Tuesday, September 26, 2006

How we came to be

Alright friends,
So before we get to the meat of the muffin, as we say around these parts, I should tell you a bit about the band. At the time I've started this blog (today is Sept. 26, 2006 but this history takes me a day or two to write), we have been in existence for about 15 months. In that time, I'm proud to report, we've made more progress than I could have planned. But before we get to that, let's examine the beginning... since the story goes back a bit further. I'll seperate this into chapters for easier reading.

Mike McCullagh (vocals, guitar, lap steel), Scott Jones (bass guitar, vocals), and myself (vocals, guitar, piano) all went to high school together. In Texas. Yes, we grew up in the greater Flower Mound area in the northeast corner of the largest state attached to the mainland. Only Scott is native to Texas; Mike is a New Yorker by birth and myself an Oregonian. But we all spent our formative years in the Dallas area, which I think has played a role in our music's sound to some degree. From the 4th grade to the 12th grade, I played in a band with a revolving door of musicians and a revolving door of names. Most famously (if you can call it that), we were known as Duffer. We'll revisit this part in a moment.

I first met Scott in my junior year of high school (January 2002) when he joined the school newspaper staff where I was an editor. Scott was a year younger than me, and I can tell you, a far different person then than he is now (primarily, he seemed more shy). Shortly into our first meeting, we went on a trip to Austin, Texas for a newspaper convention. Scott and I were paired together in a room, and I hazed him, telling him he looked like Judge Reinhold (I was wrong, and probably just thinking that because "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" was on TV). The next night at dinner, the group of newspaper staffers somehow managed to bribe Scott into eating a pickle covered with contents contributed by everyone at the table. The kid was alright, I tell you.

Mike and I crossed paths a few times earlier in high school. We were in the same gym class when we were freshmen, and both judged each other from afar. I feared him because he always scowled at me (he now says that his face is shaped into a permanent scowl) and he whispered about my obvious lack of ankles. We also played in competing bands, his was a political metal band called Bleeding Earth. Who would of thought we'd end up the best of friends? Unfortunately, this came late in high school -- the last semester to be exact (spring 2003). Mike and I started hanging out regularly, hitting IHOP nightly with Scott and other friends. When Duffer needed a bass player on our final record, I asked Mike to step in and he did so splendidly.

Erstwhile, Mike and Scott became very close friends as Mike quickly entered our "group." Together, they founded an excellent surf rock group called Beware The Dangers Of A Ghost Scorpion! The exclamation point is part of the name. This band had it all -- dancing, theatrics, our friend AJ going wild -- well, everything except vocals. It was surf rock.

After high school ended in spring 2003, Duffer released its final album "Leave The Records Stack'd" and then I shoved off for college at Northeastern University in Boston. Over my first year there, I released three home-recorded solo EPs (which may be lingering in existence somewhere): "No, Salvidor, That Mustache Is Who You Are" (August 2003), "Love, Prison And Trucks" (December 2003) and "The Marital Arts" (March 2004). You can still hear some of these songs at my never-updated Soundclick site. I also played solo shows a bit, and made a pretty penny doing so, but I mostly stayed focused on journalism. Without dramatization, I began to look at music as a closed chapter in my life -- a dream that had once consumed me but that I had given up for more "scholarly" pursuits.

Mike ended up moving to Austin and attending Austin Community College, before dropping out after a semester. It was a bad time for him -- he was heartbroken, his car got stolen, and his life just wasn't going where he wanted. He waited until his lease ran out in the spring, and then he packed up and moved to Boston with the intention of starting this band.

At this point, I should note that for the record, it has been Mike from Day 1 who really pushed for the band. When he first proposed it, I was interested for all the obvious reasons, but I was caught up in being a young journalist and going to school and only occasionally playing solo shows. Mike has an enthusiasm that is contagious though, and you can tell when he really wants something. He's very dramatic, in the best way, of laying his life on the line for the sake of the band, essentially. At least, that's how this was at the core.

So Mike moved up here and we played around and wrote a few songs. We recorded a new version of my song "Ambivalent Farewells" together in winter 2004, and then in the spring we played our first show as "Cassavettes" (a name I had taken jokingly from a Fugazi song) at a hardware store where Mike was working. I actually posted a blog about it at the time. We were promised $100 which never came through. But this spring saw the seeds being planted for the demon plant that would spawn into Cassavettes.

Shortly thereafter, Scott came up here to visit his two bros, Mike and Glenn. We spent the entire trip trying to convince him to leave his beloved Texas (where he had also dropped out of The University of North Texas after a semester and started working for a tax company where he once got caught sneaking an extra slice of pizza at a company party) for the icy weather of Boston. Somehow, it worked. Scott decided he'd move to Boston the first week of July 2005 and live rent-free for two months in Mike's apartment in the Fenway area.

Once Scott was onboard, it was time to find a drummer. We'd been playing with a young gent by the name of Sean Ryan for awhile, but he was a BMX rider and wanted to have the time available to go on tour with the biking crew, etc. So amongst several channels of finding help, we posted on craigslist and were met with a number of responses. One was from Matt Snow, who described himself as a 21-year-old Berklee student. After my follow-up e-mail grilling him for details, he responded with the following:
What up glen,
i'm into rock mostly. i play some jazz and latin stuff of course, but anything with a backbeat is what does it for me...funk, blues, fusion, reggae, hip-hop - that kind of stuff. i'm a huge phish fan, and i'm into alot of jambands. i listen to a shitload of classic rock as well as alot of jazz and metal.

As you can probably tell, we weren't initially thrilled by his influences (especially Phish). But, having tried several drummers and not taking a shine to anyone in particular, Mike and I headed for Matt's house in Brighton. At the door, a pale, red-haired guy with thick-rimmed glasses and a goatee greeted us thusly: "What up, bitches?"

For some reason, the fact that this guy was completely comfortable with us the moment he met us (well, enough to call us "bitches") was kind of a calming factor. We went to his basement and jammed. The kid could play. In fact, he was the best drummer I'd ever played with. After practice, he made Mike and I give him a ride to a liquor store up the street, and once he left I immediately asked Mike what he thought. We both agreed that, oddly enough, he was perfect.

After adding Matt in June 2005 and with Scott's move just weeks away, we began practicing frequently -- oftentimes at a rehearsal space Berklee owns in Allston. Right away, Mike and I whipped up about 10 songs. Mike brought a song which the Austin coffeehouse crowd loved called "Research Boulevard." I added a couple, like the demo favorite "We Could Be Solo Acts." Once Scott arrived on July 7, 2005, we began practicing to record our first EP, called "Whitewash The Blues." We recorded the entire CD at a variety of places, including Berklee and know.ledge.one Studios (our friend's apartment). Jamey Zebrack, a colleague of Matt's, did the entire project for a measly $150. Now, that is frugality at its best.

We played our first show on July 21, 2005 at All Asia in Cambridge with Freelance in the Ozarks and Tod Shafer of Barn. It was a surprisingly good show and shortly thereafter we played a Cancer Benefit at Copperfields, near Fenway Park. At this show, the bartender, angry for some reason that a band dare play music in his bar, yelled at us to "turn down" because "this isn't fucking Fenway Park." Obviously, this was not a good show. We then played a record store in Allston called Regeneration Records, where the owners thought we were coming as a rockabilly band. No, we were not. And I don't know if they were cool with what they ended up getting from us, but we were happy with it, and we got a lot of good photos out of it -- many of which appear inside the cover of "Whitewash The Blues."

Shortly after recording the album, in late August 2005, we hit the road for the first time for a very brief tour. We first hit New Haven, Conn., where we made a fair chunk of change for playing to about three people total. Then, we headed to NYC to stay with our friend Carolyn (where I slept in her recently-deceased aunt's bed) and then to our friend Lauren's. We played a show in Montclair, N.J. the next day which some members of this band still contest was the worst show ever. The place was small and dingy, we were treated like crap, you had to presell tickets, and less than 20 people were there -- other bands' members included. Ay, it was bad. We then (by my own fault) accidentally miscalculated a date we were playing in Philadelphia, and never made it there.

In September 2005, we kept pushing it and hit the road again, this time landing our first gig IN New York City. Scott wrote about it here. He makes mention of us going to back to Texas, which we did, at the beginning of October. It was nuts. We were still very green at that point and we were playing borrowed equipment, but we received a warm welcome from our friends and family back home. Matt also bought a cowboy hat, which he still wears onstage.

