THE MAKING OF "HEAVY DAYS" (2009)
"Heavy Days" is the title of the new double Mambo Sons cd, their fourth album, available in late '09. Since the release of Mambo Sons' third cd, 2005's "Racket of Three", both Scott Lawson and Tom Guerra worked on music for their own side projects. It was after the sharing of some of these ideas with each other that the "Heavy Days" writing process started in the form of mp3s that the two sent back and forth to each other via email. Throughout the course of the brainstorming process, Scott and Tom came up with nearly two dozen song ideas. After drummer Joe Lemieux was brought in to work up the grooves, the trio transformed 15 of these concepts into full blown arrangements, and most of the tracks that were used for the cd were not only the first or second take, but in some instances, the first or second time they'd ever played the tunes. "I wanted this record to have a more immediate, raw feel over the last one," said Guerra, "and not over-rehearsing the tunes was critical." Guerra also contends that he enjoyed exploring several different types of slide guitar playing on this record. "Slide playing to me can go in many directions, you can get a vocal sound, you can use it on chords...I used several different tunings for different voicings, and really enjoy playing it!"
Another interesting thing that happened during the recording was that Scott Lawson was invited to perform as special guest in Eastend, Saskatchewan as part of the 22nd annual Wallace Stegner memorial house benefit. The invitation was based on the Eastend Arts Council's discovery of the Mambo Sons tune "Little Live Thing" from their sophomore release CD "Play Some Rock & Roll!" To perform a solo acoustic version of the song based on works by the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Scott traveled 2 days by train, and drove the remaining 100+ miles, to live alone for one week in the most desolate part of Southern Canada as a resident artist. The standout track "The Early Train" highlights Lawson's state of mind during that trip.
Regarding the double album concept, Tom Guerra explains the process. "Our original intention was to record the songs that eventually ended up as Record One, but then we started collaborating on some of each others' solo tracks and before you knew it we had Record Two..." The inclusion of a rugby chant, a heavy guitar instrumental called "A Fifth of Twelve", a cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic "Stone Free", and two tracks written for "Racket of Three" ("So Wonderful" - the group's first video for YouTube, and "Friday Night Wine") give Record Two an eclectic yet cohesive feel. "The only commonality in some instances is that it's us singing and playing on them" said Guerra.
As Mambo Sons enter their second decade as a group, they appear to be enjoying their time together more than ever. What follows is the back story on the songs from "Heavy Days", from Scott Lawson and Tom Guerra.
(Click titles for sample mp3s)
She Just Wants to Ride
Scott: Several raw vocal takes were done at my home studio in Northampton, and floated to Tom's studio in Connecticut. The quality is high, thanks to my ProTools set up, and it is difficult to tell the difference between what I did at home and what I did in the main studio. I have recorded thousands of spoken word files just like this, as part of an educational program that helps people with Autism, and I was more interested in capturing raw emotion and feel - instead of technical perfection. If a note sounded a little scratchy? All the better! If it sounded like it was wavering on the edge of dangerous territory? So be it! I was more focused on making a direct and immediate emotional connection with the listener, and I could only do that by jumping in when the moment felt right, and just doing it in one take... sometimes without even warming up!
Tom: I was driving (fast) in my car late one night and that riff came into my head. I called my own voicemail and hummed it into the receiver so I wouldn't forget it. The next day I worked up the track including the rhythm guitar solo. As far as the middle breakdown, I'm a big fan of The Onion's "Smoove B", and love his notes to his girlfriends... he always starts with "Girl...", so I kind of wrote that little ad lib thing with that, and Elvis' "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" in mind. Joe lays down a Charlie Watts type of groove for this track, and I played my '61 LP Jr. through the 50 watt smallbox '69 Marshall, my gigging amp, as well as a '64 Gretsch 6120 for the rhythm guitar solo.
The Only Woman
I hear many different influences on this one, but I will leave it for the listener to decide what it sounds like to them. The first line is a tribute to Muddy Waters. "I'm the mule that's kicking in your stall."
