The For The Innocent You Sessions

Slaughterhouse Studios, Hadley, MA - 1999

Early in the final year of the 20th century, The Aloha Steamtrain, a "pop music" quartet, ventured across the mighty Connecticut River to a sleepy little town called Hadley. They left behind them the security and comfort of their homes in Northampton and Easthampton. The driving force behind this precarious journey was the instinctual urge for them to create a permanent record of the music that they had been making. This band of minstrels was comprised of the enchanting Lord Russ, curly Brian Todd, lovely and talented Joe Boyle, and lanky Henning Ohlenbusch. Occasionally they would be joined in their adventure by their adorable manager, Donal Rooke.

There are a few secret places in our world where exist strange characters who possess the ability to capture invisible sounds and entrap them in strange mechanisms with turning parts and alloy spikes. These stolen noises are then enslaved and can be released and heard over and over again, as though, one were actually stopping small moments of time, mocking the system. These dark places are seldom visited by regular townsfolk, usually the wealthy are the only ones capable of bribing the aural wizards to do their bidding, to record their hideous self-righteous shrieks for the world to endure repeatedly. But, in the underworld, behind the shadows of the castle walls, some people have created their own rules. Secret handshakes, urgent whispers, and unmappable cities exist all around us. Deep in the swamp forests of the hidden town of Hadley, is a small disheveled shack. If one stumbled across it, he would hardly notice it, assuming it must contain some long since useful lawn mowers or bags of potting soil. An immediate uneasy feeling would draw the lost traveler away as the ghosts of a thousand murdered animals began to stir. Protected now by thick walls of poisoned vines, blood-sucking insects, and the spirits of the creatures that were once sacrificed here, this shack is the home to a small group of magicians who have learned the secret art of sound theft. It is here that our adventurers have arrived.

The first recording session for For The Innocent You took place in the winter / spring of 1999 at Slaughterhouse Studios. Thom Monahan engineered and recorded the session and The Aloha Steamtrain recorded the basic tracks (Drums, Bass, scratch guitars, and scratch vocals) to 14 songs in one day. The 14 songs were:

Many A Wonderful Thing That Gets Me High
Mind Eraser
All The Injuries
La Isla Mujeres
Turn Me Over
A Rite For The Innocent You
Red Delicious Love
80 Degrees (Then still called Riff Girl)
Here We Go
Two Of A Kind
Misty Paradise

Brian recording basic tracks for the new record.

It was important to remember to turn off the enormous heater before recording each song because the noise from it would surely be picked up with the drum microphones. But it was also important to turn on the heater after every take because otherwise we would all freeze and die. For dinner that evening, The four of us and Don headed into historic Amherst where Brian and I got pizza slices at local favorite Antonio's, Russ and Joe picked up food from Bueno Y Sano, back on Boltwood Walk, and Don ordered something from either Amherst Chinese or Amber Waves across the street, I don't recall which. It was incredibly cold that night and through the icy wind Brian and I beheld Stephanie Jones running across North Pleasant Street to greet us. After recording all these basic takes on the one inch, 24-track, analog machine, Thom transferred the songs to ADAT tape, a digital format that we could take home with us.

The Aloha Steamtrain rented an ADAT recorder from Down Town Sounds, of Northampton, and borrowed a Mackie Mixer from Joe Boyle, and for the next two or three weeks recorded rough-draft arrangements of the songs. This way, we could experiment creatively for a low cost and not feel the burden of pricey studio hours on our shoulders while trying to hone down the tunes. Russ, unfortunately, had become afflicted with a sinus infection at this time. Bravely, he toughed it out and through his misery he managed to design and play all his guitar parts and create and sing numerous vocal takes. Joe Boyle came over for a few days and recorded his guitar parts, recording directly through a few effects processors that he owns. On another day, Brian arrived and he recorded a number of percussion performances for the various songs, these parts included tambourine, shaker, tom toms, a snare drum, cymbals, and a steel bookend (played by yours truly.) One day, Brian and I drove to the home of Paul Eggleston, of Architectural Metaphor, where we borrowed from him a MIDI controlled sound module called Vintage Keys. It was this module that some of the mellotron, organ, and synth sounds on the record came from. We borrowed this item and held on to it through an enormous snow storm and in exchange we rewarded Paul with a small container of medicinal herbs. All of this rough draft recording was done in my tiny room in the apartment I share with Lord Russ and non-band-member, Seth Tripp. It is a small room floating in a corner of Northampton. I can clearly recall the snow battering the window as I laid down the synth parts to All The Injuries. The songs were beginning to take form. We were quite aware at this time that most of the material we were recording would be redone at a later date, but at least now when we did go back into the studio, we would have a firmer grasp on exactly what we would be trying to accomplish.

