Tonight’s wisdom comes from my brother, and Honey White’s singer/guitarist, Bryn DuBois. As always, you may skip to the audio if you wish. –Keir
The band hadn’t played together in months. There were a number of contributing factors, naturally, but the bottom line is that I no longer had an easy creative outlet. Boredom is not something that troubles me often, but it was certainly lurking in the background.
It had been a grey and overcast tail end of winter in Southern California. My ongoing soundtrack for this relatively uneventful but oppressive gloom was a complete immersion in instrumental surf rock. Which, actually, seemed just as appropriate to me on a foggy day as on a brilliantly sunny one. And sure, Dick Dale and the Chantays were in there, but I mostly saw the classic surf of the early ’60s as the framework; after all, most of the musicians were younger then than I was now! What really interested me were the more recent extensions of what had been done earlier: the Mermen, the Insect Surfers, the Halibuts, the Eliminators, Los Straitjackets.
Of course, the more I listened to it, the more I figured I could do it myself. And so, against this backdrop of impending boredom, the echoing space of reverb-soaked guitars, and grey afternoons in my apartment, I began churning out song after song of simple, surf- and blues- inspired instrumentals. I enlisted my brother’s help in recording them, which barely took as much time as the composition did. We took care of it in the living room of our one-bedroom apartment, with me playing the drums with brushes rather than sticks so as to keep the noise down in deference to the neighbors. Our eternally-abused four track recorder was all we had in the way of recording equipment, and the lo-fi homemade quality of the recording is readily apparent on every song. They were done one track at a time, built up from drums to bass to rhythm guitar and finally lead.
Some have aged, in my opinion, better than others — they aren’t, with only a few exceptions, particularly complicated songs, and relied pretty heavily upon the formulae laid down by the music done in the past. Since very few people (other than myself and possibly Keir) would find a complete song-by-song description interesting, I’ll satisfy myself with… half? Yeah, half should do. The More Noteworthy Ones, I think.
“Windward Mark” was basically my attempt to take a page more or less directly from Dick Dale’s book and write a fast, dark-sounding song like “Misirlou.” I even followed his “low E string, then high E string” approach. But in the end, there tends to be a reason why a cliche was copied enough to become a cliche — the music certainly isn’t Beethoven, but I’m satisfied with it as a pop song. Enough, in fact, that I sneaked it into Honey White’s playlist for a while (played nearly twice as fast, since Billy actually can play the drums, unlike me; hell, I just bang on them with passable rhythm). Now that I’m writing this, I recall that this song inspired one of my favorite moments on stage. We had just torn through one of the best versions we’d every played of it — good enough to be included on a live CD Keir later put together, even — and with a final deafening crash, brought the song to a halt.
After the scattered applause had died down:
My friend Jeff Hinck: “YOU GUYS ROCK!!”
Me: “Thanks! I know.”
“Whitecap” had been recorded already with the Mojo Wire, but I wanted to include it here too. My retooling of it made it fit in with the rest of the CD, but, though I’m proud of this song, did nothing to improve upon the job already done by Keir, Adam, and Brandon.
“Those Aren’t Oil Rigs” eventually found its way into Honey White’s setlist as well, under the title “My Second Shipwreck.” It’s a better title, after all, and since it was my own damned song I figured I could steal the name from the song bearing the title here. I will forgive you if this is confusing. Anyway, this song is undoubtedly the single most complicated song, musically, that I’ve written. Its genesis was in the movie “Dead Man” and the soundtrack that Neil Young had composed for it. I found his music so powerful (especially enhanced by the content of the film, the smoke in my head at the time, and the fact that it was around two in the morning) that when I arrived home in the early morning I was compelled to play the guitar. Keir was already asleep, so I took my electric guitar out to the living room, sat on the couch, and played it without amplification. I must have played for no more than an hour, and out of nowhere came three different musical themes and a chorus, including both lead and rhythm guitar. I have never experienced a creative outburst like this, before or since.
The title, in a completely unrelated fashion, comes from an argument between two of my friends at three AM somewhere between Dana Point and Catalina Island. Being the cautious young men that we were, we had decided that, for such a short trip (“It only takes eight or nine hours to get there!”) we didn’t need to utilize the formal navigation skills that we all had learned, and would just find our way visually. In the dark. While trying to figure out whether we were, in fact, still on course, a muted but long-lasting argument arose regarding whether or not lights on the horizon were stationary oil rigs (and thus points we could navigate by) or other ships.
“My Second Shipwreck” (the song titled so here, that is) is music that I’ve been meaning to resurrect ever since. I am still pleased with the music, though finding another place to put it may not occur any time soon. “Eleven O’Clock” is a Morphine song, and I was proud enough of the idea of converting it into a surf instrumental that I didn’t actually put much thought into how to do that conversion in the first place. “Mariel on the Beach” is one of the prettier songs I’ve written, I think. And as such, I was proud to be able to play it at Lis’ wedding! I wrote it the last summer that I lived in the Corvalian house in Dana Point, when I was getting tan by day teaching sailing, and occasionally getting drunk by night. (I remember one night clearly — well, figuratively speaking of course — when I returned home… Mom took one look at me and said, “I think you’d better go to bed, Bryn.” So I did.)
So there. All of these recordings, whatever they may lack in recording quality or compositional acumen, are fun to revisit. An audio photo album is really what they are. But damn, the recordings are only eight years old, and I’m only twenty-nine. Why the hell do I feel old after having written this?
Audio: Bryn’s solo “My Second Shipwreck” album, from April 2000.