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Gee Whiz! It’s the Berries on YouTube!

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Our buddies at Go Zombie! have put together a little psychedelicacy — a taste of our new, self-titled album. Check it out! Express opinions! Buy CDs! And know that you’ve got buddies in Berries Nation, where the sky is always Candy Apple!

 

In the Words of Deep Purple…

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… Come taste the band!

We’re proud to announce that Go Zombie! Records has released our new eponymous CD. Here’s what they have to say:

From the most unexpected pocket of the south (Newberry, SC to be exact), from the most unlikely cast of characters (ranging from 23 to 66 years old), comes the most unthinkably danceable disc of garage rock ragers to come across our desk for quite some time! Drawing on everything from full-blown psychedelia to hot rod surf to good old fashioned frat-rock stompers, this album comes pre-packed with plenty of party potential! Oh yeah! Buy it here!!!

Who are we to argue?

A mere 8 bucks (+1 for Shipping and Handling) will hook you up with a shiny disc full of songs you probably don’t know, but might get to like! And if you don’t, you can use it as a beer coaster, to level a table with a short leg, or even as skeet! You’ll also get a … shhh! Don’t tell!… BONUS TRACK (Happy hunting!)

The Berries on Go Zombie! Records. Check it out!

We're the Berries -- and this is what we do.

We’re the Berries — and this is what we do.

And remember to support local bands, even if they aren’t from around here!

A Double Feature in Berries Country

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Our drummer reviews a busy day for the Berries at his blog, with the prospect of more to come. Keep your eyes and ears peeled!

BerriesCD

The Berries Go Surfing

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Yesterday Joseph, his girlfriend Kasey, Justin and I made our way up the road to Spartanburg, SC’s Ground Zero for the first annual Southern Surf and Instro Fest. Larry, meanwhile, was indulging another one of his many passions, and was at a re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg. Although most Berries songs include vocals, and although we’re way over on the garage end of the surf-garage scene, we wanted to meet, greet, and hear some cool bands we hadn’t met before.

First, the venue. Ground Zero is a legendary Upstate home for music that’s loud and fast. Flyers for shows from such bands as Slipknot and Monster Magnet covered doors and walls, but the visual centerpiece was a psychedelic Clint Eastwood mural visible from the doorway. We grabbed dinner from a food truck outside the club — and if you ever have a chance to grab burgers from the nice folks at Eveready Foods, do it. You will not be sorry. Inside, giant industrial fans kept the air moving and the atmosphere livable, despite the temperature which was in the 90s, dropping into the mid-70s by the time we left. Bar service — by the bottle or can —  was swift and friendly, and kept the Berries and friends in beers or Dr. Pepper as needed.

Before the show got rolling, we were joined by Berries friend Heather, and saw 3/4 of the guys from Gravitron, who had been forced to pull out of the performance lineup, but showed up and showed the flag for the home-state scene at the merch table.

Charlotte, NC’s The Monterreys were the host band for the fest, and opened the evening in the only appropriate manner — with a sizzling cover of Link Wray’s “Rumble”. Other classic first-wave surf tunes were the order of the set, and the three-piece featured tight interplay between the guitar and bass and an array of reverb-drenched good times. If you like your surf old-school, these guys are your cup of coconut water. Monterreys drummer Jason Dickey acted as the event’s MC, and told us that Arrows Out (Durham, NC) were up next. And after a very efficient, speedy gear change, indeed they were. (By the way, the set-up/takedowns were as fast and efficient as any I’ve seen in years. Very much “All killer, no filler.”)

Arrows Out describes their style as “surf-gaze”, and offered dreamy soundscapes with hints of Ennio Morricone and the American Analog Set. They had their brand-new CD with them, and when they mentioned it was at the merch table halfway through the set, there was a serious rush, led by the Berries’ own Justin. I grabbed my copy after their set. Check these folks out — they’re onto something, and it’s something good.

Next up were Wilmington, NC-based The Meteor Men, playing surf and spaghetti-Western twangeriffic tunes that kept the crowd quite happy. One interesting aspect of their show was their use of triggered sound effects, adding genre-appropriate gunshot/ricochet sounds, and a very nice timpani/thunder effect in “Surf Canyon.” They’re definitely keeping the 60s spirit alive, and are worth your time.

