Thanksgiving, Our 25th Year Wraps Up, So Does the Record

I hope your Thanksgivings

...were great. At my end, well you know how I'm always prattling & whining on about how difficult the record's been to make, how little sleep for 4+ years now, etc. etc.? Of course you do. Yield-wise, it's more my stock-in-trade than releasing actual albums. And while true, even I'm pretty tired of hearing me go on about it.

But all those art-for-crap's-sake life choices came to a head at Thanksgiving. Driving up to Massachusetts that Wednesday, got sicker & sicker, fever, vomiting. Thursday morning felt worse, with a weird & unwelcome Rice Crispie effect to each breath, a cough output I'll only describe as 'cranberry'.

Had never been this sick, suspected something serious and am luckily married to a person wise enough to know when to make a run for the emergency room. Ended up crawling in the ER lobby, with strep pneumonia, a collapsed lung, full renal failure...the works. Apparently called sepsis which is when the various bodily systems join in a conga line, happily dancing their way out, shutting off the lights as they go. Like they were telling my wife 'prepare yourself that it doesn't look he's gonna make this one' sorta stuff like in movies.

Then as the ER crew is working away, I'm given a paralytic anesthesia that didn't work so I can't move but I can still hear & feel everything & lie there thinking how can they not notice I'm no longer hooked up to breathing apparatus and am no longer breathing but can't make myself inhale cause I can't move any muscle and holy crap I'm gonna die here listening to them talk about how I can't hear or feel anything. And over a slow 5 or 10 minutes of not actively breathing realizing that in fact they must've hooked me up but that due the paralytic, I'M the one that doesn't know. It was sorta like being buried alive inches away from everybody. And that was a hoot.

I should say, my weird experience w/ that anesthesia aside, the nurses & doctors there were to a person, amazing & nice. And their work makes choosing a career path of making music seem pretty indirect and puny.

Anyway, got out of ICU on Tuesday, discharged Wed. afternoon. Slowly getting better. Belatedly now giving thanks for a lot of things.

So our 25th year as a band was not a red-letter one for us personally. There was cancer, family woes, children's issues (aren't there always?), capping off with this near-death pneumonia. Some of that was directly attributable to the dumb ceaseless toil it takes, or at least takes me, to make a record. And while difficulty finishing one's indie rock album falls on the list of First World problems only a few slots below "damn it, the yield on my fund dropped for the second quarter!", the other more life & death stuff is obviously just common to the world. Which is to say our year was probably not much different than many of yours.

For me personally, this whole thing has changed a bunch of stuff, incl. priorities that have kept me toiling away on music to the exclusion of a lot of other things. So that'll change. Not sure what that means but it'll be a lot more healthy.

What it means more immediately is an end to the chasing of perfectionism with this record, which is only ever in part about the illusion of perfection anyway. And what that means is...the record's done. It is what it is. And it'll be fine. And that's ME saying that. A few nuts & bolts have to be put back together when I get back home so we can ship all the rest off to mastering. But the it's done and if the Hold Steady hadn't beaten us to it, would probably now call it The Wrens Almost Killed Me.

So sorta hilariously anticlimactically, that's that.

Hopefully, your holidays will be a loving delight. And here's to 2015, which should be a way better year for us, hopefully for you and a better one for all the weird crap in the world.

Thanks as always,

the wrens

I Taught Torn Hawk...

...probably nothing he knows.

For 10 years I taught guitar in a music store in NJ (hi, Woodside Music in Park Ridge), to mostly high schoolers w/ some adults & younger children thrown in. And in those hundreds of students there would always be a few that were better (either more talented or more accomplished, I have yet to crack that one) usually in a "hey, another perfect Led Zep solo down pat" way, which is great and as the cliche` goes, taught me a lot. But there were always a few that seemed further ahead...aesthetically, for lack of a better word, who might end up doing something really cool in the future, either artistically or just more broadly, in life etc., even if it wasn't quite clear (at least clear to me) what that might be.

Luke Wyatt was one of those young'uns. Years later (so a few years ago), I came across these super-cool video collage things that looked as if someone had harvested all the interesting, odd or of-their-time snippets of every abandoned VHS tape ever and mashed them together in a way that in less capable hands would have been easy irony. Here though the effect was different and maybe 'cause I've just read the Pitchfork review below, I'll go with nostalgic. Anyway, I bookmarked the person that seemed to making these, Torn Hawk, fantasizing, "yeah, here's another cool thing I'll do when our most-dread record's done - I'll ask this Torn Hawk person to collaborate!".

