Go To Blazes – Guilty of being on Melrose Place — And Other Crimes
It’s Monday. I’m sitting home alone, watching “Melrose Place”, and I’m not happy about it. But I tell myself it’s for a good cause; I’m waiting to catch the Go To Blazes song hidden somewhere in tonight’s episode. It’s an unlikely scenario, finding GTB’s booze-injected roadhouse yawp on this shiny, vacuous program; it’s about as unlikely as finding a set of hastily recorded, live-to-two-track cover tunes ranking as one of my absolute favorite records of the year. And yet there it is.
“A lot of our friends are mad at us,” laughs Ted Warren, lead singer and guitar player. “They say, ‘You bastards, you made us sit through the whole thing. Why did you have to get a song on that show?’ ” Surely there’s a better match to be made out there; a hard-nosed detective show, perhaps — something with gunplay. “Yeah, ‘Starsky & Hutch’, or ‘Baretta’, one of those trashy ’70s cop shows.”
Shoot-’em-ups and car chases make far better visuals for Go To Blazes records. Their recorded output — a pair of albums on the small Skyclad label, a handful of singles for labels like Estrus and Diesel Only, and Any Time … Anywhere, their 1994 release on East Side Digital — all reflect the band’s casual mastery of four-piece, bar-band basics: over-amped guitars, rock-solid rhythms, and a bruising, no-bullshit delivery from singer Warren, lead guitarist Tom Heyman, bassist Ted Pappadopoulos, and drummer Keith Donnellan. What raises them high above the ranks of your average bar band is their devotion to first-rate songwriting: unromantic and unapologetic takes on the time-tested themes of love and alcohol — usually lost or leaving, and always too much.
Produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, Any Time … Anywhere is fired by a confident swagger and a sound that out-crunches virtually all of their ND contemporaries. “We’re definitely an East Coast version of the No Depression thing,” says Warren. “We cut our teeth on all the same stuff as all those other bands — Son Volt, Wilco, Golden Smog — but in our sound you hear garage-rock as much as country. It’s really all the same influences; we just express them differently.”
What he means is with attitude. Are they the Bad Boys of ND? Warren laughs. “We could live with that.” Now, I love Son Volt, too, but I’ll be honest — Go To Blazes are the guys I want on my side if a fight breaks out. Or a drinking contest.
But Any Time… Anywhere also contained a couple noteworthy exceptions to the standard loud/hard formula: a pair of mostly-acoustic numbers, “Medicine” and “Bloody Sam”. The latter is an homage to film director Sam Peckinpah set to the atmospheric strains of fiddle and dobro. “Of all that stuff, we had the best time recording ‘Bloody Sam’, which was a brand new song and a bit of an experiment,” Warren recalls. “Everyone was really jazzed by how well it turned out.”
“Bloody Sam” foreshadowed the band’s latest project, And Other Crimes. The album was originally recorded for and released by the German label Glitterhouse, which wanted a disc of acoustic material to market with the foreign release of Any Time… Anywhere . Playing acoustic was really nothing new for Go To Blazes, as Warren explains: “We had always done the acoustic thing from our earliest days in Philadelphia (the band’s adopted home since the late ’80s, after they migrated up from Washington D.C.). We played every week at this old-man bar, an Irish place called Maggie’s in the warehouse district. Rather than do three loud sets, we would do the whole first set acoustic — just drag some chairs onstage and do a bunch of covers, Merle Haggard and stuff. We figured this record would help make that side of our playing more official.”
But with a shoestring budget and no time to spend in the studio, they were in a bind. “We got back from a tour and realized we had to make this record now,” lead guitarist Heyman recalls. Roscoe to the rescue.
“He obviously knew our sound, and he had been experimenting with live-to-two-track recordings of various people there (at Coyote Studios in Brooklyn),” Heyman continued. “We just went in, showed the songs to the session guys, ran through each one a couple times to let everyone get their parts down, and banged it out while Roscoe mixed it all on the fly. Then we drove home that night because we all had to be at work the next day. We’re lucky it turned out as good as it did; it could just as easily have gone the other way, blown up in our faces. I guess our stars all just crossed the right way.”
That’s being very modest, for And Other Crimes is no accident; it’s a spotlight on the unvarnished sound of 10 years of aggregate, rootsy soul, a sound that permeates the record: ringing acoustic guitars goosed by spitting electric leads, the thud of brushes on skins, and the ragged-but-righteous vocal harmonies. It’s very pungent porch music. And the devotion to songwriting was never more in evidence — it’s just that these happen to be mostly other people’s songs.