Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wilco - I Might

The new Wilco single is available for preview. On first listen it sounds very good to me, I particularly like the sunshine flavored backing vocals.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Loudness War Research

There's an interesting article up on Digital Music News about the Loudness War in popular music (i.e. the tendency for released music to have less and less dynamic range over the years). While this is a topic that has been written about quite a bit over the past several years (including a lot of bellyaching from yours truly), most of the assertions about loudness and popular music are merely anecdotal in nature with little hard data to back them up.

Two graduate students at Rutgers University, Shaun Ellis and Tom Engelhardt, are looking to change that, having recently released a trove of data related to chart-topping songs dating back to 1960:

They scanned an exhaustive range of attributes related to top-ranked songs, including tempo, time signature, key, and chord progressions.  The Echo Nest offered quite a bit of data, algorithms, and API-related assistance.   
Unsurprisingly, lots of hit songs share common attributes, especially elements like verse-chorus-verse and 4/4 time signatures.  But since the 1960s, there's been a clear march towards louder, fuller, more blaring music. 

Ellis & Engelhardt chart the rising volume of popular music. (From Digital Music News)

The chart above shows Ellis and Engelhardt's data relating to the average dB of popular songs from 1968 to 2010, and the relatively linear increase in volume is clear.

The chart is interesting to me because if the data is accurate, it does not support many of the conventional assumptions about the loudness war (including my own). The main culprits in most explanations as to why music has gotten louder over the years are usually related to technology, and especially the advent of digital recording, mastering and playback. However, the data here doesn't fully support such explanations. If anything, you can see a slight (albeit temporary) dip in volume levels during the early years of the CD era (the years 1990 to 1998 are the only sustained period where the actual data falls below the averaging curve). And the biggest jump occurs between 1998 and 2001 just before the iPod was introduced. If anything there's been a slight dip in volume levels since the introduction of the iPod in 2001 (which was the loudest year for popular music according to Ellis and Engelhardt's data).  Looking at this chart makes me think we ought to be cautious in accepting any explanation that blames a particular technology (be it CD, CD changer, iPod, etc.) because the rise is fairly consistent across a long period of time that saw various technologies come and go.

It's also interesting to note what looks like a sharp drop in volume between 2009 and 2010. This might represent a reaction to the numerous complaints about the loudness war from consumers, music critics and bloggers, or it might be a momentary blip. Given the consistent rise in volume since 1968, despite year to year variation, at the moment I would consider it nothing more than a bit of statistical noise. I'm certainly not ready to declare the loudness war "over" based on what I see here.

Now with that said, there are a number of questions about Ellis and Engelhardt's methodology that I would want to know the answers to before coming to any serious conclusions based on their research. First and foremost I would want to know how they measured the average dB of the songs they selected, as well as the methodology for choosing which songs to measure in the first place. At the moment it does not appear as though they have released this data. It's fairly easy to get data like this from a CD release, but it's much harder to get it from an LP or 45 RPM single. Further, the same songs were often more compressed (louder) on 45 RPM single releases than they were on LP versions. Which versions did they choose to measure, and was this done in an organized and consistent way?

Another thing to consider is the data represented in this graph only apparently relates to hit songs, not to reissues of older music, which is one of the things about the loudness war that bugs me most. It's one thing for new hit music to be recorded, mixed and mastered to have little dynamic range, but it's another thing when older music gets the dynamic range sucked out of it to keep pace with current trends. The data also presumably only relates to charting songs, not full albums or less popular music.

Nevertheless, whatever its limitations, Ellis and Engelhardt's data is interesting, and provides some welcome quantification to a phenomenon that has been greatly discussed, but is probably still not well understood.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

KA-CHUNK!! Records - Annapolis, Maryland

Exterior of KA-CHUNK!! Records, 78 Maryland Ave. Annapolis, MD

I grew up near Annapolis, MD and still visit often as both my parents and brother still live in the area. But for the past 10 years or so I've been quite distressed that my ancestral home has not had anything resembling a real record store. I hate to think about the youth of Annapolis having nothing to do but pursue such wholesome pastimes as sailing and lacrosse. I'm happy to report there is now an establishment where you can buy records from Billy Childish, Mudhoney, Big Black and many other corrupting influences: KA-CHUNK!! Records in downtown Annapolis.