My quickly-lengthening story short, find out later that Torn is Luke and am awed and super happy in a proud-uncle sorta way. It's a measure of how far I've disappeared up my, album...that I've been meaning to post this since the Pitchfork interview below ran (last March (brag/disclaimer: I am flatteringly shouted out here)) and that he has a new album out this week (reviewed below), finally got me in gear.

Luke's Pitchfork profile & backstory

review of Torn Hawk's album (out this week), Let's Cry and Do Pushups at the Same Time

Keep up the good work, Mr. Hawk. I'm proud to know you.

Sign to Sing

So Friday morning..

...for the first time in I don't even know how long (years at this point!), we all four got together. The occasion? Well, I realize it's not big news in any sense except to us, but after 25 years as a band and for the first time in 20, we, as they say, have inked a deal. Pens were handed out presidentially. Morning beers were clinked together. The devil wrung his hands in delight & vanished in a smoke puff, laughing.

Honestly not being coy but promised not to reveal details, pending a more official announcement from both parties. But wanted to say at least something, partially 'cause we're all super happy about it.

And partially because pretending to do this for a job (or whatever this is), there are none of the usual office trappings or career mile-markers along the way. No promotions; no HR; no office holiday party or company phone; heck, no office or company; no paid vacation; well, no 'pay' really...actually the more I write, the more I'm clearly describing a hobby. Anyway, so partially for myself (I signed a binding legal document! On letterhead!).

And partially to have something even a little more concrete than my usual "work continues nightly" to show that...this record is actually happening. And nearly done.

Our Quarter-Century Anniversary

Last Thursday, July 31st, was a another unlikely milestone for us: the 25th anniversary of our very first show, at a club long-since gone on 42nd St., Manhattan, right next to the Port Authority. And even though there were a few hasty rehearsals first, it being the first time of many that we powered up amps & attempted to 'wow' the non-crowd (also first of many), we count it as the official starting gun.

And typically late to everything, including watch-bestowing self-ceremonies we hold every five years to congratulate ourselves on being even later to breaking up, we didn't get around to posting anything. Heck, I only noticed because I set a calendar alarm. Four years and 364 days ago.

Less-typically but for good reason, it's just been too bonkersHectic trying to finish this record to dash off some pithy blog piece about how hilarious the Bush I years were in hindsight. So taking the less honorable way out and pasting/re-posting our five-year-old "hey, we're 20!" thing from 2009 (note that I don't think the shirt's still available).

Enjoy, thanks as always, and here's to another twennn...[Med-Alert pendant begins sounding rapidly]


It Was Twenty Years Ago Today,…

...Sgt. Peppbla bla’d the bla to bla.

Sorry, by pundit law you just have to use that one if you're in a band that makes it to twenty. Ditto if you’re still at it when you’re sixty-four, so look for more big news from us in four or five years.
Besides, if we'd written the song, it’d have been more like "it was 20 years ago today, that time, a cruel task-hole if ever there was one, taught the band to play”. Covers mostly.

But yeah, according to our best guesses, Kev’s Tawny-Kitaen-A-Day planner, and a hurried but
to-scale rebuild of Stonehenge, we’re able to verify with almost penpoint accuracy that it was exactly twenty years ago today, July 31st 1989, that we played our first show as a band. Sweet holy crap.

Sure, there were a few rehearsals before that and sure, we weren’t called the wrens then, and sure, it was performed on the then-popular lutes with sackbut accompaniment, but it was our first show nonetheless. And it probably sucked.

If you’ve ever perused our bio, (a light bullet-point read with an update pending since 2002), you might think this was the show opening for the Fixx, the very reason for our formation, the very fire within the smithy that forged our band...or whatever.

But actually this was a warm-up for that show, at a club called [edit: no one remembers] on 42nd b/n 8th & 9th, south side of the street, right next to the Port Authority bus terminal, which would seem to put it square on the ground floor of that hottie of art moderne, the McGraw-Hill Building (although in hindsight, that seems weird):

(photo by Kevin, taken on his way to work yesterday. You’re never far from your past when you’re a wren and live or work in New York. Also note the artistic happenstance of the pedestrian contrasting the 'walk' symbol. Nice).

See, this was the ‘80s and anything even a block away from a police station was ‘edgy’, downtown and if not - in debatable order of decadence - a live nude ‘stopless’ go-go, a peep show, a porn theatre, a good corner to buy fake drugs, a good corner to buy stolen calling cards, a bad place to park, the Limelight…then probably a ‘college rock’ venue. And we probably played there.

the fabric of our lives

To better commemorate so auspicious an occasion in light, wearable cottons, we’ve commissioned ourselves to make a new t-shirt, this one emblazoned with our simple credo, ‘the wrens…keeping folks waiting since 1989’, and it’s available in our corner store.