Tom: This demo for this track was more of a slower dirge, but when Scott and I played it for the first time, we realized we had to pump it up a bit. Rhythm and lead are both my '76 LP goldtop through a Blockhead FirstBorn amp. Scott said "this track needs a talkbox" so I picked up an old Heil Sound unit. What you hear in the solo is a mic on the uneffected amp, as well as the tube from the talkbox. Sounds drooly! VIEW VIDEO
Blues for Zanny
I only met "Zanny" once, and that was at a benefit gig for her while she was receiving treatment in Nashville. We were at a little bar in Plainfield, Connecticut (playing the show with "Eight To The Bar") when she showed up for her own benefit. Tired and frail, but grateful and energized by the support, she sang with power, beauty and conviction. In my conversation with her afterwards: I mentioned that she could take advantage of being in Nashville for the music scene, and that I thought she was a gifted and charismatic singer. A sad look came upon her face... as she told me she was only there for medical treatment at that point.
Years later, right after we recorded the song, Tom's E-Bow accidentally fell and broke - reminding us that things that make beautiful music can often be very fragile, and they don't always last as long as you think they should.
Tom: My friendship with former "Eight to the Bar" vocalist Suzanne "Zanny" Gaudet went back to the early 1990's when we played in a band called "The Producers" together. We lost her to cancer just as we started writing for this record, and this is a little tribute to her, in Dm. The lead part is an E-Bow through a '59 reissue ES-335, through the Marshall 50 watt head, the rhythm is a Strat through a Leslie, and there's an acoustic intro. We originally had this as the intro for "Early Train", then moved it as an outtro, then put it back as an Intro. The fact that the track ends abruptly is no accident...
The Early Train
Scott: On March 1st, 2009, I took a train from Springfield, Massachusetts to Havre, Montana. It took two full days, and I passed thru Chicago twice during the two week artist's sojourn to Eastend, Saskatchewan and back. You can read about the experience I had HERE.
Tom: We played a show last year with Hilton Valentine of The Animals, and I always loved his arpeggiated playing on "House of The Rising Sun", so I used that sort of technique on for the intro. Scott came up with some of his best, most haunting lyrics ever on this, in my opinion. D minor is sort of an ominous sounding key ("the saddest of all keys" says Nigel Tufnel!). I played a '58 Stratocaster clean into a '65 Vox AC-30 Top Boost for the lead, and the same guitar through a '66 Fender Vibrolux plus a '66 Gibson LG-1 for the rhythm. VIEW VIDEO
Scott: I had Bryan Ferry as well as Ian Hunter and Marc Bolan all going thru my head as vocal influences on this one - alternating between snotty and smooth.
Tom: This is the last song we wrote for the album, and it came together quite quickly. As a lifelong Mott the Hoople fanatic, I always wanted to write a song in honor of Overend Watts, who was the real star in that band... simply the definition of total rock and roll cool. The rhythm and slide lead is the '59 reissue Gibson ES-335 through the '66 Fender Vibrolux amp, and the middle solo is the '61 LP Junior through the 50 watt Marshall. My favorite part is when Scott goes on an Ian Hunter rant at the end. The bass slides at the beginning and end were inspired by an old bootleg I had of Mott in which Overend does that repeatedly! VIEW VIDEO
Everyday (Brighter Times)
Scott: Tom's guitars are great on this. Yet another raw vocal take. A little Lou Reed during the verses.
Tom: Here's one that sounds like a cross between David Bowie and Bo Diddley, with lyrics about drinking too much. For rhythm acoustic, I used the '66 LG-1, for rhythm electric, I used the Zemaitis, for the slide parts, the Brian Moore MC1. Joe added alot to this, with his Little Feat grooves in the intro and breakdown.
Love is Strange
Scott: These were lyrics I had been kicking around for awhile - a story about a subway busker telling a (made up?) tale of the search for lasting love and commitment to anybody passing by with change in their pockets. When I lived in Boston, I would often perform at Park Street Station around the same time as mary Lou Lord and Martin Sexton.
