Behind The Release: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Hysterical

View Single Page

The self-released indie rock band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were celebrated by the blogosphere, then shunned. They’re back with what may be their most masterful record. But will listeners notice this time around?

In the summer of 2005, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah emerged and became a case study in how to succeed as a self-released band. Their quirky and upbeat sound inspired an internet feeding-frenzy as mp3 bloggers sang their praises, eventually helping CYHSY sell about 200,000 copies of their self-financed debut CD.

But the story didn’t end there. Not only did the band become a reference point for the new ways artists could succeed in the internet age – it also became the poster-story for the new ways they could flounder. For those readers who follow online record reviews, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah became a reference point for discussing the very notion of “hype and backlash” in the internet age.

According to John Congleton, who produced their latest album, it couldn’t have happened to a more unlikely band. “[Singer] Alec [Ounsworth] is probably one of the most technophobic people I know,” he says. “I’m not even sure he has an email address.”

Blocking Out The Noise

“It certainly was confusing at first – Both the speed at which we shot up in the beginning, and with the way things turned,” laughs CYHSY drummer Sean Greenhalgh. “It was confusing on both sides.”

Stream, download and purchase a physical copy of Hysterical via Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s online store.

“We didn’t really set out to be this buzz band,” he says, “and we didn’t ask to be some kind of cultural touchstone either. We just wanted to make a record.”

Today, a few of the outlets who led the original hype parade are now content to lead the latest wave of backlash, preemptively dismissing the band’s newest record.

“The internet giveth and the internet taketh away,” jokes producer/engineer John Congleton. The punchline? To anyone who’s listening, Hysterical is easily Clap Your Hand Say Yeah’s most masterful record to date.

And, while a few of the more fickle media outlets like Pitchfork have doubled-back, effectively panning their latest album, some of the more measured review sites like All Music and NPR have been much kinder, commending Hysterical for showcasing stronger songwriting, more confident performances, and a richer production aesthetic than ever before.

As someone who largely ignored the band’s first album due to the online media circus surrounding it, I was surprised to find just how much I liked this one. Singer Alec Ounsworth sounds more honest – and more like himself – than he has in the past.

The band is now able to deliver tighter performances while maintaining their quirky sensibility, and John Congleton’s production is powerful, organic, and atmospheric all at once.

Whether or not you’re a fan, it’s hard to ignore that this is likely the band’s most mature and well-honed release to date. But that might not help them much in the blogosphere.

Teaming Up

Drummer Sean Greenhalgh has used the lessons he learned in the studio during the band’s three records to become a producer in his own right. But on Hysterical, he and the band still deferred to Congleton’s production expertise. When it’s time to work on your own music, he says it can be best to “turn off that part of your brain.”

“It’s absolutely helpful to have that outside perspective,” Greenhalgh says. “It’s pretty hard to be objective when you’ve got your own parts at stake. It’s great to have someone who can come in from an almost conflict-resolution standpoint, someone who can break a tie with the votes and say ‘Alright, we’re going this way.’ It can get you over humps that would otherwise be impasses.”

Greenhalgh also remarks that he’s a “student of audio compared to these guys,” referring to the producers and engineers who helped them make each of their three records. “I was just that guy in the studio annoying the engineer with a million questions,” he says with a smile in his voice. Most recently he’s used his own production chops working with the NYC-area band Conversion Party.

“It’s interesting to see that everyone has their own style,” he says. “[Flaming Lips producer] Dave Fridmann, who did our second record [Some Loud Thunder] is pretty laid-back. He really wants to hear what the band wants to do. He likes to take direction, and will work with you as much as you want. That’s really fantastic, and he’s got his own sonic imprint too.”

“He also enjoys working on the grid in Pro Tools I think, and that’s what we needed for that record. He was great at deconstructing songs and then building them back up on the grid. You can hear that in a lot of the Flaming Lips where they cut it all up and put it back together.”

Some Loud Thunder was built that way as well, according to Greenhalgh. “We were just off the road, experimenting and building new songs up in the studio,” he says. There were even a few songs where Greenhalgh would sit down in the live room, hit the kick and snare a few times, and then return to the control room as they built new arrangements from his samples.

For their third album, however, the band would take the opposite approach. This time, they decided to do most of their arranging before the sessions and play through all their takes live as a well-oiled unit.

Plays Well With Others

“Most of what you hear on this record is us playing together in the room with a few keyboard or vocal overdubs afterwards,” says Greenhalgh. “There’s very little editing.”

“Congleton was really helpful with that too. His whole attitude was ‘This is supposed to be fun. It doesn’t have to be a tooth-pulling process.’ We really needed to have that kind of energy injected into it. We’d play each song 3 or 4 different ways and John would help us decide between the different feels.”

“I also think he’s more hands-on in terms of saying ‘This is good’ and ‘This is bad’.  He certainly drives the sessions a little bit more. He just has a different energy than say, Dave, who’s more laid-back. Everyone has their own approach. It was amazing to see a lot of different ways to get at it.”

Greenhalgh has similarly fond words for engineers Adam Lasus and Keith Sousa, who worked on the band’s tight and punchy-sounding debut. But for Hysterical, CYHSY wanted to go big, beefy and atmospheric, and Congleton delivered.

Going Big

Their new producer came up from Texas and booked Water Music, an enormous Neve-based tracking space in Hoboken NJ. “You can hear that room on the record,” says Greenhalgh.

