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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

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.

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

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

Schumann PLL: Sold

the Schumann did fly away

That’s something our four-year-old says about anything he’s doesn’t want, doesn’t want to deal with or doesn’t want to do etc., and with no real regard for grammatical sense. So as in ‘the dentist appointment did…FLY AWAY!”.
Or “I don’t have to use the potty, the poop did FLY AWAY!”. You get the idea.

Anyway, the Schumann PLL, that great white whale among guitar pedal enthusiasts is sold. And to Jack Black, no less.

Ok, it turns out that it’s not the Jack Black but still, a seemingly fine fellow with the same name at least and frankly, that’s good enough for us.

Let the purchase of even more finish-the-record gear begin! Or continue or whatever…

Thanks to everyone who wrote in about it. More news of the record tomorrow...

Bloom, Koester, and the Magnets in MAGNET

Hi, Steve...

Directly from our Betterlatethannever Dept., which is to say, directly from our Everythingwedo Dept., here’s a link to a piece we wrote that recently ran in MAGNET extolling the virtues of a song by Steve Koester (now Two Dark Birds) and a band you never heard of unless you grew up in the same 1980s south Jersey we did, the Magnets.

Advisory notice: with our recording in a slow-motion death-throes finish that makes Rasputin look like a pushover, and with our now-standard real-life & family shenanigans, there wasn’t a whole lot of time put into this. That would normally mean brevity. In our case it means unedited excess (sort of like the state of the current album).

So wrote one article – the Koester one – got bogged down and so whipped out another one, the Magnets one. Lost our way in the woods on that too. So gave up & handed both in and MAGNET was kind enough to mush them together into one Ramblin’ Man of an article, complete with Dickey Betts solo. So that’s a long way of saying it's a tad on the long side.

Get comfy and read on, here.

thanks as always for hanging around,
the wrens


Believe it or not

have written & demo’d about a dozen new songs in the last month (one of them nearly above average) and that’s just me (me being Charles). And that's even working around the arrival of Heir #2, who frankly, even for a minus-two-week-old, hasn't lifted a finger to help with the band [edit.: Press photo not avail. Older brother pictured w/ relevant record-o headgear]

Kevin came over last night and we lay our respective demos & full-band tracks on the table and now have a very first early glimpse of how a next album(s) might lay out, itself a first. Have I mentioned he has 100 demos? One of them is also quite good.

With the hammer finally regularly to the anvil of song-smithing, now only need to drop 15lbs, shave my head and buy a decent shirt made either within the last year or not in the last 40...and a musician I'll be. Touring back and forth between the two remaining venues of the ice-covered post-apocalyptic snow-scape of a hell frozen over…you know, because we’d have done a new album.

Reminder Nudge...

...Dear New Orleans benefit comp released today...

Just a little reminder that the Dear New Orleans benefit album is released today via your preferred places of musical e-commerce (iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody and eMusic) and includes our song Crescent from our own forthcoming album. You can read tons about it here (or just hit the “page down” button).

...& debut performance of Crescent w/ Bird of Youth tonight:

Another small reminder as well that charles will be unveiling - and then probably very quickly re-veiling – our song from Dear New Orleans, Crescent, with Bird of Youth backing up tonight at week four of their August-long every-Tuesday residency at the Living Room here in New York City.

thanks as always,
the wrens

Charles plays Crescent while Bird of Youth look on...

“Crescent” Featured on "Dear New Orleans" Benefit Compilation for the Gulf

It’s been five years

To mark the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina - and in response to the Gulf Oil Disaster also deeply affecting the region – the folks at Air Traffic Control have produced “Dear New Orleans”, a digital-only benefit compilation, the proceeds of which will be granted to a range of New Orleans-based nonprofit organizations including Sweet Home New Orleans and Gulf Restoration Network.

To do our tiny part, we have a new song, “Crescent”, included on “Dear New Orleans” which will be released & available for download on Tuesday, August 24th at the Dear New Orleans site, as well as at the usual lineup of your preferred places of digital business (iTunes,, Rhapsody and

Tying it all together nicely, Charles will be debuting the song the same night, Tues., 8/24, as part of Bird of Youth’s every-Tuesday-night-in-August residency at the Living Room here in NYC. The Bird of Youth players have graciously, even foolishly, agreed to be backing band for the song that night. Charles will reciprocate to completely different effect by dragging a couple of their songs (Bombs Away and a Squeeze cover) down a few drains.

About Air Traffic Control

Air Traffic Control is a nonprofit resource for activist and philanthropic musicians who along with the
Future of Music Coalition, have been co-hosting a series of artist activism retreats in New Orleans since 2006. Artists are given the rare opportunity to connect directly with the people of New Orleans, the tradition bearers and community leaders who are on the frontlines of rebuilding and sustaining this vital city.

Charles was honored to be invited to one of the retreats a couple years back and it was, without much understatement, life-changing. It also, to paraphrase Air Traffic Control’s own mission statement, instilled a sense of empowerment for what can be accomplished through activism and music.

About the Dear New Orleans comp itself:

The “Dear New Orleans” comp itself is a musically impressive affair and honestly, would be worth your tough-earned dollars even if those dollars weren’t going to worthy causes.

See the Dear New Orleans site for the stellar lineup & running order. And a free download from the comp.

About our contribution:

When ATC asked if we’d be interested in helping out, Charles had this grandiose notion of using one of his demos for our own upcoming record, writing new lyrics to reflect his experience on the ATC-sponsored NOLA retreat, the wonderful folks he met there, some of their stories, etc.
But then life intervened w/ a premature second baby so we submitted an entirely different demo of his, an early version of one of the songs for our next album. So technically, broadly-defined, a new wrens’ song…

About some of the Orgs doing the work:

Sweet Home New Orleans is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support the individuals and organizations who define New Orleans’ unique musical and cultural traditions.

They began their work immediately after the levees broke in 2005 helping the New Orleans musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, and Social Aid & Pleasure Club members get on their feet, get to work, and revitalize their communities and the cultural economy of New Orleans. And they did this by raising & distributing over $2.5 million in financial assistance to more than 2,500 members of the city’s music community.

Gulf Restoration Network is a 16 year-old environmental group committed to uniting and empowering people to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico. Since the storms of 2005, they have worked for a national commitment to the restoration of the coastal wetlands of Louisiana, the region’s natural storm protection, which are disappearing at the rate of an acre an hour. The BP drilling disaster has greatly increased threats to this ecosystem, and GRN has provided independent monitoring and advocacy since the first days of the disaster.

In Sum…

We’re honored to lend the little help we can, our song in this case, to Dear New Orleans. We encourage each of you to check out this amazing compilation and do what you can to help make a difference for the Gulf Coast.
For more information on Dear New Orleans, a free download from the compilation, and to learn more about how you can help the Gulf, please visit Dear New Orleans.

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