Tom: No, this is not the Mickey and Sylvia tune! For acoustics, I doubled up the Gibson LG-1. The electric you hear is a clean Zemaitis 3500 through the AC30, played at a real low volume to prevent distortion. Also played a lap steel on this, my '59 Fender Champ model through a matching '59 Fender Champ amp. I love Joe's simple but effective take on this.
Scott: Another raw vocal take. I had a lot of fun tearing this one up!
Tom:The working title of this was "Free Cream", describing both bands that influenced it. I played a '59 Gibson 335 reissue through the smallbox Marshall for both rhythm and lead (of course used the neck pickup for the lead on the first part of the song, then switched to the bridge for the outtro). After I recorded it, I went back and added the little harmony tag at the signature riff following a few verses ala "SWLABR." Used the old Thomas Organ Crybaby for the rhythm textures. The drum roll and key change at the end were totally spontaneous. Joe kind of channels Ginger Baker in parts of this.
The Devil's Kin
Scott: Can you say "ATTITUDE"? A little of everything is in this... Hendrix, Van Halen. It's our most METAL song ever recorded.
Tom: This was our token "big dumb rock song" which we do on every record. I kind of got carried away with this track initially...wrote a bigger, dumber intro with tolling church bells and a repeating E-bow riff that sounded real "witchy" and over the top. We put it together, and called it "Witchhunt / The Devil's Kin" (which can be heard HERE). Ultimately, we decided to bag the intro, fearing listeners would not get the joke, take it seriously and call us pompous. Plus, it ended up dragging the song down. Joe and I initially tried to record this at the end of the day one session, but considering the tempo, we decided to start fresh the next day. Played my Gibson SG Special through the Marshall 50 for the rhythms and my blue floral Strat for the whammy lead, through an old Tubescreamer TS-9. Did some "tapping" which is something I've never done before...
Scott: I had the task of informing Tom about Frank Lucchesi's passing. Never a fun job to do, but who better than a friend? I cut the vocals at home, alone with my thoughts, and the spirit of Humble Pie came to visit me.
Tom: I wrote this song in a very heavy hearted mood coming back from the memorial service of my great friend and guitar luthier Frank Lucchesi. Frank was a wonderfully talented young guy who loved old guitars, traveling, wine, and most of all his wife Fran. On the track, I sing the initial part, then Scott joins me for the harmony, then he takes over the real "belting it out" part. Just a simple 3 minute song with acoustic guitars (LG-1) set against sawtooth fuzz (DST "Fat Acid" fuzzbox) and a big crescendo. Electric guitar is the '58 Strat. Although subjectively, this track is very specific, we decided to call the album "Heavy Days" because of everything going on in the world, the economy, etc. It was only later pointed out to me that Tampax also uses this same term...
Once in Awhile
Scott: Dedicated to John Lennon. I passed by his house one week before he was shot to death in New York City. Walking through Greenwich Village, "Double Fantasy" was playing in the streets (it had just come out), and "Starting Over" would mean more than I could have imagined at the time. I recorded the song as a demo at home, kept the vocals and the bass, and the band re-cut the rest of the track.
Tom: Love Scott's vocals and lyrics on this. Played the LG-1 and Zemaitis (clean) through the Fender Champ for the rhythm, and the '58 Strat through a Leslie for the fills and lead. Matt Zeiner played some nice Hammond stuff on this track and Joe's drums sound nice a rich.
I Love My Family
Scott: I show up at the end screaming my head off like some deranged monkey man. Tom's lyrics were so good, and he sounded spot on singing them, so we decided he should keep singing it.
Tom: We only do one other funky tune, "It Was You" off the first record with Rick Derringer, so we wrote this with sort of that type of groove in mind. This isn't about any of our families, but its sort of like our take on Sly and the "Family" Stone. Matt Zeiner added some funky clavinet and Wurlitzer, and Scott does a Steven Tyler at the end.
You Got Me Fallin'
Scott: A song about lady luck... the femme fatale' of fortune. I kept the line. The music business is such a crap shoot, that it is easy to become complacent, for fear of failure - that's where the line "go ahead and warn me 'bout the odds... no one's got the balls to try" came from.