“John probably set up twenty mics in the room the first day. We switched out snares a lot, and would use different mics and dampening on the kick drum to get different tones for each song. One of the coolest sounds he got were from two old Neumanns at the far end of the room, maybe 30 yards from the kit – It just sounded like instant ‘When The Levee Breaks’.”

“The whole approach,” says producer Congleton, “was in making sure none of the sounds were too obvious. You want to make things clear, but we also wanted to let some of the sounds stay a little mysterious.”

To that end, many of the guitars on the album were tracked without close mics. Congleton says he was going for sounds that were more “diffuse”, and would often set mics several feet back from the amps, or even point them off-axis from the speaker entirely.

Pages: 1 2Next Page ❯View Single Page

  • David Newfeld

    What they fail to mention is that they were at David Newfeld’s studio in October 2010 having him produce, record and arrange the album and work one on one with each player for two weeks solid.

     They also fail to mention that Newfeld also was also at their rehearsal space in on two occasions in NYC in July 2010 reworking the songs and going over each player’s part. I am David Newfeld and I have nine of the tunes recorded in various stages of development here sitting in my hard drive. The title track is pretty much a recreation of my arrangement and production. I thought it was curious that they’d name the album after it.

    BTW, the band refuses to respond to me, but their lawyers recently sent my lawyer a letter claiming I’m threatening them and they’re considering getting a restraining order against me.

      I’m Canadian, and we still have a thing called free speech and it’s guaranteed in our constitution. How cool and apparently scary is that!

  • john congleton

    dave, this is john congleton. this is the second time you have gotten a public forum and said this stuff, and this is the second time im calling you out on it. and YOUVE IGNORED ME!  you forget…i was in touch with the band long before, ive got the bands demos, ive got your ruff mixes from the pre pro work you did with them in canada, and we’ve got the album we did. with all due respect your claims are false and silly. 

    the band fails to mention your involvement because they dont have anything nice to say. thats why you where fired. you where paid for the work you did. they didnt like it. while making the record the was a conscience effort to avoid your ideas, cause they fucking hated them ok? THERE…you made me come right out and say it. 

    perhaps sonic scoop can host a version of the bands demo, your ruff mix, and the final…and you can see what everyone else in the world thinks…would that satisfy you and finally silence you?

    PS: ive seen your emails to the band, i wouldn’t respond to them either. threats dont qualify as free speech anywhere. 

  • David Newfeld

     Really? I’m ignoring you? This is the first statement I’ve read from you.
    Of course the band has to say my work was shit and it was a horrible experience, but from my perspective that’s not what they said when they were actually working with me. Most bands presentation is more myth than truth. Most music writers almost always eat it up cause the illusion is fun and they’re part of the mythmaking process and want a backstage pass. Musician aren’t always the creative and innovative gods they want the public to believe they are.

    The drummer Sean told me the first evening I worked with them that they seemed like a band for the first time ever under my direction and not just minions of the singer. Sean also told me the first evening after going over their material that I had told them more stuff about their music than the sum of previous producers they’d worked with. Was that a lie?  Do I have a tape recording of him saying that? No, I’m not a spy, but in the often treacherous world of indie rock, it makes me wonder if I should have taped it. To say they consciously avoided my ideas cause they hated them is a joke. I remember the bass player on the eighth tune, after helping him revise his basslines on the other tracks, he then said ‘I don’t want your help.’ That’s a convenient position to take after the fact. On the track he said he didn’t want my help there’s about 15 takes, and the bass player himself agreed the revised version was an improvement and even defended it as his own design when the band heard it. I don’t help people with their parts to fuck with their egos or to say they’re lesser talents, I do this in the spirit of cooperation and help because I’m convinced it makes the album better, but some people defend their specialty and think the producer has no role in revising their sacred parts and ideas.

    I think these guys  pushed me to keep working on their tunes even though they intended to bail. If they didn’t like it, then why did the singer tell me to my face that they really valued my input right until the last minute? Is that honesty? Cowardice? Manipulation?

    Their manager came over on the 12th day to my studio and heard it all and really liked what we were doing. The manager warned me before I worked with them that the singer is a narcissistic person, and from my experience, he was correct in his assessment. I’ve worked with narcissists before and they seem charming and cooperative at first, but in the end, behave quite ruthlessly and are actually rather mean human beings and happily throw you under the bus. Tellingly, when the manager arrived, the band suddenly pulled out binders with lists of stuff to made it look like they were totally running the show, but that’s the first time they pulled out these lists or behaved the way they did. That’s not at all how the album went down up to that point.

    They never paid me for the time they booked. They didn’t fire me, they snuck off after working me long hours and requested through their manager, who was ultimately caught in the middle and had to side with the band, that I should give them all the material because the progress was too slow and I was uncooperative and they were now the producers, how convenient. I didn’t give them the tracks cause it seemed totally obvious at that juncture that they weren’t dealing in good faith with me, nor intended to pay for the studio time they booked and were just using me.

    They kept getting me to work on their tunes, even though we scheduled to do four, and instead they got me to record nine tunes and then claimed I was uncooperative. Frankly, I was too cooperative. If they hated the work, why didn’t we stop at song four???

