The John Watts Era Comes To A Close

It was a sad day, indeed, when John Watts took the decision to leave Native.

He loved the band, but the schedule was punishing. And, it has to be said that, at this time, there was a bit of friction in band – some of which is my fault, so I bear a piece of the blame for driving him out.

When I met John, I was chuffed and delighted to bring him in for an audition with the band, and when he joined the band kicked up another notch in tightness, and our sound became even more musical and rich.

He was our most joyous, upbeat member, and that’s saying something considering we had the sparkling Mike Jaimes in the band.

On a personal level, he encouraged me to take my writing more seriously (to the bemusement of other members, who, I think, would have rather well-preferred I take it a lot less seriously!)

One example of how he helped me, was when he championed my newest song, Sweet Intensity, over the disinterest it had received when I played it for the guys. I really don’t think it would have become a Native song without his support.

I’ll readily confess – my general displeasure over how my material was being judged led to a bit of a bad attitude on my part in the later days of 1996, but there was another music-related factor that led to some inner-band conflict which disturbed John a lot.

I had started to feel a pain in my hands, stemming from my vice-like grip on the drumsticks. My punk-rock drumming approach had been getting more streamlined and sophisticated, but I retained the too-tight grip that, after long gigs, was leading to an aching soreness in my thumb joints.

John suggested I see a drum teacher he knew, and I very quietly started to take instruction which gave me all kinds of insight into how my grip was defeating my intent – why my drum fills were heavy-handed and sloppy, and how it contributed to an overall laxness in my playing, despite my high energy-level. I was working twice as hard for half the effect! Finding a better grip not only transformed my style, but the lack of pain was an enormous relief.

The problem was, I didn’t tell anyone else in the group about my lessons, and rather than increase my ability, the immediate result of my new grip was a drop in precision. It was going to take some time to get used to it, and in the meantime, I was playing very sloppily.

Then came a big band meeting, where I was confronted about my playing. Having already made moves to up my technique, I was angered by the interference. I sort of reflexively reacted to being provoked in a very confrontational band meeting, and was appalled that my playing had obviously been the subject of discussion behind my back.

The tensions in all this ultimately pushed the always convivial John Watts away from the band, and his era came to a sad close. The following months were what Chris Wyckoff has dubbed, ‘The Scary Time’, where Native soldiered on as a 5-piece. Fortunately, the first six months of 1997 saw very little taping at our shows, so there is scant evidence of my progress with the new grip.

The good part of the story is that I got my drumming problems sorted, and Native went on to continue our schedule of a hundred or more gigs per year, constant song-writing (which I was able to be a larger part of, thanks to the success of Sweet Intensity), and the recording of our best album – Exhale On Spring Street. During the recording of that epic, the reserved and tranquil Mr. Wyckoff joined our ranks, and all was well in the little town of Inisfree, once again.

So, the ending was happy, but when it comes to the subject of John Watts’ departure – I can’t think of anything funny to say about it. I wish he had stayed, and lord knows how we might have evolved if he had.

Bottom line — today’s tune brings Nativology Vol. 3 full circle. It began the era with a brilliant demo tape, and ended the era with a masterful performance at our home base – McGoverns Bar. We were much better than we were giving ourselves credit for.

Digging Holes (McGoverns 11-09-96)

Cornbread Wednesday

Exhaling On Spring Street, Part Two

Special note: This week we got the sad news that our good friend, and Mat Hutt’s first wife, Rebecca Lyons, passed away after a courageous battle with breast cancer.

Needless to say, we are devastated by the loss of such a dear, beautiful comrade. Rebecca was there for so many of our exploits, it seems inconceivable she’s not here still.

Her heart was huge, her laugh contagious, and her spirit was infused with love.

So, with a misty eye, we dedicate this week’s post to her, and carry on as she would want us to. R.I.P.

The onset of winter, in November of 1996, brought with it a sense that the year had seen a lot of growth in the band. We had matured in our playing, and our songwriting, perhaps influenced by the sophisticated jazz leanings of our keyboardist, John Watts, was going to some very swanky places.

We were in a very much better state of confidence as well. Just a year earlier we were struggling to bounce back from the lack of success from our first album, and we were still adapting to the loss of John Epstein on keys. Now, as we looked forward to 1997, with a self-produced live album under our belts (Live From Marmfington Farm, Vol. 1), that was selling faster than we could believe, and an increasingly steady growth in our fanbase, there was a feeling we could do it all ourselves.

This was the dawn of the DIY age, for us. With even our management fighting amongst themselves, the band drew together – we relished rehearsing, and writing, and had learned enough about manufacturing a product so that it was all we wanted to do. To heck with producers, and trying to impress record company moguls who just didn’t get what we were about – we would undertake the production of our next studio album ourselves – or, rather, I should say I would take on the responsibility of organizing, funding, finding the studio, oversee the sessions, coordinate schedules, keep track of all the overdub sessions, invite the guest players, and all the leg work that entailed.

