Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Yum Yum Tree – "Slouch" (2007)

What am I waiting for?
Why am I still here?

The Yum Yum Tree's Paint by Numbers is strong from start to finish – there's not a bad song on the album:

But the Paint by Numbers track I'd pick if I had to pick just one is "Slouch."  It grew on me quickly, and for awhile, I'd repeat it over and over.  In fact, if you knew just how many times in a row I would play it on my iPod, you'd think I was weird.  (You may think that already.)

This third installment of my four-part series on Andy Gish and her music focuses on "Slouch."  (You can click here to read the previous part of the interview if you missed it.)

2or3lines:  "Slouch" is the Paint By Numbers song that first got my attention. There's a lot going on in "Slouch," both musically and lyrically -- I think it's a very skillfully constructed song.

Andy:  Wow.  Thank you.  I’ve never thought of it as that.  I mean, I like the song, but I think it was something I just kind of hammered out when I wrote it.  I write on guitar but in my heart I am a bass player. So the backbone of “Slouch” was actually a bass-like part I wrote on guitar.  I’ve never thought about it before but this is probably why the song starts off with that part and then breaks into bar-chords when it gets more angsty and loud.

Andy Gish performing live with
Alex Pilson and John McNicolas
2or3lines:  The lyrics to “Slouch” tell a story – perhaps a story based on real-life events?

Andy:  I took a frustrating situation and processed it through the song’s lyrics.  I will admit that most of my songs are about people in my life.  Probably only my best friend knows who “Slouch” is about.  Let’s just say it’s about someone who placed themselves very much in the center of my life -- both musically and personally – without an invitation to do so.  All of a sudden I had someone in my life -- although not actually in my band – who was supporting me and admiring me, but also trying to control me.  This was very strange to me and I really didn’t understand what was happening. He wasn’t a bad person by any means, but I just didn’t know what to do with the situation. My writing this song was me trying to work through it . . . as most of my songs are.  

2or3lines: So would you say “Slouch” is typical of your songs, or is it an atypical song?

Andy:  I guess something unique about this song is that it is much more intimate than the rest of the songs I was writing back then.  My songs tended to be bathed in lots of metaphors, but this song was a lot more vulnerable.  

2or3lines:  “Slouch” begins with these lines:

What’s going on here?
I thought you were coming over to hang on the couch
What’s going wrong here?
I can see the regression in your impotent slouch

Andy, I have to admit something -- I thought for a long time that you were saying “impudent,” not “impotent.”

Andy:  Scott Lewis and I once discussed the use of the word “impotent” in the song.  For me, at that time, it was a very ballsy word for me to sing . . . much more than any actual swear words.  Although in this context it is really just a metaphor to someone kind of shrugging their shoulders or not showing up to a situation or conversation.  Still, for a women to stand on a stage and sing the word “impotent” seemed daring to me.  It may not sound like much, but I remember being very uncomfortable with that line when we first started playing the song live, but I was resolved that it was the perfect word.

Andy Gish and Michelle Friedman
2or3lines: The next lines of the song seem to indicate that the male character has surprised the singer with some kind of request or proposal -- she wants to say "yes" to him, but she's afraid to:

I’m afraid to take that jump
I’ve seen you let 'em fall.
But I’m afraid to leave right now
What if this is worth waiting for?

What's going on between these two people?

Andy:  This line was literally from me sitting on a couch with someone and debating if I was going to leave or not.  They didn’t want me to leave but also this relationship was not moving forward.  I guess it’s about this person’s inaction.  And inaction is a frustrating as hell to me! I admit it’s something I struggle with myself.  Don’t they say that the things we don’t like in other people are also the things we don’t like in ourselves?  Well, there you go.

2or3lines: I get the feeling from the following lines that the singer has been burned before – she's suspicious of the guy's sincerity. Or perhaps she's more concerned that the guy doesn't really know what he wants – he may think he wants her today, but may change his mind tomorrow:

I can’t stand the way you play me
Or the way you make me doubt
And I don’t have the time right now
To help you figure you out

Tell us about those lines.

Andy:  Those lines were in reference to the power play situation I found myself in.  I am very independent and can be quite rebellious if someone tries to control me.  I think that is where I was coming from.  There is definitely a lot of angst in the line “I don’t have the time right now to help you figure you out.”  I hope this doesn’t make me sound arrogant, but I’ve always been a person who had no problem expressing my identity.  Good or bad, I’ve always owned who I am.  This may be going into too much detail but I think that owning your character appears to others as confidence.  I don’t think that actually equates to confidence, sometimes it’s actually just resolve in accepting who you with all the glory of your faults.  But what I experienced was that I was attracting people in my life who didn’t know their own character.  I think I was attracting them because they also wanted to know who they were.  Figuring out “who you are” can be grueling and uncomfortable. It’s like standing naked in front of a mirror going “OK, I guess this is what I got to work with.”  I know for certain the angst from this line came from someone who seemed to want me to do that work for them.  But it’s a task that no one can do for you.  I surely don’t want to sound heartless, but I remember just being frustrated with the entire situation.  It was intense but not very functional.  And I guess I would (one day) like to be a person who jumps in seeing failure as a successful outcome.  I’m still working on that.