As Birmingham, AL’s High Fidelics were gearing up, Travis from Gravitron told us we were in for a treat, that these guys had been one of the top bands on the bill every time he had seen them. He wasn’t kidding. (As an aside, what’s the deal with Alabama and killer surf bands? Man… or Astroman?, Kill Baby Kill, and now these guys? Football’s not the only thing they do well over there.) This four piece blended melodicism, high energy, and an almost prog-rock display of chops in a blistering set that triggered another stampede to the merch tables. And given that the guys in the group seemed to be, umm… Berries-aged, they offered a reminder that rocking out doesn’t stop as we get a bit older. As I told their keyboardist’s lovely wife, it sounded like a surfed-out King Crimson up there, although their tune “The Lonely Bachelorette” demonstrated a genuine love and understanding of 60s-styled instro rock as well.

The unenviable task of following the High Fidelics fell to Durham’s Blood Red River. Fortunately, they were up to it, with a frantic rave-up mixing surf, rockabilly, and blues elements with a punk rock fury. Although their go-go dancer didn’t make the trip down, they brought the “go-go box”, and by the set’s end, one young lovely (not of the Berries entourage) had mounted the stage and helped close their set by shaking what her mama gave her. Rrowr. It was wild, manic, and a great deal of fun — that is to say, it was rock and roll.

Unfortunately, it was drawing near to midnight, and things like Sunday morning work schedules meant that Team Berries had to make the hour-long run home. This meant that we missed Knoxville’s The Mutations and Charlotte’s Aqualads, as well as the night-ending jam, but we headed back to Newberry quite certain that this style of music we love remains vibrant and joyous. Thanks again to the Monterreys for assembling this thing. We’re proud to support the scene, and guys? If you want to add a garage direction next time? Give us a holler — we’d be honored.

 

In Which The Berries Arise From the Sickbed

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This past week had certain challenges for your garage-rock heroes, as Larry was laid up with a case of flu and Justin was struggling with an ear infection. However, the show must go on, so we rallied for a Friday run-through before our show at our beloved Art Bar in Columbia. We got together Saturday afternoon to go to the gig. Joseph, Justin, and Warren took the Berries bus (a/k/a Warren’s van) to a Chinese restaurant for a pre-gig dinner, while a still-recuperating Larry arrived separately for load-in.

We went on at 9, in the presence of a few of the Berries faithful and numerous pre-St. Patrick’s Day revelers. We were well received, and debuted a cover version of a tune from the Pete Best Combo (the first ex-Beatle to release a solo album!) — a song so obscure that there wasn’t even tab on Google. That’s right — the Berries stumped the internet! Having put in our honest set’s work, we cleared the stage and bade Larry a safe trip back to his recovery room while the remaining Berries did the meet and greet bit as we waited for our buddies in Gravitron.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Gravitron’s keyboardist Steve wasn’t able to make it, but the brave hometown surf heroes still took the stage shorthanded and did a full and fulfilling set. They departed to well deserved approbation, and Anniston, Alabama’s Kill Baby Kill brought an arsenal of amps up for their show.

And What. A. Show. These guys buried the intensity needle during their surf-punk set, a high-speed sonic assault matched only by their manic stage presence. I feared for the stage’s structural integrity — to say nothing of the audience’s sanity. And without giving anything away, the ending of their set was absolutely unexpected — and perfectly appropriate. Kill Baby Kill are Not To Be Missed. We picked up KBK CDs and stickers as the Harlem Downtrotters came in to bat cleanup and finish the show.

As the Downtrotters’ homegrown pop-punk filled the night, the remaining Berries set out for home, arriving a bit before two this morning. As ever, we had fun, made some new friends, and tried to spread the gospel of garage. And you should see us when we’re healthy! In fact, we hope you will next time!

