Published on February 18th, 2005 | by Gerry Galipault0
Back in the solo business
Chris Stamey gave it the ol’ college try, doing his part to get out the vote for the 2004 presidential election.
The horse he bet on in that race didn’t win, but Stamey’s conscience is clear.
“Yo La Tengo had titled their last record ‘Summer Sun’ after a song of mine, which I had written with Alex Chilton, oh, I guess in about 1978 or ’77, in New York. So I thought, ‘Let’s recut that,’ ” Stamey said recently of their collaboration, “and also I had written the song ‘Downtown,’ that I wanted them to play on.”
So, Stamey and Yo La Tengo members Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew went into the studio to record what Stamey was calling “the world’s longest EP.”
“Before we went into the sessions, we were talking about the upcoming election at the time and what we could do,” he said. “There were a couple of ideas we tried, and most all of them worked out.”
The result was “V.O.T.E.,” reportedly short for “Very Obvious Total Emergency” (mainly, dump Bush). The limited-run EP (on Yep Roc) included the title track, a voting PSA, plus the instrumental “Dr. Strangelove’s Assistant” and a few timely covers – “Compared to What” and “Shapes of Things.” The PSA made the rounds of blogs and was given prime coverage at the iTunes Music Store before the election.
Two months later, the bulk of “V.O.T.E.” was repackaged as “A Question of Temperature” (released on Jan. 25 via Yep Roc). The new opening track, “Conspiracy Theory,” leads the way for five covers, including Television’s “Venus” and Cream’s “Politician.”
“It was done mostly across two days, and then (keyboardist) Ty (Rogers) and I stayed a third day,” Stamey said of the original sessions. “There were some other things that entered into it later. Bands have a quick way of communicating, and a lot of this stuff is just one take. You had to make sure everyone had charts, so it wasn’t too relaxing, but it was fun.”
This is Stamey’s second effort in the past year, with “Travels in the South” ending a 10-year solo drought. In those 10 years, Stamey stayed plenty busy, working as a producer for such bands as Whiskeytown and Le Tigre and running his own recording studio in Chapel Hill, N.C. Through it all, he never stopped writing.
“There are people who go into rock show business with career plans, kind of like ‘Let’s see how we can win the lottery,’ but that’s never been the way I’ve approached it,” he said. “I’ve been writing music for so long, and it’s something I do all the time.
“We’re living in a time, at least in the pop music world, that’s a harmonic and melodic wasteland, where it’s very conservative and there are no choices. It’s nice to still be able to do this.”
The former Sneakers and dBs member is continuing his roll. “We’re already into a third one,” he said. “They’re all songs I’ve written.”
As for the election, how is handling the outcome?
“The current political number I’ve been playing is ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!,’ the Pete Seeger song, if that answers your question.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Maybe the first record I bought with my own money was a Tchaikovsky symphony.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “It was probably a classical performance. I studied at university for many years and have written a lot of academic music. A lot of my scores were destroyed in New York, unfortunately.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “I should say being a rock star … but I worked with a bunch of other musicians in New York for some lawyers called ambulance chasers. If there was literally a wreck on the way to work, and the driver’s there bleeding on the road, they’d give them his calling card. They made money essentially by if the claims were delayed, they got all the interest off the settlements. It was not a good job. I was like a clerk for them. They didn’t actually have all the Dickens books up on the wall, but they were certainly involved in human relations policy.”
ON THE WEB: chrisstamey.com.
BWF (before we forget): Upcoming tour dates – Feb. 19, East Windsor, N.J., Lou & Raine’s Living Room Concert; Feb. 20, New York, Tonic (with Anton Fier, Tyson Roogers, John Cumbris, Richard Lloyd and special guests); March 16, Austin, Opal Devines, Guitartown Party at SXSW; March 17, Austin, 18th Floor at Crowne Plaza; March 18, Austin, Rajiworld +1 Party; March 19, Austin, Yard Dog Folk Art Gallery (Yep Roc showcase); May 14, New York, Joe’s Pub (The Chris Stamey Experience).
The Chris Stamey album discography – “It’s a Wonderful Life” (DB, 1983); “Christmas Time” (Coyote, 1986); “It’s Alright” (A&M, 1987); “Fireworks” (Rhino/RNA, 1991); “The Robust Beauty of Improper Linear Models in Decision Making” (East Side Digital, 1995); “Travels in the South” (Yep Roc, 2004); “V.O.T.E.,” with Yo La Tengo (2004); “A Question of Temperature” (2004).