Version one of The Yum Yum Tree: Matt Harr,
 Scott Lewis, Andy Gish, and Kent Honea
2or3lines:  The choruses repeat the following lines, which seem indicative of the singer's ambivalence and uncertainty about the relationship:

What am I waiting for?
Why am I still here?

Earlier the singer said she didn’t have the time “to help you figure you out,” but it seems that she is still waiting around for the guy to make up his mind about what he wants from her – and the fact that she is still waiting makes her a little frustrated with herself. 

Andy: Yeah, that’s true.  I’m a Scorpio, we hate waiting, yet we are very patient.  Ambivalence is also very frustrating to me.  I’d rather know how someone feels about me -- good or bad – then move on from there.  I also will completely admit that defaulting to ambivalence it one of my own personal flaws when I feel insecure.  I’ve recently been trying to practice what Brené Brown writes about vulnerability. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever done.  (By the way, confidence has never been sexy to me, but vulnerability is.)  One of her points that I love is that what we want people to share with us is their own vulnerability because they are sharing a true part of themselves.  We want to feel like they are sharing their heart . . . their true self.  Yet, this vulnerability is often the hardest thing for us to share with them.  Seems unfair -- right?  I suppose most of my music is me attempting to explore and share my own vulnerability. So perhaps what I found most frustrating about the situation that inspired “Slouch” was also something I suffered from. 

Brené Brown on vulnerability
2or3lines: I really like the way the choruses build as the song progresses.  You go from singing the chorus solo to having a number of other singers echo your lines.

Andy:  The chorus of people singing at the end was probably the very last thing we added to the album before we released it.  I decided I wanted a group of people singing the chorus sort of at the last minute -- as we were mixing the album.  So in the dead of winter, I invited a bunch of friends to come to the studio and we all sang together.  

2or3lines:  There's what I would call a coda at the end of "Slouch," and I have to admit I'm confused by the lyrics that conclude the song:

We all know you like it this way
Now you got him lying on the floor
But Alpha never dressed up this way
And I don’t think he likes it anymore
We all know you like it this way
Now you got her lying on the floor
Omega never dressed up this way
And I don’t think she likes it anymore

Help me out here, Andy -- who are Alpha and Omega, and what is going on here?

Andy:  The alpha/omega references relate to shifting powers and roles that were happening at that time and that I just didn’t understand.  This is a reference to the power play situation mentioned before. It’s also kind of references how different people play different roles in different situations or with different people. You may be confident around some people and then play the role of being subordinate around others.

2or3lines:  What did the critics and reviewers say about Paint by Numbers?  How did the public respond to the album?

Andy:  The album got good reviews. I remember Flagpole saying that our songs sounded too happy to come from a Georgia group . . . that they sounded more like sunny California pop.  [NOTE: Flagpole is an alternative newspaper that focuses on the cultural scene in Athens, Georgia, which is the home of the University of Georgia.]  I took no offense to that!  The album got a decent amount of play on college radio, especially on the University of Georgia and Georgia State stations, and every so often I get little royalty checks and I buy the band drinks with them.

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Yum Yum Tree – "Paint by Numbers" (2007)

Meet me halfway up the stairway
I'll be waiting for you

In the last 2 or 3 lines, you were introduced to Andy Gish, who moved from Houston to Atlanta in 1998 to attend graduate school, but who ended up dropping out and founding The Yum Yum Tree.

Andy wrote and sang the songs on that group's 2007 album, Paint by Numbers, and both her songwriting and her singing are excellent.  (Her bass playing is very good as well.)

Today's 2 or 3 lines presents the second installment of my four-part conversation with Andy.  (You can click here to read the first installment.)  We'll pick things up where we left off and learn about how she put together The Yum Yum Tree and who her favorite songwriters and singers are.

2or3lines: You mentioned grad school – is that why you moved to Atlanta?  Since you still live in Atlanta, I assume you are happy that you moved.

Andy:  In 1998, I moved to Atlanta for a graduate fellowship in primatology . . . 

2or3lines: Which is the study of apes and monkeys and other primates -- correct?

Andy:  Yes.  That worked out horribly and after a year I quit school.  But there was so much amazing music going on in Atlanta I decided to stay here. I knew ONE person in Atlanta when I moved here. When I left Texas I thought I was leaving music behind.  I never thought I would play in Atlanta, but surprisingly music is why I stayed here and why I ADORE this city.  

2or3lines: How did you get acquainted with other Atlanta musicians?

Andy:  I think that all of my friends in Atlanta can somehow be linked back to the ads that I placed or they placed in the “Musician Wanted” section of the Creative Loafing classifieds. [NOTE: Creative Loafing is an Atlanta alternative weekly newspaper.]  I met two of my dearest friends – who became members of The Yum Yum Tree – through one ad that mentioned the Jesus and Mary Chain.  I remember one ad I placed said something like “Searching for my Joey Santiago!”  [NOTE:  Santiago was the lead guitarist for the Pixies.]  Someone should do a study of those ads.  Figuring out which bands came from what ads would look like the world’s most complicated epidemiology chart!

Atlanta's Creative Loafing
2or3lines:  Tell me more about The Yum Yum Tree.  How did that band get started? 