Busy Berries Weekend

Well, we’re back! Did you miss us? As the title implies, there was significant Berries-oriented activity in the last couple of days. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Friday morning, Joseph, Justin, and I headed back to Sit’N’Spin for mixing on the twelve tracks that will make up the new album. We budgeted a little extra time so that we could swing by Greenville’s nifty Mr. K’s Used Books, Music, and More store, and true to the name, we picked up books, music, and more! Go figure. I was especially thrilled to grab a CD of one of the greatest steel guitarists ever, the best of Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant. After that (and the customary Pita House lunch — this time including a take-home jar of their amazing homemade hot sauce), we made our way to the studio and the work began. Joseph and I recut a couple of lead vocals, and then the serious stuff began. We had a “grocery list” of stuff we wanted to work on, so we had a lot to do.

One thing we did fairly quickly was establish a “baseline” drum mix. Because of the Berries’ garage orientation (and my general 60s obsession), we tend toward a treble-heavy drum mix, with a lot of cracking  on the snare and cymbals, and a bass-drum level that is felt more than heard. (It’s still there, of course, but in these days of booming bass levels, it’s atypically low.) On other tunes, we ratcheted up the distortion on Larry’s guitar, looking for the raw, primitive edge of some of our favorite songs. Finally, since Larry was unable to make the trip, our engineer/producer Matt “The Captain” Morgan provided a guitar solo on our ballad, “Small Smiles.” After that, it was a question of balancing levels on each song: “More backing vocals here… can we put some compression on the lead vocal here to rough it up a bit?” That sort of thing. This is Joseph’s element — he thrives on this stuff. It must be the Brian Wilson in him.

Way back when I was originally recording on 2-inch tape, all this stuff was done by twiddling knobs and sliders. These days, the knobs, sliders, and such are all computer functions, and we watched The Captain work his mighty mouse through pull-down menu after pull-down menu, changing levels and creating virtual spaces through which he processed the data that our music had become. Of course, since all this is on computers, it means that Matt spends enormous amounts of time staring at the screens — he told us he puts in 70-80 hours a week (Ah, the joys of running one’s own business!). This meant that as the session progressed, he was reaching levels of eyestrain that approached “flying blind.” We took a restorative break for some pizza, and then back to work.

Finally, we wrapped things up around 9:30 and headed back toward Newberry, listening to the clean mix on the way. We think we’ve done something to make us proud, and we hope it’ll be something you can enjoy too. But there was still more Berry business to do.

Last night, we were back at Art Bar in Columbia, SC. The Berries and a couple of friends of the band met at the college, loaded guitars, amps, and keys, and headed to Columbia. We grabbed some Chinese food, and went from there to downtown for load-in at the club. Our buddies from Gravitron provided the drum kit (a lovely 4-piece Gretsch rig — thanks, Alex!), and we went on at 8:45. Some of our fans were there from the start, but because I had originally said the show would start at 9 (mea culpa), we picked up many more folks as the set went on. We tried to maintain our usual high level of fun, and the crowd seemed to enjoy it as well. A satisfying set.

Next up, we made some new friends in the form of Jacksonville, FL’s The Lifeforms. They’re a three-piece with a gift for cool songs with loose, loping grooves, and a real ability to connect with the crowd. I snagged their live EP, and at least one Berries fan will be sporting a Lifeforms T-shirt in the near future. Try ’em — you’ll like ’em.

Then it was Gravitron‘s turn, and they were their usual killing machine, with revved-up surfish instro-rock tunes firing up the crowd, while shredding at least one guitar string. Fortunately there was a backup axe, and the guys demonstrated what makes Gravitron one of Columbia’s top thrill rides. As Justin says, “Those guys just attack this stuff!”

Although Chuck Mims and the Lyin’ Cheatin’ Hearts were the headliners, it was a long trip back to Newberry, and between Joseph’s morning radio job and my back trouble, it was time to get back home. So goodbyes were shared and we made it home for the night, getting home between 1:30 and 2.

What’s next? Joseph’s doing a play in the next week or so, my book comes out later this month, and we’ll be finishing up the post-production on the album, so keep your eyes and ears peeled. But there’s going to be more Berries activity in the coming weeks, as we start working on new material and extending our set lengths! So stay in touch, Berries Nation. And if you haven’t already, then swing by the Facebook page!

