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The Other Steve Miller
Posted in Music Retrospecticus

Metal Face: Dr. Jacuzzi Suit, In 3D and Beyond

Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil, and Caleb.

A brief note: I understand how it may seem at this point: You’re probably wondering why I’m devoting so many posts to Metal Face. My answers: posterity and timeliness. Sure, Metal Face may be a long-running joke, but it’s an important joke, whose history should be preserved and fleshed out in full detail. And who else would shoulder this undertaking, if not me, one of the band’s co-founders and this blog’s publisher? Wikipedia? Rolling Stone? Actual fans? Not likely. It’s also an effort to get you pumped for the r3m1x album (w00t! w00t!), which you’ll surely enjoy more if you have some context. Now, where was I? The trauma that was the Justice Lake on Lemons sessions left a sour taste in my mouth, so much so that I couldn’t bring myself to record anything during my freshman year of college, save for the occasional dorm-room jam or demo for bands that never flourished. I still played guitar quite a bit — most notably with the Clintons during a one-off, dorm show — but the desire to write and/or record wasn’t there, and I’m not really sure why. On the rare occasional when I performed solo acoustic (well before the days of Newsfeed Anxiety and my singer-songwriter aspiration), I would play “Woodstocker Shocker,” and the reactions were actually pretty positive — so much so it landed me a brief gig as the bassist of the University of Montana’s Lutheran Campus Ministry worship group. Ridiculous as the band may’ve seemed, and as grating as JLOL — and yes, Dox as well were, I knew there was something good to be had in this band, but just couldn’t bring myself to use accursed Sound Recorder again. Luckily, I wouldn’t have to. As with the previous Metal Face resurrection, the latest one came about during a late-night sleepover at Caleb’s house. This time, we were better prepared; this time, we brought instruments. And a MacBook. In the Nelson’s basement, the fully assembled Metal Face — Alex on the vocals, Caleb on the keys, Will on the electronic drum pad, Anthony on the acoustic bass, Thomas Anderson on the sound levels, and myself on the guitar — convened for an impromptu mini-concert. To a packed house of 5+, we played two of the better cuts from JLOL: the foul-mouthed, funkay-funk jam “Greasy Tree” and, of course, the fan favorite “Woodstocker Shocker.” Check out the entirety of the performance (and Alex’s enormous hair) below. http://youtu.be/yHza4V6BcNo The mini-gig was enough to reignite our interest in the band, which was further spurred by the fact we had a fancy GarageBand-equipped MacBook at our disposal. With instruments still in hand, we took to recording our first song on this new platform, a ditty titled “Midnight Water.” It was dark and atmospheric, much like the majority of JLOL, except with one major difference: it sounded good. Sure, the GarageBand presets we used were a bit cheesy, and the main guitar part doesn’t follow the tempo of the Middle Eastern drum loops, but for the first time, Metal Face sounded like a real band — or, at the very least, a listenable band. It seemed like a new album was imminent, one that would easily eclipse all that came before it. Introducing GarageBand into our lives was comprable to how Aladdin and Jasmine must’ve felt when flying on a magical rug. A whole new world, indeed. When we were all home for summer 2007, we immediately went to work on our third full-length album, a project known as Dr. Jacuzzi Suit. Based on an obscure Simpsons reference, DJS was intended to be a concept album about the five members of Metal Face traveling underwater — via submarine — to the infamous Dr. Jacuzzi, Ph.D.’s, lair to pay our fictitious friend a visit and see how he was doing. Once we arrived, unspeakable things occurred (unspeakable in the sense that I don’t know what actually took place; that much was never revealed to me, so I can’t knowledgeably speak of it). During this time, we also grew fond of taking overwrought pictures of the group, as if to give us more artistic credibility. We even had a Myspace blog to keep our faithful fans updated on the status of the project. Alex’s May 28, 2007, post “Hard @ Work” runs as follows:

Current mood:amused Hey gang. We’ve been working hard on some new ideas for the new album. Things are coming together great, particularly one project called “Shake Your Ribcage”, which we can confidently say will be unlike any Metal Face song yet… maybe even groundbreaking. It’s good to know that this time around we will actually have some decent means of production. Having two Macs really makes a difference. We’ll keep you updated.