Andy:  After Hannibal told me “You are the band,” he offered to help me get things off the ground by playing guitar for a while.  He had other commitments but he wanted to help.  So I had a temporary guitarist and I was a bass player – that left me needing a drummer.  A few months before I had played a bit with a guitarist named Scott Lewis who I met through the classified ad that mentioned the Jesus and Mary Chain.  Scott actually kicked me out of his band after a few weeks.  But his roommate, Matt Harr, was a drummer that I really liked. 

2or3lines:  How did you talk Matt into coming aboard?

Andy:  Drummers were in really high demand, but I was determined.  So I met Matt at a movie and tried to put on my charm.  I think he knew a little about the music I was writing but I don’t think I told him that I was going to ask him to play with me.  I showed up with my demo and told him, “So, I we’re recording in six weeks and have a show booked in eight weeks.  We’re called The Yum Yum Tree.  Do you want to be our drummer?”  I think I took him by surprise, but he said yes.  Scott was mad that I stole Matt as apparently he wanted to use him in the project I had been kicked out of, but I moved in quicker.  What’s funny is that a year or so later Scott joined The Yum Yum Tree and is still a very close friend.

2or3lines: You guys didn’t leave yourself a lot of time to come together as a group before that first recording session.

Andy:  What’s really magical is that Matt, Hannibal and I did record an EP six weeks after we got together, and played a live show two weeks after that.  Our song “Bad Idea” was immediately picked up by WRAS, which was the Georgia State University radio station. They played that song almost every single day for a year!  It was awesome.  And we didn’t even have a permanent guitarist.

2or3lines: It appears from the credits for your two albums – Reverse Engines and Paint by Numbers -- that The Yum Yum Tree has had quite a few personnel changes over the years. 

Andy: There were a myriad of people who played with The Yum Yum Tree over the years.  I had a lot of guitarists.  We replaced Hannibal with Kent Honea on guitar.  Kent finished our first album with us and became the key guitarist in the Yum Yum Tree.  Trey Tidwell and Scott Lewis traded spots as second guitarist for a couple of years.  Then about ten years ago, I took a break from the group. 

Andy Gish with Kent Honea,
Scott Lewis, and Matt Harr
2or3lines:  Were the members of the group not getting along?

Andy:  Honestly, I think none of us were having much fun and I had no idea what the next step was.  I’m not sure I was the best leader back then.  I was great at getting stuff done, shows booked, etc.  But I think because I never saw myself as a front person I was always really uncomfortable as a leader.  I remember being in practice one day and looking over at Matt and thinking to myself, “He’s really not happy and I have no idea what to do.”  We talked and decided that eventually we would part ways – not immediately, but in a few months.  I’ve never really admitted this even to myself, but I wasn’t planning on replacing Matt. I was just going to silently break up the band.  I just knew it wouldn’t be the same without him and I needed to pause and regroup.

2or3lines: So what happened next?

Andy: I spent the next year or so writing alone in my bedroom and going to friends’ shows.  The Yum Yum Tree had been so busy playing around the Southeast that I felt like I was never home.  I never saw my dog, I was always sick, and I never got to see my friend’s bands play unless we were playing a show together.  I knew I needed to experience life to write better songs again.  After I had gathered a fresh handful of songs with a new approach on angst, I started looking for people to play with.  I think I found Alex Pilson first.  We had played once together back around 2000, before I officially formed The Yum Yum Tree, and he was a great drummer.  Then I found myself in the predicament of not having a guitarist.  It seems unbelievable to most musicians that in the great void of drummers and bass players that I was always searching for a guitarist! 

2or3lines: That’s very interesting.  I didn’t realize that good drummers and bass players were so hard to find compared to guitarists.  So how did you find your new guitarist?

Andy:  I placed a classified ad in Creative Loafing again and Tim Hill responded.  We then met at a Starbucks.  I can’t explain this but before we even played together I somehow knew that Tim was my guitarist.  I went ahead and got a new practice space and that day because I knew I had a new version of Yum Yum Tree.

Andy with Alex Pilson and Tim Hill
2or3lines: You released Paint by Numbers – the title track is our featured song today – in 2007.  I assume you recorded Paint by Numbers with the new Yum Yum Tree lineup?

Andy:  I basically think of our first album as representing version one of Yum Yum Tree and the second album as representing version two – but actually there was a lot of overlap.  Some of the songs on Paint by Numbers were actually recorded by Matt Harr, Kent Honea, Scott Lewis and myself – version one of the band.  But I recorded most of the songs on Paint by Numbers with Alex Pilson and Tim Hill.  Before we finished the album, I decided to go to nursing school.  Somehow I thought being back in school would allow me for more time for the band.  Sadly, it did not.  Because of school, I kind of sat on Paint by Numbers for a while, and by the time it was mixed and ready to go Tim had other commitments.  So when Alex and I released Paint by Numbers we added friends Michelle Friedman and John McNicolas to support the album.  Tim actually did come back for a show in 2008.  So The Yum Yum Tree played its official last show with Tim Hill, Alex Pilson and Michelle Friedman.

2or3lines: You wrote all the songs on Paint by Numbers, and I have to say that I was very impressed by the quality of the songwriting on that album.  Were there any particular songwriters who inspired you, or whose songs were your models when you started writing your own songs?

