The Phenobarbidols, Fish Lounge

We made this record once. Turns out it was brilliant.

Lush and complex, with balanced flavors of spice and chocolate milk. Nestle’s Quick. Cinnamon pastries, wasabi, soy and ginger. Kung Pao and various sauces including Hollandaise, port reductions, gravy and marinara.

Flowers and rainy wind. Lazy motes in a sunny meadow.

Nevermind the textures and colors.

Nearly a decade went by, I never listened to it. I didn’t care about it. Dug it out one night to impress a girl because the acoustic tracks were pretty and I could tell by her eyes she would like them.

It’s one of the very best things I ever had anything to do with.

I barely remember making it.


It was Alex, that little fucker made sure it was a great big lovely record. His feather gathered mass over my anvil. He knew exactly what he was doing. He walked me through it, using my anvil when he needed it. You can hear where he did it. He used a bullhorn to demand my anvil. Emasculating. I was a monkey with a hardon for a beach ball and he saw it. He began by showing me pictures of the ball. He continued with elaborate puppet theater. Towards the end, hypnotisim.

In no time at all, I was a sideshow.

The production is extraordinary and it really is there the soul of Alex.

I was lucky.

His creative musical genius for arrangement and nuance amazes me. Born on the same day, we were otherwise polar opposites he and I. He was the architect, I was the general contractor and the subcontractors were all spectacular lunatics. You can almost never go wrong when pairing eggs with cheese and champagne with fruit. Champagne with eggs, cheese and fruit.

I like brunch.

There was Betsy, leader of the lunatics, exceptionally bright, extraordinarily talented and somehow, we’d earned her trust. She sang celestial and played with terrible conviction. She composed like a vulnerable wraith.

Betsy gathered quite the formidable parade of shiny muses. Calliope and Euterpe. Melpomene to Thalia. We had a blast. I don’t know how I wasn’t in love with what we’d done or her. I remember working at a pretty grueling pace and sometimes being confused by exactly what overdub we were in the middle of.

But that shit was normal.

Michael Whitaker too. He’s all over this thing. Crazy bastard. Feedback Monarchy. Mellotron mendacity. The personalities in that tiny control room left a pastel vapor trail that would show up like smoke under certain sensors to this day.

Actually, we only did the first nine of sixteen songs on the record. Michael P. Tak of Carnival Art fame recorded the rest at his home studio, “Sweaty Elvis”. Those songs were mixed at Triad in Seattle.

Our assistants were Bamford, Srebalus and Sperger. Bamford ended up playing bass on the song True Fluid and he fucking nailed it. He engineered a Weezer record a few years back. Srebalus has produced a documentary film. Sperger is a bathroom attendant in a Vegas titty bar.

Somehow, I didn’t really get it by the time we were finished. I was still upside down.

Al often shined (sic), but never more consistently, never so inspired, as on this record.

He had fun. There was a point where I surrendured the entire thing to him. Maybe it was early in the mixes, but I think it was well before that. He knew exactly what we were all doing. I did the best I could to be a shit hot engineer.

We ended up bringing in an auxilliary console for some of the mixes. Eight channel Neve broadcast consoles on wheels we called “Sidecars” for submixing etc. A ton of experimenting and ludicrous methodology. Backwards tape and lotsa flangers. Those days, A&M studios was a mall for gear sluts. We were prostitutes just inside the mall’s main entrance.

We earned a decent living and never wanted for gear.

Betsy slept in the live room. Not because she had no place to go. She was owning it.

She gave me a first edition Steinbeck, “Tortilla Flat” with the sweetest most honest letter I’ve ever recieved folded in it’s pages.

She was effusive with fruit. Ask me about it sometime.
She brought in a machine to make us lattes.

“incidents and accidents…….hints and allegations…..”

I’ve spoken to her a few times in the last few years but I’ve been a little self involved and have no idea how to reach her now. She has no idea of my sheer joy with this record. I started to tell Alex but I need to finish. This piece will help.

The bottom line is this. If you don’t like this record, the fault lies with Alex as he took it upon himself to rest his nutsack on my left cheek and all the while I allowed it. He was driving. I rarely remember taking the wheel.

It get’s worse. He then took the best I could possibly do and directed it towards his own vision. He used me. A kind but insidious man.

