No Depression Blog: A Cup Of Old Mad Joy

You Must Not Know or Larry meets The Gourds for a cup of Old Mad Joy
By Kevin Russell
September 2, 2011

Oh lordy it is almost time to pop this puppy out into the wild old wicked old world. We recorded this record in late March up in Woodstock NY with Larry Campbell. If you don't know him go look it up. Go ahead, we'll wait. I have some jerky and some big red we can gnaw on until you get back.

Wikipedia entry for Larry Campbell

Larry works out of Levon Helm's barn studio, a legendary structure where lives a legendary man in a legendary town. It's enough to make one feel like a tourist. But there was no time for that. We hit it quick the day we walked in there with Larry and engineer, Justin "crack the" Guip. Heh. We discussed doing "I Want It So Bad," first. We all felt that song was the closest to where it needed to be. But Larry immediately expressed his love of the song with the caveat that it needed a new chorus. "The verse is cool" he said, "But it needs a real chorus." He showed me an idea of what became that ascending chord thing (C,E7,F,F#,G,Am,F). But that took some time. So we recorded "You Must Not Know" first. It turned out to be apropos, as we had no idea, "what kind of shit was about to go down!"

We spent the next ten days or so in the most intense, entertaining, joyous, challenging, redefining recording experience of our long and odd career. If you know anything about us you know that, when it comes to our art, we are indifferent, stubborn, irreverent and self-reliant. No one can tell us what to do or when to do it or how to act or how to sound, what to play,etc. And we have gone about our business for upteen years just this way. We know what is best so please do not waste our time trying to tell us what we should be doing. Then suddenly, subtly there was this cool customer with the thick New York accent directing us effortlessly and happily. Here were men I had watched over the years tune out producers, managers, agents, fans, and yes each other in favor of carving their own path, singing their own song, marching to their own beat. LC immediately had our respect and in return he gave the same to us. He never once suggested or inferred that he had the upper hand, or he played with this guy or that. There was only humility, warmth and a contagious enthusiasm for making music and recording great performances.

I think one of the most surprising tools used in the session were the demo recordings of the songs made by Jimmy and myself in our respective sheds. (now that would have been a good name for the record, Respective Sheds. Oh well, maybe next time.) We often would listen to these demo's on LC's laptop as a reference point for the feel we wanted to achieve. Our demo's have traditionally been used as basic sketches for the end result, but rarely was it ever asked that anyone adhere to the sanctity of the demo recordings in the way that LC asked. So, in a way, it sort of validated the importance of that part of what we do when we are in solitary.

This might sound strange given my earlier rant on the staunch positions we take about our work. But, when it comes to inner band dynamics we are all politely passive-aggressive. Which is to say, a lot gets left unsaid and a lot is just accepted. Maybe not the most emotionally healthy blokes, but it has kept us together for "pert 'near" 20 years now weaving and coalescing this twisted, vibrant, joyful thing.

Old Mad Joy is a unique distillation of all that dust and detritus. It's a little like going through a box of records in the attic. Each song has its own classic tone to it. As fans we have always appreciated records like Exile, Sister Lovers, Armed Forces, Double Nickels, Let It Be and Let it Be, Blonde on Blonde. And like many, we are always striving for that bar set up so high by those records. I think this is why we do it. We truly love it. We fell in love with it way back when we were boys. A dream somehow becomes a trade and life happens through it all. One day we wake up and find ourselves standing where we wanted to be and between here and there is that old mad joy, I guess.

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