-blow here. But since my plan for future BFD live performances includes an enlarged lineup (keyboardist Marc Ziegenhagen has already performed with us once at this writing [December '97]), this album documents a BFD which will likely be seen only on rare occasions in the future. There's a little give and take regarding disc two: it's in mono, which is weird, but the performance itself was certainly one of our best up until that time (we bested it a few times while we were opening for Vai on tour in late '96). Listening to it now I hear in my performance a lot of verve and a lot of confidence but still a certain guardedness, particularly where the vocals are concerned. However my guitar playing was making massive leaps during this time and there's a number of solos which I consider among my very best (particularly the one in "My Dilemma"). There are several remarkable suites, particularly the "Open Up"/"My Dilemma"/"Spoon Guy"/"Uglytown" sequence on Disc One and songs 1-4 and 5-7 on Disc Two. It's also nice to have a document of the genuinely peculiar vocal version of "Spoon Guy". There are three cover tunes on Disc Two - Jimi Hendrix's "Power To Love" (which I'd forgotten to learn the words for, resulting in a mumbled mess of non-words), Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" (a version which I guess has taken on a life of its own - I saw some guy over on alt.guitar writing "Mike Keneally? Didn't he do a cover version of "Immigrant Song"?) and Gabor Szabo's "Gypsy Queen", in the arrangement made popular by Santana.
The Japanese distributor of this album, MSI, wished to include a second booklet featuring all the words on the album. I took this to its extreme and transcribed every single uttered word, including all the dialogue on Disc One (of which there's a lot, it being a documentary of BFD's working methods almost as much as a collection of tunes). There's even a phonetic transcription of my nonsense vocalizing on the Hendrix tune. By the time MSI printed the booklet they had excised most of the transcribed dialogue for space reasons but you can still read the unexpurgated, all-the-words version by clicking HERE.
BOIL THAT DUST SPECK (Immune Records)
released in 1994
front cover of special lyric booklet from Japanese "Boil That Dust Speck"
CD song list:
Producer: Mike Keneally
Presenting "Speck Check," a 136.8-second free fall through each and every track on Boil That Dust Speck. It's downloadable as a 3.2 mb stereo MP2 file or a 1 mb mono sun-au file.
An album wrenched out of my darkest depths while in the throes of an exciting variety of emotional torment, this album is a lot less goofy than "hat". I had a "Dust Speck" song sequence all ready to go, a couple of days before the editing session was scheduled, but I went on a late night joyride with Bryan Beller and Tom Freeman and listened to it with them-it was so bloody depressing I couldn't believe it. At the last minute I constructed, on paper, the weird little edit-collages that spice up the second half of the album and keep it from getting too portentious. This was an album I very much needed to make.
The first thing on the album is "Sooth" which is actual magic-in-action...a percussion track wedded to a keyboard track which were not fashioned for one another but just happened to be exactly the same length, and which union provides some very fascinating rhythmic relationships. Then I overdubbed vocals and guitars and, knowing it was the most peculiar piece on the CD, decided to make it the opener-so there'd be no doubt that this was a very different sort of album. Certainly I know of some "hat"-enjoying people who were quite taken aback by this record; I've also gotten mail suggesting that "Dust Speck" is a huge leap forward. Now that "Dust Speck" has been out a few months, I'm happt to not compare them at all...both albums are vivid snapshots of who I was at the time I was making them, and I'm extraordinarily proud of them. But maybe just a little prouder of "Dust Speck", because what I was attempting was more ambitious.
What was I attempting? To convey the loss I felt with Frank's passing, and the knowledge that my father was soon to leave as well, without writing explicitly about these subjects (although "'Cause of Breakfast" comes close). The lyrics to this album were hard-won. Most of the music was written well prior to the words, and I struggled mightily to come up with lyrics that felt the way I felt. Ultimately I succeeded; when I hear "Dust Speck" I know exactly what I was going through at the time, even if a given song might ostensibly be about a face floating around rather than the loss of the two most important men in my life.
