The Old Book of Hymns by The Congregation (US)
Ok, so here it is. A bit anticlimactic, but what can you do? The Old Book Of Hymns is the closest thing to a proper album that we (The Congregation) have ever done. Last summer I got it into my head that demos and scraps were not going to cut it so I had Ginny and Shelly and Sarah over to record definitive versions of a few of the songs we'd been playing for close to five years on and off. I mean we haven't played a show since...what 2008? I guess. But anyway, these songs have largely always been with us. The exceptions are "I'm Your Boyfriend" and "Whisper" which we wrote and recorded just because we were 'feeling it', as they say. I'd had the bass riff of "Boyfriend" for awhile and was madly in love with it and the rest was just croaking out words to go over top of it. It was all about texture anyway, so I don't care how bad I sound. I think it works in context. I could be wrong. "Getting Acclimated," "Step in here again...." and "Blood Clicks" came out playing for something like twenty minutes with Shelley one day. He was behind the kit and I was playing bass and there was too much that worked not to use some of it. So I grabbed some excellent parts and messed around, trying to compensate for us going out of time and the bass being completely inaudible. I thought they made nice transitions. "Un Lac" and "The Face of Another" were two songs I had written the main riffs to years ago and we'd tested them out, even played one of them live a few times, but couldn't settle on definitive takes or lyrics. And it was nice to hear Ginny take on both of them for the first time. I'd had the chorus of "Face of Another" in my head for...damnit, four, five years, and I'd only ever played it to myself. I could hear it, the big guitar, the wandering bass, the crashing drums, but never made it happen. And then one day it was there and it was exactly like I pictured it.
"Two Sisters," "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" and "Le Grande Illusion" were mostly pet projects I'd been fucking around with since the day I wrote them. "Jesse James" was the song that told me maybe I was ok at writing songs; until then they'd been born out of riffs and/or neccesity. We needed to play songs, so we wrote them. "Jesse James" I took hours trying to make sure I had it right. Tuned and de-tuned and messed around with the ups and downs of the vocal bit, convinced I had a decent song. Then Geoff Halliday from Hands remixed and made it sound a trillion times better and realized that maybe I was ok, but just ok. Anyway, Ginny absolutely kill the vocals in a way I just couldn't. "Two Sisters" is one of the first rock songs I ever got right in the recording. I remember showing it to Shelley in my car one day after he'd finished school and when I showed him the instrumental conclusion, he said "it's almost like it's a real song." I took that to heart and made sure that no matter what I had to keep that ending. The rest was fixing the voice until I didn't hate how I sounded. I have a version of Sarah singing this acoustically that kills me, and I'd still like to record a rockier version like this one with her singing. I think that'd be just about perfect. "Le Grande Illusion" was the first song I ever wrote (ever written) for this band. We played it with twelve people at our high school and it was a goddamned disaster, but I got totally high off watching a dozen of my closest friends just hammering away at their instruments in service of something I wrote that they believed in. I was nervous and knew it was failing, but goddamn it nothing made me happier. If Nick hadn't told me that he liked the verse riff and that he thought we could play it live, we wouldn't have written any of these songs, we would never have played any shows, we likely would never had the awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping experience of recording with Ginny, so Nick thank you! You've given me some of the greatest feelings of pride and accomplishment I've felt in my young life. I never would have been able to play my guitar in front as many people as I have (I don't know...fifty people? Whatever it was amazing) if you hadn't encouraged me. You're one of the best friends I've ever had. We recorded a terrible version of it for the fated/dreaded/unfortunate/awesome SOS CD, a collection of songs recorded for my senior project by/of people who had some connection to our high school. Nick's guitar playing and Shelly's drumming is the one thing I'm pleased with. I play this totally horrid cockrock guitar all the way through that would ruin it if my voice weren't already ruining it. I left it to other people to sing from them on. So after years of leaving it for dead, I told myself I was going to get over my terrible memories of the song and record a decent version of it. Shelley provided his inimitable drumming once again and I played guitar and bass again, tweaking the production so that I wouldn't be embarrassed later and then one night rewrote those pretentious lyrics and screamed my way through it. And now I can listen to it. I just hope everyone else can too.
"Fire Away" and "Jack's Guitar" the songs that bookend this collection are two of our oldest, most loved (by us, I should say) and most played songs we have. They were collaborative efforts that emerged out of a number of different sessions and sitdowns and no two performances or recordings sounded quite the same. They're, to quote Lina Pearson, "in [our] core." They represent a lot of time and history for all of us who know them and I just wanted to have a version that I could listen to without cringing about this or that. I wanted versions that did justice to how great I remember them sounding when we played them live. So I tried my best to build those huge sounds and mammoth experiences in my basement. The guitar at the end of "Fire Away" was so important to me because it was one of the last things I ever played on a stage with The Congregation and it was born out of the need to make the song sound huger and huger and finally perfected that riff for the last time we played it in many a year. "Jack's Guitar," in patented "Jack" tuning, was the second or third song I wrote for us specifically to record. It took time to get it right and only happened thanks to Jack Farrell bringing over his blue acoustic guitar that day. It reminds me of a song that I also wrote in Jack Tuning that we tried to play at coffee house after I graduated. I felt awkward being not only the oldest person on stage, but probably the oldest non-working person in attendance. And then the song sort of fell apart and I threw my guitar on the floor afterwards. But it was still an experience I wouldn't trade because it reminds me of how Sebastian always gave up his slot for us at coffee houses. He's one of the greatest people because he believes in his friends (even if he never answers text messages. hehe).
Being the person who coordinated every show for this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime group of talent was too big a responsibility for me and I totally dropped the ball because frankly everyone we played with deserved their own albums because holy sweet fucking jesus are these people amazing. Sam, Alex, Cooper, Ginny, Shelley, Basho, Nick, Sarah, everyone, you guys were/are too good to not be given platforms so that everyone can all hear your voices. If you guys wanna play these songs sometime again, just let me know, because they're a part of me, just like you. Also, if you guys wanna pick out a less dorky band name, that'd be ok too. I can't stop listening to these songs. I'm just glad I have them to get lost in. Someday soon, everyone has to come over so we can watch the movie that inspired "Ginny's Song" one of a few that didn't get re-recorded here. Some things are best consigned to history, demos and memories. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll get it right. Maybe we're not supposed to. I think that's kind of our story. We don't do things right, but I don't think we're supposed to. There is beauty in failure and no one knows that better than me. But to me, we never failed because I got to get on stage with the most amazing people on the planet and share twenty minutes that felt like hours between songs and seconds while we were playing. You made my rock and roll dreams come true on stage for those beautiful fleeting moments and I'll never be able to properly thank you for that. All I can do is keep recording you when I get the chance.