from the album
Recorded throughout 2015-16 and finally put together in the beginning of 2017. Most of the songs came from jamming along with the canned drums on my little Yamaha keyboard so I used them on most of the tracks. “Quieter Now” was originally recorded with Garageband on an Iphone and the drums are from that recording. “Driving Us Home” is a true story that belongs to Jax, and my old friend Tony DeTomas left me the voicemail that serves as an intro to the song “Best Ever.”
You know you’re getting old when ten years seems like just a winter or two ago. Or maybe it’s when you empty the dishwasher automatically. Not only without the brief thought of leaving it for later or for someone else to do, but also without thinking, “What a very grown up thing it is I’m doing.” But this really isn’t an album about that. It was recorded at the forever house in what by extension must be the very last Rubber Room. I left the mics in place and turned them on whenever I had some free time, mostly at night, throughout 2013. This album also has the somewhat dubious distinction of being the only collection of songs I’ve ever written and recorded sober. If nothing else, it made the recordings a bit more consistent, and the files themselves slightly easier to find.
Herein lies yet another collection of acerbic love songs and self indulgences. Turns out I’m a one-trick pony. To quote the esteemed Dr. Thompson, “I’ve never claimed to be anything but a nice guy and an athlete.” Dave Mirabella added his slide guitar magic to “Rusted,” and Nick Della Guistina lent his schooled ear to taming my sonic mess. Recorded in the Red Room with N-Track Studio and Drums on Demand during the summer of 2004.
Recorded in the Designated Smoking Area at 12 Demers throughout 2003. The songs were born in the midst of a crash course in home ownership, and assembled on the back porch or during the idiot-ridden commute.
Recorded in the Rubber Room during the Summer of 2001. Nate Graziano leant his verse, and a small portion of his liver to the project. It’s his spoken word that finally tied everything together. The songs are mostly older ones that had only been heard on a few muddy 4-track tapes.
Recorded in the new “Rubber Room with a view” where digital and analog, drum machine and banged-on things, vodka and whiskey, fought a half-assed war of frail alliances and technical difficulties. Summer 2000.
Recorded in the Rubber Room in the spring of 1999. No animals were hurt in this soul searching anal probe, and no souls were saved. A wash.
Recorded in the Rubber Room during the summer of 1997 with the least used 4-track I’ve ever owned, three guitars, a tin whistle, one harmonica, a wine rack, several saran-wrapped salad bowls, an ocean of vodka, a lot of whiskey, and some weed. Foul Berth was kind of a peak as far as my cassette 4-track recording was concerned. After struggling to finish Wetbrain on a dying machine, I’d decided it was finally time to break down and buy one. All of the previous 4-tracks I’d used were someone else’s, either on loan or graciously handed down to me. I still couldn’t afford a new one, but the used Tascam porta-studio I bought from Pro Audio in Watertown was in much better shape than any of the others I’d had at my disposal. It’s captured on the album cover of Foul Berth which is a photo of the Rubber Room right around that time.
While all of the other albums had filled one side of a 90 minute cassette, or at most both sides of a 60, Foul Berth was its own 90 minute production. I was newly married and inspired. I actually stumbled upon the album’s title while on our honeymoon in Ireland. It was in Dingle or Doolin, one of the coastal towns we visited that I saw the sign “Foul Berth” on a dock. What was in essence a no parking sign for boats, struck me as a phrase that could be applied to multiple situations ranging from an adulterous dalliance, to the tilt-a-whirl of emotions in a delivery room. Either way, I thought it sounded awesome.
Most of the songs were very new, although some, like “Drown Her” and “Filmstrip” had been kicking around for quite a while. “Filmstrip” had actually been recorded a couple of years earlier in Jenn’s Alston bedroom. The percussion and Gilligan’s Island episode heard throughout the song were actually recorded with one mic in front of the TV while I banged on the entertainment center with a couple of vitamin bottles. “Baby’s Breath,” on the other hand was made up and recorded on the spot one night in the Rubber Room. The drums that became kind of the focal point of that song were actually salad bowls that I covered in saran wrap, close mic’d and played with a pair of swizzle sticks. Granted, I did get a little carried away with the tin whistle on “Alternative,” and “Summer” goes on longer than it has any right to, but I was in the middle of a seriously productive stint of creativity.
The soundbites are from Ishtar. After all what could possibly, more perfectly tie together an idiot songwriter’s collection of songs, than a movie about two idiot songwriters. It’s a great movie and if you don’t like it, you probably haven’t seen it.
