So this is part one of the Clamfight recording update — the heavy thrashing Philly four-piece in the studio at Gradwell House with Steve Poponi at the helm as they track their third full-length, yet untitled — but it might be a while before we see part two. As drummer/vocalist/smith of words Andy Martin explains, the process of making this outing is different from either their self-titled 2010 debut (review here) or the subsequent I vs. the Glacier (track-by-track here), which was released on this site’s then-not-at-all-defunct in-house label, The Maple Forum, in that it will have a two-month break in between its start and its completion.
A strange process? Yes. But as Martin — joined in the band by lead guitarist Sean McKee, guitarist Joel Harris and bassist Louis Koble — informs, the album itself is also pretty different from what they’ve done before, so maybe in a way it’s fitting. Perhaps best to let him tell the tale:
DIG IF YOU WILL, A PICTURE:
It’s 2:30 or 2:40 last Sunday, and after setting up since noon, we are finally about to start recording our third full-length record. We’re a little nervous, but we’re excited; we’ve practiced as much our suddenly-super-adult schedules allowed, and the general vibe is, “we are ready.”
I might have the geography of this slightly backwards, but I’m fairly certain Steve Poponi (who did our last two records, and as far as we’re concerned knocked them both of the park) was in the big room doing some last-minute dicking with cables* and we were in the control room discussing what song we were going to start with, when a sweaty, middle-aged guy with the standard issue South Jersey manual labor pompadour appeared in the control room and uttered one of nobody’s favorite phrases in the English language, “Which one of you drives the…”
And just like that, Joel’s car needed a new door, and that “we are so ready for this session” vibe when right out the fucking window.
Sunday ended up being a really long day, and though I managed to finish all my drum tracks, and since that was technically our only concrete goal for this session, you could argue that we ended up ahead of the game, but our shaky-as-a-baby-deer’s-first-steps beginning kind of put a pale over the session. It’s actually why this writeup took me a little longer to get together; I had to ask myself whether I was going to be honest and say, “this was a tough one,” or lie and say, “great times guys! Pay no attention to Joel having to sweep up broken glass and file police reports when he’d rather be recording.”
So in the end, and as you can guess because you’re reading this, I opted for honesty. But here’s me also being honest: the new stuff smokes and it’s made the rough way this session began okay in our books. Though it felt really slow in coming, the change really started Sunday. “Whale Road” which will lead off the next record, was a bear to record, but then “Selkie” went a lot smoother, and “Echoes” and “The History of the Earls of Orkney” were both real close to being first-takers. Our crazy non-Clamfight-related schedules, the accident, all of that stuff was something we got over, but realistically it did make the start of this session a little clumsier than any of us wanted.
Speaking of another unanticipated monkey wrench: the length of these songs. Clamfight III, or whatever we end up calling it (A Vulgar Display of a Tree Service Guy Not Using His Mirrors?), is made up of big, long songs, and though there’s been a seven-minute song or two on each of our prior records, we’d never recorded anything in the 10-or-beyond-minute range, and hence, didn’t quite realize the time commitment that is. If one take of the song lasts 10, or nearly 13 minutes as in the case of “History…,” then the playback takes at least that long. More, if you count the number of times, myself included, that one of us dopes has a fascinating dick joke that can’t wait until the listening is done. If there’s one downside to being in a band with three of your best friends, and making records with a good friend like Poponi, it’s that there is a lot of gum flapping… and when your songs are all 10 minutes, that adds up to a lot of time gone when you’re not recording.
With the drums done and 5AM wake ups for Joel and I looming, we called it a day (the other guys have inside jobs, I’m not sure when they wake up… 10? 11? I picture their morning routines like Eddie Murphy’s in the beginning of Coming to America). We reconvened Monday night and Sean got to work on his rhythm tracks, and in predictable Sean fashion he banged it out at warp speed. The funny thing about Sean’s recording chops versus my own is that since we both do the majority of writing for Clamfight, you might assume that we’d both be similarly hassle free about recording. You would however, be wrong. In fact, if you watched the two of us record, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Sean wrote and practiced these songs for months by his lonesome, and the first time I heard them was the morning of the session.
But I digress. The takeaway is that Sean crushed it on this, and Steve’s ability to get a great tone out of his rig remains intact. We quit around midnight, I believe, and tired from a seemingly endless day we hit home. To be brutally honest, I still didn’t know what we had yet. I was hearing glimmers of the record now, and was liking what I could hear, but I was still too rattled from what I expected to be an easy session turning into a battle to really have an opinion on it. I was edgy but starting to get a sense that maybe this stuff was turning out alright.
Day three, and our final day for this session, began around six the next night, and Louis stomped through his tracks fairly quickly. Not to get a bunch of angry (but probably deserved) comments from my many bass-playing buddies, but I’m not sure I ever appreciated the bass as much as I did listening to Louis lay down his tracks. I gained a newfound appreciation of how much fuller the bass makes things, and how crucial its role as “the sound between sounds” really is. We were pressed for time at this point, so Joel only managed to get tracking done on two of the songs (which after being up since five and still answering phone calls about his car I think gives him MVP status), but we had enough for our other stated goal of the session; rough mixes for which Sean could write solos for and I could write lyrics.
Because here’s the rub, and why this session is a bit different than our prior records: we went into the making of this record knowing there was going to be a two month break in the proceedings. It’s good because as much as we wanted and tried to schedule this record in a big block of time in the manner we did I Versus the Glacier it was impossible. Somewhere in the five years since we recorded our last full-length we got mired into a whole host of outside-of-Clamfight, adult responsibilities, and adding to that mix Steve and the Gradwell House’s ever more packed schedule (he just did Fight Amp’s stellar new record, Constantly Off), it meant that blocking out a week to make this record happen wasn’t going to work. If there’s an upside to us being older and busier, it’s that we’ve all maybe grown a bit more patient, so fighting overall schedules, we managed to figure out a way to make it go, even if that way for us is a little different than what we’re used to.
So here we are, with a record 50 percent of the way done, and a few months off to tighten up solos and lyrics, and then come back in the fall and finish this pig in a weekend. As for how we feel about the material now? We’re happy. Real happy. There was a flood of back and forth, “oh man, did you hear that?” messages in the days following finishing this session. Even in its current state, missing half of Joel’s parts, and all of the solos and vocals, it sounds big. Booming. Dynamic. We’re this-is-the-best-thing-we’ve-ever-done stoked on it. We’re proud of it enough that’s actually put us in a good place about this weirdly tough session, and we’re all dying to come back and finish this thing so we can start letting people hear it.
— Andy Martin, June 16, 2015
*I really, really don’t understand electronics.