Andy:  Gosh, it’s hard to say.  I listened to so much music that I think it just festered into something completely different.  We were always compared to Throwing Muses, MagnaPop, and Mazzy Star, but honestly the only one of those groups that I ever listened to before Yum Yum Tree  was Mazzy Star.  My songs have lyrical references to Ultra Vivid Scene, The Weakerthans, Jeff Buckley and Syd Barrett.  But I’d say my biggest influence was the Pixies.  I loved how bass played such an important role in their songs.  I loved how Joey [Santiago] just made up atypical guitar parts up that seemed unrelated to the rest of the song but fit so well.  

Andy Gish at a Weakerthans show
2or3lines:  That’s a pretty diverse list of musicians.  Maybe that’s why your songs don’t really sound like anyone else’s music.

Andy:  I guess the thing that influenced me the most was not really knowing what the hell I was doing.  Not really knowing what a C chord was.  Not knowing what I was supposed to do.  I guess that is how growing up in Texas influenced me.  In Texas you come up with your own way of doing things, you make your own rules.  You know, doing this interview has made me realize that my approach to songwriting is really quite haphazard.

2or3lines: Tell me a little about your songwriting process.

Andy:  I usually write an outline of the song on guitar and then give it to the guitarist to flesh out.  Only then do I write a bass part.  I used to think this was because I was lazy but I guess it makes for unique songwriting.  Because the original part is played on guitar, I’m forced to come up with something completely different for the bass part.  I’ve never really thought about it much.  With so much of my music, I kind of just do it without any plan and see what happens.  I guess for me that’s what makes it art.

2or3lines: One of the musicians I've shared your album with was very impressed by your bass playing. What kind of bass do you play?

Andy: That’s awesome.  I get a lot of compliments about my bass playing and it still makes me blush.  I will say I do play differently than most.  I think this is because I am actually left-handed but I play right-handed.  No one told me there were left-handed instruments until I was 22.  I had no idea there was another option.  I think this is why I can sing and play at the same time without effort – I use different parts of my brain.  I don’t think of myself as particularly skilled, I just do it my own way.  I have a handful of guitars, but I only have one bass – a seventies-vintage Aria-type violin bass -- which I play through a Fender Bassman 135 tube amplifier.  It basically a knockoff of the first Gibson bass, the EB1.  For me, the magic seems to come from the fact that it has a semi-hollow body without f-holes.  It’s warm and roars a little without being overly dramatic.  I love Fender tube amps and I think these two pieces together are just awesome.  They are all I will ever need.

Aria violin-style bass guitar
2or3lines: Do you have any favorite bass players?

Andy:  What’s funny is I pay no attention to bass players when I listen to recorded music!  That sounds horrible but I always listen to the guitarist.  I hate to say this.  It’s going to make me sound like a horrible person but it’s really easy to fake bass playing.  I really shouldn’t be saying this.

2or3lines:  You’re going to get kicked out of the bass players’ fraternity!

Andy:  [Laughter.]  I really think Kim Deal is a great bass player.  If anyone influenced me I would say it was her and the Pixies wouldn’t be the Pixies without her style of playing.  I also really love Hank Sullivant, who was the first bass player in the Whigs, and Dave Chase, a local Atlanta bass player who is just amazing.

2or3lines: What about your favorite female singers -- past or present?

Andy:  I adore PJ Harvey.  I love how she breaks rules and doesn’t seem to filter herself.  She’s really unique.  She’s not a “female” singer -- she’s just a singer.  

2or3lines:  One review I read compared your singing to Courtney Love of Hole.  I think your voice sounds a lot like Gwen Stefani at times, although your singing style may be closer to Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.  Who do you think you sound like?

Andy:  Oh goodness -- it’s hard for me to say.  I wouldn’t have guessed any of those.  I think my singing style has mellowed and matured through the years.  I have a lower singing range, which I like.  So I understand the Chrissie Hynde reference and I’ll take that!  She’s awesome.   I was always really grateful for the comparisons I got to Hope Sandavol from Mazzy Star.  Her voice is so warm and velvety.  I love that my voice has a warmth to it.  I get that from my mother.  It’s haunting when we sing together.

2or3lines:  What about female songwriters?  Any particular favorites?

Andy:  I think that the female songwriters that I liked the most in the years before I started writing myself were Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses.  I love their approach to writing a catchy rock song.  They are great with atypical hooks.  Lately, I can’t stop listening to Jessica Lea Mayfield’s album Tell Me.

"Paint by Numbers" is the last track on the Paint by Numbers album, and it's a winner.  Andy shows off her bass guitar skills during the extended instrumental introduction, and then shows off her vocal talents during the rest of the song.  Everything else about "Paint by Numbers" – the guitar work, the drumming, and the production – is first-rate as well.

Click here to go to the next 2 or 3 lines, where we'll focus on my favorite song from the Paint by Numbers album.

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Yum Yum Tree – "Februaries" (2007)

Take your longest sleep tonight
I’ll catch you where bluebirds fly

(Where do bluebirds fly?  Somewhere over the rainbow, of course.)

Last year, I stumbled across a compilation album titled Workers Comp, which was released by Recess Records (an independent label located in southern California) in 2001.

The first song on the album was "Calvary," by a group called Yum Yum Tree.  I loved the song immediately, and it's featured in the previous 2 or 3 lines.

I Googled the Yum Yum Tree to find out more about the group and found a number of references to a 2007 album titled Paint by Numbers, which I downloaded.  It was a very good album, but the songs on it sounded nothing like "Calvary":

It turns out there were two different bands who called themselves Yum Yum Tree.  The group that recorded "Calvary" was from New York City.  The group that released Paint by Numbers (and who called themselves The Yum Yum Tree) was from Atlanta.

