Monday, May 12, 2008

Destined to Be Remembered?

Well, Flozzies, it seems our journey has reached its end. I hope I have succeeded in my original goal to create the definitive web resource of this band, and that even though I won’t be adding to it anymore, random Googlers will be able to find this place when they try to find out something about that one band who played “Record Player” and “Vegetable Garden” all those years ago. I’m still amazed at how many searchers from all over the world still specifically seek out Fluid Ounces-related material through their internet searches.

Here’s hoping that YouTube, Blogger, SnoCap, and Brian’s mp3 server stay up and working forever too, so that anyone wanting to find out more can have a permanent place to discover these little pop gems for years to come, and that maybe this music we all cherish can continue to expand its audience. I will apply what they say in the movie Dig about an inferior act to Fluid Ounces,

“The music’s strong enough that that there probably will be a generation that discovers them like this rare, fossilized gem and mine it for all it’s worth.”

Here's hoping.

With this ending, I’d also like to acknowledge a few individuals without whom I would/could never have begun, maintained, or completed this undertaking:

To Seth Patrick Timbs—for the music that has inspired this blog and me and the plethora of people who have stopped by over the past few months to learn more. I hope I’ve done the songs justice in my moment-by-moment commentary. After 33,000 words, it hopefully goes without saying here and now how much I love the music.

To Jakob Dorof—whose blog “Crimes on Paper” made me realize that I could and should do this, and for commenting on almost every post, just like you said you would at the outset.

To Justin Meyer—for helping out with histories and giving us the perspective of both a former band member and a fan of this great music.

To Brian G. Pitts—whose blog inspired me to make the shift from simple journal-keeper to the blogoshpere in the first place. And for getting me into Gillian Welch and surf music in the meantime.

To Jeremy and Kelly—for the hours upon hours spent discussing this body of music, much of which created the fodder for these blog entries, especially Kelly’s numerous conversations with Seth.

And finally, to Brian Rogers, Tha B, for the videos and the mp3 server, without which this blog wouldn’t have gotten near the attention that it has, as well as for the little factoids sprinkled throughout the comment sections that give us a little “behind-the-scenes” glimpse into the band’s history. Your support early on was the determining factor in making this blog a reality. Fluid Ounces has become synonymous with Seth Timbs as his music and his project, but the last few years have taught me that you are the other driving force in it, to the point that the times the band functioned without you should have perhaps called itself something other than Fluid Ounces.
And it is to you that I dedicate this blog.

Peace,
Juan Horsetown
Bokwokwok [a-t] hotmail [d-o-t] com

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Have Fun

From In the New Old-Fashioned Way

This song was the first song that I really obsessed over after discovering this band. The first show I attended ended with Seth Timbs doing an encore of the song solo on piano. The crowd began singing along, and the words resonated with me in a new way that would soon become all too familiar as I listened more to the band’s music. For the next two weeks, as I waited to get my mail-order copy of In the New Old-Fashioned Way, I would stream Spongebath radio while working as a college computer lab assistant just because it would play “Have Fun” once about every hour or so.

On the surface, the song is simply an invitation. The speaker paints a scene of any college or sports bar in America as men and women check each other out and make moves to seduce one another while keeping their cool and playing carefully-acted roles to keep the other side in check.

The deeper subtext of this song is why someone would even want to have fun in the first place. We live in a culture that glorifies having fun and deifies those who are best at having it, whatever the fun may be, as if twenty-somethings living it up in bars every night of the week have achieved some higher plane of existence than the rest of the working world who dedicates itself to careers and/or our families. The final verse shows this when the speaker exclaims, “Don’t you wanna have fun? I thought it might be what I needed, and it turned out to be a gimmick!” Once identified as simply a gimmick, if you watch closely when people, your friends included, are out on the town, how deeply they are trying to find this fleeting thing called “fun,” something to hearken back to their childhood when it came so naturally, something they have to work so hard for now, thus strangely extinguishing this thing they want so badly. And somehow you know that they know that none of you will ever find it, not there anyway, but we keep coming back because this elusive thing called fun is the closest we can come to feeling alive and free. Normally we’re the sad clowns, but when we go out to play, troubles are pushed away. There’s nothing to worry about.

Musically, this song has been mentioned by many band members as being one of the most difficult to play on any instrument, rocketing through chord changes, throwing in “ha ha ha”’s to tell the story. It’s short solos are quick, first a guitar, then a piano solo that’s ragtime in the first half and Thelonious Monk in the second. It’s ending is equally memorable, with a shouting match between Brian and Seth (or is it Seth and Seth on the record? I can’t tell) ending on an almost whispered breath, still reaching for the fun with the last and dying breath.

If you could ever somehow get a copy of Spike and Mallets’ CD, Peep, Jr., it features a song called, “The Fun,” which is a wonderful companion to this song, thematically at least, lamenting how “the fun never lasts” in its waltzing refrain.

I don’t think any top-five list of Fluid Ounces songs would be complete without this one in it (though I’m sure the comments section will produce a chorus of dissenters…). It was never the screamed-about casual-fan-fave like “Record Stack,” but instead was and is the song in which everyone can see themselves, if only in a line or a couplet, desiring a little something more out of life, finding something amazing within a pop song, and this, my final song entry (but check back Monday), is the other song I would argue to be Seth Timbs’ crowning achievement in songwriting.

The video here is from October 10, 1997.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Stark Raving Mad

From Foreign Legion

When I hear the opening line, “I’m leaving before anyone arrives,” it makes me think of the many nights when I’d arrive very very early to Fluid Ounces shows only to find me, the bartender at the Boro, and Seth there as he was setting up his piano. “Stark Raving Mad” would have been the optimal choice of Fluid Ounces songs to play over the PA at the Boro before those shows (along with “Last Goodbye” by Jeff Buckley and Self’s “Sassy Britches,” both of which seem to get played every time Fluid Ounces have played the Boro since I’ve been seeing them there).

As I stated long ago in this blog, Foreign Legion tells a story. At its end, we are given the final resolution to the story, “Stark Raving Mad.” Another favorite record of mine, Willie Nelson’s The Red-Headed Stranger, actually follows the same outline of Foreign Legion, only with a murderous preacher in the Old West. Red-Headed Stranger ends with the song, “Hands on the Wheel,” in which Willie sings of the lessons to be learned from his story of love, loss, and redemption.

But this song isn’t about that, it tends to focus more on life itself. “Smitten” lifts the mood and tone of the album into stellar bliss, accentuated by the next two songs, and while “Stark Raving Mad” does not exactly kill that momentum, nor does it kill it either. Instead, it somehow grounds what I am feeling in reality, making me feel something I only feel when I hear this song. I don’t know if the song itself created this feeling, mind you. The feeling lies somewhere between a redneck screaming from his back porch to the pits of hell, from Mr. Wrong on my radio to the chorus of over-dubbed Seth Timbs vocals that close out the song.

I should note that as complete as this song is as it completes this most under-rated Fluid Ounces record, I don’t see how it is about madness, whether of the stark-raving variety or not. I associate it with sane-ness (which is referenced once in the song right where “stark raving mad” had been said before). It balances itself on a razor-thin high wire between the two extremes, as well as between sadness and elation, joy and misery. I guess if it you can balance yourself there for very long at all, it doesn’t make much difference whether you’re stark raving mad or completely sane.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Poor Man

From Big Notebook for Easy Piano and Remember Cassettes, Vol. 1

To the casual listener, the same one who can’t get past comparing Seth Timbs to Osama Ben Folds, the five Fluid Ounces records might sound somewhat alike. For those of us who have spent some time with these records, each one begins to stand out and seem so much different from the rest. As bouncy and happy-sounding as Big Notebook is, it’s like there’s a dark cloud looming over all the songs that only settles in for the darker-sounding tunes.

“Poor Man” is the last song on the record beyond its secret track, but it is the true ending as it talks of leaving one place for another place as the dark cloud looming over the whole record clears as we approach a place where things are, “happy ever after,” and, more importantly, it is the start of what would become the toe-tapping sound that was made into an art form for In the New Old-Fashioned Way, the types of songs that have become the bread and butter of the band’s catalog. Musically, this song is the same chord progression as “Have Fun” in the key of D instead of E-flat, and it swings in a very similar fashion to “Drought.” It features Ben Morton wailing away on bass through the verses, Seth Timbs beautifully accenting the words, “Everything is stereo,” with a beautiful piano run up the keyboard, and Brian Rogers giving us a solo that jumps out from the arrangement that could not work anywhere else or any other way than exactly as we hear it there.

