Wednesday, November 2, 2011

the cotton weary

Where to begin?

Welcome to what will likely be the longest post in the history of this blog.  I'm apologizing now.  If you just want the music, skip to the end.  Otherwise, read on. This one will be a bit difficult to muddle through as I do know the band quite well.  I was one of the founding members and was there for the whole saga from the beginning to the end.  The cotton weary was a band that existed from September 1997 to somewhere around 2002 and like many bands it started with one lineup and sound, and ended up with something completely different by the end. 

Being in a band is often correlated to a group marriage.  You spend all of this time around 3 or 4 other guys and you either love them or hate them. In 1997, the cotton weary began with bass player Mike Satzinger and myself “courting” the same “girl”.  Either Jon Florencio or Mike Mallamo of Inside had introduced us both to Charlie Seich (my memory is hazy on who made the introduction.)   I was looking to find a new drummer for Six of One, my band at the time.  I had exchanged information with Charlie – who, to give you a frame of reference on the guy, was half asleep in the backroom of Deja 1 while Dillinger Escape Plan was playing – and apparently Mike was wooing him at the same show.  Once I realized that Six of One’s future was the past, I pushed forward with getting Charlie to drum for a new project that my friend Ian Tauber was pushing me to form.  Mike and I were friends of friends and I got on the phone with him to try and get everyone together. 

Mike had recently played with Clockwise and was looking to do something … I suppose unique would be the best term – he wanted to be able to switch from guitar and bass with another guy in the band and even have two basses in some songs like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin.  I thought that this was an absolutely horrendous idea and I spared no expense in telling Mike so.  I love the guy, but he can be incredibly hardheaded.  I still have no idea to this day how I managed to convince him to drop that idea and just play bass.

Ian Tauber had previously played in proggy rock bands Post X and Carpe Diem and wanted to be in a band that was… well, sort of an emo band like Inside.  While Ian was a gifted guitar player, at that point he didn’t know much about the scene or indie music.  But he knew Inside and liked them.  We gave him a crash course diet of indie albums – SDRE, Mind Over Matter, Quicksand, Mineral.  Mike, Ian and I worked on a batch of songs, got together with Charlie and put it together quickly.

For a singer, Mike again had another unmanageable concept of using two vocalists much like Jejune and Standpoint had done with one male and one female.  Mike Mallamo again stepped in and introduced us to his co-worker Mary Ellen DeVaux.  Mary Ellen’s main musical influences were The Smashing Pumpkins and more Smashing Pumpkins with a side order of Tori Amos, and she somehow wound up in the band without ever actually trying out.  She was originally from Connecticut, so the whole LI Scene thing was completely foreign to her.  We tried to get her into other bands, but outside of ErrorType:11, I can't say if any of it left an impression  No offense to Mary Ellen is intended here, but hindsight being what it is, I’m not sure why we didn’t ask Charlie’s sister Lizzie to join the band considering she had a great voice and has since went on to do commercial voice work.  I can only presume it was because she was 16 at the time.  For the guy’s half of things, I initially pursued James Smith, who I went to high school with and who was previously a member of the punk band Slapjoint.  James seemed into it for a few weeks and then disappeared.  I then petitioned to have Prasan Singh, a friend of mine from college, join the band, but the rest of the guys weren’t into his voice.  I had put up an ad in Slipped Disc Records and enter Brian DeNicola. Brian was the singer for the band Rutherford and in this case, no tryout was warranted since I had Rutherford’s demo and loved Brian’s voice.  Brian was definitely more into the midwestern kind of emo sound that Rutherford was doing and anytime we had a breakdown part he would say that it sounded "weird" which was his code word for "I don't like it."  Brian would eventually stop using code words and be very pro-active in the band's direction.  The band's sound was a mixed bag of Long Island kind of emo - a mix of Jimmy Eat World, Sunny Day Real Estate and the Foo Fighters with occasional breakdowns.

The name was an unfortunate case of seeing the movie Scream and a by-product of not getting anyone to agree on anything else.  I don’t remember too many of the other band name possibilities, but I do remember Mike lobbying for the names “Goldenrod” and “A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama”.  So while “the cotton weary” may not have been the best name, I submit that you should review the alternatives.
Charlie left around this time.  He was stressed out and didn’t want to be in a band if I remember correctly.  After trying out a few drummers, we tapped Mike Rawluk of the metal band Apocalypse to join.  Mike was certainly an eccentric and intense guy.  I still have no idea if he liked the music, but he wanted to be in the band and at that point we needed a solid drummer who could pick up the songs quickly.  Mike did and a month or so later we played our first show along with Kerosene Hye, The Megalomaniacs, Scarab and Last Days of August in the Multi-purpose room at Hofstra on March 27th, 1998. 

A show at Polytech followed and we recorded a “demo” basically with a microphone into a tape deck.  We used two songs (“silverdollar” and “Stopped Counting Days”) and made homemade tapes to hand out. Shortly after this, between the live shows and the recording of a real demo looming in front of us, collectively we felt that Mary Ellen needed to improve her voice and take vocal lessons.  Again, in hindsight I feel that we acted ill advisedly. She did not take this suggestion well and left the band instead.  While I’m not looking to make any mea culpa’s here, I found the tape recently of said demo and her voice is fine for what we were doing.  We definitely blew this out of proportion, but Mary Ellen was quick to leave instead of work on it.

We continued on with Brian as the sole voice and the 4-song demo “The First to Come in Last” was recorded with Mike Sapone 3 weeks later.  We had the finished tapes out by the end of July 1998.

The cotton weary kept playing throughout the year and planned to record a full length in March of the following year.  We recorded a song at Hofstra for a proposed 6-band split on Motherbox records.  The full-length plans wound up getting aborted.  We had studio time booked with Mike Sapone again so we decided we’d do an EP there.  I had been instant messaging (remember those days?) with Tomas Costanza from Flu Thirteen and he was pushing the idea of us recording with J. Robbins instead.  I don’t know why Tomas was pushing this, and I barely remember how or why I wound up in contact with him. Tomas had the cotton weary open up for Flu at The Downtown when they were doing a label showcase that would lead to them getting signed and rechristened Diffuser.  Of course, opening for them meant that we wound up playing after them once we brought people down. Anyway, as a huge Jawbox fan I didn’t think that he’d record us – but I didn’t fully realize that J. Robbins was an engineer with his own studio.  He needed to pay the bills, I’m sure he’d record your dog farting out a tennis ball if it was going to keep the lights on.  Tomas gave me J.’s e-mail, and I arranged to pass the recordings we just did with Sapone to Robbins at a Burning Airlines show at Tramps.  It was one of the few times I felt genuinely starstruck.  I still have no idea if J. Robbins ever listened to the stuff or not. 

The new Sapone recordings were released in June 1999 on Break Even records as the EP “Viva Maestro!”  I was sending out demos of “The First to Come in Last” everywhere and through those efforts I connected with Peter Buckley who helmed the label Break Even.  Pete added “silverdollar” to the “Break Even: Thanks” compilation and from there we struck up a friendship.  I had spoken with a few labels about putting out “Viva Maestro!”  I remember some discussion with Paul Motherbox, but in the end we went with Break Even.

Although it wasn’t obvious to me at the time, there was a clear division in the band at this point.  Musically it wasn’t gelling, and personally Ian and Mike Rawluk had a different vision for what they wanted from the band. It came to a head at some party for a friend of Rawluk’s where we were supposed to play.  I can’t recall the circumstances exactly.  I know Brian was hungover and his voice was in no shape to sing, and we certainly weren’t party music.  It all made for a lovely cocktail.   I think we played a few songs, Brian walked off, everyone got mad.  The CD hadn’t even been released yet so I tried to salvage things by getting everyone to settle down.  In my attempt to quell the uprising I suggested that Ian and Rawluk would go off and form a side-project and Brian, Satzinger and I would do the same – but we’d all come back to the cotton weary.  That got torpedoed quickly though as Ian and Rawluk would decide to focus their attention on the more alternative based Special Guest Star with guitarist Jon Zajac. 

Brian and I started writing songs at this point and decided that the cotton weary would become whatever our side project was supposed to be.  I had been listening to Kent, Radiohead and Antarctica a lot, we wanted to move in that direction.  The song “Keepsakes” on “Viva Maestro” had been taking some baby steps in going there.  We then made a mistake by hastily replacing Ian with TJ Penzone who would later go on to Jayson’s Drowning, Descendre, Men Women & Children and These People.  That lasted all of about a week.  We were trying to get away from breakdowns and after specifically telling TJ that, he proceeded to try and shoehorn a breakdown into one of the songs.  I had a full-on diva moment, shutting my amp off and packing my stuff up before the end of a rehearsal and then telling Mike to get rid of TJ.  It seems to have worked out all right for the guy though.

Fast-forward a few months to December of 1999 and I had went to the club Luxe, a place that played a lot of new wave stuff and hardcore kids would frequent it.  I remember having gone to see Fugazi earlier that night and going to Luxe afterwards.  There I struck up a conversation with Eddie Reyes.  I was briefly a part of the band Runner Up with Ed, a band that wound up going through constant member changes and was rather short lived. Eddie was in the process of getting Taking Back Sunday up and running (who Satzinger played bass with for about a minute.)  I asked him about a drummer and he suggested Jay Gerstner who had been in Runner Up. 

I knew Jay through Phil Rutkowski, who went to Hofstra and both were members of the overtly Hum-influenced band The Glow.  I believe that The Glow only played two shows.  I gave Jay a call, things seemed to click and I made plans to give him a tape of the stuff that Brian and I had been writing.  I also asked if we could get Phil on board as guitarist.  Jay said he’d see to making it happen.

In the early days of this new cotton weary we’d all convene at this beach club where Brian was working security.  It was in the dead of winter, so no one was coming around. The sound in this place was great. We’d sit and play acoustically while Gerstner wrote out drum parts in his head.  Then we’d get together in Gerstner’s living room on the weekend and he’d play all of his drum parts as if he had been practicing them with us earlier in the week.  We played a show at Polytech April 1st, 2000 and began what I consider the vital version of the band.  The music had changed considerably - we now included Brian playing acoustic while Phil and I played electric.  Breakdowns were gone.  We allowed things to breathe more, our songs were written during jams and yeah, I think it bears mentioning that the songs got A LOT longer. 

We considered changing the name, and in retrospect we probably should have.  But Mike and I both felt we’d put a significant amount of time into trying to get us known and still had plenty of “Viva Maestro!” CDs.  Besides, I don’t know if we could think of a name that could quite top the original.

At Pete Buckley’s behest, in August of that year we went out to Vince Ratti’s Skylight Studio in Pennsylvania and recorded the 4 tracks that would make up the “Cinematic Overtones” CD.  Vince recorded and mixed us in a marathon 3 Day session that saw many cans of Mountain Dew consumed. We self-released it and did a lot of weekend tours in the Northeast. 
While we did play a lot of shows on Long Island, we always wound up doing much better out of state, which was why we would try to book shows anywhere we could.  We played some great shows in New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut and a good deal in Pennsylvania.  One of my favorite moments was driving nearly 5 hours to a show at some barn in Northern PA, which was put together by Tony of the Commercials.  We were stuck in horrible traffic and misjudged how long it would take us to get out of NY.  By the time we got there the show was nearly over, but the last band let us use their drum set and we went up played two songs (which for the cotton weary was over 10 minutes anyway) and went batshit crazy.  We sold everything we had afterwards.  It was great… until we realized we had 2 more shows to play that weekend and nothing left to sell.

The band was on a few multi-band split releases on both Kickstart Audio/Chowda Records and Break Even.  We filmed a video for "My Own Private Island" and a played live on Hofstra University TV.  We kept up that pace of weekend tours for a majority of 2001.  That eventually started to lead to tension as we were touring in 2 cars usually, which didn’t make for the easiest traveling pre-GPS.  After Brian backed out on scheduled show in North Carolina, the writing was on the wall.

Not wanting to throw away all of the songs we had written, Sean Hanney of With Every Idle Hour volunteered to record us.  We cut down the amount of shows we were playing and started recording all of our songs. This re-focused the band, but it wouldn’t last.  While recording, Phil informed us he was planning to move to Japan to teach English as a second language to the Japanese, and Brian planned to backpack through Europe for the summer.  Phil made sure to record all of his parts prior to his departure.  Brian didn’t want to rush it and wanted to wait until he returned to finish the recording.

If you’ve been in a band, you can see where this is going.

With Phil’s impending departure, the cotton weary played our last show in preparation for what was expected to be our last one on May 3rd, 2002.  It was again at Polytechnic University.  It was a make-a-wish benefit that also featured Regarding I, Knox Overstreet, Bookstore, Donna and Carly, Exit Ocean, Dearly Departed, The Jiant, with every idle hour and My World. Phil would move back to the US in December of 2002 and we’d re-group for one single practice but Satzinger had moved to Pennsylvania at that point to join Breaking Pangaea.

Sean was having some issues at this point where he could house a recording studio, so it became something of a moving operation.  When Brian returned from Europe, having spent a greater portion of the time imbibing many fine spirits – his voice was in no shape to be recorded.  He needed some time to get his voice back.  But it seemed like when Brian was ready, Sean was not and vice-versa.  Brian did get in and started recording only to have Sean's computer crash and erase all of the work.  By the time these issues were fixed and Brian could return to finish his tracks, he blew his voice out quickly.  This coupled with the rest of the band’s harassment as to when he was going to finish made him quickly lose interest in finishing the record and generally being in the band.

The full length, to be named Your Three Minute Pop was never finished.

That’s the end of the cotton weary.  Jay Gerstner would found the band Encrypt Manuscript.  Mike Satzinger would briefly tour with Breaking Pangaea before going on to the PA-based bands Pilot Round the Sun and Safari So Good.  Phil and I would start Satellite Lost in 2003, which would last briefly until Phil moved to get his doctorate at UCLA.  Jason (me) would start Circle the Sun and later Steady As She Goes.  Mary Ellen Devaux would perform under her own name, and also was briefly a part of both Playing Dead and God’s Gift to Women.  Ian Tauber and Mike Rawluk would play in Special Guest Star.  Charlie Seich would eventually become the drummer for The Narrative.

I can safely say that there will be no reunion.

Even though Brian never did finish the Your Three Minute Pop recordings, I was able to unearth some of what was done during the sessions.  With the advent of home digital recording I was able to piece together versions of “Flickering Lights” and “Second Chapter” which, while far from perfect at least provide some vocals. 

Sorry for the longest post ever.  These are the downloads for everything.  I divided things up into Vol. 1 (pre-Phil and Jay) which includes the mostly unreleased demos with Mary Ellen, The First to Come in Last demo, the Viva Maestro EP, the track for the unreleased Motherbox split "The Last Place You'd Look" (which Ian would reuse and be a better fit for a Special Guest Star as "Dead Letter Day") and a few tracks from a live WCRN broadcast.  Vol. 2  is with Phil and Jay and includes the Cinematic Overtones EP, the two tracks from the House Divided 5-Way Split, and pretty much for the first time - all of the instrumental tracks for Your Three Minute Pop as well as two tracks that I mixed whatever vocals Brian had recorded for them.  Also for those interested, I've included a third download that includes three live tracks that were on various comps and splits, an out-take from Your Three Minute Pop, and a bunch of other acoustic demos and live practice stuff.

Vol. 1: Demos, The First To Come in Last Demo, Viva Maestro! EP and more:

Vol 2: Cinematic Overtones EP, House Divided Split Tracks, Your Three Minute Pop:

Here is the video for "My Own Private Island":

Other links:
CDs are still available from Break Even here: