Source Victoria's Secret: Challenges Behind a Brilliant Album
This scene invariably has played out in every musician's life — the point when one band member informs another he just proposed to his girlfriend. Following a stretch of confused ground inspection before resuming eye contact, instead of offering congratulations, his friend says something along the lines of, "Well, I guess you're gonna be making married music from now on."
Careful consideration of what we know now suggests that marriage, commitment, and responsibility aren't quite the death sentences to making great music they once were thought to be in bohemian circles. Go back in pop time immemorial and see for yourself. Exile on Main Street was recorded with kids and common-law spouses (and, in truth, heroin dealer) in tow — hell, Mick jumped the broomstick in the middle of the sessions — and you'd hardly call that marriage rock. Dylan's two greatest albums bookended the start and end of his only nuptial (during which he made a few lazy albums, granted) but the lows certainly justified the highs. Did Hank Williams even make a single record as a bachelor? The music of Tom Waits, married guy from the start of his great streak on Island Records — he even collaborated with his spouse on Frank's Wild Years and Big Time — hardly is the result of compromise and institutionalized nagging.
And let's not even go into all the great albums made by people soon to become unmarried. Sit down, Phil Collins fans; no one's talking to you.
Home and hearth considerations may have slowed or broken many a band, but each time the conversation about wedding bells or job opportunities came up in Source Victoria, the guys said "congratulations" instead of "fuck you" and got on with the band and their lives. The intrusion of reality known as emotion or even resignation that informed their first album, The Fast Escape, comes louder through your earbuds on Source Victoria's latest album, Slow Luck.
The four-year gap between albums saw three-fifths of the band's personnel change, leaving songwriter Brendan Murphy and Aaron Wendt the only original members. Lest you're hoping for tales of fistfights, acrimony, and brow-beatings — "You'll play this music my way!" or "You're dead to me, pal!" — skip the next three paragraphs. Please.
"No drama associated with their departures," Murphy says, smiling. "I'm sure they just had things going on — marriages, grad school, etc. — that made squeezing practices and shows into their full lives that much more complicated."
And, sure, it caused delays on Murphy and Wendt's end, too. "We didn't spend every waking moment on the record, largely because we all work and have families. Plus, we tend to be a little precious about everything . . . which, in the end, really made the record sound the way we wanted it to sound . . . It just took longer than we expected."
"More than anything, I think it was the desire to make a record we could be proud of while working under the time constraints of real life," says Wendt. "Whether you're talking about songwriting, working out new ideas in rehearsal, recording demos, and ultimately recording the record, packing all those things into a rehearsal or two a week leads to four years between records. At least in our case it did!"
No drama behind the scenes, then, but plenty in the laser etchings. If you grooved on the debut album's uniformity of mood (slow, evocative, and kinda glum), you'll notice how Source V lulls you into the album with happy glockenspiel and sleigh bells of "All That You Taught Me" (featuring pedal steel ny Jon Rauhouse) — more of a closing track to the last album — then doses you in the face with cold water in the form of stadium anthems like "Nobody Knows Like Me" and "Black Luck, Black Label."
"I really wanted to challenge myself on this record, write songs that were more concrete and less in the air and atmospheric. Plus, lyrically, the songs are more intimate and intense, and I think the music sort of supports those ideas and sentiments better than big shoegazing panoramas," says Murphy.
"Brendan would bring song ideas to us in varying degrees of completion that he had worked out at home on an acoustic guitar, rather than jam sessions in rehearsals with big-rock, delayed-guitar atmospheres," Wendt says.
Lennon used to tell McCartney their hit songs were "swimming pools," in terms of the income they would generate. That's probably out of the question for Source Victoria now, but at least five songs on the new record are worthy of, perhaps, a new bidet in the Murphy household. Clearly, the band was thinking of vinyl when they sequenced the album and drew large SIDE A and SIDE B dividers on the track listing. A benefit of this demarcation is that Slow Luck is a CD that twice starts and ends strong, a dynamic that led to most of the top 100 titles in any listing of classic albums. Possibly a trait lost on today's listeners, who like to cherry-pick songs and compile rollercoaster playlists.
"That is sort of a bummer, isn't it?" nods Murphy. "We are a band that likes albums, not just tracks. I want an album to make sense as a complete work. It doesn't have to be a concept record, but I love listening to a record and feeling like there are some unifying themes, even if the record has different types of tracks on it — like a collection of short stories, all different, but you get an overall feeling, a mood, a message. That is what I was going for when writing Slow Luck."
"Abbey Road is my favorite Beatles record for just that reason. Other records of theirs have a higher count of great individual songs, I suppose, but to my ears, it is almost impossible to not listen to that record straight through. It feels wrong to hear it piecemeal." Yes, Abbey Road, recorded by four guys all wearing wedding bands — not exactly a complacent platter if it could accommodate "Octopus' Garden" and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)."
So the new album and new members in the Victorian fold include Justin Entsminger (bass), Rick Heins (guitars) and Scott Hessel (drums). The former and occasionally still Gloritone drummer brought a side benefit besides his expert timekeeping to the album — he got Lisa Loeb to sing on the album.
Hessel says: "I have known her since auditioning to be her drummer [circa 19 . . . inaudible]. We remained in touch over the years, and I thought she would add something very special to 'The Only Road.' It's cool to finally say we played together on a song; I thought she added a kind of Wilco/Feist vibe to the record."
Loeb recorded her track in Burbank with producer Chris Testa. Other friends who doubled as guests include the aforementioned Rauhouse, The Format's, Sam Means, whom Wendt toured with, and Jamal Ruhe from the much-missed One, who mastered the record and flew in to play the CD-release party.
"He sang some amazing backing vocals for a few of the tracks that really set the songs off . . . most noticeably in 'Acetylene Torch Song,' where the cello also comes in. That just kills me every time — the cello and his backing vocal right there — that's my favorite part of the album."
The cello part was played by Murphy's sister-in-law, Stacey Piccinati. And the sweet backing vocals on "Maybe You're Right" were sung by Murphy's three daughters, Quinn (age 9), Eliot (7), Julia (5), and their friend Taylor Haan (8). So much for married music being "safe." "Acetylene" is hard to decipher lyrically (something about falling asleep on the telephone before the fire goes out) but it sure sounds doggone pretty and lonely at the same time. And "Maybe You're Right" probably is the best treatise on self-loathing for being wrong you'll ever hear with children's voices on it. And that includes anything on the Disney Radio playlist!
Time permitting, Source Victoria wants to promote the record with coastal long-weekend mini-tours but acknowledges it's hard to just jump in a van and go when they all have other commitments.
"But that doesn't mean music is not still as important as it was when we were younger," says Wendt assuredly.
"This dream isn't over — to borrow a line," muses Murphy. It's just different."
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