As it breaks loose, it pulls several wonderful pieces of imagery with it: “burning all the files and the videos,” destroying things as almost a creative force; empires rising and falling; contrasting monotone and stereo as well as black-and-white with color; and one last autumnal reference on the record when Seth sings, “Now the summer air is turning cold.” The lead-in to the solo carries my favorite image to the song,
“All jaded hearts won’t find their peace,
While my true love presides as queen
Over lands where a peasant can’t afford to sleep
So a poor man I will…”
The song ends with a cacophony of shouting snippets of lines from throughout the song before one little piano coda and a single person clapping.

The video is from October 10, 1997, from Main Street.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Get Yourself Gone

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

Debuted when Doug Payne joined the band and retired when he left, I think of this song as the quintessential song of the Doug Payne era, as I always associate this song with the dozens of endless nights that I’d spend at the Boro seeing the band play there.

Given that Seth Timbs’ songs mostly have autobiographical undertones to them, I always wondered what conditions caused him to write this song. It was added just after Ben Morton had left the band to join the military and Brian Rogers had left to seek his fortune, and I wonder if Seth wrote it about their need to move on from Fluid Ounces. At Justin Meyer’s final show, Seth pointed out vehemently that it was not about Justin, making me question if he felt the song had an insulting tone to it or if it was about the departing band members.

At any rate, this song introduces us to someone stuck in a rut in his life, caught in a cycle of partying and staying out late, essentially going nowhere in achieving whatever goals he’s set for himself in his life. Our speaker is this person’s friend, and he gives a wake-up call, showing true friendship, and saying, “Hey! Get up! Get going! Get started with this thing you call life!”

The video presented here is from August 24, 2001, on the porch at the Red Rose Coffee House. It is surprisingly the only video I had of this song, and it clears up after the first few seconds.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Drought

From In the New Old-Fashioned Way

“Drought” is a gospel song, both in style and content. When I hear it played live, I imagine holy rollers jumping around with arms raised while tearfully shouting for glory in tongues as the band plays those soulful sounds. All the rest of us should stand up and clap. Seth Timbs then ascends to his pulpit behind the keys and delivers his sermon. His text is all the movies and TV we’ve seen too much of anyway, and his message is to put away thoughts on love and money in order to survive the metaphorical storms of life. Given the rest of the album in which this song lies near the center, our preacher stands before us as a repentant sinner rather than a hypocrite, pouring out his all on his black-and-white altar of 88 keys. Seth brings us hope that we can rise above the prevailing philosophies of our day, be it through the media (“TV talk”), kitschy belief systems that are constantly going in and out of style in America’s tireless search for meaning (“casoulastry” is a word Seth made up to illustrate this), or so many of the other pitfalls that have eaten away the soul of our generation referenced through the song.

When I first started listening to this song in 2000, I was obsessed with James Joyce’s collection of short stories, Dubliners, which frequently uses the old English term “draught,” which means to take an alcoholic drink from a keg. I used my own interpretation to link the two together, as in, “What this drowning man needs is a drink.” (That was further validated when I found out the mysterious opening sound of the song is Ben Morton opening a beer.) Unfortunately, this led to more lyrical changes to run through my mind. People who talk to me frequently will still hear me say every once in a while, “What this tired man needs is a nap,” or something to that effect.

This song has amazing versatility in Fluid Ounces sets, equally effective as opener, closer, or anywhere in between. It was very effective when it would be paired with “Poet Tree,” with only a two-count drum beat to launch into “Drought.” The best innovation to it was when the final chorus would launch into “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” previously covered by oh so many people (Who initially recorded it? Whose version is the definitive one? I have no idea), which follows the exact same chord progression as “Drought.” That chorus, before playing the song’s closing riff, says, “I need you you you,” which leads us to believe that our contrite singer will be back in front of us again someday with another tearful apology, but that’s OK--we’re in it for the ride with him, accepting him for who he is and loving the music all the way back to hell.

The live mp3, which will be this blog's last, will be up soon...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Private Hell

From Instant Nostalgia

I’ve intentionally steered clear from the circular discussion of which songs would have been the single to make Fluid Ounces “make it” if it had been pushed properly by the different powers that be. It just seems moot now. The saddest commentary of all is that Instant Nostalgia produced this powerful pop song that, yes, could have been the one to help the band “break out,” instead being released to deaf ears with no label interest or hope for radio play as the band prepares to call it quits. Seriously, did The Rage actually listen to the record before they reviewed it?

As if the whole record isn’t powerful enough or good enough, hearing “Private Hell” is the one that inter-weaves so many of the classic elements of a song that turns it into perhaps the crowning achievement in the Fluid Ounces canon. It expertly weaves through the psychological hang-ups that drive so many people to either desperately seek out or, later, to give up on relationships (as the song implies by admonishing its listener to “put that property [in your own private hell] up for sale”). Yes, so many classic caricatures are painted of the desperately-seeking, painting a very bleak portrait of humanity and then even having them interact in a “quickie in the car outside.” All of this is wrapped up perfectly and succinctly in the endlessly catchy chorus that anyone can sing along to by its second appearance in the song. It is the last to capture the trademark happy-sounding-but-really-sad Fluid Ounces sound, accomplishing this most expertly and most poignantly.

Yes, Seth Timbs out-did himself with this gem, and has he prophesied so long ago, it is as if he “never made a sound ‘cause there’s no one there to hear it.”

Friday, April 25, 2008

So Far, So Good

From Foreign Legion

I remember well the night that I was given a copy of Foreign Legion several months before its release. I was sitting in the balcony at 12th & Porter, and I used a cigarette lighter to read its track listing in the dark. There was excitement. There was disappointment. After all, lots of my favorite songs from that era did not make the cut—there was no “Melissa’s Birthday” or “Amount to Something.” And what? “Show on the Road”? There was one song on there that I had never heard, and when I actually listened to the CD the next morning, “So Far, So Good” immediately became my favorite cut on the CD, and it has remained among my all-time favorite songs, not just Fluid Ounces songs, ever since.

“I have no regrets” gets thrown around a lot by people, but I have lots of trouble believing it when anyone says it. That’s just a hard sell to me. Plenty of perfectly avoidable situations have stumbled into people’s lives, and those events have little bearing in life lessons learned. There’s an arrogance inherent in that statement that makes it sound almost adolescent, denying the full weight of bad things that happen in people’s lives. And from that angle, this song can have some holes poked into its argument. I guess that even so, it’s the word play that sells me on this song. Unpacking the broad general statement, it comes across instead as bold, acknowledging personal shortcomings and accepting hyperbolic hypothetical situations, saying that in spite of it all, even if the mistakes are regrettable, the end product out-weighs instead of negates the past. Its boldness exudes a confidence un-characteristic of any Fluid Ounces song, perhaps making it the single most positive and up-lifting song in the catalog.

To me, listening to this one is like a freight train that runs me over every time, always picking me up in its momentum and taking me with it wherever life takes me. And that’s always a good ride.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lend Me Your Ears

From In the New Old-Fashioned Way and The Vegetable Kingdom EP

In the New Old-Fashioned Way would not be complete without this track, which I believe was added as an after-thought since it was not included on the promo version of the record. Likewise, I think that it loses power if its only place had been in the center of The Vegetable Kingdom EP. Placed at the beginning, as the lead-in to the band’s masterpiece, Seth Timbs steps out of his usual role of himself and becomes like a Greek chorus, setting the stakes and giving us some thoughts on love and life that are separated from the confines of any particular relationship. He calls us simply to listen as he puts some perspective on existence, with lessons gleaned from Father Time and Vincent Van Gogh no less, before we embark together on our journey. This one song unwittingly adds a whole different dimension to the record as it points us toward universal truth before sending us on to songs about the Earthly and mundane: driving, dying, drinking, sleeping and hurting.

The live mp3 presented here if from July 3rd, 2004, when Seth Timbs played a solo set before bringing up a full band. I love this performance because of the speed with which he’s playing it, and the way he sounds like he’s truly having a good time while playing it.

Download Live mp3

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lazy Bones

From The Whole Shebang

Many Fluid Ounces songs reference working jobs (“Amount to Something” and “Tokyo Expressway” immediately come to mind), but “Lazy Bones” is the only one in which it is apt to say the song is about working. It is about a lot of other things as well, but its central theme is working.

This gives it a unique perspective among many rock songs anyway, since most Americans spend the majority of their adult lives at some place of employment, and few songwriters, especially in the mainstream, seem to tackle this subject in their songs. The song masterfully interweaves notions of relationships and friendship into the song, seamlessly encompassing both into a day of work just like we all do every day, so effortlessly that we don’t realize it happens, either in our lives or in the recording. Beyond that, the song’s title and refrain reach out to us, to that side of ourselves that never wants to go to work, that just wants to sleep in every day and lie about every afternoon, forcing ourselves to instead gather up our lazy bones. I’ll spare you by not re-printing all the brilliant imagery of this song and instead just ask you to give it another listen if you haven’t heard it in a while.