Recorded, drunk and disheveled, in the Rubber Room in the space between 1996 & 1997 on the last two and a half tracks of a dying four-track. There’s a hum throughout this album, lot’s of noise, and a lot of sloppy playing/recording. I can’t blame it all on the condition of the 4-track, although that was definitely part of it. And as bad as some it sounds, it’s still one of my favorite albums. I think I was in a rush to get it recorded. There’s a lot of different songs for me here, I was trying some different things stylistically and just wanted to get them down and into people’s ears, almost like Stuart from Mad TV going, “Look what I can do!” My lo-fi percussion collection was growing, and I started incorporating metal racks duck taped to mic stands that I played with homemade broken guitar-string brushes. I also had one of those rhythm eggs that I’d hold in my pick hand when I recorded the acoustic guitars, or tape to a drum stick while I beat on a wine rack.
You can really hear the faux drums on “Schoolbus”, a song about a girl we knew in high-school. She was a big girl, who was dubbed “Schoolbus” by the group of friends she used to drive to school each day. I want to say her name was Kelly but I can’t be sure. I remember being in the back of her Chevette one night with a few other people. We were cruising down this long straight road, going maybe 50 or so when the driver just threw it in reverse to see what would happen. I don’t think Schoolbus had that many really close friends. Anyway, the song’s pure fiction. I don’t remember her actually burning down the town or anything, but if she had, I guess I would’ve understood why.
“Second Skin” was inspired by a novel of the same name that I found in a trash bin in Cambridge. And “Bly” is mostly a poem by Robert Bly that I added a bit to and built a song around. “Reunion Cafe” felt like a breakthrough song at the time. I remember being really proud of the barroom to schoolyard clique comparisons. I was really proud of the whole album song-wise, and at the same time frustrated with how shitty I thought it came out sound-wise. That kind of thing happens to me a lot. The realization is often a bit of a letdown when compared to the original idea.
The Album cover was created by my friend Scott Remilard, an extremely talented graphic designer and all around great guy. I asked him if he could make me a cover, told him it was going to be called Wetbrain, and he had this for me the next day. I’m still not sure whose head it actually is.
The soundbites are from the film Kicking and Screaming, the 1995 one, not the one with Will Farrel. It’s a great movie if you’re a fan of witty dialogue and social commentary. I think it resonated with me so much because it’s a film about recent college grads and that’s what I was at the time.
Recorded in the latent summer of 1996 within the foamy grandeur of the Rubber Room, so named for the mattress foam lining the walls and ceiling. It was recorded on 4-track cassette, and since it was recorded around the same time as “She’s All By Myself,” included much of the same lo-fi percussion. The notable difference being that instead of just hitting a mic with my hand for the kick sound, I started cranking the bass tone pot way up and hitting the mic stand with an empty plastic liter bottle. I’d also purchased an Alesis Nano-verb, which I used on everything and still continue to use today. It gave the percussion on an almost thunderous sound, and the hint of chorus on one of the delay settings evened out my vocals a bit long before auto-tune had reared its ugly head.
Another thing I did on most of these early recordings was to speed up the pitch settings on mixdown. It wasn’t a conscious decision at first, I’d only started playing with the pitch setting because I’d heard you could achieve better fidelity by speeding the tape up when recording. The idea being that if the tape was moving faster it would spread the information out over more tape and lead to greater clarity since you weren’t trying to cram so much sound into what was already a very narrow bit of magnetic media. You couldn’t make the tape wider, but you could in essence make it longer. The offshoot of this was that I wasn’t very consistent about where I set the speed for each recording, so I had to kind of dial it in for each individual song when it came time to mix down. I’ve never had much of a voice, but back then I thought it sounded a little better sped up. So if my voice seems much higher in the early recordings, it’s not all because my vocal chords were not yet as coated in tobacco tar. Some of its just a touch of Alvin and the Chipmunks type studio magic.
I got into some trouble for the first song on this album. “Who Were You Screwing,” was loosely based on a friend’s absence making his heart grow fonder for his ex. He (and she) didn’t find the lyrics quite as funny or clever as I did and apologies were made. Out of anger he wrote a song about me called, “Drunk Irish Poet,” which blasts me lyrically but is such a great song that I couldn’t help but be flattered. Jenn still hates “More Than Booze,” even though I’ve recently proved that song’s sentiment to be entirely true. She’s always maintained that I tended to glorify or romanticize alcoholism in my songs, a point of view I can certainly understand but still deny. For me it was simply a case of that freshman creative writing mantra, “write what you know.” I used to be drunk an awful lot of the time.
The album cover was designed by Scott Remilard, and the photo he used is a baby picture of my cousin Jordan. Of course it wasn’t a baby picture at the time. When I put the album up on MP3.com it was a a fairly recent photo of the boy. As an example of how heart-sickeningly fast time flies, I attended his high school graduation in the spring of 2014.
The soundbites are all from Dog Day Afternoon, an incredible movie from the mid 70’s starring a young Al Pacino. It’s one of my all time favorite films and one that I think everyone should see. If you’ve ever made a dumb decision that you had no choice but to see through till the bitter end, you can relate to this movie. The real hero of the film is the third bank robber who quits immediately after they begin the heist and whom the doomed Sal dismisses with, “Fuck ’em, let him go.”
