Dupont Back Porches (with Bret Alexander) (2016)
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Ben Franklin Bridge
When the Four Winds Blow
Got To Be the Change
Dupont Back Porches *
I Feel Like An Orphan Train *
That Ring It Don’t Fit Your Finger Anymore
Music In the Mud *
If You See Right Through Me (I’ll See Right Through You Too) *
I Think I’m Feeling It Too
All songs by Tom Flannery except * by Tom Flannery and Bret Alexander
copyright 2016 all rights reserved
recorded at Saturation Acres in Dupont, PA
produced by Bret Alexander
Tom Flannery – guitar, vocals
Bret Alexander – guitar, vocals, mandolin, piano, harmonica
“Two remarkable people crafting a truly inspired piece of work…. forcefully to gently acoustic….and always full of passion, “Dupont Back Porches” weaves tales and tours as intimately expansive as anyone in the business. The gestalt of great songwriting; what a joy to listen to”
— WRKC 88.5 Wilkes-Barre, PA
“With each listen, the listener can peel back more and more layers of the songs. It’s a simple recording. Just two of NEPA’s most gifted songwriters, sitting knee-to-knee in the studio with their guitars, making music. But there are stories in the songs. And they speak of everything from heartache, to isolation, to resiliency, to love, to changing the world. The result is an impressive artistic statement. Think Springsteen’s “Nebraska,” “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “Devils and Dust,” with some NEPA flair.”
— Music on the Menu with Alan Stout
Tom’s NOTES – Yea….so this happened. I’m not sure Bret had any idea what he was getting himself into.
We knew each other. We’d played a few shows together. I was a huge fan of his band “The Badlees” since the early 90s. I think he’s a brilliant songwriter. After a recent show I said…..”hey man….we should make a record together”. Bret, ever the gentleman, said “yea man, that’d be cool.” Probably figured I was just making small talk. I wasn’t. I suck at small talk.
So I called him a few weeks later and reminded him that he said “yea man…that’d be cool”. In case he forgot. Then I said….”ok, when can we start?” He said something like…”um….er….well Monday is free…” I said…..”see you then” and then hung up before he could say “um…who is this again?”
So that Monday night saw me almost killing myself on that ridiculous roundabout off route 81 on my way to his studio in Dupont (I’ll never get used to that roundabout….ever). I had my guitar and case crammed with half completed lyric sheets and less than half completed melodies. I felt totally prepared because this is how I make all my records. It’s not normal but then neither am I.
The studio is small and dark and narrow and walled off from the world by a door thicker than a bank vault. It felt like I was walking into an Edgar Allan Poe short story down there. Bret, as usual, dressed head to toe in black, including the frames of his glasses. Deep voiced and elegantly mannered. We sat down and talked for 2 hours. About the world. About our kids (we both have 2 daughters around the same age). About music. About film. He had war stories. I had some too. We’re the same age. We’ve covered a lot of the same ground over the years. We became friends.
It was getting late. I hadn’t even taken my guitar out of its case. Finally I said….”well…let’s try one.” He said….”ok, what do you wanna do?” I said…”I have no idea.” His look said….”well this is gonna be interesting…”
That first night we eventually cut 2 tracks I think. I needed a bridge for “If I Could See Right Through You” and Bret came up with something that I added some lyrics to. And we were off. Cut it live with 2 guitars in one take (the problem with multiple takes is that it never sounds like it’s the first take again, because it isn’t. Profound? Maybe not but it is so…). I asked Bret to sing every other verse even though he didn’t know the melody, nor had any time to digest how the hell I could cram all those lyrics into a I-IV-V progression. He was learning that I liked to work fast….and that the word “rehearsal” to me meant tuning the guitar and counting 1-2-3. I think we did “Got To Be the Change” too. I heard the playback and said “we sound like a demented Simon and Garfunkel”. He said…”well…that’s kinda cool”. It was. Done.
And so we were off. First takes almost exclusively, unless one of Bret’s dogs invaded the studio or something equally catastrophic happened. If the bum note sounded like it fit, we let it go. If the chair squeaked, I’d say “that sounds cool…turn that part up.” Bret would layer on mandolin tracks or add what he called “singer-songwriter piano”. I wanted some harp but forgot mine…and didn’t want to slobber into somebody else’s harmonicas, so Bret did the duty. Neither one of us gave a shit who did what. We were just looking for a certain sound. I gave him completed lyrics to “Orphan Train” and “Music in the Mud” and he cut what he assumed were just demos one night after I left. I heard them the next session and said…”perfect”. He said…”what?” I said…”in “Orphan Train” can you just add a harp solo that sounds like Springsteen’s “The River” and he said….”um…sure” and 30 seconds later he’d done so. I heard him sing the bridge in “Music In the Mud” and we both smiled at the same time. I said “you ever gonna do it better?” and he said “nope”. So. Done. Making music is easy when you work with Bret Alexander.
