Monday, October 29, 2007

Make It Through

From The Whole Shebang

This song debuted in March, 2001, and has the distinction of being by far the most-performed Fluid Ounces song over the last six years. Its up-beat nature would have made it feel right on the yet-to-be-released Instant Nostalgia, but it works very well on The Whole Shebang. Despite being played at nearly every show (I can only think of about two in which it hasn’t been played), I’m not quite tired of hearing it. I still love the lines, “After winter comes spring.
After summer comes fall.
You gotta rob Peter to pay Paul.
You gotta get paid and blow it all.”
Its solo is very scripted, but I find it one of my favorite moments in the live set to see in what ways Brian “Tha B” Rogers is going to find to add subtle changes. And I also love when Seth adds “Da da da”s to the solo like he does so very quietly on the record.

The stuttering drumbeat that gives this song its signature makes it almost impossible to dance to it (to do a dance that has a name, at least), but it isn’t uncommon for a few people to get up and shake it a little when this song gets played live. And though definitely debatable, I might consider this the quintessential Fluid Ounces song of the late era (though “Private Hell” gives it a run for its money).

The live version I’m presenting here is probably the most energetic performance I remember hearing, which is from the first Mike Mahaffey Tribute show, and it features Seth, Brian G. Pitts, Brian Rogers, and Matt Mahaffey on drums. A testament to all of their musicianship is that they had only held one brief practice with Matt and came out playing amazingly tight together.

Download Live mp3

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Daddy Scruff

From Big Notebook for Easy Piano

I am typing this entry behind considerable shielding as I am preparing for slings and arrows to be launched in my general direction for what I’m about to say.

“Daddy Scruff” should have been left off of Big Notebook for Easy Piano. As a stand-alone song, perhaps released on Soaking in the Center of the Universe, I might have liked it better. But as it stands, we get just under six plodding minutes of vague lyrics near the middle of the record that nearly ruin everything that comes before it and after it in the track listing. “Shamrock” and “Tricky Fingers” launch the record and set its tone: fun-sounding songs about darker subject matter. “Birdbrained” cools things off a bit as we have a more intense number that is decidedly less upbeat as the previous two songs, and then we get an even more downbeat number with “Liquorish Vampires.” The momentum of the record and the tone established in the first two songs is teetering as we’ve just had two numbers in a row that have deviated from what they’ve done. Then comes “Daddy Scruff,” sticking out like a sore thumb from the rest. When “Record Stack” begins five minutes and forty-six seconds later, it seems off kilter as it returns to the original sound and tone set by the first two songs on the record and allows us to finally start listening to a cohesive record. I put lots of thought into how the tracks could be readjusted to not kill the momentum of the record, but in the end, the removal of “Daddy Scruff” is all I can come up with to give Big Notebook a chance to compete with In the New-Old Fashioned Way and Instant Nostalgia as my favorite Fluid Ounces record.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


From The Vegetable Kingdom EP & the Japanese release of In the New Old-Fashioned Way

Relationships are funny things. It’s funny how people can overlook so much because of what they call “love.” The fear of being alone again, that dreaded condition in the unknown, will push too many people into terrible places. In this song, our poor speaker is in such a relationship, willing to put up with his lover’s extra-curricular activities because, as he says,
“I’ve been around before;
I’ve seen the good and the bad.
I’ve been around before,
And this is the best I’ve had.”

This song stands out among the rest as it has the most outright jazz feel to it of any Fluid Ounces song. The vocal melody is as poppy as the rest, but the sparse piano against the rest of the instruments playing like an all-out jazz combo (including an upright bass) make for a fresh feel to the song. Add Brian Rogers’ lovely harmonies to the top on the final chorus, and I might even go so far as to call this song a masterpiece.

Monday, October 22, 2007


From Foreign Legion

As I teach the concept in my middle school reading class, a metaphor is a comparison that does not use like or as. Seventh graders can use that as a simple definition to distinguish metaphors from similes. That’s all they need it for, that’s as far as they think about it, and that’s as far as their minds can take it because they’re still developing their ability to process abstract concepts.