I stopped by their location at 78 Maryland Ave. (a spot I remember from long ago as home to Timmy's Restaurant), but unfortunately Monday is the only day of the week KA-CHUNK!! is closed. Not a problem. Owner Matt Mona was inside and after he spotting me peeking through the window he invited me in to explore.

The focus of KA-CHUNK!! is very much on vinyl. Matt stocks tons of new indie and reissue vinyl, more in fact than I can recall seeing at any other retail location. Matt is very knowledgeable about music (he knows for instance that Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge is Mudhoney's best album), and the store has something of a curated feel. I don't recall seeing a larger selection of Billy Childish records anywhere, and as it turns out Matt is a fan. The records are remarkably well organized with dividers for nearly every artist in stock. There are a few well selected CDs as well, but vinyl is king at KA-CHUNK!!

Interior of KA-CHUNK!! Records

The selection of used records is a little light, although I did spot a copy of Pentangle's Sweet Child in a stack of records on the floor (I already own it, but if you don't go grab it!). Matt tells me he is looking to acquire more used records, but is having trouble finding high quality collections in the area for sale, so if you're in the Annapolis area and are looking to unload your collection of Hated, Moss Icon, Spastic Rats, Minor Threat, Trouble Funk and Crippled Pilgrims records, talk to Matt before dumping them at Goodwill.

I picked up a copy of the Baltimore duo Beach House's eponymous debut on vinyl (I wanted to keep things local) as well as the limited edition Mudhoney live album Live Mud that I somehow missed out on when Sub Pop was selling it through their webstore back in 2007 (I was surprised the download code for MP3s was still active, thanks Sub Pop). I was tempted by a number of other records including the latest reissue of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, a reissue of the Clash's first UK LP, and several Billy Childish albums (including a couple Milkshakes reissues). I also spotted several copies of the Flaming Lips' LP box set that was released for Record Store Day, along with a few other Record Store Day exclusives. If you are looking for the latest indie vinyl like the new Fleet Foxes album, chances are very high KA-CHUNK!! will have it in stock at a reasonable price. In addition to vinyl records, Matt also sells reasonably-priced audiophile turntables from Pro-Ject, which are a great, fun and easy way to discover what the magic of vinyl records is all about. In addition, the back of the store features a beautiful collection of reasonably priced concert screen prints.

If you told me in 1992 (when I last lived in Annapolis) that in the year 2011 I would be able to shop at a record store in downtown Annapolis that focused almost exclusively on vinyl records I would have told you to put down the crack pipe. Stories about the "vinyl revival" have become so commonplace it is easy to forget just how unlikely the format's survival seemed not too long ago. It's really great to see a new generation of record stores emerging that are run by people like Matt with both a passion for music and vinyl records. It's locations like KA-CHUNK!! where the real story of the "vinyl revival" is being written. I recommend checking it out for yourself.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Worst Album Covers?

I've seen many of lists of "worst album covers ever," but I don't think I've ever seen either of these two show up on any of them. They deserve consideration, at the very least.

The only thing that could make this one worse is if the baby wasn't holding a blanket.

Guys, couldn't you have just smeared clam dip on Karl's naked body again?

Feel free to make your own nominations in the comments.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music

Ever since I first heard Fairport Convention many years ago, I've been a fan of British folk and folk rock, especially the weirder stuff from the 60s. As such, I'm looking forward to reading Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music while I'm on vacation. In the meantime, I've been listening to lots of Pentangle, Fairport, Vashti Bunyan, Incredible String Band, and even Dr. Strangely Strange in preparation.

My friend Scott Timberg interviewed author Rob Young for the LA Times as well as on his blog [you'll find a link to the Times piece on his blog]. I have to give Scott credit, his writing on the topic is much more intelligent and insightful than the shallow nonsense Bill Wyman (not the Stone) wrote for the New York Times.

