Music, musings and more from the mind of Ben Averch.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dead Center

“Dead Center” was a huge song for Bison – it seemed like this song put us into a new space and the perception of our band moved from incredibly loud noise rock to something a lot more polished. The response to this song made us feel like this band could really do something. As it was, we played a lot, we drove a lot, and we certainly learned a lot, even if it takes 15 years of hindsight to figure it out.

Listening to this song, I’m instantly transported to being a 19-year old, feeling like I could do anything, someone in the process of doing just that. There is a total confidence in the performance of this song that I just love. There’s also a great dynamic shift in the middle section, and one of our best instrumental passages. There’s just a lot of energy and passion in this song, and this performance in particular. Pretty special stuff.

This song was the opener to our “Low Speed Chase” EP, recorded in 1995 by mixer and musician extraordinaire Mike Gatzios, now of Cinesounds (pictured left). Having Mike produce this absolutely took what we were doing to another level of sound quality – and we would take another leap forward sonically on the second record we made with Mike, our third EP, “Powerbomb”. I know I was excited to have a real pro like Mike working the console and producing our band. What we got was something where the energy of the band seemed to be contained inside a much more listener-accessible framework, as compared to our first recordings. Part of that was the songwriting, which was a lot more focused. But the other part was the quality of the production -- it made us feel like a real band and not just kids with a reel-to-reel recorder in their parents’ basement.

Also hugely important was a line-up change in the band itself -- "Low Speed Chase" introduced future viking Doug Cabot (left) as the new Bison drummer. Doug brought a kind of Keith Moon energy to the drumming that paired really well with Matt’s frenetic bass playing to create an extremely active rhythm section that was really a whole new animal from my (somewhat) more streamlined drum approach. I’m not sure I’ve heard a band with the same level of turbo-boost in the rhythm section as the Matt and Doug combo. It was awesome. Be sure to check out the middle section of “White Bronco” from these sessions (to be chronicled all the way at the end of this alphabetized history) for playing that will really blow your hair back. It wasn’t all bombastic in the rhythm section though, as “Dispossessed” demonstrates. Credit is due to Doug and Matt for always playing what the song requires and dialing things back in our more contemplative moments.

Thinking back on it, “Low Speed Chase” was probably the best thing that we did in terms of song quality – there were five songs and they were all really strong, with “Dead Center”, “Kerosene” and “Dispossessed” as particular favorites of mine. Around this time, our shows were becoming better attended, with people I didn’t even know up at the front and rocking out. Man, that was great.

Sometime after we released "Low Speed Chase", we had a show opening for Jawbox, who were (and still are) one my all-time favorite bands. This gig was at the club “Mama Kin” right behind Fenway Park (dunno if it is still there). Jawbox was the best live band that I’ve ever seen.  All sweat and thrashing and manic energy, all while super tight and basically note-perfect. That was the blueprint for live performance for me, something to aspire to. Seeing J. Robbins from Jawbox in the audience rocking out to our music was my personal highlight of our band’s career.

Back to Dead Center, the song. In this one, Mike (my older brother) and I arrived at really complementary guitar parts (being in a two-guitar band introduces some challenges as both players are occupying the same sonic space – so creativity and compromise is often needed). Mike’s line in the opening is really melodic, and is the signature of the song. My counterpoint is just to pound out the four chords, making life easy, and sounding good. (I would later tweak my part here to I think unfortunate results in the re-recording of the song for our full length, “Space Evader”). 

The verses are really driven by Matt’s completely sick bass playing. This line has always been one of my personal favorites. Just awesome. Mike is pounding out the chords and I’m playing a little tiny muted part that goes into a ringing arpeggio. Fun. The middle section, as I mentioned earlier, is one of our all time best. We didn't go for a solo but a 'moment' where we allow the dynamics to come back down and have a new kind of space in the song -- then build it back up into the final chorus and the huge "Limelight"-style ending. 

Lyrically, this one is heavy on the visuals -- bending light, shattering rain and a ball of red fire. Some intense stuff going on here, and a sense of desperation and maybe capitulation in the understanding of a relationship ("I know it's never enough just to be decent and sane" is a line that teleports me back).

There's a lot of action in this song. I tried at various points to do an acoustic version, but so much of the song is in Mike's great guitar playing and the really awesome bass parts that it just didn't lend itself to being "folked out". I'm not sure if any video footage exists of Bison playing this -- which is kind of stupid, considering we played it at every gig we did since we wrote it. Anyway, it's a trip to go back in time and remember all this stuff. Gotta love it.


I hear the sky open up and let the water fall down
Give me the strength to maintain and hope that I'll come around
Because there's nothing for me in hanging on to the past
I hear your words in my head, I know my love is outcast

Shot into orbit
Bending the light between my hands
I know it's never the same, why did you let me down?
Enough to bury your tender heart six feet deep into the ground

And if this ever was mine, how could you give it away
I know it's never enough, just to be decent and sane
So if there's someone alive who thinks that they could love me
Well I just can't see, no

So far above all the world, I can see clusters of light
A million people below are sleeping right through the night
And at the center of this, there is a ball of red fire -- all your desires

Shot into orbit
Burning across the empty sky
Under the shattering rain, I know I let you down
And all the wonders on earth will fall when no one cares to hear the sound

And if this ever was mine, how could you give it away
I know it's never enough, just to be decent and sane
So if there's someone alive who thinks that they could love me
Well throw your arms in the air because from here I can't see
I can't see, no

I know it's never the same, why did you let me down?
And all the wonders on earth vanish without a sound
Under the shattering rain, I know I let you down
And if you're looking for me, you know I won't be found

Under the shattering rain, I'm lost and I'm given away
I know it's never the same
But how could you give it away?

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