“Lazy Bones” was the first song written or performed for The Whole Shebang, performed only once or twice with Justin Meyer on drums while they were still doing guitar sets. He left the band, and I was sure that song had gone the way of “Out of Your Element” and “Cops and Criminals.” I would have had little recollection of since I had no recording of it, except that the demo for it turned up for download on mp3.com (I am presenting that recording here in all its glory). I played that recording endlessly, and to this day I prefer it over what we hear on TWS—I always thought Kyle Walsh’s drums were a little over-the-top, both in production and in notes played, on that track. Regardless, I was elated when I was handed an advance copy of that record and saw that it was actually on there. The song was resurrected when the band re-formed in 2004, but its tenure was short-lived as Brian Rogers vetoed playing that song, much to the chagrin of everyone who sees the band regularly. I’ll allow him to beg our forgiveness and attempt to explain himself in the comment section…

Download mp3

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Amount to Something

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

At some point, we have to wake up from our slumber and ask, “When will it amount to something?” And then we must step up and strive for the lives we once dreamed we were destined for. The song speaks of people whose lives are lived as a series of accidents, with the speaker aspiring to live beyond the mundane and hoping to become something more. The song implies a link between loneliness and this trend, declaring, “Thank God!” as the vanquishing of lonely days can set one free and allow oneself to “amount to something.” At its end, the song invites the listener to put away his or her cares in order to declare that the lonely days are gone, and that this declaration can free the person, not from finding someone who makes all the lonely feelings go away, but instead overcoming those feelings and recognizing how detrimental they can be in one’s personal journey.

For this reason, this song quickly became a highlight for me as I began attending Fluid Ounces shows. The beauty of its melody, the intensity with which the message was delivered, and the message itself were just what I needed at that point. And sometimes its worth giving it a close listen to remind myself of something I may have forgotten. Thank God, indeed.

This song was performed throughout the Doug Payne era. Jason Dietz stylized the song with a certain panache it never would receive again, playing the catalog’s only true bass solo in the outro. The song was released on Awkward Middle Phase as one of the handful of songs recorded by Seth Timbs, Doug Payne, Trev Wooten and Sam Baker as a band. Its epic piano intro could have made it a fine choice for the opening track to The Whole Shebang, but it was left off and unreleased until the demo vaults were first opened for us.


The video here is from the July 7, 2001, performance at the Boro.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Beginning of the End, Indeed

Early on in the writing process of this blog, I realized that I could not use the phrase, “This is one of Seth Timbs’ greatest achievements in songwriting,” (or any other phrase that seeks to commend the individual songs) as I would be using it in so many entries that you would grow tired of reading it, ultimately making the phrase lose its meaning entirely.

We are now nearing the end of our journey together, dear readers, and I’ve saved ten of my very favorites to wind it all down and bring it on home for everyone, having set these aside since very early in the process and carefully constructing these entries over a long period of time. This isn’t to say they’re my absolute “Top Ten,” as I’ve sprinkled several of the best throughout the blog to keep both your interest and mine in the project, but each of these final ten is a favorite of mine and of many fans, even going as far as to that each and every one of them is one of Seth Timbs’ greatest achievements in songwriting.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Beginning of the End

Unreleased Track

With an uncharacteristic synth intro, Seth Timbs carries us into his vision of the future, doubly ironic to use a synthesizer instead of a piano and considering that his own musical future has been based on the electric guitar and playing oldies-inspired songs. The picture painted for us of the future is more in line with the feelings of despair from Big Notebook, with vocal stylings hearkening back to that era more than we’d heard in many years.

The bleak portrait presented is of a sister planet where, “everything’s so good, it’s boring.” Its goodness does nothing to make people happy. With the sun freezing as our planet is burned away by something, and many people getting into a space vehicle to escape, some apparently choose to stay and face their destiny while others set themselves “free” into “pre-determined routes” in carefully construction lives. This sci-fi allegory is more typical of Flaming Lips, though it would need a more random mentioning of robots or something to fully count as an homage, more closely referencing a more Star Trek philosophy that those staying behind come into a new realization of their humanity as they embrace certain doom instead of giving up their freedom in some kind of mass-produced style culture.

Being a home demo, this song does not get to portray the epic nature of its scope unlike a more produced song like “Downscope, the Boat Captain.” Its message provides a finality to where Seth stands, so to speak, that there is a vague romantic hope in humanity to stand and fight against adversity (in this case, a dying planet), in spite of the hopeless portraits he’s sometimes painted for us, especially on earlier recordings.

Download mp3

Monday, April 14, 2008

Killjoy

From Big Notebook for Easy Piano and Remember Cassettes, Vol. 1

This song immediately lets you know that you’re in for a strange ride from its opening percussion. This is nowhere that Fluid Ounces had ever been before or would visit again, with sparse piano and guitar skronk closing out their first record with this unique piece.

I like to think of a “kill joy” as anything, but most often a person, who, you guessed it, somehow manages to ruin a good time for me, not necessarily because of they complain or ruin things for everyone, but just because they get on my nerves specifically because of some personality quirk.

It’s always funny to me that Amazon.com lists this CD as having 24 tracks, making potential buyers think they’re getting something of a double album. Instead, tracks 13-22 as well track 24 are each six seconds of silence, with “Killjoy” being track 23. Apparently this was a random way of making it a “secret track” at the end of the record that was conceived by Richard Dortch. It works though because this track needed to be completely separate from the rest of Big Notebook.

Seth says in the video of this song from October, 1997, that they play this song differently every time they play it. I have no idea to the truth of that statement, but it is markedly different from the recorded versions and is the only live recording I’ve ever encountered.



Notice how excited they are that their CD is released on Spongebath Records. My how things change.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Songs Covered by Fluid Ounces

I decided to mention all the songs Fluid Ounces have covered in one quick stroke. All of these are covers performed by actual line-ups, not counting solo sets or guest bands. Many are one-offs, and I’m suspicious that there are a few more (maybe some other band members reading this can fill in some I may have missed). Seth filled in a couple I didn’t know about.

Sir Duke (Stevie Wonder)
This cover suited the Fluid Ounces set, sounding surprisingly full even in the absence of horns.



El Scorcho (Weezer)
I never would have thought this would be a song Fluid Ounces would cover, mainly because it doesn’t seem like a great fit. I know they’re early Weezer fans and all, but this is one of the last songs I would have ever guessed they would have covered. It works well enough, though, as you can see from this video from the Chukker show.



Ride a White Swan (T-Rex)
From Awkward Middle Phase: Seth Timbs' Home Demos, Volume One

This song was included on Awkward Middle Phase, and is easily the least-listened song of the lot on my player. Not being familiar with the source material limits what I can say about this one.

I Am the Walrus (The Beatles)
This was performed for a John Lennon tribute. The band played at more than one of these, and I’m suspicious that there are more songs than this and Instant Karma!

Aqualung (Jethro Tull)
Not being familiar with the source material limits what I can say about this one, but it’s hard for me to imagine Fluid Ounces covering this one, and I have no recording of it.

Synchronicity II (The Police)
Not being familiar with the source material limits what I can say about this one, but it’s easier for me to picture this one than the other.

She Blinded Me with Science (Thomas Dolby)
From the Japanese release of Foreign Legion

They played this one to close out the first Fluid Ounces show I ever saw, and I considered it the perfect cover to close out the perfect night. It is just obscure enough and just recognizable enough, not to mention danceable and random. It was played for two or three or more shows and never done again. I was given an advanced copy of Foreign Legion a year later and very surprised to find this song tacked on the end. It was also included in the Japanese release of FL.

Charlie Brown (Boo Boo Bunny)
It was implied that Fluid Ounces shared a Halloween show with Murfreesboro shock rockers Boo Boo Bunny for more than one year, but I don’t know for sure. I only caught the one in 2000. Billed as a “versus” show, Fluid Ounces taunted their opponent by covering one of their songs. I didn’t stick around to see if Boo Boo Bunny reciprocated by covering a Fluid Ounces song because the Features were playing across town at Sebastian’s that night, and well, you know.

Anyway, I was happy to acquire the video of that night’s show with this interesting cover along with it.



Good luck finding copies of either Boo Boo Bunny album. I’m not sure which one carries the original of this tune, Guitar Case Full or Porn or Prom Queen of Auschwitz.

Moby Dick (Led Zeppelin)
This instrumental tune was played once at Justin Meyer’s final show to showcase his fine drumming skillz as the rest of the band set down their instruments to let him bash out his solo for a couple minutes before they returned to finish the song.

Rock the Casbah (The Clash)
The band worked this one up for the Japanese tour in February, 2002. The genius part was a segue into The Police’s “King of Pain” using the same chord progression as sort of a bridge to the final chorus.

