cape standard time (2003)

 

Thoughts On Cape Standard Time

By Mark Manley ('02-'03)

If we zoom out and look at the big picture of the long and storied discography of the Hyannis Sound, Cape Standard Time is a jumping-off point– it represents the last “interwoven” HS studio album; like its predecessors, the album’s lineup consists of two types of tracks: songs recorded 100% live during summer concerts and multi-tracked studio versions. After that – and partly in response to the feedback we received on CST--we began creating the “Annual Bootleg” series as a way of segregating what we felt were two different experiences – really, two different artistic goals. It is precisely because of its flaws that it is an important album to listen to if you want to understand the evolution in HS recordings. You can literally hear the need for a new approach, at times.

And I’m not just referring to my sour note in “Your Smiling Face” either. (It still makes me cringe and turn red just thinking about it. It’s about as subtle as a typo in a front-page headline.)

I read somewhere a quote from the award-winning rock band, Steely Dan, that they have one album, Gaucho (1980), in their (even longer and more storied) discography that they — and I’m paraphrasing here —“never listen to unless they happen to be out in public and a song from it comes on the radio” – for me, among the HS albums, this describes my attitude towards CST as time has elapsed since its creation. Since leaving the group in 2003, the only instances in which I might hear cuts from it occur when I tune in to 88.9 WERS (the station in Boston that hosts “All A Cappella” radio show) when they use a clip from “Thriller” as part of their program intro, or more rarely, play a full track from it.

That’s not to say that I don’t like or respect CST – I do. I am proud of so much of it. There is no shortage of cuts that I wouldn’t put side by side with some of HS’ best.  I feel pretty confident “72 Hour Daze”, “Thriller”, “A Thousand Miles”, “Last Goodbye”, Slick’s lead on “Fields of Gold”, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” all would make the cut on a “Best Of Hyannis Sound” disc if such a compilation existed. Nor does the album fail to elicit a flood of great memories on the rare occasions I do hear a track from it (more on that later). And yet, I cannot avoid picking some big-time nits and wonder what could have been.

The group’s membership changes every year, but 2002 was a fairly significant one – and the album reflects good and bad aspects of that upheaval. You may recall that between 2000 and 2001, there was only one member exchanged (Billy for Jim) which allowed that era to develop a great chemistry, sound and stage presence over two summers instead of one– as tight as any group since the original ten in 94-95. Many of the guys from that era had put their heart and soul into my favorite HS disc (110) and had then begun careers, continued school, or otherwise gone elsewhere when it came time to bake Cape Standard Time. In 2002 (my first year) the group introduced four new members, which was the largest turnover in some time. When it came to producing the album with Fozz (his first HS production) there was a lot of input from the newest folks: Vic, Greg, Jim and myself. Besides Fozz, we were all very young in HS tenure. Naively, we tried to make the album  a little bit of everything to everyone – grandiose studio work for some, hokey fun stuff for the kids and everything in between. In our excitement we just took everything we’d experienced at the end of our first whirlwind HS summer and stuffed it all together for the world to see in all its heterogeneous glory. And we failed to consult anyone from the 2001 group.

Less than stellar tracks made the cut, in part, because we thought they were expected—“On and On” featuring a lead by Matthew Henderson was taken from the one day all summer when he was sick and all but completely hoarse (incidentally, despite sleeping 2-3 hours a night, Slick was always one of the most resilient—he holds the record for having never missed a gig in five years). It was a lack of understanding on our part – that is, we didn’t need to pay homage to the HS songbook by including it. It was redundant.  When he finally got word we had printed that take, I think Slick probably would have been happier if we’d told him we’d included a free DVD with embarrassing photos of him in his underwear or something. Our bad…

Other songs that were highly successful in live performance like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “L-Y” seemed to be missing a certain je ne sais pas when reduced to the flat world of digital sound. Like Carrot Top without his bag of props, the lack of visuals left us with a bigger artistic void to fill than we realized at the time. 

Our biggest mistake: we neglected to include some great live tracks from 2000-2001 that could have replaced some of our clunkers. “I’m Like a Bird”, “Drive”, and “Jimi Thing” ended up falling by the wayside, in part, due to our ignorance of their significance (and existence in the 00-01 vault), as well as  technical difficulties (a reliable source tells me at least one of these was a glimmering, passionate performance –only the tape ran out with 30 seconds left).

But there was plenty of good that came out of the process that I’ll always remember in addition to the final product:

  • Dana Semmel, longtime HS friend and supporter, recorded the scream heard at the beginning of “Thriller” in one stunningly perfect take.
  • Jim had some good times recording and mixing some subliminal words into the end of that track (it’s a reverse loop if him saying “I see dead people” spliced up).
  • I remember the excitement I felt after hearing new mixes of “72 Hour Daze” and “Last Goodbye” – both of which were formidable works; Fozz put in scads of extra time alongside our “Eleventh Beatle” (recording engineer John Clark) to add some ear candy that went beyond their respective original recordings and arrangements on those, in particular.
  • Laying down tracks in our makeshift “recording booth,” which was essentially just the basement of the Sound House with some slapped together soundproofing, while footsteps and talking could be easily heard overhead.

I trace parallels between my personal growth and difference between CST and its successor, Route 6. My time in the Sound began at age 22 and at the conclusion of my second and final sound summer at age 23, I was a markedly different man. In the span of one year I went from carefree (bordering on lackadaisical) and rarely capable of being tied down, to a person comfortable with stability, consistency and (gasp!) responsibility — of which Route 6, a much more disciplined album, is the more representative. And the albums continue to take things to the next level…

Nowadays with work, adulthood and all the trappings of “the real world” (which Hyannis Sound simultaneously insulates you from and prepares you for) it is easy to forget that my friends and I have recorded music capable of producing pure, unadulterated…pleasure. Whatever imperfections and critiques I or anyone else can point to as an artistic whole, Cape Standard Time delivers moments of greatness – which is all you can really ask for in a recording. Even as I think about it I am reminded of the process of its creation - it’s hard to forget the feeling of taking the latest mix of one or two tracks, hot off the press, and popping it into a car stereo and blasting it over and over again driving around Boston on a sunny day with the windows down with your friends. CST brought me joy then, and if I ever dust it off and give it a spin, I know that same joy is waiting for me.

Album Art: Rob Stewart ('94-'95)