I can’t say the same thing about making music with me, because….well….there’s the phrasing thing.
I’m used to playing solo acoustic. So if I’m singing a song with a repeated chorus, I might sing it with different phrasing each time. Just because I can and because I get bored easy. That’s all well and good when you’re singing by yourself, but when you ask somebody to add a harmony vocal to the inconsistent warbling you just recorded, well, let’s just say that Bret’s hair was jet black when we started and now it contains stray gray.
His efforts on “Oh Mary” and “That Ring It Don’t Fit Your Finger Anymore” were herculean. By the final track we cut…”Dupont Back Porches”, he simply said “singing harmony with you is like trying to catch a greased pig”. I pondered this and replied…”can’t argue with that.” And so by mutual consent there’s no doubled voices on that chorus.
So the record is done. It’s not perfect. I hear all sorts of things that aren’t supposed to be there. Or at least…..things that weren’t intended to be there. Deep breaths. My bracelet jangling against the guitar sound hole. I can hear myself searching for ways to end songs. Flubbed chords. Late arrivals. Dropped picks. Ragged timing. In short, all of the things that make live music live. If we tried to record the songs again, they might sound better, but they wouldn’t be better. Musical eggheads will know what I’m talking about.
I was talking with Bret last night and he mentioned something he’s always wanted to try. Writing AND recording an entire record (10 songs at least) in a single day. Now, let me remind you that I once wrote and recorded a song every week for 5 years running. Over 250 songs. So it’s not like I’m not fucking crazy too. But this? An entire record in a DAY? Absolute creative lunacy.
My response? Ain’t it obvious?
“When do we start?”
Bret’s NOTES – You learn a lot about someone when you make a record with them. Some guys seem laid back and mild mannered in real life but become insane micro managers in the studio. Some are prima donnas….. you gotta light a lot of candles and dim a lot of lights for those folks. And others are like Tom Flannery, they just don’t give a shit.
Now there is a difference between not giving a shit and not caring. People that don’t care anymore are so tired of fighting that they have given up. But people who don’t give a shit, well, they have already won.
If there is anything good about getting old, that is it. You have seen enough living to know what is real and what is a waste of damn time. I used to have a file folder in my studio that I would pull out in certain situations. When a band was worrying about something they shouldn’t be I would say, “Let me check my file of things I give a shit about.” I would open the folder and it would be empty. “Nope, it’s not in here. Let’s move on.”
There’s a line in one of the tunes on “Dupont Back Porches”:
“If you see right through me/I’ll see right through you too.”
I think that was the mantra for this collection. The record was done before we had time to analyze whether or not it sounded finished. It was like a bunch of candid photos. Both of us caught in the act of being ourselves. It was like having a jam session where only one of the players sort of knows the song. I was watching his hands and reading lyrics and interpreting it all in real time. Most of the time, I got it right. Sometimes not so much. But that’s ok. It’s part of the vibe.
When you open up a magazine or a newspaper, there aren’t only pictures of airbrushed super models. There is raw, ugly shit in there. But for some reason people think all records have to be perfect. It doesn’t make sense.
Even with some live albums, a lot of the stuff is redone after the show. Stuff gets tuned and tweaked and replaced. The singer comes in and stares at the video while re-singing the show. God forbid someone would actually witness them making a mistake. Pussies.
We cut 11 tracks. I didn’t want it to be pretty and bright and hi fi. Most singer/songwriters (and their engineers and producers) want everything pretty and bright and beautiful. Fuck that. We went for dark and raw. Like an early Dylan record or Springsteen’s “Nebraska”.
“Orphan Train”, “Four Winds, “Forever Again”……..most all of the tunes were first takes. If we added anything, we went with our first impression and that was it. It was the same with the mixing. “Slap echo would be cool here.” Ok, done.
Tom and I had never worked together before. I had met him a few times and jammed with him even fewer times. He is also a playwright. He sent me a play he had written based on the The Gin Blossoms’ guitarist Doug Hopkins, who had written all the band’s hits but committed suicide before the band broke. I knew Tom was a great writer, but I didn’t know he could write like THAT. It was a treat to work with him. There will be more.
The Edge is known to work on a guitar sound for a week then spend 5 minutes actually playing it on the recording. Neil Young and Crazy Horse get in a room and record live then spend weeks deciding just which flavor of shitty, loose, and sloppy they want to use. I suspect Tom worked hard on his lyrics and ideas before bringing them into my underground bunker of a studio. But once we got started, I had to make sure everything was working…… because you don’t get a second chance at a first take.
Like I said, there is a difference between not giving a shit and not caring.
Making “Dupont Back Porches” was a real experience. I like to think that we were having a bitch session and a record broke out. That’s how it feels to me.
I think there is plenty of room in the world for records like this one…..