His hands were always much larger than his feet when it came to mixing. He’d have this schedule of mutes and fader moves we had to perform perfectly before we could go home. Just about every record we did was manually mixed. I was there to make things girthy and/or pretty. Once I did that I was thinking about whiskey and noodles in that order.

Al was way more musical. He was the doctor and I was the monster.

I liked making cymbals sound like silver air. Drums like mountains. Guitars like giant vibrating walls of electricity and dirty oil. Bass guitars taste like chunky peanut butter on mayonnaise covered popcorn with a side of maple syrup. Brass, woodwinds, strings, harmonicas, concertinas, banjos, percussion, all tasting like cheese from mild to sharp or fruit from sweet to sour. Sourdough toast with butter and orange marmalade. Best job ever. Except it never leaves you.

Do it right and you end up with a very drinkable wine.

You can take words but never even attempt to borrow a concept.

Drinks for my friends.

10 Responses to “The Phenobarbidols, Fish Lounge”

  • I don’t know shit about music, but I’d like to hear that.
    Send me a copy?

  • Alex:

    Dude. When I’m old and grey (OK, older and greyer), and I’ve lost most of my memory, I will read this and remember how much fun we had making records. You’re being way too modest here (did you bump your head? do you need to see a doctor?) Remember the time I ended up mixing some rapper in Studio B and you transformed Wave Down from a dinghy into the Titanic?

    So much of your depiction could be said in reverse about some of our other projects – you had the unrelenting vision on Lord Groovy & The Zombiez (thank you Rick Plank for discovering them) and I was along for the ride.

    BTW, if anyone can tell me how to contact Whittaker, Betsy, Bamford, Srebalus or Sperger, I’ll gladly buy you a Maker’s Mark.

    Happy Birthday, you sonofabitch. Oh, and thanks for the nutsack imagery. I’d hate to share this blog with my kids.


  • admin:

    Kind words. Thank you my friend. We were partners. A nearly symbiotic relationship, the yin to each others yang and I’m grateful for the experience. We did have fun.

    Despite your initial estimation of me as as a pompous ass, I couldn’t be happier to have shared the years of making so many good records with you.

    Thanks my friend and happy birthday to you too.

  • eh-hem:

    It was great recording with the two of you…don’t forget Joan “Goddess of Rock”,Fred Bova! or Bebe…and oh so many more that was an extremely creative group effort led by Alex. There is a sweet book called “Alernative Rock” by Dave Thompson that gives the record some nice comments.
    You should buy it used on the web. Look at the Raunchettes chapter. You will be flattered.
    Um yes guys,that was special time.Okay, so Jimmy Iovine in the next studio when we recorded the Patti Smith song off Horses(too bad Natural Born Killers used the original on the soundtrack and made it a real dumb choice for a cover- Should have done “Pumping My Heart” instead.) But we all had fun screaming the back ups…weren’t we all in there behind the mic ? – was there an “alex Alex Alex” recorded in that outro? or am I senile?
    I loved my bedroom. I liked being in my pajamas at 5:30 am making coffee and being caught by Sting- he smiled and said “good morning” Ron was wonderful about the whole thing as well.
    Then the night we snuck out to a party and David Lee Roth was on the front bench with his hands tangled up a strippers spandex mini dress and I had Srebalus stop and let me out so I could ask him for a light. Anyway, somewhere there is a 4 track song called “Adonis in The Long Shorts” about a girl with a crush on a guy with long blonde curly hair…who feels rejected..until she hears him say how much he loves Pat Travers. ha ha.
    Okay lets get to the good ones. You guys figured out a way to get what I heard in my head. “Albert on his Bicycle” That was amazing – you figured out how to get the drums to sound like an Eno record exactly what I wanted-Joan played them great, but you made them sound like the Eno with very clever tape speed play…then Bova recorded and actual bicycle for the breaks and we managed to jump tempos…had Albert Hoffman on the phone quoting lines from the book “My Problem Child” that I had arranged to rhyme and run circular…. and that crazy man who liked to keep egg whites in his pockets named Whittaker on the mellatron… each phrase reversing it’s tracks from right to left (headphone song for sure) then…the backflip on the fade out. Was that you guys or Yoshida in mastering? Amazing! Oh and the double octave up back vocal that alex changed to from just up at the end of the phrase to up and down. wow.
    “Wave Down”- this was an answer song to my previous band Sacred Miracle Cave’s “The True Fluid” You let me do my weird backing vocal stuff and made it work then came up with the total break that busted into the Titanic for sure!