It’s Not My Birthday (They Might Be Giants)
From Hello Radio: The Songs of They Might Be Giants

I always liked this home demo as it is the most prominent accordion used on a Fluid Ounces recording, which in and of itself is a tribute to They Might Be Giants. Not being familiar with the source material limits what I can say about this one.

Pretty Ugly Before (Elliott Smith)
From A Tribute to Elliott Smith

Dave Dickerson was helping along with Fluid Ounces quite a bit when The Whole Shebang was released, maintaining their website and such. He also was running a record label at the time, and he put out a tribute to Elliott Smith on that label in the wake of Smith’s death. Fluid Ounces contributed this song that they may have played live at the record’s release. Not being familiar with the source material limits what I can say about this one.

Short People (Randy Newman)
The influence of Randy Newman on Fluid Ounces is obvious, and this song in particular obviously informed the quirkiness of Seth Timbs’ songwriting career. It was covered a few times in early 2005, and last played at the Basement in January, 2006, with Mike Grimes singing back-up from the sound board.

Everything Is Free (Gillian Welch)
I wasn’t surprised to see the band cover a Gillian Welch song since Seth and Brian Pitts are such big fans of hers (and possibly Tha B, too). I’ve seen Seth cover her rock-a-billy tune “Honey Now” numerous times in solo sets and with Moonie and the Johndogs. This song would be the only thing at the Mike Mahaffey Benefit Show that night to have a somber tone to it, singing about musicians willing to play for free.

Download Live mp3

Instant Karma! (John Lennon)
This was a fitting cover performed at the very beginning of 2005. It only lasted a couple of times as the set closer, which is understandable since the screaming chorus would wreck Seth’s voice every time.

Sledge Hammer (Peter Gabriel)
The “Half Ounce” set in January, 2007, debuted this one that the full band picked up, with Brian Rogers adding a wah pedal and superimposing the lead part from “Tokyo Expressway.” I thought it over-stayed its welcome and was played a few too many times at most sets in 2007, but I accepted it as it unanimously united crowds and gave me one more song to hear before the night of music would end.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sitting Beside Myself

From The Vegetable Kingdom EP

This is perhaps the most autumnal of all Fluid Ounces songs, referring to falling leaves and dying insects, but strangely not as autumnal as the shades of gray experienced in “Kept Alive by Science.” This image is important in that links the nostalgia of the song to death and dying as the speaker is sitting beside himself, a clever twist of words for a title and chorus—juxtaposing being “by oneself” as in alone, with being “beside oneself,” as in a state of confusion.

We are then swirled into a whirl of memories and senses as our speaker says, “And the last time I was here/ It must have been about this same time last year,” perhaps referring to a physical place or the same situation in a love relationship, probably in the wake of a break-up. He is quick to point out the shortcomings of this past relationship, referring to himself as “hen-pecked” among other things, but he still finds himself alone, again, trying his hardest to “smooth things over.” In all the metaphorical references, we get a sense of a cyclical aspect to the way he feels, going back to being a “classroom misfit,” kissing on field trips. The memories and details are blurred in the passage of time, but the cycle and the feelings are all too relevant and pertinent as he finds himself in this same place yet again.

Seth Timbs throws a wink at us in this song, saying, “Stream of consciousness / Heads are talking to themselves,” in perhaps the most stream-of-consciousness song in the Fluid Ounces catalog.

The song closes with a pretty big solo, especially live, with guitar and piano playing complementary leads together at the same time in a jazzy outro, like you see in this video from July 7, 2001 at the Boro.

Monday, April 7, 2008

There Ought to Be a Law

From Instant Nostalgia

Sometimes the band will debut a new song, and it just seems from its immediate presentation that the band knows they’re putting a good one out there. Not to say they’re not all good, but some are just presented with a slight hint of pride in knowing that this one is a cut above. I got the impression of that from “There Ought to Be a Law” from the first time it was played in October, 2005.

The song is about growing up. Its broad stroke on the matter can be applied to any aspect of coming-of-age experienced in our culture for people aged twenty-two to thirty-three (or so).

As this is the third-to-last Fluid Ounces song added to their catalog, written one year before Seth Timbs told me he was thinking about ending Fluid Ounces to start a new band, I can’t help but think that this song is about the band itself, whether that was Seth’s intention for it or not. They had been through the excitement of a promising formation and received media attention, both on national and international levels, and now here they are, winding down a career, much older and wiser, resisting the temptation to want to slip into some nostalgic state about “the good old days,” instead mustering up the courage to keep rocking and see everything through to its completion. Or, more likely, it’s about girls—particularly the once-overweight-now-runway-model variety.

The video presented here is one that I actually made myself on my digital camera—I hope that it’s not too shaky—on March 14, 2008, at the Basement. Finally, a video of the current/final line-up!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Shady Acres

Unreleased Track

Even though they don’t sound much alike, I consistently get “Shady Acres” mixed up with “Overlong,” and that’s because they are both demos released on a previous Fluid Ounces website. They don’t sound that much alike, except that neither of them employ much piano, and both include Seth Timbs singing with whispery vocals, but the fact that I got both of them at the same time and never really listened closely to either of them has me perpetually getting the two confused. I believe this one was co-written by Mac Burrus, and I always imagined the collaboration happening while Seth lived in Los Angeles.

The song focuses on a journey to a place called Shady Acres. This place can be reached by relaxing for the journey on a bus or plane, mentioned twice in the song’s structure of playing through two nearly identical segments, but we are not hearing about a place where one will go to stay permanently (as referenced by telling the neighbors that the invitee will be coming back). On the one hand, there are inviting aspects to this place, talking of greener pastures and diamonds on horizons, but on the other hand seeing a sinking ship coming up one last time to say good-bye before it sinks for good. The second segment provides little more light to the situation, saying that one must slip away when leaving, and then saying that once the invitee is there, he or she will experience both feelings of regret and contentedness.

This place referred in this song, obviously not a physical place, is a bit of a mystery for me. I presume, as always, it is being addressed to a lover, but its mixed message about its destination make it a little less stellar than the other big romantic invitations, “Come On Out,” and “Burning Daylight.” It was suggested to me that the rest-home-like title of the song could make it about being in a nursing home and possibly even euthanasia, which I guess is possible, though I don’t see how all the pieces of this little riddle of a song fit together for that one.

Here’s the mp3 of this one so you can decide for yourself.

Download mp3

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Shamrock

From Big Notebook for Easy Piano

If I’m ever out anywhere, and I see a piano just sitting somewhere, it’s my secret wish that I could just sit down at that piano in the middle of the mall or at someone’s party and slam out “Shamrock,” if only the opening lick. It is the perfect plunge into Big Notebook, and it received quite a bit of attention from reviewers for sounding so upbeat, yet being about a small plant about to be run over by a lawnmower. It is perhaps the most accessible of this type of song, serving as the template for all the others on Big Notebook as well as setting the tone for the rest of the record. I would have liked to see it pushed as a radio single in ’97, especially in contrast to that year’s piano-pop radio hit, “Brick,” which won mainstream acclaim for Osama Ben Folds, despite its monotone yet hipster-friendly feelings of being depressed.

Here we hear Fluid Ounces at their sonic best, running through very fast verses to get to choruses that are actually slower, yet somehow more epic in production—thanks in part to all four Ounces plus Matt Mahaffey grinding out the guitars on the chorus standing in a circle and creating a large wall of sound behind Seth Timbs’ vocals. It is always fun to hear its insane tempo jumps, which are even more pronounced in live performances. The beginning of each verse sounds like the thunderous start of a race, as Ben, Brian, Seth and Sam are standing behind gates with their respective rock instruments, waiting for the starting gun of the last beat of the chorus to take off running in a blur of one of the best melds of rock and jazz ever produced.

The video presented here is from October 10, 1997, started off with yet another instance in which Seth Timbs introduces the band and does not give his own real name.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Smitten

From Foreign Legion

Ahh, that playful feeling of just embarking on a relationship, the moon hitting your eye like a big pizza pie, yadda yadda yadda.

If you catch this song listening to Foreign Legion, you find it right at the “elbow” of the record, with it the turning point of the whole record. All the sad and depressing songs have come before, culminating in “The Last Thing,” and just a breath after its final chord, this song opens in the elated, “My God, she’s cute…” With that, our protagonist is free from all that has shackled him before, free to run and live and pursue. All the songs that follow are of a happier fair on the record, focusing on love and happiness.

I always saw that if this song was next in succession after “The Last Thing,” then followed by a succession of other songs, its final counterpoint would be “To Cure the Lonely,” unified mostly by the lyrical reference to “puppy love” in both songs. While “Smitten” invites the newfound lover to forget the puppy lovers et al from her past, “Lonely,” a few years and thousands of miles later, undoubtedly referring to the demise of the same relationship, says, “Your puppy love grows up/ but can’t leave its home/ and remains just a flightless bird.”

