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 (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…

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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.

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Monday, April 14, 2008


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 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


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.

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