    And yes the ballads were pretty. I had sliced 1/2 my left index finger off a month before the basic tracks…had the nerves and tendons sewn up and was told I could never play guitar again. It was rough but we did it and I played with your pushing and faith in me. I was a nervous wreck singing so naked like that. Some of those songs were very meaningful to me. What a great team and team leader. That was fun in the studio! You even had my Vibrolux stored in a room for some months and used it on other records…
    Very creative.
    Still I must admit I like The Sacred Miracle Cave album best of all even though the recording is a bit lo-fi.
    Has something to do with Stooges – raw.
    But Fish Lounge was exciting studio teamwork- very family and all involved in studio C -some of the greatest records ever made came out of that bedroom…I should listen to it again sometime. It was very different than SMC producers David Roback and Will Glen and their experiments in a twisted mess of a real band.They got the tracks they wanted through the real life Fleetwood Mac drama inside the band.
    Oh and I have moved on from fruits to veggies.
    There is still a copy of the other stuff we recorded that the label didn’t put out. Makes a nice EP. Wish I knew how to take the master and put some of those up on the web.
    Later, I’m in hiding. I have only commented on one other blog about my past.
    Joan sent me the link, btw.
    love you and miss you

  • admin:

    My current theory is that I was hypnotized. I know that most of you were involved.

    For the record, yes to the pun, all pyrotechnics were supplied by Me & Al. We had a handle on that stuff, these are all manual mixes my sweet. The backflip coulda been Yoshida, I’ll ask Al.

    I’m sure I remember an ‘alex alex alex’ outro as well as a ‘betsy betsy betsy……….’.

    I’m so glad you found this. I’m talking to you more than anyone else in this piece. I listen to you regularly. We all did a pretty incredible thing here.

    Yes, I mixed the shit out of Wavedown. You can hear my anvil in True Fluid. I am a golden god.

    We were gear whores/pimps, your Vibrolux was a ward of our state, we saw that it was used properly whenever we needed it.

    I forgot about your finger.

    Can’t believe this isn’t your favorite record. Oh well. It’s genius. Marvelous. I know there is no way I could have begun to imagine what we ended up with. It really is all those flavors.

    And you sing your motherfucking ass off on this record.

    I adore it.

    Love and miss you too.

  • eh-hem:

    Oh I am senile. “Wave Down” and “True Fliud” were both answer songs to Sacred Miracle Cave’s “Liquid in Me” There I got it right.
    I think the Fish Lounge recording and mixing you did on those two far outweighed the Sacred Miracle Cave track.. I mean it’s hard when you write something and say to the producers”I want this to sound more orange and run around the speakers and backwards stuff”
    You guys figured things I had a hard time describing and then took them 12 steps farther into the stars in the sky(Boy Who Wished on Star] and the HEAVY.
    It really does have the whole spectrum of song types – and you pulled it off all on one record. That didn’t happen much back then. Seemed like every track on a record sounded about the same flavor.
    I wish I could pull them out and listen, but I am taking care of someone and never home. I will try to get to it.

  • admin:

    You know, the most remarkable thing is I’d never really listened to you before I recorded you. We must have rehearsed.

    I knew you, but I had no idea what you were about and I remember being skeptical.

    It really is the coolest thing because you and Al knew what we were doing and were able to tell me about it. What I needed to know. Suggesting things to me. Sounds and concepts.

    I remember communication flowing like nobody’s business in an enviroment that I was accustomed to it flowing like normal people didn’t understand at all anyway.

    Years that glowed went by.

    I wish you could pull it too. It is genius from top to bottom. The only flaw I hear is that C12 we used on your vocal that thumped every now and then. I remember deciding to go on using it because it was the perfect mic for your voice. It just was. I believe we used an LA2A (serial # 409) and a Neve 1066 straight to tape.

    The most important and legitimate thing I can say to you is thanks. I’m not sure what took so long, but I’m fucking thrilled to listen to this work I participated in. It as close to a masterpiece as I ever had anything to do with.

