Friday, September 30, 2005

The Corner Room Diaries 1.0

(Corner Room was the Martyrs last studio album, recorded in 1998. The four Martyrs have not recorded together since. These are the recollections of Martyr Chris - ed.)

Nine songs, four men, three days, and one room; sounds like the things that dreams, rock lore, and myth are made of. That may be how The Martyrs’ Corner Room is remembered, and then again maybe not. The true facts are that all four lads did not contribute or play on every song, it took a few more than three days to get everything just right, and sadly only five of the nine songs were actually recorded in the Corner Room. But none of that should take away from what The Martyrs did in the winter of 1998. Corner Room is, and will continue to be, a brilliant collection of lyrics, music, vocals, harmonies, and arrangements as only The Martyrs could create. This is how I, Martyr Chris, remember it…
Thursday, January 1, 1998: Jim, Jennifer and Mike came up to Somers to spend New Year’s Day with a pregnant Pauline and me. I had written a song a few months earlier called "Rock N’ Roll Mom," an ode to Mrs. O’ the Martyr Mom who has heard and endured more Martyr music than anyone, even when it wasn’t her choice (which was most of the time). The evening of January 1st was spent in the corner room laying down the basic musical tracks for the song: guitar (me), drums (Jim), bass (Mike), and lead guitar (Jim). I opened the song with the familiar chords of "Joshua’s Lament," the first Martyr song written. We also recorded our lead and backing vocals, however they would be re-recorded and modified before the final version was complete. After recording the song we all went out to dinner to a Mexican restaurant, Cactus Jack’s. I don’t remember what we had for dinner, but I definitely remember the desserts. Mike ordered Chaos Pie, and Jim and Jennifer ordered refried ice cream, which is a ball of ice cream rolled in crunchies, served in a bed of liquor, and lit on fire before it is served with cinnamon sprinkles showered over it to the raise the flame and make you go “Oooooo”. I had a delicious little number called Tuxedo Mousse. Guess where this is going.

Friday, January 2, 1998: I had to work today and took time during the day, and at lunch, to write lyrics for two songs: "Moose Tuxedo" and "Optimistic Cloud." The inspiration for Moose Tuxedo came from the dessert I ordered at Cactus Jack’s the night before, and I also incorporated the other desserts we had into the lyrics. It seemed an illogical next step from tuxedo mousse to moose tuxedo, which I thought was a fantastic image: “think of all that pocket space”. The lines “my pie is in chaos, my ice cream is on fire” came from the desserts at the restaurant. The line “(a moose tuxedo) is not a toy, it is not intended for child’s play” came directly from a label on a Christmas ornament that was still hanging at work. I also wrote Optimistic Cloud, which had lyrics that just flowed out referring to ideas of hope, love, and optimism. I was also thinking about my mom who was going to be moving to Florida for work purposes. I remember that both songs came to me very fast during the day.

At lunch I spoke on the phone to Pauline, Mike and Jim. In the morning Jim and Mike re-recorded their backing vocals on "Rock N Roll Mom" including the intro “doo-doo”s to accompany the "Joshua’s Lament" opening riff. In the afternoon they recorded the piano and lead vocal for "Wonderful Fall," a beautiful song written by the Jim (music) and Mike (words), and played on the piano by Pauline.

When I got home around 5PM in the evening, Jim, Mike and I recorded the backing vocals for "Wonderful Fall" in the living room, and the piano/lead vocal were recorded downstairs in the family room; therefore no part of "Wonderful Fall" was recorded in the Corner Room. After that we set out to record "Moose Tuxedo." I had a tune in my mind already and quickly wrote the music once I got home. I wanted a “live” feel to the song and so everyone participated. We recorded all music and vocals in the living room, mainly because of the larger space ("Moose Tuxedo" also never saw the Corner Room). Pauline and Jennifer added vocals on the chorus, Mike played harmonica and I believe Jim played the percussion. We did one basic run through on two tracks and I added another vocal track later. I seem to remember we did the whole song in one take after quickly rehearsing it.

"Optimistic Cloud" was the last song recorded on January 2. I was having a lot of trouble coming up with a melody for the song and really didn’t have any tune in mind. Michael offered to try a hand at writing a melody and I was fine with that. He took the lyrics I had written into the Corner Room and emerged about 15 minutes later with the beautiful melody we all know today. We recorded the song, after a few rehearsals to get the melody down, with Mike on guitar, Jim on the maracas, and me on the vocals. Mike and Jim tracked their backing vocals after I did mine. I do remember once we set out to record it we finished it rather quickly as it was getting late. The next month while listening to the song again during the mixing process I felt that it needed a sound “on the bottom” so I added a bass guitar line on February 6 (the bass being the only part of the song actually recorded in the Corner Room). So ended the first sessions for the album.

Saturday, January 17, 1998: Mike, Jim, and Paul (visiting from Portland, Oregon) made the trek north from Long Island to complete the recording sessions for the yet to be named album. Before any music was played, Pauline took some photos of us in the baby’s room as a group, and individually in the Corner Room. I remember that From The Womb was an early choice for the album (because of the impending birth of the Martyr Baby, and the new sound emerging from the Martyrs creative juices), but as quickly as it was considered it was tossed.