Recorded in the spring of 1996 in a half-hearted attempt to keep me sane. Wether or not it was successful (in preserving my sanity that is, commercial success was never really an option), all comes down to perspective. I can say with a degree of confidence that it did not make me any crazier and was therefore a worthwhile endeavor. I recorded it at 7 Nichols in Watertown shortly after we moved in, and some of it may have even been recorded at the end of the Jenn’s bed in Alston. It was all recorded on an old cassette 4-track, with a few radio-shack and yard-sale microphones, and one sm57. The room it was recorded in had yet to be lined with mattress foam and dubbed, “The Rubber Room.”
The soundbites are from the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks in which we meet the post Mary Poppins George Banks, still living in London under the alias, Professor Emelius Brown. In his new found lust for life, he seems to have left not only his position at the bank, but also that of husband and father at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. He’s now a street hustler who joins up with a correspondence school witch and three child refugees from London. With the help of a flying bed, the gang eludes an evil bookseller/gangster/magician, survives a trip to the Isle of Naboombu and eventually halts a German invasion. It’s a great film in which real life actors interact with animated characters and the special effects are accomplished chiefly through the use of thin, barely visible wires.
I’d made several earlier 4-track recordings that were all guitar and vocals, and this was the first album where I added some percussion. It consisted of a cheap set of bongos and a tambourine that I’d whack with a drumstick like a snare. On “Certain Again” the “kick” sound is just me hitting a microphone open-handed and running it through a reverb/digital delay foot pedal. I think that this album and The Salad Days were originally two sides of one 90 minute cassette tape that I’d copy for anyone who’d listen to it. The cover art didn’t come along until MP3.com arrived on the scene in the late 90’s and I finally had a cheap way of distributing my noise to the masses. The photo is a honeymoon pic of Jenn and myself in Ireland, photoshopped to appear as though poor Jenn is surrounded by a horde of amicable but goofy Dans, which is probably how she still feels from time to time.
So I had a new album, all recorded and ready to go. In the past I’ve used Tunecore to get my albums into Itunes and whatnot, but they charge artists a yearly maintenance fee for each album which is generally larger than what any of my albums earn in sales. So I switched to CDBaby, which I like. There’s just a flat fee to get your albums into all the online venues and they do take a cut of any sales, but there’s no recurring payment involved. But I started thinking, “What am I after here?” At this point in my life a line from Ishtar comes to mind whenever I think about the business side of music, “You’re old, you’re white… You got no shtick.” I’m not sure I ever had any real shtick to speak of, but I am sure that the chances of my making a living solely from my music, are about the same as the odds that I’ll win the lottery. And I don’t play the lottery. All I really want to do is get the music out there. So I decided I’d just put it up on my site and follow Bandcamp’s lead in letting people name their own price if they feel like paying.
But that meant a bit of a redesign for the old website, which needed it anyway, but ended up taking longer than I figured. I wanted all of the albums to be streamed as well as available for download. Then I wanted all of the old albums to be as close to their original form as possible without a tape deck. I’d dropped most of the soundbites that segued all the old cassette recordings in order to get them into online stores. MP3.Com had enough copyright litigation heading their way without me throwing a quote from Ishtar between every song, but I missed the soundbites. They were always what tied everything together, and were a huge part of the process for me.
I’ll be glad when I’m done with the site. I think it’s taking almost as long as the album.
The Album, that’s the other thing. I wanted to call it “Not the Jazz Guy” because all the albums that I paid Tunecore and CDBaby money to get into Itunes and Spotify, are listed under a different Dan Cray and his trio. He’s the Jazz Guy. I’m not. Now I don’t think he’s getting any huge royalty checks or anything from my music. I really don’t think there’s much royalty in any of my music. A cynical Jester perhaps, but nothing too regal. And I know I’m not getting any of his paypal payouts, but it’s just annoying. I’m sure he doesn’t like the idea of one of his killer jams sharing webspace with a song called Sperm (even if it is a love song). But here’s the kicker: For “Not the Jazz Guy” to even work as a title, I’ve totally got to pay CDBaby to get it into Itunes and Spotify. Otherwise it’s not even all that funny.
Anyway, I hope you like the new site and the new album. And if you ever see an album called “Not the Jazz Guy” tagged under Jazz in Itunes next to a photo of a better looking guy than me sitting behind a baby grand, I hope you chuckle a bit.