    Betsy, Betsy, Betsy…………………

  • eh-hem:

    Funny, I took a stress break from caregiving for my uncle and the visiting nurse said “get on the computer and check your emails for a change” – saw the email from Joan with a link to your blog – and then googled some other stuff.
    I have a different name now PLUS when people google my real name they get “Friday the 13th”…anyway… amazon showed up in the results. I found the phenobarbidols mentioned in a Sacred miracle cave review (which I had gotten a chuckle from when I very first saw it a few years back searching for SMC). The review is like written by someone too familair with my history and really WAY TOO MUCH! At the time I thought it was my ex-husband Greg Shaw who wrote it–maybe to help sell his own label’s records(Bomp)- but then he wouldn’t mention the phenobarbidols. So, I never found out who wrote it. Maybe my brother, but he wouldn’t take the time to do that – I don’t think -He ha a big happy family and is overworked….so maybe one of those girl band geeks did it. I still don’t know who wrote it. Christ, I would never draw attention and single out myself like that.It mentioned ALL my projects (save satan’s cheerleaders and the scooter skirts also not on his label)
    Everything I did was teamwork…’cept the first all girl band I played with and I don’t think that band’s records flow or were recorded in a way that really sounded like the band live. I was quite a dictator with them- yet the drummer of course Joan(phenobarbidols and some SMC) played drums in that first band and was the only accomplished musician in the band. The rest of us were just learning as we went along. My real partner in the band ,who I loved to death, was a girl named Kiy- she wrote half the songs( a true talent and funny as all heck) and sang in that band… I think about 1/2 the live show. When I googled that band I still got singled out- which isn’t fair- I have royalty money I’ve wanted to pay Kiy all these years, but the relationship ended badly- she started to have resentments and creative diff-got into hip hop -well you know-plus I started on my drug years (over now and drinking gone too)…okay, anyway Kiy Raunchette vanished. I couldn’t find her…and I really tried. Her songs were catchy. She was really great. I don’t think she ever did anymore records after our band together. So next to this over the top review of SMC is a more recent review I’d never seen before. Really nasty saying it was me that wrote the glowing review about myself. The author of the nasty review was named (IAMKIY) – so it may be Kiy or an ex-boyfriend’s new post happy internet savvy girlfriend Donna Lethal who happens to write in that tone… but it got me SO sad,plus it didn’t even mention the band or songs or anything… now here you writing such sweet things. Well, you remember how hard it was for me at times recording and listening to my vocal roughs and how much you and Alex had to push me oh and Whittaker always with the pep talks. I mean, Alex even picked out most of the tracks from a ton of songs I had recorded on a 4 track– borrowed from Pikus. I should get back to my house and grab that CD. I always have a hard time when people say good things about anything I’ve done, except for SMC- it was more of a band band.Oh and I had David Roback and Will Glen producing- Opal was my favorite band at the time – imagine sending them a single and getting a call back wanting to produce! David went on to do Mazzy Star. He was very much an artist directing me- not the rest of the band-they didn’t need it. I did. I really wasn’t in charge of that one in any way – those guys were/are great even without me.
    So I am thankful in finding your blog. Fish Lounge, as you recall, had only a two people that played on all the tracks. Everyone else played and made the sound. So thanks again for the kind words and I will never believe anyone who says anything about my talent. It’s just hard to hear. I can’t hear it – yeah, it’s still that way. thank you thank you thank you – I have PMS and really sensitive this week…..oh you know girls- I need french fries – Kiy Raunchette would laugh at that one…there is a story there.
    But really I love all you guys so much- what a special time.
    Again, thank YOU.

  • admin:

    Betsy, the pleasure was all mine. You and Al handed me hammer and chisel and gauze and gossamer. You two had a vulcan mind meld. I was a foreman on the float.

    Whitaker rocked crazy. He was often the 800 lb. gorilla of inspiration. I loved working with him. He was a mess, such a human monsoon. Simultaneously refreshing and gusting.

    Go to a Daily Grill if you can. Order “shoestring fries’ with a side of mayo and lemon. If they don’t show up golden, hot and glistening, send them back.

    Assuming they are correct in front of you, squeeze the lemon generously. Salt them to taste. Dip them in the mayo and eventually the ketchup. I recommend hefeweizen or a decent pilsner.

    The record is brilliant. The songs are brilliant. The performances are brilliant. The production, engineering and mastering are all brilliant.

    Love and thanks

  • Alex:

    Betsy, I’ve been wanting to say hello to you for something like 10 years now, since the last time we talked. please shoot me an email if you have a chance:


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