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Meet the Band the Butthole Surfers' Paul Leary Turned Down a $20K Gig to Produce

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These days, The Burning of Rome frontman Adam Traub is a happy man. His band's self-described "Jesus and Mary Chain doing a spaghetti Western" style is fully realized on the Burning of Rome's new album, Year of the Ox (Surfdog Records), and in the last year, the band has shared stages with a number of notable acts, including one of their personal favorites, Nine Inch Nails.

But The Burning of Rome has taken a slow and steady build to reach its current success, after beginning seven years ago as a recording project in Traub's laundry room. For all of his band's accomplishments, Traub was most excited to to talk about Year of the Ox and how the record came to be. Naturally, I just stopped asking questions and let the tape run.

"We went out to Texas to record that with Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers," Traub says. "He's a guru. He's produced everybody . . . We had trouble choosing producers in the past -- we couldn't find someone who could get what we're into. But with him, we knew we were gonna make this album together because he just got every reference I made to, like, the Residents or to any '70s Krautrock band or whatever it was. It just made sense.

"We'd learned things from the last record we did, just the importance of pre-production and what we needed to get out of the studio. And Paul seemed like he was on the same page with us as to how the process was gonna go down.

"We went out to Sonic Ranch Studios, which is about 40 miles outside of El Paso, Texas. It's a ranch in the middle of nowhere, this desert oasis that's just a playground for musicians. He's got old Steinways, old Moog synths, [and] everything has history in there.

"We did a lot of stuff there and then went to Austin, where Paul lives, and recorded drums at this studio called The Wire. Josh Freese recorded drums for the bulk of the record, and Dale Crover from the Melvins did a track, and Matt Chamberlain from pretty much everything did a track. I told all of them that they had free rein to bring whatever they want to bring. For the most part, everything was just spot-on. Josh was a sweetheart and just completely receptive to anything at all.

"We'd go into these studios for a few weeks at a time but in between, I'd just book a flight out to Austin and stay at Paul's house. And we would just track and mix stuff, and just try to explore new ideas and go into the wee hours every single night. That's how Paul works and that's why I wanted to work with him. I knew he'd be game for that.

"At one point, Austin Psych Fest offered the Butthole Surfers something like 20 grand to perform and he turned it down. He said he'd rather just sit at home and mix our record instead. I haven't really experienced kinship in a studio like that.

"A lot of my heroes that I was initially trying to emulate were people like Todd Rundgren, Brian Eno, The Magnetic Fields -- you can't really pigeonhole them into a particular genre. John Cale's like that in a lot of ways. You put on the record and every song sounds like it's a completely different band. But there's a common thread that's tying it all together and making it into a cohesive piece that still feels like it's one person."

So, of course I asked Traub if he was pleased with the final results.

"I'm ecstatic," he calmly replied.

The Burning of Rome is scheduled to perform Tuesday, August 19, at Crescent Ballroom.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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