I tracked down the Atlanta group's singer-songwriter-bass player, Andy Gish, and asked her if I could interview her for 2 or 3 lines.  Andy agreed, and provided detailed answers to my very long list of questions.  (When I get going with a musician whose music I admire, I don't know when to stop.)

Andy Gish
I've broken Andy's interview into four parts.  In part one – which you are reading now – we'll learn about Andy's childhood in Houston and her move as a young adult to Atlanta.

20r3lines: Andy, where did you grow up? Tell me a little about your childhood.

Andy Gish: I was born in Wadsworth, Ohio, which is a beautiful little town near Akron.  My family moved to Houston when I was seven.  Looking back, I think that move was actually pretty traumatic and probably changed me as a person.  
2or3lines: In what way?

Andy: Growing up as an only child in suburban Houston, I felt really isolated.  I don’t want this to sound overly dramatic but I really think that in that isolation music became my closest friend.  To this day it is the place I go when I need to talk something out.  It’s actually pretty damn therapeutic and still remains such a gift in my life.

2or3lines: I understand that both of your parents were musicians.  

Andy: Yes, my parents are both musicians and they both write music.  Neither of them were classically trained.  My mother plays bass and piano and my dad can play anything that makes a noise.  I once found him in the music room playing drums with his feet with a guitar in his lap and singing. I thought he had a whole band in there playing with him.  I remember one Christmas I was watching my dad play the keyboard part of “California Girls” by the Beach Boys.  He had never played this before and was just playing it by ear.  I once said to him “Dad, where’s middle C on the piano?”  He said, “Um, I’m not sure.”  He is completely unaware of how naturally gifted he is.  

2or3lines: How did you learn to play?

Andy: Our family way of learning was one person showing another person how to play a song they wrote and then just letting you go from there. The instruments were always there.  I love that they never gave me any lessons.  Instead, they played with their ears and their hearts.  I learned from them that if music feels right, it’s right.  Years later while recording with The Yum Yum Tree, the engineer asked me to show him a chord I was playing on guitar.  I showed him, and his eyes got huge and he said, “You know, that’s totally not a chord. It’s completely wrong, but it sounds so right!"

2or3lines: What musicians did you listen to when you were growing up?

Andy: When I was five, Sean Cassidy was my favorite musician and was my first concert – I rushed the stage! Blondie’s “Call Me” was the first 45 I bought with my own money. When I was seven, I thought Cheap Trick was the best band in the whole world.  I went through a brief period of listening to some hair bands with my friends and then when I was 12 I discovered The Cure and everything changed. I still remember hearing the beginning of “Killing an Arab” and saying to myself, “This is MY music!”  From then on I mostly listened to British music -- My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead, Chapterhouse, The Wonder Stuff -- and actually went to the UK as an exchange student just because of my love of the music they produced.  The Pixies and the Stone Roses were also favorites of mine.

The Cure (circa 1987)
2or3lines: Were most of your friends into music as much as you were?  

Andy:  My high-school friends and I planned our schedules around upcoming concerts, and we all stayed up late on Sunday nights to watch 120 Minutes. [NOTE: 120 Minutes was an MTV show dedicated to alternative music videos that aired from 1986 to 2003.]  Some of those friends were musicians, but I never really played with anyone from high school like most people do.  

2or3lines: Tell us about your first band.

Andy: When I was 15 I went to a street festival in Montrose -- which was the hip, artsy area of Houston -- and saw a band I really liked called The Devil’s Workshop.  They reminded me of Ultra Vivid Scene. About five months later I joined that band as the bass player.  I had to commute to downtown Houston by bus to practice!  All the other members were in their twenties and thirties -- I was literally half the age of the frontman/guitarist – and I played my first show at a bar a week before my 16th birthday. It was actually perfect.  I got to skip the awkward part of starting a band with your high school mates and I got to join a real band that played gigs downtown.  It was pretty awesome.  From that point on I really looked at high school as just a means to an end.  I had good friends there, but my real life was downtown practicing and playing shows.

Young Houstonians dancing at a Montrose club
2or3lines: When did you start writing songs?

Andy:  I think I wrote my first song when I was about ten,  but I did not write a song that I really liked until I was 24.  From playing in The Devil’s Workshop, I learned how to play in a rock band and how to record before I left high school.  However, it wasn’t until I moved to Atlanta, away from everything that I knew, that I wrote a song I actually liked.  I assumed that I was a performer and not a songwriter until then -- which didn’t make sense, because both my parents wrote music.  But in the quiet of Atlanta – when I was alone for the first time in my life -- I picked up my Hofner Galaxie 175 guitar, and I wrote a song I loved!  I literally couldn’t believe it.  Writing songs became addictive. I would stay up till 4 AM while in grad school and write song after song.  Somehow after playing and writing for all those years, I had finally tapped into something that had been festering under the surface.  It was an amazing feeling.

Hofner Galaxie 175 guitar
2or3lines:  Did you perform these songs in Atlanta?  Were you in a band at this time?

Andy:  No, not at first.  I started looking for bands to play with in Atlanta and I just couldn’t find what I wanted. In the meantime, I recorded a four-track demo of my songs and passed it around to Atlanta musicians to get their opinions. 