Live, this song was always dedicated to the person about whom it was written, sometimes being played just after “The Last Thing,” with Seth Timbs introducing it by saying, “Here’s a song about a radically different subject.” It was permanently replaced in live sets by “Make It Through,” and the dedications then shifted to “Crazies,” which debuted a few shows later.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ambiance

From In the New Old-Fashioned Way

With words written by Seth Timbs and music by Brian Rogers, this cozy little rumba cools things down a bit on In the New Old-Fashioned Way just before the last two songs bring the record to its epic climax and coda.

The essence of this song is time. It centers around two people sitting across from each other in conversation, and I’ve found equal weight in two interpretations of the setting described—perhaps because I’ve been in both and thought of this song in each case.

On the on hand, two people are deeply in love with each other, and they are enjoying each other’s company so much that they never want the conversation to end as they are discovering new things about each other and themselves as they really talk things over, wishing that they could just stay and occupy that space and time forever.

The other interpretation is more likely, given the tone of the whole record, the song’s placement on said record, and the pensive performance of the vocals that almost keep it from being something else. In this case, the song is about two lovers whose relationship has reached its bitter end. They know that once that conversation ends, that’s it. They get up from that table and walk out of each other’s lives (it does reference sleeping in separate beds) forever, and they are holding on to that last moment when they hesitate. Time spins out of control as they wish to dwell there forever, but they know that the relationship is over and that it’s time to move on.

My interpretations have been shot down enough by Seth to expect that there’s some separate explanation from what I’ve provided that makes all the more sense, and I always welcome what actually inspired the story. But as I post this one, I’ll cop out just a little and use Robert Browning’s quote on his own poetry that has been in the back of my head since I began this project, “When I wrote that, only God and I knew what it meant. Now only God knows.” Sorry to throw two cop-outs at you in a row like this.

Here's a video from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which looks the perfect lounge setting for this song.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

40 Pints to Brooklyn

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

This song is one of the few among the throngs that has never been played live and only exists in demo form. I think this is important for this song, as its perfect performance is captured here in this home recording, and, in this commentator’s opinion, it remains too perfect to be either re-recorded or performed live.

This most epic of home recordings incorporates foreign language tapes—presumably Japanese—as well as words spoken by Seth Timbs as the band performed on a road trip of sorts through New York and Virginia in 2001, part of which I mentioned in the “Record Stack” entry. In light of the Remember Cassettes demos that have been released, this recording is a stepping stone on the way to Instant Nostalgia, showing just how far Seth has come in the realm of home recordings. I mentioned this one specifically to him as a fine example of his home recording prowess, but he dismissed it as sounding like it was recorded in the Well of Souls (referring to the hiss of home recordings and how it sounds like a snake pit).

Still, the blend of guitars and synth and miscellaneous recorded elements (again, used much more effectively than they were on the earlier demos), making for a strangely beautiful song that I have no idea what it’s about. Brooklyn? Beer? New York City and/or road trips? Probably. Girls, somehow? Very likely. How that ties into the climactic refrain of, “All in good time,” has left this song in the “question mark” stack for this blog since pretty early on. I am nearing the end and forced to write about some of these, so maybe somebody can shed some light on this one.

To that I’ll add a little bit about the process of writing this blog, and that’s to add that, hands down, the most difficult songs to write about have been the unreleased tracks and the Awkard Middle Phase tunes I’d never heard played live. The rest have been played over and over again in my car or at my home for years. I’ve had plenty of time to digest those. I spent forever trying to work on “Rest Stop” and some others, finally just letting them go with what I’d written, hoping for something a little more epic for each one. I guess they can’t all be “Sugar Mama,” now can they?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bombardier

Unreleased Track

This most epic of Fluid Ounces’ epic rock songs is a piano-less answer to the “shock and awe” campaign launched by George W. Bush in 2003, though the song came much later. To this I’ll add that this song rocks, and I mean it really ROCKS. It starts with its riff, and then it kicks in with more sheer power than you’ve ever heard in a Fluid Ounces song. The drums and guitars are blinding through the loud choruses and solos before its finger-picked acoustic guitar outro, laden with feedback as a B-52 flies off into the sunset. Realizing that this is the heaviest rock song in the Fluid Ounces catalog, it proves how diverse Seth Timbs is in his styles and how effectively he can move from piano pop to Smashing Pumpkins.

The subject matter of this song is atypical for Seth Timbs, reaching into political commentary (thus making a Smashing Pumpkins comparison seem to fall short). The song itself is about an airplane pilot and a person launching bombs (a “bombardier”) as they fly over enemy territory. You imagine them in different compartments of their large plane, filled to the brim with bombs, unable to see each other as they talk back and forth. In their faceless conversation, we hear about the facelessness of modern warfare, dropping bombs on men and women and then flying away to safety—“just pull the switch and run”—without really experiencing the bleak consequences as the enemy becomes so faceless.

This song was only played two or three times before it was shelved, and all the band would ever say about it was that it needed to be “re-tooled” before they would play it again. I seriously can’t imagine what could be done to make this raw rock song any better, though they may have wished to make it sound more like a Fluid Ounces song or just shorten it. It never re-surfaced though, with the band staying true to form and choosing to work up new material instead of re-treading old songs. When I heard that Seth’s next songwriting project would be entirely guitar-based, it immediately crossed my mind that “Bombardier” would make a comeback. But when Hot New Singles took shape, it was obvious that it would fit in less there than it did with Fluid Ounces.

So on the shelf it remains, and the best I can offer is the mp3 of the demo.

Download mp3

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Paperweight Machine

From The Whole Shebang

In the tradition of “Record Stack,” “Paperweight Machine” draws heavily on Eastern European grooves. But whereas “Record Stack” is one of the easier Fluid Ounces songs to play, every member to whom I’ve talked mentions this as one of the most difficult Fluid Ounces songs. I can’t help but wonder if that has led to the curious evolution for the song, getting faster and faster over the span of live performances since its debut in December, 2000, at Sebastian’s. The demo for it was pretty slow, and it had grown faster by the time the Sam/Trev/Doug/Seth line-up worked it up in summer of 2001 (as you can see from the video from the Boro on July 7, 2001—which begins with Doug Payne paying tribute to a spider crawling on his amp). When I heard the song as the opener on The Whole Shebang, along with noticing that it sounded like something Matt Mahaffey would have produced, was that this song had reached new roaring heights with this light-footed tempo. The final line-up would maintain this tempo and eventually speed it up a little more as they grew more comfortable with its difficult music (as you can hear in the live mp3 below from December 9, 2005).

I have thought for the past few years that The Whole Shebang was a couple of tracks short of being good enough to stand alongside the other CDs. There were just too many good tracks that I knew were written that could have cohesively fit on the record and made it soar all the more. The most glaring thing to me was the choice of “Paperweight Machine” as the opening track. I always felt that “Amount to Something” or “Mountain Man from Mole Hill” would have been the perfect track to say “hello” and introduce the record, leaving “Paperweight” to come in right after and take things up a notch from there. It works well enough the way it is, but that’s one change I would have made if I were in a position to be asked about such things when this record was made.



Download Live mp3

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kept Alive by Science

From Big Notebook for Easy Piano and Remember Cassettes, Vol. 1

“Unfortunately, he was kept alive by science and the drugs of men,” the song opens.

Unfortunately?

Unfortunately.

How sad of a life can one person live that it should be said it’s unfortunate that he was kept alive? Or is it unfortunate that science is keeping him alive instead of giving him a natural death? Either way, strictly in terms of mood, Big Notebook hits bottom with this eulogy of sorts, finally bringing the most down-tempo music to the darkest of subjects: the end of life. It always makes me think of gray autumn skies with bare trees just after all the leaves have fallen.

The song keeps the “he” in this story a mystery, but I always imagine it being a father figure of some sorts to our speaker as he prepares for the person’s final exit. The song’s somber tone leads to desperation, making it easy to picture the speaker trying to hold back tears, regardless the reason those tears are there. This is one song I like to keep mired in ambiguity, like most of them on Big Notebook, as it then can lend itself to whatever I'm feeling. A bad day at work? It makes me feel better somehow. There's just something in the way he sings, "Unfortunately," that makes me feel.

People argued that “Daddy Scruff” was the song on Big Notebook to establish the band as something more than a simple piano pop band when I suggested the CD would have been better without that song. I would now submit that this song is both the better song and the one to really show the listener the depth of the band.

