The city of New York is rightfully famous for its cuisine. New York is where bagels taste like bagels, where pizza can make you cry, and where hot dogs that fester in off-colored water are somehow appetizing. When Sinatra sang "if I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere," he wasn't talking about success, he was talking about food. He also wasn't talking about burritos.
Because, see, New York burritos are shit. Sloppy Joe meat inside inside a leather tortilla does not a burrito make. That goes for you too Michigan, and you Chicago, and Ohio, please, Ohio, don't make me come over there. The rule, essentially, is this: if your state isn't touching Mexico, I will not eat your Mexican food. It's that simple.
So when our producer Tom arrived from New York that first week, I wasn't that surprised to hear him hankering for a burrito. I wasn't too surprised the next day when, less than twenty hours later, Tom wanted another. I wasn't all that surprised when we returned for the third and then fourth days in a row. In fact, it's hard to say when I really did feel surprised. I suppose it was when Tom's head turned into a burrito, somewhere during the third week.
Of course, we're getting ahead of ourselves here---in fact, I just deleted a very long "history of the burrito" paragraph out of common human decency. We should still be talking about the beginning, or, as the case may be...
The First Burrito
The front door at Hyde Street Studios is always locked. As we've mentioned before (and trust me, will mention again), the Tenderloin is like the Thriller video and it's best to keep the brain-eaters outside when you're working. But that first day, no one was answering the door. We knocked. We kicked. We pounded. Then, we noticed the phone. You know how in action movies, there's always a bomb and Van Damme or Vin Diesel has to choose which wire to cut while that little digital clock ticks down interminably slow? That's how touching that phone felt. Which end has been in whose orifice? Which bumbling lunatic has spent all night calling his home planet? These are questions you never wants to ask yourself. Unfortunately, there was no other way in. I would wash my ear a hundred times that day.
That first afternoon was, let's face it, a bit boring. Microphones got placed, cords were run from room to room, engineers talked in abbreviations I couldn't hope to understand. We did a lot of crosswords and played some banjo. And then, of course, we got a burrito. But when we returned, we jumped right in. Our strategy was to get as many live takes as we could, so we set up Pete in a little glass cave in the corner, while the non-singing Birdmonsters cavorted around in the main room, which housed all manner of drums, guitars, and keyboard flavored instruments. And then we started.
By the end of the evening, we'd finished two songs and discovered our local liquor store, of which: more below. But that first night was a special one. We recorded one of my favorite tracks, we discovered damn near instantaneously that Tom was the perfect choice for the album, and I didn't get ear cancer from the phone.
The Second, Third, and Fourth Burritos
It didn't take long to fall into a routine. By our second dayrrito, we were arriving in the afternoon, enjoying trucker-strength in-studio coffee, and tracking about four songs daily. With keyboards, microphones, mandolins, and all manner of noise makers scattered around the room, choosing which song to do was never predicated on "what won't be a pain in the ass right now" but rather "what do we actually want to play." This was a luxury thus far not afforded to the Monster and we took full advantage.
Now, I've griped about the Tenderloin but here I should give it the props it fully deserves. See, if we were recording in the Minnesota wilderness or a barn in Oregon or even in the Mission District of our fair City, I would have, you know, actually wanted to go outside. Not at Hyde Street. It was like being an exiled Russian author in Siberia, except, you know, we actually had a cheerful outlook on life, and have yet to offend any tsars, communist party officials, or avuncular men with bizarre noggin stains. So, in other words, we just plugged along. There was really no reason to do otherwise. In fact, the only refuge we had was a place called Brown Tooth.
Actually named The New Princess Market, Brown Tooth earned its moniker when, on the first day, a gentleman with a mouth full of rot and fungus accused David of stealing some kind of bagged snack 'em. Dave claims this man worked there, but, on umpteen subsequent trips, he was never seen again. Still, the name stuck, and Brown Tooth become our daily destination for beers, cheap loaves of bread, newspapers, deodorant, and all manner of various sundries. Brown Tooth was also the home of the failed product. You couldn't buy Triscuits at Brown Tooth, but you could get Low-Fat Rye Triscuits, in case, maybe, you're a vaguely overweight mohel. You can't get peanut butter or jelly, but you can get Goobers Peanut Butter and Jelly in the same jar, which, most likely, has been opened and sampled by a customer who you wouldn't even share a bus seat with, much less some sandwich innards. Brown Tooth was the place where shivering drug addicts would emerge from the rain, cut in front of you in line, and buy six snowcones. It was, in its own weird way, a microcosm of the Tenderloin. It is, let's hope, a place I'll never go again.
But enough about Brown Tooth. By Tuesday night, we had half an album in the bag, and each of those was an honest-to-goodness live take, from the drums on down to the vocals. In fact, pretty much the whole album is that way. Sure, there are overdubs and harmonies and the like, but the album is, at its base, a live one. And, for us Birdmonsters, it was the right move.