This weekend I’m going into the studio to make a record. I’m excited and a little bit nervous. My drummer has a fucked up hand (it’s creepy, it looks like a baby tyrannosaurus arm) and that’s gonna make shit difficult. Ha! No. He’s not actually deformed. He fell off his motorcycle and his hand puffed up like a baby hand and the recovery has been slow and stupid. Take note, children. Once you get to be about thirty, the pain, when it arrives, hangs around for aeons longer than it used to. I mean, fuck. I slept on my arm funny about a week ago and it’s STILL driving me insane.
Anyway, I’ve gotten all my instruments set up, I’ve borrowed good gear from folks and tonight and tomorrow are the last nights to put the lube on the tips of about 2 or 3 more demos and then it’s time to party. Matt Alison will be at the controls and Justin Yates (of Dec. ’09 ‘Young and Hung’ centerfold fame) will be assisting. Should be cool. As of right now I have four songs already completely recorded and mixed and I’m planning on getting 8 or 9 done in Atlas over the course of the weekend and a few subsequent follow up days. If everything goes well at the end of this will be a record that I’ve been writing and demoing and even recording for over a year, that I’ve re-arranged my whole life to record (in 2 different states with a rotating cast of the best, most appropriate musicians for each song) that you guys can illegally burn, listen to once, cavalierly dismiss as shitty about ten minutes into it, and move on to whatever dumb shit is coming down the pipe next. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world, the public consumption of the creative process.
Nah, I’m pretty excited because I’ve got a real different endgame with this record than I’ve ever had before. Before, I’ve always had a competitive streak when it comes to making records. This is true in a few ways. Chris and I always pushed each other during the songwriting process to go to weirder and tougher places whenever we were putting together any Lawrence Arms release. This was ‘competitive’ technically, but it was more of a friendly tension where the results came not from a desire to crush each other or anything but rather a desire to not end up looking like a total asshole.
For example, when writing Oh! Calcutta! I had written a bunch of songs and so had Chris. Suddenly, Chris brought in Great Lakes/Great Escapes and played me the acoustic demo, and my first thought was ‘wow…I’m gonna have to write some new, highly awesome songs if I’m gonna put them on a record next to that song.’ It wasn’t that I wanted to be the best, I just didn’t want to look like the dipshit that sullied the vibe of that song with some tossed off turd. This definitely went both ways for us and it was and is a super healthy collaborative uh…’competition’ I guess, but that’s not the competition that REALLY drove me. The one that really drove me was the one that featured Chris and Neil and me on one side and everyone else in the world on the other side.
Whenever the Lawrence Arms would make a record (and I can only speak for myself here, though I suspect that Chris and Neil would be at least a little bit familiar with the perspective I’m about to describe) it came from a place of feeling desperate, alone, marginalized and…I don’t want to say underRATED, but maybe underestimated. We started out as a crappy 3 piece that wasn’t as cool as the broadways (Chris’s and my previous band, who weren’t that cool to begin with) and, apparently tried too much to sound like Jawbreaker. Then we became the band that was just like the Alkaline Trio in that we came from the same town and had the same general line up, but we weren’t as good/cool/dynamic. Then we became the (tubbier, older) band with punk songs and guitar solos on tour with Taking Back Sunday and Yellowcard during the explosion of the pop-emo craze Then we became the new band on Fat, alongside cool, credible bands with already growing (and more importantly to the notion of my perspective) ‘cool’ fanbases, like Against Me! and D4. THEN we became a band that had been around for a while but hadn’t blown up and we were suddenly the new kids in the Hot Water Music pool, where the fans are great and dedicated but there’s still a spot here and there where only ten kids show up and no show is ever as big as the kids that attend think it’s gonna be (this, remember was before the miracle, David Blaine-esque move of Hot Water Music breaking up for a week and then getting back together to find themselves six times bigger). And throughout all this we’ve been consistently compared to every single one of the bands that I mentioned and described as an inferior version.
Now, far be it from me to complain about or even disagree with this comparison. Alkaline Trio, Against Me!, D4, Hot Water Music….shit, as far as my tastes go, these are some of the best bands around, and well, we definitely AREN’T as good at entertaining the TBS or Yellowcard crowd as those guys are. These are all reasonable bands to compare us to and I can understand, very, very clearly why we would be considered inferior to all these bands.
What that has done though, is that it’s made me (and PROBABLY Neil and Chris, though we’ve never discussed it overtly) hungry to stuff every record we ever made up everybody’s ass. The whole goal of our band has always been to subvert expectations within the very small wiggle room of our sound. I mean, I’m no dummy. The Lawrence Arms aren’t revolutionizing anything at all, (even though some of those bands I mentioned above may have been) but we tried to make a pop record when we’d never previously written a song with a chorus, then a weird, weird record that would shock the shit out of anyone who thought that we didn’t think things through or pay attention to craft, and then we decided to make a super jagged punk record that embodied everything we’d ever stored up about loving punk rock once we’d been written off as pussies. Then we made a record called Buttsweat and Tears. Ha!
Anyway, I’m not saying that any of these records were necessarily great (though, come on. They totally are), and I’m definitely not suggesting that my competitive streak was aimed at those above-mentioned bands. It wasn’t. It was aimed at the faceless world at large that unfavorably compared us to everyone. Those records all came from a hunger to show the world that we were the best, and fuck everyone else (fans, journalists, bands, punishers, indifferents, haters, label heads, promoters, roadies, everyone) entirely. Did they do that? Of course not, but that’s the MOTIVATION, which, if you’re a regular reader of this blog you would recognize as something that I think is completely irrelevant when it comes to discussing the merits of art. SO, what’s my point?
My point is that right now my new record isn’t made yet, but the time draws near and as such, I’m pretty fucking excited and all I have to talk about is motivation because that’s what’s coursing through me right now. And I don’t really have the desire to stuff this record up anyone’s ass. That’s not to say that I don’t think that you all are even remotely close to expecting what’s gonna be on it, I don’t think you are. BUT, I’m not looking to make a name for myself as some sort of iconoclast, I’m not struggling to push my sound and I’m not worried about how it’s received. I’m back to square one where I’m just making a record that I spent forever writing because I finally scraped together the resources to lay it down. That’s my motivation. I’ve got some songs I like and I think I’m finally ready to record them. This is the first time I’ve done that since I was a teenager. And shit, for a lot of bands, that first record is the best. Well, this is as close to a ‘first record’ as I’ll have done since I was fifteen. And I’m stoked. And if you don’t like it, well, I’m not gonna be surprised or care.