A Comment on the New Demo Releases

Seth Timbs has graciously gifted us ravenous fans with a new group of demos from his home collection, this time focusing on material from 1990-1996. Although they are not quite set up for order just yet, you can read the track listing and Seth’s liner notes for them here. I will post a link to notify you when the demos are available for purchase. I had originally planned to include all twenty-four tracks here in this blog, but I have decided that since only the tunes that were features on Big Notebook for Easy Piano were actually performed by the band Fluid Ounces that I will not include them. I have created a label for all the songs, but I have not altered the actual entries.

On another note, it’s good to be back for the final stretch with this blog. I am going to attempt to post three times per week again to help re-energize our readership after the hiatus, so that means you can expect about six more weeks before I run out of songs.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hiatus

Hung on Every Word will return on March 20th, when we'll (hopefully) delve into the two new demo releases that are going to be released soon as well as all the fan favorites I've been saving up for the last innings.

Until then, listen to Instant Nostalgia a whole lot!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Overlong

Unreleased Track

The magic of Seth Timbs, shown very clearly in this song, is the way that he can add so much complexity to something that could be just as simple as another three-minute rock song. “Overlong” is like an anti-“Love Me Do,” in which a dense home recording sings of love and devotion with dense piano-less instrumentation with some great lyrics.

The title refers to the time before the speaker’s current relationship, in which he said his “heart was wasted and stayed alone for overlong.” He adores her through verse after verse, concealing the central concept in floral language. He twice mentions “blues,” a sad feeling of discontentedness or dissatisfaction or something, first saying that this feeling would gladly destroy everything, but happy that it won’t bother him anymore. At the close of the song, he returns to this concept and says that in spite of these feelings that may come, it won’t be that bad if his lover is with them. Given this, I must say that the slight gray cloud over these beautiful melodies cries out for the coming song, “How to Be Happy.”

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thinking Cap

From the Japanese release of Foreign Legion

“Thinking Cap” was written in early 2000, but the song was shelved until it became part of the band’s live set in the summer of 2001. Stylistically, it was written as a kiss-off song to Spongebath Records and the sound that Fluid Ounces was creating during that time, though I would argue that its chord-style is decidedly in the style of Foreign Legion. Its longevity, being included in setlists up to now, leads me to believe that Seth must be rather proud of this one. I like Kyle Walsh’s contribution of tapping out the song on the side of the snare drum as soon as the previous song ends, but overall, I’m pretty lukewarm on this song. I think its lyrics about deathrays are villains in smoking jackets, along with a chorus that includes, “Bless my soul,” and the title itself, are all a bit too far into the clever side, crossing the fine line into cliché. Even so, I enjoy the energy and piano lines, so I won’t say that I wish it banished from future setlists.

I believe it was treated somewhat like a single once Foreign Legion was released in Japan, based on a few comments I heard Seth make in 2001, and also on the fact that its lyrics were incorporated into the t-shirt design that you can see below (modeled by Tom Foolery):


Just before I started recording the Fluid Ounces show at the Boro on February 2, 2002 (one of the best live recordings I’ve ever made), Seth said that actually the shirt should read, “We Would Like for You to Put On Your Thinking Cap If You Want To.”

The video is from August 24, 2001, from the porch of the Red Rose.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

1,000 Ships

Unreleased Track

This song is a Fluid Ounces song in name only. It was played heavily by Spike and Mallets when Seth Timbs was a member, and always a crowd pleaser I might add, and was released on the many incarnations of Greetings from Spike and Mallets, the free CD they’d give away at their shows. The only time it has actually been listed as “Fluid Ounces” is when the same download that was available on the Spike and Mallets mp3.com page showed up on the Fluid Ounces official website.

But it’s a good song, and I think it’s worth some attention, both on this blog and through everybody’s ears.

Comparing his love to the beauty of Helen of Troy as, “the face that launched a thousand ships,” our Faustian lover narrating the song gives us the feeling that he is at his wit’s end as he searches out, “a place where old habits go to die hard.” I would say that its only shortcoming in its endless metaphors and imagery with infinite possible interpretations is the one that says,
“The girl that drove her car into the wall
Just trying to get inside the mall
Her windshield covered with unfolded maps
Busts through the concrete
and drives through the Gap.”
A reference to the Gap tethers this song to the year 2000, but this is only a minor flaw for such a great song.

The pallet of the song is changed in the demo with the presence of a slide guitar, which we haven’t heard on a Seth Timbs recording since “Record Stack.” Live, Elliott Currie, wearing his guitar-player hat (which was a much better fit, if you ask me), would add his own touch of blues to the song, though carefully remaining as understated as the lead guitar on the demo.

Download mp3

Monday, February 11, 2008

Melissa’s Birthday

Unreleased Track

I have a love/hate relationship with this song. On the one hand, it’s a bit juvenile to sing about a drunken birthday party in which, as Seth and Doug were always so quick to point out, “the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” It gives it a little bit of a one-dimensional feel, but I guess what makes it work is that the story is cleverly told, making it more like an amusing tale to tell later.

A rowdy party is broken up by the cops, who take away a bag of pot and some fake IDs. The party doesn’t slow down as they roll the neighbor’s house and continue to dance and drink until the speaker passes out while the party is still going on. Somewhere along the way, they discuss a trip to Florida, featuring Jason Dietz’s “Happy Trails” bass line before going into a fancy free piano solo.

Today’s video is October 27, 2000. All of the live versions I have of this song leave something to be desired, so I figured I’d offer the one video I have of it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Grown Men Crying

From Instant Nostalgia

Seth Timbs’ return to Tennessee in 2004 was followed by a long series of solo appearances in Nashville and Murfreesboro, sometimes even opening up with a solo set before bringing out the full band to play with him. With these came playing more than one of the Nashville staple, “songwriters’ night,” in which all aspiring songwriters, for better or for worse, gather with their acoustic guitars and play songs about being songwriters. And although this song didn’t appear in Fluid Ounces sets until 2005, I am almost sure that its inspiration came from the writers’ nights from 2004.

In it, we meet a man, yes indeed a grown man, whose lip quivers as he hears one songwriter’s tune one at a “piss-swillin’ bar.” The song touches on our need to hear heart-wrenchingly sad songs, especially while we are at our most vulnerable after a relationship’s end, finding comfort in having our “insides twisted apart” by others’ similarly sad stories, even if they’ll deny it and say that it’s just something in their eyes.

The song even offers its own glimpse of such a sad affair, the best as it reaches its climax,
“And we had big plans to get married
Sweet lady and I
Build a house on the mountain
Sit around and get high.”

This third waltz on the record was intentionally placed on Instant Nostalgia as a continuation of “Private Hell.” The recorded version features a great swirling synth in its epic bridge, but I think my favorite performance of this song is from December 9, 2005, available here for download. Pay attention to the piano work during the second half as well as the way that Tha B’s backing vocals seem to snuggle up to Seth’s vocals to perfectly accentuate certain words and phrases throughout the song.

Download Live mp3

Monday, February 4, 2008

Comfortable

From In the New Old-Fashioned Way

This anthem for insomniacs is Fluid Ounces at their most playful, either on In the New Old-Fashioned Way or anywhere else. The movement of the song is fun and bouncy with Sam Baker’s marching drums holding up a simple-sounding piano line that is the farthest cry from the heavier chords of later years. The song is effectively a comedy piece, in which the speaker muses about using elephant tranquilizers or anything else to get sleep, still unable find any peace as the night drags on and his partner sleeps soundly throughout. I heard that it was in direct reference to the experience of touring and trying to sleep at odd times on that schedule, but the song camouflages this by referring to his bed partner as “baby.”

Today’s video is still another from October 10, 1997.


I can't decide whether the person providing "back-up vocals" near the camera in the video adds to or takes away from the song, especially knowing I'd be that person had I been there.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cops and Criminals

Unreleased Track

A song of opposites, “Cops and Criminals” was only played live a few times in 2000 before being retired. It mostly just names a series of opposite things, from the mundane (“cops and criminals”), the clever (“iceberg lettuce or crystal meth,” “Dorothy Parker or Danielle Steele”), the prophetic (“terrorists or Presidents”—twenty-one months before September 11th) to the instantly dated (“neither send the Ku Klux Klan to the Million Man March”). Interspersed throughout are some skewed proverbs, such as, “Do unto others / Just do whatever works” before the song concludes with the closing lines, “Cops and criminals / Are one and the same.” This ending is a reminder that so many things, as different as they may seem and as opposed to each other as they may become, are, in the end, made of the same stuff. This is a ho-hum ending to a song I would just label as “OK” among the better songs that were springing up at the same time.

The live mp3 is from January 29, 2000.

Download Live mp3

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Eight Years of Bliss

A re-post from my personal blog.

