Has it really been a decade since Shortstack has been around DC? It must be. It definitely seems like we’ve been writing about them forever: previous album listening parties, A to Zs of DC love, reviews, the works.
Well, today they return with their probably most accessible to date, 3rd full length release “Please Leave My Mind” (out on Takoma Park’s Free Dirt Records) and they certainly seem all grown up and not necessarily what you’d expect. If you’ve ever been to a Shortstack show (and you should have), you know (and love) their trademark rambling, twangy sound. Well, on the eve of their anniversary they left that behind. The (very personal) journey you’re taking with them is still through the roughest (and maybe weirdest) parts of America(na) but you’re doing it while very secure behind the wheel, of say, a Lamborghini, as opposed to a dusty pick-up truck.
It is a sound that is “Gritty yet polished, uneasy yet relaxed, complex yet simply catchy as your favorite (Beatles) tune, “Please Leave My Mind” satisfies the soul, no matter what shape it’s in”.
The boys have become men and they know exactly what they are doing.
So, lets have Adrian Carroll (singer/guitarist) let us know what you may not even know you want to know about the new songs:
This was the first song we started tracking for the album. Being one of the less complicated and straightforward arrangements, we were excited to start on it first.
Things got off to a bumpy start. Our engineer, TJ LIpple (of Aloha and Soft Power fame) had recently returned from Morocco and had been running a fever for days. The fist night we got into the studio we set up mics, and by the later part of the evening TJ looked on death’s door. His wife called late in the evening and informed that his doctor had finally made a diagnosis–typhoid. He’d gotten it from something he ate while in Morocco.
Needless to say, TJ was off the books for the next few weeks. Don Zientara, the owner and primary engineer at Inner Ear, took over right away. We were excited to work with Don, as like many musicians in DC, some of the records he made we count as favorites. With Don at the helm we churned out “Breathe” and moved on to the rest.
The song was one of those that seemed to write itself in the span of 30 minutes–forming out of a loose improvisation at practice. We played the main riff and Scott, our former drummer, sang “Come Together” by the Beatles over top. That inspired the vocal melody, and soon after the song was done. It’s always nice to have those songs that write themselves, especially when some take months to finish.
Vietnam War Movie
This is one of two songs on the album that we didn’t record at Inner Ear. Burleigh recorded it in his studio. We tracked a different version of this song at Inner Ear that ended up unfinished. It had live drums and all of us playing. It seemed turgid and meandered in a way we didn’t like.
Burleigh made an early demo of the song a year back that had a drum machine and crazy synthesizers weaving in and out. We liked the idea of having a song on the record that was a contrast piece–something with different textures and sounds, yet that was still characteristically us. The drum machine/synth combo seemed to achieve that. So we dusted off the demo, added vocals, and that’s what ended up on the album.
The idea for the song title and lyrics came from my somewhat morbid fascination with Vietnam War films. I’ve always found war films, when well-made and offering insightful commentary, to be truly engrossing. Yet on one hand it’s disturbing that such huge foreign policy disasters that cost a lot of lives somehow end up as fodder for entertainment. There are plenty of bad war films out there that go more the route of bullshit Hollywood entertainment. I imagined all the people portrayed as dying in those films coming back to life to have a word with those so entertained by needless cinematic carnage–they come back to “remake all the movies that recast their lives,” as the song says.
And in a broad sense it’s Shortstack’s version of an anti-war statement as well. Like many, we never supported much of the USA’s military involvement overseas. “Down with the King, and down with the knife,” as the song says.
Adrian and Scott came up with the basics of this song together and it’s sort of built around a distinctive beat, so in a sense it’s a very old-school Shortstack song. But it’s also totally unlike anything we’d ever written before.
From the beginning this song had a sort-of 80s vibe (at least for us), and we immediately thought of Miami Vice and songs like “Edge of Seventeen.” We’re unrepentant fans of Dire Straights. The name started as a joke and we decided it was too good to change.
One thing about this song: the beat is absolute murder. Scott could play it in his sleep, but we’ve played with a handful of great drummers since he bowed out and it’s pretty much been the end of the world for them.
Though I Turn Grey
This song is very, very different than the idea it grew out of. Adrian came in with a singer-songerwritery, Eastern sounding thing – very mellow. We ended up ditching the chord changes and splitting the melody across Adrian’s and Burleigh’s voices, which is how we ended up with this complex, shifting harmony. It might be my favorite singing on the whole record.
When we were recording this, we wanted to do something to make the vocals really stand out. We’re all big Beatles fans and we started talking about this amazing thing they used to do to automatically double their vocals. It’s complicated and sort of impossible to exactly duplicate because it essentially involved using a piece of equipment that was broken on purpose. We made up some crazy stuff to achieve the same sort of effect, and we were really happy with the results. We ended going back and doing the same thing to the vocals on the rest of the record.
LIKE WHAT YOU HEAR?