As we get older, some realize that our entire method of conceptualizing the world around us is steeped in metaphors. Whether it’s, “Life’s a bitch,” “Everything is Free,” or, “God is Love,” all of these, for better or worse, are metaphors, not to mention how American dialect is full of idioms, all of which are technically metaphors as well. Sometimes I wonder if we are even capable of completely extricating metaphors from our perception of the world around us.

“There is a metaphor to explain it all,” sings Seth Timbs as this song opens, brushing by this notion. He then unleashes a slew of intentionally cliché metaphors to describe a relationship gone awry. The second verse attempts to find a more suitable metaphor to specifically describe the speaker in his present situation (including a “pensive drag left holding the bag,” the last time in which Seth Timbs referred to himself as a “drag” was in Ella Minopy’s song, “Science Fiction”).

The most clever twist thrown into the whole thing is when we hear the lines, “I should be over it by now/ I should be happy as a clam/ My metaphor’s a simile,” then altering the final chorus to a series of similes before returning to the intro melody and ending this song with a series of loud sighs.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Joao and Latin Playboys @ Baird Lane

From Awkward Middle Phase: Seth Timbs' Home Demos, Volume One

Two for the price of one today. Both of these are short instrumentals from volume one of the demo collection, which it now seems may become a multi-volume set after all, and neither demo really sounds like Fluid Ounces.

The title, “Latin Playboys @ Baird Lane,” puts a name to the feel of this track: that of Euro trash in off-white suits and pink shirts with large lapels and no tie, swilling frou-frou drinks from martini glasses as they try to impress large-breasted, WASPy American girls with their expensive European convertibles against an orange and pink sunset at some California mansion (more than likely located on Baird Lane). As they are running combs through their greasy, black pony-tailed hair, this is the music playing through the bass-heavy custom sound systems in their cars.

The most funk-infleunced Fluid Ounces moment, titled “Joao,” (no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either) reminds me of the short instrumental throw-aways that can sometimes be found between tracks on R.E.M. records. After a short bass solo, the song ends, and there’s nothing else I can think of to say about it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Selma Lou

From The Whole Shebang

I may be the only one who thinks this, but I think Fluid Ounces could become a country act with only slight changes made to the way many of the songs are played. The wordplay is cleverer than anything you’ll find in country music, but it is a lyrical structure used in country much more than the pop rock world. Early favorites like “Drought,” “Comfortable,” and (dare I say?) “Record Stack” could become country music without too many changes, as “Poet Tree” and almost any song from The Whole Shebang or Instant Nostalgia could definitely qualify. I’ve often wondered why Seth Timbs hasn’t tried shopping these songs among the suits on music row (especially while he was working for them) to see if any larger country act might use the songs, creating a new way to breathe life into the tunes, earning some money for his efforts from days of yore, and helping to create more of a name for himself simply as a songwriter.

It took Seth Timbs moving to Los Angeles to finally write and record an all-out country song (after seeing too many Felix Wiley shows, as he said when I first heard this song performed in 2003), and I think it could be the front runner for his attempts at marketing his music in Nashville’s big business. The band has gradually increased the tempo of this number as they’ve performed it over the last few years, making it even easier to imagine a bluegrass band picking up this song and making a radio hit of it.

The story is entirely fabricated, perhaps a little inspired by the film Cool Hand Luke, in which prison workers stop and salivate as an attractive female sexily washes her car while they are forced to watch and continue their labors. The version we get is that of a laborer working for the local Southern aristocrat on an expansive farm who meets his boss’s daughter and has a short-lived affair with her. He simultaneously revels in feelings the playtime sparked in him and laments that it was meaningless to her, with its good-as-gold chorus, “Selma Lou, this whole world’s gonna fall in love with you/ and I think I might do it too.”

The live mp3 is another performance from Steve Cross's radio show in which Seth Timbs plays acoustic guitar and Brian G. Pitts plays bass.

