mr|ten Originals and Covers, Part 4

mr|ten has inspired some of you to go back and check out the original versions of the songs we covered for our 10th birthday.  In this series I’ll put the originals and covers side-by-side with commentary.  (Part 1Part 2Part 3 – Part 4)

My Blood My Bones

Original by Bike:

  • I love Bike so much and wanted to make sure they were covered for mr|ten, so I ended up taking it on with Cory.  It was hard to find a song that seemed cover-able; Bike’s stuff is pretty unique to Bike.
  • Originally we were going to punk this up, but no rhythm felt like it worked.  Then I started playing with the delay pedal :-)
  • The simplicity of this recording is unusual for Bike; typically there are many more layers of drums, synths, etc.

Sneaky Sneaky Snakes:

  • Note some lyric changes, if you like
  • We re-created what I could fathom of the time signature changes in the introduction, but play it straight in four after the vocals enter.
  • We recorded this as a field test for future Sneaky Sneaky Snakes recordings to a 4-track tape machine that can only take 2 tracks at a time.  Track one is drums; kick (RE320) and overhead (NT1) mics mixed down to one channel.  Track two is guitar; amp mic (e609) and bass synth DI mixed down to one channel.  Track three is the lead vocal (which went through overdrive and delay pedals), and track four is a barely-audible low octave and double at the end.  It turned out OK, I think, and I learned how to do it better in the future.
  • Cory played an unbelievably steady drum track (no edits!), and it’s even more impressive when you know he hasn’t played drums much.  This is his first recorded and released drum track, I think.
  • My voice ended up sounding closer to Nate’s than I would have guessed.

International Sign for Goodbye

D-Rockets’ original:

  • Just a regular old slice of typical melodic brilliance from Derek.
  • More overdubs than you might realize at first; the chorus has both an acoustic guitar arpeggio and electric slide guitar, used perfectly.  Harmonica, of course, and it plays underneath the vocals on a few parts.
  • Nate asked for some recommendations, and I sent them, but didn’t think of this; he found it and chose it on his own.

Cover by Bike:

  • I heard an early mix that was just Nate’s voice and rhythm guitar, and had a moment of vertigo, unable to imagine how that Bike sound would emerge from what I was hearing.  With the addition of the second voice, really subtle guitar arpeggio, and simple synth – bam! – it was there, like magic.
  • This was the last cover to be sent in for mr|ten, I think.
  • Nate hadn’t released any music in a long time, and I couldn’t be happier that he did this for us.

After the Countdown

Once more from h&s’ signs.comets:

  • I’ve always liked the call-and-response vocals, especially the first verse, that put Scott and I on equal footing in front of the mic.
  • There were some specific dynamic things I either liked and wanted to re-create, or wanted another shot at, for the cover.  These include “I’ve never walked in darkness…” before the second verse, the “Listen for the countdown / Any second / Now…” pause, and the ending.
  • The craziness at the end is three separate drum takes.  Nothing like rock & roll excess :-)
  • This sort of sounds better than it has any right to, given how I remember recording it…  eesh.  Learned a lot since summer 2003 in that un-air conditioned Sunday School room.

Sally Ride’s cover:

  • Rob had the idea for this cover.  The concept was that I’d do the basic track and post it for others to add their own voices and instruments, and we’d have a giant, weird, asynchronous collaboration.  People ran out of time for that, so it sounds a little empty, but still works.  That’s what all the space in the arrangement is there for, though.
  • I practiced up and did the drum track and two main guitar tracks in one day, at Drew’s, in about six hours.  Gear and mics were already set up for Mars Lights.  It’s the only time I can think of putting myself in that much of a pressure recording situation, and I’m pretty proud of pulling it off.
  • So happy Scott reprised his vocal role!
  • The drum parts bite what I loved about Scott’s orginals, with some tweaks to make them mine and better track the guitar rhythms.
  • The guitar parts break out what had been one guitar part into separate rhythm/root and arpeggio/chord parts.
  • I’m pleased with the guitar tone; this is what the electric howie&scott tones were always like in my head, but I didn’t have the gear or knowledge yet to make them.  It’s a heavier, fuller sort of Clarity-era Jimmy Eat World sound.  The two tones used different pickups, different EQ settings on my ES-345, different pedals (one was just a boost into my amp, the other was the Apocalypse, I think), and because of all of that they sit together in the mix with hardly any EQ.  I don’t say this often, but I feel like I nailed those two tones.

Two Sentences About Every Band I Saw At Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest


(Not counting comments about gear…)


Peelander-Z – This punk “band” is a series of audience participation bits (barely) strung together with approximately three songs spread across a 40-minute set.  Brilliant.

