Yes, I’m re-releasing an album that I did with Jamie and good buddy Phil Williams a few years back and some of you are already familiar with the material. Then I felt compelled to explain why, which led to this monster post. Warning: there is a bit of sadness here. I tried to write around it, to deny it, to squelch it so I could spare some loved ones some pain they’re bound to feel reading this. But I just couldn’t do it. Or I wouldn’t do it. It just didn’t feel right to ignore the whole reason why this EP happened the way it did. And you know, what? It’s okay. Awful, sad things happen and that’s the price we pay to even be born. But we get a lot of good stuff, too. Like love, friendship, food, laughter, wine, music, 3D movies – well you catch my drift. This was hard for me to write but it also felt…right. Like I had to close this chapter before I could really move on to my new album, which is still waiting in the wings for its turn. If you don’t read this – I completely understand (and you can go straight to the music page to check out the EP). If you do read this, thanks so much for listening.
It was the summer of 2006 and it had already been the worst of my life. I had just lost my baby brother, Hal Williams, in a freak motorcycle accident at the heartbreaking age of 24. Soon after, I heard that my cousin Terry, who had been in ill health, had passed in his sleep. And then to top it all off, another cousin’s husband, who had been part of the Maine National Guard and shipped off to the Middle East, had suddenly died of heart failure in Afghanistan. Long stories all of these, but I was in a serious situation mentally. I was no stranger to loss, but Hal was like a son to me and losing him so suddenly sent me into a nosedive.
I was still functioning in life – pretty much. But the wind had been knocked out of me spiritually, emotionally, physically. I had been putting out a couple of albums and performing as a solo artist for a few years. But now all thoughts of “making it” or doing something big with my music seemed pointless. I felt like I’d lost a piece of myself – a shark had taken a bite out of my torso and even though I was still acting ‘normal’, I had a big gaping hole inside and it seemed like it would never, ever go away (and truth be told, it never really will).
Then after many dark, bleak months, I felt the need for an adventure. To get out of town. To get out of my life, out of my head, and into something more meaningful to me. I needed to get some juice back inside my dry, dusty insides.
Jamie has an old friend, Rob Seifert, an engineering whiz kid who had worked with the biggest shots in Hollywood in the 90s til he burned out, got sick of the game and high-tailed it to the hills of Humboldt County in northern California. I had some new songs mouldering on the shelf and a hankering for a good old-fashioned road trip – so we made a plan with Rob to do a quick round of recording at his studio in Redway. We called up dear friend and awesome drummer, Phil Williams, and got the itinerary together: Jamie and I would pick Phil up in his then-home of San Francisco, drive to Rob’s town, spend 3 days recording, then back to LA. In those three days, we’d be laying down five songs from start to finish before heading back home. Which was fine with Jamie and me – we like to get things down while they’re fresh instead of brooding over every detail. Still, it would be a hustle for damn sure.
The drive up was soul-soothing. It was my first time north of Los Angeles and the California coastline was magical – especially for someone from the East Coast. It was mind-boggling to see so little development so close to the sea. The rolling countryside made me think of Italy. Barn swallows swooped above empty fields instead of parking lots and giant resorts.
Big Sur was intensely scary for both of us to navigate – especially in a surprise fog, that left us blind and hugging close to the cliff walls. But it was still – as everybody says – breathtakingly gorgeous. Nature still shines her light bright green in these parts and I was eternally grateful for the display.
Humboldt county itself was mostly pristine – dotted with trees and deer as we zoomed by in our metallic horse. Then we reached our destination – such a small town! The population is a little over a thousand. Mostly hippies, cowboys and other brands of off-the-grid folk – from what we could tell. It’s full of organic coffee, guns and of course a LOT of weed. Our first mistake was getting in to town after dark and then foraging for food at 9pm. The only thing open was a local saloon. We walked in there and the record skipped – every eye was on us and you knew there was a lot of lead being packed that night. Wasn’t the friendliest of welcomes but we managed to get some grub without getting our asses kicked.
The next day, work! There was a heat wave that week – highs above 110 degrees – but we were too busy to care. Rob’s studio was small but dense with gear and shared with his lovely photographer wife, Natalie Gage, and extremely adorable baby boy, Jaxon. Of course first thing, Rob rolls up a massive blunt and passes it around. – a ritual that’s been going on among humans – though more surreptitiously these days – for thousands of years. But he hit us with the locally grown ganja and the shit was so strong we all huddled in corners on the verge of a freak out. But after a brief period of adjustment, we settled right in to the recording groove.
Day 1 – Laying down the basic tracks: Jamie was doing double duty at the time on both bass and lead guitar (these were the days before I learned to play bass) – so we started with Phil on drums, Jamie on bass and me on rhythm electric guitar. No click used and none needed with Phil hittin’ the skins.
Day 2 – Overdub day: mostly my vocals, backups with Jamie and Phil, percussion and 12-string acoustic guitar for “Spinning” (mmm, that guitar was a thing of beauty, too, a 1968 Martin borrowed from a friend of Rob’s).
