Friday, June 18, 2010

A tribute album like no other.....

The songs of Thane Thomsen, by some friends and not-so-secret admirers.
CD 1
1) Up-- The Florence Nightly Ensemble (Ken Maiuri)
2) Step Away--Terry Flood
3) The Empty Mirror-- Matthew Zapruder
4) The Light of Your Ways (step 2)-- Basketball (Miranda Brown w/ Tim Regan)
5) This Fleeting Life--Matthew Cullen
6) Feel the Fields--Henning Ohlenbusch
7) What Grace Allows--Scott Hall and the Burn Pile
8) Down--Tim J. Dunn
9) Some Given Day--Trace Meek
10) The Evidence (step 1) --Dennis Crommett
11-12) Settling/Hugo's--Lo Fine

CD 2
1) Alphabetical Thane--Mark Mulcahy
2) Every Other Letter is a Woman's Name--Scott Alden
3) The Pile and the Hole--Lesa Bezo
4) Don't Get Me Wrong (step 9)--Bruce Tull
5) Shag--Jose Ignacio Ayerve
6) Provide Provide--Frank Padellaro
7) Was--Brian Akey
8) A Pint of Salvation (step 4)--Dave Houghton
9) Under the Flash--Matthew Hebert
10) Zero--Mike + Ruthy
11) Grow to Expect--Mike Flood
12) This Dog We Live--Brian Marchese
(stay tuned for an amazing offer to download this incredible collection of music for absolutely free!)

Recently, my friend and longtime band(s) mate Thane Thomsen had a birthday. He turned the same number as RPMs on some records--(hint: not 33-1/3 and not 78.)

The first day I met Thane was also the first day I played music with him, at the first Figments practice on School St, Northampton, MA. That was in the final weeks of 1995. I was nearing the end of my time as an undergrad at U Mass. All the other guys in the band seemed way older (really, by just about 5-7 years, but it seemed old to ageist-me), and the songs were way slower and softer than anything I was used to playing. I had a thing about not wasting one's youth on being mellow. My previous two bands, Sourpuss and Sweetspot always left me with broken drumsticks, throbbing eardrums and bleeding calluses. When I first received the tape of Thane's 4-track demos to listen to and learn from, I was immediately struck by the sound of his voice, the lyrical flow and imagery. It felt like the future, or my future at least. Very few times in my life have I had that sure feeling. So nice to feel that instead of encountering the usual roadblocks or detours. Instead, it seemed a pathway to a next phase.
The demo tape was amazing and intriguing, and I listened to it a lot. It was too dark to be hippie-ish, though there was a stoner quality. It was too serious to be Pavement-y, though that kind of indie spirit was there too. There was also the cold, dark Western Massachusetts smokey/boozy late night quality of the Scud Mt Boys, but with less precision and prettiness. It was literate but not obnoxiously so.

At the first practice or two, I had to be reminded to chill a bit on the tempo and volume, but eventually found how to shift down to first or second gear. I'd never been surrounded by a more complimentary, yet totally fun and cool and smart bunch of guys in a musical situation. My few suggestions and ideas were welcomed and often used. That Russ Kunkel was referred to in the first practice was an awesome thing in my book. That Russ Brooks came by to say hello and have a beer was even more awesome. As practices continues, I found my drumming style changing--to the point where, when we did start to get loud, I had almost forgotten how to rock out. Yikes. But what emerged was a whole new "from the wrist" style of drumming, which enabled me to play as fast and hard as I used to, but while leaving my hands soft and smooth, and my drumsticks intact, and gave birth to the signature Figments louuuudd....ssssuck...soft turn-on-a-dime-dynamic. Something mysterious also gave birth to the practiced wavering tempos. An effortless group mind that wouldn't make sense if tried to explain. And soon, we were employing feedback-soaked freakouts as loud and chaotic as anyone.

So here we are, 2010, and the Figments, four + 1/2 albums later, still play when we can. In the meantime, Thane and I have been among the busiest musicians in the area. We've played together in Lo Fine, Haunt and my band, Sitting Next to Brian. He's asked me to be the drummer on his amazing Rehab, Mass (aka The 12 Steps) album, as well as his new vehicle, Goldwater (new EP coming out hopefully this fall!). And we each have had several separate projects too.

Thane's a modest guy, quick to deflect credit and kudos and turn away from the spotlight. Thus, I've only known it was his birthday maybe four of the fifteen birthdays I've known him through. A couple years ago, he was helping me move into a new apartment when he mentioned it was his birthday. Goddamn, what an asshole I felt like. "Actually, Brian, this is the PERFECT way to be spending my birthday". Yeah, I thought, what fun, lifting heavy furniture up a narrow staircase on a muggy day. Let the good times roll...and watch the leg of that couch in the doorway--fuck, was that your finger?