Analog Underground - One Year Anniversary Party

For those in the Providence area.

Analog Underground is ONE.


$3 records are $1
$5 are 5 for $20
$1 are .25
and %10 off everything.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Hi, We're The Popes

The Popes are another one of those largely forgotten late 80s "alternative" rock bands. In fact, they're so forgotten they don't even show up on the All Music website (the only Popes you'll find there is Shane McGowan's band). Their self-released 1988 EP, Hi, We're The Popes, may represent the band's entire released output, although they might have put out a single or a couple compilation tracks as well. I've heard rumors that they recorded a full-length album for major label subsidiary First Warning, but it was never released. (Those who have heard the tapes say they're great.)

The Popes hailed from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and it was that Chapel Hill connection that brought them to my attention. Back when I worked at my college radio station I helped put together a multiple act show with my friend David Brower. David, a Chapel Hill native, booked The Popes and another NC band, Vanilla Trainwreck. I booked a couple local Pennsylvania bands, The Stump Wizards and Thee Cellar Dwellars, as well another PA garage rock act who shall remain nameless. There might have been another act on the bill as well, I can't remember for sure.

From what I remember, it was the music of The Popes that went over the best with the audience that night, and listening to Hi, We're The Popes today it is easy to hear why. I'm amazed at just how well this humble (hummable) little indie-pop EP stands up. Some might say it's a little under-produced, but I find that part of its considerable charm. Despite the fact that I hadn't listened to this record in 20 years or so songs like "Charmless" and "Marilyn" were still firmly lodged in my musical subconscious; musical fashions may change over the years, but catchy is forever.

Hi, We're The Popes neatly encapsulates everything that was fun, nice and good about late 80s collegiate rock, and if I wanted to explain what the whole thing was about to some alien ethnographer, I could do worse than simply hand them a copy of this EP.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Monkey Business: Life In The Rock And Roll Zoo With Don Fleming And The Velvet Monkeys

The Velvet Monkeys circa 1982; Elaine Barnes, Don Fleming, Jay Spiegel and Steven Soles

Earlier this spring I mentioned the upcoming digital reissue of The Velvet Monkeys' seminal 1982 cassette release, Everything Is Right. The album is now available for download from the usual suspects (iTunes, eMusic, Amazon, etc.) and at long last is available on a format other than cassette. Additionally, on July 5th the album will be issued as a limited edition CD.

I had a chat with Velvet Monkey frontman Don Fleming about the reissue and other topics. I think Don appreciated my sense of humor in basing my earlier post around my search for the so-called "Missing Link" or "Fifth Monkey," Dr. Rhythm, the band's original drummer (who was in fact an early analog Roland drum machine--sorry folks, there is only so long I can milk a gag). And when I was offered the opportunity to interview Don, I jumped at the chance.

Don Fleming hardly needs any introduction, in addition to fronting the Velvet Monkeys, Don later led B.A.L.L. and Gumball, and was a member of Half Japanese, Dinosaur Jr., the Richard Hell led supergroup Dim Stars, as well as Tom Smith's To Live And Shave In L.A. He's also produced albums for artists as diverse as Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, The Screaming Trees, Alice Cooper, Pete Yorn, Sonic Youth, Andrew W.K., Hole, Jenni Muldaur, Joan Jett, and Nancy Sinatra. More impressive than the diversity of talent he's produced is the fact that a surprisingly high percentage of the time Don managed to coax career defining performances out of these artists.

Before I get into the interview, I wanted to say a few words about the music on Everything Is Right, as some of my readers may be wondering why I am making such a big deal about the reissue of a cassette only release from the early 80s.

The short answer is "because it is a big deal." When Everything Is Right was first issued in July of 1982, the American rock underground was still in its infancy. The network of independent record labels and local scenes that would eventually coalesce into what is often called "alternative" or "indie" rock was in a state equivalent to a primordial soup. There were a wide variety of different sounds and ideas floating around, bumping into each other, and creating new sounds and ideas on a daily basis. It was an exciting time.