Some have suggested that "hat" covers a wider range of stylistic territory than this album does, but I just think "hat" was flashier about it. "Dust Speck" covers plenty of ground to be sure, but the overall musical vibe is more relaxed, deeper sonically, not so eager to impress. There's not many actual "fast" tunes on the album at all, which I didn't realize when I was making it. The hardest rock songs on it ("'Cause of Breakfast", "Bullys (sic)", "Weekend" and "Scotch") are all medium-tempo grinders as opposed to rave-ups like "Dhen Tin" and "Rosemary Girl". The fastest tune is also one of the strangest melodically: "Them Dolphins is Smart", and its brother "Yep, Them Dolphins Is Smart, Alright", the latter of which has an organ solo with which I'm quite pleased. Since I was a keyboard player for years before I picked up a guitar it was a great pleasure for me to play more keys on this album. Between those two songs is another odd instrumental, "1988 Was A Million Years Ago", which features superhuman performances from Toss and Doug. "Bullys (sic)" is the only long guitar solo on the album, quite intentionally included for that purpose. I know going in that this album wouldn't be about guitar virtuosity, but I wanted to include one little sampling for those listeners who enjoy that sort of thing. It's sort of this album's "St. Etienne". But then it ends with a strange little three-part chamber piece for vibes, flute and oboe.
That same chamber piece also comprises the second half of "In The Bone World", but there it's played on guitars and has another seven harmony parts added. The first half of "Bone World" was fun to do: after laying down a two- acoustic guitar rhythm part, I got on the drum kit and improvised a bunch of lines. Then I overdubbed guitars, keys and bass to go along with the drum patterns, making it sound as if I'm a half-way decent drummer (for the true magic of my drumming go no further than the pop tune "Good Morning, Sometime", a song written in a dream. I hear a lot of amazing music in dreams, but the only stuff that makes it to tape are the ones that are easy enough to remember, and consequently are kind of stupid. But it causes me great joy to have any dream music, no matter how dopey, in concrete form for you to hear).
I think my favorite song on the album is "Natty Trousers", which is extremely quirky and hasn't gotten much response from the people who write to me, but I think it's extremely haunting and effective. It's based on an odd guitar tuning (D G D A B E); other altered tunings on the album include "'Cause of Breakfast" (C A D G B E); "The Desired Effect" (D A D G C E); "Weekend" (D A C F# B E...that's a great one); and "Scotch" (C# G# C# F# A# D#). Not many people have picked up on what "The Desired Effect" is about, but it's actually pretty obvious when you put the clues together.
The core rhythm unit for this album is Toss Panos on drums and Doug Lunn on bass, who were my band at the time (Bryan Beller now plays bass in Beer For Dolphins). Bryan and Joe Travers, rhythm section from Z, play on four of the tunes including the maniacally difficult "'Cause of Breakfast". I have a tape that Joe made, without Bryan's knowledge, of a phone conversation these two had regarding this song's middle section...I can't do it justice here but it's priceless. I'll find a place to release it one of these days. Tom Freeman plays drums on several tunes including some of the twisted little link material, and the backhanded Yes tribute "Faithful Axe", which was great wicked fun to execute, especially the faux-Jon Anderson vocal. Recording the Steve Howe snippets for this song was this album's single most arduous recording task.
The three-part "The Old Boat Guy" is a multi-layered percussion piece played by Alan Silverstein and myself. This was originally intended to be the background track for another densely orchestrated piece, but I was soon to discover that Frank had died on the day of its recording. It seemed appopriate, then, to leave the piece simply as percussion, given Frank's love of that family of instruments. It ends with an acappella tribute to my beloved daughter Jesse, she being the reason I was able to stay sane during the making of the album.
In the liner notes I mention that the next album is going to be more upbeat...this doesn't apply to "The Mistakes", which is nearly completed and also features some fairly dark lyrical content, but it will apply to "Milk Blood Tuna", which, aside from one basic track, pretty much only exists in my head at the moment. I hope I never undergo another set of circumstances like that which led me to record "Boil That Dust Speck"; if I do, however, I hope I'm able to turn it into work which pleases me as much as this does.
