On Sunday we played our college album Parachute from start to finish, live at a bowling alley in Brooklyn. Twice. It’d been 20 years since we recorded those eleven tunes while earning incompletes from our professors during our junior year at Tufts, back before we added the TER to the GUS. It had probably been 17 years since any of us had listened to the album (Luke listened to it in October for the first time ever). And with the exception of three survivors who limped their way into our setlist every year or two (that’d be “Mona Lisa,” “Window,” and “Parachute”), most of the songs were retired before the the turn of the millennium. 14 years ago.
We each had our moments where we cringed while checking in with our teen-songwriting-selves, and unless you’re The Strokes or The Violent Femmes, your first foray into album-making is bound to show some noob. For me I cringed at my percussion parts, front and center, the busiest bee in the room, buzzing exactly the same way on almost every song… it wouldn’t be until Lost & Gone Forever five years later that I’d figure out how to put space and creativity into my kit to let the songs breathe. But I also cringed along with my bandmates at their age-appropriate lyrics and overzealous vocal stylings. Adam and Ryan pretty much played the same guitar part on every song back then — it’s unclear who was copying who. But these weren’t the major takeaways from the Parachute revisit.
Because there were a lot of musical things going on in those songs too — and the production by Mike Denneen, on reflection, was genius. He managed to complement our instrumentation with great, subtle players who gave each song an identity it wouldn’t have had. A handful of our college buddies contributed too, most notably Tom Swafford who brought “Window” to life with a thoughtful and virtuosic violin performance — but Denneen’s guys really stepped up and helped Parachute become a sonically pleasing record. I am talking mostly about Jay Bellerose, who played drums on “Mona Lisa,” “Eden,” “Dissolve,” and “Parachute,” and Mike Rivard, who played upright bass on a number of songs. If you happened to catch us really enjoying playing “The Prize” at Brooklyn Bowl the other night, it’s probably because Mike’s bass line added a deep jazzy flair to the verse of a country song. Our first country song.
And I think we all were struck by how powerful it was when Ryan and Adam’s voices came together the way they did at many times on that album. When harmonies and counter-melodies were huge priorities for our band. I might be imagining it, but didn’t Ryan Miller tell the crowd that “we learned something” by visiting the album again the other day? I am not sure what he learned, but I will guess the vocals struck him. I was feeling it on “Cocoon” during the inter-woven “dream yourself to sleep at night” broken-down verse. Do you know how many times I played the song “Cocoon” between 1993 and 1997? Between 8 sets a night on weekends in Harvard Square where we often opened *and* closed with it, and endless van gigs where “Cocoon” brought down the house before it was replaced by “Fa Fa” in 1998 — it’s no wonder we really needed very little time to get the songs into working condition. They’re in our blood. Forever a part of our DNA, for better and for worse. Insert your own riding-a-bike metaphor HERE.
So after years of being disparaged on stage, ignored in our set lists, and left to rot like The Big Friend itself — a stuffed animal that I received as a gift from my aunt at age 9 that probably wound up dumped in a landfill after being stolen along with the contents of our trailer from the mafia-run landscaping parking lot in New Jersey where Adam’s mom recommended we park our trailer during some downtime — after years of that sort of Big Friend-fate…. Parachute gets its moment and gets a respectful nod from the man who almost ruined it with his bongos. I’ll even say that the *song* “Parachute” impressed me. What a great song.
Because I also listened to Goldfly, which we recorded at the end of 1996, and was shocked to discover how much worse it sounded than Parachute. I mean it sounds awful. That we ever got a chance to redeem ourselves a few years later on Lost & Gone Forever is a miracle. There will be no anniversary celebrations, Goldfly.