black market baby

Brad and I went into Inner Ear on January 25 to transfer a three Black Market Baby reels to CDR. Why? Because I wanted to fucking hear 'em, that's why.

I actually visited the studio the week before to look at the tapes with Don Zientara, the guy who recorded them in the first place. I was expecting something clinical looking, like a set from Star Trek—instead it looked kinda like a record nerds' rec room (though all those LPs hanging on the wall, slowly warping, would make any collector faint). The tapes needed to be baked to dry out the binder, which didn't surprise me too much.

I was surprised when we came back that almost everything had been done before we showed up—all the stuff (and then some) was sitting on Don's Mac, ready to be tweaked and burned to CD.

When we got into the sanctum sanctorum, Brad plopped down in a corner and I sat across from Don, with a good view of the mixing board and his Mac. He played a song he'd pulled from the Nothing Lasts master, then the guitar part for Potential Suicide—from one of the reels I'd brought in.

That was probably coolest thing about going into the studio—being able to hear each individual element on its own: drums, bass, guitar, and vocals. When Don asked if I wanted to add some reverb to Boyd's vocals, I almost yelled, "Fuck yeah! Stick him in a goddamn echo chamber, bring in the drums and bass and we'll do Dub Market Baby!"

"I don't think so," I said. Sometimes I'm too mild for my own good.

Don played thirty seconds of the other tracks and asked, "How does that sound?" each time.

"Sounds fine," I answered (or "Like a bass guitar," once I'd loosened up).

Once we'd listened to everything and he'd twiddled with some knobs (at one point running it through a signal processor—a very expensive looking apparatus with no fewer than three flashing lights—to make the bass sound a little meaner), he surprised me by saying, "Okay, James, we're going to mix these together, since you've got the ear for it." I wasn't quite expecting that—I didn't see the need to mix any of it, especially with a reel of alternate mixes already transferred—but about twenty minutes later I had an atrocious mix of Youth Crimes and an okay mix of Potential Suicide to call my own. Those two mixes will never leave the one lonely looking CD they're burned to. It was fun, but there are cheaper (and less embarrassing!) ways to jerk off.

When we were playing back the vocal tracks, Don laughed and commented on how Boyd had to rush to finish the verses before the choruses came in. He loves listening to all these old tapes and it shows, but, he adds, "I cringe sometimes at what I had to do"—like miking Tommy's cymbals real close (thus the "sloshy" sound) because the ceilings weren't high enough at the old Inner Ear. Then he laughed and said that the ceilings were seven feet high, and Tommy came within an inch of hitting them as he played—a real wild man on drums.

Don: It was a good time, a very good time. It was quite interesting. They came in, loaded in the equipment and everything, and brought in a case of Buds.

Yeah, Boyd says it was a typical BMB drunkfest—his words, not mine.

Don: Yeah, yeah. We were just starting to get going and the case was gone, so someone went out and got another. Pretty soon the second was almost finished—it was just unbelievable, they just sort of melted into the walls. Two cases of beer—that's a lot of beer for just those four guys. Skip Groff, I don't think he drank anything at all, and I didn't drink anything either.

Was it any trouble to work with the band in that state?

Don: No, they were used to it—they played quite well, and you can hear it. They wobbled around a little bit, but...that's a lot of beer—that's about ten apiece if they split it up evenly.

If anything was lacking it's the engineering—I can hear the guitar distorting on these tapes (cringes). We were using basic microphones, basic everything.

Shoestring.

Don: Shoestring. Cotton string, if anything.

What did you think of the record when it came out?

Don: It was great! I liked it. I loved the band. I think Black Market Baby had a lot of energy and they just had the whole spirit of the day. I don't know how you see them now...it must be kinda strange seeing them as they were, that they always were something.

Past tense.

Don: Yeah, past tense. They had pretty much everything that the punk movement was going after. They certainly weren't straight edge but... (laughs)

They were of the moment people, which is one of their endearing points. They had the energy and they wanted the music to stand for right now, and it was. It was great. It was terrific. As far as the punk movement, they pretty much had it all.

bmb from connected

Did you see the picture on the album out front?

No, I didn't.

Don: Let me get it for you.

(comes back with Connected)

There. They are as that picture is. They way they looked was the way they sounded—that was it.

No pretense, no posing, just straight-ahead rock and roll.

Don: Absolutely.

I think it was so straight forward in a lot of ways...the reason they got so fucked up was because they were presenting everything, giving out a hundred percent. There were people dealing with other things...people dressing up like punks, people acting like punks, and people doing all sorts of shimmying back and forth, getting into political things, and they were sort of like, "Well, here it is, what's the big deal? We're giving it all, what are you guys doing?"

It was really good, they were genuine. And Boyd had a voice too, which was, for that day and age, really something.

And he was a lyricist.

Don: And he was a lyricist. His pitches were true, which a lot of people simply couldn't do...that probably pulled them out of the punk scene, if anything.

That's the way it was then. They were terrific. I liked them, I liked them a lot.

They were something else, they were definitely something else.

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© Dementlieu 2005