I had a great experience recording and co-producing the first two Orange Humble Band records. Working with a number of great musicians including Mitch Easter, Jody Stephens, Jim Dickinson and Ken Stringfellow - the second album was recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis Tennessee. Here's a little background on the project...
Darryl Mather (The Lime Spiders, The Someloves) and I bumped into each other while playing handball in the quadrangle at Liverpool Boy's High School. Somehow we both managed to survive the rough and tumble of secondary schooling in Liverpool, I went on to study Osteopathy and Chiropractic as well as playing in The Lonelyhearts while Darryl went on to form legendary garage retro-rockers, The Lime Spiders. Playing in bands during the late 70s to mid 80's made for some very fun, albeit fuzzy memories. After leaving The Lonelyhearts and then a number of unsuccessful band line-ups, I found the need for a "tree-change" and made the move to central western NSW to manage the family farm. Not only were the wide-open spaces and clean country living the right thing for me at that time, moving to the country had an effect on the music I was listening to and the songs I was writing. Without losing any of my love for power pop, I started listening to more country/alt.country music - everything from Uncle Tupelo to Gram Parsons and Long Ryders to Buffalo Springfield.
I was pretty content living in the country and wasn't planning a move back to Sydney until I got a phone call from Darryl Mather in ’95. He was calling to see if I'd like to get involved in a recording project he was putting together.
From the Lime Spiders 'Slave Girl' to co-writes with ex-Stem Dom Mariani in The Someloves onto the songs he was calling me about, Darryl has proven to be a fine writer of pop music. This latest crop of songs he had been working on would become the blueprint for the 'Assorted Creams’ album, the first of the three Orange Humble Band LPs. Most of the tracking for 'Assorted Creams' was done here in Sydney using a great bunch of local players including Peter Kelly (The Gadflys) on drums, Bill Gibson (Eastern Dark) on bass, Matt Galvin (Eva Trout) on guitar, Amanda Brown (The Go-Betweens) on violin, Christian Houllemare (New Christs) on bass and Paul Berwick (The Happy Hate Me Nots) on guitar. Mitch Easter produced the Someloves 'Something or Other' album and was the obvious choice to mix the record. When the Sydney leg of the tracking was done, we travelled to the US and completed the recording at Mitch Easter's Drive-In studio in North Carolina. Mitch played a number of the lead guitar solos, Ken Stringfellow (The Posies) joined us and laid down the lead vocals, and I did the harmonies. Mitch, Darryl and I then drove to Charlotte and mixed the album at Reflection studio with engineer Mark Williams. It's quite a lush sounding record and with up to 60 tracks of recording per song the album was a bit of a monster to mix. On the last day of mixing we finished at 4a.m. and got dropped off at the Charlotte bus depot and caught the 6a.m shuttle to Nashville. The record was mastered the next day at Disc Mastering in Nashville by Randy Kling. 'Assorted Creams' was released in '97 by Nick Dalton's Half a Cow label. The album was well received by pop fans and reviewers alike.
Pretty soon after getting back home, we started working on the songs for the second OHB record. We agreed to keep things a little more simple this time round recording wise so we limited our tracking to 24 tracks and recorded the whole thing on 2” analogue tape. We mapped out the record before heading off to the States to lay it down. The Humble's second album, Humblin’ (Across America), was recorded at Ardent Studio in Memphis. Spending a couple of months in Memphis, recording at Ardent, and having the opportunity to record with people whose music I have loved was a pretty special time for me. Jody Stephens (Big Star) played drums on the album - with the same kit he used on the Big Star records. Jody, who is Ardent Studio manager, is a super nice guy as well as one of my favourite drummers of all time. Jamie Hoover who sang some harmonies and played mandolin on 'Assorted Creams' fired up the Hofner bass as well as adding a sprinkling of dulcimer on Humblin', and Mitch Easter delivers some of his fabulous guitar playing. Singer/songwriter Ken Stringfellow who tours with REM and is a member of Big Star sings the lead vocals on the three Orange Humble records. Ken is always fun to work with and just the best singer.
I was honoured to be in the control room when the late and great Memphis producer, musician and scenester Jim Dickinson (The Replacements, The Rolling Stones) came in & played piano on a couple of tracks. Not only was Dickinson's one-take piano piece on the album opener, 'Vineyard Blues' the single most inspiring performance on the record, I got to hear some interesting Chilton stories and also got the low-down on Daniel Lanois' miking techniques on Dylan’s 'Time Out of Mind’ record. Had a great session with a killer Memphis brass section that included Scott Thompson (Al Green) on trumpet, Kirk Smothers (Slobberbone) on sax and Howard Lamb (Nancy Wilson) on trombone. Not only were these guys great to work with, their brass pieces literally jump of the record. I had the pleasure of meeting pianist/songwriter Spooner Oldham (Neil Young) when he was in Sydney playing at the Basement with long time writing partner Dan Penn. Penn & Oldham have been responsible for the writing of dozens of hits for many artists including The Box Tops, as well as the soul classics 'Do Right Woman' & 'A Woman Left Lonely'. Spooner's piano playing was a great fit amongst the soul flavoured pop of the Humblin’ album.
After the tracking was done, Darryl flew back to Australia while I headed off to New Orleans for a break and then caught the train to Carolina for the mixing of the album at Mitch's brand new recording studio, Fidelitorium. A lovingly designed space with all the great analogue gear you could ask for to make records. He's even got a Chamberlin. Mitch has been responsible for shaping the sound of a stack of great records including the early REM albums Murmur and Reckoning, as well as albums by Game Theory, Marshall Crenshaw, Pavement & Velvet Crush. Always a great thrill to sit on the couch in Mitch's control room and watch him do his thing. The album was again well received through its release by Half a Cow in 2000.
Not only was Laughing Outlaw Records busy releasing a ton of stuff locally, they had set up an office in the UK. Humblin' was officially released in the UK/Europe in 2002 and has been Laughing Outlaws' most successful release to date. With the single 'Any Way You Want It' getting it's fair share of airplay on a number of London radio programs including Bob Harris Country on the BBC, and along with some wonderful press, (the album made the top 10 'Roots' releases in UK Mojo Magazine for 2002) the record ended up selling a respectable number of copies.
I have a few songwriting credits on the third Orange Humble album ‘Depressing Beauty’ which was again recorded at Ardent studio in Memphis. A fantastic array of talented musicians appear on the album. The line-up of Ken Stringfellow, Mitch Easter and Jody Stephens are joined by Jon Auer (Posies, Big Star) and Memphis session players, bassist Dave Smith (Cat Power, Buddy Guy) and keyboardist Rick Steff (Lucero). Legendary pop figure Dwight Twilley is a special guest with additional musical guests including Susan Cowsill (background vocals), Spooner Oldham (Wurlitzer piano), multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lynch, (backing vocals, guitar, keyboards and percussion), Kirk Smothers, (baritone and tenor sax), Scott Thompson (trumpet and flugelhorn) and former Alex Chilton long time colleague Jim Spake (tenor sax and clarinet). String arrangements were scored by Carl Marsh. Cult like in status, Marsh most famously wrote and conducted strings for the revered Big Star's Third album of 1974. Chris Stamey (dB's) provided additional string arrangements. The record was mixed by Mitch Easter at his Fidelitorium studio and mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound NYC. The record is available via Citadel Records in Sydney.