In addition, the DIY aesthetic of punk had only recently made it feasible for bands to self-release music, and new independent record labels were cropping up across the United States to document newly fertile local music scenes. And right there in the middle of one of the most fertile local music scenes of the early 80s, the Washington D.C. scene that produced harDCore, Go-Go Music, as well as an arty mix of punk, garage rock and pop, were the Velvet Monkeys.

What most strikes me listening to Everything Is Right in the year 2011 is how much more vital and open it sounds than so much of the "alternative" rock that followed. Of course, no one was calling the music of the Velvet Monkeys "alternative rock" in 1982. I don't think anyone knew exactly what to call it, and even today Don himself struggles a bit when pressed for words to characterize it. (He calls the music of the Velvet Monkeys "arty" which it is, but "arty" often implies pretentious, which it most certainly is not.) In short, Everything Is Right is what indie rock sounded like before there was a codified set of "rules" that determined what indie rock should sound like, and the music is all the more exciting and vibrant for that fact.

Velvet Monkeys - Any Day Now

In the music of the Velvet Monkeys you can hear a pre-echo of many of the musical styles that dominated the American independent scene during the late 80s and early 90s, but they are mixed together in ways that would be almost impossible later. For example, there is an obvious 60s garage rock vibe to much of the music, but can you imagine garage rock purists like The Cynics or The Chesterfield Kings working drum machine patterns into their music? It would have been considered sacrilege! Likewise, the heavy distortion, mondo reverb, and guitar riffing present in many of the songs on the album anticipates the sound of grunge rock (listen to the opening riff of "Velvet Monkeys Theme Song" and for a second you might think the band is about to kick into "Touch Me I'm Sick"), but it's mixed with the unabashed pop catchiness that characterized power-pop. Everything Is Right sounds at once vaguely like all of these styles, and yet distinctly like none of them. It's music that is adventurous and (yes) arty, but at the same time fun and accessible. I'm very glad that it is once again available to be rediscovered by discerning music lovers. Now, on with the interview...

Me: So you're reissuing the Everything Is Right cassette digitally?

Don: Yes, that's the plan. It's the first release that we did. And you did the blog piece on it right?

Me: I did, yeah.

Don: That was really hilarious man. The Dr. Rhythm thing is great, because in reality Elaine did run off with Dr. Rhythm! [Laughs] She left me with the empty box.

Me: I suppose I intuited that somehow.

Don: I think you did, I know, that’s amazing.

With the question of Dr. Rhythm's "mysterious" departure from the Velvet Monkeys finally resolved, Don and I were able to move onto to a wide range of other subjects including the reissue of Everything Is Right, Don's current work with the Alan Lomax Archives, the D.C. music scene during the early 80s, digital distribution, and new ways of discovering music.

When the Velvet Monkeys first released Everything Is Right on their own Monkey Business label in 1982, the line up consisted of Don on vocals and guitar, Elaine Barnes on vocals and keyboards, Steven Soles on bass, and Jay Spiegel on drums (with occasional contributions from Dr. Rhythm). When I spoke to him, Don was eager to stress that that the idea behind this digital reissue was to take things back as closely as possible to the original cassette release from that lineup.

Don: The other thing that is interesting is that when we first put it [Everything Is Right] out it was a black cassette. It was the same design, but in black, and with a slightly different lineup of songs. There was a song on it called "The Creeper" which was an instrumental done by the Ventures. And before we put out our first album, Future, we did a second edition of the cassette, but by that point we had a new bass player, Steven had left the band, and Charles Steck was in the band. We had already started recording with Charles, so we snuck in a couple of tracks that were the Charles tracks.

Bassist Steven Soles

But I wanted this re-release to be exactly like the first edition of the cassette, but with some extra tracks. The idea was to keep it all Steven, instead of having any of the Charles tracks. That’s why I didn’t include "Evelyn Marble," which was on the second edition of the cassette. I just wanted to keep it pure, get it back to the original.

Me: This is the first time it’s ever actually been reissued, isn't it?

Don: Yeah. It's the first time it's come out on anything other than cassette. And the first time since that orange second edition of the cassette that it's been out.