We recorded each song in its entirety before moving on to the next. The first song recorded was "Yes, We Have Frogs," which I wrote back in the fall of 1995. Originally I intended for the four of us to perform this number at Peter’s graduation party on the evening of December 30, 1995 at chez O’Shaughnessy. However, on that night there wasn’t any time to rehearse or record the song (historically that party marked the last time the four Martyrs performed together). The origins of the song are rooted on Central Avenue in Albany, NY. There used to be a store that sold lawn statues such as plastic flamingoes, ponies, birdbaths, as well as complete suits of armor and other strange objects that one might use to decorate their front lawn. The wares were displayed on the lawn in front of the store in a very random and skewed fashion. And right next to the road was a hand painted sign that read “Yes, We Have Frogs”. I pointed it out to Mike, Jim, and Jennifer on one of their visits to Albany and I remember Jennifer was especially intrigued by the sign and thought it rather odd. Alas, I never took a picture of the store or the sign and, believe it or not, it did not stay open very long. That line stayed with me and became the inspiration for writing the song. I didn’t want to write anything about the store or Albany and tried to come up with something completely unrelated, but having to do with frogs, and the fact that yes, we have them. I thought of the story in the Old Testament about the plagues, remembering that frogs were one of them. I read the story and was amazed at how perfectly they flowed into song lyrics. I chose the perspective of the four Martyrs closed off in a cave waiting for the plagues to stop and I intentionally wrote four verses to be sung by each of us. Recorded in the Corner Room, Mike and I played guitars, Paul and Jim provided percussion, and we sang our lead vocals together and all joined in on the chorus which was recorded twice giving us the sound of eight voices.

Next was "Lonely B-Sides," a great song written by Michael about the less popular, but usually more brilliant songs written by the Martyrs and each member’s solo recordings. It was previously featured on The Throats’ album, I’ll Show Myself Out. For this version Mike and I again played acoustic guitar while Jim and Paul sang the vocals. Paul was the only one who wasn’t familiar with the song so Mike spent a little time teaching him the melody. Jim’s vocals at the end add raunchiness to the “lonely” feel of the lyrics.

The third song recorded (sort of, read on) was "Falling In The Streets." On the ride from Long Island to Somers, Paul wrote the lyrics inspired by the sights and signs along the road and penned the title. I honestly don’t remember who wrote the music (a combination of Mike and me I think), but some music was written for the song and recorded with Mike and I playing guitar, and Paul and Jim again with the percussion. Paul, from what I remember, didn’t really like the melody written when we attempted to record the lead vocal. So the song "Falling In The Streets" was shelved. After the sessions I went back and listened again to the tune and decided to write different lyrics which the boys thought was a great idea. Within the next week I wrote some lyrics that I felt fit nicely with the “Falling...” music. I called it "Once I Thought," a song mainly filled with descriptive imagery and word play. I recorded my vocals, alone in the Corner Room on January 24, 1998, and "Once I Thought" was officially finished and ready for the album.

The last two songs recorded, after dinner, were compositions written by Michael (music) and Paul (lyrics): "Charming Mutt" and "Sick." In my opinion both were fantastic songs filled with incredible words (Paul is one of the best writers I know) and beautiful music. On "Charming Mutt" Mike played guitar, Paul sang lead, and Jim and I played percussion. We spent some time working out the four part vocal harmonies and recorded the entire song live. "Charming Mutt" is a great song, and was fun to record.

"Sick" was the last track of the day. The opening riff is one of my favorites. Mike played guitar, I played bass, Paul sang, and Jim used the Sound Gizmo, a hand held sound effects machine to create the chilling solo. I think this is one of Paul’s finest pieces of writing, and his delivery is full of passion and more powerful because he sings the entire song solo.

Coda: Over the next month I spent some time arranging the order of the tracks and mixing down the songs. Sometime in February I received from Jim a tape with the completed version of "Falling In The Street," which was a new composition with Paul’s original lyrics and Jim’s music. I can’t comment on the recording since I wasn’t there, but the finished product was great. I thought Jim (and Mike vocally) did a great job of capturing Paul’s vision for the song, but I don’t know what Paul thought of the whole thing.

In conclusion I would like to say a few words about the order of tracks on the album. I chose to lead off with "Sick" because of its strong riff and Paul’s performance. Next I grouped the three animal songs together, a la The White Album (I couldn’t resist). The rest of side one just fell into place. I always try to break up the lead vocals and have alternating tempos when choosing an order. I wanted to lead off side two with "Wonderful Fall" because it is a beautiful ballad and sharply contrasts "Rock N Roll Mom," the next song. Finally, "Falling In The Street" closes the album, basically because it was the last song completed. The cover was chosen from a few that were taken in the baby’s room on January 17th.

So there I had it, and now you have it. This is to the best of my knowledge and memory (which fades just a little bit more each day, perhaps as a protective mechanism) what was, is, and forever shall be The Martyrs' Corner Room.

- Chris


Anonymous said...

i remember the sessions with the 4 of us as being very fun. i also remember the difficulty we had recording lonely besides because i couldn't stop laughing. you can sort of hear it on the finished product. i love that song.
i should probly comment on falling in the street. i wrote and recorded it one afternoon in the basement in new york. me and paul were listeng to smiley smile by the beach boys alot during that trip so i tried to get that feel for the song. i couldn't read all pauls lyrids hence my mispronunciation of mamaranek. probly spelled that wrong. i remember i tried to get the oh my god part just right because it seemed important to paul. it's a weird song. mostly keyboard and vocals. it's kind of muddy sounding but i still like it. i think it's the last song i ever wrote with paul. good fun. god bless the martyrs!

Anonymous said...

I recall having only one set of headphones so that when the four of us sang the background harmonies for "Yes, We Have Frogs" we had to follow the lead of whoever was listening (Chris maybe?). As a result, the synchronization is off a touch (maybe a lot). Regardless, it was brilliant. It was a brilliant time.