MIKE KENEALLY: Boil That Dust Speck (Immune)
Keneally's really generous, and not only because he crams 75 minutes of dense improvisational acumen and terrific mutant pop onto a CD. He writes with the sort of soul-searching directness the new acoustic guitar strummers like to claim---with as much danger of mawkishness, but he's rather be forthright about his life; the album's bound up with the birth of his daughter and the death of his father. His music, meanwhile, can be all over the map: the skewed pop of XTC is a substantial influence, but so is arcane progressive rock: he does a devastatingly accurate Yes pastiche in "Faithful Axe". Frank Zappa remains a center of gravity for him, as you can hear in the sprung rhythms of guitar features like "Bryan Beller's Favorite Song" and "Bullys (sic)", as well as in a tendency toward cynicism. But unlike Zappa, Keneally keeps it merely a tendency: flip title aside, "The Desired Effect" is as tender a love song as you can get this side of "God Only Knows". (9269 Mission Gorge Rd. #211, San Diego CA 92071)
Boil That Dust Speck
(CD, Immune, Progressive Pop/rock)
Rating: 5 out of 5
I was knocked out by the last release from Mike Keneally, but this time he's really outdone himself. Boil That Dust Speck contains 30 tripped-out tunes from a man who is so creative that he'll probably leave most listeners behind breathing a trail of dust. Mike used to play with Frank Zappa, and you can hear traces of Frank's music in his tunes. This man is certainly no Zappa clone, however...he's following his own bizarre muse. Great songs, mind-blowing arrangements, and incredible sound quality are just a few of the pluses of this release. Mr. Keneally is a rare breed of musician, creating killer music for the pure sake of art.
[a picture of five doll heads]
(The following blurbette was published in the Spring 1995 issue of Wood & Steel, the quarterly publication of Taylor acoustic guitars, available in music stores.)
Dust Specks, Z Rocks, Mistakes
The April issue of Guitar Player features an article about the re-emergence of '70's-style "progressive rock". San Diego-bred guitarist Mike Keneally (former "stunt guitarist" for Frank Zappa and now for Z---the Dweezil-Ahmet Zappa band) is quoted extensively in the piece. In a sidebar about the equipment he uses, Keneally lists "Taylor acoustic". He used a 915-M to record some tracks for his recently released, second solo album, "Boil That Dust Speck" (Immune Records), which was produced here in El Cajon at Double Time Studios. Like Keneally's debut album, "hat", the new release drafts new guidelines for accommodating that resless, neo-progressive muse, while paying stylistic homage to the guitarist's major influences (Zappa, XTC). "Boil That Dust Speck" is gorged with inspired ideas, hot licks, and eccentric tics (catalyzed by mad-hatter production values), and reminds the listener of those great double albums of 20-some years ago---the ones that actually made good use of the extra vinyl. While performing the occasional gig in support of "Boil That Dust Speck", and staying fit for the next Z tour, Keneally has been recording a "project" album at Double Time with guitarist Henry Kaiser, drummer Prairie Prince (Tubes), and bassist Andy West. The ad hoc band is calling itself the Mistakes, and an album should be in the stores by September.
Boil That Dust Speck
Feel musically stuck, hemmed in by predictable fretboard routines and songwriting conventions? Roll yourself in Keneally's 30-song audio quilt and emerge a changed player. Stitched with lots of Zappa thread, this work reflects Keneally's unique blend of humor, chops, and edge. Odd time signatures abound, twisting wild vocal arrangements and whiz-bang fretwork into delightful knots. Mr. Mike is refreshingly original, one in a million. Immune (9269 Mission Gorge Rd., #211, San Diego, CA 92071).
Bassists: Doug Lunn, Bryan Beller, Mike Keneally
Instruments: Lunn, fretted and fretless Zon Legacy Elite 5-strings; Beller, Tobias Basic 5-string; Keneally, some hunk of wood that was lying around the studio
Bass performances: A
Overall performance: A+
Bassus maximus: Lunn's "Instant Mick Karn" sound (see liner notes, track 19)
Wow...what a wonderfully bizarre and utterly captivating record. Keneally cut his creative teeth playing guitar with Frank Zappa, and he gets my vote as Frank's heir apparent. Give a listen to the songs, sketches, snippets, and segues that Mike stitched together to make this seamless CD, and you'll see what I mean. "The present-day artist refuses to die!"
Keneally takes bizarre path through wide range of territory
"Sometimes I don't know which way you will turn", Mike Keneally sings on "My Dilemma", one of 30 songs on his new album. Listeners will wonder the same thing about Keneally, who bizarre and often brilliant album is- though uneven- wildly entertaining and thoroughly unpredictable.