Remember — The Berries are GO!

Studio Diaries — A Drummer’s-Eye View

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3 January, 7-8:30 p.m.

The Berries piled guitars, keyboards, and people into the minivan and headed Northwest to Greenville on Thursday evening for set-up. We made what has become a traditional stop at the Pita House for some Middle Eastern dinner — cash only, please — and looked at a panoply of Monkees, Carpenters, and obscure Christian albums at a nearby thrift store — before making our way to Sit’N’Spin studios. We used a mix of the studio kits (vintage Slingerland toms and snare, a more contemporary Tama bass drum) and my cymbals for the sessions. It’s funny; while I think of drums as being relatively fungible when I record, I’m just so used to the sound of my cymbals (15- and 16-inch K Zildjian dark crashes, 17-inch Amir crash, and a 20-inch K ride ) — especially the hi-hats (13″ K/Z’s) — that I couldn’t see (couldn’t hear?) using others.

The set-up was quick and without incident. We ran through two or three songs for sound-check purposes, and had the whole thing done within a couple of hours (leaving us some a la carte hours on the back end for mixing), and made our way back to Newberry. Because we got done so quickly, I was home by ten (an hour or two earlier than I had planned), which startled the heck out of the spouse and Spawn, but meant that I could get to bed at a decent hour. And since I get up at a ridiculously early hour on school days, that was welcome indeed.

4 January, 2-10 p.m. (Or, “Why Brian Wilson Went Nuts”)

The group assembled at the college at 11:30, and got to Greenville at about a quarter til one, in time for lunch at Pita House. Afterwards, we stopped at a gas station for some drinks (although your humble correspondent had already laid in a supply of Sun Drop) and got to the studio about 15 minutes before call time. The first day’s work consisted of laying bed tracks, with the four of us playing together, in order to keep the feeling of the tracks as live as possible.

The studio environment is dramatically different from what we usually experience — not least because we’re paying for it, but also because the sound of what you’re doing is both accurate and artificial. On the one hand, you hear each instrument — each drum, cymbal, guitar, or keyboard patch — with remarkable clarity. But at the same time, this is an experience that does not occur in the real world. There is no place in a live environment — and most musicians do their thing in the live environment 99% of the time — where a listener could hear the instruments the way the mikes do. You cannot simultaneously have your head inside the bass drum, an inch from each tom, both atop and beneath the snare, six inches from the hats, and 8 inches from the crash and ride cymbals. And those are just the drums. (All these mikes also mean that there are stands, mikes, and other hardware in places where I’m not used to seeing them — and occasionally, colliding with them. When I have the headphones — colloquially known as cans — on, and the cord running behind me into the wall, the feeling can almost become claustrophobic.)

For groups like the Berries, the studio is unfamiliar territory, and it can be a little intimidating (and remember — we’re paying for it.) Knowing the clock is running is a good thing in that it keeps you focused, but on the other hand, it can leave you playing too conservatively — playing not to screw up instead of reaching for The Moment. Also, it’s easy to get impatient when we’re trying to find The Right Piano Sound or guitar distortion level. At one point, I did tell Joseph that if he brought carrots and celery into the studio, I’d punch him in the face. And of course, since we’re essentially amateurs (passionate amateurs, but amateurs nonetheless), there will be screwups anyway. That in turn can create a sense of panic and pressing (“Holy crap — we’re spending money to play this badly, and we’re running out of time!”) Fortunately for us, the sessions were helmed by Sit’N’Spin’s owner, Matt Morgan (whom I typically called “The Captain.”). Matt would remind us of studio capabilities to fix small problems, and that we could digitally manipulate bits of various takes in the case of minor clams. He also gave us a phrase that would help me keep my sanity for the two days of recording: “You know, you guys aren’t trying to be Steely Dan here.”