2or3lines:  What was the reaction to the demo?

Andy:  A local guitarist named Hannibal Heredia -- who would later become The Yum Yum Tree’s first official guitarist -- pulled me aside and said “Andy, stop looking for a band to join. YOU are the band.  These songs are good enough.  You just need some players.  Be the band!”  I will always be grateful that Hannibal gave me permission to be the band, because without that encouragement I really don’t know if I ever would have had the guts to start The Yum Yum Tree.  I would have played music, sure, but I don’t think I ever would have embraced being the front person.  In fact, I still find it hard to believe that I am the front person.

2or3lines:  Andy, I understand that you wrote today's featured song, "Februaries," as a tribute to your closest childhood friend, who tragically died when she was still in her twenties.

Andy: It’s hard to write a song about a person whom you loved and who has died.  It is surely hard to write a good one.  You end up being overly melodramatic and sad. . . . But I did not want the song to be sad. . . . I wanted to write a fun song for Michelle to celebrate all she loved and all we shared.  So I started off with a funky beat hoping for the best.  The rest of the song kind of wrote itself.  The end of the song kind of seems like a lullaby . . . not sad but just peaceful.  More about life than death.  Michelle was born in February – that is why the song is called "Februaries."

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Yum Yum Tree – "Calvary" (2000)

You say a picture's worth a thousand words
So I cut the head off all the photographs

Well, well . . . I guess that's pretty plain, isn't it?

Show me a song whose singer is really pissed-off, and I'll show you a song that meets one of the important criteria for greatness.  Especially if the singer is a girl.

You would have to search far and wide to find a more pissed-off girl singer than the one in today's featured song.

"Calvary" is the first track on a compilation album titled Workers Comp, which was released in 2000.  I've been unable to find out much about most of the bands represented on the album.

Yum Yum Tree consisted of three women (singer Jenn Sweetheart, singer/guitarist Dawn Black, and singer/bassist Vanessa Godson) and a male drummer (Adam Paterson).

They released an album titled Trendy on the Girlie label in 1995.  That album did not include "Calvary," but did include songs titled "Die Barney Die," "Sodomy," and "G*ddamn F*cker," which I'm guessing are pretty pissed-off songs, too.

Yum Yum Tree also had a song on a 1998 compilation CD that featured groups from Brooklyn:

It appears they released a four-song EP CD at some point:

That's pretty much all there is about Yum Yum Tree on the Internet.  I doubt that anyone who reads this will know anything about the band.  But if you do, please contact me. 

Click below to hear "Calvary":

Click below to order the song from Amazon. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ray Charles – "It Should've Been Me" (1954)

It should have been me
Eating ice cream and cake

"It Should've Been Me," which was released in 1954, was one of Ray Charles' earliest hit singles.  

I only became acquainted with the Ray Charles version of that song recently.  The version of the song I knew prior to that was Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen's cover, which was released on the group's second album, Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers' Favorites, in 1972:

In the first verse of "It Should've Been Me," the singer sees a swell-looking chick walking out of a fine hotel.  He's about to try out a line on her when a Cadillac cruises up.  The woman gets into the Cadillac and drives away, leaving the singer to lament that:

It should have been me with that real fine chick
It should have been me driven' that Cadillac

1954 Cadillac
He runs into a couple of other fabulous babes, but both of them are with other guys.  Sorry, Charley!

Finally, our luckless singer does what he should have done in the first place – instead of chasing everything he sees that's wearing a skirt, he decides to drop by a fine café and tie on the feedbag.

After all, women are fickle – even when you talk one into staying with you for a while, she's going to try to tell you what to do.  

But a big-ass scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of a good-sized slice of chocolate cake (with chocolate icing, of course) will never let you down.  

Of course, if your ice cream and cake doesn't satisfy your hunger, you can always try to hook up with the waitress.

Speaking of hooking up, Ray Charles had twelve children with ten different women.  The oldest was born in 1949, and the youngest was born in 1987.  (Imagine having a half-brother who is 38 years older than you are.)  

Ray had no children with his first wife, but that marriage didn't last long, so you can't really blame him.  He had three children with his second wife.    

Of his remaining nine children – with nine different mothers – five were born while he was still married to wife number two.  (Awkward!) 

Ray really hit his stride in 1958, the year he turned 28.  He had babies born in 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1966, and 1966 – that's six mothers and seven babies in eight years.

(No wonder he's happy!)
Charles sang "It should've been me with that real fine chick," but it sounds like there was no "should've" when it came to Ray Charles being with real fine chicks . . . over, and over, and over again.

"It Should've Been Me" was written by Memphis Edward "Eddie" Curtis, Jr.  Curtis is credited as being a co-author of "The Joker," which became a #1 hit single for Steve Miller in early 1974.  That's because "The Joker" borrowed some lyrics from his song, "Lovey Dovey, which was a 1954 hit for the Clovers.

Here's the verse from "Lovey Dovey" that inspired Steve Miller:

I said you're the cutest thing that I've ever seen
I really love your peaches, wanna shake your tree
Lovey dovey, lovey dovey all the time
Said lovey dovey, I can't get you out of my mind

As you Steve Miller fans know, "The Joker" contains almost exactly the same lyrics.  

