"What's that strange drawing on the CD cover?" is a question that no one has ever asked.
It's a rendering, by Lucas Richards, of the Anonymous Marriage Proposal Box (AMPB), which I designed and built right around the time that Maureen and I decided to get hitched. Let's say Jane and Tarzan have be in a relationship for five years, but have never decided to marry, even though they both WANT to get married. But neither Jane nor Tarzan is willing to propose because there's always that chance that the proposal will be rejected, after which the relationship will be forever awkward.
But what if Jane or Tarzan could propose anonymously? Enter the AMPB. A third party gifts the couple an AMPB, which is placed on the couple's dining room table. Jane and Tarzan are given one steel marble each. If Jane is ready to get married, she drops her marble into the box. If nothing happens, that means that Tarzan is not yet ready, has not dropped his marble yet. So the answer is, "No," but Jane has nothing to fear, because Tarzan doesn't even know she asked. A couple weeks later, though, Tarzan decides it's time, so he drops his marble into the box. Zwoop! Now, with two marbles in the box, the lever moves, the lid springs up, and a music box ballerina pops out and get the invitations ready, there's gonna be a wedding in the jungle.
The AMPB has nothing to do with the musical contents of Sycamore.
I love this record. It's also the first thing I recorded with my fancy new laptop. Unlimited tracks. UNLIMITED TRACKS!!!!!!!!!!!! I mixed it using a boombox for monitors. The 2015 remix improves things substantially.
1. TIME TO GO HOME: Vaudeville versus New Orleans and only F. Scott Fitzgerald escapes with his life. Shawn, Matt, and I are the horn section. Yeah, Matt Shupe played trombone for a few months. The dude can do anything.
2. I DO IT ALL: Red-eyed aggrieved boy soul. Shawn's on drums. Mrs. Tree (Flori) plays the violin parts. For some reason, I decided to use a rhyming dictionary for the lyrics.
3. I RIDE MY BIKE IN THE SNOW: I had recently inherited an old Conn organ from my Grandma, Juanita, and I wanted to do something weird with it. I didn't know what a "loop" was, but that didn't matter. I recorded several different two-bar phrases that I hoped would evoke the internal joy of the snowy afternoon wherein I rode my bike from work at the record store to visit Maureen a few blocks away. I made them into, well, made loops and let the build in a round. It was Shawn who suggested I ask a third party to sing. I dragged Maureen in front of a microphone, then got Matt, Shawn, and Brett to put harmonies on it. Probably the prettiest thing ever to come out of the garage. The intro, which was saxophones and organ, was intended to outdo the Beach Boys' introduction to California Girls.
4. YOU. KISS. ME.: Wordplay country pop. That sax interlude is the first and only time I ever played a diminished scale.
5. SUNSHINE SYMPHONY: One day, Matt Shupe showed me a guitar chord, saying, "I think this is the most dissonant thing you can possibly play on a guitar." Naturally, I had to use it to start a pop song. This was my first no-holds-barred attempt at aping Brian Wilson. Make the chords slide sideways, avoid resolution, let the vocal melody tug the song into the next chord, layer kooky drum noises, out-of-whack bass, musical hall piano, overdone vocal harmonies, Shawn on the trumpet solo. Take after take, on a snow day, home from work.
6. SIX: This was my second no-holds-barred attempt at aping Brian Wilson. I'm not a great singer--my voice is reedy, I have shitty pitch, and I always sing way out of my range. But imagine if I COULD sing.
7. LOOKING FOR A SHOVEL: More wordplay country pop. Backing tracks courtesy of Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts. As far as the "I nailed an angel tonight" bit, yeah, it's juvenile. But it's tender, plus the song features the only time I've ever rapped, a tribute to TLC's brilliant tune, Waterfall.
8. I HOPE YOU'RE NOT JEALOUS: This is what happens when I write a love song to Maureen. It ends up taunting everyone who isn't lucky enough to be the two of us. This was at the height of my jazz obsession, hence the "jazzy" guitar and "Ben Webster-ish" saxophone solo, which was supposed to end on a major 7, but ended up somewhere far less pleasant.
9. FLORAL ARRANGEMENT: When I listen to this song today, its downright disturbing. Intended as a piss-take on psychedelic gibberish (one of my favorite styles of music), it does that, indeed. You want ridiculous lyrics? Eat it, Robert Plant.
10. LONELY TEENAGE ROCKIN' MACHINE: In 1981, my big brother Thom and I were hanging out in the basement and he, Thom, spontaneously sang, "Please turn down the music, baby it's much to loud." That lyric/melody stuck in my head, and after he, Thom, died in 1992, I vowed I would someday include it in a dumb song about being a depressed teenager. Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts play the backing tracks. Backing vocals provided by: Sunsettler, Mr. Tree, Buzz, my mom, and my sister. The line at the end, "What's your major malfunction?" is my dad, thus solidifying this as the only time my entire immediate family played a role in an STD tune.
11. NINE: "Six" played upside down and backward.
12. THE HESSIANS: I had just read Finnegan's Wake and I was compelled to write a song with Joycean lyrics, where every word has at least two meanings. I think it has something to do with 9/11, American hegemony, the Revolutionary War. Whatever it's about, I did it deliberately.
13. DECEMBER SUN: Joe Sampson came over one day and we set up a microphone in the kitchen and played this song. I think it's about my dad (who had been born in December [as was I, his second-born son]), who had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Whatever it's about, Joe and I did three takes, each of them at least eight minutes long. The fade-out is us walking out of the house. The original version was 9 minutes and eleven seconds long. I shortened it for the 2015 remix.
So that's Sycamore (Sick Amour). A prototypical confusion of the vulgar and the sublime, if I may use that term, which I fucking well will.
released June 1, 2003
Additional instruments and vocals by:
Shawn Gilbert - drums, trumpet, vocals
Matt Shupe - guitar, trombone, vocals
Mr. Tree - Bass, vocals
Joe Sampson - vocals, guitar
Flori Muller - violin
Additional Vocals by Brett Duesing, Maureen Hearty, Andy Gross, Shawn Sandler, Mom, Dad and Sis.