So when I woke up it was 10 degrees hotter and we were surrounded by desert. The friends I’d stayed with in Los Angeles said their most vivid memory of Tucson, Arizona is driving towards it and seeing a bus pulled off to the side of the road on fire. This heat is hard on vehicles. I got to ponder this, and the reasons for me coming here to record an album, after the greyhound I was traveling on broke down under the midday sun just outside a town called ‘Quatersize’. Why am I here? Wouldn’t this have been easier in Sydney? Should I stand with all the other male passengers peering under the tail of the bus to offer my opinion of what went wrong?
I’d heard Calexico records and liked the sound. I’d heard Giant Sand records and loved the sound. Other things had appealed too; Norfolk and Western, Neko Case, Evan Dando.
I got into town 4 hours later than expected (1:30am) so I chose a hotel off a sign on the wall of the greyhound station. It sounded simple and unpretentious enough: Tucson Inn. It turned out to be in the middle of nowhere and the humongous old Vegas style neon sign worked well enough to say ‘T CS N IN’
When I got there a tall thin Chinese man wearing cowboy boots, Levis, Stetson and belt buckle to stop a cannon ball greeted me. He was boiling noodles on a camping cooker in the office and he left them to show me to my room. In the morning the mans wife told me that once upon a time it was the best hotel around before they changed the highway that ran past, and I was actually staying in the “John Waylon suite”.
After further probing I confirmed that indeed I was staying in John Wayne’s room of choice when making the westerns in Tucson in the 50s. The room hadn’t changed since then.
The moment I stepped into Wavelab and met Craig Schumacher, the engineer and owner any anxiety I may have had melted away. He was happy that we were the first Australians to work there and I told him right away that Fosters is ‘Australian for Hoax’. The place resembled a music shop rather than a recording studio. It had a good feeling. About 20 vintage guitars decorated the walls and keyboards and organs were stacked on each other 3 and 4 high. Amps, drums, drum machines, vibraphones, megaphones& If the studio didn’t have a particular instrument that you were looking for you could borrow one from the cavernous Chicago Store (as featured in Martin Scorseses ‘Alice doesn’t live here any more’) so daunting you would leave a trail of breed crumbs to find your way out again if it wasn’t for the large green parrot that lives in the rafters and whispers “hi there” from the darkness when you’re up there looking through boxes of old guitar valves.
A few days later Bree Van Reyk arrived on another Steel Horse (as named by Bon Jovi) fresh from her journey from Sydney and the next morning we began our work. So over the following weeks we ate Burritos and Tamales, developed flip-flop tans, held daily Ms Pac-man tournaments and tried to learn the scientific names of various cactus species. I’d moved over from the Dukes favorite nest to the historic ‘Hotel Congress’ where apparently outlaw Dillenger had been captured after a fire in 1934. Being a lazy bastard he asked the firemen that rescued him to go back and carry out the bags that contained all his weapons. They soon realised it was very heavy for hand luggage and…
We even found time to visit historic Tombstone where the only shooting that goes on these days is from the cameras of tourist armies that keep the village economy afloat. We skipped the watering holes of famous legends Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp and settled for a bar previously owned by a lesser-known and unfortunately nicknamed personality of the Wild West, ‘Big-nosed Kate’. While scouring the nostalgic-photoed walls for an incriminating profile shot of Kate we were accosted by a bored and drunk toothless local who made us dress up in period costume so we could take our own souvenir snaps. These included Bree wearing a feather boa lying on an upright piano, me standing with a shotgun, me in jail, me being hung with a noose, me dead in a coffin and because I answered “yes” when he asked if I liked a joke, me wearing a kitchen apron with a giant hand-sown penis attached to the front. With our film supplies exhausted we got the hell out of there and then went on to…
…Oh yeah, the recording. Well, it seemed to go completely smooth, no studio tantrums to speak of. It was great to work with Bree as always, as I can trust her with all things melodic as well as the drumming. Most of what you hear on the recording happened on, if not the first take, one soon after.
‘Wrong Turn’ and ‘Record Store’ bookend the album, both songs about special havens you find in a city that help define your place and identity. The recording of ‘Record Store’ most reflects the environment of Wavelab studios. A simple folk tale regaling a tiny hole-in-the-wall store where days can be wasted is whispered over a windswept desert plain.
The setting of ‘Unmade Bed’ is an overcrowded obnoxious party, trapped inside a conversation. ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ is a about the difficulties of a transcontinental relationship. There are so many songs written about New York, but this one is through the eyes of an Australian living there by circumstance.
It was great to play with the few guests we had. Nick Luca, who is known for his work with Calexico, Giant Sand and Nick Luca Trio played some piano and hung around and made us laugh with his Australian impressions that were all executed with a Simpsons-esque cockney accent. Doug McCombs from Tortoise and Brokeback commented he’d never played so many chord changes in the space of 3 minutes.
And even Craig made a mark with his signature bass-harmonica puffing. It was inspiring to work with him and his engineering skills are second only to his knowledge of secret fish taco cafes and political conspiracy. He was very happy with the George W. Bush doll we bought him for his birthday that when activated exclaimed, “We must ask ourselves, is our children being educated?” So when it was all over we were very sad to leave.
I’d also like to make special mention of Anthony The who engineered ‘A To Z’ and ‘I Wish That I Was Beautiful For You’ at Velvet Studios in Sydney before we left and managed to fit in the last minute sessions although the studio being booked almost solid by the ‘Popstars’.