(Did you notice the grammatical error in this post?  It's actually not an error, but most of you self-appointed grammar Nazis out there are going to think it is.)  

Here's "It Should've Been Me":

Click below to order the song from Amazon:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Eagles – "Desperado" (1973)

You ain't gettin' no younger

That's so true, boys and girls.  I ain't gettin' no younger, and neither are you.

As the days dwindle down to a precious few, you hate to waste a minute.  And I can't think of a bigger waste of time than listening to Eagles records.

[NOTE:  This may not be the worst 2 or 3 lines post ever written, but it's pretty damn close.  Let's call a spade a spade: the Eagles are a pretty easy target, and the incident I'm about to relate took place almost 18 months ago . . . so it's not exactly breaking news.  But I'm hitting the road in a few days and won't be able to publish anything for a week or so.  Which leaves me standing in front of a very leaky dyke without enough fingers to plug all the holes.  Which is why you're getting a second-rate effort like this one.  After all, when you're locked in to doing three posts a week – come hell or high water –  quantity may just have to trump quality every once in a while.]

Vernett Bader
Vernett Bader of North Charleston, South Carolina, obviously feels the same way.  When her roommate and his visiting brother refused to stop listening to Eagles tunes one night, the 54-year-old Ms. Bader went after her 64-year-old roomie with a 14-inch serrated bread knife, stabbing his arm and hand. 

According to newspaper accounts, Vernett's roommate – whom she had previously "dated" – was able to take the knife away from her.  She then went back to the kitchen and rearmed herself with a second knife.  

Vernett later admitted to police that she had stabbed the man several times, but claimed that she had done so in self-defense because he was choking her.  But the officers who responded to the incident said they saw no marks on her neck that indicated any attempted strangulation.  

Here's the least surprising fact about the incident: investigators said that Vernett Bader, her roommate, and his brother were all intoxicated at the time.  (Didn't see that one coming, did you?)

We don't know which particular Eagles song was playing when Ms. Bader suddenly snapped and went for the bread knife.  There are many candidates – "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Best of My Love," "One of These Nights," "Take It to the Limit," "New Kid in Town," and "The Long Run," to name just a few.  Hearing any of them once too often might have pushed me over the edge.

But my guess is that it was "Desperado" that galvanized Vernett into action.  

The first line of that song is "Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?"  If you ask me, that's exactly what Vernett Bader did.  If I'm on her jury, I don't care what the judge's instructions say – I'm voting "not guilty."

Here's "Desperado," which was written by original Eagles Glenn Frey and Don Henley and first appeared on the group's 1973 album of the same name:

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jerry Butler – "Message to Martha" (1963)

Spread your wings for New Orleans
Kentucky bluebird . . . fly away!

I'm pretty sure that the movie star Ashley Judd wasn't the Kentucky bluebird that Burt Bacharach and Hal David had in mind when they wrote "Message to Martha" in 1962.  For one thing, Ms. Judd wasn't born until 1968.

Ashley Judd
The state bird of Kentucky is the cardinal, not the bluebird.  But "Fly away, Kentucky cardinal" doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

"Kentucky bluebird" is an appropriate sobriquet for Ms. Judd because she is a graduate of the University of Kentucky, and the university's colors are blue and white.  (I'd describe the particular shade of blue that the University of Kentucky uses as royal blue.  Officially, the color is Pantone Matching System – or PMS –  286.)

Judd attired in PMS 286
You might think she would root for dear old Harvard because she picked up an MC/MPA degree from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2010.  (MC/MPA stands for "mid-career master in public administration.")

Ashley – may I call you Ashley, my dear Ms. Judd? – is a fan of all University of Kentucky sports teams.  She's even attended a few UK football games, although the school's football teams are generally awful.  (The Wildcats were 5-7 on the gridiron in 2014, but 2-10 in both in 2013 and 2012.)

And she showed her support for the UK hockey team (who knew?) by posing for a saucy little poster that was sold to raise money for that team.

Compared to Ashley's movies, of course, the hockey poster was pretty tame.  (She's appeared topless and/or bottomless in a half-dozen or so movies.)

Ashley Judd's favorite Kentucky team isn't the football team or the hockey team.  It's the men's basketball team.  

Kentucky has been a basketball power for decades.  It won the national championship in 2012, was the runner-up in 2014, and was heavily favored to win the title this year.  

The Wildcats' first game in the NCAA tournament this year was against the Hampton University Pirates.  Hampton had lost only 17 more regular-season games than Kentucky – the Pirates went 17-17, while Kentucky had a perfect 34-0 record – and the chances of Kentucky losing were about one in a zillion.

But Ashley Judd was anything but overconfident about the outcome of the game.  She was so overwrought about the Kentucky-Hampton contest that she brought her dog Shug (a cockapoo) to the game for emotional support.

(Ms. Judd doesn't take her children to basketball games because she has no children.  That's because she believes that "[i]t's unconscionable to breed, with the number of children who are starving to death in impoverished countries."  After reading that quote, I'm embarrassed to admit that I have four children.) 

Ashley's psychological problems go much deeper than basketball-related anxiety.  According to her 2011 memoir, All That Is Bitter and Sweet, Ashley was the victim of incest and abuse when she was a child.