I didn’t realize it then, but I had become a Record Producer.

So, here we were, at the height of our powers, ready to undertake an album that would be a year in the making. Thank goodness, we had such a wealth of good material at hand.

With the debuts of today’s featured tunes, all the songs from the next album had been introduced, and were up and running well, thank you very much –with one big exception. But, that exception is a story for another day.

Right now, kick back on the alligator-skin sofa, sip a Black Velvet, or some other exotically-named libation, and check out the sounds of what were our latest songs in that fabled November, 1996.

Satisfaction (McGoverns 11-09-96)

Everything Must Happen (McGoverns 11-09-96)

Cornbread Wednesday

You Keep Me Running Smooth

Hey Native People!

Dave Thomas here (just back from my successful negotiation of a peace accord between Mongolia and Peru).

Just to bring the Novatates up to speed — when I’m not saving the world from itself, I’m the drummer in the band. Yeah, by day I’m Mister My Brain’s Larger Than Yours, and I speak only in Minutiae; by night, I’m Animal from The Muppets with an I.Q. like a black hole. In between, I harness the music that lies dormant and petulant in the Native Vault, located far below Fort Knox, Switzerland.

As curator of this vast rubble, it has been my solemn task to present a rare Native performance each week in this blog which you now hold between your sweaty thumb and aorta.

We are currently up to Volume 3 of the epic Nativology series, wherein we investigate the mysteries of Native’s oeuvre by making new mixes from these things humans once called cassette tapes, some of which have been unplayed for tens of years.

Usually, we have put forth recordings that emanated from multi-track tapes, produced in our luxurious studio, Marmfington Farm in sunny Mid-Town Manhattan. All the previous tracks in Vol. 3 have been the product of overdubs and weed.

Now, we sadly bid adieu or orderve to that era. All our mighty, unfocused super powers would be slightly more focused on preparing for the recording of a proper album. But, we also were reminded from time-to-time by that wonderful Leprechaun, Gigs O’Plenty, that we had to go play music in public, and it had to be good, and it was!

But, live gig tapes can be a frustrating menace to endure. The first song is almost always going like a flesh freight train, full steam ahead, before the record button was finally engaged. And get ready for vast sea-changes in volume thoughout the next three to ten songs. Bemusedly, I’ve lost count of the face-palms I’ve made as my and Woody’s carefully unscripted drum solo ends mid-cowbell-triplet with the premature end of side one. Side two, yep, we’ve lost the beginning of that song, too.

DAT tapes came along eventually, and ended the practice of making sure we had no complete drum solos (except one – found on Live From Marmfington Farm Vol.1), but these tiny VHS-like tapes had their own set of peculiarities — brittle, digital sound, and the life-expectancy of an ant with a low white blood-cell count.

So, I’m concentrating on Cassettes for now, as we ease full-bore into the second half of Vol. 3, and the John Watts era is encapsulated by the abundance of what I call ‘orphan’ recordings — great performances found on tapes that are otherwise filled with cut songs, drop-outs, & other sound-related issues.

Here’s a tune from our first album, which stars the affable and bizarre John Watts, in a stirring exercise of ivory-tickling —

Running Smooth

Cornbread Wednesday

A Tale From Long Ago

Editor’s Note: We are absolutely thrilled to put the frontman back at the front today with the first Nativology post by Mat Hutt. Please give him a warm welcome, and if you enjoy this post, make sure to give his blog a gander as well.

***

Hutt2Let’s just jump right in shall we? We can say hello in a bit.

Rover is a story about abandonment and confronting demons of the past and future.

It became a song that always felt to me like it wielded tangible power. Here’s the story of James MacKinlay…

Rover was one of those songs that kind of wrote itself. It just happened.

Now, there are quite a few elements that led up to writing it, so Iʼll do my best to keep things moving.

This is how I remember it –

I was visiting my Dad and family in London whilst on a quick Native break.

My Scottish Granny told me this weirdly sweet little story.

My Granny: My grandfather was a wee little man, very sweet you know Pet, but he liked to have quite a few nips of whiskey. I would say to my Nana ʻWhy is Granpa walking like that?’ and my Nana would say ʻOch Pet, he’s just got sore feet.ʼ His name was James MacKinlay, but everyone called him Rover. Rover MacKinlay.

On this trip, I had two really cool/intense/cool conversations with my Dad.

My Dad is an accomplished songwriter and musician, and he told me to “write a story song.”

“Songs can’t always be about feelings, Mathew. People want to hear a good story from time to time.” I logged that advice away, because he was right.

