Destroy Babylon is back…well, sort of.
The brothers Beaudette have returned to the studio with an experimental project they call The Flying Vipers. The guys recorded a six song mini-album called The Green Tape.
With the project, Marc and John, the drummer and bassist, respectively, have shed a skin of their former band and are airing out something new—a tribute to the roots of dub.
Matched with keyboardist Zack Brines (Pressure Cooker, The Kings of Nuthin’), The Flying Vipers dims the flash of the alluring studio flare, opting instead to record with almost primitive technology (at least, in this day and age). With nothing more than three guys, three practice takes and one eight-track recorder, the Flying Vipers created The Green Tape, a mini-LP of six lo-fi dub tracks that are completely stripped of any fat. Hell, the project is so lo-fi, the band is selling the album on cassette tapes!
The songs incorporate all of the most important aspects of reggae music: perpetually groovy rhythm section, memorable saxophone riffs, experimental melodica, and bizarre sounds materializing from the smallest corners of your headphones out into the open. The music has such rhythm that even when the drums drop from the mix, like in “Coffee Kush”, the percussiveness of the other instruments make it seem like the drums never left. That is, until Marc comes back in sweeping the snare with the finest drum-sticking you’ve probably heard in a while.
But the real hero, and the point of this whole project, is the authenticity and legit quality of the mixing. In an attempt to deviate from using trippy effects pedals and slapping a cheap “dub” label on their music, The Flying Vipers enlisted Jay Champany to do live analog mixing right from the console. The result creates a new dimension of psychedelic soundscapes swirling over the gruff, grounded grit of its lo-fi recording techniques.
Boston Ska (dot) net caught up with Marc and John Beaudette to talk about The Flying Vipers writing and recording process, why too many bands use the word “dub” loosely, and the (unlikely) future of bands recording and releasing on cassette tapes.
Boston Ska: First off, your last release (as Destroy Babylon) was 2011’s Long Live The Vortex. What have you guys been up to the past four years? And what prompted you guys to return to the studio now to record this album?
Marc Beaudette: The past several years have seen quite a few changes with Destroy Babylon. Our lineup has shifted and expanded quite a bit, eventually settling into a 6-piece where we’re all writing and contributing. This has lead to a ton of experimenting, which is great but also time consuming. There have been a handful of recording sessions along the way, but with day jobs, weekly rehearsals, gigs, it’s been slow-going getting things where we want them. Luckily, half the fun for us is the process.
John Beaudette: We also both joined The Macrotones full time, which has been another awesomely loud project.
BS: Unlike Destroy Babylon and LLTV, which had over a dozen musicians on it, The Green Tape has only three of you guys and a couple of guest musicians. How did that affect the writing process of the songs, and in what ways was it easier or more challenging to write songs?
JB: I had written most of the songs previous to the sessions, and Marc and I spent some time working on the rhythms alone, which helped us lock in the right feel. Zack is insanely good at picking up songs on the fly and always has great melodies for leads and fills, so it was quick and easy running the songs with him. Our initial session was the first time the 3 of us played those tunes, we probably ran each song 2-3 times before we tracked it.
BS: What inspired you guys to record with such lo-fi technology? Did you have this in mind before you started writing songs and if so, do you feel that affected the way you guys wrote and recorded the songs on the tape?
JB: The Tascam recorder belongs to my roommate Jay who had been using it for his own demos for many years. I loved the way his tracks sounded, so we used it just for kicks, thinking it would be fun for demoing. Once we laid down the song foundations with the trio, we thought they sounded good enough to continue with more overdubs. We had 8 channels total- only 4 simultaneously- and wanted to leave at least one track open to bounce onto, so it limited how many overdubs we could do. That kind of restraint was a good thing as it kept us from superfluous ideas (mostly). And outside of buying blank tapes, it was basically free, which was huge. DB began recording at Rear Window at the same time, which is an amazing studio but definitely not free.
“Restraint was a good thing.”
BS: Describe the recording process. How did you record the songs? Did you play all together? Separately?