Pallbearer – With a reputation as more of a studio band, they held up live (except for the backing vocals).  Looking forward to seeing them again in KC in December.

Mineral – These guys are taking a well-deserved reunion victory lap.  It was a big crowd for a 3 PM slot, and we ate it up.

This was the beginning of what seemed to me to be a high number of bands playing through Marshall JCMs and sounding pretty pedestrian and one-dimensional in terms of guitar tone.  Over email Drew pointed out that JCMs are plentiful and affordable, and while that’s true, I also heard plenty of guitarists rocking things like Twins, Stereo Choruses, and 6505s that meet those criteria and sound better.

Run The Jewels – The sense of joy emanating from the stage and reflected back from the crowd was palpable.  Killer Mike is a treasure of humanity.

Sun Kil Moon – Just OK.  Mark has moments of brilliance for sure, but for me, those are separated by extended bouts of tedium.

Death From Above 1979 – They blasted through a ton of songs, and we loved it.  Turn up the bass, though!

Judas Priest – Still.  Bringing.  It.  You forget how many hits they’ve had until they’re lined up, one after another after another.

alt-J – CA enjoyed them thoroughly.  To me they kind of noodle around without ever making much of a point (maybe that’s the point?), so I went back for the end of Judas Priest.


Glassjaw – There’s always time for some solid New Jersey hardcore.  Maybe now I will finally be able to remember consistently which band is Glassjaw and which is Jawbreaker.

METZ – Fun, loud, and loose.  Nailed it.

The amps started to improve here, and continued throughout the festival.  The mixes were better on Saturday and Sunday, too; Friday was kick-heavy, as is all too common, but the weekend featured really nice mixes.

Fred Armisen – We got tied up in the crowd in the middle of the day and didn’t see much for an hour or two, other than a couple of covers by Fred and his band from what was mostly the comedy stage.  Sounded good, though.

The New Pornographers – Perfect, they could have played the rest of the night and I’d have been thrilled.  Shut up and take my money, my ears, and my heart, voice of Neko Case!

Both Carl and the bassist were playing through Orange cabs!  Amazingly, for all the heavy stuff we heard, NPs were the only band I saw rocking Orange on stage.  Not Pallbearer, not Deafheaven; The New Pornographers.

Nas – Illmatic in its entirety was brilliant, of course, but the rest of his set made the case that the rest of his catalog is underrated and probably due for a critical revision.  See him if you can.

Cass McCombs – No offense to Cass, but after a long two days and almost dying on the way to Austin this was nice to nap through as we waited for Dinosaur Jr. at ACL Live.  Did he put out a second record?

Meat Puppets – I was not as up to speed on my Meat Puppets as you might think headed in; they felt like the Grateful Dead filtered through ’90s sensibilities.  CA enjoyed them, out of nowhere.

Dinosaur Jr. – The sound check on J’s amps was louder than most bands.  Great to see them in a relatively small, impeccably tuned room.


Pissed Jeans – These dudes made fun of their own fans crowd-surfing to their music.  Made fun of themselves, too; awesome.

Deafheaven – Sunbather, which everyone loved, never clicked with me but seeing them perform it did.  CA got into them, too, to my surprise.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Freddie, admittedly, had a lot of substances in his system.  He was still rapping like nobody’s business, and Madlib is a minimalist genius, but we cut this kind of short to squeeze in dinner.

Yo La Tengo – Probably should have rolled with Freddie & Madlib longer.  They can be great, but this set was mostly a 20-minute krautrock freakout, and not in the good way.

Failure – A real highlight for me.  They might have sounded better than on record, even, in a set heavy on Fantastic Planet cuts.

No amps on stage (but a cool Electrical Guitar Company aluminum guitar); they must have been using Axe-Fx or a Kemper profiling amp or something.  Sounded great, though there was some switching trouble.  I’m not sure how many shows they’ve played, so they may still be getting used to the gear.  They didn’t play any new songs, which surprised me.

Neutral Milk Hotel – Jeff & Co. presided over a hi-fi (yes, clearer than the albums) sing-a-long weirdo jamboree, and converted CA to fandom in the process.  I’m so happy to have seen them.

A Tribute to the Stooges featuring J Mascis – We hoofed across Austin in a hurry, only to find a reasonable line rendered impossible due to a guest list that took up 95% of the club’s capacity.  Disappointing, but I listened to three songs through the window, and even that was pretty rad.

