Since disbanding Boston’s dream psych concern Guillermo Sexo, Reuben Bettsak has been busy recording music with Infinite Room and recently the reconstituted Emerald Comets and with the Covid-19 Pandemic Reuben has taken to writing and recording a forthcoming LP, Strangelands.
For Strangelands Bettsak enlisted the assistance of some notable guests Bo Barringer (The Wrong Shapes), Ryan Connelly (Hallelujah The Hills), Chad Shivers(Infinite Room), Jeff Barsky (Insect Factory),Jeremy Lasssetter (Ghost Box Orchestra), Anar Badalov (New Dog), Sophia Cacciola, Michael Epstein (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling), and Katharine Rahilly Altman. – The Ash Gray Proclamation
Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Reuben Bettsak (ex-Guillermo Sexo / Infinite Room) whose band Emerald Comets is back after a 4-year break with Strangelands – an album packed to the brim with guest appearances from Boston musicians!
There’s also a guest mix that Reuben put together for us few years ago. That one features tracks by Blonde Redhead, Spirutualized, King Crimson, Lou Reed, Broadcast, Trans Am and many more.
I moved back to Boston in August 2019, I was in Atlanta for like 3 years.
When we moved back, I connected with Jason Layne to rekindle Emerald Comets. We brought in Tim O’keefe, and David Atlman (Big Bear), and started working on new music.
We were about to play our first show with the new lineup when the pandemic hit.
Week 2 of being at home in this new reality, I started writing, and recording brand new songs. I asked the rest of the band if they’d be down to record an album remotely. I told them that it would be brand new songs written during this situation.
I wrote/recorded a song, Jason, Tim, and David would each record a part to the song, and then we sent it to Justin Pizzoferrato to mix the track. It was a 9-10 week process. Basically, a song per week.
We also had guest contributors on almost all the tracks. The result is Strangelands, a 9 song album. I think we are all very happy, and proud of this album.
This is the first song we recorded for the album. Even though I wrote it during the beginning of this pandemic, I was already going through shock, fear, disbelief, depression, etc..In a lot of ways, this song really formed the lyrical vibe of the album. It’s about soaking in nature during walks, and enjoying little family adventures. It’s about daydreaming of this twilight zone episode going away.
I think I just did acoustic guitars, and vocals. Jason’s bass sound, and mellotron on the track is awesome. I told him to try to do the mellotron on every song hahah.
Tim, and David both added awesome parts, and then I sent it over to Jeremy Lassetter (Ghost Box Orchestra), who added some great triptastic guitar lines to the song. The awesome thing with this song, and really all the songs, is that each person would add their part, and send it over to me, and it just clicked into place. Such an organic workflow…even though we were never in the same room together.
Justin did an amazing job mixing the song. I’ve worked with him so much over the years…and he really understands my musical mind.
This is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I wrote it after walking some rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean. Staring at the ocean is so therapeutic. It really is. And the lyrics kind of reflect the whole staring at the ocean thing. Writing, and recording these songs during this COVID situation has been immensely healing,and therapeutic for me, and I think for the rest of the band. I was into the idea of mantra-like lyrics that allowed me to self reflect, and stay positive…I was also into the idea of short 2-3 minute songs…
Before the rest of the band added their parts, I asked Anar Badalov (New Dog) to add some keyboards, and his piano/keyboard parts are gorgeous on the song.
Everyone else’s parts also came together for this song . Tim did an awesome job of coming up with a few drum options, and the more simple option worked best for this song. Jason’s bass part on the song is super rad, and Ryan Connelly (Hallelujah the Hills), and David Altman added amazing vocal backups. Ryan also contributed tambourine, and percussion.
This is the third song written/recorded for Strangelands, During this whole pandemic, there’s been a lot of friends experiencing hardships, and a lot of difficulties in general. I think to some extent we are dealing with a lot of complex thoughts, and feelings. I liked the idea of knocking the worst of the thoughts away….
I think it’s also about the excitement of creating art to help knock those thoughts away….
Jeff Barsky (Insect Factory) added some beautiful noise guitar that gives the track some great depth, and pretty texture. Jason’s Mellotron is a big feature on this song, along with Tim’s bouncing drums, and David’s keyboards, and backups. Ryan Connelly, also added backups, and percussion to this track. Oh, and Tim does some really cool guitar stuff at the end of it too. Justin was really able to take all these layers we sent him, and mold them into a cool song.
