Heart wrung torture and self release : Joe Cardamone on the making of Waking Up Is Hard To Do by Giant Drag.
The salt drenched shine of West Coast America that entranced, bleached, and faded Brian Wilson still casts shadows over all music from that farthest shore.
The American Dream, as cliché, ripped off and laughable as it’s become, reinvents itself as beauty, stardom and repetition, through which mortally teen-plus stellar cannibals, become and bloat, wander and are pulled down by a new season’s sleek fangs.
The story of Waking Up is Hard to Do by Giant Drag presented here is an insider’s view of the emotions and angst that precipitated the quiet release of an angry record by small girl with a sizable talent (with the help of a thin man in a suburban garage).
All California stories run like that, cautionary tales for wild children, enough morality to mock offence and lubricate the twin grinds of nostalgic fantasy and sexual mythology.
In the biz, the Truth if you can even be bothered looking is buried deep under layers of therapy-hardened optimism, publishing rights and projected earnings… it’s also a guilty nightmare of repetitive and merciless accusations.
Wake up! Here is reportage at its rawest.
These are trying times and Santori times for musicians of all walks.
by Joe Cardamone
This LP has been a total curse on my existence…
I want to engage people once again and make the rest of the world care as well. Basically the last couple years of my life were pure hell and I spent it (and my “success” period of GD) a slave to prescription drugs, only to go to rehab last October to get clean and have the place literally nearly kill me.
– Annie Hardy
How I remember it was like this:
I had a four track cassette deck that was my primary tool to demo out material. It was set up in my tiny hillside living room with a couple cheap mics and guitar pedals.
and torched my
career in the
major label world
by many acts
of defiance, and
whatever else you
can think of,
that makes suits
the boat clear
I was wrenching my way through the noise that would eventually become WILDLIFE at the time so everything was set up. She came over one night and somehow I convinced her to do a quick set of her new material. One mic and two hours later she had recorded some of the most beautifully bare demos my four track had ever seen.
We had the kind of relaxed friendship that lent itself to creativity because neither one of us were embarrassed to be a fool in front of the other. I’d like to think that leant towards the magic quality of these beautiful lo fi capturings. Mostly it’s just cos she had an hour in front of the mic. After listening to the songs for a couple weeks and really being jealous that her songwriting was so effortlessly great, we started talking about making this collection into the next Giant Drag LP.
Of course working with me came with inherent problems. Firstly I had no track record as a producer outside of my own recordings, an EP for Giant Drag and some no name punk groups. Secondly I had just up and torched my career in the major label world by many acts of defiance, and whatever else you can think of, that makes suits wanna steer the boat clear. Annie was signed to Interscope at the time, so… there was that. Lastly Micah had quit the band again, another problem that might need addressed. No band.
The first line of defense to charm was Wendy her A&R person. Wendy was a college grad and probably had a real diploma in something but who really knows. Obviously the idea of the two drug freaks collecting a recording budget and waltzing into a studio was an instant hit around the office. So our next scheme to make Giant Drag a great record was to get platinum record awarded producer, my dear friend and mentor Michael Musmanno out from NYC to bring an air of professionalism to the proceedings.
I have no current plans to tour Giant Drag…
…a select few shows to promote the record and say goodbye to the band properly so I can concentrate on my new project Annie Hardy and the Psychos.
– Annie Hardy 2013
Hopefully it would be enough to loosen the wallet chain at Interscope. Another added bonus would be that Mike was one of the most talented producers I knew and someone I trusted to Co-Produce with. Wendy said she would take a meeting with us all so Mike flew to LA on his dime and did some Dog and Pony.
Again we were pissing on the wrong tree cos the idea was shut down almost right away. I mean it made no sense to take an artist who had pretty decent success by making a record in a practice space with a couple friends and put her in a real studio with a couple friends. If it worked how could it work again??