Me: So will this feature all of the original mixes? You didn't go back and remix?

Don: [emphatically] No, no. I'm not into that. I like to just remaster it. The tapes that are that old get a little dull on the top end, so it was good to be able to remaster it. But that was the main thing, I went back to all the original tapes and I've been transferring stuff. My "real job" now is that I work at the Alan Lomax Archive. And so I've done other consulting work where I transfer people's collections. I've got a really good system for that with a really heavy-duty A/D [analog to digital] converter. So I wanted to restore it to optimum sound. That was what got me behind this, I wanted to finally do [to my own music] what I've been doing with other collections. I did a bunch of work for Hunter S. Thompson's estate, and transferred a bunch of his audio tapes. I just did a collection of Ken Kesey stuff. So I've got all these tape decks and hi-rez digital equipment. So the idea was to restore the stuff and start putting some of it out again.

Me: What kind of shape were the tapes actually in?

Don: They're in surprisingly good shape so far. When you get into some later tapes, you do find some that shed, but I haven't hit any of those. So far I've been really lucky. I've always stored them pretty well. So far so good. Once in a while I get something that has a bit of a squeak to it. They get this syndrome where they're a little bit dried out and they don't shed, but they squeak. "Sticky shed" is the real problem you have to worry about.

Me: That's when you need to bake the tapes, right? Have you had to do that?

Don: No. Not yet. I've found with the Lomax stuff that you can transfer stuff from the 50s and 60s, and that never happens.

Me: Right, the problems start in the 70s, right?

Don: Yeah, they started getting cheap with the formula then. But you never know until you put the tape up. But we may have skipped the worst of that era with the Velvet Monkeys stuff.

Me: Is there any chance we'll see some of the other Velvet Monkeys' releases, like Future come out?

Don: Oh, yeah, yeah. That will be next. I've decided to go chronologically, although I don't know how much I'll stick to that. But that's definitely the idea, to go through the whole catalog and do all the singles we had put out maybe as one. I own all the masters for that stuff, and most of the Gumball stuff, except for what's on Columbia. So that's my plan. It takes a little work to process it all and get it ready. But over the next couple years I want to get everything up and running again.

It gives me the chance to back it up, restore it, and preserve it. That's the good thing about this IODA [Independent Online Distribution Alliance] thing, for me it's like what I used to do back when I first started the cassette label…just do it yourself…and now I'm back to that. I can bypass the labels again.

Me: So you feel like this new distribution model can get you back to that?

Don: Yeah, at least it makes it easier for me to do it, and not have to go through a third person to get it done. I'm as bad as anyone with just downloading stuff that's super-rare that turns up on somebody's blog. So I don’t expect there to be big cash money coming in from doing this, but I think it's good just to get it out there. Personally, I still love vinyl more than anything, I'm not the biggest fan of digital editions. But that's the reality, and what I've learned from my Lomax experience is that that's what an archive does--it's about dissemination--the more you make it available, the more it's got a chance of surviving. So in a way, to give it away is as good as anything. I don't even mind the idea of people appropriating it in whatever way they do. And if they want to buy it off iTunes or eMusic, then great. But that's my master plan for disseminating the archives.

Me: I think it's good to for people to keep hearing this stuff. I do think that for something to remain relevant it has to be available.

Don: Yeah, exactly. And this is the new way. No one's quite comfortable with it yet, especially the people who try to make money off it, but it is the new way that people are going to collect music. But I'm also going to partner with people who want to do vinyl for certain things, and do some limited edition CDs. I'm going to do that with this one, I'm going to do a run of probably 200 CDs.

Me: I would definitely want that. I download digital music, but...and maybe this is just a factor of age...but somehow it doesn't feel as real to me unless I can have it my hand.
Don: Me too. I agree. But my kids wouldn't agree. My kids could give a hoot. It's kind of like the sadness of the way the technology takes over and always has. I'm sure it was the same with albums when they came along. I'm sure that people who liked 78s complained "what are these long-players." But now it's hard to get people to listen to an album, the sequence of an album, the technology tells you to just go in and pick the song you like and that's the one you download, you don't even download the album.