    Look, you wanna put Hysterical back to back with the demoes they sent me, the versions done under my direction and the final record OK. You have a huge advantage since everything I got was done over a two week period, so roughly five were ready for mix and the other still awaiting completion, but I’ll do it. The vocal takes I have were rough takes, but the stuff you got on the ‘good version’ was pretty much the same thing, no real improvement in quality. Hysterical alone involved 56 takes. I’ll put my quick – five minute – reference mixes up against the finished mastered versions. I assume you took more than five minutes to do your mixes, but let’s A/B it.

    Also, if they hated the work, why did they you listen to it? Let me guess, everything that was good on it was their idea and everything not good was my suggestion and so they wanted to show you what not to do?

     I don’t want to knock you personally John, I don’t know you  and you’re going just on what these guys have told you. I heard the St. Vincent tune ‘Actor Out of Work’ and really liked it.

    As far as silencing me, I don’t need your permission to speak or be silent. You can say my claims are false and silly all you want, but you weren’t there and only believe what these entities claim.
     
    I stand by my emails to the band, but my experience was different to yours.

     You had the advantage of actually getting to finish the album and mix it and work with them after I’d worked with them. If you really believe they rejected all my ideas, then I can’t argue or get in a pissing match over that. Funny, after they left in the most cowardly manner, the manager said the progress was too slow and that Alec is used to making completed albums in a two week period, yet they seem to now think five months was reasonable time to make an album?

    I remember when they presented one song on a demo called Human Shit or Shut Down, they apologized for blatantly aping the style of BSS’s Lover’s Spit, yet on the 12th day the singer asked me if I had anything to do with You Forgot it In People, and I said yes I had a lot to do with it. He then responded: ‘I don’t like it, it’s just a bunch of loops and bad songwriting, the only thing good about it is Justin’ (Justin is the drummer from BSS, I guess they’re on a first name basis.) First they come in and apologize for copying something I’ve produced and then later claim it’s shit and they want nothing to do with it. What’s left to debate at that point?

    A lot of these folks usually hide behind their lawyers, publicists and managers and are trying to cash in on a scene that’s ultimately tired, derivative and so far from the spirit of cooperation and friendship that they present to the public. There’s no real community, it’s mainly desperate, secretly elitist minded people trying to maintain the social and economic class of their parents, it has nothing to do with the original spirit of rock or independent thought. Most of these bands spend more time thinking about how much money they can make having their derivative music placed in service of large corporations.

    David Newfeld

  • john congleton

    Yes this is the second time, you did the same thing on their billboard interview. I responded. stating exactly the same thing i did before inviting you to join a discourse. 

    you are in fact completely missing the point in your longwinded explanation. i dont take issue with you thinking the band are dicks or liars…i disagree but you are entitled to your opinion. what i will take issue with is the accusation that you ideas where lifted. its simply inane to accuse them of this and i happen to be in position where i can see the reality, because ive seen the entire process unfold. 
    who gives a shit about the mixes, when where we ever talking about engineering?  i was trying to dispel any notion that you where co-writing songs and you had been ripped off. 

  • David Newfeld

    Co-writing songs? When did I say arranging and working on individual parts and refining ideas is songwriting? This is something new you’ve brought into the equation.

    You haven’t seen the whole process unfold as you claim John, you weren’t in my studio for the 160 hours while I was working on with them quite intensely. You only have the band’s spin on it.
    Seriously, if you think I do fuck all working with a band in 160 hours, then you don’t know me at all.

    I didn’t see your response in Billboard because I didn’t follow up and look at it, so I didn’t know.
    Do you want me to talk to you about it on that forum as well?

    You say, ‘who gives a shit about engineering, when were we ever talking about engineering?”  No one was talking about engineering, we’re talking about production, which involves more than recording a band, it involves developing what they have and pulling out the strengths, working one on one with each player, and god forbid, suggesting ideas and holes or boring or awkardsections in the track that could be filled or different rhythmic and arranging approaches. You wanted to A/B what they recorded here with me to prove that my work was shit and they used none of the ideas, not about engineering, though I do that when I produce.

     

  • john congleton

    ok. then dave, read your comments very closely…
    “Co-writing songs? When did I say arranging and working on individual parts and refining ideas is songwriting? This is something new you’ve brought into the equation.”

    —-why dont you tell me what your genius ideas where when you say this…”The title track is pretty much a recreation of my arrangement and production”

    —–oh really? then how come my demo has the exact same arrangement MONTHS before your involvement. 

    “You wanted to A/B what they recorded here with me to prove that my work was shit and they used none of the ideas, not about engineering, though I do that when I produce.”

    —–No i dont. i have no opinion about your work. i wanted to dispel the idea that you added some XFACTOR that we in turn ripped off of you. you can get on any public forum and say anything you want, and nobody will be none the wiser unless someone speaks up.  

    “Seriously, if you think I do fuck all working with a band in 160 hours, then you don’t know me at all.”

    —–no it sounds like some one who got hired to work on a record. i know i bust my ass with any band that works with me too. whats your point? you think making a record isnt some bluecollar job and your a gentle genius? you did it. the didnt like it. they moved on. thats an awkward situation but they didnt take your ideas. 

     “First they come in and apologize for copying something I’ve produced and then later claim it’s shit and they want nothing to do with it. What’s left to debate at that point?”

    —-well for starters… lets debate this…who the fuck said YOU wrote or arranged or had anything to do with that song besides producing it? by this logic… is every band thats influenced by the beatles really ripping of george martin? ive never heard the BSS record, but a lot of bands influence a lot of bands. im not going to take issue with this. 
     