At this point I stopped pushing for the situation to happen, she needed a new record more than I needed to be involved. The songs were great and Annie honestly offers a unique voice to rock n roll so I would be there for moral support only. I can’t remember the list of names the label gave her to choose from but it was like a list of people who had never been involved with anything either of us had ever listened to. For real.
As far as I can remember she went eenie meenie and picked some dude who was looking for indy rock credit. Someone off the list of favors. The next few months I heard live pre production demos trickle through emails or over at her house. The band that was set up was a group of professional chameleons. Super high shelf dudes with funky roots who really dig it man. They diiiiig it maaan.
Of course these guys couldn’t figure out how to play her songs and the whole production spiraled downward pretty rapidly. Leaving Annie defending herself at the label where she was deemed unfit to make a record by this producer. I think the quote from this world class player was ” her guitar playing is deplorable”. When Ann told me about that I laughed. I could see her sitting in a studio with a bunch of squares trying to quantify real raw emotion just pig pawing at her guitar; not into it.
I guess this guy did such a hard sell of how unfit she was to make a record and that the songs weren’t there that the label sided with him and decided to drop her contract. These types stick together, that way they can always smell each others’ farts in full flavor. I saw a problem though, I had this tape with 7 great songs on it. Perhaps they thought we had lost the tapes and the music was gone forever. In any case fuck em all and feed em fish heads.
Fast-forward some months and I am pondering scenarios to get my next record funded. The industry was falling into the ass crack of technology right where all the people who were driving it there belonged. At some point I had lunch with my friend Mickey who had been involved with funding some good records by people I knew and bands I had heard of. Not in a traditional label sense, more in a fine art collector sort of way. Andy Warhol style.
Mickey being artist himself had a pretty good understanding what it took to make creative vision/performance play out properly. I propositioned that maybe he would be interested in helping me get Wildlife made. Mickey was instantly attracted to the idea and said let’s do it. I also mentioned that Annie had a collection of tunes that I’d like to help her get recorded and he was game for that as well. It was actually one of the best days I had in a while. A huge victory for all of us.
I’m basically flying by the seat of my pants.
– Annie Hardy
Mickey was the dream executive producer. He made sure we had what we needed to make the records happen and gave us his complete trust that we would do great work. In following months I built the first version of Valley Recording at my then home in Highland Park, CA. A bunch of top notch recording gear in a small converted two car garage. More than I ever thought I would have. I took the next few months to make my record but at the same time trying to encourage Annie’s recovery from the major label bruising that she’d been through.
We set up jam sessions with different local friends and tried to find the right combination for the “Waking Up” band. Even though we didn’t exactly find a cast of characters to fill the room it forced me to get intimately acquainted with the material. At some point I resided to the thought that half of Giant Drag’s sound was missing. Someone had to call Micah. Since Micah and Annie were not on speaking terms at the time I took it upon myself to reach out to him.
I always got the impression that Micah pictured me as some rock ‘n roll drugged out charlatan who belongs in a Motley Crue cover band, and if he does I can sorta see his point. I didn’t let that fact stop me from reaching out to him. The record was more important than whatever hang ups the guy might have on me and I was sure as soon as they started having a good time playing it would be like old times. I called him from my porch one afternoon and outlined my plan. He seemed to take to the idea so we set up a date to start pre-production in my garage.
Finally things started to sound like Giant Drag again. More in-between songs than anything, Annie looked happier than I had seen her in a while and music was getting arranged. For a few weeks we all played nicely with each other and it really paid off. Any small elements of feel that had been missing were back in there.
We had what we needed to go into Sound Factory and make this document. With pal Greg Gordon on board to engineer the basic tracking and the final mix down we had a great team. We spent the next couple months committing what would become “Waking Up is Hard to Do” on to tape. I’m not going to go into the reasons why the record is being released years after it’s completion. That’s a completely different story and I’m sick of typing. All I can say is that “Waking up” is still one of my proudest moments in my career as an artist and I truly do love the record down to every last beauty/flaw.