Me: I agree, I think that is something that's getting lost, and it's maybe unfortunate.

Don: But I think that our type of audience still do like to have something that you hold onto and look at and have notes to read. We'll accommodate that as much as possible, but certain things will be digital only. One of the things I'm going to put out is To Live And Shave In L.A., the most recent record that we recorded. I'm partnering with a label called Fan Death who are going to do the vinyl, so it will be just digital and vinyl. So that's the game plan. I'm even thinking about a cassette run of this first one. But I might stagger this stuff a bit. In most cases, once the digital is done, then I'll start looking around for other options.
Me: Speaking of new distribution channels, one of my favorite things on YouTube was uploaded by Malcolm Rivera, it's a video of the Velvet Monkeys lip synching "Everything Is Right" on an Arlington [Virginia] Public Access Station. That's awesome.

Don: Yeah, I love that footage too. I made a video of "Everything Is Right" that uses a bunch of photos from the time. I want to try to use that footage.

Me: Did you do any other Public Access appearances?

Don: No, I think there was maybe one other song from that same session. I don't think other than that there was too much. We did one with Half Japanese at the same place, I think, which is also up online. I think that was all part of the same thing. I should ask Malcolm, maybe he has it. I think maybe there is one other song from that.

Me: To me that is the thing that's actually really great about the new digital reality; that you can have this thing that was recorded 20, 30 years ago for a tiny audience, and maybe only a handful of people saw it at the time, and now anybody in the world can sort of take a peek through that window in time.

Don: Yeah, I love that too. Not to keep falling back into the Lomax thing, but we made a YouTube channel with a lot of Lomax videos and they get an amazing amount of hits. And we also have them on our website, and nobody finds them there. So there's these new avenues now, and I think it's a good thing. [Laughs] It's all good. It's like a virtual archive. It's different, we used to look for rarities in the back den of the record store, and this is just a different thing. You still have to make the effort to find them.

Me: That was in part the impetus for me starting my blog because I felt like some of this stuff was just going to get lost to time.

Don: Yeah, I’m so into blogs like yours. I spend a lot of time checking out music blogs. Again, I used to go to record stores all the time, and now instead I kind of do that. So it's not all bad, you miss certain parts of the experience, but at the same time there's a lot of good things about it.
Me: Yeah, there are. One thing for me, liking the kind of music that I like, I always felt a little isolated. I had a few friends who were into the same kind of music, but now I realize there are many more people than I could have imagined that share similar interests from all around the world.
Don Fleming in 1981

Don and I also discussed the fertile D.C. music scene of the early 1980s that gave birth to not only the Velvet Monkeys, but also the Dischord label and Go-Go music scenes.
Me: Back when you were in the D.C. area, what was the scene like at the time?

Don: Well, it was really fun. It was at the early part of the Dischord scene, and we would be at all those shows, and there would be a lot of co-mingling of styles, with the Go-Go scene as well. There was a lot of cross-pollination at the time. The punk scene changed a bit as time went on and it became more hard-headed boys. But the early punk scene--in '80 and '81--it was as many girls as guys. But it really started switching over in '82, '83. But all the sort of weird, arty bands that we fell into knew each other. You all played at the same places and there were a lot of shows where you would mix and match. It was really fun. It was a great time for music there. We were into all those bands, and we really enjoyed it.

Me: I think now when a lot of people think of the D.C. scene, they think of harDCore, and possibly Go-Go, but there was a lot of other stuff going on. There were bands like you and the Crippled Pilgrims, and Tommy Keene, who was doing a more pop-oriented thing.

Don: Yeah, and we fit in with them. We did a tour with Tommy Keene and the Slickee Boys at one point. A lot of that is due to Skip Groff and Yesterday and Today Records and his label, Limp. He was the one that introduced a lot of people among the different factions, and everyone would see each other at his record store. That was a real central hub of the scene. So you’d have interesting match ups like a Trouble Funk show with G.I. [Government Issue] on the bill. I think it helped everyone in those earlier days. Again, in time the hardcore scene got a little more isolated, but there was a lot going on.