We did not get back to Slaughterhouse Studios until June 14th, 1999. Now it was warm and the area surrounding the building was overgrown with plants. Poison Ivy skirted the loading dock and mosquitoes rubbed their hands together at the sight of a fresh new band to bite. I arrived first on that Monday, at about 4:00 PM. Inside the studio, Mark Miller was working with Boston's Helicopter Helicopter and Brian and Thom were due to arrive any minute. I sat outside on my car eating my McDonald's dinner and reading Kurt Vonnegut's last book, Time Quake. The sky was threatening rain and the warm breeze and sounds of the birds and insects made me feel far from home (really only a few miles away.) Brian's large white station wagon's nose poked through the over growth and he slowly approached on the long and bumpy dirt driveway. He stepped out of his car baring a six-pack of Dannon spring water and a Stop and Shop ice coffee. We sat on my car for a few moments and he filled me in on some recent life-changing developments he was experiencing. He then commented on how beautiful the gray day was. Thom arrived soon in his blue covered pick up truck. And momentarily after him came Sarah Shaw in her white American sedan. It was a pleasant surprise to see Sarah, whom you may know from The Moves, and we learned that she was interning at Slaughterhouse for the summer. We moved Brain's drums from where they live, his car, to the studio and he set them up while Sarah and Thom straightened up the studio, and I organized my Aloha Steamtrain folder. Brian began tuning his drums, he had just put on new heads a few days earlier when he began recording with his other band The Figments in Hartford at Studio 45. Brian had spent the weekend on what will almost definitely be an incredible album with the Figments and now here he was in the studio again with The Steamtrain, what a rock star. There was some trouble tuning the drum heads because of the intense humidity from the impending rain. A small crinkle occurred and Helicopter Helicopter took a little bit longer in the control room than we hoped, so Brian and I had about an hour to kill. We drove into the local college town, Amherst, and perused the magazines at Newbury Comix. Brian eventually purchased a copy of the latest Amplifier Magazine which had interviews with both XTC and The Fountains of Wayne. We then once again consumed some classic slices at Antonio's. Brian, I believe, had a tortellini and I had tomato and chicken, with a Sobe Iced-tea. When we returned to Slaughterhouse we began getting sounds from the drums and Russ soon pulled in on his motorcycle, bringing with him a paper bag full of beers, which he graciously offered to the gang. While Brian and Thom were getting the best sounds from the drums, Russ and I stood outside, where he smoked a cigarette and I warned him about the poison ivy. Like Brian said, "Leaves of three, leave them be." We then discussed a few ideas for songs and I expressed concern at the way La Isla Mujeres was coming out. I felt it had an UnSteamtrainish feel to it and we agreed that we would keep aware of the direction it was taking and approach it with care. Before we knew it, Brian's drums were all ready to record. Thom set up my bass and got Russ situated with a guitar sound and a scratch vocal microphone. We now could play the songs together as a band, listening to each other in headphones. The most important thing here was to get good drum takes, the other instruments could be fixed later if necessary. We then proceeded to record six new songs: Here We Go, Mrs. Goodfriend, Please Please, Days Like These, Now You Know, and Beggars In Los Angeles. All of then went quite well, one or two takes for most. Days Like These was still a little bit too new for me and Brian to have perfected our bass-drum relationship. Beggars In Los Angeles was so new that we had only played it about three or four times in rehearsals. It had never been performed live and I imagine it might evolve some from this recording, but I think it came out quite well considering how unfamiliar we were with it.
Tuesday June 15, 1999

Brian pulled down the treacherous driveway to Slaughterhouse at 12:35, ready to record a bunch of percussion over dubs. I couldn't get out of work until 2:45, so when I finally did arrive at the studio, Brian, Thom, Mark, and Sarah had already completed a lot of stuff. They put tambourine, shaker, and congas on Here We Go, Timpani and drum rolls on All The Injuries, and a few other tambourine parts. Brian and Mark played the drum rolls together on the end of Injuries, making Mark our first guest musician. The tambourines sounded especially nice, Thom was routing them through an incredible amount of compression that sustained the ringing of the tambs, making what Russ called, almost a cricket sound. After finishing up on that days percussion, it was time for me to redo some bass takes. Thom and I listened through every song and where we felt something needed to be changed, we changed it. I can't recall all the changes we made, stand-outs include: A Rite For The Innocent You where I replaced the verse choppy parts using Thom's hollow body, and Tiny Blue Dress, where I used Thom's electric. It was on Rite for the Innocent You that I changed the bass line in the bridge to be this weird slidey thing, still a little up in the air on that one, I sort of changed the original chord structure by playing an E under the B minor chord. We'll see. During these bass over dubs there was a guy at the studio named Owen. The name sparked memories of Throw Momma From The Train. I am not sure who this kid was but I think he may have sort of been an intern or something, he was in a band called The Magnets. Russ came by at about 7:45, I don't believe he got to track anything that day because I was still fixing the bass. I finished all the bass parts on our 14 priority songs except for Days Like These. I had a tape made of that song so I could learn what Brian played.

