Wednesday, May 30, 2012
"N Y C D" by The Explosion/B. David Walsh
ARTIST: B. David Walsh of The Explosion
SONG: "N Y C D" (New York Can't Dance)
WRITER: B. David Walsh
ALBUM: Bury Me Standing on Chunksaah Records
SITES: B. David Walsh, The Explosion, Chunksaah Records
BUY: Bury Me Standing - The Explosion
"Just because you win, that doesn't mean I lose," and, "If you don't know, you weren't meant to" are words to live by - and I have lived by them for over twelve years. They are both lines from songs written by my dear friend, Dave Walsh. Dave was one of the guitarists and songwriters for The Explosion, a band that was a prominent part of my life's soundtrack during the years 2000 to 2007. Their last album took a six year journey on its way to finally being released, and just came out a few months ago. In the interim, Dave joined The Loved Ones and embarked on several visual and musical projects of his own.
You know, I must have seen The Explosion play over a hundred times, but never really sat down with Dave and asked him about his writing. Somehow, when you're too close to a thing, you have a hard time seeing the whole of what it is.
BA: Dave! This rules that we’re actually doing this. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions about your work.
DW: Hey dude! It’s my pleasure. I am happy to talk about "NYCD."
BA: So, in some ways, this song has had a crazier life than most. It was written and then recorded by The Explosion in 2006 for your album Bury Me Standing; alas, it was just released this past Valentine’s Day, 2012. Does it feel like a ghost?
DW: Actually, no, not at all. It’s hard to believe that six-plus years have passed since "NYCD" was written and recorded. Listening back, though, it feels as energetic and relevant today as it did back then. Lyrically speaking, it is very topical about what was going on at that time, but could easily be transferred to the present time and world we live in today. Sonically speaking and production-wise, I think Tim O’Heir and us guys in The Explosion captured a pretty timeless feel. I’m really happy about that.
BA: Looking at this song within the context of your writing with that band, it seems like both a departure and a fit, at the same time. Conceptually and musically, you veer from the fast, traditional punk themes . . . but you still manage to make it an anthem of sorts. Tell me about how you started to write “New York Can’t Dance.”
DW: Musically, "NYCD" is a direct, if not blatant homage to The Clash’s “Know Your Rights.” I remember listening to that song one day while we were in the pre-production process for Bury Me Standing, and thinking to myself, “I want to write a song that feels like this.” So, I began the process of forming the structure of the tune. The gypsy jazz swing guitar licks that form the guitar melodies in the verse of the song are my tribute to the genius of one of my favorite guitar players of all time, Django Reinhardt. I think those licks are what set the song up for a very unique feel, and gave it originality. As we started the recording process, Chris, Andrew and Damian added a more Stranglers-esque feel, which was driven home by the killer keyboard parts of our buddy Brian Pearl. It all came together, and as I remember, it was probably the most fun we had as a band on this particular studio recording.
BA: I’m just going to come right out with it: what is it about?
DW: I have no friggin' clue. Hahaha, just kidding. Actually, I wanted it to be a story about a conversation between an Arab businessman from Bagdad and an American politician from New York City. I set it up against the backdrop of an iconic place, the Chelsea Hotel in New York, for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a cool fucking place. Beyond that, though, it is a place where some sketchy shit has gone down in history. Also, some really cool stuff has gone down there. Anyway, the men are meeting there, but we are not sure why. Perhaps it’s to arrange some kind of political negotiation. Maybe it’s a drug deal. Maybe it’s an international peace-keeping mission. We don’t know, but we do learn is that the Arab’s problem is that his city is burning to the ground, and the American’s problem is that people are not allowed to dance in his city. It begs the question: who has the bigger problem?
BA: I’m not sure how many people have heard the other version of this song, but there does exist a recording with you singing that feels quite different. What did Matt Hock bring to the vocals on The Explosion’s rendering that made them his own?
DW: Well, Matt has a very singular and recognizable voice. He adds a quality and charm that is all his own to any song. I think that is without question. We have worked so well together over the years, trading guitar parts and vocal parts freely between the two of us, and the others in the band. Simply put, there is only one Matt Hock and I'm lucky to have been in a band with him.
The version I did before The Explosion recorded it was strictly for demo purposes. It was never intended for release. What’s funny, is that another version of the song also exists from the Bury Me Standing session that never had a vocal track recorded. It has a reggaeton feel and is super rad . . . and funky!
BA: I love when your voice peeks through on the lines:
“Where the heroin is pure Afghanistan,” and, “That’s American!”
It’s like the spirit of Joe Strummer himself entered your body and delivered those vocals. How did you guys decide that you’d sing those very select parts?
DW: Like I said, this song is probably the biggest ripoff . . . er, I mean “homage” to Joe Strummer I could have ever come up with. I had Joe in mind throughout the entire writing and recording process, and for those lines I really wanted to bring that across. I guess it worked.
BA: This album was the only release of The Explosion’s that featured Chris Gonzalez on second guitar, in lieu of Sam Cave. How was it different to write and arrange your guitar parts with him, on this song in particular?
DW: Chris definitely brought a heavy Stranglers influence into the band in general, but especially on this tune. He is the best guitar player I know, hands down. He is a real perfectionist with a keen ear for guitar melody. It was a dream come true to have him work out counter melodies and arrangements for "NYCD." Where Sammy was a genius at song craft, Chris is a master at his instrument. (He writes a damn fine song too. Listen to “Image of a Son” on Bury Me Standing for a glimpse into his writing.)
BA: You still play "NYCD” live in your solo sets from time to time, right? Does it feel like it’s transformed into a different piece of music by now?
DW: Ha, sure, when I do a solo set. Sadly, there have been a couple of years that have passed since I’ve done that. When I sing it, it definitely has a different feel, and a different voice . . . an off-key voice. HAHAHA! But really, it doesn’t feel like a different piece of music when I do it in a solo setting; it’s just a different version . . . like a cover version of a my own song, which is a strange way to think about it. It’s funny how songs can take on a shape of their own like that.
BA: How much did Tim O’Heir contribute as a producer to the Explosion’s version of the song?
DW: Greatly. He had some ideas that were cool as shit. The harmonica counter melodies were all Tim, as well as some of the sound effect-type things that are going on in the track. It was cool getting his input. It was just one of those songs that was really fun to record. Despite the serious nature of the lyrics, it’s a real international party jam of a song. Tim was really great about pulling things out of us, like those parts I sang on the song. He gave us the space to really run with our creativity, and he brought his own to it, as well. It was good to work with him.
BA: Most importantly, how awesome are those backing vocals by that chick singer?
DW: Fabulous! Whoever she was, she did a great job!!!
BA: What’s your favorite song right this minute?
DW: There is a new song Dave Hause does called “Autism Vaccine Blues” that has been in my head ever since I saw him play it a couple weeks ago in Montreal. It’s fantastic. He hasn’t recorded it yet, but it is something else.
BA: Radness. Thanks again, pal. So glad that this record finally made it into the world. Your music is the stuff to learn from.
DW: Thanks, BA!!! I’m glad too, the record definitely deserved to see the light of day. I’m proud of it.