Ms. Judd told ABC News that she was exposed early and inappropriately to sex because of her mother's affairs with men:

[H]er abuse started as pre-teen when she was growing up in Kentucky.  An old man lured her into an empty storeroom by telling her he would give her a quarter to play a pinball machine, and then molested her.

She writes she was traumatized again when her family and other adults wouldn't believe her.  Later, Judd said she was a victim of attempted rape while she was working as a model in Japan.

Ashley says she only learned to fight her demons after entering rehab for depression at Shades of Hope in Texas.  Therapy sessions there exposed memories of childhood incest.  Judd said she still has bouts of depression.

Ms. Judd has described good ol' Shug as a service dog – which federal law defines as a dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability.  

We're all familiar with the service dogs that guide blind people.  But there are other kinds of service dogs, including psychiatric service dogs, who are trained to help their owners deal with psychiatric disabilities like schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disability ("PTSD").

Ashley may have suffered a little PTSD after ESPN's Dick Vitale slipped her the tongue before a televised Kentucky basketball game this year:

As I understand it, depression may qualify as a disability under certain circumstances.  If Shug has been specifically trained to help Ms. Judd deal with her disability, he would meet the definition of a service animal. 

Federal law requires that businesses must allow a service animal to accompany a disabled individual to any place where that individual is normally allowed to go – including sports arenas like the one where Ashley Judd attended the Kentucky-Hampton basketball game.

Service animals are also allowed to accompany their owners on airplane flights.  Here's an excerpt from the Daily Mail's account of what happened when a large service dog went on a five-hour flight last year:

A US Airways flight was forced to make an emergency landing after a dog relieved itself at least twice in the plane's aisle – causing travelers to become sick when they were overwhelmed by the stench.

Flight 598 took off from Los Angeles for Philadelphia on Wednesday – and it seems that the pet, a service dog reportedly named Truffles, couldn't quite wait to reach their destination.

"The full-sized dog that's on my flight, well it did what dogs do and went to the bathroom when it felt like it," [a passenger] tweeted. "Smack dab in middle of aisle."

Truffles the poop-apocalyptic service dog
Another passenger described the incident to an Inside Edition reporter:

About an hour into the flight, I started smelling this terrible smell.  I thought it was the family in front of me – I have a little eight-month-old and I was like, "That is the worst blowout I have ever smelled."  I look up the aisle and there's a dog pooping right in the middle of the aisle.  It's a big dog, three or four feet tall or long, and he was just going. . . . It wasn't little pieces, it was fully-fledged dog-diarrhea. . . . The second time after the dog pooped they ran out of paper towels, they didn't have anything else.

The smell was so bad that passengers nearby started vomiting and "dry heaving."  The plane was forced to land at the Kansas City airport, where a cleaning crew cleaned up the mess.

"The proud, the few . . ."
The plane eventually took off again and finally arrived in its destination, but some passengers missed their flight connections.  One family reportedly missed a Mediterranean cruise.

Fortunately, Ashley Judd's Shug didn't suffer from a bout of gastrointestinal distress the night of the Kentucky-Hampton game.  So the NCAA wasn't forced to stop the game and evacuate the arena until the local hazmat squad could deal with Shug's mess.

As I noted above, Ashley Judd has described her dog as a service dog.  This article backs her up.  

But others have said that Shug is really an emotional support animal – which is a horse (or, as here, a dog) of a different color.

An emotional support animal (or "ESA") is a companion animal that provides a therapeutic benefit to someone with a mental or psychiatric disability.  But unlike a psychiatric service animal, an ESA has not been specifically trained to help its owner handle his or her disability.

An ESA dog vest
Federal law provides more limited protections for owners of ESAs than it does for owners of service animals.  To qualify for your legal rights as an ESA owner, you're supposed to have a letter from a physician or other health professional stating that you have a disability, and that your ESA provides a therapeutic benefit to you.

A recent article in the New Yorker reported that it's pretty easy to obtain ESA credentials.  A lot of health professionals are willing to provide the required letter on the basis of a cursory telephone chat or an online questionnaire – assuming you can afford the required fee, of course.

The author of the New Yorker article, Patricia Marx, obtained ESA credentials for five animals.  She was able to take a 15-pound turtle into a Manhattan art museum, a Christian Louboutin shoe store, a deli, a hair salon, and a funeral home. 

She also went shopping for a handbag at the local Chanel boutique with a 30-inch-long emotional support snake, boarded a bus with an emotional support turkey, and flew from Newark to Boston with a 26-pound emotional support pig.

Last but not least, she took an emotional support alpaca on an Amtrak train and then toured the 19th-century home of artist Frederic Church with the camelid in tow.

Shopping with a support alpaca
In closing, here's something I bet you didn't know about alpacas (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Alpacas use a communal dung pile, where they do not graze.  This behavior tends to limit the spread of internal parasites.  Generally, males have much tidier, and fewer dung piles than females, which tend to stand in a line and all go at once.  One female approaches the dung pile and begins to urinate and/or defecate, and the rest of the herd often follows.  Because of their preference for using a dung pile, some alpacas have been successfully house-trained.

Dionne Warwick's 1966 cover of "Message to Martha" – which was titled "Message to Michael" – was a much bigger hit than Jerry Butler's 1962 recording of the song (which was released in December 1963 on his Need to Belong album).  But Butler was the first artist to record the song, and I like his version better, so that's what you're getting:   

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: