|News||A superb second outing, this still doesn't quite reach the same level that their later records do, but it is definitely a big step in the right direction. Instead of focusing on more or less common blues themes and images, this album includes more songs on what will turn out to be their signature subjects, personal relationships (or, more precisely, the ugly dissolution of personal relationshipswhich is, admittedly, a pretty bluesy theme) and the ties of family that simultaneously restrict and strengthen the individual will. In addition, they move towards a more original sound, as opposed to the production on the first album, which seemed to merely attempt to capture the live sound of the band. "Family Tree", "White Folk's Blood", "Big Houses", and "Broken Bones" are the best songs on this record.
Bryan HarveyGuitars and Vocals
Marty McCavittHammond B3, Piano and Pump Organ
Johnny and I toured heavily to support Monkey on a Chain Gang. We went out on tours with Nick Lowe, the Alarm (scary), Midnight Oil (great guys, and a great tour for us...that was when Diesel & Dust was just hitting), and the Smithereens. While we were on tour with Midnight Oil we read an article about Jim Dickinson, who had produced the Replacements "Please to Meet Me". Dickinson had played piano with the Rolling Stones (on Sticky Fingers) and Ry Cooder. He lived and worked in Memphis, at Sun Studios in particular. We wanted him to produce our second record (we had already asked Tom Waits, who we knew was something of a fan of ours, but he said he only produced himself). Rhino Records and our manager, Silva, weren't so sure about Dickinson and eventually pressured us to find another producer. After the hassles surrounding our first record, we weren't into another bad recording experience. As I look back on it, I think it was our first mistake and I think Rhino and our manager did us a disservice by not supporting our choice for producer. Dickinson seemed like just the guy to us, but he was apparently hit and miss.
We spent the summer of '88 touring and looking for a producer. Most of the material was written (backlog from being together for 2 years). We ended up settling on John Leckie, who was a Brit and had produced XTC's "Dukes of the Stratosphere" record, which we thought was pretty cool. He'd also worked at Abbey Road and was in the middle of recording the Stone Roses. Our second mistake was picking John. Actually, as a guy, I liked John quite a bit. We became good friends during the recording and he's a good producer but I think he was the wrong choice for HoF. Tantilla is probably my least favorite Freaks record. It has some nice moments, but I don't think we really got what we were going for.
Johnny and I were really getting into "Trout Mask Replica" by Captain Beefheart and we wanted to do TMR with some pop songs. John Leckie was on his own trip, and I never really knew what he was going for...he and I battled over the mixes. He was inclined to use a lot of reverb, very British 80's sound, which I hated. I kept trying to make it sound trashy and low fidelity, like those old blues records Johnny and I loved so much.
We picked a studio in the mountains above Malibu where we lived, ate, and recorded. It was a ranch right in the middle of the California mountains. We had a cabin next door to the studio. It was really beautiful, but it got a little boring after a few weeks. We started recording in fall of '88.
Tantilla put off many of the critics who loved our first record. People like Chris Morris of Billboard and Robert Hillburn of the L.A. Times. I really don't know why, because to me both records were about the same in terms of recording quality and Johnny and I were still doing the same thing musically. Personally, I feel that with both albums we were struggling to get a rougher, more primitive sound than were the engineers and producers we were working with. They were still stuck in the 80's with that digital reverb 80's technology and it was a constant battle, trying to get what we wanted on record, as we were still novices.
We did get a bunch of new fans though, and many new rock critics picked up on us. We toured heavily to support the record and continued to build our following. But after doing a few shitty tours with Concrete Blonde and The Bangles(!?), we were about ready to break up, in fact Johnny did quit at one time rather than accept a tour opening for 10,000 Maniacs. I think it was a good move.
When the Hammer Came Down
Johnny and I wrote this song on our first road trip out of Richmond back in the summer of '86. We got a gig playing a "punk show" somewhere in West Virginia. No one showed upno one, not even the promoters. So we didn't play and drove that night to a campground in WVA. We bought a six pack of Iron City Beer and slept in the back of his '67 Ford van. We sat up and wrote songs, and drank beer. This was one of them. We played the song live the next night at a club in Pittsburgh. That's how we used to work. We'd write a song and then play it immediately, even before I'd written lyrics. We kept that philosophy up through the end and into Gutterball: Do it fast, do it now, do it good.
The Righteous Will Fall
I believe some of the melody for this one was Johnny's. We wrote this one out in L.A. when things were starting to happen for us out there. I remember listening to a tape by Daniel Johnston called "Hi, How Are You?" that our publisher gave to us. We loved it. At first we thought the guy was crackers, then we thought he was a genius and then we found out that he was in an institution and really WAS crackers. We turned Mark Linkous [of Sparklehorse] on to him (Mark was also out in L.A. with his band The Dancing Hoods). Listen to that Daniel Johnston tape, then you'll see where we got a lot of inspiration for Invisible Jewel. And then check out Sparklehorse's first record...there's a hell of a lot of Daniel Johnston on that (some people have said that Mark stole a bunch from Invisible Jewel, but actually we were both stealing from "Hi, How Are You?". Oh yeah, the song...well, I think we stole some of the melody for this song from Daniel Johnston. The lyrics were actually a cloaked reference to my ex-girlfriendwho had just dumped me for her English professor. I thought I'd grill some others while I was at it.
