Friday, April 27, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 15/20

Props Dept.

We are coming to a critical juncture in the evolution of our art, and the question demands to be answered: Is it enough to just dump a trunk-load of stuffed animals and used toxic waste containers onto the floor and wade through it for an hour and a half, pounding out rock power genius? Yes, absolutely, but looking at things from a cock-eyed and probably slightly drunk point of view, we see how it could be better. For one thing, why do bands always have their amps and speakers in neat little stacks? We take nothing for granted. I have a nice set-up, a battered Fender Bassman 50 through a 4 x 10 Marshall stack, with a Ratt pedal supplying the distortion (but don't ask me about it, because Pigtail has no idea what any of those brand names mean or what those knobs do). It sounds pretty heavy, but it looks stupid and obvious, sitting there on the stage like everyone else's gear. So we start tilting. A small working television goes under one corner of the speaker cabinet, lifting it at roughly a 45 degree angle. Great! But now the amp head is sliding off. So we attach a good-sized mars light, a twirly red deal like they have on the police cars in The Andy Griffith Show, to the downhill end of the top, and prop the amp head on that. Cool, but now the top of the amp head is on an angle in the opposite direction. We could leave it like that, but I want to add a big old hollowed-out TV on top. So a life-sized Barbie head, put sideways, brings things more or less level. The big empty TV is filled with rotating lights and other odds and ends -- pretty distracting! On top of that goes a beer case box, sturdy cardboard, with the word "CLAP" cut out of the front and a blinking colored light inside. The entire mess is well over six feet tall, bright as a Christmas tree, and murderously unstable. It tends to collapse during moments of high excitement. Kind of like Skipper. Speaking of Skipper, his rig gets more or less the same treatment, only his beer box sign says "FUN."

Goodtime's kit is another story. He can fix or improve anything, and he gets it into his head that his kick drum should light up every time he hits it. I can't begin to comprehend the mechanics and electronics behind this arrangement, even though he explains it to me at length on several occasions, but I do know that the effect is pretty cool and definitely NDI, low rent and entertaining at the same time. But GT is just getting started! At some point he sees on TV some circus act, a clown, who inspires him. We already proudly steal songs and riffs -- why not steal props, too? So he sequesters himself in the basement of his apartment building, working feverishly through the night, through several nights, no sleep, showers of sparks flying around his shoulders, wiping sweat away from his red-rimmed eyes, until he emerges, holding high his crowning achievement: a leaf-blower with a toilet paper holder duct-taped to the end. It's a toilet-paper cannon, and yes, it works. And yes, we are a "prop band." Like everything else dubious and corrupt about this new venture, we embrace it whole-heartedly. Stick a fresh roll on the holder, flip the switch, and a jet of TP shoots about twenty feet into the atmosphere. A double roll just about covers the entire crowd at our next gig. Quite a spectacle. Just keep it away from the ceiling fans.

Soon GT returns to the laboratory, this time with our new roadie, a tall, long-haired young man we call Tiggr, a stage-design lunatic who is far and away the most talented person we have ever met, waaaaay more talented than we are. For unknown reasons he decides to throw in with us, and he and GT set out to build a confetti cannon, which is much more dangerous than it sounds. They use converted industrial air tanks, each about the size of a pony keg, heavy steel, with touchy valves that Tiggr actually welds in such a way as to work with a foot switch. He also uses some kind of serious construction-guy tool to put threads on a couple of 5-inch-wide steel pipes, each about three feet long. These screw onto the tanks and work with the valves in some official way. Each tube holds about a cubic yard of confetti. Take the tanks to gas station, use the air hose and a gauge to get them up to about 50 psi, toss them very carefully into the back of the van, set them up at the edge of the stage, give Skipper the foot switch, and at a critical and/or random part of the show he stomps on that switch and PHLEH!!! A cubic yard of confetti shoots about twenty feet into the air, coming down to coat fans, float in open beers, infiltrate the monitor wedges, and work into our shoes. Confetti starts turning up in every arena of our lives, from bathroom to bedroom. GT swears he poops confetti.

Tiggr soon shows us this confetti shooter thingie was no fluke. He re-jiggers a cheap, nasty looking guitar I buy at a garage sale to do, kind, of, what Ace Frehley's does during his solo with Kiss: light up and smoke. It involves a block of LED lights jammed in where one of the pick-ups used to be, and he also fits a little smoke bomb with a spark-fired fuse in the back of the body. The guitar sounds atrocious, unplayable even by Pigtail's standards, but for a solo I make a bunch of noise sawing across the strings for a few seconds and then I hold my breath and close my eyes and flip the switch. Blinding light blinds me, and a foul billowing cloud of sulphury smoke pours out, so thick I can't breathe for at least a minute. An awesome spectacle.

His next idea is to cast our faces in resin, and use the molds to make plastic Halloween masks, complete with strings and painted features. At our first ever show at the Avalon nightclub, by now a pretty hot ticket, we gather a dozen or so friends and girlfriends backstage and put these cool NDI plastic masks on them. We dress them up in surplus tux coats and hats and give them a guitar or two, some extra drumsticks, party horns to hand out, and when it's time to go on all twenty of us pour out onto the stage, milling and jumping around, a totally surreal swarm of Pigtails, Skippers, and Goodtimes. It's pretty fucking freaky, even from our point of view, but not as freaky as it was to a bunch of our die-hard fans in the front row, who had chosen that night to do mushrooms before the show.

But Tiggr's true genius is revealed when he produces his masterpiece, the Velourabeast...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 14/20

The Words of the Dumbshits Were Written on the Studio Walls --

Back home after our first real-life road trip, we realize it's time to get some of our genius onto wax. Most bands who are trying to succeed at this point in time are recording cd's, still a new technology, and everyone is all excited about how it's the digital wave of the future, blah blah blah, and how many songs a CD could hold, and on and on. Following our instincts, we decide to record a 7-inch, 33 and 1/3 rpm, limited-edition single on regular black vinyl.

The old band had recorded out in Hoffman Estates at a studio called Solid Sound, which was a pretty average not-cool suburban office-park studio that recorded bands with names like "Stryke Force" and "Rockerz." The reason the old band wound up at this place wasn't the slick sound board or the tasteful low lighting, or even the surprisingly low rates. It was because of a kindred spirit we found there, a truly sweet and twisted young man named Phil Bonnet (RIP, old friend). So THEE NDI return from our first ever tour, physically ill but creatively on fire, and the first thing we do -- maybe the second -- is call up old Phil, give him a new name, Christian Shoulders (Why? Really? Is anyone still asking that?) and book five hours of studio time.

We arrive at Solid Sound in our finest stage outfits, tux and hat ensembles, greet our new/old friend Christian Shoulders, and begin to load in. Gear? Yes. Stuffed animals? Yes. The string of used-car-lot flags we kind of found at a Chevy dealership next to the hotel at four in the morning in Slidell, Louisiana? Yes. We spend our first precious hour of time, $35 worth, setting up the recording room to look more or less exactly like our stage. After that we manage to actually record four songs, complete with twisted spoken intros, and stagger out with a pretty good representation of our artistic corruption. This becomes the "Feelin' Sexy"/"Pensacola 99"/"Hamhocks"/ whutta whutta EP. We cut-and-paste a few random images from our stack of girly magazines, hand-letter the thing, and start selling it at shows. To our surprise and delight, people line up to buy it. Did they listen to it? Hmm.

That first little recording experience primes us for a much more ambitious attempt. A few months later we return with 25 new "songs;" a little more cash; assorted sound-effect cd's, transistor radios, toy instruments, Skipper's dog, an economy-sized bottle of trucker speed, assorted Little Debbies, and enough liquid refreshments for several weeks. The "lock in," as we call it, is for 24 hours. Time to get busy with the real work of recording an album! So we immediately focus: Decorate the studio, get the car-lot flags up, get the good tuxes on, have a cocktail, and start telling jokes with Christian Shoulders. After awhile we turn on the amps and just start playing.

