Friday, June 24, 2011
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Shiverfix in leather, 1997
In 1997, we were reworking old songs, recording demos, and trying to find musicians to fill the lineup. I started playing the guitar full time and we recruited another bassist, Aaron. We recorded with the drum machine. We tried out drummers. There was one who seemed to get what we were doing and we thought it might work out. But then he never came back for his drums. We finally had to call him and threaten to throw them out before he picked them up.
Here's how "Shattered" sounded in 1997:
Grace finally came to the newly-dubbed Shiverfix in 1999 in the name of Travis, a loud and loose drummer. He was what we’d looked for for years, quickly learning and improving on the programmed drums, freeing us up to jam, practice harder, and write new songs.
Reworking lyrics in our (unheated) rehearsal space, 1999
As much as David and I wanted to be in control of the music, to direct the sound of the band, neither of us really wanted to sit down and program drums for a new song. With a drummer in tune to what we were after, songs came together, without that programming step. We were able to play through again and again tricky changes, to test out extending or shortening bits, or otherwise change things up.
With a live drummer we were determined to lay down some definitive recordings of the songs in the Shiverfix library dating nearly all the way back to its inception. In a rooftop rehearsal space north of Coors Field, brick walls dampened with blankets and quilts, space heaters tripping the breaker, we recorded a set of the old songs under the title The Hardest Trick and another set of new songs called Such is Such and Such.
Here's "Killing Me" from "The Hardest Trick":
Shiverfix, live at SevenSouth, 2001
Sometime the next year, not everyone was making it to rehearsal as planned and Shiverfix stumbled and fell for the last time. We had been getting better, our songwriting maturing. I was bringing in songs I’d written and played acoustically and David layered on heavier guitar, dreamy guitar maybe. We were enjoying what we were doing.
Here's a rehearsal recording as we worked out a new song, "Loaner":
Maybe we never should have stopped. Even if it meant we were on our own again, doing it all ourselves. Maybe we should have kept writing the music we wanted to listen to.
We played together again in a band called Vellocet, with me returning to bass, in 2004-2005. But it wasn’t the same. We wrote well together, but with a different singer, another songwriter, it just wasn’t Shiverfix.
Still, I think about getting the band back together, of working with David on new songs. My mind wanders with thoughts of how we might do this or that, what David would bring to one of my songs, how we would work out a tricky transition. Now that we don’t even have to think about “making it” and the drum machine isn’t an impediment to making good music, maybe it would be worth it to try again.
Friday, June 10, 2011
In the end Shiverfix was my band. Through all of the others, this was where my heart was.
It began as far back as 1988 or '89, when my collaborator and best friend David Bliss and I recorded a couple of songs in a small apartment with any one around who was available to play an instrument. David had been taking guitar lessons, blues-oriented, in-the box stuff, while I'd been writing some poetry and imagined becoming a singer, a frontman in the vein of Michael Hutchence or Jim Morrison. We weren't after a certain style, didn't have any real goals. We had our influences (The Cure, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, etc.) and we hoped they would find their way into the music.
From those first two songs, horrible-sounding songs, recorded in an apartment in Aurora, Colorado, we went to other apartments to record more songs. The drum machine always ticking away, unwavering, in each. Tryin the whole time to recruit our friends into playing with us. Even if they had no muscial experience. This paid off when Lori joined us to play bass.
Unloading gear in the alley at 15th and Blake
By 1990, we were rehearsing in a warehouse at 15th and Blake in Denver, back when the area was full of decrepit buildings and viaducts. The warehouse had been an old sporting goods store and some other sort of retailer before that, and it served as the transient home to an eclectic group of musicians, artists, and other outcasts. Under the name Satori, our rehearsals, with the addition of Becky as our drummer, often seen smacking the snare with a stick in one hand and taking a pull on a cigarette with the other, took place in a large open area. People would walk through, stop for a while to watch, move on. It was like playing in a half-lit store, while people milled about. Except elsewhere in the place people were doing drugs, watching TV, or screwing. It wasn't always conducive to experimentation, to the open innovation that a group of nervous, still-learning, musicians needed. It also forced any personal or personnel issues onto display.
The viaduct across the street, how it appeared in 1987 (via denverphotoarchives.com)
Satori played one live gig at the warehouse before the residents got evicted for having open fires during a show. I was twenty, frightened, and lousy. The band before us had broken a hole in the makeshift stage which I nearly fell in. The drums were on a riser behind us, spearated by a partition that more or less prevented them from being heard. Not the best first show. And then Satori was done. Tensions had been high, and without a place to rehearse, the band dissolved.
Here's a raw demo recorded then of a song called "Shattered":
Of course we couldn't stay apart for long and soon, with Becky replaced by the drum machine, we went back to recording in apartments. We wrote better songs, songs we were proud of, and tried out drummers. Many of the songs from this period would become staples for David and I through the years. Eventually, a mmove to Seattle was debated. This was 1991. Everything good was coming out of Seattle. David moved. Lori left to join St. Lucy Altarpiece. I did nothing. Until David moved back to Denver.
Here's a song from that era,"History's Pedestal":
By the end of '92, David and I found brothers John and Guido to play bass and drums and went by the name Scratch. It came from too much time spent at Calvin’s playing pool. We were certainly after something more rock and raw, something that felt like the late nights and the abandon with which we were living then. Because we worked evenings and stayed out late, rehearsals were usually held mornings in the basement of a house at 6th and Sheridan. The tales of the previous night’s exploits were often too much for the good Catholic brothers.
A Scratch-era version of "Flower Dress":
The gigs didn’t come. Despite what we thought were good songs, a good amount of creativity, nothing panned out. David and I were really more interested in living a rock and roll lifestyle than doing the hard work required to get gigs and really make a go of it.
Eventually, one of the brothers got someone pregnant and Scratch came to an end. Then it was just me and David, and that damn drum machine again.
We moved into an old storefront at the corner of 5th and Santa Fe on Cinqo de Mayo 1993. For years we had struggled finding a place to play. You couldn’t have a drummer if you didn’t have a place to put him. You can get away with recording guitars and bass at low volumes in apartments, but the volumes necessary to play with a drummer required dedicated space. Still, though, drummers were hard to come by. I played bass on some recordings, but still we didn’t get anywhere.
In the fall of that year I bumped into two members of the then defunct St. Lucy Altarpiece on the bus. In just a few minutes’ conversation it was agreed that I would come over to play bass with them, to see if I would play in a new band they were putting together. The level of frustration with the lack of progress with the band was high. The decision to leave and join Swoon was easy.
In some ways, David and I cared about the music more than we cared about “making it.” And that was what was so frustrating. To put so much emotion and care into the music and know what we were the only ones enjoying it was demoralizing. To play in a new band, to have a secondary position, was liberating. I could do something different. I could be creative. I could finally play some live shows.
Until Swoon gave me the boot in early 1995.
Shiverfix: Part II coming next week.