At first I wanted to be 'The Fonz.' I wanted the leather jacket (not the lame baby-blue wind-breaker he started the series with), I wanted the motorcycle, I wanted the chicks. Man, did I want the chicks. Then, for a short while, I wanted to be Evil Kinevel. I drew his all-American stars and stripes in crayon on my fathers white motorcycle helmet and raced up and down East Akard Street on my bike. I jumped the curbs, skidded whenever I'd gained enough speed, and tried desperately to ride a wheelie in a vain effort to impress chicks. Unfortunately I was top heavy, still young enough to have a head disproportionately large for my body encased in a helmet that weighed damn near a quarter of my entire body weight. I popped a wheelie that wouldn't stop, road-rashed my back, and chipped my dad's helmet. The chicks laughed. They laughed hard and they laughed long.
I decided to be a cowboy. Tough and rugged. I was going to become Clint Eastwood as the Man With No Name in all those old spaghetti westerns. I'd decided on a career. My life's path seemed clear until it dawned on me that, as cool as he was, Clint never really got chicks in those movies. He just seemed to get shot at. My future looked bleak.
Enter adolescence, the wonder of masturbation and music. New music.
Before junior high, I'd been satisfied with the oldies. I'd been weaned on them. My dad gave me his old mono tape recorder, and I made mixed tapes of the Everly Brothers, Sam and Dave, and all the one-hit-wonders the fifties had to offer. I new the words to every song Fonzie could have heard. I sang Del Shannon's 'Little Runaway' in the shower. Until.
My older sister brought home Joan Jet's 8-track. It was those same fifties tunes, but something was different. The guitars. What the hell was going on with those guitars. Things came crashing home, I heard Sabbath's Iron Man on the bus to school. Boom Boxes were gaining momentum. Don't Fear The Reaper battled Golden Earring's Twilight Zone at recess. Crazy Train, Van Halen, Aerosmith's Dream On, and then...
Give The People What They Want. I had the 8-track, halfway through Back To Front it faded out, the player buzzed, then clicked, and it faded back in again. Around The Dial was an anthem, I couldn't believe the words. It was poetry, wrapped squirming around guitar hooks. Live fucking bait.
And sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, when you think you've got it good, it gets better.
I'd seen the words Pink Floyd scrawled across cinder block walls. At thirteen, I'd yet to smoke my first joint. We hadn't been told that drugs were bad, the Just Say No campaign was years away. Our parents weren't yet old or cynical enough to think that their kids might be using the same drugs that they themselves were still experimenting with. I'd heard the song, Another Brick In The Wall, but never associated it with the graffiti. I had however, associated the graffiti with the older stoner kids who hung out at the park. They were generally zit-faced, greasy-haired, and concert-shirt clad. By their very appearance, they seemed to be waging their own Just Say No campaign. I considered them a scary bunch of losers, and if this Pink Floyd guy was their idol, I wanted nothing to do with him.
But my friend Mike had just acquired a new, younger step-dad with a huge record collection. Mike found The Wall, and soon discovered that the Another Brick part was actually made up of three parts that were scattered throughout the album. I considered this a major oversight by this Floyd guy (I'd yet to realize that Pink Floyd was a band), and decided to set things straight. I borrowed the records, and went home to record the three parts sequentially. I'd seen his fans and so figured that Pink was probably just too stoned to know that two should come right after one and be immediately followed by three. I also decided that I'd try to listen to both albums start to finish, regardless of just how bad it might be.
I remember that day with the same clarity that others reserve for the Kennedy assassination. I dropped the needle down on my pawn shop BSR turntable and sat down at my desk with the liner notes. My second floor bedroom window contained the perfect summer afternoon, cobalt blue, cloudless skies filtered through the green of a huge elm, my neighborhood splayed out below. I could see my friends playing kickball in front of Tony's house. It was a day that every thirteen-year-old should spend outside. The kind of day that tugs thirty-year-olds back to thirteen. But I wasn't going anywhere, unless it was to turn up the volume. From the first, barely audible, 'we came in,' to the very last 'this is where,' I sat transfixed. Art. Goddamn Art. Much too small a word for what I was hearing.
I decided that if stoners thought enough of Pink Floyd to deface public property, maybe stoners were on to something. Becoming a stoner was certainly easier than the whole cowboy thing, and the stoner chicks definitely had an air of easy about them.
Weed was plentiful in suburban Westfield, and joining the stoner ranks exposed me to a whole new library of music. Black Sabbath's 'Master of Reality' became the soundtrack to baked, winter night drives in Nick's Bonneville. Snowflakes bending, Buck-Rogers-ish away from the windshield, Nick punching the dash to the left of the tape deck to encourage the lazy auto reverse, then 'Sweet Leaf's' cough and the heavier-than-god guitar, its droning rhythms made dirtier by the slightly blown speaker in the back. The summer drives demanded Zeppelin, Zep III if it was raining.
We drifted back to the late sixties, tracing the nymph marijuana's forefathers. CSN and Neil Young, the Stones, Hendrix, Dylan, and the magic of T-Rex. To quote Bowie, 'Why do I need TV when I've got T-Rex.'
Then I got drunk and got the blues.