Tonight marks the anniversary of the first time I ever heard the band Fluid Ounces live. I had been seeing a band called the Features around Murfreesboro and Nashville for the four months before, and I had bought my first Fluid Ounces record, Big Notebook for Easy Piano, a couple of weeks before since the Features were opening for them on January 29, 2000. The record was okay on first listen, but seeing them live was what really made the difference for me. I had really fallen for the piano songs in my two favorite bands at the time, the Beatles and R.E.M., and there I was being smacked by a band that employed that as its sound the whole time.

What I was not prepared for was the change that it would bring about for upon discovering the band. In college, I had largely tried to base my identity on being “the music guy:” you know, that guy who can always recommend the cool band that no one has ever heard of, collects vinyl, goes to hear live music all the time, puts down others’ music, etc. etc. etc. (see High Fidelity). Finding Fluid Ounces changed all that because I couldn’t be that music guy any more. You know why? I suddenly had no desire and no need to find any other music than what I had right there. To use the rock cliché, the songs were fun, the lyrics were good, and those guys could really play! But more than that: every song, in usually deceptive or metaphorical ways, felt like it was about me. Every single song resonated with me in such weird ways as I began to purchase their other records and hear the new ones as they were written and debuted on the live stage. I had always wanted to be a songwriter before that, but in addition to my utter failure at writing verse, I felt like this guy up there singing about a whole bunch of the stuff that I was going through, had gone through, or had felt for quite some time. He had effectively already used everything I would have had or wanted to write a song about (except for the opposite end of the rock spectrum on which the Minutement operate), all the while doing it better than I could. I suddenly didn’t care to find other bands since I found a band that sounded like they were writing every song about me personally, just down the street in Murfreesboro, instead of doing stadium tours around the country or living far off in Liverpool.

I ran from the show that night and purchased two more CD’s, the best of them all being In the New Old-Fashioned Way (until the recent release of Instant Nostalgia, which I consider to be a tie with it until further notice…). That one CD would stay in my player for months to come, as I was unable to listen to anything else for a very long time. I would see the band every time they would play, inviting all my friends and anyone who would come and hear them. Their interest waned though, and it took a while for me to come to terms with the fact that I was the only person reacting so personally to it all. I continued to see them and see them, listening to them far more than any other music. Their singer went through a divorce in 2004, a bit over a year before mine, and the songs that followed would serve as a great source of help as I went through the most difficult time in my life. He had already fallen in love again and was almost married again by the time I was actually divorced, and his subsequent songs were a great source of hope and inspiration for me that things would and could get better for me.

True, my musical tastes have evolved, and I’ve started listening to lots of new acts since that discovery, but Fluid Ounces has shifted to the center of it all. It doesn’t feel quite the same to listen to it now, since I don’t feel like I did when I was twenty-one anymore. But with all media, the more times you experience those things you love, the more that past experiences with them inform the present and call to mind previous experiences with them, as if a flood of nostalgia with each (in this case) song is recognizing and enjoying the sum of all the times I’ve listened to and enjoyed it, augmenting the experience for the better.

For posterity’s sake, that night’s setlist was as follows:
Life of the Party (intro)
Vegetable Kingdom
Melissa’s Birthday
Cops and Criminals
Encyclopedia Brown
Amount to Something
Get Yourself Gone
Eleven:Eleven
Sugar Mama
Out of Your Element
Record Stack

The Last Thing
Smitten
Poet Tree
She Blinded Me with Science
Have Fun (Seth solo encore)

I have just posted two songs from this show in the last week, and I’ll post another song and a live mp3 from that very show on Thursday.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Record Stack

From Big Notebook for Easy Piano and Soaking in the Center of the Universe, Vol. 2

So the story goes that the band in its shortest official line-up (Seth Timbs, Doug Payne, Trev Wooten, and Elliott Currie—Jason Dietz had just left, and this line-up played two shows before Sam Baker resumed the drum duties) went to New York City in spring of 2000 to play in a showcase for the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and could only play two songs. The people initially took no note of the little piano band from Nashville, treating them with the curt uppitiness of big-city folk seeing another in a long of line of country bumpkins playing for their “big break” in the big, scary city. The story goes that the band played “Make It Through” first, and then a band member, presumably Doug, turned to Seth and insisted they play “Record Stack.” The people there had never heard the song before, and although Seth was tired of it from playing it at every show since he was in Ella Minopy, he conceded. The crowd went crazy, and the band was treated very well after that. So the story goes, at least.

This is easily the single most memorable song in the entire Fluid Ounces canon. It leaps out from among the throngs, whether sitting in the middle of the record on which it was released or in the middle or at the end of a Fluid Ounces live set. There are other Fluid Ounces songs that infuse an Eastern-European groove, but none that execute it so accessibly. And more than that—it’s just so catchy! For these reasons, it has always been a crowd pleaser, and it has been a standard in the set for every line-up of Fluid Ounces and almost every show before 2006.

As Seth once said, he compacted a long, mostly bad relationship into a one-night stand and subsequent “month in sin,” to describe this song that uses rhyme as its strongest component in its lyrical tango. The chief image defining the song is when he sings, “I had her in the sack / But just that once.” Attaching anything that rhymes with “sack,” we are given the song’s title; the line, “she smoked the last in the pack;” and the high-point of the song, when Seth sings, “So I got my records back / I smashed my Marshall stack,” followed by a loud thunder of discordant piano and guitar. The chorus is the unforgettable singing-borderlined-on-shouting of “La da da da da da,” which is perhaps what makes this song both so catchy, so easily (probably too easily) accessible, and so memorable. (Using the same chords, the Features would later modify this chorus into their classic, “Thursday.”) You can hear Seth scratch his throat numerous times during the recording, giving it a remarkable intensity that is a counterpoint to the Robin Wilson comparisons that his voice would get, especially after the release of the second record.

The song goes into its final chorus after a brief pause on the recording, which Seth would turn into a moment to add something surprising to each live show—a random saying (“this song has been brought to you by chicken tenders”) or, more often than not, a snippet from a random song—from random Irish drinking songs to Self’s “Better Than Aliens” to whatever strikes Seth’s fancy when the song is performed.

By the summer of 2005, as the song was at least nine or ten years old, Seth and Brian Rogers were tired of playing “the hit,” tired of it getting yelled out by show-goers and tired of practicing it, and so it gradually fell on the back-burner, not having been performed, to my recollection, since December 9, 2005. My official prediction is that this song might get played one additional time before the band calls it quits for good.

I understand why the band is tired of it. I’m tired of it too. I’ll admit it was the first song to leap out at me when I first heard Big Notebook on the first night I ever listened to the band, and I was elated a few weeks later when I heard them live for the first time and they played it (if the recording wasn’t such low quality, I’d post that cut of it because Justin’s drumming on it is sooo tight with the band!). But as the Doug Payne era went on, I began to feel like Fluid Ounces was becoming a shadow of its former self, re-treading In the New Old-Fashioned Way songs a little too much, and this song was among those I became tired of. It was performed once with horns, at The Whole Shebang release party, which is the mp3 I’m providing here for download in all its epic glory. With the final line-up, I accepted this song as a necessary evil in each set. Now that it’s been gone so long, I find myself wishing they would rock it out one more time for a random encore some night. Here’s to hoping, I guess.

Download Live mp3

Here's a video where it is paired with "Ambiance," which I never would have put with this song and am happy to discover this new cohesive live moment.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Last Thing

From Foreign Legion

I am expecting as much dissension to this post as when I said that “Daddy Scruff” should have been left off of Big Notebook, but here goes—I love love love “The Last Thing.” I think it is the point when most people lose their taste for Foreign Legion, but to me, being a bigger fan of that record than most other Fl. Oz. fans, every song before it on the record leads us to it, with each one pulling us closer on the emotional trip. The song itself is about hitting bottom. Of all the break-up songs, of all the heartache we’ve heard about, “The Last Thing” shows us what life is like at its worst after a break-up: you can’t work, you can’t think about anything else, you can only drink.

This song’s closest companion, in feel and subject matter at least, is INOFW’s “Bigger Than the Both of Us,” and in many ways, the songs are almost inter-changeable. “The Last Thing” is set apart from its predecessor because of its epic bridge that pulls open the shades and lets a ray of beaming sunlight in the form of hope juxtapose against the dreary tone of the record up to this point. “Keep up your spirits, boy / There’s too many fish in the sea!” The speaker knows that there is a brighter future ahead of him; he knows it and hopes for it. But in this stage of grieving, this “last thing,” he must dwell on it and truly hit bottom. He can’t help the way he feels, and as the song seamlessly returns to its sad feel, he acknowledges that time will heal the wounds…eventually.