Moving with dizzying speed from one style, sound and tempo to the next, the former San Diegan often covers more musical territory on a single song than many artists do on an entire album. "Dust Speck" in its entirety is like being pureed in a blender of sound.
Granted, the music is not easily accessible. With such extravagant and reckless diversity in content, there's something for everyone to hate as much as there is something to love. The album's excesses, its many abrupt and unusual transitions between songs and sounds, suggest a limited attention span on behalf of the artist, but also reveal unlimited talent and ambition.
Boldly and defiantly unconventional, the influence of the late musical master of nonconformity, Frank Zappa, in whose band Keneally played guitar, is readily apparent. Like Zappa, Keneally's imagination challenges his listeners, taking them through strange and unforgettable landscapes.
DOUBLETIME STUDIOS- SAN DIEGO SAMPLER VOL. 1 (promotional CD)
released in 1994
This is a sampler of songs by many different bands, all recorded at Doubletime Studios, where I do my stuff. It contains the song "Scotch" from "Boil That Dust Speck", taken from a DAT prior to mastering the "Dust Speck" album. If you call Suzanne at Immune (619-448-3062) you may be able to talk her into selling you one of these glorious little samplers.
hat. (Immune Records)
released in 1992
CD song list:
Producer: Mike Keneally
Introducing "Hat Check," a 92.8-second rollercoaster ride through every track hat. It's downloadable as a 2.1 mb stereo MP2 file or a 725k mono sun-au file.
This album is the sound of someone who can't believe he's finally being allowed to make a real live solo album. I was giddy while making this album. Two and a half years after making it, it exists in my mind as this kind of goofy entity, but whenever I actually hear it I'm pleasantly surprised by how substantial it seems. I really couldn't have asked for a better debut album---one listen to this thing and you'll know a lot about what makes me tick.
A lot of the more "song-like" songs are holdovers from Drop Control's repertoire, played by three-quarters of Drop Control---myself, bassist Doug Booth and drummer Alan Silverstein (my brother Marty couldn't make the sessions, sadly, so I used a tape of some of his guitar sounds from several years beforehand on the song "Performing Miracles"). These poppier items---such as "Rosemary Girl", "The Car Song" and "I Can't Stop"---help to keep the album from becoming drowned in in-jokes and general whimsy.
"Fencing", the harmonized guitar extravaganza, had an interesting gestation period: a couple of years earlier we tried to do a studio version of a rap song about El Debarge, called "The Wreckage Was Large" (a live version appeared on "Your Way Bitchin' Bonus Tape", one o' them mysterious Tar Tapes). I decided it was too slow, but I kept the bass and drums and improvised a guitar part over it. I took a tape of that and wrote two guitar harmonies, returned to the studio and recorded those, then played another solo on top of that. This became the original "Fencing", also audible on "Way Bitchin'". I decided then that it was too alienating, because the original bass part did not relate harmonically to the three-part harmonies, and the guitar solo on top made the whole thing really chaotic. So I wrote a bass part, went in and recorded that and ended up with "Fencing", second draft, which again is on "Way Bitchin'", and which was the blueprint for the version on "hat", except Scott Thunes is playing the bass instead of me, and I stripped away the random keyboard orchestration which graced the second draft (a decision I somewhat regret now).
"Open Up!" sports a very peculiar structure, made more peculiar by Tom Freeman's Drumbo-inspired rhythms. The song is on the album as a tribute to XTC---when they heard my original demo version in 1988, Andy and Colin both spoke highly of it. Another tribute to XTC, a band which I love so, happens when I rip off a line from "Mayor of Simpleton" and shove it into "Day of the Cow" right after a few bars of "Enter Sandman" played wrong ---my left hand is one fret too high (a wond'rous sound it makes).
Some of the more frightening playing on the album is in the songs "We're Rockin' All Night With The Tangy Flavor Of Cheddar!" and "Backstage With Wilson Phillips", both live-in-the-studio maniac trio recordings by myself, Toss Panos on drums and Doug Lunn on bass. It's such a high to play with musicians of this calibre---they really do make me sound better than I am. They were my live band for over a year, were the core band for "Boil That Dust Speck", and were the first Beer For Dolphins (Bryan Beller stepped into the bass slot late last year). Here I must thank Doug Lunn for lending so much of his limitless musicality to my songs over the course of two years. He's a truly gifted individual.
