My memories of making HWWB are fond ones. I’d enjoyed working with Harris London on our 2004 release, What Is All This Sweet Work Worth? (see Dan’s earlier entry for more on that one), and that experience had allowed me to shake some of my nerves about performing in the studio. In 2007, however, when we started working with Brian McTear on HWWB at Miner Street Studios in the ultra-hip Northern Liberties area, my anxiety came back. It didn’t stay long. “Coward” was the first song I recorded, and I can still see Brian’s beaming face as I played the opening lick: “This is gonna be great!” he said with comforting, and authentic, enthusiasm. I immediately relaxed. Since then, I have always felt that, when it comes to making music, the studio is where I feel most at home.
The first time I played the mastered version of “Coward of the Conscience,” the lead track on How Wicked We’ve Become, for my wife, she was more impressed by our music than I’d ever seen her. “People will buy this,” she said. And they did–though sadly, not in the numbers she, or we in the band, had in mind. But I come not to bury HWWB, but to praise it. Or, perhaps to raise it from the dead. At least for a little while.
John Lennon was asked by an interviewer how he felt when he heard a Beatles song on the radio. He responded that it brought back memories of being in the studio–the camaraderie, the great ideas that seemingly came out of nowhere, the “in-the-moment-ness” of the whole experience. That’s how I feel about all our records, but HWWB in particular. These songs had been rehearsed and played live many times with Dan, Bob, and Pat–who had recently decided to devote himself full-time to his musical passion project, Effusion 35, but who graciously agreed to play on several songs, including “Coward,” “Have to Have Everything,” and “Perdita”–but I marveled (reveled is probably the better word) at what they became via the magic of the studio.
There was Brian’s suggestion, for “My Head Is Bowed” and “Reformation,” that I play through the Leslie, a rotating speaker inside an old cabinet that reminded me of the massive TV we had when I was a kid in the ’70s (the Leslie’s heyday as a staple of classic rock, by the way). There was Dan producing a pristine acoustic guitar performance on “Too Old To Die” as I watched in awe from behind the studio glass (a feat he replicated on “Perdita,” though I wasn’t present for that one). And speaking of awe-inspiring performances: Morgan Terrinoni, a phenomenal guitarist who’d actually briefly been in an embryonic version of Milton and the Devils Party years earlier, agreed to contribute his characteristically smooth, inventive parts to several songs, including the Manley-Robinson composition, “Muse of Mundanity.” Best of all was Morgan’s lead work on “Reformation.” As he set up next to the mixing board with his Telecaster, Dan requested that he “play something iconic.” I thought to myself, “like it’s that easy!” But it was for Morgan. The riff he devised on the spot, which transformed into a soaring solo at song’s end, was transporting. To this day, “Reformation” is my wife’s favorite of our songs, both for Morgan’s guitar and for Dan’s memorable, expressive delivery: “I can’t tell you everything . . .”
I could go on and on with memories of creating HWWB. While I’m not sure how much I’ve resurrected the album for anyone else, I’ve surely done so for myself. And it’s been pleasant. It’s my second favorite of our records, behind All The Rivers in Hades–the one we just finished, which will be out soon, and about which Dan and I will be writing more in this space.
Oh, and while it’s not exactly Lennon listening to all those Beatles songs, it was pretty cool hearing “Muse of Mundanity” on the radio that one time.