Download Live mp3

Monday, October 15, 2007

Go Lucky

From In the New Old-Fashioned Way

There are lots of songs pertaining to a break-up on In the New Old-Fashioned Way, but “Go Lucky” stands alone as the one coming closest to celebrating it. This kiss-off song kind of meanders through a lot of emotions, from wanting to pin her down and not let her go to saying, “Don’t come crying to me.” The details of the relationship are no longer important (“Who got forgiven, and who got the business, and who just got the silent treatment?”), and our speaker is hearing about his lover second-hand (“Someone sent a letter…”). He hears she is going through similar stages, as she is going through a drinking phase while he is getting drunk watching sixty minutes alone. In the end, “don’t come cryin’ to me,” is a good maxim for our newly freed speaker, since time and wisdom have taught so many of us that staying away from exes for a long time after a relationship’s end is a good thing.

This song features the line, “Might be the new thing getting older each time,” which is the closest reference to the CD’s title, In the New Old-Fashioned Way that we’ll hear anywhere on the record. I have often wondered if this line is what caused the band to reference Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” for the title of their most monumental record.

“Go Lucky” was another frequent set-closer for the band with the original line-up and again in 2001. As much as I have always loved this song, I was usually sad to hear it because it meant that the set was over.

The first video is a fan-made video that uses the song with footage from the science fiction show Firefly, and the second is yet another from October 10, 1997. You can’t miss it, but I love when Seth Timbs stops playing in between couplets to take a swig of beer before jumping back into the song.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Master Plan and Pet Rock

Unreleased Track

A metaphor for the music industry, “Master Plan and Pet Rock” is the story of two rappers who embody the great divide between business-savvy acts who tirelessly work to push their *usually* less-inspired work to as wide a demographic as possible (and I’m not just talking about the concept of “selling out” here either—most people who are successful are genuinely trying to make original music that they truly love) versus the myriad of talented, inspired musicians who have little to no concept of how to market their often ground-breaking music, especially against a resistant major label system that wants all music in neat piles of pigeon holes to maximize profits and create a profitable (and predictable) music market.

For example, the Kings of Leon hail Nashville as their hometown, but they are often scorned for doing so because they only played about two shows here before circumventing the local music scene and acquiring international success. They cozied up to major-label suits, and within two years they were “indie rock” darlings opening for U2.

Meanwhile, the Features, a band whose former employees claim that anything good that happens to them happens accidentally due to gross mismanagement, played locally for ten years and fought hard to get a record released on a major label, only to become the opening act for Kings of Leon before being dropped by their label shortly thereafter.

The biggest difference? Business savvy.

Come to think of it, anyone ever involved with Spongebath Records probably falls into the latter category.

The first rapper we meet in the song is Master Plan, whose name sounds like that of a successful rapper. He has his business degree and is entirely uninspired in all that he raps about, spewing clichés but still categorized as “promising.”

Then we meet Pet Rock, whose name is terrible in any music circle, who knows how to rap. People can’t get enough of him, even if he’s working a day job and living in a trailer park, probably signing away some of his profits by becoming a “registered trademark of Master Plan, LLC.”

Departing from the typical Fluid Ounces song structure, this demo features a keyboard and some very un-Seth guitar leads, and I think its biggest shortcoming is the way that it fizzles out at the end, simply repeating, “Why don’t you throw that demo on after this song?” I often wonder what would have become of this song if it had gotten the full-band treatment in any Seth Timbs project (though I’m not sure with which, if any, of them it would have fit at all).

Download mp3

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Spill Your Brains

From Big Notebook for Easy Piano

I was a bit disappointed when I found out that this song was about Alanis Morissette. Seth Timbs was obviously singing about someone he didn’t like, but finding out that it was her took a lot of the fun out of it, especially compared to Self’s “Moronic,” which did a much better job of putting that hack in her place. But, to be sure, this is a much better song than “Moronic.” In fact, it has been my favorite song off of Big Notebook since about the second time I heard the record. Finding out that it was about Alanis took a song that seemed so big and fun and placed an expiration date on it, putting it into a small little cubby hole reserved for “Peaches,” “Today,” and a slew of other songs dated specifically to the mid-90s.