It was a confluence of things that gave me the idea for this tribute album:
--driving home from work, iPod on shuffle, a tune from the latest Figments album, Twelve Belles, came on. Wow. What a band!. I was hit by the realization that, more than any other band, I believe I'll look back on the Figments as the defining band in all the stuff I've done. Don't get me wrong, everything I play on I do so because I love it, and love the songwriting and have a blast playing and hanging out with the musicians. But The Figments, and Thane's songs, taught me, involuntarily, to approach music in a totally different way. Credit is also due to Trace Meek's John MacVie-esque bass, which made me look at the bass guitar/bass drum relationship in new and simplified ways; and Matthew Zapruder's tenacious yet self-deprecating approach to guitar playing (it's only rock>playing rock rules>still, it's only rock>but still it rules, so let's treat it with respect but still stay aware of the innate silliness).

--Not long after, I was at work, and another Figments song, this time the old classic "This Dog We Live" came up on the shuffle. Wow! What a perfect 3 verse, 3 minute, in-and-out song that is! I made a mental note: "when I get home I'm gonna figure that one out". Then (as it often does) my brain went on a hyper speed tangent and before I knew it, I was writing a note down--"Contact a dozen songwriting friends and ask them to record a Thane song and send it to me. I'll compile them and make a CD for his birthday".

The following six weeks, (two of which were the final two weeks of my harrowing first semester of grad school--so this was a perfect distraction from homework and finals...sigh...) were a labor of love. 90% of the people I asked were into it. Many suggested other people. I thought of a few others as well. The list at one point was up to 27 artists. A few dropped out, or realized time wasn't on their side. I ended up with 23 artists. 24 Thane songs. Most were home recorded in various ways, in various qualities. Five years ago this couldn't have been possible. But now someone (like me) who doesn't own a single piece of recording equipment, can sing and play into the built-in lap top mic, throw an effect (or five) on, muck around with all the toys and effects and loops and gadgets, and end up with something listenable (if not radio-ready. But what is radio anyway?).

Dan Richardson said he'd master it, which was the best news imaginable, since the quality of stuff I was getting varied wildly. From pristine, perfectly mic'd acoustic instruments on multi track analog tape (say, Bruce Tull), to Elephant 6-esque, over-driven spazz outs recorded on an outdated version of Garageband (say, Scott Alden), to everything imaginable in between.

The receiving of submissions every day was a total joy. Each one blew my mind in a different way, and I'd email "the list" with excitement anew--probably a little too often-- and too overloaded with giddy jokes and wise ass remarks. Making and revising the track order was a lot of fun. Imagining just how mind-blown Thane would be was even more fun. Realizing that I'd been a friend of and drummer for this guy who has written so many beloved songs was an unexpected ego boost/ life-affirmation, especially after the sobering, deflating experience of grad school.

Tribute albums can be boring--especially when you really like the artist being paid tribute. XTC's "Testemonial Dinner?"--beh. The Grateful Dead one sucks, save Elvis Costello and Suzanne Vega and Jane's Addiction. I think the Leonard Cohen one's pretty good.
Umm...I've probably blocked out the others I've heard.
This one, I like the songwriter AND the artists doing them. (and I've played, or probably will end up playing drums for most of them) So there was double appeal.
Also--Thane Who? While he SHOULD be mentioned and referenced in music books and magazines world wide, The Figments etc have not exactly done much to promote themselves. Never toured. gave away more CDs than we sold (though the free 12 Belles album was downloaded 1000+ times!). We did have a 3 or 4 year stretch of good luck in NYC, but stuff got in the way. People got serious about their various lots in life. And I couldn't manage to stay faithful to only one, or two, or three bands.

Then there was Northampton's 9/11--i.e. the Baystate closing, which took a lot of wind out of the scene, and sent a lot of music fans home to grow up, mellow out and seldom, if ever, return to the scene.

Since 2002, The Figments have played about as many gigs as we did in any two-month period between 1995-2001. But when we do get together it's nothing but fun and love of the music. And we look and sound almost exactly the same, just with new songs always entering the rotation So there's my plug for the Flywheel show coming up next week (6/26/10)...(you knew that was coming)

And here are the details of the tribute album. Maybe there will be an official release, but for now, enjoy it in high quality (WAV) downloads for $0.00. I.E. FREE.

You can hear it and downloaded it for FREE at:

The Songs of Thane Thomsen, as interpreted by some of his friends and not-so-secret admirers.
Recorded in at least nine of the United States. And possibly beyond...
Conceived by Brian Marchese in the van.
Mastered by Dan Richardson Up in the Basement.

1 comment:

Rick M said...

Well done, Brian. A priceless gift to a great guy. Can't wait to hear this.