Along with “Clusterfuck Jones,” this song is one of my favorites and one of the biggest surprises of the album. With every Buzzsaw song, we begin the process with some sort of arbitrary challenge, premise, or approach to writing the song. In this case, the arbitrary premise was to write an entire song using synthesizers. I’d recently downloaded some VSTs (virtual instruments) and bought a MIDI cable for my fiancé’s cheap Casio keyboard, so I thought it would make for an interesting and fun song.
The reality, though, was that the process was fucking frustrating.
First of all, my computer was outdated and slow. It locked up constantly and could hardly handle the software. I had to use two recording programs—Cool Edit Pro and Sonar—in tandem to get the process to work, but I didn’t know Sonar all that well. I had to record the MIDI map, run it through the VST, bounce it down to a new wave file, and then open that wave file up in Cool Edit Pro.
The problem, though, was that I didn’t understand bouncing that well. I’d accidentally mixed some waves together and, by the time I imported them into Cool Edit Pro, it was a big tangled mess.
We thought about cutting our losses and scratching the song. I’m not sure why, but we decided to at least finish the song to see where it would go.
And I’m glad we did. Oddly, this song was one of the crispest, clearest, and most complex songs we’d done. I have no idea how I took this song from a scrap heap of muddled wave files to the finished product, but I’m very happy with the end result.
One thing I especially like about this song is its somber, introspective spaciousness. A big part of that comes from my fiancé, Krista. This was the first song where she appeared. Her voice, with a little reverb, is a huge, ambient force that seems to bind the song together and drive it forward. I think her voice mixed with Chas’s works for a nice back-and-forth. (I had also recorded a vocal part, which I deleted—it just didn’t fit or work for the song.)
The funny part was that Chas and I had put in hours and hours of work into the song, whereas Krista probably invested a total of five minutes in a quick vocal take, yet her contribution is one of the biggest parts of the whole song. Her vocal line, “The viewer becomes the screen,” repeats throughout almost the entire song and defines the song’s haunting, dystopic, ghostly feel.
For the lyrics, we played around with the idea of found text. Chas happened to have an interview from a Playboy magazine with the famous cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan in his wallet. (Why he was walking around with a Playboy interview in his wallet, I’m still not sure.) Because the song was so technological in nature and sound, we thought it would be appropriate to borrow from McLuhan’s theories as lyrics. We wrote out a bunch of lines that we thought were interesting—lines like, “It doesn’t mean anything till you consume it” or “We can anticipate you and control you.” We thought McLuhan would appreciate the fact that his words had traveled from print to song format and the ways that the different mediums changed his message.
As far as Clusterfuck is concerned, I get the sense that the machineries are responding to his inquisitive and paranoid nature. I see many parallels between Slothrop—a character from Pynchon’s novel, Gravity’s Rainbow—and Clusterfuck. Just like in Pynchon’s novel, the ominous, all-knowing “They” are watching the puny insignificant Clusterfuck with amusement and disdain. Clusterfuck is struggling to escape the web of spectacle, religion, and power that surrounds him, but he can’t escape the media or consumer forces that surround him. Or, so They say.
I remember it was Christmas break, and I made the journey to Jake “Your Tastebuds Can’t Repel Flavor of this Magnitude” Frye’s place, with a Chicken Mini-Meal from Mickey D’s and a six-pack of PBR tallboys in tow. We hadn’t had a chance to record since the summer, when the already-classic original trilogy of Buzzsaw tunes was first laid to zeroes and ones.
As a result, we’d had plenty of time to think about what we wanted to do with this song, which I think had us both a little worried. The first three songs came out fast and easy, so I for one had some concerns that we’d had too much time to think about what we wanted with this tune.
The ground rules stayed the same: write as much of a song as possible while drinking too much beer and smoking too many cigarettes, don’t listen to your censor, and don’t give a damn about whether the song will actually be good or not. The last rule in that series is, I think, the key to the whole project. “Taste buds” and I both share a certain, um, taste, for bad music, so even a crappy song would find a good home with loving parents if it so chose to buzz its way through our amniotic sac. And really, given the amount of drinking and smoking involved, any music baby of ours is bound to be a little defective.
The extra rule this time around was that synths had to be involved. Terrifying. We decided to skip finding a drum beat—as had been the approach for the original holy trinity—and go straight to laying down synth riffs. Jake started (he won the coin toss) and found a nice bassy sound that I’m pretty sure ended up sounding exactly like a digital fart, so of course it was perfect. We put down five or six parts in total, with salmon burgers slipped in there somewhere, then we each took a turn at some guitar riffs.
At a certain point, Jake’s fiancé Krista “The Damn” Bever got home from work, which happened to be just in time for vocals. Since the song sat in a state of unarranged rifftastic chaos, it would have been damn near impossible to do traditional verse/chorus vocals, plus it was sounding dancier by the minute. Fortunately, I’d brought a print up of a whole bunch of quotes from an interview Marshall McLuhan did for Playboy in the late sixties (doesn’t everybody carry around quotes from theorists in their back pockets?). It was decided that each of us would pick our favorite three lines from the pages and sing them, and that Jake would then edit them later.
And that’s pretty much how I left the song that night. Then Jake got a first mix of it to me and I was downright shocked. If you’re going to have a retarded baby, this is the coolest way to do it, I must say.
Next Up: “Kitchenettes“