I remember when the Miracle 3 and I entered the city limits of Richmond, Virginia last Fall, ready to embark on the recording of our first new album together in over five years. I got on the phone with my old pal and bandmate Stephen McCarthy who jokingly warned me to "leave your northern aggression at the door." The phrase seemed funny, ironic, apropos and, thus, naturally it became the favorite catch phrase of the session and, of course, became the inevitable title.
We were the fast-talking, hard hitting, hyped up, tightly coiled yankees (and I'm not making a baseball reference here-I'll save that for my other combo) and we were sliding into the slower, easier, drawling, mysterious Southern lifestyle for a week. Anyone who has followed my recording history knows that I love throwing myself and my fellow musicians into unfamiliar territory, leaving open the possibility of surprise, befuddlement, inspiration and adventure.
And the results, the head-on collision of the personalities and cultures makes sense. I thin that "Northern Aggression" is psychedelic, greasy, sneaky, manic, wise, seasoned, nervous and ragged in all the right places. We certainly had the freedom to let it fly. Working with the father-son engineering team of Bruce and Adrian Olsen (the former engineered both Gutterball albums, the latter was barely out of diapers at the time) allowed Jason, Linda, Dave and I the chance to work around the clock. Bruce was behind the board at 8am every morning. Adrian would close up shop around 2 in the morning. I think we slept at some point amidst the down hours in between.
"Northern Aggression" is the third album that Jason Victor, Linda Pitmon, Dave Decastro and I have made together (the others were "Static Transmission" and "...tick...tick...tick"). The title is a tongue in cheek reference to what those behind the Mason/Dixon line sometimes call the Civil War, as in "the war of northern aggression." But this was no civil war, no bloody battle, no historical reenactment. No, this was me and the Miracle 3 doing what we do best-colliding against each other and our surroundings, not holding back and barely taking stock until all was done. It's what we do. To paraphrase Ornette Coleman, THIS is our Northern Aggression. Enjoy.
RESOLUTION-The first track, the first single, the opening gambit. I had forgotten about this particular tune in the palette of ditties that I brought down to Richmond, Virginia until late one night in the studio when Dave put his foot down and said, "Okay, here's the thing. We gotta do that song in D, you know the one." And I did. One take later we had the version that you've hopefully already heard. It's a mission statement, a zen koan. Time is the great equalizer-as is a good droning D chord, of course.
WE DON'T TALK ABOUT IT-The Southern tip of the Northern Aggression. Tony Joe White filtered through the Lower East Side, Captain Beefheart strolling through the Bowery. Linda said she tried to deny the funk but, as you can hear, that was impossible. What's it all about, Alfie? Well, shine a light deep into the dark recesses, the cracks that nobody can see and the most interesting things arise. And then? Shut off the light and don't tell anyone what you saw.
NO ONE EVER DROWNS-I wrote this when I was 20 years old (one year before forming the Dream Syndicate) for a band a band called Goat Deity, which was me and two sisters who went on to form Wednesday Week. We played it at our only gig, which took place in their mother's living room. The song was never recorded in any way but somehow I remembered the music and lyrics 30 years later and it just seemed like this was the time, place and record in which it was time for some dusting and preening. A statement of defiance and bruised optimism from a precocious kid, barely out of his teens.
CONSIDER THE SOURCE-Had this bit of music floating around since around the time of "Static Transmission." Never could find the right words or story to tell. But in the laboratory that was the recording of my third album with the Miracle 3 I decided to give it a shot. I sat down at a Wurlitzer electric piano and just started playing. The band caught all of the changes on the fly, I made up the lyrics on the spot (it's a live vocal, thank you) and amazingly enough my fingers never flubbed on the 88's. That's Jason on organ (the solo was overdubbed). Yep, so much for Guitar Rock, although Jason says this is his favorite recorded solo.
