John Henry

Do you own all of the instruments you play or do you borrow them for recording purposes?

JL: Mostly we use our own gear. Sometimes we come across something that sounds interesting and borrow it for the session. We've rented lots of odd percussion from Carroll Music in New York, like the handbells on "The Bells are Ringing." Vibes. Huge bass drums. We rented a Mellotron for parts of "John Henry." I used Brian Dewan's accordion for some of "Apollo 18" because of its smooth tone. I can't even tell you what John F. and Graham Maby have rented or borrowed. Probably tons of things.

What does the skull mean on "Back to Skull" and "John Henry"?

JL: We generally prefer not to decide what things like that mean. The skull was chosen as an element on the cover art partly to offset the adorable cuteness of the kids. The effect of the whole thing seemed right, for reasons hard to put into words.

What is the backwards message on "Subliminal?"

JL: It is not a message, just the vocal and drum track reversed.

Is "Why Must I Be Sad" linked to Alice Cooper in any way?

JF: "Why Must I Be Sad" is sung from the perspective of a kid who hears all of his unspoken sadness given voice in the music of Alice Cooper. Alice says everything the kid has been wishing he could say about his alienated, frustrated, teenage world. It's another one of our speculative, non-autobiographical songs which uses the word "I" a lot.

Which album did you enjoy making the most and which did you enjoy most when it was finished?

JL: "John Henry" was really fun to make because we were in an exotic location (upstate NY during the blizzard of '94) and surrounded by lots of people we liked and admired. I think my favorite record is still "Lincoln" though as I recall recording it was pretty hellish because the air conditioning in the tiny control room was not equal to the blazing Times Square heat, and we had lots of arguments. At one point stinky white smoke started pouring out of the computer, and everyone went "AAAAGH!"

JF: The process of making both "Apollo 18" and "John Henry" was a pleasant experience for me. We spent about ten weeks of studio time recording "Apollo 18." The actual recording sessions for "John Henry" was just a week and a half in Bearsville and a couple of weeks in New York, but we had done song writing demos, as well as band demos, and then an intense week of rehearsal upstate. Both took about three weeks to mix. The mixing sessions are tense because that is the final process, but most of those days are spent waiting for the mixing engineer to finish his job. Making records has always been really exciting for me, but the process used to make me very tense. I think I'm finally acclimating myself to the careful pace and insane expense of working in a recording studio.

Why did you change the "Nyquil Driver" to "AKA Driver" and omit the lyrics on the liner notes of "John Henry"?

JF: It was an brief education for us in the difference between protected speech and trademark infringement. Although it was a possibility that we could have gotten away with it, or settled with the Nyquil manufacturers for a small amount of money, the path of least hassle was simply omitting the name from the package. According to our lawyer you can say pretty much anything in a song about a product, and that expression is a protected part of every American's freedom of speech. However when you title a song after a trademarked product and then start selling your recording (which is also a product) you run the risk of the trademark holder suing you for infringing on their trademark. To make matters tougher on ol' Nyquil Driver, trademark holders are compelled by the law to protect their trademark or they run the risk of their product name falling into the public domain.

Who are the children in the "John Henry" photographs?

JL: Half are friends' kids, and the other half are professional model kids we cast for the shoot.