In October, we finally got our foot in the door at The Middle East thanks in large part to Shred and in December, we landed our first gig with a touring act we'd actually heard of, opening for David Dondero at TT The Bear's Place. That night, we drew a larger crowd than the headliner and got some words of wisdom from Mr. Dondero himself. Things were looking up. We finished 2005 playing Matt's former high school's holiday fundraiser, the WAVM Beacon Santa Telethon. A lot of young high school girls showed up and screamed and asked us for autographs and we were delighted to sign said autographs. We felt like the Beatles, even for just one night. Also, as long as we're talking about that show, let me note that Matt got sick off a quesadilla he ate before taking the stage and so in all the pictures with the girls from that night, we had Chris Brook step in as a look-alike. Even though it was in Matt's hometown, I don't know if the girls noticed a difference.

Where 2005 ended, 2006 did not pick up. After parting for the holidays on an all-time high, the band regrouped in 2006 with a series of poorly-attended, demoralizing shows. The first was at The Milky Way in Jamaica Plain, a very cool spot, but hard to draw for us because it's not too close to a T stop and it's 21+. Hardly anyone showed up. We then played PA's Lounge in Somerville to a quiet and empty room. The big perk of that evening was meeting the sound engineer Ryan Lee Crosby, another local musician formerly of Cancer To The Stars who we would go on to tour a bit with the following summer. But things were looking bleak for us. Things didn't get better for awhile, as we played a small rented-out school in Byfield, Mass., for high school kids (a perk of this night was that afterward we drove to Portsmouth, N.H., to go to Chris' favorite restaurant The Friendly Toast. It was a good time. On the way back, we got a flat-tire though in Tara's mom's car. Tough luck). We got a little blog "hype", but not enough to garner an audience.

We did end up landing a nice show at Arlene's Grocery in NYC, and we rented a huge van to take down a bunch of folks with us (video of a Queen singalong here on YouTube; pictures here and here). Now THAT was a party (again deferring to Scott's account of the night). Around that time, we swindled our way on iTunes through an excellent company called Tunecore.

Then, right as things were starting to turn around, everything got a bit strange.

Everything got better all of a sudden. We played another well-received Middle East gig, and then a Battle Of The Bands at Northeastern University and somehow came out on top of both rounds to win the grand prize. We also made it back to NYC and played the excellent Knitting Factory Old Office the night before (pictures here and here) the Battle Of The Bands championship round to an awesome crowd (video here at YouTube). Mike expressed the band's collective exuberance (and feelings of FINALLY!) at the time. As he says, "This was the best weekend in recent memory for your friends, Cassavettes." He's right. It had been an exhaustive process up to that point and we were glad to be over the hump.

From there, things took an unbelievable turn. In amazing fashion, by pestering our fans and friends, we were voted Best Local Band in The Boston Phoenix's 2006 Reader's Poll. All of a sudden, all of our work was coming to fruition and we had a slew of press all at once. The Weekly Dig then profiled us (I'm sorry to say that the article has been taken off their website, otherwise I'd link to it), noting "It's probably not a good idea to pin down Cassavettes' sound just yet. ... The symmetry they strike is between the only two things a band like this knows how to do: sing about hard times and have a blast doing it." That's true! Then, the local magazine What's Up did an interview with me, saying "Hauled in from Texas, Glenn Yoder brings exceptional songwriting and stellar musical performances to a city not short on talent. His band, the up and coming Cassavettes, have been touring the Northeast viciously and turning a lot of heads in the college club circuit with their own unique style of country folk and rock." That's true, too! Then, the Boston Metro gave us the quote that we liked the most, "By taking the Beatles' 'Revolver'-stomp to the saloon and getting it high on jazz in the backroom, four Texas ex-pats known as Cassavettes mosey away from the same old tear-in-my-beer twang and provide an alternative to alternative-country (Alt-alt-country?)." Finally, Kerry Purcell of the Boston Herald sat down with us at a Chinese food restaurant and got to the heart of the group.