    “I didn’t see your response in Billboard because I didn’t follow up and look at it, so I didn’t know. Do you want me to talk to you about it on that forum as well? ”

    —–sure if you like. that would make about as much sense as this following comment you made…

    “A lot of these folks usually hide behind their lawyers, publicists and managers and are trying to cash in on a scene that’s ultimately tired, derivative and so far from the spirit of cooperation and friendship that they present to the public. There’s no real community, it’s mainly desperate, secretly elitist minded people trying to maintain the social and economic class of their parents, it has nothing to do with the original spirit of rock or independent thought. Most of these bands spend more time thinking about how much money they can make having their derivative music placed in service of large corporations.”

    —-are you ok dave? kinda angry huh? these guys arent living in jewel encrusted houses you know.

  • john congleton

    oh and PS… few more things to point out… man im telling ya…you are so full of gems… 

    “They never paid me for the time they booked”

    —–no they never paid you for the time they didnt use. they booked two blocks of three weeks with you. you where fired after two weeks of the first three. but they paid you for three weeks. not a horrible a deal? 

    “The drummer Sean told me the first evening I worked with them that they seemed like a band for the first time ever under my direction and not just minions of the singer. Sean also told me the first evening after going over their material that I had told them more stuff about their music than the sum of previous producers they’d worked with. Was that a lie?”

    ——i dunno dave. maybe it was, or maybe it was the first day and sean was trying to be positive. or maybe JUUUUUST maybe they hadnt realized in a few hours that your ideas werent working. 

    “I remember the bass player on the eighth tune, after helping him revise his basslines on the other tracks, he then said ‘I don’t want your help.’ That’s a convenient position to take after the fact. ”

    ——wow….sure you want to be a producer dave? maybe he didnt want your help on that song. maybe he didnt want your help on that song. sometimes a producer doesnt need to butter and squirt his attitude all over everything. sometimes you can let musician play what he wants cause its just fine. im sure eddie kramer told john paul jones every note to play too, you know…dude was such a hack. 

    “I think these guys  pushed me to keep working on their tunes even though they intended to bail. If they didn’t like it, then why did the singer tell me to my face that they really valued my input right until the last minute? ”

    —–oh maybe…or maybe they had paid you for three weeks and were stuck? and the singer…is that the same guy you said was a “narcissistic person” who now was flattering you?  and by the way… i can actually say that alec was the only member of the band who described the time with you diplomatically at all.

    “They didn’t fire me, they snuck off after working me long hours and requested through their manager, who was ultimately caught in the middle and had to side with the band, that I should give them all the material because the progress was too slow and I was uncooperative and they were now the producers,”

    —-im not head of human resources or anything but sounds EXACTLY like you got fired. “working you long hours?” you mean like…recording a record takes? and yes HOW dare they ask for the mulittracks of the recording they own! 

    “They kept getting me to work on their tunes, even though we scheduled to do four, and instead they got me to record nine tunes and then claimed I was uncooperative.”

    —–four tunes? you booked three weeks for four tune dave? 

    “Also, if they hated the work, why did they you listen to it? Let me guess, everything that was good on it was their idea and everything not good was my suggestion and so they wanted to show you what not to do?”

    —–i asked to hear it. wanna send me a threatening email now? 

    “Look, you wanna put Hysterical back to back with the demoes they sent me, the versions done under my direction and the final record OK. You have a huge advantage since everything I got was done over a two week period”

    —–i do? all the basic tracks for all the album and b sides where done with me in that time. and again…it doesnt matter.. is said to A/B it to the demos… final version doesnt really matter except to show how we removed any ideas of yours. 

    “Hysterical alone involved 56 takes.”

    ——and? you are mad the band made you do your job? 

    “Funny, after they left in the most cowardly manner, the manager said the progress was too slow and that Alec is used to making completed albums in a two week period, yet they seem to now think five months was reasonable time to make an album? ”

    ——we did the record in less than a month. what are you talking about? 

  • David Newfeld

    HI John, glad you’re engaging. Sorry for the delay, I’ve been meaning to sit down and try and explain some stuff but been distracted with other things.

    JC: ok. then dave, read your comments very closely…

    JC quoting DN: “Co-writing songs? When did I say arranging and working on individual parts and refining ideas is songwriting? This is something new you’ve brought into the equation.”

    JC: (Regarding Hysterical—-why dont you tell me what your genius ideas where when you say this…”The title track is pretty much a recreation of my arrangement and production”

    JC:—–oh really? then how come my demo has the exact same arrangement MONTHS before your involvement.