One of the odd consequences of the studio environment is that each of us heard the songs and the interplay between the band members in ways we hadn’t before. Sometimes that was a pleasant surprise — you’ve always been playing it that way? — and sometimes, well, it was a shock — you’ve always been playing it that way? But with one thing and another, we got all twelve bed tracks in the can, Larry added some very nice acoustic guitar overdubs on a ballad and even a pennywhistle overdub(!) on one song. Along the way, Larry added some very tasty psychedelic licks on a couple of uptempo tunes (“Garden Girl” and “Candy Apple Sky”), and I was reminded that one of my favorite sounds in the world is a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar. Heck, we even had time to run back down the road to Frodo’s Pizza. In true rhythm section brotherhood, Justin and I split an ultimate meat pizza (“Only four pork products, along with the beef?”). Larry got a pepperoni, and Joseph (along with official band photog Kasey) split for the Ultimate pepperoni. It was good enough that we decided to give them more business on Saturday, this time of the carry-out variety. So all we had left for Saturday were some lead overdubs and vocal tracking. Easy peasy, right? “See you tomorrow at two,” we told Matt. Ah, hubris!

January 5, 3:30-11:30 p.m. (Or, “Screw the Lost Chord — what about the Missing Measure?”)

I rolled out of bed at nine yesterday morning, anticipating another 11:30 departure. My phone rang at about ten. An issue had come up at the radio station where Joseph works, and he was stuck having to work the board there during the broadcast of a couple of basketball games. This meant we’d be without him for much of the second day’s session, which is a problem, as he’s the best musician of the group, the lead vocalist on about half the tracks, and backing vocals on most of the others. (I, meanwhile, proudly hold the title of least talented member of the Berries. Salute! I make up for it by driving the van.) I rang Matt and moved the start time to 3:30 from 2, called Larry and Justin, and departed Newberry at 1. Lunch at Pita House — on several occasions I said we probably just used the recording session thing as an excuse to get shwarma. Joseph would roll in ASAP, but wisely provided us with a list of stuff we could do before we got there. All the same, it was weird not having Joseph there, and it made the time element seem even larger.

The first part of the session was spent on “clam patrol”, listening to playbacks and finding stuff that had to be fixed. Matt was able to digitally massage most of the sore spots out of existence, and we patched in a couple of other places. “Patching in” is when a musician plays along with existing tracks and replaces a few seconds worth of his old part with something better. That’s another aspect of the studio experience — after a while, you can stop thinking of songs as songs, because you’re now experiencing them as snatches of a few measures. Parts can become decontextualized. But for a band like ours, we want things to feel organic — “four guys in a room” — and so we don’t want to become overly bogged down in the minuscule. Remember, the greatest moment in “Louie, Louie” is when vocalist Jack Ely comes in two bars early after the guitar solo.

But in particular, there was one song that just didn’t sound right. It was “Knight Errant”, an instrumental that Joseph wrote, and one of the sections is a bit we call the bolero — really, it’s just a phrasing/rhythm difference, but it adds needed variety to the piece. When we gave it the clam patrol treatment, we knew something was wrong, but couldn’t quite figure it out. So I started counting. The bolero is a 16-bar section. Somehow, we dropped an entire measure without realizing it.

All of us.

The whole band. I’ll take most of the blame for that one, as I think the other guys were following my cues, but we knew we’d have to recut the whole section when Joseph got there.

Even so, Larry and I got our lead vocals in, and I did the backing vocals on a couple of tracks. Justin, Larry and I added handclaps to one song, and then I made a pizza run as Joseph and Kasey made it to the outskirts of town. We snarfed down some dinner, and then got back to work.

We recut the offending section of “Knight Errant”, essentially letting Joseph and me do a bed track and adding Larry and Justin’s parts on top of that. One of the things I noticed was that Justin is particularly adept at the kind of modular thinking that goes with this studio work. Of course, he’s used to the world of video and television production, so I guess that really isn’t surprising. From there on out, Joseph did some keyboard patching and vocals — including a throat-shredding version of “Lady MacBeth” — Larry and I did a few more vocals, and we wrapped things up with about 15 minutes to spare. Tired but satisfied, we made it back to the Berry a bit before one this morning.

We’ll probably get our rough mixes from Matt in a few days, and at some point in the near future, Joseph and Justin and I will go up for the mixdown (Larry trusts us far too much — we’ll prove it.) All told, it was nervewracking, occasionally infuriating — and a great deal of fun. A good weekend.