More on RTFO Bandwagon's "Dums Will Survive"
Due to the unfortunate circumstance of combining my SXSW coverage with my RTFO coverage (how's that for a convergence of acronyms?), I wasn't able to give sufficient praise to Dums Will Survive, RTFO Bandwagon's new LP, which they'll celebrate with a "release ceremony" tomorrow night at Skylab. Nor was I able to share many of singer-songwriter Andrew Graham's insights about the record, many of which he compiled into an elaborate set of album notes he sent me along with my copy of Dums.
I'm particularly compelled by the album's second song, "Like a Dan Shearer Over Troubled Water." It's RTFO's anthem against co-option, a gracefully off-balance ballad that's prettier, slower and outright better than anything they've done before. (Not that applying such adjectives is RTFO's surefire formula for transcendence; "Skipper Bunkum," which finds them at the height of abrasion, is my second favorite track here.) After a handful of listens, I considered "Dan Shearer" one of the finest single tracks to emerge from Columbus since I started paying attention to local music four years ago. But once I read the lyrics and Graham's detailed explanation of them (after the jump), my appreciation for the song grew exponentially.
Graham is an idealist. In an era when indie rock as an institution is a disarmingly close bedfellow with corporate synergy, the RTFO mastermind is still immensely bothered by the idea of selling out, though he's never used that phrase exactly in his communication with me. He can't stand the idea of his music being appropriated as a fashion statement, marketing ploy or anything other than the communal or personal enjoyment for which music was originally intended. "Dan Shearer" is his strong, effective but suitably whimsical position statement.
That leads me to one more point I wanted to make before handing this over to Graham's liner notes. The guy puts more thought than most into his lyrics and how they interact with the music. In the live setting, he worries that the words might be obscured if the music gets too rambunctious around them. As for his recordings... well, you'll see. Take it away, Andrew.
Track 1: "Dums Will Survive"
Jen Boyce - Vocals Lindsay Ciulla - French Horn Andrew Graham - Vocals and Guitars Tommy Greensleeves - Bass Guitar Tony Henley - Drums
The concept of "Dums" (sic?) is used to indicate the elitist left-wing conception of rural Americans as less intelligent or less evolved than their urban counterparts. Due to the minimal lyrics and brevity of the song, this concept cannot be elaborated in detail. However, it is meant to encourage consideration of hypothetical scenarios such as: "in the event of another American Civil War, who will win?" Well, obviously it will be those same red state motherfu**ers that we've been scorning all along. What good is a cultured mind without a skilled hand?
Sometimes I fear that only dums will survive what you call a vicious vision they call "staying alive" it's an easy decision like a bee to the hive sometimes I fear that only dums will survive.
And the people that you call on won't come they'll probably turn their tails and run and you'll sit there just twiddling your thumbs it's no fun
Sometimes I fear that only dums will survive the sages drink old-fashioneds*, think it makes them so wise but they forgot to learn the engine, the gun, and the scythe and if it comes to battle, looks like dums will survive
*the mixed drink known as the old-fashioned was originally created for a civil war general who found straight whiskey off-putting. I chose this as the drink in the song to indicate the illusion of gaining martial knowledge through something so divorced from actual warfare. Perhaps the same could be said for playing "Call of Duty."
Track 2: "Like A Dan Shearer Over Troubled Water"
Jen Boyce: Vocals Lindsay Ciulla: French Horn Andrew Graham: Vocals, Guitar, Keyboard Drums, Drums Tommy Greensleeves: Bass Guitar Tony Henley: Tambourine Dane Terry: Keyboard
Our friend Kevin Fink used to pester his cousin Dan Shearer by filling in the titles and/or lyrics of popular songs with "Dan," "Shearer," and "Dan Shearer." Adopting this approach yielded a simple song that began "Like a Dan Shearer over troubled water I will ease your mind/ I hope you know a d.s.o.t.w.'s hard to find." The music and the title stayed the same, but over several months the lyrics evolved into the version you hear on the record. Both versions will appear on a cassette that we hope to release in February.
Let's just say that, in a time of strife, given the choice between spanning troubled water with a bridge or a Dan Shearer, by all means choose the bridge.
This is a song about getting excited about a new idea or new territory, and then quickly becoming horribly disappointed by the theft or appropriation of said idea by the establishment or the mainstream. When the idea is regurgitated, it seldom retains the same potency. Think of the imagery that surrounded the psychedelic movement in San Francisco. It represented freedom, mind expansion, etc. But as soon as these artists turned around, they saw their visual codes were being used to sell jeans and soda pop by companies whose ad-men cleverly copied the real deal. What can you do but to keep creating new vehicles for meaning? In this way, the last line of the song ("and I know I am the goose") refers to both the game "duck duck goose," where the goose is the chaser, and the "wild goose chase," where the goose is the one being chased. An artist must try to chase and harness ephemeral moments that seem worthy of representation while staying one step ahead of those who wish to rip them off.
Grew an aberration and we took her out to show her around took her to the party, they picked her up and couldn't put her down On my word, I swear, it was nothing like they said it was they were marching in, telling lies, bass, drums, lungs and I know, they were holding trial there and I know, it was whitewash and I know it wasn't fair
You should have seen our faces when she came staggering in she'd been appropriated by the set, we couldn't figure her grin all last night, I wept, for she was nothing like we said she'd be she was showing off, fanning cash shake, wink, flash and I know, the knot is coming loose and I know they call it freedom and I know I am the goose
Track 3: "Public Relations Rag"
Jen Boyce - Vocals Andrew Graham - Vocals, Guitar, and snare drum Tommy Greensleeves - Bass Guitar Tony Henley - Bass drum and tamborine Dane Terry - Electric piano solos
For the longest time, I wrote songs by coming up with a few lines of lyrics first and then finding a guitar part. In the past year, my music composition has outstripped the flow of the lyrics and I find myself "speaking in tongues" into an overdriven microphone to see what happens intuitively. That jibberish often provides a nice template for the actual lyrics. The first verse of "Public Relations Rag" follows its "in tongues" demo almost to a T.
As far as content goes, the song is about being at the coffee shop (or the bar or wherever your meeting place of choice is) and routinely running into the same acquaintances and reciting what you've been doing lately to a succession of people. It's not like it's tiresome because you're too important for these people; it's tiresome because you start to question the vitality of what you've chosen to do with your time.
The electrifying ice cream truck jingles are the result of Dane Terry trying 40-50 takes of a straightforward ragtime piano part before "going for it" around 3AM by turning the input gain up to 10 and keeping the first take.
The more you try to standardize and say the same each round the more you'll tire of your party line and hate your own words' sound they say there was a way to every time and every town but they tied the tubes and tore it down and it won't be back again
And you're sick and tired of all the heads inside so you call your friends up too many too many times and they don't care what you say but they will ask you anyway and you'll be fine, you will be fine you will be wonderful
And the more you can uncross your eyes and let your focus drift you'll see your territory grow and the power that comes with it they say there is a way to be okay with where you stand but if you're twenty men, there's barely chance that one has that control
And you're still sick and tired of all the heads inside so you change their names up too many too many times and they don't care what you say but they will ask you anyway and you'll be fine, you will be fine you will be wonderful
Track 4: "Between the Ears"
Jen Boyce - Vocals Andrew Graham - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Bass Guitar, Snare Drum Tony Henley - Bass Drum, Tamborine Larry Marrota - Lap Steel Guitar Dane Terry - Upright Piano
When Larry came over to the studio to record on this song, it was only the second time we've met. Add on top of that the fact that he was playing to a track that was little more than an acoustic guitar playing a stupid-simple chord change for almost five minutes, plus Larry's reticence, and you've got a bit of an awkward situation. But being a professional, he nailed it within a couple of takes and didn't question the worth of the spare template he was playing over. When he was done, I asked him how often he had played that straightforward country a la Harvest-style lap steel and he said "never." The man must pay attention. He's an experimental composer and has worked on scores for several films, including selections on the collection Avant Garde, which is a DVD re-release of cutting edge cinema shorts from the '20s and '30s.
Lyrically, "Between the Ears" is an attempt at serving up revenge in an ironically pretty package, the way Dylan could say "don't think twice, it's alright" and mean "I want this to bother you all day long." I've never wanted anything to work so bad...
It's been refreshing to try to put a thread through your eye 'cuz everything that came before was way too easy. But don't teach me lessons in safecracking I'd rather win a friend than a prize and the correct answer isn't always the last one you try.
Now there's nothing left to hold us back except between the ears And there's nothing left that you can say that I can't hear But if I hear that you're trying to bounce my heart for fun Then I swear I'll tell of your false starts to everyone
Oh, look at you now pretending there's no stage you say you're dancing for yourself but I can see the players and I could wait here for you to take your bows but I don't have the patience for that now
what with the questions and the cigarettes the answers the drooling the vinegar the temperature the taste the try the ticket the oil the rag the stage and the curve
there was an axe and a bench a bow and a braid the manners the sendoff the grammar the pride we were singing in thirds to the pressure of the flight and the victory of your clever mind
And there was nothing left to hold us back except between the ears And there was nothing left that you could say that I couldn't hear But I heard you were trying to bounce my heart for fun So now I'm telling of your false starts to everyone
Track 5: "The Soft Approach"
Jen Boyce - Vocals Andrew Graham - Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Organ, Melodica, Hi-hat Tony Henley - Drums Dane Terry - Keyboard
This song comes from the general desire to dabble in musical "numbers" as well as songs. The intro/outro section is borrowed from a pattern that repeatedly shows up in traditional Greek folk music.
If I take too much pleasure in going overhead don't you cut off all your hair just to keep me out 'cuz there's still time for measuring the soft approach i can win if you want me to
Games don't have to be fun it feels good to try hard and it's better, so much better than just waiting for the symptoms to show and pretending I can't go with you now i won't wait for the crickets to call i won't wait for the tickets to come I won't wait for the symptoms to show I won't wait for the symptoms to show
Track 6: "Skipper Bunkum"
Jen Boyce - spoken vocals Andrew Graham - drums, sung vocals, keyboards, guitar Tommy Greensleeves - bass guitar
On election night, my friend Caio Geraissate was having a party. He was playing T. Rex on his turntable and the record started skipping in 7/8 time. I tried my best to recreate the song in real time, and then we added lyrics and dynamics to it.
The song encourages people not to take their position for granted and to realize that a lot of the things we complain about are relatively mild.
You can't complain about the itch of your fur if you can't take, you'd better get get get get go to slums play your cards teach yourself Kids on the farm, they copped our 30-inch waists but anything they want, you know they take take take take what the hell brace yourself quit the team quit yourself
So you were a captain on the eminent line but now you're a tool, you'd better get get get get use your broom clean it up I'll show you where There goes the nuzzle, and here comes the bite and there goes the bus, you'd better hike hike hike hike tell me more later on if you can shut me up long in wind short in tooth less than pay more than make plug your ears bunk your beds bunk your beds bunk your beds bunk your beds
You can't complain about the itch of your fur if you can't take, you'd better get get get get go to slums play your cards teach yourself ask yourself ask yourself ask yourself
Track 7: "Dumbs Will Survive"
Jen Boyce - Vocals, Bass Guitar Andrew Graham - Lead Guitar, Vocals Tommy Greensleeves - Lead Guitar Tony Henley - Drums
This song tries to extol the wisdom of keeping your mouth shut and playing your cards close to your chest, lest you give too much away.
Sometimes I hope that only dumbs will survive I could really use some quiet I could use some quiet time There's too much talk about the talk of the times sometimes I hope that only dumbs will survive
And the people that you call on won't come all your words will trickle down and run to the bottom of your chin and become just another laughingstock of the dumbs
And there's no information that could save your act and there's no restoration that could bring it back