Tom: Another open G tune, Scott's original demo had some nice dobro, and I tried to capture that feel on electric slide guitar. Used the goldtop for this through the Blockhead FirstBorn for the lead, and my '67 Tele for the rhythm.
Waiting for My Ship to Come In
Scott: This one is all Tom. He had this track kicking around so it was appropriate that he sing it. Pure soul.
Tom: This was a demo written in a swampy type of groove. I came up with these lyrics while sitting on the rocks at McCooks Point, overlooking Niantic Bay in Connecticut. Slide is on a late '50s Danelectro Convertible, a total junk guitar which I picked up for $50, through a Blockhead FirstBorn amp, which also produces the tremolo. Acoustic is the Gibson LG-1.
Friday Night Wine
Scott: This one is kind of a joke. I was making fun of the jet set life that rock stars had in the '70s. Maybe we all would like to live that life for a little while in our minds. Deep down, it's such a sad song, however - the lonely rock star resorts to picking up the cleaning lady!
Tom: We recorded this as a demo initially for the "Racket of Three" sessions, as a "Rod Stewart in the '70's" knockoff, but it was more tongue-in-cheek than a single album could handle! I used Carl Nett's Breedlove for the rhythm and solo.
All Men Are Pigs
Scott: Brilliant, hysterical lyrics! Tom does his best Dylan on this 'bonus track'. I think it sounds better than ol' Zimmy himself these days. (a little Ron Wood too, perhaps?) How can you top vocals like that? I couldn't... so I played harmonica instead.
Tom: I was mowing the lawn one day, and was joyfully singing in a Bob Dylan voice, and this entire song came into my head, start to finish, based on a phrase I had overheard some woman in a bar repeating to her friend. By the time I was done, I was laughing out loud. Several neighbors were outside, and they no doubt thought I was deeply insane.
Song for a Rugger
Scott: I love this insane vocal track - it reminds me of "I'll Fly Away" from "Mahoney's Last Stand."
Tom: I woke up one morning, and literally started singing this song, thinking of the bloody, muddy passion that rugby players have and an ex-rugby playing friend of mine who is now suffering from ALS, a horrible, debilitating disease (for more information, visit his website). This was also probably subconsciously inspired by a street person I met years ago in Waterloo Station, London, who was singing the old Jeff Beck hit "Hi Ho Silver Lining" which I really found odd. When I got back to the States, I did a little research and found that a few soccer clubs used it as a stadium chant.
Scott: The power of my Ampeg SVT and my Yamaha "Charles Calmeese tribute bass", together, live. When Tom hits the wah wah pedal for the solo, I hit my 'Daddy O' Overdrive unit. (It's good enough for Victor Wooten!)
Tom: People always come up to us at our live shows and tell us to put out a live album...this track is for them. We played this Street Festival in Willimantic, CT, which had us set up in a little alley way. Much to our surprise, the sound guy recorded the concert on 2 track digital, and that's what you hear here. Not much separation, but not a bad recording considering, and we included it despite the rough spots, because it had a good energy.
A Fifth of Twelve
Scott: Another bonus track you would not have gotten if this were a single CD. After 10 years of recording together... we felt we should deliver the nuts and the berries.
Tom: These days, everywhere I go, people ask me if I play "Guitar Hero"...Seems that everybody wants to be a guitar hero, and this track is my excuse to go nuts for 2 minute and 45 seconds. It's called "A Fifth of Twelve" because its a circle of fifths that hits twelve different keys...
Scott: One of the first tracks I floated from my home studio. I was in the throes of a nasty chest cold, and had to get the track done in a hurry. I sound much huskier and lower in range than normal. It has a Jim Morrison feel, as result (not my original intention).
Tom: This one came from the "Racket of Three" sessions, and is something we've done live for the past 5 or so years. We did a video of this too, produced by Joe the Cat, check it out on youtube. I played a Gibson ES335 for the front part, through a DST-Engineering UV6 amp. For the slow part, I played my '70's Strat through a Colorsound fuzz using lots of wah and whammy bar.