The second conversation was a bit heavier.  We talked about my Mum and Dad’s divorce, and about why he wasn’t around for a while when I was a kid.  Big stuff, ya know?  Tears, hugs, laughter and a long time coming.  It was a milestone in our relationship.

This is where it gets a bit, well… cosmic. Stay with me.

The conversation took place at the top of an Iron Age earth works fort. It was a powerful place. Full on Celt action.

We were staying with some old school hippie friends. At the inevitable after dinner jam session one of the old hippies showed me this incredible chord that oozed Celtic goodness.

Old Hippie: You can move that form up and down the neck, it’s one of my favorites.  Pass the spliff.

The next day, I sat down with a guitar and everything clicked – the story, the name, the lyrics, and the music. Like it was supposed to happen. I know, I know. But I was raised by hippies.

When I got back to New York, I showed it to the band. And again it just clicked.  Everyone played the part that the song called for. It was really cool.

From Dave, Woody and Mattʼs driving, hypnotic rhythm, the wonderful pads of organ from whomever was gracing the ivories for us at the time, and finally to Mike’s raw, powerful, and other-worldly guitar work, Rover just… rocked.

There were times when we played live that Mike would grab the song with both hands, and wield it like a mighty Celtic battle club, his slide work literally bludgeoning the audience- and his band mates – with itʼs power and beauty. He brought tears to my eyes on many a night.

Rover was about the fear of being left alone, of having the one you love leave you. It was about the fear of becoming “that” person who leaves and causes the pain – we often become what we know. These are fairly universal feelings, we’ve all felt this way before.

Maybe that’s why Rover carried so much weight. Maybe that’s why it was a band and fan favorite. It sure is one of mine.

Here’s a tale from long ago

Of a man who lived to roam

He liked his drink he liked his song

He always left to be alone

He had a wife so young and fine

He didn’t only drink her wine

Story of James MacKinlay

And Roverʼs blood is pumping in me

Man, it’s really cool to be back on another Cornbread Wednesday! Big props to Dave Thomas for bringing us all this vaulty goodness!

Hey, come check out my blog at huttsez.com – life, kids, wife, sex, kids. Yeah, that pretty much covers it.

Drinky Drinky, Smoky Smoky!

Rover v.1

Cornbread Wednesday

Something Worth Remembering

It was 20 years ago today… the day Native played its first live gig. 20120813-195029.jpg

Native was formed in the winter of 1992 and the story of that coming-together is something I’ve long pondered. For, like Bart Simpson, I can’t help but feel partly responsible. I recently transferred the band’s multi-track demos, nearly a decades worth, and they really brought back all the memories of where we were, what we were doing, and why we were doing it when we were doing it.. Sadly, we can’t really have a true reunion for our anniversary – we live too far apart, and Mike’s absence makes it difficult to even contemplate. So, I tried to think of a good way to celebrate our 20th Anniversary in some other significant way, and I thought of this, Nativology. We’re going to take a little trip through time and through the Native tape vault. Not for live shows (that’s an archival project unto itself) but through the wonderful multi-track recordings we made at our studio, first on Mott Street, then at the studio where would thrive for a decade, Marmfington Farm. I think you’ll be surprised at how much material Native had that never got onto one of our albums, and at the quality which only grew as our songwriting powers matured. We thought of each song as a fully-fledged production. But only today are we capable of giving them a sympathetic mix they so richly deserve. Now, don’t expect the polished sound of our big-budget records. These mixes retain the rough-hewn low-cost quality of the recordings themselves: The drums and bass, in particular, are often on the same tracks, which makes them difficult to mix. But I really had fun mixing Mike’s guitar a little more adventurously than we had on our studio efforts. And so, with that — let’s trek back to the beginning.

The origin of Native:

Mike Jaimes

photo by Dean Thomas

20120813-194200.jpg I was an ambitious drummer. I joined many bands, figuring that my odds of finding success were multiplied. However, that old bugaboo, my own original songs, kept popping up. Eventually, the urge to play my own tunes began to outweigh the rewards of being a side-man. One of the groups I was playing with broke up, and I found myself the sole occupant of a large space on Mott Street, or perhaps I should say under it. The room was large enough for several bands to share. The studio was four flights down, and undoubtedly drenched in radon, but it was no problem finding groups that would be glad to rehearse and store their gear there. One of them, The Spin Doctors, were particularly inspiring to me. Mott Street became a sanctuary where I was able to explore these song ideas that drummers aren’t supposed to have. I acquired a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder and recorded the first track in this ongoing anthology, a beseeching ode to a lady of the road. My collaborator, Mike Jaimes, basically took over, adding bass, guitar, organ, and vocals. So, here it is — the song that really got the ball rolling for Native – Something Worth Remembering.

Tomorrow, Mat Hutt, John Wood & Anthony Balsley are at the same time having the same thoughts about starting a new band… except Anthony.