Rock writers like to dig up Greil Marcus’s four word summary of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. It’s a phrase that somehow conjurs an image of our country as mother to a mystical culture of poets and balladeers who masquerade by day as farmers and coal miners. According to Marcus, it’s “the old, weird America” that Smith somehow captured in his now famous anthology, and it’s this same spirit that’s been used to describe figures from Bob Dylan to David Berman. Travis mentions this below as part of the “great tradition of heady North American songwriters.” But somehow I’ve always felt that this continuum was something built by critics in some desperate attempt to make enough bizarre cross-generational connections that they might have something to say for however many pages they needed to say it. Bob Dylan and David Berman are certainly old and weird, but I’m not sure they fully embrace the idea of an old, weird America. It’s a wonderful phrase, and sits as an untouchably concise summation of the Harry Smith Anthology, but for all practical purposes, it should stop there. What Uncles offer instead is a “new, weird America”--one that they somehow see, and that the rest of us don’t. It’s so easy to fetishize life as it once was, but Uncles see strangeness in the mediocrity of the present. When you walk through New York city, what do you notice? Maybe you turn a bit to catch a glimpse at a stunningly beautiful woman (there are plenty in our fine city), maybe you stop and look up at a historic building (there are plenty of those too), maybe you go out of your way to walk through Central Park in mid-Spring. Or, maybe you’re one of those “artsy” types, who takes pictures of homeless dudes, crumbling infrastructure, and bleak winter landscapes. Will Schwartz and Danny Bateman are interested in the place between these two extremes: the overweight but otherwise pleasant-looking Latino mother, sitting on her front stoop knitting; endless blocks of storefronts with fading but otherwise operational neon signs, and the abundance of commonplace scenes that are constantly being enacted in New York’s five borroughs. To most of us they’re nondescript, uninteresting, and neither so pleasant they’re coveted nor so discomfiting they’re fascinating. It’s the accurate portrayal of life as its actually lived, and to achieve this is a rare gift indeed.
We’ve yet to host a Casual Business session with a band we didn’t like both personally and musically, but rarely do we get along with people as well as we did with Uncles. Topics ranged from music (duh) to shock porn (?!) and everything in between. If you’re interested in hearing and seeing a bit more from the session, our friends over at BreakThru Radio cut an hour-long show with Uncles before we let our hair down and set Casual Business to tape. You can listen to the full BTR session here and watch the abridged video edition here. If you’re still hanking for more Uncles, you can read the 7-inch review that started it all right here.
As usual, we’ve invited engineer and dude extraordinare Travis Harrison to give us his thoughts on the session:
Will Schwartz and Danny Bateman, a symbiotic pair of singer/lyricists not exceeding their early twenties, brought the expressive rhythm section of Tom White (upright bass) and Duncan Berry (drums) to my studio for a beery September weeknight session that hatched these gems. These two songs serve as an excellent introduction to Schwartz and Bateman’s rare approach to making songs. Both “Clarinets” (written and sung by Schwartz) and “Green Apple Skoal” (written and sung by Bateman) require an active listenership and a willingness to commit, participate, and follow along with their streams of unstill language. Beneath it all, haunting chords and beautiful melodies unfold in some unexpected surprises.
Uncles makes music that will inspire the neurons in your cerebellum to cut a rug and set your heart of hearts aflutter, but don’t expect escapism and disco balls. This is music carved from a great tradition of heady North American songwriters, presumably beginning with Bob Dylan and continuing with Leonard Cohen and David Berman, who build temples of exquisitely carved poetry atop folk formations. The words are the focus here. It takes a lot of guts to make music like this, to lay it out there, to offer your contributions to this vital stream. Open your mind and your heart to your new Uncles.
Recorded by Travis Harrison at Serious Business Music, NYC on September 10, 2010
Dan Bateman: guitar, keyboard, lead vocals Will Schwartz: guitar, keyboard, lead vocals Duncan Berry: drums Thomas White: upright bass
CLARINETS Hand painted advertisements on the sides of lowrises were once like chapels to men, their creators moved on and left them to live. and then time spit up apartments with courtyard gardens like they were all just sunflower seeds. in baked-chicken-kitchens, we shuttered our blinds and cut coupons from magazines
And the lowrises sweat steam into the night from the basement karaoke rising out from the heat pipes the same way dirt promises bones to pick clean
And we’d get down on our knees and point our fingers on up high and curse every constellation pissing down from the night sky the stars would notice us without really seeing us they could kinda feel us (looking at their backsides) the way you can when you’re getting checked out
The swingset is like a pendulum, aw it’s terror when the chain goes slack. You taste blood in your mouth, and feel the asphalt hit your back. And all the world’s healing is just superstition There’s no one who can make the pain stop. You just have to wait it out and suck it up, Wipe the dust off.
And every morning is the morning after something, each day at school you see the remnants of Adult Education, from the night before. The cursewords on the desks the empties on the basketball court.
One day you’ll kick aside the debris and toss your clarinet into a pile of leaves it’s like the deeper you plant it the longer you carry it with you.
GREEN APPLE SKOAL
the broken boy scaled up the bridge his hands scraped and peeling like little paint chips at the zoo in the elephant house he sang f scott key to your daughter as he reached for the tail you laughed at the bruises he left on your hips when he fucked you on the couch where your friends would all sit bare backs sticking to the leather he said come with me just for an hour so my father’s a tailor in ramapo and you’d picture him at your funeral irish catholics use open caskets to be spiteful He told you had Midwestern jowls, that ache under rain and trucker’s palms. He’d took you over to Hardees, he loved the Tater-Tots, and the waitress’ thighs He invited her out to his 18 wheeler She clocked out at 4 put her cigarettes in her stained off-white bra he fumbled with over the dashboard he said have you ever driven stick before and he fingered the gearshift and laughed and coughed, the seatback smelled of green apple skoal, he put a 20 in her front pocket and drove her to school
Green Apple Skoal
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/casualbusiness03/02 Green Apple Skoal.mp3