The singles "Totally Wired" by the Fall, "Nag Nag Nag" by Cabaret Voltaire, and "Fairytale in the Supermarket" by the Raincoats share more than their importance in the history of British punk. They share the same producer, Mayo Thompson, who a decade earlier had created such psychedelic-era classics as the Red Crayola's "Parable of Arable Land" and his solo record "Corky's Debt to His Father." One of the few people involved in underground rock through virtually its entire history, he continues to make relevant music with the Red Krayola today. I talked to Mayo during his Chicago visit last fall, between an afternoon in-store at Reckless Records and a concert that night at the Empty Bottle.
The Red Crayola first recorded a single for a label run by "Keith Stefek, a local man in Houston who had made some money, and he was investing making records. He backed us up to make a single, but it didn't work out," and the single never came out. When Lelan Rogers of International Artists agreed to release their debut album, The Parable of Arable Land, they returned to Walt Andrus's studio where they'd recorded the single.
Andrus was "Houston's most famous recording engineer. He had recorded everything. He had worked at a studio on Broadway, which was modeled on Gold Star Hollywood. He had a first class engineers ticket. He had worked in the first TV stations. He really knew his onions. He had a wonderful studio."
"He did everything. He did the [13th Floor] Elevators' albums. He did us. Lost and Found album was done there. He worked with Euphoria — a guy named Wesley [Watt] had a power trio, one of the first power trios in the mid '60s, before anybody else started doing this kind of stuff. First class sessions were being done in that studio all the time."
The Parable of Arable Land alternates conventionally structured songs with noise segments that share the title "Free Form Freak-out." "We had started off as a group and there were 5 of us. And then one night we got another person that was playing and it seemed like we'd be the 6. So Steve [Cunningham] and Rick [Barthelme] and I decided we didn't want to be a band in that sense, we wanted to do something else. So we took it back to the 3 of us. But the Familiar Ugly were these people who still came along to all the gigs, and they got to be quite a sizable bunch, of variable size. So when we were playing at the battle of the bands where Lelan [Rogers] discovered us, playing in this mall, he heard this music and he came to us and he said, 'You know those crazy guys, you know, you could mix that all up.' And we said, 'Yes, that's what we're thinking.' So we went in the studio and it was just, was very straightforward, because he had an idea, he understood, we understood. Everybody knew, we agreed that we were gonna try to do it this way. It was coherent. It was the right way of dealing with the stuff. Wanting to make a point there that the difference between a song and this other stuff — song sounds like this, this sounds like this, but it's the same stuff, the same material."
"We did all the freak-outs in one session, in one evening, in two halves. We exhausted one master tape and took a break, and put another one on and went back and did another session for 30 minutes like that. So we had an hour's worth of freak-out material, the free form material, with the Familiar Ugly. A guy was riding down the street on his motorbike and there were 50, 60 people standing outside the recording studio, and he's going, 'What're you all doing?' 'Well we're going to go in here and make a record in a minute.' 'Really, no kidding. That's interesting. Y'all are in a band, that's a lot of people.' 'No, these are our friends and... you wanna come in and bring your motorbike in?' 'Oh really? That's cool.' So this guy brought his chopper in. We said, 'Okay here's how it's gonna start. Ricky's gonna start the chopper, and when he starts it, everybody hits it. When you hear that thing kick in, everybody jump on it.' And there it went. Then you just filled up the tape and then somebody walked out and said, 'Okay, tape stopped,' and it's over. Everybody went out and had a cigarette and then came back in and tried it again 30 minutes later."
"The Familiar Ugly stuff was done 50 people down to 8 tracks. There were 8 microphones set up and all that down onto one channel. So it mixed itself, its organic self. That was all happened. We went back and pieced it together so...
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