Even for the time (1997) it was an old camera/VCR setup, and the video quality in a dingy, poorly-lit club was beyond bad. You had to bring a VHS tape and $20 in cash to get the sound engineer to hit record at that start of your set. On the plus side, though, sound was straight off the board and they took that part pretty seriously. Besides, it was CBGB, and we had no idea that we would continue to play there, so we really wanted a keepsake for that first show.
Considering how unlike the other bands we were, I something think that maybe this was the most punk thing we ever did: going to CBGB and playing a straight rock set in 1997. Clearly, the ska/DMB crowd had no idea what to do with us, but they were gracious about it, regardless. We got the recording, watched it once, then didn’t think about it again for years. John A. ended up with it and brought it to Oregon when he moved, where it ended up in a box in his basement. He sent it to me around 2010 and I promised to digitize it, so of course I threw it in a closet and forgot about it myself. When I finally dug it out in early 2023, it had problems: dropouts on the tape where the sound and video just disappeared. After some painstaking editing in Reaper all the songs were whole again and we realized that this was an album that deserved to be heard.
I only noticed it as I was putting the album together in March, but the set list inadvertently tells a story with the titles: Partners – We’re really not. Yikes, things are going bad, fast Day Before We Met – It’s over. Remember how we felt at the beginning, though? Huddleston Pond – Watching the people in a park on a summer day, trying to forget about it for an afternoon at least How Does It Feel To Be a National Joke? – Everyone needs to stop talking about what happened. Except me, obviously Time That I Forgot – For the love of Mike get up off the floor, already Public Therapy – Please stop oversharing. Please? Seen This Episode Before – DON’T GO BACK DON’T DO IT NOOOOO
The DJLB was a great live band and I’m so excited to be able to share a small piece of that history. Now if we could just get the video cleaned up…
Eliza Hope is an up and coming singer/songwriter whom I’ve known for a LONG time – she was a student of mine in high school, for starters. She has a really interesting mix of influences, with Lana Del Rey and Stevie Nicks at the top of her list, and a singing style that is unique and immediately recognizable. We started working on her EP towards the end of 2020. COVID-19 was raging, so we had several outdoor writing sessions in my backyard, with everyone socially-distanced so that we could unmask for a bit. “Show’s Over” was the first song from that batch that we finished recording. Eliza brought the original idea and the verses, and Jacob and I added the chorus and arrangement bits. We were so happy with this that we immediately released it as a single (impatience is an issue), but there’s a lot more to come and we can’t wait for everyone to hear it. Especially Eliza’s other former teachers, some of whom can’t believe her first single has an f bomb in the opening line.
On Friday, March 13th 2020, school ended for the year. We had no idea at the time, of course, but students were not to set foot in the school building again. For undergraduates this was, although a big deal, not necessarily catastrophic. For seniors, though, it was everything. Prom. Concerts. The spring musical. Graduation. Everything gone, and even worse, it was a slow drip of cancellations over many weeks until we realized there was nothing left. We spent some time figuring out how to teach our classes into computer screens, but the bigger questions were left unanswered; namely, how do we replace the irreplaceable things? With my daughter a senior herself, I had a decent insight into what they were going through. There’s nothing that can take the place of a concert, but technology still allows us to make music. So that’s what we did. Every senior, instead of polishing and performing their usual classical solo, picked a piece to record, for an album we would release by graduation (whatever that ended up being). For copyright purposes, we needed to stick to either original music, or songs that were at least a hundred years old. We ended up going down a rabbit hole of 1890s hits, looking for those that still somehow spoke to us in the modern age (and trying not to be horrified by how incredibly racist so many of the other songs were). This was the beginning of what became “From the Inside Out”.
“Wayfaring Stranger” was the first song chosen for the album, after “You Love”. There was never any question that it would be a feature for Colby Dagwan Santos, whose unique voice and wonderful sense of ornamentation were a perfect fit for this plaintive old folk song from the early 19th century. The arrangement is in 4/4, rather than the original 3/4, with a mix of strings, slide guitar, and old Fender amp vibrato. I had Emmylou Harris in my brain, the whole time we were recording it, even though the song sounds nothing like her version. Her inspiration gave us this, though, and we are incredibly grateful.
“From the Inside, Out” is the first full-length album released by Mt. Hope Music, the catch-all for music published by our high school groups. Each of the songs were recorded at home, during the pandemic of 2020, and almost every one of the seniors in that year’s Vocal Ensemble took a turn out front, singing a solo. It’s a testament to these students and their hard work that this ended up being an eclectic, yet enjoyable, collection of music. The video for “You Love”, which was directed by Mark Bettencourt, was very popular in Rhode Island, and was used as the theme song for a fundraiser for the homeless and underprivileged, who were affected so terribly by COVID-19. Read the blog for the behind-the-scenes story of the making of this album!
I started “You Love” about three years ago, as a lyric-writing exercise. I do these a lot, because writing lyrics is a never-ending struggle to fill a bucket with a hole in it. If I can occupy my mind with arbitrary rules about rhyme structure, then I don’t spend as much time wondering what in the world to write in the first place. Also, I thought it would be fun to write something in second person, like “Captain Jack” or “Kid Charlemagne”, except about love and hope and not, y’know, junkies. It took a while to finish, and then sat in a note on my iPad for even longer. Eventually, I was looking for something to use as my next choral piece, so I wrote the arrangement over the summer, and taught it to Vocal Ensemble soon after our winter concert. We were on track to perform this new piece at the RIMEA Choral Festival in March, and then the world went into lockdown. We would have recorded it anyway, but once COVID-19 took over, we couldn’t even use our meager recording facilities at the school. So each student sang their part into a phone, while listening to the backing track with earplugs, and we began the INCREDIBLY TEDIOUS task of manually assembling a chorus. I’d guess that each track took at least an hour and a half of cleanup before it was in decent-enough shape to add to the project. Then the real fun started, with lining up entrances, fixing timing and tuning, and just generally being obsessive. The audio for this three-minute song probably took eighty hours of work. I’m not complaining, though; we got something special, and it sounds like what they sound like when they sing together, which is to say, fantastic.