So it's late Fall of 2004 and while looking around at the guitars at Trade Up Music, I fell in love with a Danelectro Convertible. Being of limited means at the time, I took my iconic black Applause acoustic bass (star of so many of the videos and recordings in the recently-ended vonHummer Hour) and traded it in for the Dan.
I hoped maybe the fact that the bass had been owned by a local celebrity might increase my trade-in value, but clearly music store employees don't earn enough to have cable access. ("vonWHO?" he said. I'm still not over the hurt!)
Anyhow, I quickly brought the Dan home and began my usual amateurish process of frankensteining the saddle and bridge to accommodate my special sound. I added a bass string, a drum string and two paired strings and set right out to make some recordings, the result of which is this collection I call "Hotel Oregon."
Said recordings were pulled from a massive pile of quick, VERY sketchy demos I'd done the summer before, which I labeled the "Comstock Lode," because I felt I'd surely struck it rich. Over several days, I wrote one after the other, then recorded each so I wouldn't forget what I'd come up with. Then set them aside to pick out the jewels to record at my leisure. So "Hotel Oregon" was my first dip into the Comstock Lode demos.
And, come to think on it, "Hotel Oregon" was meant to be just some demos at first, but they came out so well, I figured, "Fuck it. This is a finished work." And so it was, I just never wound up doing anything with it. The TV show was out of production. I was thinking of making a vonHummer film, though, and I certainly had an eye to using the best of some these songs. That first vH film was still about two years off, however, and so "Hotel Oregon" has sat abandoned, until now.
Well not quite. I did use many of the songs in music videos that were inserted into the reruns of the TV show to replace videos that had appeared in several episodes. Over the years somehow a few have become "hits" for me: that is, songs that have been heavily downloaded. "Lice in a Hurricane" is the biggest hit off this album. "Curiosity's Cat," "Can't Buy Me Help," and "Circling the Drain," get honorable mentions. Meanwhile, "Sometime Soon" and "Just Passing Through" went on to make it big in my 2007 film debut, "Bübiwulf!" And "Methylisothiazolinone" has the honor of being the only vonHummer song never—to my reckoning—ever downloaded by anyone. Which is a shame, because it's surely the greatest song ever written to a shampoo ingredient.
The songs of "Hotel Oregon" are presented here in their fullest fidelity ever. If you've heard any of these before, you heard my very crude effort of taking the audio from my old Tascam cassette 4 track—upon which they were recorded—and running it into CD Spin Doctor on my Mac and ripping mp3s from there, ignorant of the kHz involved, and so probably at a very low quality level. These Bandcamp tracks are taken straight from the original aiffs from CD Spin Doctor, which is the purest these recordings will be until some millionaire arranges for remaster from the original cassettes, if they'll even still play by then. And, P.S. the eccentric millionaires who want to preserve my early works: get your asses in gear, because those master tapes aint in a vault somewhere, they're up in my attic, summer in, summer out. They likely aint a gettin' no fresher...
As to the recording of this one, it was done like this: I'd take my handy Zoom RT-123 drum machine (still usin' it!!) and find a likely beat to fit the song. Then, I'd go in and edit the drum sounds, add stuff, take stuff away til it suited me. I'd record the Danelectro tracks along with the drum machine. One track would have the straight line from the guitar, another track had the mic'd strings, the drums would be mono on the third track, and my vocals would be on the 4th. I don't think I overdubbed any background vocals on this album. Just my one voice, using an MK-219 condenser mic through a pre-amp.
There's a kind of clucking that you can hear in the mix, and that's the drum string on the Dan. I've set up drum strings before—usually an E string detuned and deadened—but none have sounded quite this good before. I don't even remember how I set that particular one up. Sometime after finishing the album, I became convinced that the intonation was fucked because I'd set the strings wrong and took it to a luthier to fix it right. Which they kind of did, but in the process they had to take the drum string off, and I never got it to sound the same again. I don't play that guitar much anymore. It sounds funny.
There's no over-arching them to the album that I can determine. The lyrics come from a pretty wide range of time periods of the last 10 years. (Like a Taupinesque squirrel, I hide away lyrical acorns and then dig them up in times of need.)
Any song I write is more likely to be an exorcism than a celebration, but the demon cast out on this album seem to be more fanciful than malevolent. "Can't Buy Me Help" and "She Can't Tell" and "Circling the Drain" are the darkest if any can be considered dark, while "Curiosity's Cat," "Healthy," "Lice In a Hurricane," and "Song About Flying" are comparatively sunny.
Make of it what you will. It's a special collection to me, in that anytime I hear one of them come up in my iPod mix, I'll have to stop cleaning the bathroom and stand transfixed by some "jenny sequoia" in the sound of it.
A final note about the cover photo. It was taken by my best pal, Ant or Elephant, at a very strange show I did in the summer of 2007 at a dance studio called "Amouress." I met the woman who rented it quite by accident, in 2006, when I found naked pictures of her online connected to her tantric sex therapy practice. I thought she might do my as yet unwritten movie about a boob-squeezing werewolf. Why not? She doesn't mind being naked online?
Well it turned out she couldn't act, and also that she was possibly, er, a bit nuts. But she somehow rented out a dance studio with her friend who taught Tango, and she wanted me to play a show there at the opening celebration. For some reason, I decided to and it was awful.
But at one point before the show, I was staring out the window of her office overlooking the courtyard, and Ant or Elephant was below snapping pictures of me in front of the big old window reflecting the summer trees. I didn't know she was down there snapping away, and I was likely fretting about what an unpleasant evening it was going to be. This is probably the first photo taken of me without a maniacal grimace, and so it's rather striking to me. Somber even.
It's about two years beyond the creation of this album, that photo, but it seemed a perfect fit for this unfitted collection of songs.
released April 16, 2005
Produced, engineered, performed, written by vonHummer
Recorded at Therisno Studios, Big Red.
Cover photo by Ant or Elephant