    DN; They sent demos from July 2010 and I started giving them feedback. We went over that tune Hysterical, and others, with a fine tooth comb in their rehearsal space and in the studio. I have the demo they gave me before we worked on it together in August 2010 and of course the version from when they left. Obviously the same song. When I say arranging and producing on this tune in question, I don’t just mean bar lengths, but what everyone might be doing in these bar lengths, it amounts more to getting people to reorchestrate what they’re doing, whether it’s direct suggestions or pointing them in a direction to come up with something better themselves or explaining why what they have at the outset isn’t necessarily optimum or incorporating a big enough picture beyond following the chords and taking the unexamined way out, so we went through all aspects of the tune, drums, attitude, intensive appraisal, and everyone seemed in pretty full agreement. My process with them involved agreeing on a final arrangement of the tune with them before going into the studio, then recording it in the studio, and then working one on one with each player on overdubs. After each player generated their stuff, and if necessary comp’d, then once we agreed it was ready to show, then everyone would come in and hear it, sign off and move onto the next player. The gulf between the demo and the version here is much bigger than the gulf between it and the one they recorded with you. And that’s not at all criticizing you because they were ready to record off the floor with no edits and just a few overdubs when you produced them according to the article, but they were not at that stage yet with me, especially as a band at the point I started producing. According to what Alec conveyed to me, he made the first CYHSY album, and those guys de facto became the band and basically played his ideas live because the album became a cultural sensation and people liked his vibe and songwriting being brought to the table. He told me he was weirded out initially on the first album, cause all of a sudden it was a full fledged band, rather than his project and everyone’s suddenly being interviewed and the mythmaking process and excitement was in full effect,. I’ve seen this happen with other bands, it can seem like a hallucination. So, they toured this, made some money in their 2005-2006 heyday on the touring and festival circuit and accompanying album sales.,Then, two years into that, arrived at Dave Fridmann’s for six weeks to make album #2.  Their guitar player was being open with me saying in effect they were naturally a little full of themselves at the time as a band after being one of the bigger independent acts of 2005-2006 and getting so much fervent reception, attention, year end lists and pretty constant accolades and excitement surrounding the success and how ragtag and uncommercial yet delightful they seemed to the planet, and when they arrived at Fridmann’s, they’d been touring a lot and didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, and when they got to the studio, it was apparent, it’s not really a full on proper band yet and now they have to make a follow up to their landmark album while the iron was still hot. Fridmann doesn’t go into the grid normally as a production style as Sean has shared in this article, on some tracks. It depends on the track and the drummer. With some of the tunes with CYHSY, Fridmann simply said, play a kick drum Sean and then a Snare and sampled it.  Maybe he didn’t want to do drum camp as producer duties on that outing. When they came to me on album #3, they were a bit better as a band, but in their rehearsal space, a bit wanting for overall inspiration and presentation, kind of gloomy, and Sean the drummer to my ears the first time hearing him in the rehearsal space, I quickly thought, ok,  the drummer’s got a good feel and meter, so no problem making a record, and the material all struck me as cool in terms of songwriting, but still needed suggestions and examination of their presentation and I think that’s very much reflected in and addressed significantly in the work they did with me. We were over half way through the album and I’ve got the audio in the chronology I feel validates my contention and normally I wouldn’t care like this, but the guys ended up being extreme dicks to me, so my two cents is, yeah, I don’t think their coverage is the full picture of how they arrived at they’re presenting.  But that has no connection to you John, they came to you later in the picture, so none of my criticism is directed at you. They did work hard with me up here. I wouldn’t be talking about them at all except I can’t condone their exit and treatment of me as a human being.  It’s not the first band I’ve worked with John, so I do have a few bits of understanding of what’s out there and what bands are initially bringing or not bringing me to the table. Some bands don’t need me to produce them at all, just engineer with some panache, other times, I feel there are a lot of details in song presentation especially if it’s for a record. The demos they’d recorded and already sent me were marginally better then what they presented to me live in their reheasal space, but it had the same flatness of tenor and lack of pizzazz of most of their presentation.

    JC quoting DN: “You wanted to A/B what they recorded here with me to prove that my work was shit and they used none of the ideas, not about engineering, though I do that when I produce”

    JC: —–No i dont. i have no opinion about your work. i wanted to dispel the idea that you added some XFACTOR that we in turn ripped off of you. you can get on any public forum and say anything you want, and nobody will be none the wiser unless someone speaks up.

    DN: From my perspective, the day I went to their rehearsal space, heard their relatively dreary presentation, considering it was 2010, took the baton out of Alec’s hands – since it is his songs, lyrics and singing and his band he directs and controls – for the first time ever in the band’s history and within three hours dispelled more inertia and infused more xFactor into their affair than the combined producer initiative and output of four of the five members over the past five years combined from what I could see was going on, cause they were, to my ears, coasting musically just playing whatever Alec wrote or if it was theirs, that they must’ve all decided was good enough for the time being. So, part of my production, not preproduction ultimately, since it didn’t end in the rehearsal space, was to immediately begin the needed process of getting all the members beyond Alec to put some depth, thought, effort and colour into what they were doing and looking at the bigger picture of the songs. I have no beefs with you John, for me to engage about this kind of thing in this manner is just the result of me being so thoroughly incensed by the treatment the guys in the band were capable of and opted to afford me,  I’d rather not deal with any of this shit cause I’m busy with stuff I’m doing just like you and everyone else, but I don’t mind briefly dialoguing with you about other topics related to record production. I have no problem posting the demo they gave me and what I have here for a listening test, but the band would have to give me permission to post it.

    JC:—-well for starters… lets debate this…who the fuck said YOU wrote or arranged or had anything to do with that song (Lover’s Spit) besides producing it?