Wednesday June 16, 1999

Today was Russ' special day. He began singing leads at about noon, I think, and when I showed up at 5:00, he was still at it. Actually, when I showed up at 5:00, I found Russ, Mark, Thom, and Sarah sitting around the control room eating Pinnochio's. I saw some boxes of French fries and Russ had a ham, canadian bacon, and cheese calzone. Thom didn't use his marinara sauce so Russ ate that, too. I had come fresh form a run to the Tail Gate Picnic in Northampton. They were taking a break after getting stuck at a certain part of Misty Paradise. It turns out that on our original take, there was a slight fluctuation of tempo and it was making it hard for Russ to sing the line that belonged there. It just took a lot of tries and a little tape comping and the problem was taken care of. Russ went on to sing a good amount of lead vocals. I remember hearing, All The Injuries, which featured two voices, a regular whispery track and then a super whispery and reverbed doubling track, Burnout, Red Delicious Love, and Damned. I know they also recorded 80 Degrees and Misty Paradise, and maybe a couple more. Don showed up for a while and he and I went outside and discussed which 14 songs were a priority. The toss up lies with Providence or Now You Know. It all depends on how Providence comes out, it hasn't officially been arranged yet, but I know Russ has the basic ideas down in his head. I maintain that we should try to keep a constant beat in it. Brian came for a little while and we discussed rock and roll and his changing life. We looked at pictures of The Pernice Brothers in a magazine, and Brian brought an Amherst Bulletin, whose headline Sad Customer Will Miss Store alerted us to the fact that Victory Supermarket was closing. At the end of the night I played a synth piano part for Rite Of The Innocent You. Thom ran the keyboard through his POD direct box, effect thingy and found a pretty cool tone to double what will hopefully become a Rhodes part.

Thursday June 17, 1999

People don't always realize how crucial tambourines are. They mock and belittle the instrument, impersonating Davy Jones or Linda McCartney, all the while unknowingly being moved and affected by the unsung heroic expression of that jangly ring. Brian has been performing some great tambourine parts for this record and although most people won't really even hear them for what they are, they will propel the songs to a better level. Before I drove to Slaughterhouse on this day, I stopped by the apartment of King Radio. Frank Padallero greeted me jovially and assisted me in carrying Bill Winslow's electric piano (Fender Rhodes 73) down a rusty fire escape to my car. We discussed our separate recording ventures for a moment and I took off like the wind. Whoosh! Brian had been performing percussion for the last 3 or 4 hours when I showed up. He played some high-hat parts on Mind Eraser and some tambourine for other songs. Low and behold he was finished with his parts for our 14 priority songs! As he was packing up his stuff, Sarah and I carried in the cumbersome Rhodes. We put it right in the control room and Thom set me up with a piano bench. Russ showed up, soaking wet from a rainy motorcycle ride, just as we were getting the right tones. I played Rhodes on Rite For The Innocent You and Days Like These, I felt it was definitely worth the little extra effort it took to acquire the piano for the day. Now it was time for dinner. We had ordered from Pinnochio's earlier and the guy showed up just as I was finishing Days Like These, perfect. I had a small pizza with tomato slices and a box of big french fries. It was good. After dinner Russ began some more lead tracks. Unfortunately, I can't recall exactly what he did. I do remember that in the 3/4 part of Turn Me Over, Thom set up Russ in the meat locker. The meat locker is the strange orange-red sonically reflective room at Slaughterhouse. There are still meat hooks in the ceiling. Thom recorded Russ by putting a microphone in front of him set at a figure eight configuation, with Russ singing into the void. This way Russ' direct vocal was not recorded so much as all the reflections from the room. It made for a distant yet very clear sounding take. Thom also had a strange set up for Rite For The Innocent You but it was bringing out some strange overtones in Russ' voice.

