Getting Back to School after Summer BreakI
t’s been a little while—summer break and all—but we’re excited to share the next installment in our mixtape series. Whereas most of these focus on contemporary independent music, we like to switch things up every now and then, looking back and what came before and how it informs what we listen to today. Sometimes those influences are nuanced—the full-circle evolution of drum machines from sounding like Atari tank canons to hyper-realistic analog drum kits back to Atari tanks; sometime they’re pretty straight-forward, as with the Baltimore band Snail Mail‘s recent cover of “The 2nd Most Beautiful Girl in the” a ’90s indie single by Courtney Love (not the one you’re thinking—this one was the short-lived Lois Maffeo fronted indie two-piece).
That cover and the thought that this very talented but also very young artist was somehow turned on to what is inarguably an obscure (but great) song from 1990 partially inspired this mix. It was nearly 20 years ago, which is a long time by most standards, but these particular last 20 years—when seen through the lenses of the shifts in the music industry caused very much by related shifts in our digital world…plus the myriad and seminal socio-political cultural quakes in that time—make it feel like millennia in hind site. So it’s fascinating and, honestly, somewhat encouraging to see today’s young creatives side-stepping what’s spoon-fed to them by our collectively fed social media machine in favor of the harder-to-find, maybe more satiating influences. (Side note and totally not not self-effacing: We actually featured a bigger write up on that particular song on our studio journal way back in 2012 for anyone interested).
A few months back, we gave you an early- to mid-90s “Alternative” mix—lesser-known, post-Nevermind bands or songs or the era that you may or may not have heard if you stayed up late enough to watch their videos on 120 Minutes (or watched the VHS the next day).
This mix is a spiritual successor to that one and, again, one that’s very much driven by the personal, moving on from the music that my friends and I listened to in high school and into the music of early college (circa 1994/95, maybe). We’re zooming in, past the larger, more polished Brit-focused sound to the more regional and very independent artists—stuff you’d hear your friend play at 3 a.m. on their college radio show. So later in the night and, by default, cooler.
One of my absolute favorite artists from that time who I got turned onto just before college is Rebecca Gates of the band The Spinanes. This mix kicks off with one of their very first releases, “Hawaiian Baby.” Though my exposure to the song was through a 7″ vinyl release and some of the songs on here are a little tough to find, this, thankfully isn’t one of those in the digital age—indie mainstay Merge Records (going strong today, by the way) released Imp Years in 2000 (named after the band’s early label). It contains both of The Spinanes’ early 7″s and two extra tracks. The label’s also reissued Manos, the band’s debit full-length (which I highly recommend) with extra tracks included. Merge is also planning reissues of the subsequent Spinanes albums in 2020, for you soon-to-be-fans.
There’s some kind of ineffable intimate beauty in the music + lyrics of “Hawaiian Baby” that’s kept it one of my favorite all time songs even to this day, but I’ve honestly never quite known what the song is about, per se. Which was a great excuse to reach out to Rebecca herself to get a glimpse of what she was thinking when she wrote the song and seemed like a nice way to kick off this musical back-to-school mix.
Here’s what she had to say:
“Many of my songs start from visuals, or overheards, or responses to other’s music, snapshots experienced in person, found, shared. The lyrics are rarely limited to one person or event, ideally mulitvalent.
I can’t claim any specific intent as I wrote “Hawaiian Baby.” It’s a trip through ephemera associated with a relationship, a roll call of time relating to a relationship.
It started with this photo.
I’d purchased a cassette of trucker’s songs at a highway stop (likely along with an unwearable joke baseball hat, a bad habit of mine in those days), and I kept it in my car and listened to it often. The on-the-road classic “Six Days on the Road” was on that tape.
That’s what the “six days” backing vocals during the 3rd verse tips it’s hat to, it’s a touchstone that brings in distance, travel, measuring time… Many of the songs I wrote in the early days were inspired by and woven in with music I was listening to, a kind of dialogue or conversation as opposed to a sample or steal. (I remember a criticism of my and a few peer’s writing was that we wrote songs for other songwriters, not the “general public”. I’m not sure that’s accurate, but will confess to enjoying building in references other music lovers might hear.) “Hawaiian Baby” has those kind of little associations throughout.”