    DN: On this recording, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning musically in particular are all over this version and either of them would be able to give the most accurate account of the nature of my involvement in that particular recording, besides me. I did have a significant role in aspects of the final arrangement and orchestration and exposition of the elements and interpretation of their mood and what came from inside them, during the tracking and mixing process. That’s part of my definition of a producer. Lover’s Spit was brought to the table, like a major portion of their catalogue, by Kevin Drew. On this one, he offered me a piece of writing for the middle eight section, but that’s one particular song and there were many others where I didn’t write or play a thing at all, but still would get involved with the band and individual members tweaking elements both as part of the recording, overdubbing and mixing process all of which constitute producing. When I say produce, it’s not the picture I think you might have of me mainly a janitor recording takes and setting up mics and complaining about having to work long hours as the band gives me orders on how to make a record and carry out their commands. It’s more musical and spontaneous than that. With regards to: who the fuck said YOU wrote or arranged or had anything to do with that song besides producing it?  My answer is : don’t dismiss the Newf magic too hastily, Steve Lillywhite had that up previewing in his monitors when he was mixing U2 and had just signed BSS to Mercury. From an engineering perspective, since for many that IS production, it was tracked and mixed on a Tac Scorpion with a MOTU 1224 interface in a 14’x18’x10′ room and lucky me, with an assortment of great talent.  How this all related to CYHSY in this instance, is THEY voluntarily admitted to me when they played their demo of Shutdown and out of mild embarrassment, that their jam was from the sonics and beat off the tune and where it all sits and sounds on that version of Lover’s Spit. Alec’s working title was Human Shit. What Alec wrote vocally, melodically and chord wise is his own art for sure, and, I personally dig that aspect, but ONE of the things I’m trying to illustrate is this dichotomy of behaviour, where someone can be evidently influenced by something, and even use it as a model of sorts for what they’re doing, and then flip 180 degrees where things someone expressed digging or seemed influenced by, might later be something they detest and even blithely shit on, so which is accurate?  I don’t care at all about CYHSY attempting to mimic any aspects of Lover’s Spit as a creative springboard for their own thing, they need outside inspiration whether it’s Kris Kristofferson or Broken Social Scene. 

    JC: ‘by this logic… is every band thats influenced by the beatles really ripping of george martin? ive never heard the BSS record, but a lot of bands influence a lot of bands. im not going to take issue with this. ‘

    DN: This brings up more interesting topics, with 8 billion of us involved so intimately and the planet reduced to an artform by the satellite in 1957 and all that’s left is art and programming and we’re playing catch up with the effects and still defining where we all somehow reemerge. Creativity at this point is, pretty much, like music: obsolete (more of it than ever before) ie: a cliché activity.  Marshall McLuhan said it well about influences and looking over people’s shoulders or learning so-called tricks: Imitation isn’t the sincerest form of flattery, it’s the sincerest form of Battery. As far as the idea of producing goes and what a ‘producer’ actually does and how much impact on the art a producer has, it’s definitely an evolving as well as already evolved definition. Since WWII, and in later eras, record producers, with many notable exceptions of course, were NOT normally involved artistically in records. The producer’s job was to arrange the right line up of musicians, arrangers, studio, engineer, herb and fried chicken required to make a record. Everyone in their roles were ideally already at the apex of their game.  Once in place, the producer’s job was to then hang out in the background and make sure the musicians were OK and the sound quality was something that was in the range of what was broadcastable and that things were proceeding according to schedule. The producer was usually the guy who would hand out the money to the line up and liason with the labels.  As far as ‘music’ was concerned, the producer’s major role there was mainly to recognize if a song was good enough to warrant going into the studio in the first place. The biggest arranging decision a producer might make in those circumstances is how long an intro before vocal begins according to radio norms, or is it too slow and when to fade the song out. Some of these producers rose in prominence for having trademark balances that sounded richer or different in a pleasing way compared with other contemporary recordings, but even that might’ve reflected the preferences of the engineer or team of engineers at the studio they worked out of as well as the session players and arrangers if they also stepped up the presentation. This also reflects a world stemming from a previous world of specialization of roles and categories and when the means of record making was available only to a relative few. 
    It was common practice for decades for the agreement to be between the label and the producer, not the band and the producer, a fundamental difference.
    The group in this case worked for the producer and if any player couldn’t cut it, then the producer would find a replacement and the label would’ve usually concurred with the producer. That was common practice for many, many years.
    As far as the role of producer with the case of The Beatles; they were a rare example in that they truly represented the Wrecking Crew and Brill Building in a four piece English rock band.  I wonder what aspects of arranging and exposition or suggestions Paul McCartney came up with on a George Harrison song or how much sonic attitude and emotion did engineer Geoff Emerick alone inject in 1966 to the Beatles’ enterprise, that maybe producers such as Bob Ezrin or Joe Meek or Mutt Lang or Martin Rushent or Nigel Goderich might consider their concerns in record production?
    And talk about what exactly is a producer, look at the evolution in the 70’s with disco and the rise of DJ’s and musicians and non-musicians as producers and even composers. Under this scenario, production is far beyond the normal idea of simply documenting someone’s performance. And who’s to define production duties or boundries or job description when at the end of the 70’s, kids in the ghetto were hoiking up their own sense of Phil Specter enterprise and making boastful claims about creativity usually over someone else’s music, expropriating whole environments in response to this decentralized situation and eroding categories and disciplines. Someone who worked with Bob Ezrin in the 80’s said that Ezrin had sat alone with him in the studio when a very famous artist wasn’t there and they’re checking out stuff and at one one point he said: “It’s me” and the next day the artist sat down in the same chair when Bob Ezrin wasn’t around and said: “Bob thinks that this is him, but, it’s just me.”
     

  • David Newfeld

     Continuing in my response and defining what’s a producer.

