Liner Notes: “Static” by The Ultimate Something

Twenty-some years later, we bring you the one and only recording every released by The Ultimate Something: the Static EP, originally self-released on cassette in 1993 or 1994.  You can find it on iTunesGoogle Play and literally all of the other streaming and downloading sites you can possibly imagine.

The Ultimate Something (aka ‘the band’) had been based at a shambly, gray house in the 2600 block of Merrie Lynn Street in East Austin for about a year. It was a great bandhouse: a 3 bedroom plus an in-law unit (my hidey-hole) perched over a basement/garage that was built into the hill on which the house sat, so that with some cardboard beer boxes (easily obtainable as most of the band pulled shifts at the Crown & Anchor Pub just north of the UT Campus) pasted 4 or 5 layers thick on the garage door, some wooden pallets covered with carpet keeping our gear off the perpetually damp floor, and the loan of a stupidly huge 24-track soundboard from the C&A owner, we had a first-rate practice space; we spent a LOT of time down there, working up new tracks, trying to record demos, and so forth.  Of course, this being a band made up of dudes in their early twenties, all in various states of drug- or woman-fueled distress, we had some drama and some turnover.

The actual residents of the house had shifted multiple times, as had the band members. In early ’93, Backwards-Hat Pat had been our drummer for several months and Brian was our new bassist*; he had been friends with Joe for quite a while and fit in really effortlessly. In some ways he was the quintessential bass player: quiet, unassuming, punctual, planted towards the back of stage left, near the drummer. In other ways he was not – he was easily the most educated musician in the band and we quickly discovered and exploited his knack for finding the way into or out of a troublesome bridge or verse melody.  Around that time – say the spring of 93 – we had crossed paths with Nathan, a super-mellow sound engineer who happened to have a truck full of equipment and, for whatever reason, liked us and our music enough to offer his gear and services for little more than credit on any recordings and an equal share in the nights beer- and pot-runs.

In our early practices with Brian, we began working up a song brought to the table by Nick. It had some of his trademark open, ringing chord progressions, and Brian immediately showed his value by adding a fat-assed, descending bass melody. I broke out the delay pedal and came up with a complementary rhythm part and a tidy little solo (although the rhythm of this one always jacked with my head).  Joe cooked up some lyrics and rather quickly we had written “Scream,” which while having the fundamental “Nick-ness” of it’s root chord progression in common with several of our earlier tracks, also stood out as being, well, a little poppier than our usual material.

Before we moved out of the Merrie Lynn house, Nathan brought a huge Tascam 4-track over and we decided to use ‘Scream’ as our first multi-track recording experiment. It went…OK. We got a decent drum sound and then built the track up, with Nathan bouncing things down to make room for 4 instruments and a vocalist on 4 tracks. We definitely got a great, fat bass sound and everything sat well together, but it was a challenging track. Regardless we got it done and dusted.  One track down.

By mid-summer Brian was fully integrated into the band. We were gigging regularly and had honed a solid 40-45 minute set list via regular gigs at the Steamboat and the Back Room.  Soon we had two very promising gigs on the horizon.

First, an appearance on KLBJ’s Local Licks Live series in July 1993. This was a radio show, hosted by local DJ Loris Lowe, that ran every Tuesday for 10 or 12 weeks in the summers. A local band would play at Pearl’s Oyster House and their set would be broadcast live on the radio. Then at the end of the summer each band would get one song on a compilation CD which was sold to benefit a local charity. Although we were way more lightweight than the average band who appeared on the show, Joe had in his Jedi-like way made a friend of KLBJ legend Johnnie Walker, who seemed always willing to advertise our shows during his drive-time slot. I don’t remember all the machinations but this relationship, and the fact that we played regularly at Steamboat, and possibly someone bigger bailing out, got us booked.

Second, we were given a chance to audition at the Black Cat on 6th Street. This was a big deal. Paul Sessums, the owner, would audition new bands on weeknights. If he liked what he heard, he would give you a residency – you would play the same slot on the same night of the week every week for a year. This was how Soul Hat and Sister Seven became the biggest bands in Austin.  Everyone knew that if it was Thursday night Soul Hat was playing at the Cat.  We had actually gotten an audition spot a couple of years earlier with a different lineup and simply weren’t ready for prime time.  Now, we felt like we had a real shot.  But before those two potentialities, we needed a demo tape. One 4-track recording of ‘Scream’ wasn’t going to cut it.

Aside from the 4-track Nathan had a horse trailer full of gear including a DAT recorder, which for the youngsters was basically a digital cassette deck; it recorded in stereo onto digital tape so you didn’t have the hiss and wobble of analog. We decided to just find a place to set up and record our set live to DAT.

We knew three young ladies (two of whom were six footers while the third was barely five) who lived in a classic Austin craftsman; we of course dubbed it the Amazon House. They threw good parties. In July of ’93 the Amazons were going out of town for a weekend and were willing to let us set up and record in the house while they were gone. We spread amps and drums around the house, put Joe down a hallway while Brian, Nick and I congregated in the living room. Nathan ran his cable snake out into the driveway and used his trailer as a control booth. After an interminable setup (recording really is quite boring) we played through our setlist, recording live to two-track so that if anyone fucked up we had to start all over again. Unfortunately Joe was really sick with the flu and spent the afternoon slumped down his hallway guzzling orange juice and rousing himself to a really impressive level of performance. His voice was definitely rawer than usual, but there was a desperate edge to his singing that day that added something to the recordings. We got through as much of the material as we could then packed up and vacated.