I can’t put my finger on exactly why this song is such a favorite of mine, but I know a lot of people who really like it. I guess it’s because there’s a certain familiarity, and maybe even a little flirtiness (“you’re made of Estee Lauder,” “and getting prettier by the moment’s notice”) with the subject that made the relationship seem more complex than just someone who got played waaaaay too much on the radio.

It remains one of the few Fluid Ounces songs which I’ve never heard performed live in any capacity, recorded or otherwise, so there’s no download for this one.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Oh, Tatiana

From the yet-to-be-released Instant Nostalgia

A song about yearning for a lover with the Eastern European feel (slowed down, this one would be a great tango, but they play it too fast to be a tango) similar to what we hear in “Paperweight Machine” and “Record Stack.” My initial distaste with this song was simply in the choice of the name of its subject: I thought that “Tatiana” was just too obvious of a choice for an exotic-sounding foreign name that’s four syllables long. As I listened to it more on live recordings, I started liking all the lyrics other than when it refers to the lover in question. It just seemed too easy to fit that generic name in there! Meanwhile, I discovered another one of my all-time favorite passages of Fluid Ounces lyrics in this song:
“Cause if one don’t get you
Then the other one will
In a major motion picture
or a rocking chair
You gotta land somewhere
It’s always sooner or later
Hither and yon
One minute you’re here
And the next you’re gone
You gotta be someone
You gotta love someone
You gotta know the end
Before it’s even begun
And be glad
Life is long
Yes, life is long
Say good-bye
But not for long”

Like “Vegetable Kingdom,” this song ambiguously addresses a very raw form of human longing, one that goes deeper than just a man loving a woman: more of a feeling that humans are somehow searching for a sense of becoming complete, most often attaching that feeling to loving another person. The delivery of these lines is the most frantic you’ll ever hear a Fluid Ounces song, begging for life itself to slow down to take stock of everything around.

The conclusion I reached is that in the end, Tatiana is like Don Quixote’s Dulcinea (another four-syllable, exotic name, though only slightly better than “Tatiana”), that she is more of an idea than a person, that she has a greater impact on the human psyche as an idea of inner peace than as just a woman, and that maybe, just maybe, she’ll only be found in death.

Courtesy of Steve Cross’s website, I’m posting an amazing acoustic performance of this song, with Seth Timbs on guitar and Brian G. Pitts on bass, from a radio appearance on WMTS on July 24, 2005.

Download Live mp3

You can hear the studio version over at the band’s MySpace page since we’re still waiting on the release of Instant Nostalgia.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

City Lights

From the Japanese release of Foreign Legion

I decided early on that I would not ask Seth Timbs about songs for this blog, instead relying on my own interpretations and my uncanny ability to remember what has already been said about them at past live shows. But “City Lights” baffled me, appearing as a demo on the Japanese release of Foreign Legion, never being played live, and sharing the writing credit between Seth Timbs and Tomoyuki Tanaka.

So the other night after the show, I asked him.

Tanaka is known in Japan by the moniker Fantastic Plastic Machine, and he mostly remixes the works of others for his own releases. When Seth was making regular trips to Japan, Tanaka contacted him and presented him with the song “City Lights” on which they could collaborate. Seth liked the changes and some of the lyrics that Tanaka had written in somewhat broken English. Once back in the states, Seth created the demo of the song that would later appear on Foreign Legion with his own similar lyrics. He presented the demo to Tanaka, and later yet another version of the song was created for release on Fantastic Plastic Machine’s 2001 CD titled Contact that featured Seth singing considerably different words over very different bossa-nova-styled music.

Contact is only available in Japan (and even I haven’t forked out the money to get that one), but you can hear the Fantastic Plastic Machine version, with Seth Timbs singing, through the video below, the discovery of which was what initially caused me to ask about this song.

Now we'll talk about the demo version. While many songs by the band Self get compared to Fluid Ounces and Seth Timbs’ style, this is the only Fluid Ounces song that really sounds anything like Matt Mahaffey’s work. I think it’s the layered vocals, sparse piano (in a sense that it isn’t the driving force to the song) and a more vibrant rhythm track than normal that lends its feel to Self more than anything, though it’s really only just a hint of Self.

