The new Lidders was something that skewed towards the wiry, thick-veined Americana that began with Neil and Crazy Horse and found itself ingrained in Meat Puppets’s Up On The Sun, Volcano Suns’ Thing of Beauty, and Screaming Trees’ Buzz Factory. “ – Raven Sings the Blues
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 Jeffrey Alexander (Iditarod / Black Forest, Black Sea / Dire Wolves) whose debut with The Heavy Lidders is out now on Arrowhawk Records.
On leap day, February 29th 2020, Jeffrey Alexander + The Heavy Lidders met up at Uniform Recording in Philadelphia to lay down all the basic tracks for this self-titled LP, releasing August 6th 2021 on Arrowhawk Records. That’s me, Jeffrey – guitar and vocals, Jesse Sheppard – bass, Drew Gardner – guitar, and Scott Verrastro – drums. I have been making a variety of weirdo musics for the past 25 years with a host of different bands toying with improvisation, outsider folk, electro-acoustic sounds, and so forth, but I wanted to try more of a straight vocal-based record. Nothing new, but certainly new to me. Throwing my new song sketches at The Heavy Lidders was the easy part – they are all well-seasoned players (notably in Elkhorn and Kohoutek) – who fleshed out the arrangements on the fly. And I was fortunate to get a bunch of friends to add killer guest sounds, whatever each song needed. I’m extremely pleased with the results – hope you dig this lyrical side of The Heavy Lidders – the next record is ALL jams, ha.
The first song that I wrote for my youngest son, Moses. Before he was born, we used the nickname Beowulf for him, as part of a grand mythical origin story. I put together an entire LP of music that we played for him when he was still in utero. That LP (“Meditations For Beowulf”) would later be released on Feeding Tube Records in 2019 and the version of Beowulf’s Trip included there was just me on guitar and vocal, and I also played the bass line on moog synthesizer. I do love that gooey sparse version but always heard it as a full band in my head, so after assembling The Heavy Lidders, this was the first song that we worked up. A breezy folk-rocker and Drew seriously nailed the vibe with his guitar leads and amp hum.
I used to follow the Dead and JGB in the 80s and lucky enough to witness Jerry Garcia play more than a hundred times. This was always one of my favorites – a life-long öhrwurm. I’d always wanted to cover the song and finally had a bunch of willing participants with The Heavy Lidders. And I was extremely pleased to be finally collaborating with Marissa Nadler. Marissa and I have been friends for about 20 years, back when I was still playing in The Iditarod folk group. We were both living in Providence RI at the time. We played some shows together and shared many musical interests. I invited Marissa to be on a Pearls Before Swine tribute compilation for my old record label Secret Eye and we recorded her track together in my Olneyville warehouse. Later I helped Marissa get in touch with Eclipse Records to put out her first full-length. We kept in touch over the years and always spoke of collaborating, meeting up for concerts or a meal when she was in San Francisco, but we were constantly on the move in different zones. Working on this Heavy Lidders album during the pandemics early days finally provided that opportunity. Since I was mixing and overdubbing the session remotely, time and space were simply not concerns when asking guests to contribute. I knew that this cover needed some ghostly, noir, sonically perfect vocal sheen, so of course I called Marissa. Who else?
The final track I wrote for this record – only a week or so before the recording session – with all of the bubbly echoes from when I played in indie rock bands in the 90s shooting right up to the surface. It’s written for my out-of-this-world kid Geno, who simply radiates light all the time. The song references that, of course, but also a bunch of his favorite songs (he’s a HUGE little music fan) including Traffic, Lou Reed, Gene Clark, etc. I asked Rosali to sing on the choruses and she said “Yeah, I LOVE pop music”. Her vocals are perfect.
If you have an acoustic guitar, that means you are a protest singer, right? This track was my attempt to write something about the complete terror of climate change, right-wing fascism, racism and anti-semitism, the pandemic, all the things – I mean, we’re all fucked in every way. I was thinking about all this and my two kids, while listening to Richard Fariña’s “Birmingham Sunday”, which mourns the murdering of black kids in 1963 by the KKK. In that song, he lifts a lyric from the 1600s English ballad “I Once Loved A Lass” (made famous by Ewan MacColl).
The men in the forest they once asked of me
How many blackberries grow in the salt sea?
I ask them right back with a tear in my eye
How many dark ships in the forest?
I’ve read that it is the oldest riddle in Britain. I used it again, twisted to fit my own interpretation of the horrors of our time, but the essential riddle remains.
Musically, I was totally excited to live out my long-time jingle jangle Bells of Rhymney Gardening At Night fantasy – I was able to play a few guitars on this track that Jeff Zeigler had available in his studio including a Danelectro 12 string electric and a high-strung (Nashville tuning) acoustic. I asked Pat Gubler if he could vibe-out a sort of Al Kooper Blonde On Blonde-y keyboard track, which he perfected (blindfolded, no doubt) … and I’m super happy that Rosali expertly contributed again to this one, as well. It all came together quite nicely and there isn’t even a solo anywhere to be found.
This was one of the first of the lyrical songs that I wrote after more than ten years of free instrumental improvisation with Dire Wolves Just Exactly Perfect Sisters Band. Another song for my oldest son, Geno, who was around 4 when this came together – it references many of our adventures together, daily hikes by our home, and the imaginary worlds that we would construct together at bedtime. Mostly it’s a song about viewing the magic of the world through the eyes of a child.
Well, as you have gathered by now, this whole thing is some serious Papa Rock. Another song here that paints a picture of my adventures with Geno and Moses, especially our epic camping and hiking trips. Listening back to rough mixes with Miriam, who produced this LP with me, she immediately said this track needed a conguero. I didn’t know any congueros, but I thought about it and decided to call up Ryan Jewell. He said he didn’t have any congas but he gave it a shot on some hand drums and it really worked. So much so, that we continued to collaborate on the final track of the record, a Gene Clark cover …
This is the only track on the LP that was not recorded at Zeigler’s studio. I recorded most of it myself – guitars and bass, along with four separate vocal tracks – solo at my home in Northwest Philadelphia. Drew then overdubbed vibraphone remotely from his apartment in Harlem and Ryan added long-distance drums and percussion, as well. Yet another long-term head-stucker that I’ve wanted to get down with since first discovering in my college radio record library in 1986. There’s always ups and downs, but music is the answer. The healing force, you know. Light on the cosmic range, yesss.
Thanks for listening