Column 100: The Terminals’ beautiful noise; Cursive tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 1:35 pm November 9, 2006

It would have been great to write a 2,000-word feature on The Terminals. Certainly I had enough info from my interview with the band to write one. Unfortunately, my column is limited to only around 800 words (which is, admittedly, better than the 400- to 600-word limit for most feature stories). So a bunch more follows, after the column…

Column 100 — Metal Machine Music
The Terminals turn up the noise.
I was driving west on I-80 headed to Lincoln doing close to 90 because everyone else was and you either keep up or get run right off the road. No one told me about all the construction, the constant “Stay In Your Lane” warning signs that flipped past as the road jerked indiscriminately in odd directions, the left lane mere inches from large concrete barriers designed to keep semis and large SUVs from jumping into oncoming traffic. Lord only knows what hitting those could do to something like my Mini Cooper, which has a wheelbase akin to a rollerskate and the suspension of a go-kart. Every time my tiny tires found a piece of grooved pavement, it jerked the Mini in the wrong direction, either toward the deadly barriers or the adjacent lane crowded by a fleet of Voyagers, Caravans and Ram-tough Dodge SUVs that towered over me, blocking my view.

Meanwhile, blaring on my car stereo was the new CD by The Terminals, the band I was headed to Lincoln to interview. I’d seen them a number of times at O’Leaver’s and The 49’r, playing hep-cat cool retro garage punk spiked by Dave Goldberg’s gospel-infused organ twirls, frontwoman Liz Hitt’s snarling, jagged guitar riffs and Brooks Hitt’s beefy stick work. Fun stuff.

The CD, however, sounds nothing like that. Instead, most of the songs sound like a room filled with industrial power tools — jack hammers, grinders, band-saws — tearing through a concrete wall while an angry monkey pounds on a metal slab with a stone hammer. The recording is blown-out and raw. By the time I arrived at the Hitts’ Lincoln home, my back was as tight as an iron rod and I could already feel the tension-pain in my neck that would haunt me the following day.

To say that The Terminals are not entirely thrilled with their Dead Beat Records debut, Forget About Never, would be an understatement.

“The first time I heard it I was furious,” Goldberg said. “I called Liz with a list of complaints and got to No. 1 before she hung up. There are parts of the record that border on migraine-inducing industrial noise.”

The story behind the recording began when Liz sent a handful of 7-inch records to Tom Spencer, the label chief at Dead Beat Records, hoping to get him interested in Brimstone Howl, another band on Hitts’ and Goldberg’s Boom Chick label. She also threw in some Terminals recordings just for kicks. “They were quite impressive,” Spencer said of the Terminals. “So I told the band that I was interested in doing their debut album. After deciding on the track list, we got Andy Caffrey from The Horrors to record the album, and it turned out great.”

Caffrey, Liz said, is “hot shit, and we accidentally made the mistake of telling Tom we knew him.”

The band recorded the album live at The Zoo Bar when it was closed. Amps were placed in the bathrooms while the drum set was on stage. “(Caffrey) ran everything into this fucking box of noise and what came out the other side became the record,” Liz said. “Getting Caffrey to record it was Tom’s way of getting us credibility with these (types of) bands.”

“With Andy, you take the good with the bad,” Brooks said of Caffrey. “He has a weird view of things. He’s the most over-the-top guy doing this kind of recording.”

“The aesthetic is similar to other stuff you hear on Dead Beat,” Goldberg explained. “The audience they’re catering to are total speed freaks that enjoy that type of thing because they’re always in that state of mind.”

“Uh, I don’t know if trashing our record during the interview is the way to go,” Brooks added sheepishly. The fact is, the band actually likes the record, and so do I. The recording is almost artsy in its brazen, abrasive approach. The wall of static punk rock is aggressive and unnerving, and ultimately, very cool.
Goldberg said it took a few spins before his hatred for the recording turned into admiration. “Some of it is awesome. I’m pretty sure that people in Europe that are fans of this style of recording will go ape-shit over it. Most bands wouldn’t put it out, and that aspect of it I enjoy. It is, dare I say, controversial.”
He is concerned, however, that the stark contrast between the record and their usual live sound could result in some confusion, if not disappointment. “I’m afraid that people who are into the record will see us live and say ‘What’s this shit?’ and by that same token, people who like us live will buy this record and say ‘What’s this shit?'”

Replicating the record’s sound, however, is out of the question. “It would take a lot of expensive or broken equipment for us to sound like that on stage, Goldberg said. “Perhaps we should start poking holes in our PA speakers.”

Omaha fans will get a chance to check it out Friday, Nov. 10, when The Terminals celebrates the official release of Forget About Never at The 49’r with Now, Archimedes! and Boom Chick artist The Shanks, which also will be celebrating the release of their “Cut Me” 7-inch single. For those of you driving down from Lincoln for the show, you may want to wait until you get home to listen to the CD, for your nerves’ sake. Drive safely.

One might ask what kind of deal the band made with Dead Beat to allow a record to be made in a way they hadn’t preferred. Goldberg was gone on a tour with metal monster Thor at the time it all went down. He described Spencer’s role as “I will pay for everything and control everything and you guys will have no control whatsoever.”

That level of control went all the way down to the artwork used for the CD, even the album title. Liz said the original cover was going to be a photo of a snake that had been run over, stretched across the front and back of the CD sleeve. Spencer, however, took the idea and passed it onto artist Mike Sniper of the band DC Snipers. Liz said the resulting cover artwork looks like the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. To top it off, Sniper went ahead and penciled in the title Forget About Never, which wasn’t the title The Terminals had in mind for the release.

Using both Caffrey and Sniper on the project was Spencer’s attempt at getting the band more credibility among fans who follow the “garage punk” scene. “Dead Beat has been around for 10 years,” Goldberg said. “My assumption is that (Spencer’s) not going to drop a bunch of money on anything that won’t sell. Or maybe he is. He certainly loves the music.”

Does the Terminals getting picked up by Dead Beat and also Brimstone Howl getting picked up by Alive Records reflect some sort of resurgence in garage punk music? Spencer didn’t think so. “I wouldn’t say the genre is really growing,” he said. “I just think that it’s an underground niche that will always be there. As long as kids have access to guitars, there will always be bands banging on their instruments in the garage. And it’s labels like Dead Beat and Alive that will find ones that express true and genuine talent.”

Spencer can add Boom Chick to that list. Half of the bands on the label’s roster have now been picked up by larger labels. It’s only a matter of time until roster mates The Shanks and Wesley Coleman also jump ship. “We don’t consider it jumping ship,” Goldberg said. “The label is a springboard.”

“(Boom Chick) doesn’t have the resources to commit to releasing LPs,” Brooks said. “That runs around $3,000, and we’re not ready to do that. Having another label take part is good for everybody. Us and Brimstone getting signed is a direct result of starting this label.”

“It’s also going to spark interest in our label,” Goldberg added. And the roster continues to grow. A fifth band, The Alrightees from Portland, are in Boom Chick’s sites along with a band from Chicago called Masters of the Obvious (or MOTO). Brooks said the label is self-sustaining. “It feeds itself,” he said. “If the releases weren’t paying for themselves, it would stop pretty fast. The money we make goes right back into the label. It’s not like any of us are getting rich off this.”

***

Tonight at Sokol Auditorium, the long-awaited return of Cursive with Jeremy Enigk (who you might remember as the frontman for Sunny Day Real Estate and now The Fire Theft), The Cops (fronted by former Omahan Mike Jaworski who also runs Mt. Fuji Records, home of Little Brazil) & The End of the World. All for $14. This is an 8 p.m. show, and should be jam packed.

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