This song is really a shining example of how collaboration can really take the initial song idea into new realms.
My parts to the song included the acoustic as a backbone, like all the songs on this album, but also included a bunch of heavy guitars. My first reference of the song with my vocals, and guitars sounded super heavy like a Failure song or something.
I sent it over to Bo Barringer (Wrong Shapes) who has contributed to Emerald Comets in the past, and has been making some really cool electronic music as of late (I also made an album with him under the name Ex-Hyena coming out later this year). I asked Bo to add some Spaceman 3 type synth sounds. His keyboard parts really changed the whole vibe of the song in a great way. Tim added a robotic type beat that really feeds the space vibe of the song. Jason added some majestic Mellotron sounds, and Katharine Rehilly Altman added some really sweet backup vocals to the song. I love how Justin was able to still mix in some of the heavy guitars to create some really nice textures, and create some Eno-ish sounds.
As far as the lyrics…I was walking my dog around the neighborhood during golden hour, and looking around at all the houses-wondering how everyone is experiencing this new way of living.
This is a song about making music, and art. It’s about my commitment to really sticking to the plan of writing, and recording these songs in 9-10 weeks. Two or three times a week, I went to the basement after my kids went to sleep to record these songs.I wrote the actual songs on my couch while my kids were running around the house playing.
Creating music, and art is fun, and exhilarating, but you have to put in focus, time management, etc…
Everyone in the band really put in a lot of work, and stuck to all the deadlines. We had to really have all the parts recorded to a song that was going to be mixed that same week by Justin. So, a new song each week. Everyone really delivered exceptional performances, and parts.
As far as the music for this song, it was a complete mess. I say this in the best way possible. I wanted to have a lot of layers on this song, and have a bit of a shoegaze vibe. Before I sent the song to anyone, I had like 10 guitar layers… Tim added some really rocking drums that make the song the most upbeat number on the album. I then sent it to Chad Shivers, who played guitar in my Atlanta band, Infinite Room, and also plays in the surf band The Mystery Men?. Chad added Bass VI, and pedal steel to the song. Bo Barringer and David Altman added kickass keyboard parts, and Jason added rad bendy Guitar sounds. All the parts were cool, but there were so many layers, and all the references we were sharing with each other were kind of messy.
Justin was really able to take all the chaos, and mold it into a great song. I think it’s one of the most fun songs on the album.
This one was a bit different than the others. During the making of this Emerald Comets album, I was also making an electronic record with Bo Barringer (under the name Ex-Hyena). On the Ex-Hyena stuff, Bo was doing most of the beats, and keyboard stuff. I mainly did the lyrics, and vocals melodies. Anyways, I wanted to do a repetitive, electronic inspired number. I created a simple beat, added a repetitive guitar line, added vocals, and sent it over to Bo. Bo added an infectious keyboard part…Tim, then added drums to the song….. I then sent it to Sophia Cacciola, whose vocal performance was so badass on it, that we made her the lead vocals on it. Jason added a bouncy bass line that really uplifted the song from a minimal vibe to more of a party song. David Altman added some rad backup vocals, and then sent it over to Justin.
I love that the final version has the loud bass party vibe on it.
Lyrically, the song is…Well, it’s about this Twilight zone episode we are living in.
This was the 2nd song I recorded for the album. It kind of delves into remembering things from the past. It’s also another ode to creativity…. : Ain’t no time..Why waste days.”
For the music, Tim added a great drum part, then Chad Shivers added some amazing guitar stuff, and backup vocals. Jason added some marvelous piano/keys, and bass, and mr. David Altman added sweet backups and keyboards. Musically, the song kind of has a different vibe from the rest of the album, but I think it’s a really sweet song.
This is the last song on the album, and the last song I recorded. This is also the only song that only has me on it. All the songs started with acoustic guitar, and vocals. I thought it would be cool to have that stripped down vibe on one song. Of course, the day before I recorded it, I got a new keyboard synth in the mail….and so, I added a bit of that in the chorus part.
This is another song about waking up, going outside, soaking in the sounds and sights of nature, and trying to stay sane……