Me: The sound of the Velvet Monkeys changed a lot around '85 or so when the lineup also changed. That later lineup hasn't been documented as well on recordings. Are there many recordings from that era? I have a couple singles, and I know the Houseparty CD came out.

Don: Yeah, that came out after the fact. That [Houseparty] is the main one. It kind of got chronicled more through singles and EPs. There was a double single we put out through Ecstatic Peace that was again released way after it was recorded. But at the time, you're right, stuff was not coming out except for the singles. But we were recording, and some of that stuff did come out eventually, but this will be a good way to take another look at those recordings.

We just step by step really became more of a rock band. [Laughs] I don't know what we were thinking. When Charles and Elaine left the band, and Malcom joined, that was our most radical move, because at the time we felt sort of complacent. We were tired of being popular. [Laughs] We were kind of popular on a certain level at the 9:30 Club. And we felt like we needed to shake things up, so that’s what we did. And initially we were doing totally ridiculous shows where we were lip synching to Sammy Davis Jr. songs, and wrestling, and just wanted to kind of wake up our core audience. They had gotten too complacent for us.

And then we got into a heavier rock thing. And that's when we were on the road more too. That's when we did a U.S. tour, and we did some shows with Gone. I think too it was just a sign of the times.

Me: It was probably a precursor to the whole grunge thing.

Don: Yeah, I guess it was. I think it was. We invented that! [Laughs] When we came through that tour in Seattle, I’ve heard stories of certain bands being there and being into that style that we were doing at the time. It was fun for us. It was a little bit Spinal Tap. We just went with it for the fun element. We didn’t want to be "serious" in that way that we had been before as more of an "arty" band. We wanted to just have fun with it, and that's what we were doing.

Me: I think that aspect of fun is something that got lost a bit as you move into the grunge period. Some of those bands had a sense of humor, like Mudhoney, but a lot of that stuff is, well..."serious."

Don: Yeah, I agree, and I think a lot of it is pretty pedestrian too. To me, a lot of those bands sound like Black Oak Arkansas. There wasn't a whole lot interesting to me about their sound. As time went on, the more things got copied...and they were only copying the lamer bands...everybody wanted to be Pearl Jam, who were Black Oak Arkansas. [Laughs] Not that there's anything wrong with Black Oak Arkansas. But it wasn't inventive, and it didn't have much of a sense of humor, which is why Mudhoney were about the best band of the lot.

Me: They were definitely my favorite. They were a lot of fun to go see. And there's something to be said for rock and roll music being fun.

Don: Yeah, exactly, and we loved playing with those guys.

Me: You also produced the Screaming Trees Sweet Oblivion album. You got a great sound out of them on that album.

Don: Yeah, that came out really good. I worked with them and with The Posies, who were from out there, although they were sort of outsiders to that [grunge] scene. I really enjoyed working with the Screaming Trees. They were a powerful band, for sure.

Me: Their drummer at that time, Barrett [Martin], was really powerful.

Don: Yeah, he’s a great drummer. That’s a key thing for me when I’m producing, is the drummer. The drummer is almost the key man in the band, because a weak drummer just can't make even good songs sound all that good, whereas a drummer like him just takes it up a notch.

Me: So we should probably wrap up, but speaking of great drummers, when is the last time you saw Dr. Rhythm?

Don: [Laughs] Wow. It would have been the late 80s. It's actually been really cool to reconnect with Elaine and Steven, but I haven't questioned her yet about the whereabouts of Dr. Rhythm.

Me: So you’re not Facebook friends with Dr. Rhythm?

Don: You know that would be a good idea. I think Dr. Rhythm does need a Facebook page. [Laughs] I liked your angle on the story, it was really good.

It was really great for me to get a chance to talk to Don about the Velvet Monkeys and other topics. I can't recommend this new reissue of Everything Is Right highly enough, and that's not just because Don is one of the few artists brave enough to talk to a guy with a blog named Flowering Toilet.