"Lightnin' Roy", nearly fourteen minutes of absurdity, is this album's epic. I recorded it by myself in the living room of the small North Hollywood apartment where my wife and I were living at the time, and dominated my life for a week solid. About halfway through its completion I began to think a great deal about Frank and how much I owed him. Not that it could be considered complete repayment, but I dedicated my work on "Lightnin' Roy" to Frank. It nourishes me hugely that Frank heard and enjoyed this album.
This album is shameless about its extremity, crashing from the stupidly raucous "Dhen Tin" (spelling changed on the legal counsel of my wife) to the entirely gentle and harmonically expoobident "Spearmint Pup". Everybody on this record played so damned well, especially considering the rushed circumstances---all the full band performances, over an hour of music, was entirely recorded in nine days. And this is some twisted stuff. To all the musicians--- Toss Panos, Doug Lunn, Tom Freeman, Doug Booth, Alan Silverstein, Marty Keneally (in spirit and on tape), Marty Eldridge, Marc DeCerbo, Bob Tedde, Cici Porter, Buddy Blue, Gregory Page, Carlos Olmeda, Andy Vereen, Darryl Monroe, Paul Abbott, Kevin Gilbert and Scott Thunes---I will always be thoroughly and humbly grateful.
ROSEMARY GIRL promotional CD single (Immune/Guitar Recordings)
released in 1994
This was, supposedly, sent to radio stations by Guitar Recordings, but no airplay resulted. This version of "Rosemary Girl" is quite different from that on "hat"; I added a bunch of guitars, sang a new first verse, and added a new rhythm track: me on bass and erstwhile engineer Jeff Forrest on drums. It's a lot punchier than the version on "hat" but I should've double-tracked the vocals for that real glimpse of pop heaven. Nonetheless, if you're interested in hearing this item, previously hidden from the public at large, guess what? Immune just retained full rights to "hat" with the collapse of Guitar Recordings, and as part of the deal we got a bunch of these singles. Contact Immune at 619-448-3062 for details. Right now. Seriously. Do it. The single also contains "The Car Song" and "???" (which is simply me saying "San-san-santa Claus, quintupla-time HAT". Guitar Recordings wanted it on the single for some reason).
THE TAR TAPES VOL. 2 (Immune Records)
released in 1998
The second CD collection of songs from my infamous past. This was compiled at the end of May '98, the most significant month of my life musically, and it was great fun to arrange pieces of my old self according to a schematic arrived at by my new self. It turned out real well. This is the album which made Paul Hinrich decide to like me once and for all.
It's a limited edition of 1000 signed, numbered copies; one special copy contained an extra CD with the song "The Most Paranoid (of What We Don't Know)," a soundboard recording from a 1989 Drop Control club gig. As of today (January 7 or 8, 1999) Immune still has copies of "Tar Tapes Volume Two" in stock, and it has also just been released by MSI in Japan (they also released "Volume One" in Japan during 1998, which is good news for anyone who didn't buy one of the 500 copies Immune originally made available).
The package for this CD contains an insert with fairly exhaustive liner notes, so rather than repeat it, here's some basic information about where and when the songs came from - if you want to know more specifics about the material before you buy the album, just buy the album.
THE TAR TAPES VOL. 1 (Immune Records)
released in 1997
A limited edition collection of live, studio and demo recordings from my non-illustrious past, drawn from a collection of five cassettes I'd once marketed via mail order (and which have been out of print for a number of years). Included in one copy was a "silver ticket" entitling the bearer to a new song, expressly about them, written and recorded by me and delivered to them on CD. At this writing (December 1997) there are still some copies of this CD available, but it won't last long. [Editor's note: The numbered series is sold out, but Suzanne at Immune tells me that there are a very few non-numbered, non-autographed CDs available.] Response to this release has been tremendous and there will certainly be further volumes in the series - look for the next one in 1998.
Below are the song titles, each followed by a brief description, the Tar Tape title from which it was excerpted and the year of its recording.
The original five cassettes went through various artwork permutations during their existence. A very limited cassette release was prepared for the Japanese market shortly after the tapes were withdrawn from the American market. If you'd like to see the artwork I did for the Japanese issue, click on the individual titles below.
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