However, right as everything was looking up, Scott dropped a bombshell on us. He said he doesn't like Boston, he misses Texas, and he intends to move back at the beginning of July. I remember when he told us, nobody said anything for a long while. It was no secret that Scott hated Boston and dreamt of moving back to Texas, he told us all the time. But I thought if he would do it, he'd have done it during the rough times. For the next few months, the band agonized over this, and fought a lot, and I begged Scott to stay. He was very obstinant, and had made up his mind. Mike, as Scott's roommate and close buddy, probably took it the hardest. The moment Scott told us, Mike went upstairs without a word (presumably for a cigarette), and returned with a flurry of things to say.

Up to that point, I don't think Matt and Scott had felt very close. Matt thought someone could play bass better (which is technically true, since Scott is admittedly a guitar player at heart, and just learning bass), and Scott knew it. But as I embarked on the painful mission of finding Scott's replacement (Mike refused to look for a new bass player, finding this task too difficult, which is understandable), Matt started to see what Scott meant to the band.

It wasn't about being able to play the instrument perfectly. If that was true, none of us would be in this band, besides maybe Matt (the only properly trained musician in the lot). It was about being a BAND -- a group of people who play together, who do everything together, and who do it the way they want to and the way they think it should be done. As I wrote on our Sonicbids EPK, "What sets us apart [as a band] is a deep kinship amongst our members -- a closeness of almost disgusting brotherhood. But it comes through in the music as four people with a common goal to share our experience with you." This is true. With Scott on the verge of leaving the band, I think we all realized that he couldn't leave.

We had all been pressuring Scott to stay and using everyone approach possible: asking other friends to talk to him, responding to online comments, etc. I asked him how sure he was going and how much I could change his mind. His response: I'm 99% going. Not a lot of room for anyone to change his mind. It became evident that it wasn't up to us to change his mind, but rather just to ask Scott to be fair to himself and think about it.

Finally, I asked Scott to do me a favor and just stop talking about leaving for one month. I didn't want him to tell a single person he was going home, and I didn't want him to write about it. I just asked him to stop, and think about what he was leaving here and what he was going back to there. Yes, he'd be closer to his family and friends left behind, and that is important. Yes, he could re-enroll in school if he so chose. But he could do that here, and here, as cheesy as this sounds, we are his family. I watch out for Scott and care about him like he is my own blood, and I know he feels the same way about me. I don't know if any of this got through to Scott, but sure enough, he stopped talking about moving home for three weeks. I wondered if he was really thinking about what was best for him, and I'm positive he was.

Three weeks after I had the talk with Scott, he was smiling more. One night, the band and Chris all drove out to Jamaica Pond and walked around it and talked about the future of the band. Scott talked about recording this album, which was set to be recorded in August, a month after his projected departure. At one point, he even talked about the NEXT album, meaning the one after this one. Shortly before the trip to Jamaica Pond, we played a tremendous show at TT's (flyer by MK)and afterwards he just kept saying how fun it was. I realized that, incredibly, Scott had changed his mind. Shortly thereafter he told us so. Without a doubt, that was one of the happiest days in the memory of this band. It solidified us like never before. We are four people, all committed to the same cause, and all in it for the long haul.

After the two months of Scott's departure scare, we continued on the upward incline. We played another successful Middle East show (flyer by MK), Random NEST at Great Scott (flyer again by MK), a club we'd wanted to play for awhile. We packed the room and they invited us back. Then, we played Bike Week 2006 in Laconia, N.H. (pictures here), followed shortly thereafter by another group roadtrip to NYC to play the Knitting Factory again (pictures here and a flyer by Ren).

Then, the big one hit. We played our most fantastic show to date on July 11, 2006, at the Middle East Upstairs. It was our one-year anniversary, headlining a bill with The Motion Sick, Okay Thursday, and Miss Tess & The Bon Ton Parade. We pulled out all the stops, and had balloons, a cake presentation (here on YouTube; pictures here) with the crowd singing to us. This was such an amazing night, it's hard to describe.

Right after that, we hit the road with Ryan Lee & The Mindless (now just called Ryan Lee Crosby) and did a couple dates with Heather Rose & The Drama -- hitting The Century Lounge in Providence, JR's Bourbon Street Rock House in Cranston, R.I. (pictures here and here), and The Lit Lounge in NYC. At that last gig, we met the amazing, good-time Age Rings, who will be on our upcoming CD release show in December. They remind me of Super Furry Animals. We also had a quick stop-off in Rockland, Mass., at The New Song Folks Arts Center, which I'll talk about later. We returned to Boston to play The Milky Way with our good friend Johnny Mazcko to a larger-than-last-time crowd (perhaps thanks to this multi-show flyer by Ren).

What the hell happened? We don't know, but whatever it was, it was very, very good.

In August, we settled in to record our first full-length, entitled "It's Gonna Change." After a lot of structuring, including song choices and nearly daily band practices, we chose a studio called Hi-N-Dry in Cambridge at the advice of our buddy Kier in Three Day Threshold. The studio is lovingly run by a group of folks, centered around preserving the legacy of deceased Morphine frontman Mark Sandman. Two of them, Dana Colley and Billy Conway, were the other members of Morphine. A couple things about Morphine real quick: Prior to recording at Hi-N-Dry, I had only a rudimentary knowledge of Morphine. I no idea how huge and significant this band was. This is a band that achieved a status that the rest of us merely dream at, both commercially successful and yet still solid enough to be accepted by those curmudgeonly folks who are dejected by anything commercially successful. When we were in the studio, I learned a lot about them, including that they were one of the most important bands of the 1990s and that Mark Sandman is a shoe-in for one of the best songwriters of all time. No joke.

Anyhow, the atmosphere couldn't be better at the studio. It's a big room with a mixing booth in the middle, everything right out in the open and cut all at the same time. And again, it's just a bunch of friends maintaining it. I hope when I'm older, I can own and operate a similar place -- it is really incredible to see how much they all care about the music they're making and how much they love the space.

Over the course of five days, we cut 11 songs for the new record with a producer named Jabe Beyer. He also did the mixing and then we sent the tracks to Ian Kennedy at New Alliance Audio in Cambridge for mastering. The rest of the album story is ongoing and will be covered in the course of the blog. We only did one update from the studio, found here.

Anyhow, we were selective of gigs after that summer flurry, figuring we best promote our forthcoming album the best way possible. We've done a few radio programs this fall, including MIT's WMBR 88.1 (stream the interview online here by going to "Bottle Rocket" and the Sept. 22 show at 6 p.m.) and a live set on Amherst College's WAMH 89.3 (pictures of us shirtless here and pictures of us shirtless and playing here; also we would have audio from that set but the studio's archiving computer broke... Major bummer), and we've got a few more coming up, including TV appearances, radio and podcasts. This fall, we were surprised to find that all of a sudden clubs like The Middle East, Great Scott, The Paradise, and others were allowing us to put together our own bills (meaning, we got to pick the bands we wanted to play with!). We had put together a couple shows over the summer, but no big clubs in Boston. We put together our first bill at The Middle East Upstairs for Sept. 6, 2006, which was the first day of classes in city of Boston. Hence, we figured it could be a back-to-school party with friends like Jake Brennan, Christians & Lions (who we met at the Great Scott show in June), and Static Of The Gods. Quick note: linking all these groups' MySpaces really goes to show how the band website is outdated. Am I right or am I right? Anyhow, the show was a total success and The Middle East gave us a Saturday night, Dec. 9, for our CD release show, and we could pick the bill. And so that's what we're working on now.

To close out this short biography, I'll tell you the latest significant occurrence for this band. As the next post mentions, we were nominated for a Boston Music Award for Outstanding Americana Act Of The Year. We were shocked. I can tell you that, I really mean it. It just is an example of how quickly this band grew together over the course of about 14 months.

We had some ups and downs, and we almost lost a man, but yes, we did end up stronger. I'm not certain HOW we got to the point we're at these days. Perhaps it's because Mike, Scott, and I had previous friendships that were strong enough to withstand the rigors of a young band's life. And it is a true statement about Matt's personality and friendliness that he was never daunted by being the only one who wasn't from our previous life. From day one, he treated us like old friends, and we did the same. Today, this band couldn't be stronger, and we're not stopping soon. With our new album coming out soon, we have high hopes. Through the course of this blog, perhaps we'll see if these dreams come to fruition.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the link to the WAMH 89.3FM Amherst photo album:



12 October, 2006 16:57  
Anonymous glenn said...

thanks fritz! will do.

13 October, 2006 09:31  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

zswm w " ea 25

04 January, 2010 15:56  

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