As always, these are lovingly fabricated by the in-house guild of unskilled labor you call ‘the band’, and upon order, carefully & promptly parceled to clothe your waiting thorax.

even the Progress Report isn’t done:

Today being the big two-oh, it seems like a good time to summarize where we’re at with new muzak, the next album, our lives etc. All kinda the same thing, really. But with this one already running typically too long, we’ll post a separate update by the end of the weekyear, babies willing, as our Wrens’ Annual Report to Shareholders.

Relatedly, the quickest of shouts out to Schubas, the club in Chicago where we played last weekend as part of their own ongoing '20th year at it' anniversary. Nice work and nice folks all around.

Happy birthday to us and to you, thanks as always,

the wrens

Kevin & Charles playing P.S. 154 Benefit Show

Howdy, all,

It has been a while, non? Even as four years of work on the album finally wrap up, actually leaving the house to climb on a stage, in front of people and flail a guitar like a man drowning.

Kevin & I (that's charles) are playing a benefit show for P.S. 154, a public school here in Brooklyn at which (full disclosure) our oldest attends kindergarten. So yes, daddy is singing for text books & pencils.

The show is this Friday, 5/30/14, at the Bell House here in Brooklyn and all of the other bands - who are pretty wonderful - all have at least a parent zoned for the same school.

Kevin and I will be playing a couple solo, a couple together, a couple new ones, a couple old ones, maybe a couple covers. Forewarned though that our rehearsal consisted of three texts:
Kevin: "I'm thinking of playing (song A) and (song B).
Me: "Maybe we should do (song C) instead of (song B).
Kevin: "Cool"
Me: "See you then"

So, to put it in technical music-theoretical terms, this may blow. I'm now sorta regretting I didn't just volunteer for the bake sale.

Anyway, here's the line-up, which is otherwise great:

8:30 White Collar Crime
9:15 Palomar, original line-up reunion playing stuff from Palomar I and II
10:00 The Big Bright (members of Olabelle)
10:45 Charles and Kevin (that's us)
11:30 Bambi Kino (members of Nada Surf + Cat Power + Guided by Voices)

You can buy tickets HERE.

Hopefully see you Friday and if you do go, say hi. Beers are nice as well.

the Meadowlands Turns 10 Today

cue party favors

It was half of 20 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper bought the band a copy of the Meadowlands. Probably for one of his more mature friends and hopefully w/ a discretely included gift receipt.

Meaning yeah, the Meadowlands came out exactly 10 years ago today, on Sept. 9th, 2003, which also means that our 'most recent' release pre-dates things like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Democrats in the White House, heck Bush's 2nd term, the show Lost, 6 albums and 3 EP's by Okkervil River, the Dinosaur Jr. reunion, some actual dinosaurs, the careers of Justin Bieber and Katy Perry COMBINED and the over 8400 separate and unique indie music micro-genres that gestated and died a quick bloggy death get the idea. But putting it in any of those terms does feel like saying it came out in the '70s. (choose your own century).

To commemorate so auspicious an occasion you'd think we'd be announcing some foncy ponts re-release of the album w/ bonus tracks, elaborate enviro-friendly zero-mass packaging and a photo of Greg shirtless, but we are not.

We plan to do a fancy re-release soon but for now, all late-night work shifts (except this one) are dedicated to finishing this record - the current depressingly life-devouring & exhausting one - and the idea of revisiting the last depressingly life-devouring caper, in order to milk out some sad bonus content, holds about as much appeal as well, milking anything really. Especially anything sad and 'bonus'.

So yeah, late to our own Meadowlands 10th Anniversary, as to all things ('keeping folks waiting, since...' et cet et cet..).

Instead, we're marking the anniversary w/ the first official Meadowlands 'album cover' t-shirt. Surprisingly, we've never done one. It will look something like this:

and is available now for pre-order here in our store and should be shipping in the next week or so.

I know, I know...ten years. And we put out a t-shirt. By the year 2043 we will have an entire mens' suit available a la carte with the next album incl. as pocket square. Totally gratis.

But if everything plays out like I think it's gonna, we should be marking the 10th anniversary of this next record in 2024.

