Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Diminishing Returns (2001)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, May 27 - This originally posted on, 1/22/01


Men's Recovery Project convened on Thursday for the first time since last summer's catastrophic U.S. tour. A portion of the recording budget for their new LP ("Night Pirate", due later this year on Kill Rock Stars) was used to fly singer S. McPheeters from California to Rhode Island's T.F. Green airport. Drummer G. Mudge of Virginia caught the flight up from Baltimore. Guitarist N. Burke crammed everyone and their luggage into his '82 Toyota Tercel and the band drove three hours north to Lund Recording Studio in York County, Maine. Also crammed into the Toyota were; a Mackie 1604 mixing console, an ART tube compressor, a Boss GE7 EQ, a Korg G5 synth bass, which Burke says is "rare", a Roland R8 Human Rhythm composer, a Zoom 505 effects processor, a Zoom ST-224 sampler, the beloved Juno 106 keyboard with its keys still faintly marked in the four note configurations McPheeters struggled to perform live (but NOT the more impressive Korg Poly-6 keyboard which took a bad fall in Delaware 3 years ago and was vomited on last spring), a DOD FX 25B envelope filter, a Digitech PDS1550 Programmable distortion, the Korg EA1 synthesizer, a Digitech PDS 800 Echo Plus, a Roland SPD-20 Total Percussion Pad, the Roland KD-7 kick drum, including a long piece of wood for carpet use, a Good Stuff "Finger Beatz" unit, two Radio Shack studio monitors that Burke insisted were "top notch", a Carven DC200 electric guitar, a G&L SB1 electric bass, the Toshiba Satellite 2595CDS laptop, which was set up strictly for show, a Shure SM 57 microphone, an Atlas Sound mic stand with weighted base, the TR606 drum machine, repeatedly referred to as a "classic " and for which the coveted "young people rubbing themselves" gesture was made by Burke, despite its not being used in the recording, and the Midi Man USB sport 2x2 Midi interface box that, according to Mudge, "sucked".
By Friday night, recording was well underway and the group had run into the Law Of Diminishing Returns. This is the economic threshold that, once passed, has overall productivity declining in direct proportion to the amount of labor inputted. If a band records ten songs, for example, on a thousand dollar recording budget, each song is worth a hundred dollars. But the eleventh song pushes the per-track cost down to $90.91, and the twelfth song is only worth $83.33. Soon enough, every track is worth noticeably less than the last, spurring a general decline in song quality. A large ravioli dinner was held to discuss the problem. Eventually the more pressing issue was raised of how President Clinton should spend his final 16 hours as the most powerful man on Earth (all agreed on a basic "nude & aroused stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue" approach).

The band slept through inauguration morning but made good headway on Saturday afternoon. A group discussion was held on the strange quality of microphone popper stoppers to catch the plosive "P" but not the more common sibilant "S". McPheeters did the usual bellyaching about his ragged voice in a comical hoarse whisper. The next morning a vocal stalemate was broken. A large lunch was eaten and by Sunday night the band had a record, with dummy tracks mentally inserted as the low end Diminished Return songs. Equipment was disconnected and packed. A side discussion was held on the relevance of M.R.P. in a post-Clinton world, and a strange silence ensued.

On Monday morning the gear was again carefully stacked in the Tercel and the band set off for Rhode Island to go their separate ways. But time was made for one stop. Passing through the sleepy town of Biddeford, the band managed to locate the courthouse where George W. Bush was arraigned after his 1976 drunk driving arrest. A suspicious young man was shoveling slush off the front steps in a bright orange safety vest. "Just tourists", assured McPheeters, and the snow shoveling city employee agreed to take two group pictures in front of the courthouse with Burke's camera. The band thanked the young man and roared off towards route 95.