Once upon a time in the west

There once was a band from Denver Colorado named The Psychodelic Zombiez.

I never liked the name, but they were among the most exceptional group of musicians and people I’d ever make a record with.

All of them ringers. They could play. My God they could play. Ten piece band.  Not a weak link in the chain. They could literally play anything I ever asked of them.  I’ll never forget asking the horn section to double their parts.  I watched the light bulb turn on in their eyes.  And they nailed it.

I’d just returned from Madison Wisconsin, co-producing and engineering what would be my biggest claim to fame. My friend Rick had a band he was on fire about. So much so, he was willing to fly me and an A&R rep. from A&M to Seattle to see them live.  He was working for Jimmy Iovine at Interscope back then. He’d first seen them at SxSW the previous spring.  They couldn’t even get a venue there.  They showed up anyway and just marched and played down a street where all the clubs were bursting with new bands one night.

They’d been on his radar ever since.  They had a record out but it was watery gravy and Interscope didn’t give a mad fuck.   He’d already been to Denver to see them for himself.   A ten piece band playing jazz influenced pop funk that ruled Denver Colorado and the neighboring college town of Fort Collins.  A completely unlikely Cinderella story that had me thinking of the Primus phenomena in the Bay Area.

We’d booked a room at a discount through a friend’s mom at Sony in a charming but swanky hotel called the Sorrento. We landed, checked in at the hotel and went straight to the gig at a club called the Phoenix Underground.

I remember being intimidated by the complexity of their arrangements. An absolutely incredible horn section. I was a rock/punk guy. I’d never recorded a horn section, flute or half the other instruments they used with a grace and aplomb that I’d never heard before.  They were so confident. Tight. No air escaping anywhere. They rocked my goddamn face off.  I was floored.  It was almost too much.  So Rick and I got shitfaced enough to brawl on the floor in front of the stage at the end of the set. It wasn’t absurd behavior for us back then. We were nothing but thrilled with this force of musical nature we had just witnessed.

I was sure we’d blown it.  This wasn’t some nihilist punk band.  These were serious musicians.  They stared at us in confusion. They knew we were dickheads.

I remember standing there in that empty club, ashamed and embarrassed.  Sweating and out of breath.  Realizing just how ridiculous I must look.

But I think that’s where they figured out we weren’t suits.  I think that’s where they figured we were more like them than not.  They got that we were excited.

Still, I was bewildered when they asked us to their show the next night at a place called the Ballard Firehouse.

So Rick and I had a nice civilized dinner beforehand. Seared ahi and a Leonetti cabernet I’d called all over to find. The sommelier was pissed. It was his last bottle and he didn’t want to sell it.  I told him to sell us the bottle or cancel our order.  We had a nice meal.

We decided, in the interest of decorum and in light of the fact that this band was truly something special, there would be no rolling on the floor violence in front of them this time.

Little did we know what chaos would be.

They were brilliant that night. I’d never heard anything like that before and haven’t since. What they were doing would have confused my primitive musical sensibilities if not for the rhythm section locked into a groove so compelling and fluid that the rest was a platter steaming with flavors and spices at once exotic, strange and familiar.  Way more than the meat and potatoes that was my stock in trade.

They scared me.

I had no idea how to record them.

Sound occurs only with atmosphere as a requisite. A medium for the sound to excite. Vibrations and frequency allowed merely because of air. What they did was control that medium, with absolute authority.  With muscle and gravity.

I couldn’t believe it.

They were fucking amazing.

We smoked some wicked hash afterward backstage with the owner of the club and we all began to talk seriously in some backstage basement. They asked all the right questions. Cautious and careful at first but they could see we were thrilled and they started to believe we  had the means to actually do something with them and for them.  I told them I had the the keys to the universe.  I told them I would record them in good faith and that at I would do the the best I could by them.  We told them there was no need for paper between us.  If they could get to LA, We would make good on this conversation we were having.  I never told them I’d never even recorded a goddamn trumpet, much less a whole horn section.

I was panicked about the possibility of making good on this music I barely understood and desperately afraid this gem would slip through my fingers.

They agreed to let us record them without any strings except permission to shop them and make a record if we could.