This song’s other companion piece would be “Smitten,” which the band would play directly after “The Last Thing” on more than one occasion, with Seth Timbs saying, “Here’s a song about a radically different subject.” The two were rightfully placed together on Foreign Legion, and in the over-arching story of the record, serve as its turning point, the elbow of the record if you will. The protagonist hits bottom in the one, and his glimmer of hope from before remains and pays off with his elation in “Smitten.”

I think I have some fond memories of this song that help to aid in my love for it. First off, all of the songs of Foreign Legion hold a place in my heart as they were what were being performed when I first began seeing the band. It was the record I hadn’t heard yet since it wasn’t even finished, and so I often went to the shows to experience a different set of songs (and a different line-up) from what I was hearing at home on Big Notebook and INOFW. The last night that Matt Mahaffey lived in Murfreesboro, Fluid Ounces played, and during the bridge of this song, he ran in from the Boro’s back entrance and danced around the room a la the Scarecrow in the “If I Only Had a Brain” sequence before rushing out, all during the bridge. I remember a soothing feeling of hearing this song on the same day I’d just broken up with my girlfriend that same year, which turned out to be the song’s last performance. The band did not play it again, notably at Justin Meyer’s final show, which I thought would have been a shoe-in for a dedication to him before he left town.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Fool Around

From The Whole Shebang

“Fool Around” roared its way into Spike and Mallets sets sometime in 2001, with Seth Timbs hopping up from behind piano, placing Jeff Keeran there so he could rock out on guitar. Trev Wooten gave it a slightly more funky edge with his bass line than you’ll hear on the record or from Brian Pitts, and Tony Keats’ note-for-note precision lead-guitar work that always reminds me of David Gilmour laid the groundwork for this firecracker to become a classic rock tune (in both senses of the term). I can understand why Jeff and Seth chose not to include any of Seth’s songs on Peep, Jr., Spike and Mallets’ full-length record, as each needed his own avenue to showcase his songwriting exclusively, especially with Seth moving to the West Coast and preparing a record for Japanese release.

It became quite the crowd pleaser once the final Fluid Ounces line-up got underway in 2004, having received its most widespread recognition on The Whole Shebang. The youthful exuberance that this song both conjures and requires became the focal point of the guitar set, which was then augmented by the bluegrass speed of “Selma Lou.” The song requires a big sound, with roaring, stadium-rock drums like you’ll hear at Exit/In (like you’ll hear in this live recording from August 19, 2005, featuring Matt Mahaffey on drums), but in contrast, it requires a garage band feel with its energy and countless phallic references to paint a picture of two adolescents making out at her parents’ house, yet still requiring a skilled guitarist to pull off the larger-than-life leads that complete it so nicely.

Somewhere along the way, it was realized that the crashing G-chord at the song’s finale allowed room for a brief quote of Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” opening riff, which became a standard feature to its ending, as well as Tha B sometimes parodying the opening of the lyrics by singing, “Hey Sether, you’ve got that love that I need.”

Download Live mp3

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Finger on the Button

Unreleased Track

It would be much more effective to have his exact quote, but Sam Baker once said something to the effect that Los Angeles is an experiment, and the experiment has failed. In exclaiming, “The experiment has failed!” Seth Timbs both references this quote and declares his independence from the city that took him from his native Tennessee home for two years. When I listened to this song at its lone performance on July 3rd, 2004, I liked it, but when I listened to its words more closely after I heard the live recording (available below), I was encouraged that Seth Timbs would indeed be returning here from Los Angeles.

The song fantasizes about destroying the city of Los Angeles, with the speaker’s finger on the button that will launch the attack, musing about armies and aircraft and missiles poised at the ready. Its refrain says, “Because it’s beautiful, it must be destroyed,” which is a curious description of an odious city that was “born without pity or shame.” This refrain could refer to its “perfect little place on the map” that will soon be demolished, or it could be a nod to the attitude of the city itself, treating anything good or worthwhile as something to be exploited.

The shocking thing about this song is that even though it is written in a time when America is so dead-set against war, it is so uncharacteristically violent! It does mention that the attack will not begin until “all the good folks” have made it out, then speaks only of the destruction of the geographical destruction—except for a brief mention of some group of people (sorry, I can’t make out exactly what he’s saying in the recording—“soul suckers”?) sleeping in a coked-out stupor while the invading armies come in. Declaring that, “In the later years, they’ll say that we were visionaries,” Seth Timbs becomes like a James Bond villain out of Moonraker or something, driving the point how dead-set he is on getting out of that city. Perhaps it’s best that this one didn’t get out too far, as it could have easily stirred up a back-lash among those who cannot see it simply as the musing of a fed-up Tennessean displaced from his home.

Download Live mp3

Monday, January 14, 2008

Millionaire

From Instant Nostalgia

Seth Timbs left for Los Angeles in the spring of 2002. I was sad that I would no longer get to see Fluid Ounces live sets, but I somehow knew that I hadn’t heard the last of it. A year went by, and all I’d heard was a rumor that Seth was performing in Los Angeles as Fluid Ounces with Mac Burrus and Justin Meyer. Then, on March 31, 2003, a friend of mine on the Features’ (now defunct) message board posted a message with the headline, “Seth Timbs Solo Show Tonight at Slowbar, 9:30,” after reading it in the Nashville Scene. The message itself, directed toward me, just said, “Bitch.”

Flabbergasted, I grabbed my recording gear, and off to Slowbar I went. The opening song was, “Millionaire Meets Millionaire,” (whose title was shortened with the release of Instant Nostalgia to just “Millionaire”) about the marriage and divorce of two very wealthy people, a clash of titans if you will. In a world where they do not have to work to earn a living, where “money is the only object,” these two people come together with enough money to change the weather, and their marriage is a lucrative business deal. Then things turn sour. Their businesses get locked up as they fight to divide them, with the little billionaire they created their only reason to stay together.

“Millionaire” would be played again at the release of The Whole Shebang and remained in heavy rotation at Fluid Ounces shows, most often as the opening song, for all of 2004 and for many of the sets in 2005. As it was played more, it became more orchestrated, as it was mostly bare piano even after the long intro for the first few times it was played. Its heavy play insured it a place on Instant Nostalgia, where it logically serves as the opening track.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Run, Rabbit, Run

From In the New Old-Fashioned Way

I always considered this song among the most Beatle-influenced moments, if not the most, of all the Fluid Ounces songs. I think it reminds me just enough of “Cry Baby Cry” (if only because of the same structure in both titles) and texturally of “Sexy Sadie” to make me think that it could work on the second disc of the White Album, although its title could be more directly linked to the single line in Pink Floyd’s song, “Breathe,” where the title is actually sung.

Even the most amicable of break-ups will require a time apart to lick wounds, gain perspective, and sort out the complex feelings that come with a relationship, amplified by its demise. “Run Rabbit Run” explores this space in a relationship, when our speaker laments the speed in which his former partner has taken refuge after their break-up, sharing his tender side that he is not happy with the new arrangement. Referring to her as a rabbit, then, hints at the resentment toward her that he feels at the same time assuming both parties are “reminding ourselves / How we love you so.” The song closes with asking her to come back around, in hopes that he might have some chance to learn how to treat her, reminding himself how he loves her so. The final line, “Everything is allowed,” gives this song a surprisingly open end and room for infinite interpretations of what exactly that means in light of the rest of the song. Your guess is as good as mine.

The video presented here (yes, we are still doing videos!) is from June 15, 2001, and it features a brief commentary on the collapse of Spongebath Records at the end, followed by a hearty stretch by Sam Baker.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Ambition to Love

Unreleased Track

This is the only Fluid Ounces song I can name for sure to have never been demoed, meaning that the live mp3 presented here, another from July 3rd, 2004, is the only recording of this song that exists (too bad it is mired so badly by crowd noise). Perhaps the fact that it was never demoed is why it was never explored in a full band setting.

The song itself is the first to come from Seth Timbs in his jaded view of love in the wake of his first marriage. Singing, “When people talk about falling in love / They just make up shit,” is his most singular assault on love that he will ever make in the canon, as all the songs to come before and even after it remain unwavering (well, there are a couple of exceptions mentioned below) in their hope for a brighter future. I would wager that the reason this song was never played again is that Seth chose instead, upon further reflection, to retract this statement, in lieu of “To Cure the Lonely” and “Private Hell,” which focus more on individual solitude than outright despair about love itself.

It should also be noted that this song is a stark contrast to “Come On Out,” which also debuted that night as the opposite extreme of “Ambition to Love,” a romantic invitation, and it would become a standard in full-band sets, going so far as to earn a space on Instant Nostalgia. “Ambition to Love” sounds much more like a standard Fluid Ounces song than “Come On Out,” which may have been another reason to discard it in lieu of a more experimental song.

Whatever the reason, I’m thankful to have documented this show and this song for the rest of us to consume.

Download Live mp3

Purchase Fluid Ounces mp3s Directly from the Band!