    And what’s a Producer in the 80’s and beyond with the advent of personal computing, sequencing and sampling affording almost anyone the means to have a piece of the planet as their sonic playdoh? The peripheries of these fragmented disciplines of producer, engineer, composer, musician, arranger, studio, etc. thoroughly interpenetrate each other as the male, specialist, visual-space world and categories are wiped away by the electronic discarnate situation and experiencing of multiple disciplines becomes commonplace and anyone can access them with a bit of motivation. Under digital conditions, as McLuhan said, we’re all dealing in a situation that can be characterized as having centers everywhere and boundries nowhere with everyone running amok.  And the business we’re really all trying to be heard in and find a situation in monetarily so we don’t have to work in a call center or other service industries which further erode our identities, means that in music and entertainment, basically we’re ALL trying to provide cheap drugs for whoever will use them or more often share them, because the only source of liquidity in the global financial system that prevented a total financial collapse in 2009 was the 20% of the illegal drug trade money still flowing through the regular banking system while everything else had frozen. In the case of CD’s and DVDs or 20,000 songs in an iPod, or on television or in the computer landscape, those are cheap drugs in comparison to chemical or plant based drugs, but all of these ultimately are pretty much serving a similar purpose: to anesthetize and alleviate the stress of having to respond biologically to the 24/7 wakefulness and rapid-turnover situation we’re in that caused people way way over a decade ago to collectively start saying ‘whatever’, ‘too much information’, or ‘right on’ or ‘will Newf ever shut up?’ as a coping and detaching mechanism because no one can properly respond to all this in a truly validating, engaged manner. So, everyone’s free and running amok and even dj’s who can’t necessrily play music consider themselves arrangers, producers, mixers, remixers, musicians, artists, xFactor, etc.  

    JC quoting DN: “They never paid me for the time they booked”

    JC:—–no they never paid you for the time they didnt use. they booked two blocks of three weeks with you. you where fired after two weeks of the first three. but they paid you for three weeks. not a horrible a deal?

     
    DN: The money part was dick, that wouldn’t have been enough to cause me to object like this, the behaviour was unprecedented, that five people could just shut someone off and utimately say nothing, like being left at the proverbial truckstop and when I come back out, they’ve driven off without me, and we’re already half way through the journey. When a group of people, after two weeks of intensive work, go into my studio without me present and not a single one of the lot has the courtesy or drop of respect to inform me ‘hey Dave, we’re leaving, we need to get our stuff our of your studio, sorry man,’ but instead, drive off and then say through their manager, the progress is too slow and I was  being uncooperative, when in less than two weeks there’s already eight recordings on the go, six practically ready to mix and another two, with a couple days more overdubbing, really taking shape, and then drop this Orwellian garbage on me and ask me to swallow it, HAS PROVEN DIFFICULT.  When you say ‘not a horrible deal?’ it’s not even an issue that much about the money, it’s the shabby treatment personally and professionally.
    In the past Bob Ezrin would get a million dollars as a producer in advance, forget studio, engineer, mix and all the other details, and when the label asked “How long will it take to complete the album, Bob?”, he’d pretty much tell them: “Two months to a year, it all depends.”
    So, how’s this for a contrasting environment:
    They pleaded the financial blues, wanted a sweetheart deal, said it wouldn’t be fair if the singer had to put in money cause he just had a baby. (Then I find out he’d recently bought a personal recording console for $48,000 and already owns a recording studio called a barn if you call a two storey chalet type building fully equipped with thermal glass a barn) These guys had $13,000 for producer , engineer, studio, accommodations with each their own rooms and the run of every other square inch of of the place, and if they used the mixes: $300 per mix used and the contract was still stalled because their lawyer felt  my terms were excessive on recoupment of what would’ve amounted to their hotel bill if I hadn’t taken care of that as well on an agreement for ten songs completed and mixed in six weeks for their so-called comeback album. And they weren’t the band you recorded almost six months later.
    The deposit cheque arrived when the manager personally delivered it after the album was over half-finished. The cheque was stalled cause the electrical company accidently emptied out the bank account, and then on the next attempt Fedex lost it. The contract my lawyer sent based on these terms was never signed or returned even though the manager and band conveyed to me repeatedly that the terms were acceptable.
     
    JC:——wow….sure you want to be a producer dave? maybe he didnt want your help on that song. maybe he didnt want your help on that song. sometimes a producer doesnt need to butter and squirt his attitude all over everything. sometimes you can let musician play what he wants cause its just fine. im sure eddie kramer told john paul jones every note to play too, you know…dude was such a hack.
    DN: I agree with not squirting my attitude on people’s stuff, though I will, and the greats bring their own magic, but it’s not always about squirting my attitude when it’s just as easily seen as a process of maximizing sections or performance for instance of a bassline to maybe do something with the drums and other instruments that’s maybe worthwhile to the presentation, I think I also give the same people a lot of space to do their own thing. Getting upptiy about my input, from my experience, isn’t the mentality of good session players, nor do groups have to be session players to make great albums..
    But as far as “——wow….sure you want to be a producer dave?
    Not under these circumstances.

    DN: With regard to Eddie Kramer, if this was the hypothetical Nuremberg Crimes Against Rock hearings and Jimmy Page was one of the senior judges in that situation, and he thought you implied someone other than he produced Led Zeppelin albums, you’d have missed the controversy and kafuffle in the court later that day when Clapton was called to explain his perspective on Unplugged – both the album and DVD – Clapton slipped out just after third song on the DVD as the entire room started uncontrollably nodding off like on the hwy late at night when even slapping your face and screaming and rolling up and down the window WILL NOT stop you from falling asleep at the wheel. They should maybe have signs on the hwy between Chatham and Windsor: “if Eric Clapton’s UnPlugged is playing on the radio, and you also feel drowsy,  pull safely over to the shoulder or there could be tears in heaven.”

