It was going to be our shortest and fastest tour to date, but that suited us just fine—getting to the point was our M.O. The trip was to showcase for a few folks who might or might not have been interested in releasing our first record, Similar Phantoms. They’d heard the record as we were shopping it and simply said, “The next time you’re in town, we’d love to see you play.” We weren’t touring at the moment, so we decided to casually set up exactly one show and make the round trip to play it. If you haven’t been here, that’s the way it seems to go down with things like this—they play it cool and you try to play it cooler. What could say “we’re playing this thing cool” other than driving 1,800 miles round trip to play a show, right? But this is what bands do. To make the most of the trip, we’d also booked two days of recording at Converse Rubber Tracks studio in Brooklyn. On November 30, 2013, we left in Sam’s 1987 Dodge Ram Mark III Conversion Van after we got off work. It was already brutally cold and it didn’t help that the van had no heat. We bundled up, hoped for the best, and set sail.
After a short detour to Chapel Hill for the night and an instore the next day at CD Cellar in DC to play the songs for some friends, we got to Brooklyn on December 2 around 1:00AM. The first order of business was to get to Rubber Tracks in the morning to record (but not before coffee and bagels). At 10:00AM, we met our engineer, Jason Finkel, and told him we wanted to track instruments live with only a few overdubs and vocals later. All but two songs on Similar Phantoms were done this way, so this was how we felt most comfortable. Jason was on board.
“Notorious” was the second song we recorded that day. After the first time our friend Kevin Attics (from the bands Literature and Mercury Girls) saw us play live, he told us that our music felt like “a punch in gut,” which we thought was the highest compliment we’d ever received. We were talking a lot around this time about how to dial in the frequencies of each instrument to create a “wall of sound,” but I think Kevin articulated what we were going for better than we could. As our fastest, most aggressive track to date, this song might best capture that sentiment on record. I think this take 7 or 8 and I don’t think we did another one after it.
After finishing those two tracks, we headed to Pianos for the showcase. We successfully “unloaded” the van out front of the place for several hours and got to keep the spot because of it. We might be from the South, but we can out play New York when we really want to. That fast one (or slow one, I guess) was probably the highlight of that evening. After the show, one of the label guys told us we could “find him on the Internet” if we ever wanted to look him up in the future and the other one never talked to us.
We went back to Rubber Tracks the next day and recorded two more songs: a newer, better version of “Mt. Ogee,” which replaced an earlier, shittier version of the song on Similar Phantoms and a weird, groovy, borderline psychedelic version of “O Tannenbaum” loosely based on the Wooden Shjips version of the song. The latter of those two songs has still never been released and I don’t know that we ever planned to? Maybe we should? After all this, we went home and spent a third night with our friend Yoi, woke up the next morning for more bagels and coffee the next day, and drove home on December 4.
At the time, we viewed the showcase and the recording session as two separate events that just happened to occupy the same space and time. But, looking back, I can’t think of these things as anything but two pieces of the same whole, two different sides of the same coin. They both occupy this same “being in a band” thing that defines the experience. On the one hand, your band drives a brutal, frigid 1,800 miles round trip in 5 days to play in front of people who could really “make you,” but will probably choose not to. You’ll play to 10 people and likely drive home empty handed, exhausted. On the other hand, you drive that same distance with your best friends, the guys you’ve played music with for almost a decade, to record a record because you want to have something left of you when you die. You get to sleep on floors, to cross the Williamsburg bridge doing 90mph, to eat bagels, to play for 10 people, to get exhausted, and to have the time of your life. I used to think that “Notorious” was just like any other song we recorded, but, instead, it seems to occupy its own space and time. I can hear all of the experience surrounding this song filtered into 2:57—frustration, joy, a decade’s old friendship and band just hitting its stride. The song could not have been made under any other set of circumstances.
Now, onto the future.
P.S. These other songs are a cover of “Indian Summer” from one of our favorite bands, Beat Happening. Our friend Damon Moon was helping put together a summer mixtape that never materialized, but the song did. Next is “July 3/4,” which is an indie pop song that couldn’t really fit anywhere else, so we decided to throw it here. We recorded that one ourselves as a full band demo to help shape our second record. We never rerecorded the song, so this version is no longer a demo. Then, we’ve got a full band version of “Betamax (1981)” that we’ve played at every show since April 2014, I think. A version of this song was originally done with a drum machine on Similar Phantoms, but this is how we hear it now. Our friend John Rosser did a bang up job recording this and Damon Moon mixed and mastered it. Finally, Scotty made a 7-minute drone, noise thing called “Thrown to the Elements.” You can thank our desire to have a round 5 song EP for the creation of this song. I guess this EP effectively clears the coffers to make space for RXN_002. Hold tight.
P.S.S. The first song we recorded on that first day is called “Controllerhead” and it’s on our second LP, RXN_002, which comes out later this summer. It, too, features Sam’s overdriven Farfisa through a Music Man amp and a Fender Bassman 2x15 cab with broken speakers from an old theatre. We wanted to sound as much like Stereolab as possible.
P.S.S.S Neither of those guys signed us after all, but that’s never what this music thing is about anyway.
released February 24, 2017
All songs by Small Reactions, Similar Phantoms Music Group, BMI except "Indian Summer" by Beat Happening.
"Notorious" was recorded by Jason Finkel at Converse Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn, NY. and mixed and mastered by Jeremy Scott at The Civil Defense in Brooklyn, NY.
"Indian Summer" was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Damon Moon at The Cottage in Atlanta, GA.
"July 3/4" was recorded by Scotty Hoffman at Rock Bottom in Atlanta, GA. He later mixed it at his house in Marietta, GA. I don't think it was mastered.
"Betamax" was recorded by John Rosser at The Projector Room in Decatur, GA. Damon Moon mixed and mastered it at The Standard Electric Recorders Co. in Decatur, GA.
"Thrown to the Elements" was recorded and mixed by Scotty Hoffman at his house in Marietta, GA. Scotty, was this mastered?
Cover collage, "10 Feb 415," by Guy Maddin.
Design and layout by Rossellini Politi