Shirt, Tie, Khaki (2007)
Memoirs of Shirt, Tie, Khaki…or…”How I Spent My Summer(s of 2005/2006) Vacation”
By Rob Powers ('05-'08)
When I reflect on Shirt, Tie, Khaki, a flood of memories come back to me. Some of them are actually musical in nature. My first summer in Hyannis Sound was 2005, and one of my first “HS family” memories is of the current group and a bunch of alumni crowded around my generic $50 stereo (thanks, dad!) on the floor of the living room, getting our first listen of Route 6, which was about to be released in two weeks. It was amazing. This was Hyannis Sound’s first all studio album, which was a creative risk for the group. Those tracks hit so heavy and the entire album was high energy, engaging you in multiple genres with flawless musicality and solo delivery.
Wait, what is that all about? This is supposed to be a reflection on Shirt, Tie, Khaki. The truth is, you can’t begin to understand STK unless you know the context. When we hit the studio to record STK, we were doing so while the much deserved praise was coming in for Route 6, and we knew that we were going to need to really step up to follow such a tough act. If we weren’t pushed by that album, I’m not entirely sure STK would have been so successful.
While we don’t necessarily have a continual plot for each album (only a few of our lesser known ones had this, like Dark Side of the Moon, Tommy, and Live, All Natural A Cappella, all of which are unfortunately out of print), we do have a loose concept that we try to infuse into the songs chosen for the album from the summer repertoire. Since Route 6 was innovative in part for its production value, we wanted to try and hedge a bet that when our next album was released, we would be just slightly ahead of the trend in the industry by having a unique blend of organic sound and clean, tight production. In essence, we wanted to make sure that the listener was entertained by the studio magic we are afforded in a recorded track while making sure you could still tell it was voices.
The best approach to explaining the nuts and bolts of this album would be to take it track-by-track. Think of this as the director’s commentary feature on a DVD, but I’m way cooler than Spielberg.
Get Set – I don’t think there was any doubt that this would end up being our opening track for Shirt, Tie, Khaki. The lyrics alone lend themselves for such a position. But what really makes this track the opener is the intrinsic energy of the song and arrangement. In 2005, we had four new guys in the Sound, and of the six returning members, five were only in their second summer. Because of this, we were challenged by the “rebuilding year” trappings, but more so we were able to invent and cultivate a new presence on the Hyannis Sound stage. This song was literally our debut as this new version. I’ll never forget rolling this out at forte dynamic on the stage at our first public gig in Woods Hole. For the studio, we tried our best to capture this same excitement and energy. We also had a lot of fun making weird noises for the intro/outro ambient noise parts.
Rocksteady – I had never heard of Marc Broussard before my tenure in Hyannis Sound, but apparently everyone else in the group was in love with him. While I now understand why they felt this way, I consider it a blessing that I fell in love with Broussard’s work through Andy’s interpretation. He kills this song. You’d never know it listening along, but it was not easy for Andy to sing this song nightly considering the range and complexity, so we really got to embellish and let Andy take his time and rip the solo. The organ parts on verse two were drawn up in the editing phase. The scat solo wasn’t part of the live show, and was added as filler for the full version. It turns out Andy is good at that, too. He can also yodel.
Lady Madonna – This is probably the least expected track for a Hyannis Sound studio album, and that makes it wonderful. We decided to put “Lady Madonna” on the album for the sheer fun it contains. Arjun gives a performance that captures the Abbey Road-esque feel of the song in a way nobody else in the group could. To add some “album flare,” we decided to give the track its own concept, and created a circus atmosphere in the background. These parts were tracked in Tim and Brian’s room at the house, and you can hear a group of us laughing, chatting, and clapping, as well as Brian’s infamous bike horn noise.
Gone – Gone was a hit in 2006 primarily for the humor we tagged onto it. Bringing it to the album was challenging since what made it funny was the physical and ‘ad lib’ aspects of the live performances. When we recorded it, we had to get back to the angsty yet slightly apathetic vibe that Ben Folds wrote. I remember Ed Boyer (engineer and producer for the track) coaching me through the solo, trying to get me to be more loose with the notes and diction. I’d like to say I just fell into it, but it only came about because I was getting worn out by the fifth or sixth take. It ended up coming together and I have to admit, it is so weird and exciting to drive a part of a Hyannis Sound album track, since I’ve been a fan of the group since high school. I also had a broken leg, and had to sit on a stool. That explains a lot.