    JC quoting DN: “I think these guys  pushed me to keep working on their tunes even though they intended to bail. If they didn’t like it, then why did the singer tell me to my face that they really valued my input right until the last minute? ”

    JC:—–oh maybe…or maybe they had paid you for three weeks and were stuck? and the singer…is that the same guy you said was a “narcissistic person” who now was flattering you?  and by the way… i can actually say that alec was the only member of the band who described the time with you diplomatically at all.

    DN: He was diplomatic to me as well… until the end. He didn’t say always great things to me about people associated with his band when they weren’t around, some of them might be surprised. That the others were denouncing me is because (from what I experienced) they’re users and backstabbers with weak identities and they need to be in a band just to feel relevant – in the last gasp of western individualism, I sympathize with the desperate attempt to be unique in a corporate tribal mish mash. The whole goal is to get in an interview and be in the spotlight and say it’s about me, and me can take the form of a band or going solo. To get famous to assert your own autonomy and be free of the tribal mandate is the American Dream and the contradiction.
     
    JC—-im not head of human resources or anything but sounds EXACTLY like you got fired. “working you long hours?” you mean like…recording a record takes? and yes HOW dare they ask for the mulittracks of the recording they own!

    DN: The issue I have with so-called human resources, in this instance, is I think they as a band ended up treating me like human shit.  Whoever came up with the term “human resources” should keep their idea, cause it isn’t exactly a gem and maybe also reflects institutional, exploitive, and narcisisttic thinking about other people as having the worth of a cobblestone. No, I didn’t get fired, they essentially snuck off at the last minute and then drove off and hid behind their manager as if I was the boogey man and had done something terrible to them so they had to sneak out.  They left here in the most degrading, disrespectful fashion after me helping them move their situation way forward and exceed the timeline we already had agreed to and then said, give us the work, you’re out.

    JC:—–four tunes? you booked three weeks for four tune dave?

    Four to six tunes completed per three-week visit…. as in Done.   Four was the minimum, we had eight on the go, six in advanced stage by the time their manager came up here with my deposit cheque and listened to everything we’d done so far. Four was the minimum.   At the time, the manager and I sure seemed pleased with the recording results and the depth of elements and tenor of performances, but the band took on a new uniform persona the day the manager arrived, where suddenly they all donned clipboards and a list and were uniformly lukewarm about my input in general and were pretty much projecting to an outsider that they were a committee that had been running the show mainly amongst themselves the whole process, with me as a pesky outsider running the recorder and was in slight conflict with their mandate and their art. This was a new dynamic after working with them intensely, both as a band and with them all one-on-one  for many days and the one on one process also meant that after the person who did their take to his and my satisfaction,  (comp’d if necessary) then everyone would hear it and say cool or not cool and then they’d leave except for the next person recording. When they were waiting, their job was to develop and rehearse specific parts. So, it was weird how suddenly, after this level of cooperation, they unanimously didn’t like it, and I”m looking over at Rob and Lee and and Sean hoping for anyone to demur from this overriding sentiment that frankly felt like a betrayal and insincere given this wasn’t how the individual members were thinking or expressing in the first 11 days.

    JC:—–i asked to hear it. wanna send me a threatening email now?

    DN: John, you should not feel in the least threatened by me and they should collectively have broad enough shoulders to not feel in any way threatened. What could they have done to me or me to them that would make five grown men feel threatened?  Doesn’t that strike you as odd?  Look,  I have no beefs with you, brother. I’m not complaining about anything you’ve done.   I’ve been put through a really shabby experience by those guys and treated badly. These are five grown men unable to engage in any dialogue or explanation beyond telling me through their manager stuff that doesn’t wash and none of them feel they owe me any apology for treating me in this disrespectful fashion after doing this much work with me.

    JC quoting DN: “Look, you wanna put Hysterical back to back with the demoes they sent me, the versions done under my direction and the final record OK. You have a huge advantage since everything I got was done over a two week period”

    JC:—–i do? all the basic tracks for all the album and b sides where done with me in that time. and again…it doesnt matter.. is said to A/B it to the demos… final version doesnt really matter except to show how we removed any ideas of yours.

    DN: Well, I’m willing to post the stuff they gave me and what we had when they left with the band’s permission.

    JC quoting DN : “Hysterical alone involved 56 takes.”

    JC: ——and? you are mad the band made you do your job?

    DN: I did my job of my own volition and desire. On that version the band were CERTAINLY not the only ones saying: ” what about this, what about that, don’t forget this, etc.”.  You might find it odd to have to do 56 takes just on Hysterical, because you recorded them live off the floor to tape with no edits and just a few overdubs, which is an engineer’s dream. That’s not the state the band was in when I worked with them.

     JC quoting DN: “Funny, after they left in the most cowardly manner, the manager said the progress was too slow and that Alec is used to making completed albums in a two week period, yet they seem to now think five months was reasonable time to make an album? ”

    JC:——we did the record in less than a month. what are you talking about?

    DN: I accept that your part of the journey with them involved less than a month. To quote this article:

    “For their third album, however, the band would take the opposite approach. This time, they decided to do most of their arranging before the sessions and play through all their takes live as a well-oiled unit.”