Recording with NDI, like everything else, means forgetting everything we used to know. Forget "separating" the sounds, and don't worry too much about the ragged solos and approximated cues. In fact, forget everything except maybe the lyrics, which anyway are basically just titles and a few improvised bits that have stuck over time. The main thing: turn the guitar way the fuck up, give Goodtime room to bash the shit out of his tiny little set, and try not to laugh. It's too easy. The only hard thing is remembering not to think. If we stop to consider re-doing a ludicrously botched backing vocal or lyric, the whole thing will fall apart like the house of cards it is. The hard part is remembering how easy it is. We basically play our set list, more or less in order, with the songs linked together by snatches of radio preachers and sound effects. There are too many in-jokes to count, or remember, but the bowling alley behind Skipper's "solo" is pretty choice, and I like the soap opera interludes. One bit that even our most obsessive fans will probably never catch is the big piano chord crash at the end of one song, can't remember which one, that we carefully time to be exactly one second longer than the previous world-record piano crash fade out, at the end of "A Day in the Life" on Abbey Road. We spend way more time on this single joke, including stop-watch timing and adding the barely-audible cows mooing in the background, than we do on any one of the actual songs on the album. Way more. It Don't Matter.

The result of our cheerful assault on recording integrity is the first NDI full-length album, Hanky Panky Parley Voo, which title is lifted, right, from a weird story in one of our more obscure and dog-eared men's magazine -- something about a con artist/spy/big game hunter who bangs a harem of chicks in Paris. It's 23 songs worth of concentrated trash-rock glory, and we are proud of it, and there we are on the cover, in tuxes and hats, holding junk food and fake cigars, and the main thing you see is not how good these guys must be, or how bad-ass, or even how attractive and creatively dressed they are. What you notice is how fucking happy these guys are. Whatever else this album has going for it, the cover is just a big sloppy wet kiss from your old best pal, a drunken wrestling match on the lawn of the party house, a full-out singalong to stupid old rock songs. Don't know us? It Don't Matter! We're coming over to your house, or your table, handing you a piece of broccoli and a sparkler, and singing you a song about whacking off and driving at the same time.

So. Now what. Do we release it on Edison cylinder? Eight-track tape? Many theories are discussed, but in the end we decide to put it out on cassette tape and, yes, compact disk. Modern and marketable. Hmm. Why, if It Don't Matter, are we doing that? Ah. In the Rock and Roll Eden of our innocent naked newborn bliss, we have nibbled on the chocolate-frosted Ding Dong of knowledge. How many more days in the Garden do we have?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 13/20

Whoa -- I had this weird dream where I was trying to tell these people what it was like to be in The New Duncan Imperials. Then I realized, holy shit, it's APRIL, and I was asleep for almost two whole months! And MAN did I have to pee!

So anyway let's get this puppy up and running again. You-all may want to go back and read some of the previous bits. You don't want to forget any of the intricate plot points and minor characters. I think we're just finishing up our first-ever road trip as NDI, right? Okay, here's a little post-script to our utter and uncontested triumph over Tipitina's. True story:

The next night we are still in New Orleans, having found a groovy bunch of young fans to crash with, their messy apartment actually overlooks the noisy French Quarter (harsh morning light streams in through the ancient white-washed horizontal slats on the shutters, but it's meaningful to be seeing them from the inside), and that night we hear about an event at Tipitina's, a movie opening party or some such official closed event with popular people and free food and drink, and somehow the idea of crashing this party gets stuck in our minds.

So we get seriously tricked out in our finest white tuxes and green pants, adorn our strong young bodies with trinkets, beads, and other swag from the Quarter, get a little liquid courage on board, pull our Hawaiian punch brims low over our eyes, and follow the searchlights over to Tipitina's. In a purposeful single file the three of us walk in past the velvet ropes and black-clad bouncers like we own the place. Which, in a sense, we do. If anyone shouts at us to stop, I certainly never hear it. Inside we mingle and drink and eat, entirely at home among the celebrities we do not recognize. High class. Right where we belong.

But here's the punch-line: at the bar, we overhear the manager-type, who never bothered to show up the night before when we played, bitching about something. Apparently the assholes in one of the bands last night threw fucking marshmallows all over the place. They got ground into the fucking carpet, and there was no way to get that shit out before the party. They almost had to move the whole thing to the fucking DoubleTree hotel! If he could just get his hands on those sonsabitches...

Next: Let's Record an Album!

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