June 24, 2022
HS12: JR - Touchy Button Basement Sessions
Here’s what I love about an Otari 8-Track recorder: limitation.
Even though you can and might “bounce” tracks down and create more empty tracks on which to record, there is only so much information you can cram onto a half-inch wide slice of magnetic tape before it degrades. So, I’ve always tried to avoid “the bounce,” work within the limits, and get most of it down on the first 8, whenever possible. It’s a sort of use-what-you-have, do-what-you-can, start-now kind of model. It leaves me hearing the space within the songs. It lets them breathe a bit.
I also love the magic mechanical sounds the recorder makes while doing its job—the click that signals the machine has come alive, reels moving, ready for me to hit record. Reminds me of starting up my old Scout Harvester, just before peeling down our gravel driveway.
The Otari 8-track in Kevin McKendree’s basement in Franklin, TN had a mind of its own. I remember the smell of the basement: not musty, but fresh and cool, like a woodshop. And I remember Kevin’s lovely wife, Laura, sitting on the basement stairs, coffee in hand, an audience of one, listening to the playback as we finished each song, smiling with encouragement.
We recorded 4 or 5 songs over the 3 days I crashed with Kev + Laura. Kevin is playing guitar, B-3, piano, and bass. Guess who on the drums: Mr. Giti Khalsa.
We named the sessions “Touchy Button” because the machine seemed to decide whether (and when!) it wanted to start each time we hit record.
I listened back to these songs recently. They all seem to be lyrically linked, perhaps to a version of the future not yet manifested in the late 90s, but one that now seems to be weighing heavily on our hearts.
The first is a tune entitled “Thinline”—one I don’t believe has ever been released or played live.
The second tune is the original demo version of “TUG”—dark and deeper and noisier (and more fun?) than the album version.
Next you’ve got the first version of “Truck Drivin’ Citizens”—a dystopian future where blue collar workers revolt and the trucks stop driving (keep in mind: this song name checks dial-up internet, so I am definitely NOT talking about those chuckleheads you’re thinking of from the pandemic). At the time I wrote it, I wondered what it would be like if the hardworking + under-appreciated people who keep the world moving decided they weren’t gonna take shit anymore.
And, of course, you already know “Cloudy NYC,” which is included because it was recorded in the same session.
If you listen closely, you can hear the hiss of the tape on that old Otari, the ghost in the machine.
It’s saying: BREATHE.