COLORED LIGHTS-More on topic, this is us doing that Miracle 3 thing. Hazy psychedelia, riffs galore and a rave-up at the end. It's what we do, man! Van Morrison said something about not pulling punches or pulling a river. But he said it more quietly. Oh, and I have always loved colored lights. I guess it's some kind of visual Ritalin.
THE DEATH OF DONNY B-Okay, here's the deal. I didn't write this. But I don't know who DID write it either. Jason discovered it as the soundtrack of a short, early 70s film on YouTube not long before we went into the studio and it became our mutual obsession for weeks. What a great film! What a great song. And late one night in Richmond we decided to record it just for kicks. Once again, a live performance, a live vocal, one take bit of magic. And, best yet, it was all documented on film by our friend Ford Loving. Go ahead, type in the title on YouTube. You might get the original film or you might get our version and they're both worth your internet time over a cup or two of strong coffee.
THE OTHER SIDE-My bandmates don't understand-nay, are somewhat repelled by my not so guilty pleasure enthusiasm for the occasional endless live jam bootleg documentation of the Allman Brothers and/or Grateful Dead. More about that at another time but I knew that I had to sneak this one by them by wrapping it up in Television wrapping paper and it does feel like the improbably link between Jerry Garcia and Tom Verlaine. Can you imagine the band they might have had together? The song was inspired by a duo show that Jason and I played in Austin at South By Southwest a few years ago. The rains nearly washed the show away before giving way to bright sunlight and some kind of low-grade epiphany that became this song. It's all about transcendence; it's all about breaking on through. It's all about the other side.
CLOUD SPLITTER-I was going to call this "Jihadist Dream" but knew that was just looking for trouble. But it also might give some clue to this opaque pop tune. Animals tell us all kinds of things but they're also sometimes an unreliable narrator, practical jokers, not always concerned with our best interests. Can we touch the sky? Maybe, just maybe-go ahead and give it a shot.
ST. MILLWOOD-Another song with an alternate title, "I Brought My Own Sorrow" which tells you all you need to know. Or maybe if I tell you that I had considered "Grief Tourism" as an album title, well you might get the idea. Or how about Emotional Ambulance Chasers? I've got a million of 'em. Stephen McCarthy's pedal steel work on this one brings me to tears every time.
ON THE MEND-Wrote this one in a Ljubljana hotel room, singing all of the various jam rock riffs into my tape recorder (a cassette, no less!) I think this song could have gone on for another 20 minutes and might do just that when we bring it to a stage near you. It's a story I've told many times before-the dark side of recovery and rehabilitation but I've never set it to something that could have been a Dennis Coffey out-take. I've never played it live (which is true for almost every song on this record, actually) but if I was a betting man, I would bet on this being one of the highlights of the upcoming tour.
RIBBONS AND CHAINS-And ending it all on a happy note, the unexpected Hollywood Ending. It turns out that everything that rises really truly absolutely must resolve and it's not necessarily a bad thing. For all of the desire to shape, mold, move, steer, deny and dissolve, you usually just end up where you started. With more miles, a few weathered cracks, a couple of jokes and the path and directions to begin the next circle or two.
In 1982 Steve Wynn broke onto the music scene with The Dream Syndicate and "The Days of Wine and Roses" and in the years since, he has made more than 20 records, played over 2000 shows around the world and continues to evolve as a recording and touring artist. He has also performed with Gutterball, Danny & Dusty, Smack Dab and The Baseball Project. He has performed and recorded with Jason Victor, Linda Pitmon and Dave Decastro as Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3 since 2001. "Northern Aggression" is their third album together.
|Item 1: cd|
|1||Cloud Splitter||Cloud Splitter|
|2||The Other Side||The Other Side|
|3||The Death Of Donny B||The Death Of Donny B|
|4||Colored Lights||Colored Lights|
|5||Consider The Source||Consider The Source|
|6||No One Ever Drowns||No One Ever Drowns|
|8||St. Millwood||St. Millwood|
|9||On The Mend||On The Mend|
|10||Ribbons And Chains||Ribbons And Chains|
|11||We Don't Talk About It||We Don't Talk About It|
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