A decade or two of thanks, as always,

the wrens

Another Year-End Wrap-up

(2011 edition)

Posted a very belated 2010-in-review last month here which mostly covered the start of (finally) recording. As promised, here’s a slightly less-belated overview of what we got done in 2011. And it’s shorter.

Essentially, worked all year through, which is to say every day or two for at least an hour or two, and…still not done come new year’s. Really, by the end of ‘11, the burning question on the minds of dozens (counting us & dependents) had become not, “where’s the record?” but ”did you sell the van?”.

Yes, yes we did, thanks. It involved stolen/unreturned license plates, a failed police report and gestures and profanity that embarrass me now, thrown out in the middle of our street to a man who was rolling up sleeves in prep. to kill me. But we sold it.

W/ recording, through 2011 we continued as before / below (tracking Kev’s songs w/ drums, then overdubbing & changing those) and we began overdubbing drums onto Charles’ songs. An important, if only geekly interesting, distinction between recording drums first & overdubbing them later: most albums you hear, esp. if they’re made in say, the last 40 years, are recorded drums-first (usually along with a guitar or two, bass etc., which may or may not be kept through to the final version). Then responsible recording engineers and their band-clients will overdub (that is, record on top of already-existent recorded material, in this case, those drums) the guitars, bass, vocals, cool loops, field recordings, requisite xylophone etc. after that, fitting them in sonically to the initially recorded drums.

Like anything else, this approach has its pros & cons, but trying to not go on for pages, let’s come back to that some other time, preferably over a beer and at least a few booths away from the nearest drummer or recording engineer (of which I’m neither).

Anyway, it’s sort of way less common to do the song first – that is, record a few hundred guitars, vocals, some low-end meanderings, work out an arrangement etc., and then overdub the drums onto that (and then change the song even more, of course…). But that approach was famously good enough for S&G’s Sounds of Silence and it’s worked out surprisingly well for us. And was sort of fun done that way to boot. Well, ‘fun’ if you’re us and fun is measured in the ease of drum overdubbing.

That’s really about it for us for 2011. The other thing that seemed to happen a lot that year was some friends’ & colleagues’ beginnings & endings in 2011. Ends first…..

Our good & longtime friend Cory Brown drew the curtain on Absolutely Kosher, the label he founded in 1998, putting out records by a sultan’s variety of great bands (Xiu Xiu, the Mountain Goats, Frog Eyes, Jim Yoshii Pile-Up, Pinback etc.). And us. It was our pleasure & honor to release our last record, the Meadowlands, w/ Cory on AbKosh and our love for him knows few bounds.

This article & interview w/ him sums up the standard reasons for the hiatus, mostly financial (here):

And 2011 marked the passing of Alan Meltzer. We got to know Alan when in 1995, he bought out Grass Records, our label at the time (later retooling it into Wind-Up Records), while we were recording our second album, Secaucus.

For a few months that spring, Alan was seeming more and more to be our career-savior, then for a while after that he filled the role of nemesis nicely. Biographically for us, the nemesis part stuck.

Beyond that, for a nemesis and all, I think Alan probably never gave us another thought, being pretty busy releasing Creed's oeuvre.
And we really only thought of him, I don’t know, every time we heard one of those Creed songs, which is to say every 6 ½ minutes for 5 years, shaking our fists cartoon-villainly in the air while muttering crap like, “You’ve made a powerful enemy, Alan!” or “that should have been me, for I am the brightest star in the firmament!”.
Ok, hopefully obviously, not serious. We’d gone our separate ways with no regrets on our side certainly. And clearly, the only way we’d ever have been a Creed, or as big as Creed, or had & recorded our own My Own Misprision, would have been locked in a room, with limitless space-time, alongside 100 monkeys typing Pearl Jam.

(Disclaim: these cheap ‘n’ easy Creed one-liners would have – I think – been ok with Alan. He had a pretty good sense of humor about all of this, at least w/ us. And besides, all career jokes ultimately point back to us).

We met again with Alan a few years back when Wind-Up reissued our earlier albums (to dozens of sales worldwide, presumably), ostensibly to bury the hatchet but I think both sides were relieved to find that the other guy wasn’t even carrying one. We’re happy that our relationship w/ Alan ended on a positive note. Alan was an interesting dude and our belated condolences to his friends & family.

On the cheerier side, beginnings in 2011….

There were a handful of friends who put out really nice albums, most of them debuts, that in our considered opinion didn’t get enough attention, so here’s a little list (w/ full disclosure: our own charles played on a couple of these and is married to at least one of them. In spite of that, all highly recommended):

* Palomar, who actually also went on hiatus in 2012; album/ep: Sense & Antisense

* Bird of Youth; album: Defender

* The Former Soviet Republic; album: The Former Soviet Republic Is Made Of This

* Overlake (in 2011, then called Big Lake); EP: Do You Love Me? Yes/No

Well, so much for short.