Trust.

That’s all I wanted.

I became their engineer producer for the next year or two that night.

We invited them back to our hotel along with a charming waitress with a nice big ass.  That woman was brave for sure but she had no reason to feel threatened.  They were dirty but harmless musicians  more dedicated to their craft to than the subjugation of women.  The trust was flowing.

They were a two unit convoy back then. An ancient Dodge truck they called the Starfish and a beat to shit Van called Old Blue, both with CB radios. We shared a lot on that trip back to the hotel.  The CB crackled when we got lost.

They introduced themselves with names like Dijon, Chevy, Double G, Hoj and Doody.

They pulled up corners of carpet where they slept and ate up and down the west coast to show me their porn stash and offer private snacks to me. Some were barely nineteen or twenty.  Some were in their early thirties.  They were all far more innocent than Rick and I when it came to the evil business of music.

We stopped at a Safeway to buy five cases of the cheapest beer there was.

Cheapest beer was to become a staple of a long, satisfying but ultimately heart breaking relationship.

They actually wrote a song about it.

It would be nearly a half year before we saw each other again. When they showed up in LA, I had my fingers in half a dozen pies. I simply wasn’t ready for them.

Rick was in the same boat.

We talked and it didn’t take long to arrive at the right thing.

I arranged for time in studio C.

Five days I think.

Oh, they could play.

Drinks for my friends

9 Responses to “Once upon a time in the west”

  • David Lee 3:

    Kill told me that Iovine is the devil…I don’t doubt it.

    Nice one man

  • admin:

    Thanks. This one will take a few chapters. Kill is right about Iovine.

  • Berg:

    HA!!! Man you guys were some cocky motherfuckers and I loved you for it! Those Halcyon days I soooo miss them and the family we all were disfunctional yes but I think the greatest thing about those days was the love there was alot of love in those hallowed hallways, (yes hate too after all it was a shark tank of sorts). I will always remember them as the best days of my life thanks for stimulating those syneps!

    Cherrs!

    Berg

  • I miss studio C.
    I remember sitting on Stevie Nix’s obnoxious looking couch in that room even after you’d begged me not to.
    I almost threw up from your goddamn tequila in that room.
    I had a bizzare conversation with Keith fucking Richards in the doorway of that room. I can still smell the half expired stick of insence he was holding.
    I told Waddy Wachtel he ws a fucking asshole right outside that room.
    In the hallway between studio C and A, I fell in love two different times. Once was with that knockout girl at the front desk with the tattoos (she would go on to send me naked pics of here when I was back in FL.) The other was that chick you guys were doing demos for, whom you wound up running the mic cables all the way through the building and out the front door so you could record her vocals right in the middle of LaBrea.
    When I was in that room with you and Alex, I felt such at home.
    I looked to you like the big brother I never had, and I realized that even though I was just a little punker kid, we had a mutual adoration for each other. Those moments mean so much to me even now, and I reflect on them with such a sentimental fondness. I just can’t believe I WASN’T the one who spilled the bong water all over the board.

  • admin:

    I remember you looked at Kieth and said, “Kieth Richards!”, and he said “As a matter of fact, that’s my fucking name”.

    You words and thoughts have made my day.

    Studio C was home to Alex and I as well as all of the hundreds of other bands/artists we had the absolute pleasure of working with. They really were magical times.

    I’ll never forget the first demos we did together and the records we made. Thanks Hunter.

  • admin:

    Thanks Berg, you were always someone I could count on when I was in trouble. I was always relieved when I called for a tech and got you or Tindle or Johnnie.

    How many times did you save my ass?

    The first few months I was there I lost my wallet and all the money I had in the world and you took up a collection. Remember that?

  • Berg:

    YES MICHAEL I REMEMBER EVERYTHING……EVERYTHING….IT WAS GOOD WASNT IT

  • admin:

    Yes it was, and so my friend were you. My thanks.

  • Doody:

    Ha, that same night at the Fenix Underground, Bruce Pavitt from Sub-Pop Records talked to me backstage, he was intrigued, but nothing ever came of it. Glad you guys had the guts to take us on…..

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