Album Auto-nalysis is a regular Counterzine feature where we ask some of our favorite artists to breakdown their albums track-by-track, to provide further insight into the thoughts, feelings, and artistic processes that went into making them. For this edition, we asked Drew and Peter of Philadelphia lo-fi power pop band Von Hayes to detail their recent album ‘Moderate Rock’.
1. “Urinal Cookies”
Drew: Just to clear up the title: I wrote this whole thing in the men’s room at an Erasure concert and some of the folks I was with had ingested a controlled substance in the form of a cookie. I’ll leave the rest up to interpretation. When it came time to record it, I wanted to do a 4-track cassette-style take on Erasure’s “Respect”, which meant adding the ping pong stereo acoustic guitars, but also random screams and Peter’s son Matt on baritone sax. Voila! Perfect album opener.
2. “December Sun”
Peter: I wrote this almost a year before we actually recorded it but I knew exactly what I wanted it to sound like the second I did the demo: I wanted a Pete Buck-esque guitar thing going in the verses and a Teenage Fanclub-inspired solo in the middle, and I wanted Andrew to play both parts. He nailed those and the bass and those things really make the song. It’s your typical ‘end-of-things’ tune but the title was as much a flip on a Beach Boys song – warm California sun in the summer with your babe on your arm, etc. – as it was anything else. I just Googled the title and I’m kind of bummed a few really bad emo bands beat me to it.
3. “Hot Roger”
Drew: I would play this riff over and over and always had the opening lines and the chorus. Those few lines felt inspired by these sci-fi anthologies I was reading, so at the last minute I turned it all into a horror movie script. This was one of the first songs we did for this album and I really wanted to shake off the dust and get out of our comfort zone. At its inception, the repetition drone of the riff was Melvins doom metal, but by the time we recorded it, I preferred an early/mid-’80s Sonic Youth thing. I literally fell on the drum machine and left like that. At about 3 minutes in, I lost the riff and, to cover it up, taped over the whole song.
Drew: This whole thing came to me almost immediately while sitting on the couch with my kids. Even though it’s a pretty morbid tune, since it came so quickly, it just had this light and airy feel, like I pulled it from the ether, and that’s what we tried to capture with the recording. Part psychedelic ’60s pop, part Automatic For the People.
Peter: I think this was the first or second song we recorded for the album. If you ever played backyard whiffle ball with five or less people you’ve used ghost runners. I really wanted to use the title but kept whiffing on the tune – there’s maybe three versions that I junked. I switched to the same tuning John Davis uses on Superdrag’s “Feeling Like I Do” and that made it click. The song had a really limp second guitar for months after it was recorded until we were finally able to get together and have Andrew replace it with his much superior lead.
6. “Oscar’s Grind (Beth Goes For Broke)”
Peter: I’ve never been to Las Vegas but I used Ed Helms’ experience in The Hangover (Oscar’s Grind is a gambling theory) to express paranoia and going bonkers. Sound-wise it’s straight out of the playbook Uncle Tupelo used on their first album with an awesome Byrds-y solo by Andrew that I didn’t see coming. Also, a cool mistake cover-up: had to drop the guitar out before the solo because of a muff, but that actually makes the middle section blow up in a really cool way.
Drew: This was the last song we recorded right before it went out to Todd Tobias for mastering. We needed one more to flesh out the relatively loud middle section of the album, and I had this “anthem” that I decided to repackage as a quiet folker. We approached the recording a lot differently than we usually do with folk songs and it’s another one that came out like nothing we’d done before. It’s another really dark song that’s betrayed by its light touch and simple elegance.
8. “Man of Few Verbs”
Drew: I had these two monster riffs – we usually don’t write with that mindset – but since they were both around, I shoved them both into the same song and built it all around that. I played the arpeggiated parts and I really wanted the grunge hook to stand out, too. Pete nailed it with something straight out of The Smithereens playbook. It’s centered around the line “Well… are you?”, and the sparse, Touch & Go-inspired end section continues the conversation with a back and forth between guitar, bass and drums.
9. “Zeroes and Victims”
Peter: Another sort-of Beach Boys’ reference. I was thinking about “Heroes and Villains” and this popped in my head. Wasn’t the best idea to add real drums in the middle AFTER the fact: not only am I not a drummer, but it’s a little difficult to stay in rhythm when there is no rhythm. It works out, and it’s not any worse than Dave Grohl’s caveman drumming.
10. “Poppa Gut”
Drew: Somehow, even though the song is basically a one-chord wonder, it felt like the peak of everything I’ve written to date, especially when it shifts to two chords at the end. I really wanted the ending to be the centerpiece of the song, so to make it really stand out, I actually pulled *back* on the guitars a bit, and just started overlaying vocal track upon vocal track, a la Mutt Lange. Even though it’s in a really messed up tuning, the whole song does have this weird arena rock feel, like Bruce Springsteen via Aerosmith via Pearl Jam. Keep in mind this is all done a on 4-track cassette recorder, so if you hear some degradation in the tape, it’s because it couldn’t handle all the layers I threw in.
Von Hayes’ ‘Moderate Rock’ is out now digital and CD and is available to purchase here. Be sure to follow Von Hayes on Facebook, Twitter, and Bandcamp to keep up-to-date with the band. Further reading available via Critical Masses, The Answer Is In The Beat, Janglepophub, and The Fire Note.