This LP is an honest portrayal of the time period it took to get it made, a perfect document and triumph for Annie creatively and most important spiritually.
I have no doubt that history will prove we were right all along.
Joe Cardamone Interview
Trebuchet : Hows things going right now, what’s happening?
Joe Cardamone / Icarus Line : Things were fucked up and wonderful this weekend. I got see and hang out with pals Grinderman / Bad Seeds and they put on one of the best shows I have seen in years. So that was great.
On the fucked up side, someone very close to me was wrongfully arrested by the LAPD. I really could picture those cops getting shot in the face by a wildman on PCP.
Are you going to be involved in the Annie Hardy / Giant Drag tours?
Probably not but never say never.
When you were discussing the album with Annie was there an overriding vision of what you wanted to achieve?
Yes definitely. I think my main agenda was to showcase her unique voice and song writing talents. I wanted to take care not to obscure it by effects and gimmicks but I also knew that we were not making dad rock. She wanted to make a record that could reach a wider audience without sacrificing an ounce of integrity.
That is easier said than done.
You can usually have one or the other if you have half a brain but both at the same time is a very elusive prospect. I think we got there.
The production on the record was a wonderfully fractured 60s feel to it, a timelessness, where did you guys come up with this feeling.
Honestly we treated every song as it came. We did not do anything that didn’t serve the song. I learned how to play all the tunes and am as close to her as anyone in my family so the purity of the project was my main focus. I wanted to give her the classic recording that her songwriting deserved.
By classic I do not mean retro, I mean something that you can put on and it could be from any era. Most of my favorite records sound this way. Suicide, John Cale…The list goes on.
The mood of the record is really celebratory has this feeling mellowed as other realities have sunk in?
I don’t know. I think we made this record like we do with all of them. Nothing else exists while we make it.
Could self-releasing this record be its salvation?
I sure hope so! Self releasing HAD to be its salvation because it was the best option.
When last we spoke (May 2012) you mentioned that Annie was kinda scared to put it out – and now it appears as though this will be last outing for the band. Any ideas why?
In risk on speaking on her behalf I will say she has moved on to certain extent. She has made it clear that she wants to move forward right now and if it means leaving the Moniker behind then it is what is.
How’s your relationship with Annie these days?
It’s great. She’s my sister from another fister.
What reputation does your studio have?
I guess you would have to ask someone else. I am the worst at gauging what the world thinks about anything I do. I would hope people would see it as a place where they can truly be comfortable to make art without sonic compromise. It’s also a great deal financially.
What does producing someones record mean to you?
It depends on the situation. Every record needs me to be a different person and I accommodate those roles when I can. I am a seer of potential and human condition. Those two things are my greatest assets in a recording situation.
Producing records is all about people and diplomacy. It’s not about making someone do something because you think your idea is cooler.
Although that can surely be the case at times.
How do you know when you’ve done a good job on a record?
I know I have done a good job when all parties involved are satisfied with the result. Another indicator is knowing that we have done something to push good music forward.
For me doing this is an extension of my own quest to make powerful artistic decisions so I hope that mostly that can guide the path.
Any plans to do more soundtrack work?
There’s a film in the works by a friend of mine. He directed the King Baby Video and i am supposed to score his new one.
How is Icarus Line doing?
Getting stronger by the dosage.
Any plans on the horizon?
Is the performing artist always right?
Do you think a producer should have a ‘sound’?
I think that they can have a sound. I know that people probably come towards me looking for something real that documents their sound on stage and the ones in their mind.
You should always be ready to scrap everything you know though.
Photographs of Joe Cardamone by Carl Byron Batson.
You make you own LA reality
– J.Cardamone 2012
Joe Cardamone is the singer/ songwriter / band leader of LA freakout punk group The Icarus Line. Aside from producing TIL’s recordings he has worked with Giant Drag, Spirit Vine, The Bixby Knolls and a host of others.