So here we are to celebrate the new year and 2 new old releases, including “Broken Bones”, which was recorded during our 2007 tour of the UK, and “Dangers of Intimacy”, our first EP recorded in 2005. We’re also working on lots of new stuff, which has mostly been tracked but needs to be mixed, which is kind of a major task if you want to do it right. We typically mix everything ourselves, and that’s like hand stitching. You know how you can listen to Red State over and over again? That took a long time. I want to make things that wear well, and a lot of that is really obsessive, tasteful mixing…
So “Broken Bones” is basically one live session. It is a document. It is part of the “Latitudes” Sessions created by Southern Records in order to pick up where John Peel left off: bands come in for one day, record whatever they want, and then mix. (Just for reference most albums take anywhere from 2 weeks to ??? years (Chinese Democracy)). So I don’t consider this session to be a GOWNS record per se, I more consider it to be a high quality, beautifully mixed version of what GOWNS circa 2007 sounded like live in a sweet studio with a full rhythm section. We were all super-stoked and honored to have a chance to record in fucking CRASS STUDIOS (!!!) with the amazing Harvey Birrell (No Age, Babes in Toyland, etc). FMI check out an interview here:
That said there is an Aesop’s fable/long anecdote that describes not only our mindset going in, but also kind of illuminates some essential and primal fact about the band itself.
Before arriving in the UK, we had just been in Italy for 2 weeks, and the contrast between the mild weather, luxurious foods and gracious continental hospitality to Britain’s cold and rain was extreme.
Somewhere far in the past of initially booking the tour, we had been invited by one of the headliners of ATP to drop in and hang on the house, gratis. For some reason we decided not to go. I think it had to do with money, and we decided that we should try and make some (no matter how small an amount) instead of spending any to get there. It seems like vaguely sound reasoning, but really, from a band careerist perspective, it was quite stupid. If you are a self-respecting ambitious indie band that wants to get somewhere in life (dammit!), when the festival headliner invites you to show up, you should show up.
But instead we decided to go to Hull.
If you’re from GB, you already get the punchline, but if you’re not, Hull is an industrial port town that in 2005 was named by the BBC as the “Worst Place to Live in the UK”. Its claims to fame include an overabundance of gunshot wounds and chip shops, making it the “fattest” city in the UK and also where you are most likely to get mortally wounded. There also seemed to be a fuckload of drugs.
When we showed up that night at the Adelphi, we were 3/4s sick with the flu and seemed to be reaping the whirlwind of not only the stupidity of skipping a free trip to ATP, but perhaps a whole lifetime’s worth of mistakes.
That night we played our best show of the tour.
There is something about playing a small show in a bar in the middle of nowhere to a few people. Where you know that it probably won’t end up on a blog or in a magazine, and you won’t likely meet anyone that will offer you a record deal (whatever that means these days). And if it doesn’t depress the fuck out of you, it can be a very beautiful and freeing experience.
At the end of the night we still weren’t sure where we were staying, and as the small crowd trickled out we faced the possibility of sleeping inside the freezing club. As I said, we had just come from Italy and Europe proper, where they not only feed you but give you a place to stay as well. But in the UK, much like America, you’ve got to beg. (Insider tip to non-bands: if you want to hang out more with a band you just saw AND you’ve got the space, offer to put them up. You’d be surprised how often they’ll take you up on it. Just don’t be a creepo, ok?)
BUT THEN, out of the beer-soaked blackness, an angel appeared. A slight young man in beanie who looked like he might support the legalization of marijuana showed up at the last minute and offered us couch and floor space.
He led us to a small flat in a questionable neighborhood and I felt like Mary and Joseph so grateful for the haystack. Blankets! Cats! Tea! And most importantly, a chance to rest.
I don’t know how much my life and career might or might not have been different if I had spent that weekend hobnobbing at ATP, but I know I will never forget the feeling of being taken in and cared for by complete strangers. They let 4 unknown people in off the streets and gave them a place to sleep. They let us stay through the whole weekend. They cooked for us. They gave us showers. They let us recover from the road. And right before we left for our next stop, I complimented one of the girls living there on the sweater she was wearing. Without hesitation, she gave it to me right off her back.
[POST SCRIPT] … This post was originally up for a second but then Ezra read it and got really sad and angry about it. How could I leave out Paul, the wonderful owner of the Adelphi, and the great soundguy and the awesome lead singers of the other bands? And how could I boil a gracious invitation to ATP down to a joyless careerist schmoozefest? He felt I was basically leaving certain things out in order to tell a story, (and being a total asshole about it.) And he was right. I was trying to tell the fable, of the promise and desire of the material being triumphed over by the surprise fulfillment of the spiritual, and of being completely humbled by blind kindness. I can’t explain all the intricacies, they don’t read well. But I can tell you that it’s not just 20/20 hindsight that tells us that choosing to play in Hull was a good idea. I think we knew from the start, and it’s a bet we make again and again. (I still have the sweater).