Day 3 – Rough mixing: Rob put the elements together while we all gave our feedback (or played with the sweet, amazing Jaxon). As always, it was so much fun hearing the results of our efforts over the last couple of days come together – like a long-simmered savory stew. (Here’s the mountain man himself during a brief break).
Through it all, we were learning more about the lay and law of the land. Humboldt is one of those places with its very own vibe – and you either adjust to it and ride the wave or you feel totally discombobulated all the time. We adjusted. Barter and trade is king – Rob often got baby supplies or repairs for the house or tires for the car in exchange for recording someone’s first demo. Also, and very unsurprising, you realize there are always a LOT of people who are VERY high around you at all times. As musicians, well, we’re pretty used to that. But it went double for the drivers on those winding narrow roads barely clinging to the side of the mountain. More than once my life flashed before my eyes as we came across another mountain intersection where a car cut in front of oncoming traffic – stopping just shy of a thousand foot drop.
But best of all was working with Rob. I tell you what, that boy knows his stuff. We felt at ease but fired up by his suggestions and encouragement. Rob is one happy-go-lucky fella who lives life on his own terms at all times. He’s also sweet and gentle and loves his son like I’ve never seen. A modern day mountain man who still loves his MTV. Rob, you did an awesome job in a short time on this record and I’m really grateful.
I also felt my brother there with me. Way out in the mountains, you get clear of a lot of static (I’ve also found that to be true out here in the Sonoran desert). I invited Hal to be a part of this process – as I have with any big creative undertaking since. And I like to think he really dug it. When we’d finally finished in Humboldt and were heading back south, I was still feeling raw inside – but with a warm glow from having done something real and not for anyone else.
But somehow I just didn’t like the idea of using my name – of being all ‘me me me’ when I still felt like shrinking from the world. Which is how “The Modeens” came into being. We bandied about some names and Jamie hit upon one that just stuck. So this EP first came out as a demo for The Modeens even though all the songs and lead vocals were mine. And that was cool – I really loved being part of a collective instead of being the central ‘diva’.
But years have passed, members have come and gone, Jamie and I joined songwriting heads and we evolved into our own ‘Modeens’ sound after we moved to Tucson. And this sound is very different from the sound on this EP, from my ‘solo’ sound. So, after 5 years, and talking with Jamie and Phil, I’m re-releasing this EP under my own name. Though The Modeens are the light of my sonic life, some of my own songs want a little corner to call their own.
And since I loooove lists, here’s a little song breakdown for those of you who like that sort of thing:
New York City At Night – It’s funny that a few months before Jamie and I made the move to Los Angeles, I was sitting in my bedroom in the East Village – never dreaming I’d leave – and wrote this song. It’s a sort of love song to NYC. There was a time when I thought I’d live there the rest of my life – but things changed and now I can’t imagine living there again (at least full time). But this song describes the hold it used to have – like that irresistible bad boy in the black leather jacket waiting outside for you on his Harley.
Venice Day – Yeah, I like to write songs about places I’ve lived. This is the other side of the coin from NYC@Night and describes the crowded Venice Boardwalk on a typical glorious California endless summer day. Where you can find ‘angels in disguise and devils on display’ everywhere you go. Phil put together this music video for it as a promo for a neat lil show called “Jasby’s List”:
Raindown – I wrote this sexy song for Jamie, of course. Phil does some awesome backup vocals on the chorus. Now when I play it live we extend the end a bit but I liked how different this more abrupt ending was.
Spinning – This is actually a very, very old song of mine. I think I wrote it around 93 or so? I dunno – much of my old life is a blur. It’s all about being confused – a theme I’m very familiar with to this very day. This is the one I played the 12 string on and I really dig how Rob layered the various vocals together.
What A Shame – We capped off the EP with one of those songs that nobody knows what it’s about – though most guess it’s about a controlling relationship. The real inspiration was Dick Cheney. This was back in the Bush days and not long after Cheney had shot up his friend in the woods. But beyond that, it’s about power and people with power who don’t really care what happens to less powerful people. I was hopeful about him getting his comeuppance some day (“karma’s kind of a bitch that way”) and I – ever the optimist – still look forward to it.
There’s no big fanfare associated with this release. I slapped up a new design, changed the title to “Legend of Bigfoot” – and it’s finally available on iTunes and Amazon MP3 as well as on CD. Why “Legend of Bigfoot”? For one thing, I have big feet and Daddy has ALWAYS teased me about them and called me Bigfoot or Sasquatch. And on the way home from Rob’s studio, we just HAD to stop by the awesome local tourist trap: Legend of Bigfoot. We took a lot of goofy pictures and I just loved how whimsical and cozy it was. Oh sure, I’ll show you a few. Here’s me:
And here’s Phil, being a wise ass – to get a better idea of Phil, check out his awesome band: Evil Twins!
Anyway, we joked about calling the record “Legend of Bigfoot” back then – but the name got lost in the shuffle. Now it totally captures the spirit and kooky, cool vibe of the environment where we made this little recording. I hope you like it. You can check it out and even buy a copy here: http://www.cristinawilliams.com/music
I dedicate this album to Hal Williams, Terry Parker and Pat Damon. Most especially Hal – you’re still burning bright, bro, wherever you are.