All things appeared well in el casa de Metal Face, but amidst the kooky sci-fi premises, Photoshop tinkerings, GarageBand presets reveling and overseas travelings (I went to Turkey and Greece this summer, and I think Caleb may’ve gone to Italy), the material was actually a mess. We didn’t take the GarageBand learning curve into consideration, and although we were enjoying our sandbox, we didn’t complete a single song. By the end of the summer we had a handful of tracks, some of them farther along than others, but they were more experiments in the functionalities of GarageBand than they were songs. The Dr. Jacuzzi Suit project was shelved. I spent the next year or so acquainting myself with the various ins and outs of GarageBand, resulting in two solo albums: the star-studded Finally Home: An Album for Friends and the Jonny Greenwood-inspired Soundtrack: Stock Footage. By the time summer 2008 rolled around, I was comfortable enough with the software to resume work on Metal Face TBD. Caleb and I spoke early on in the process and determined to go in a completely new direction than the previous summer’s session. We wanted a group of songs that were, as Caleb put it, “an extension of the imagination … whatever we’re feeling, that should be the album’s concept.” With this inspiring — albeit vague — idea in mind, and equipped with a knowledge of GarageBand we didn’t have before, we forged ahead on the album later named In 3D. But even though we were alive and well, we wanted to throw off our fan base by giving them the impression we had split, if only to make the album’s release that much more of a pleasant surprise. No one would expect it. Alex’s June 15, 2008 blog post, titled “It’s Done,” read:

It was fun while it lasted. Thanks to those who cared or still do care. But we don’t. And recreating the fun and excitement of the summer of 1996 is not worth destroying relationships. Not to mention, our efforts over the past 3 years have been nothing short of a waste. But thanks. If you want a bootleg CD then send us a message… maybe someone will check it in a month or 2.

(JK, obviously.) Compared to our previous efforts, In 3D’s creative process was largely non-collaborative, with much of the recording consisting of me on my MacBook, laying down guitar parts or programming/automating various MIDI sequences; in that sense, it wasn’t a Metal Face album of yore. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing — the songs sounded great, uninhibited by the fuzz of Sound Recorder and unconstrained by the instruments we didn’t have — but there was a certain dynamic missing from the In 3D sessions that was prevalent during MF I, Dox and the first half of JLOL: that of friends playing music together, and enjoying it. In fact, there’s not a single song with featuring more than two members of the band (unless you count Anthony’s MIDI bass line at the beginning of “In Quickness and Stealth”), but that’s something the technology afforded us. One person could essentially be the band. Despite the somewhat disconnectedness of the recordings, we were confident in the material, and aimed for a completion date by the summer’s end. But, as always, things were somewhat delayed. Despite the wealth of tools at our disposal, one of the major hurdles was adding percussion to the songs, a process made all the more difficult by not recording to a click track right off the bat — a seemingly small, but incredibly crucial, detail. When it came time to add beats, be it computer-generated or live, it wasn’t as easy as dragging and dropping a loop into one of the tracks. Instead, it was a lengthy and complicated task that involved splicing drum loops in hopes they would sort of fit. Sometimes it worked, but more often enough, it didn’t. We also didn’t have our resident electronic drumpaddist, Will, present during these sessions to add somewhat live drums, though we did recruit friend and long-time collaborator Jimmy Salyer to lay down a track for “The Sleepless II,” or at least three-fourths of it. Lyrics, too, were hard to come by, but that was largely because Alex went to South Korea for a couple weeks and I went to school early for resident assistant training. Once again, Metal Face would have to wait. In 3D sat idle for the rest of 2008 while I worked on other projects, but I resumed drum programming in early 2009. I was making slow and steady progress until one day, in a fit of  R.A./student-journalist/sleep-deprived rage, I slammed my fist on my MacBook just right of the trackpad — directly hitting the hard drive. I broke my computer, and everything — including the GarageBand files — was unrecoverable. I thought I had killed In 3D, and maybe even Metal Face. Fortunately enough, however, I had gotten into the habit of sending the unfinished songs to another longtime friend/collaborator Edward Longo, so I was able to complete the majority of the album. By the beginning of the summer, Alex and I put the finishing touches on In 3D. The long-delayed followup to the disappointing JLOL was complete. We officially released In 3D as a digital download on May 27, 2009, one day shy of two years since the “Hard @ Work” post. And a year and a day after the “It’s Done” blog post, in honor of our past endeavors, Alex wrote:

We understand that we have made promises in the past of giving our older material out to those who wanted it. And yet, it is with the release of IN 3D that we firmly believe that in comparison, our back catalog is not nearly as accessible, refined, or good (quite frankly). However, Metal Face is rarely a group to take itself too seriously. For those who can’t seem to get enough MF, send us a message/comment/whatever and we’ll get you a downloadable link for all your needs. Note: Unfortunately, the sound quality on most recordings from 2005 to 2006 is noticeably poor. We apologize for the pain to the ears. Also: Please note that Justice Lake on Lemons contains some songs of strong profanity. Yeah, I know, not really our thing, but at the time it seemed like a good idea. Take care, all! Hope you enjoy IN 3D, and if, for some odd reason, you want our edgier, grittier, shittier, sillier stuff, let us know.

In 3D was probably the best received of the three previous albums, mainly due its accessibility (i.e. it was easy to procure and easy[ish] to listen to) and the songs “Shake Your Ribcage,” “Dr. Hector” and “Nothin’ 2 Prove” quickly became fan favorites. And although it wasn’t as much of a group effort as Dox or JLOL, In 3D was a step in the right direction — toward legitimacy. But the best was yet to come. Now for new the stuff.