Every Wednesday is Heritage Hump Day! That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that walked the scorched earth of Arizona before the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have only seven days to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.
The first time I saw Less Pain Forever, it was in 1997 at a Trunk Federation CD release party at Hollywood Alley when they still labored under the unwieldy name Lush Budget Presents the Les Payne Product. My first impressions were as thus:
"The Les Payne Project began feeding the throng a steady diet of wit and whimsy. Unlike most abrasive guitar-and-drum duos whose only objective is illustrating how two guys can make the noise of six, the Les Payne Project relies far more on humor and vocal harmony. Each number begins like a multi-tracked poetry slam and ends up like a grungier version of De La Soul."
Like no other duo I'd ever seen, Christopher Pomerenke played the drummer role while balancing a Casio keyboard on his kick and slamming the snare with his left hand while James Karnes kept equal time with his syncopated guitar rhythm fed through a channel splitter that went into a guitar amp and a harmonizer to create low bass frequencies. Multi-taskers had nothing on these two.
But the thing that was really great about Les Payne Product or Less Pain Forever is that they were always funny but with the musical chops to back it up so it was never just shtick. And they were really funny, not ironic, cynical funny like Frank Zappa, who the pair were compared to a lot in the early days.
In the course of their on-again, off-again history (they'd reunited as late as December 2012), they initiated a lot of shenanigans and hoaxes you can read all about in the May 31, 2001, New Times story I wrote called "Payne Less."
The Mason Jar show they posed as faith healers. The shows where they Wonder-Twins transformed into EMO Camaro with the addition of various Ruebens Accomplice members. The fake feud with Trunk Federation which reached its furious peak at their CD release party. The show where James got kidnapped by their arch-villain Decepto. They're all there.
So when James and Chris sold all their possessions in that merry month of May 2001 and left Arizona in order to live, record, and tour for perpetuity in a painted black 1983 Chevrolet Southwind RV, everyone thought it was just the latest in a long line of pranks. But the band did indeed live in Walmart parking lots for the better part of a year and got turned away from the Canadian border while the September 11 attacks were going on because what screams terrorists more than an ominous RV painted black?
Which is where this week's Heritage Hump song comes in.
James Karnes recalls the song taking shape in 1997 or '98.
"Chris and I both lived together in the condemned building on Indian School with the boarded up windows and razor wire, across the street from the Rhythm Room. We were still Lush Budget presents The Less Pain Product (we didn't become Less Pain Forever the world's first musical tribute band to itself until 2001.) I think it was about a year after we had released our six-song EP and [Pomerenke] had fully integrated the keyboard into his drum kit, so he had a cache of random riffs that he would play whenever he sat in front of a piano. Basically the whole keyboard part to 'Throw Your Babies' was one of those riffs."
Chris Pomerenke recalls,"'Throw Your Babies' was lyrically based on a dream I had years ago.I went through a time when I kept a tape recorder next to the bed and when I would wake up from a dream, I would speak it's details into the tape. One dream was about these young beautiful buxom mothers cheerfully tossing their infants into a big beautiful blue sky. They would throw them up there with big smiles and there chests were swollen and heaving. The babies would magically become enormous once they were airborne almost like those massive blimp type character balloons in a parade. The babies would float around the neighborhood peering into people's homes."
"I told James the dream once and he wrote the lyrics to the song based around that dream. If I remember correctly I had the main piano parts and James came up with a bunch of interesting counter-melodies and odd chords that made it feel slightly like a bolero. Interestingly, the first time we jammed the song (before we had lyrics) Chris Kennedy happen to be at the compound and he sat down on the drums and bashed out a killer beefy beat and it stuck with the song. James and I wrote several songs based around dreams -- notably, 'First Band On The Sun (Illuminati)' was based around a dream I had in which I was sent to the sun by NASA and my mom was terrified for me and attempted to teach me how to fish because she was worried there wouldn't be food on the sun so I would have to fish for my dinner. Anyway, that's the basic gist of Throw Yer Babies."
Written just before they embarked on the RV, "Throw Your Babies" became a staple of the band's live and they would begin almost every set with it.
"It always got a good reaction, no matter the country," says Christopher.
"I also choreographed dance moves to it," says James, "but I think they might have come off like we weren't taking the whole thing too seriously."
"James created a 'dance step' for the song and we would teach the dance to the audience before we would launch into the song. It became a song that people would always come up to us afterwards saying they liked it. Some shows we throw out baby dolls during the song, just for effect."
This track hails from their 2007 album I Know What It's Like to Want To Dance, recorded at Sonic Youth's Echo Canyon Studio, engineered by Aaron Mullan of Tall Firs.
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