Unfortunately the Amazon House session took place just 3 days before our appearance on Local Licks Live, and by then between the illness and the all-day recording session Joe’s voice had moved past edgy and into shredded. I won’t get into details about the KLBJ set as none of the songs recorded there made it onto Static, but I will say two things. One is that, overall, we did a solid job and Joe was a trooper to even get up there, much less make it through that set with only a couple of blown notes. Second, I will leave you with a quote from Bill Johnson, the legendary engineer who recorded the set. When we walked out to his mobile recording booth outside the bar to get our cassette copy of the show, he handed it over and said, “guys, you have some really good songs and you’re not bad players, but for the love of God will you BUY SOME FUCKING TUNING PEDALS?!?!”

Ahem. So now we had “Scream,” and the Amazon House recordings, and the KLBJ show. We decided not to use the KLBJ material as a demo, both because we weren’t sure if we legally could use it that way and because Joe’s voice was in bad shape.  Oh, and we were pretty out of tune (Sorry Bill).  From the Amazon sessions we had some good material but we decided that the best track was “Promise Land.” This was another song that Nick brought to the table, and another one for which I somehow had a weird little riff bouncing around my head looking for a home that perfectly fit as a bridge. The only problem was that Nathan had inadvertently pulled the volume all the way down on Brian’s bass during the song and since it was live to two track there were no take-backs. We solved this by having Brian fly a bass part in via some sort of alchemy or witchcraft.  There, now we have two tracks.

And we had the upcoming set at the Black Cat. Even calling the club a ‘room’ was something of a stretch. It was basically a shambles with a false front. There were bleachers down one wall, a bar down the other ($1 PBR’s (the only place in Austin that sold them back then) and free hot dogs at midnight) and a small, rickety stage at the back. The PA was only for vocals – everything else was live including the drums. And that was it. It was one of the best live music venues in town because Sessums fucking loved music and had a good ear and hand-picked the bands. It was always packed, sometimes with frat boys, sometimes with bikers, sometimes with both.

We rolled in and set up and Nathan brought his DAT machine and two microphones and set himself up against the far wall facing the stage.  We were debuting a new song that night, “Life Like That,” one of three songs I wrote for the band that I delivered complete, musically speaking (Joe wrote all the lyrics for every song aside from 2 verses in 2 different songs). It started in a sort of staggered 9/14 time waltz, went two rounds with a two-chord chorus and then dropped into a straight up Stairway to Zeppelin coda. It was a custom-built show closer.

Unfortunately our show only lasted 4 songs that night.  Backwards-Hat Pat, our drummer, was an extremely gifted player with a unique style and he contributed a lot to the sound of the band. That said, he was an asshole that seemed to delight in sabotaging us at key moments and fomenting conflict between members. That night, at the Black Cat, he claimed to have some sort of diabetic attack after three songs. I had always doubted his claims of having diabetes (most diabetics don’t literally live off Busch Light tallboys, Camel Light 100’s and marijuana), just like I doubted his true last name (Charbonneau? Bates??), whether he attended Columbia University (or was it Oklahoma State? University of New Orleans??) or whether half of the wildly entertaining, erudite, hilarious stories he told were even a little bit true. That said, he did look sweatier and paler than usual, and there was a note of panic in his voice. We at least got him to play “Life Like That”  before Joe announced that our drummer was sick and we had to cut our set short.

Naturally we didn’t get the gig. We did, however, get scorching if lo-fi recordings of the four songs, and selected two, “Life Like That” and our mainstay (and in my opinion our best song full-stop) “We’ve Been Here Before.” This one was a pretty close to 50-50 composition between Nick and I, although he was the one who brought that chiming G-B verse progression that got us started. In yet another happy coincidence I had this little riff, a turnaround that went from power chords to a descending arpeggio that fit Nick’s progression both in key and mood.  I believe we came up with the big churning power chords of the chorus in the rehearsal room. Add some of Joe’s best lyrics and melodies and (imho) a great melodic solo and it was as close to perfect a song as we ever wrote.

And there they were.  The four tracks we’d release into the world. Nathan mastered the tape, adding some static and other sound effects at the beginning (hence the title of the release) of side one (‘Scream’ and ‘Promise Land’, and a recording of Johnnie Walker mentioning our Black Cat audition recordings at the start of side 2.

Unfortunately AS ALWAYS we had less than no money. We scraped the last bits of room on some credit cards and pooled our change and had something like 50 cassette copies done, but we couldn’t afford to have the info screen printed on the cassettes.  So Joe’s fiancee hand typed labels for every freaking one of them and then we stuck them on. And Joe somehow got access to a computer and a printer and did a super early-90’s cover. Somehow everything – the labels, the cover, everything – ended up printed upside down. We put copies on consignment in stores around Austin, gave some away, maybe even sold a few at shows.  I used to have one sealed and one open copy, but the sealed one has apparently disappeared over the years.

Anyway, this is it.  The one “official release” The Ultimate Something ever did. Hope you like it.

  1. “Scream”- music by Nick and Brian with Josh; lyrics by Joe. Produced/Engineered by Nathan at the Merrie Lynn House.
  2. “Promise Land” – music by Nick with Josh and Brian; lyrics by Joe. Recorded live to DAT by Nathan at the Amazon House. (guitar solo by Nick)
  3. “We’ve Been Here Before” – music by Nick and Josh; lyrics by Joe. Recorded by Nathan at the Black Cat
  4. “A Life Like That” – music by Josh; lyrics by Joe. Recorded by Nathan at the Black Cat

Personnel: Joe: vocals; Brian: bass; Backwards-Hat Pat: drums; Nick: red guitars; Josh: black guitar.

All rights and shit reserved, y’all.

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