"The most important thing to note about this record is that we recorded and mixed it to tape, without the aid of Pro Tools or any editing software," proudly states Channing Lewis, front man for the Austin, TX-based rock outfit Grand Champeen
The record Channing Lewis is referring to is "Dial 'T' for This
", Grand Champeen's fourth full-length to date.
"These days you hear a record and it's perfect. And sadly, it's because computers can make even a shitty band sound really fucking good," Lewis continues, disheartened by the current state of music - and technology's involvement in it. "Only, it's not really them; and worse, it results in a recording with zero in the way of character."
That is why any member of Grand Champeen Michael Crow (guitar/vocals), Alex Livingstone (bass/vocals), Ned Stewart (drums), and Channing Lewis (vocals/guitar) - will proudly tell you that every note on "Dial 'T' For This" was performed by the band, in the studio, on a real instrument.
There is no faking rock 'n' roll for Grand Champeen.
The strings are real. The horns are real. The piano is real. Every guitar solo was played live. Every bass part, vocal harmony, and every hit of the drum - nothing was moved or manipulated. It is what it is.
Another thing to note, "Dial 'T' For This" is Grand Champeen, with no outside help, except a friend on the backing vocals and percussion of "Nice Of You To Join Us". The rest, the band members recorded, engineered, produced, and, most importantly, played themselves.
All of this, however, did not come easy for Grand Champeen, as they found "Dial 'T' For This" to be their hardest record to make.
"We recorded it ourselves, as we always have, but we were way harder on ourselves than ever before," explains Lewis. "We set out to achieve a much tighter sound than 2003's 'The One That Brought You' (Glurp Records), which was about as sloppy as records get."
The band decided they wanted a more precise record, one that was more structure than slop, but equally heartfelt and potent.
"We were successful in getting that level of precision, but it was a lot of hard work. It was a real learning process, but it was a desire born out of touring with some really great bands, and humbly recognizing some of our shortcomings," Lewis confesses. "It's not like we wanted to make a Steely Dan or Rush album, or anything like that, but we knew we wanted to have some sparse arrangements, and sparse-ness and slop don't mix."
Channing says the disappointing part of "The One That Brought You" was the band's performance, claiming, "We had like six guitar tracks on every song, in order to just mask all our mistakes."
They learned from their mistakes, and set out to make a better, stronger record, and they did. The sound of "Dial 'T' for This" is that of a four-piece rock band doing what they do, with occasional piano, horn, or string arrangements to "make things interesting".
Now, how did Grand Champeen come up with the title, "Dial 'T' For This"?
"The title has been kicking around since before our last record," recalls Lewis. "We mainly liked its ambiguity. On an obvious level it mimics 'Dial M for Murder'.
"I like to think 'this' refers to the record itself, but not everyone sees it that way. Perhaps the most subtle reason I liked it is because the soft 'th' contrasts with the hard 'T' in a way that M and Murder do not."
The record is filled with moments that have each band member ecstatic and ready to tour in support of the record to show it off to the world.
Whether it's Michael Crow playing the strings on "What It Beats", the album opener, a pure haunting arrangement that gives the short song its depth, or Ned Stewart's drumming from start to finish, the band knows all their hard work and energy they put into this paid off.
Other highlights on the album include the vocal harmonies on "Wounded Eye", the use of piano throughout ("Something we've been wanting to incorporate for a long time," says Lewis), or even the bass lick at the :45 marker in "To The Ideas". Everything on the album has its place and gives "Dial 'T' For This" its sound.
"We spent a lot more time thinking about the arrangements, more so than ever before, and it paid off," states Lewis. "We used different guitars, amps, different mics, etc. on every song. We played around with stuff, looking for the right sound for the particular song. We tried piano in spots we might not have before. When it didn't work, we got rid of it, but often it did work. We resisted the urge to layer everything over and over again. We used a Leslie on the vocals for 'Nice of You To Join Us'. We used organs here and there. We added vocal harmonies. We tried new things to come up with the sound we wanted, and we couldn't be more happy about it all".
Besides instrumentation and recording procedures, the band put a lot of thoughts into the lyrics of each song as well.
Starting with album opener "What It Beats", the character in the song starts to contemplate going on a bender in order to prove to himself that his wild days aren't behind him. The shortest song on the record, clocking in at a little under a minute, the song has three distinct sections that further pull you into this quick, yet epic number about growing up and trying to retain your youthfulness.
Two songs written by Alex Livingstone, "Different Sort of Story" and "Cities on a Plain", tell of heartache and disappointment. The first song is about dancing with a woman all night, before she introduces you to her husband at the end, while the latter is about a woman pitting two suitors against each other before dumping them both. Two similar, yet different stories that cut straight to the heart and leave you going, "I've been there", as you slip into Grand Champeen's world, blurring the lines between yours and theirs.
"Nice of You To Join Us" is about posthumous fame, belated recognition, doing something too little, too late.
The pop gem of the record, "Wounded Eye", has the hooks and the melody to get stuck in your head for days, but it rocks, too, all while telling the tale of someone professing their love to you, at a terrible time, leaving you going, "don't litter me with your love".
Another gripping song on the record is "Take Me Home", a danceable number about being on the road and wanting to go home, not being able to handle waking up on floors after a month, reeking of smoke and beer, and trying to come to terms with reality versus your dreams. ("It's hard to accept," Lewis tells me of the song's content, "because all I've wanted to do since I was 12 was drive around in a van playing dive-y clubs").
After all their hard work, and everything that went into the album, is Grand Champeen satisfied?
They all will say that, without hesitation. They'll also tell you that, without question, this is their best record to date.
Look for them to tour throughout 2007 in support of "Dial 'T' For This".