Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thinking About Orange

Download: Ray's Vast Basement -- "California's Gone"

Download: Ray's Vast Basement -- "How Through Sacrifice Danny's Friends Gave A Party"

The other day I came across a particularly good post at Audiversity that focused on two upcoming releases (Slaraffenland and Paul Duncan) from the venerable Hometapes label. Within the post, the author made it clear that rather than getting excited about particular artists or genres, it's record labels that grease Audiversity's wheel. I couldn't agree more on both fronts. Hometapes is a great label, and getting turned on to new labels that can be counted on to bring out new, interesting music is a real blessing. Particularly in this age of declining financial returns, I've got nothing but the most massive respect for people willing to stick their necks out there and release new, vibrant music.

That brings me to talking about another up and coming label, Howells Transmitter. We were fortunate enough to work with the San Francisco-based operation on the most recent releases from Michael Zapruder's Rain of Frogs and Black Fiction; both records that have gotten considerable spins in the Team C. offices. And, as you can read here and here, members from both outfits contribute to the fantastic new record from Ray's Vast Basement, Starvation Under Orange Trees. I am so very much in full-on fan-boy mode about this record, and I couldn't be happier that we get to send it out to folks.

Here's what RVB frontman, Jon Bernson, told us about the making of the album:

Thinking About Orange

'Starvation Under The Orange Trees' is the name of an obscure Steinbeck essay. Printed in the Monterey Trader, rumor has it that Steinbeck was asked by Time magazine to write about the work camps in California during the depression. The manuscript submitted to Time was rejected. The opressive work camps in California were unpalatable to American readers, which I'm told, this was the beginning of The Grapes of Wrath.

We toured this album before we started recording. Four nights a week at the Actors Theatre doing live music for 'Of Mice and Men'.

Personal highlight: while we sang 'Work Song', the cast would build an elaborate bunkhouse and stable in front of the audience. Personal low point: when we had a theater full of exchange students who had to have the show translated to them. No one told me. I thought everyone in the theater was drunk. I walked off the stage.

I've written about a dozen soundtracks for theater and indie films. This was the first time I was really able to bring my full band on board. Working in theaters rules. You can use live and pre-recorded music. You can dial in the sonics. The room is quiet. Theater actors are epic individuals. Movies rule the land, but they spend insane hours practicing their ancient religion.

Chance of a lifetime: to be able to score Steinbeck. I re-read all my faves and read 'East of Eden' for the first time. Lee is clearly the hero of that book. Why did they cut him from the movie?

Got to take a look at a career of work and see how Steinbeck has gotten branded by the movies and by high school teachers and by the literary set. His best work is fundamentally critical of the American system. It disturbs me to see his work get sanitized and used by The Man. He had rediculous breadth and experimented throughout his career. I knew that Karouac dug Steinbeck, but didn't see it until I re-read 'Grapes of Wrath' after reading 'On the Road'. The freedom of style, the road story, the manic pace, symbolic characters, spritual recycling, lot's of parallels.

Also got to see his faults. Doesn't hide them well. Male characters are a lot more developed than women characters. He can be too obvious at times. Bugs me when he throws undeveloped characters into his stories for the blatant and immediate purpose of advancing the plotline. In the end, I think most people don't care about his faults because his great novels weren't about trivial things. I may be naive, but I feel like he had actual love for humanity and hoped his writing would have something to contribute. Now I sound like a Hallmark card. But that's Hallmark's fault.

Recording the album was an odyssey because our studio got flooded. Michael Zapruder and I share an underground recording spot that got watered by a broken City of Oakland sewer line. Nightmare. Holding pattern. Blessing in disguise. When I got back to work on the record, I had a much clearer idea of how I was going to assert my own musical ideas, and still make an authentic Steinbeck record.

By way of name dropping, I had good help from Larry Crane (Tape Op / Jackpot!). Nate from the Decemberists played bass on the record, toured with us last summer, listened to mixes and was a generous advice donor. Enzo from Jolie Holland's band was a master of saw and accounts for some of my favorite moments. Also had my homeboy Tim from Black Fiction sit in on some tracks. We have a good time recording.

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