White Folk's Blood
Music was written by Johnny and me in a house in Marin County, CA. I was really getting into that suthern thang around this time. Being in L.A. made me acutely aware that I was from the south. My southern accent became even more pronounced. I was really trying to dig into all those things that make a person from the south what he is...you know, the lost cause, racial guilt and that sort of stuff. I think these lyrics are pretty good. I was particularly disturbed by an old photo from the 30's of a dead black man who had been lynched. He was tied to a tree, with his hands tied behind his back and had been tortured with a blow torch. I still can't get images like these out of my head. It makes me hate humanity sometimes, and confirms my feelings that we live in a godless world.
Birds of Prey
Not a very good song. The lyrics are trite and forced. I don't remember much about it except that we wrote it as a straight on rocker. Then Johnny started getting into Big Band Swing and wanted to put a swing beat to it. I think it ended up sounding more like the Stray Cats.
King of Kings
A definite Fleetwood Mac ripoff. I think Lindsay Buckingham is a great guitarist and I was stealing a lot from him. Johnny was being Mic Fleetwood on "Oh Well" from the Peter Greene days. The song is about sex, obviously. I just used religious imagery...it seemed kinda erotic that way. We wrote that out in L.A. Most of the songs from Tantilla were written out there, and I finished off the lyrics back here in Richmond.
I like this song. Nice tune, good lyrics. I sat outside the studio under an orange tree and played guitar and sang the song. If you listen closely you can hear the birds in the tree. We had to take this song about ten times because airplanes kept flying over. We dubbed in the rest of the instruments later.
Sun Gone Down
The hit...yeah. This is the best sounding song on the record. I think John did a great job mixing this one, and he did well making it sound full with no bass. I'll bet most people don't realize that this album had no bass as well. What we did on Tantilla that we didn't do on Monkey was overdub a guitar track playing the lowest notes of the chords and then used that as a "bass" sound. I was adamant that we not use independent bass lines. I thought we should keep exploring the possibilities, but our music was already changing beyond the two man concept...and this was the last record with no bass until Invisible Jewel.
Kill the Mockingbird
I have to admit that "To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of my favorite movies. The soundtrack is awesome...Elmer Bernstein...a beautiful theme. I always imagined that my parents' lives during the Depression were like Jem's and Scout's. My mother and her mother were a rare breed, like Atticus Finch, a southern liberal. I always connected to that character. But for the song, I was basically trashing my relationship with my girlfriend. An anti-romance song.
Johnny wrote the music for the verse while riding his motorcycle. I put the chorus on later. I remember struggling with the lyrics on this for quite some time. I think I was trying to write more about personal matters but still having a problem with it.
I Want Answers
Pretty much sums up the way I felt about life then. An anti-god song. I was getting pretty cynical and I liked my newfound opportunity to vent and rant to a public that I couldn't see.
Another Civil War song. We wrote this one back in Richmond before our move to L.A. I remember playing this every night on our tour with Midnight Oil. Johnny played drums on it at first, but then one night on a drive from Vancouver to Calgary, Johnny announced that he was going to play the spoons on "Big Houses" in Calgary. He picked up a couple of spoons (a JFK spoon and a Freedom 7 spaceship spoon), and practiced the entire drive. By the time we played in Calgary, he had it down and it sounded great. Johnny was like that. He could do anything he set his mind to. He was the most powerful, creative, and technically skilled drummer and percussionist I'd ever heard. Watching him was like watching a volcano...you just sat back and observed in amazement. I remember playing once with this lame band called Big Pig who had three drummers that sounded like one. We had one drummer who sounded like three! For anyone who never saw us live, you missed seeing one of the great rock and roll drummers. I know Johnny, if he ever saw this would think it silly that I'm writing this, but it's true. I doubt that there are many drummers out there as good as he is. Without him it would have been impossible to pull off the two man concept. I've seen and heard other two person bands, and they really ought to get a band.
The World of Tomorrow
I had a book called "Yesterday's Tomorrows", a coffee table book of visions of the future from the past. The 1936 World's Fair had an exhibit called "The World of Tomorrow" and it was portraying a world of high speed monorails and people movers, no poverty, no crime, everybody healthy and tanned, no hunger...the time was supposed to be the world of 1960. Ha...I thought it was pretty ironic and wrote a song. But mainly it's a song to our children and the world after us. I liked the song but I don't think it was recorded very well, so it stands as something of a disappointment, as does most of this record for me.