To that I’ll add that Seth is most often applauded (understandably) as a piano player, and he often gets overlooked as a guitar player (which is also understandable in the ocean of guitar players that is Nashville). But here Seth shows off his bass chops like I’ve never heard! I’d love to see Seth play bass in a live band just for the change—as if seeing him play guitar in Hot New Singles for entire sets is still not strange enough.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Destined to Be Forgotten

From The Whole Shebang

This remarkable song has only been performed live once (to my knowledge, at least), and its history is a twisted one. Produced by Matt Mahaffey, both he and Seth Timbs discussed this song in separate interviews, the former for Ink 19 and the latter for Popmatters. I have placed the two parts together for you here:

Seth: “I could never get the band to play it. They all thought it was too dismal. And one of the times I went out to visit California before I moved there, I saw Matt Mahaffey, and we had a whole day off, and he said, ‘We're gonna record "Destined To Be Forgotten" today. It pisses me off that you've never done that song.’ I'm like, ‘Okay! I love that song.’”

Matt: “It's one of his many songs that would have stayed in his closet for the rest of his life, so I said 'let's record it and you let me do whatever I want to on it,' since he's known for being very particular in the studio. So we finished it and he said it was one of the best songs he's ever recorded.”

The song was written sometime in the late 90s when the original line-up vetoed working it into their live sets. After being recorded later, it was initially considered for release on Foreign Legion, and I’m glad it was left off as its production style would have clashed with the rest of the record. I had heard rumors of the song since reading the Mahaffey interview in 2000, and was initially disappointed when it wasn’t on Foreign Legion, but equally excited when I saw that it had made its way on to The Whole Shebang, where it is the perfect closer for that record.

The subject matter of the song is another eulogy of sorts, this time for a relationship that is either long ended or coming to its bitter end. The speaker is lamenting the good times of this relationship, sad that the happy memories are now locked away in soon-to-be-forgotten history book as he knows both parties will be moving on with their lives and on to other relationships.

Being entirely produced by Matt Mahaffey, who added backing vocals (his first appearance on a Fluid Ounces record since his guitar offerings on “Shamrock” from Big Notebook), with bass provided by Mac Burrus, who collaborated with Seth in the first line-up of Moonie and the Johndogs as well as on the writing of a couple of songs, “Destined to Be Forgotten,” has a unique sound to it, not even mentioning the drums provided by Kelly Scott, who played with Failure and Tool, whose style is heavier than the drummers we’ve heard on Fluid Ounces records before.

Monday, October 1, 2007


From In the New Old-Fashioned Way

I had just started dating someone when I purchased and became obsessed with In the New Old-Fashioned Way, and she came from a family with a lot more money than just about anyone I know. She told me about how her parents celebrated her sister’s wedding by renting a large house for a week and throwing a continuous alcohol-drenched party the entire time. She wasn’t pretentious, mind you, but instead one of the last people you’d ever think came from a wealthy family. If George Harrison had ever showed up at one of her house parties, none of them would have made a big deal about it, probably not even mentioning it later on. She might have mentioned it very matter-of-factly, the same way she told me she’d acted in movies or been a model. Surprises like that keep a relationship very interesting. I think of her every time I hear the recorded version of this song about going to a party where everyone was very pretentious.

“Luxury” is one of three album releases by Fluid Ounces that does not credit Seth Timbs as the sole composer. Curiously, it is credited to all original band members, making me wonder if the song initially developed out of a jam during rehearsals. Filled with pauses for individual instrumental riffs throughout, it has more of a jam nature to it than any of the songs on the record. My favorite moment in the song was developed long after the song was recorded (and after this video from 10-10-97). After Seth sings, “A cousin Alice in Vermont,” in subsequent live performances, the whole band would pause while the drummer hits two roaring beats before the band kicks back in and the lyric finishes, “has got a husband who’s a general.”

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