Monday June 21, 1999

Three days passed since we had been in the studio. Brian came to Slaughterhouse at around 1:30 and tracked tambourine for Days Like These. It was an unusual sound, I think he just tapped the tambs with his fingers. It almost sounds like chinese finger cymbals. He also played some clavs on Now You Know. Since there were no clavs around, they used a sample. It has the same effect either way. Brian had to leave for work and Thom and Mark comped some vocal takes from the week before. When I came at 4:30, we began tracking bass for Days Like These. I used Thom's Howard bass. We worked through the song together and got some interesting bass lines. Then we did Now You Know, on which I used Tony's bass. They both came out really nice. After the bass was done, the delivery guy came from Pinnochio's. I had the same as last week, a small pizza and fries. Delicious. We sat outside and ate on our cars and talked about movies. We added a pianoish sound to Here We Go and Brian showed up again, having just left work. We then discussed what we still had to do while we waited for Russ to come. Thom put Now You Know on a repeating loop for me so I could try to compose an organ part while he set up mics for Russ. Russ came at about 8:00 with a Twix and a beer. He sang lead for Days Like These, Now You Know, and Rite For The Innocent You. For Rite, Thom set up the strange mics from the week before. Russ sang straight into one mic while another in a figure eight pattern recorded the room. Don came at some point while Russ was singing and he stayed around for a few hours. Russ also put down some backing vocals for Turn Me Over. The last thing we recorded that day was the organ part for Now You Know. I sat in the meat locker and Mark set up a stereo pair and recorded the speakers of the little keyboard they usually keep in the control room. It has a great organ sound.

Wednesday June 23, 1999

Russ arrived at Slaughterhouse at around 1:00. Our shower was being fixed that morning so he took a morning swim instead. This was a day for acoustic guitar parts. Our house mate Seth was kind enough to lend us his guitar. It is a lovely sounding Yamaha, unfortunately, something about its low frequency output makes it difficult to record. So, some of the songs had to wait until we brought a different guitar. Russ did a lot of songs though on this particular day. When I arrived at 6:00, they were working on Days Like These, this was one of the songs that would have to wait. But, I did hear the tracking of Now You Know and Turn Me Over. At the end of turn me over we decided to change the part a little and Russ played an A and D along with Brian's ride cymbal bell. Then Russ wrote a new part right at the end. Mark set up a cool sound with his Acoustic amp and Marshall cabinet and Russ played an electric guitar. It was a grumpy evening at Slaughterhouse. Maybe it was the heat. The fireflies were flashing like mad outside, and there were a million bugs flapping around the exterior light. Inside, the air conditioner was humming but even the control room was still warm. The other rooms where Russ was playing were quite hot. I left before the others and have yet to be told what else was completed.

Thursday June 24, 1999

Slaughterhouse Studio welcomes back Mr. Joe Boyle. I don't know exactly when the recording started this morning. This was the day for Joe to track his basic guitar parts. When I showed up, he and Thom were just listening back to what they had done on 80 degrees. They had found a very nice chimy and cutting guitar tone and Joe played some crazy stuff at the end of this tune. Mark and Sarah were packing up the 16 track - one inch machine that Mark had recently sold on E Bay. It was a hot and muggy day, thank god the control room is air conditioned. Joe went on to record a bunch of songs. It was nice to hear them coming together. Brian and Russ showed up shortly after and we all sat and participated in the recording. On occasion, we would listen to the ADAT tapes to be reminded of what Joe had played before. We did this for Red Delicious Love, because in the time since the ADAT recording, both Russ and I grew to love Joe's part. Joe did Here We Go and the guitar had a beautiful AAA Radio Hit quality to it. Upon listening to the ADAT's for Turn Me Over and Tiny Blue Dress, we found out that we could keep a lot of Russ' cool guitar parts. For Rite For The Innocent You, Joe and Thom created this crazy low guitar sound. Between the weird electric piano parts and Joe's new nutty guitar, that song is out of control sonically. At the end of the night Russ, Thom, Joe, and I were left and we went on to do Now You Know. Thom put Joe's guitar through the little Vox amp and found the most beautiful sound. Joe played two passes of the song and when we listened to them both at once we all were amazed (except for Joe maybe) how well the went together. It was as though Joe could hear his first take when he did his second. The acoustic guitar, organ, bass, electric, and drums arrangement of that song is beautiful.

Friday June 25, 1999

This was our last day of our two week stay at Slaughterhouse, but there was no way that we were going to finish all our tracking. Russ did a few more guitar parts and he, Thom, and I went through all the ADAT tapes to see what we could keep. We found a lot of usable parts. There is something really nice about combining the home recorded takes with the fancy studio ones. The ADAT parts add a nice touch of personality that is hard to achieve when you are in the studio being observed and worrying about time and money. Joe came in and played three more guitar parts, finishing up all his parts except his vocal on Days Like These. He once again impressed everyone by completing three songs in a bout fifteen minutes. The last part of the day was reserved for making some rough mixes. It was late at this point and we were all tired. Thom mixed the ADAT from home, with the ADAT from the studio and the Analog tape. Russ and I listened, discussed, and pointed out observations and I took notes on what we still had to do to each song. It was a late but satisfying night, Russ and I each took home a cassette and Thom took his DAT. Now it is time for us all to listen carefully to what we have and figure out exactly what we still need to record. I don't know when we are next going back to the studio. I think it will be in August.