By Tony Sackett
A night in 1997 stands out when I consider albums that inspired me to write and record music. I went to Albums on the Hill in Boulder, CO, and got The Pod by Ween and Grace By Jeff Buckley. With The Pod I was backtracking, having heard The Mollusk earlier that year. I loved it. They have a gorgeous, sincere ballad like “It’s Gonna Be (Alright)” and four songs later is “Waving My Dick in the Wind.” I’ve heard some people say they don’t like that, claiming it takes away from the impact of the more “serious” material. I liked this about them. Silliness seemed to be as good of a feeling for a rock song as love or desire. There was frivolity in how they sounded that was evident to me in how they got into character for songs and worked from a wide, weird musical palette. You have a perfect pop song like “Ocean Man” on the same record as an I-don’t-know-what-the-shit like “Pick Eye (On My Leg).” And they rocked, too. So, needless to say, I wanted to hear more Ween and picked up The Pod.
Grace was recommended to me by the guy at the counter after I told him I liked Ron Sexsmith’s Other Songs. Thanks, man. Did me a solid.
I came home and put both CDs in the “changer,” which is an antiquated device that allowed the listener to enjoy selections from anywhere from one to five CDs. I pressed the “random” button (which was like asking a guy on a desert island to make you a mix tape) and walked away, attending to a burrito. First song was “Strap on that Jammy Pack” on The Pod (first song on the album, coincidentally). The song is sung in a style that an older brother might employ when trying to annoy his sister, and the loose time is punctuated by a comical snare thwack which marks the point at which the whole ridiculous thing repeats. I’m not saying I was blown away. I was amused. It made that burrito. But what I got from that song, as I get from much of The Pod, is an affirmation that art is play.
In “Right In the Ways of the Rules of the World,” you can hear them try not to laugh for the whole song before losing their shit after Dean screams something that sounds like “sharing the grits!” A meltdown ensues and the acoustic guitar and synth background chugs away as you listen to a couple of guys laughing. This was the take they chose for their record! Right before that song is “Pollo Asado,” which is 2:45 of a guy ordering a ton of Mexican food. Right after it they rock the ass off a drum machine with “Captain Fantasy.”
Basically, to me it sounded like a couple of guys messing around with a 4-track in their apartment, which is what I was (am). Littered amongst their weirdness were great songs, beautiful melodies and incredible guitar sounds. It was just play, and that influenced how I started to look at songs. A song did not have to be a big personal or emotional statement (although those songs happen, too), it could be a poop joke, and who the hell are you to not call that art?
The second song that “random” chose for me was “Lilac Wine” from Grace. First thought: “Who is this chick?” After that it becomes a blur for me. I stopped what I was doing and sat in my living room, staring into the area from where the music came. The voice almost disturbed me. There was some sort of hetero mind-lock that tried to resist the full acceptance of a sultry male voice like the one I was hearing. But he unhinged it easily, and by the end of the song I was astonished rather than confused.
That kind of melodrama seemed only reserved for a soprano at the opera, but here it was, so close that you could hear his lips part before he began a phrase. Later, I was pleasantly surprised to find out Grace was a rock album, too, and became obsessed with “Last Goodbye” and “Lover, You Should Have Come Over.” But, unlike The Pod, this album had a singular, unmistakable voice from beginning to end, even when the arrangements and mood differed.
As someone who basically learned how to sing through mimicry, I didn’t know what it sounded like to just sing like me. Grace was a definite inspiration in that regard. Maybe not. I basically tried to sing like Jeff Buckley for two years. But Warm Ones would be a whole different band if I was still trying to sing like Levi Stubbs from The Four Tops.
I think those albums are a good cross-section of the period where I was just realizing that I wanted to make music for the rest of my life. Since then, other records have affected me greatly, and in a way I can relate more directly to the sound of what I try to do now. But I think those two records have a common strain that has survived any shifts I might make in interest and style. Grace is serious, lovelorn and unique. The Pod wants to draw a penis on your face with a Sharpie when you pass out.
I was still finding my own voice, but I also wasn’t interested in having the same vocal tone or attitude for an entire record. Dean/Aaron seemed to have a voice that was distinctly his, but he also portrayed different characters from song to song and would constantly distort his voice by speeding it up or slowing it down. He’d play. Buckley, however, was clear and constant, and the voice that I wanted to be my voice. There are a few bad six-minute breakup songs out there to prove it. More importantly, however, he made me aspire to find out what my voice sounds like.