Easy Like Sunday Morning – This song is really the first track of the album that hits the album concept hard. The background parts are easy (get it!) and the percussion has a nice human element, but are still clean. Cooper really helps the listener slow down and relax with his solo. I love how the bridge hits you hard, and then brings it back down to play it out. Ultimately, we tried to make sure that when you finished playing this track, you were in a happier place than when you started.
Chariot – This was the hit pop song of 2005, so we really ended up doing this song mostly because it was so hot at the time. Eric Fosbury (HS ’00-04) arranged it, and I still remember him teaching it to us on a Saturday afternoon in May. He had a biggie sized Wendy’s drink. Anyway, he penned a great one with “Chariot” and Andy kills the solo. But what most people don’t realize is that this song contains a nice message about simplicity. This meaning was the anchor of our album concept, and we really evoked this title’s meaning with the project at large.
Carolina In My Mind – This track, in my opinion, is the essence of the organic feel we tried to capture with this album. Mark Manley (HS ‘02-03) created what I feel is one of the best arrangements from my tenure in the group. He was able to capture the James Taylor mindset perfectly, and keep you captivated without vocal percussion or hard hitting syllables. Paul actually tracked this solo in two separate sessions. His first go at it was great, but he wanted to take a stab at a performance closer to James Taylor’s style. The end product was a remarkable blend of the two.
Somewhere Only We Know – Everyone has their song that they pin to a time period as “the song from that time period.” For my youth, that song is “Hip to be Square” by Huey Lewis. But for Summer of 2005, I always think of “Somewhere Only We Know”. This song continues along the theme, with beautiful lyrics like “Oh simple thing, where have you gone, I’m getting old and I need something to rely on…” It almost makes a 22 year old guy want to settle down…almost.
Ready for Love – When you put Micah on an R&B song that he already loved before we covered it, you’re going to get one incredible performance. Ed Boyer arranged this song and somehow used whole notes to make an incredible impact on the listener (clearly this has nothing to do with the soloist). But the question was: could we really emulate this force in the studio? Although it was the simplest arrangement we sang, this song took a lot of tracks to get to this beautiful finished product.
Virtual Insanity – This track allowed for us to show the off-Cape world what Tyler could do with a Hyannis Sound solo. We had only been performing this one for a few weeks when we tracked it, but we knew it would make for a funky studio track. The original bass line was not as wild, but we went with the bass line from the original track at the last minute. I remember tracking the part in Tim’s room on a weekday morning at 7am, when my voice was actually low enough to hit all the notes. I was so mad at Tim for being up that early, but after hearing the finished product, I’m just agitated.
Change The World – You didn’t really expect us to go an entire album without a gospel breakdown or a clapping section, did you? Oh, and Tim rocks his solo. The best part about the gospel part, at least for me, is we got to sort of sing whatever the hell we wanted on the track. For just three minutes in a basement in Harwich, I was full of soul.
Solsbury Hill – This will undoubtedly end up on a “Best of Hyannis Sound” album someday. This carries the most creative risk of all the tracks on Shirt, Tie, Khaki. Tim created an amazing arrangement that redefines one’s conception of the song. The other big risk was putting Micah on a solo that is associated with Peter Gabriel’s pop/rock voice. I still get chills when I listen to this track.
Did we ultimately achieve the goals we set out to accomplish with this album? Its hard to say. It is sandwiched between two gems in the Hyannis Sound discography, so that will always factor into any revisit to Shirt, Tie, Khaki. But I can say for certain that this album defines the two summers in which it was recorded, and even beyond. In 2007, I took two road trips related to this disc: a 3.5 hour car ride to Northampton with Andy for the album art photo shoot, and driving to Framingham with Cooper in August 2007 to pick up our severely delayed first shipment, so we could literally run down the aisle of a Brewster show to deliver it to the fans. All in all, this album very much documents the amazing transition and growth of Hyannis Sound from 2005-2007.
Album Art: Rob Stewart ('94-'95)