MB: The initial session was the 4 of us together in a basement- drums, bass and M3 organ, with Jay engineering.
JB: Our friend Tony Porter also assisted and brought his Neumann U87, god bless him.
MB: After that, the first overdubs were done at Berklee in a small office, tracking John and Zack together on guitar and upright piano. The remaining sessions were back in the basement; Zack added some Hohner clavinet (thanks Casey G) and Fender rhodes, our friend Andy Bergman from the Macrotones played sax and flute while John played melodica, trombone maestro Brian “BT” Thomas played on a track, and we took turns shaking and hitting percussive things.
BS: How was this whole experience with you guys? It sounds great, do you think you’ll want to record on an 8-track again?
MB: Thanks, it was a blast. 10/10 would do again.
BS: Jay Champany from Truth and Rights and Kevin Metcalfe, who’s worked with David Bowie, Lee “Scratch” Perry and tons of other artists, helped you guys out on the album. What would you say was some of the best advice you got from them during the recording process? What was the biggest impact they made on this tape?
MB: I started drumming with Jay and Truth & Rights a few years back, and have learned a lot about restraint and the importance of the subtleties that so many Jamaican drummers exemplify. Jay may be one of the most knowledgeable roots/reggae enthusiasts I’ve met, and I think his dub mixes are a testament to that. Craig Welsch is another close friend that has had a big impact on my playing both in and out of the studio.
JB: We never met Kevin Metcalfe, but obviously we’re huge fans. He mastered the tracks in London, sent back and forth via a series of tubes. He seemed very nice in his emails.
BS: You mentioned that dub as a genre “gets thrown around a lot by reggae-influenced acts”. To the best of your ability, describe what you think dub is. In other words, what elements of dub make it pure, and how have you seen or heard other bands cut corners (so to speak) when they record music that they label as dub? Do you think this is a problem with modern reggae bands, or have you seen this with past bands as well?
JB: We are by no means purists of any genre, and for the most part, our musical endeavors have involved bastardizing several styles of music that we probably have no business trying to play in the first place. That said… the origin of dub came from the work of Jamaican audio engineers like King Tubby, Sylvan Morris, and Lee Perry who remixed recorded songs into something new. Whether it was stripping them down to just drum and bass, or adding in spacey effects, it turned the engineer into the performing artist. That’s what gets lost in a lot of music claiming to be dub- it’s not just adding delay to a guitar. It’s not a problem when bands use the word dub to describe their delay- and reverb-heavy sound. For us, it was just exciting to make dub in the traditional sense. Jay’s all-analog live mixing is just as much of a performance as was ours playing the instruments. The mixes are embedded with his style and were executed live- it’s much different from editing and mixing digitally with software where you can dissect and perfect each second. Again nothing at all wrong with that, it’s just a different technique with different results.
“It’s not just adding delay to a guitar.”
BS: What can fans expect for the future of the Flying Vipers? Are you guys going to be playing live as a separate band? Will FV songs be included in Destroy Babylon sets?
MB: Not sure how often DB will play FV, but we are certainly excited to do more recording with both bands. It’s great to have an outlet specifically for our love of rootsy reggae and dub, and allows us to continue to push Babylon into heavier and weirder territory.
BS: I saw that you guys were selling limited edition cassette tapes. How come you guys wanted to record on cassette. Do you think tapes will see a resurgence in popularity the same way that vinyl records have in the past few years or so?
JB: We grew up with cassettes before we got CD’s, so we’ll always have a soft spot for them. While there is a minor resurgence happening within some niches, they will never be popular like they once were, and vinyl will always bigger. Vinyl is the best physical format for DJ’s and sound great- cassettes are too lo-fi and tape players too antiquated at this point. But for some I think it’s those very elements, along with nostalgia and the cost, that make them fun to listen to and produce. Being the cheapest physical medium also went along with our no-budget theme.
BS: Where are you guys playing next?
MB: Flying Vipers debut performance is at our secret lair in Waltham… email firstname.lastname@example.org for details, this one is off the radar.