J’s solos were nuts.  I don’t imagine he hauled his whole rig into the club, but his tone was right there, unmistakable.

Monday – Though not part of the festival, I will here mention the excellent electric bike tour we experienced courtesy of Rocket Electrics.  Their bikes look and work like regular bikes, but have a battery that will take you up to 20 miles at 20 mph, which is handy for hills and acceleration.  We took the music tour led by Johnny Austin, had a great time visiting some historic Austin music sites, and wrapped up with a rooftop concert.  I opened it with “Coast & Plains” (hence the photo above, courtesy of Johnny); we highly recommend the tour if you’re in town.

mr|ten Originals and Covers, Part 3

mr|ten has inspired some of you to go back and check out the original versions of the songs we covered for our 10th birthday.  In this series I’ll put the originals and covers side-by-side with commentary.  (Part 1Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4)

Things We Know Now

howie&scott’s original, from the 2xCD signs.comets:

  • I thought of this as a very poppy song on signs.comets… you know, with a time signature change and verses/choruses of varying lengths.  Super-poppy!
  • It wasn’t until Cari Ann and I were searching for candidate songs for her to sing that I realized the arpeggiated verse riff really outlined some straightforward chords that might translate to autoharp
  • Scott adds a lot to this with the unorthodox drum part, solo (of course), and harmony vocal that I love.  That really creative harmony takes the chorus to another level
  • That “I know your heart is in my teeth” lyric is pretty strange, when I stop to think about it.  I don’t remember where it came from – maybe a dream – but it’s always meant for me a warm, intimate, but frighteningly vulnerable feeling

Cari Ann’s cover:

  • Gorgeous vocal, of course.  The totally stripped-down arrangement puts the spotlight directly on her voice for the whole song, and she carries it beautifully
  • I pushed her a bit during the recording session – she may have been a little frustrated with me by the end of it – but I think the result sings for itself
  • Some nice changes to the bridge melody
  • Mic’ing the autoharp was a bear; the muted strings make weird, dissonant noise as the pick rakes over them, and it was hard to find a mic position that minimized that.  I ended up using a dynamic mic on it for that reason

Just Observing

Original from It’s A Trap by Sally Ride:

  • This song is about my real emotions regarding a real thing that happened in my life.  That may sound unremarkable, but it actually makes “Just Observing” a very unusual song for me; I almost never do that.  Just scanning the track list for It’s A Trap, there is only one other song on that record that’s simply about me and something that happened.  Of course, in both cases the lyrics aren’t literal.  This song is really honest but not nice, like fluorescent light.
  • The lack of drums (or even a steady pulse), backwards-Cory vocal, and structure (verse/verse/bridge/verse, no chorus!) are other weird things about this tune
  • I don’t imagine this is anyone’s favorite jam, but I love it because it nails the emotion I wanted it to capture harder than most

Scott Morris’ cover:

  • Scott asked for suggestions for his cover.  At first I thought it would be hard, but as I thought about his skills and started listening, I came up with a ton of songs I was excited to hear his versions of.
  • He adds an entire theme that isn’t in the original (the first two chords and their subsequent recurrences and variations), and uses the bass to create complex chords that go far beyond the source material to great effect.  The theme suggests the original’s bridge, but is distinct.  The original bridge doesn’t appear; the theme and verse alternate with various textures to create Scott’s dynamics
  • Such a cool pitter-patter beat.  Makes me think Scott could have a second career as some sort of downtempo electronic artist
  • This gets stuck in my head constantly; that’s a big accomplishment for an instrumental track!

Bust My Teeth

Continuing on with White Air’s version:

  • The shifting textures and production are what makes this song work for me.  There are so many different sounds (going far beyond the obvious, and awesome, possessed children’s choir).
  • The lyrics of the final verse get obscured by the “Liar, liar…” theme; I eventually had to ask Greg for them

Sally Ride’s cover:

  • This is my second cover of a song from White Air’s self-titled record on mr|ten.  As I was collecting ideas and trying things to see what worked, both this and “Am I Getting Thru To You?” were working for different reasons.  I went ahead and recorded both, not knowing if the compilation as a whole might need the second one to reach my goal of 10 covers.  We got there without it, but both tunes seemed to work in the track list, so I left this in
  • I tried to recreate the feel of the original’s production with different echo settings, octaves, and chord shapes on the guitar.  It’s not as dense and interesting as Greg’s, but the changes give it some movement…
  • …especially on the last verse, where the guitar drops out.  The original faded out from there, but I brought back the “chorus” and lyrics from different parts of the song, including the “Liar, liar” phrase which I thought was too important to omit