The wrens
Keeping folks waiting (for the end of any paragraph, most sentences, all blog posts and the occasional album).
Since 1989

Our SxSW Schedule This Week

our SxSW schedule:

Tues.: drop kids at school, inexplicably overdub even more guitars in living room in effort to finish recording before more due children are born

Wed.: proselytize on keeping other cities weird

Thurs: use phrase ‘day party’ a lot; eat sensible dinner at our respective homes (NJ, Penna., B’klyn).

Fri.: enjoy commemorative breakfast taco, read up on Austin. Email other band geeks to discuss reforming

Sat.: reflect how everything’s bigger in Texas, especially buzzes

Sun.: feel the burn…of a week like any other. Reflect on what we’ve learned. Look ahead to 2014 when we actually go.


Attached, please find…

An itemized invoice I sent Kevin, billing him for work done on one of his songs (ok no, not seriously billing him. Althooooough if he cut me a check, I’d probably cash it. For his is a generous personhood, while I am a small grabby man). Greg’s reply to all this: you need to increase your rates.

Really just illustrates both the relative shabby level, and general thrust, of our intra-band mockery & tomfoolery. As well as my own hilariously out-of-date office skillz-set and Word templates.

And really, the song was already pretty wonderful so I may be billing him for making it worse. But that’s business. Especially the cold business of music.

That said, please remit payment in full, Mr. Whelan.

Ok, today’s a work day, back to more song salvage. Update on all that later this week…

Year-End Wrap-up

2010, that is…

Yeah, 2010…actually not a typo. For years we’ve posted a year-end wrap-up of what we’d been up to the previous twelve months (you can pour over a few of those here). They’ve tended to be drawn-out semi-comedic affairs that were long on “we bought a computer” sort of news and short of any announcement of real recording (not counting a band-ful of false starts, laughably optimistically documented here or here, both from four years ago now, for ex.).

So it’s sort of funny that the first year we didn’t tie up in similar style was the end of 2010. Funny because that July – July 16th, 2010 to be exact – we actually did finally, for real, no poop, start recording a next record (readable in more detail here and here) and even more shockingly, have actually kept working pretty steadily since then. Yep, that’s 2 1/2 years of straight work almost to the day as I type this, sitting in a parked car with a napping also-2-1/2-year-old outside the Prospect Park Zoo. That's a lot of time. Better be good, boyos.

Now, we didn’t do the year-summ at the time because in one sense, this is/has become/has always been a very part-time venture esp. now that we’re all officially married-with-heirs and most of us have careers and stuff.

At the same time, once under way, recording work does get done pretty much every day for whatever hours can be shoehorned in. And like any good life-ruining all-consuming hobby, it devours most available free time, thought, milk money etc. Friendships languish, exercise routines are abandoned, grand-children reach maturity and leave the house while we tinker away making H-O gauge albums in the basement dressed in period costume (note: it wasn’t period costume when we went down there). Personal & band correspondence & news tends to get continually shuffled back to the bottom of the to-do list. And band year-end reports get delayed for years on end.

But specifically, from that weekend in July, 2010 on through the rest of that year, we tended to either be assembling & tracking Kevin’s songs (i.e. tracking drums) at his house when Jerry came up or tweaking & overdubbing the bejesus outta those same Kev songs when Jerry wasn’t attending. And Charles began assembling demos of his own musical crap parade at his Brooklyn home-cum-electronic-wonder-lair. Two-and-a-half years on, we’re now calling those demos ‘album tracks’.

Next thing you know, it’s the end of the year and the next next thing you know, it’s two years after that. At the current rate, we’re maybe a few months out from ear trumpets and easing ourselves into the Muppet balcony.

Anyway, not like it matters whether we generate recording updates on a rigorous every-12-months schedule or not, but for the interested, like most bands and your cool uncle w/ a blog nowadays, we do tend to hit up the modern social media with smaller news & updates, and a lot more often. Feel free to join in the slough of despond and hilarity at our places of Facebook and Twitterly business.

We’ll post a quick 2011 wrap-up (which summarizes neatly as “12 more months of the same”) later this week and then where we’re at w/ 2012 under our belt after that…

Then again, I seem to have just made a deadline / prediction / plan using standard units of your human time, so take even that with a some salt.

Until then, thanks as always,

the wrens

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