Toughest Junkie in Town: 2002 ; Recorded/Mixed by: Jordan Tishler ; Studio: Digital Bear, Boston, Mass. ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017
Kerosene: 2002 ; Recorded/Mixed by: Jordan Tishler ; Studio: Digital Bear, Boston, Mass. ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017
Miracle: c. 2006 ; Drums: Richard Adkins ; Guitar: Travis Richter ; Bass: Matt Girard ; Recorded/Mixed by: rehearsal recording ; Studio: Jamspot, Somerville, Mass. ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017
Cold Blood: 2005 ; Recorded/Mixed by: onstage recording to laptop ; Venue: Lilypad, Cambridge, Mass. ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017
Toledo: 2003 ; Recorded/Mixed by: Jordan Tishler ; Studio: Digital Bear, Boston, Mass. ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017
To Have and To Have Not (B. Bragg): 2005 ; Recorded/Mixed by: onstage recording to laptop ; Venue: Lilypad, Cambridge, Mass. ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017
Volume Two starts in the studio, in Boston, and we’re somewhere in the months between the release of 'Life Underwater' and the sessions that will eventually comprise 'Church of the Kitchen Sink'.
“Toughest Junkie in Town” and “Kerosene” both paint a different picture than most of what 'Church' would end up representing. There was a crossroads somewhere in these selections. “Junkie” is all about a feeling — slack, bare, and raw ... really letting the vibe of the thing be what it wanted. “Kerosene” is a meaner, tighter, nastier little number, a very bad frame of mind, a nightmare lyric, end-of-the-world activities. There are a couple like this one floating around. This is probably the best of them.
Jumping forward, we land in a rehearsal room outside Boston, circa 2006, and you’re hearing an entirely different group from James O’Brien & The Church of the Kitchen Sink, which was the outfit with which I toured after the second album came out. This band is Bikini Radio, a new group consisting of musicians who’d been orbiting the 'Church' sessions, or who’d played one-offs with me in one capacity or another in 2003 and 2004. We named it Bikini Radio after the military radio station that broadcast at Bikini Atoll, back when the United States was mad with testing nuclear weapons in the middle of the Pacific. They detonated 23 bombs out there. I probably wrote “Miracle” in 2004. I think I played it during the last legs of the solo dates. So, this is both a solo work and a Bikini Radio number.
The footnote is that Bikini Radio played just one show; it was in 2006, St. Patrick’s Day weekend at Midway Cafe in Boston (down in Jamaica Plain, on the southern side of the city; Nirvana played there once, before they became what they'd become). Thing is, I was moving in other directions, life-wise (I guess), and I didn’t want to be in a band that played out. The guys argued for the group to keep going. I resisted. We played the one show and it felt amazing. And then we just sort of stopped. All the artists on this track have gone on to make some amazing music, since. You might’ve heard some of their playing, some of their bands. Listening to the recording, these past several months, Bikini Radio sounds good to me. Really good. The timing wasn't right, but I'm glad we existed.
Back in the solo situation, “Cold Blood” always felt like one of those gifts from the gray matter. The opening line, the push and pull of it … soft/hard … quiet/loud … this take captures those details. The Lilypad recording from 2005 continues to be a powerful resource for this collection.
Out on the road, a couple years earlier, I wrote “Toledo” — partly in a motel room in New Jersey, partly in a hotel room in, yes, Toledo, Ohio. The New Jersey location turned out to be a deeply bad spot, a major-league pit way down in the guts of the urban wastes, somewhere down along the highway. Middle of the night, out in the parking lot, somebody face-plants onto their steering wheel. Driver’s door open, legs sticking out. Blaeeeaoooooooonnnnnnk. The horn goes on and on until I call the man in the “office” — which is a concrete shack down at the entrance. The noise stops. Driver gone. Car still out there, door wide open. And so, I shove a dresser up against my door and I sit for a while inside the dry bathtub and this lyric is rattling around. The chords and chorus came first. The part about the man "fixing up his engine" is from the Toledo hotel, a day or two later. A couple cars away, some other guy tried to pick up two ladies who'd spent the night in a different room with someone else. Just a scene from a parking lot, the morning after a show ... and the morning after everything else that goes on in those places.
And finally, a cover. Last song of the show at Lilypad in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I did not massacre Mr. Bragg’s very good song.
All these tracks were mastered in 2017 by Matt Girard.
The artwork is by Joe Kowan.
James O'Brien — Life Underwater Music (1 October 2017)