Almost immediately after putting the Tenth Life cycle to bed, we started the normal process of shaping songs out of jams. We also decided to record ourselves once again. After a years-long collaboration with Josh Clark, we had learned a lot from him during the recording of Opus Mixtum and Tenth Life; as Josh and his family left New York, it was time to put those lessons to the test. TK relished the mad scientist role, spending time alone sitting Zazen with tracks until directions were revealed, declaring “it takes as long as it takes.”
In October, 2014, we were asked to be part of the inaugural Louisville Outskirts Festival. Carrie Neumayer and Stephanie Gary are the organizers of this ongoing annual event, a non-profit umbrella of performances, band workshops, and exhibits on display over the course of a weekend, highlighting the breadth and diversity of women making music in the area while nurturing future girl rockers. We could not have been more proud to play this gig in TnT’s hometown.
Notably, at our show, we performed “Slow” by our soulmates the Endtables—an unrecorded song Tim and Tara recalled hearing back in the day. We had recorded an as-yet-unreleased single with “Slow” on one “side” and the gorgeous “Moon Song” by Louisvillians Michael and Tari O’Bannon on the other. So on this night, for our last song, we gathered Tari, Chili Rigot, and TK guitar foil Wink O’Bannon to perform “Slow.” Michael watched from the wings.
On March 20, 2015, Chili left us. On April 10, 2016, Michael left us. We had obviously spent a great deal of the past ten years grappling with the exits of loved ones, and losing those two giants of our original Louisville scene was devastating. Then followed the death of Letha Rodman Melchior.
Letha was a friend from NYC—a member of Ruby Falls, a visual artist and a recording artist with her own solo work. She bravely documented her struggle in a blog, Letha’s Happy Hospital Funtime Blog, which was incredibly inspiring and, frankly, funny as hell from time to time. And that sense of humor and acceptance was a gift to us all. We were honored to participate in a memorial concert for her at Rough Trade NYC, along with Cynthia Nelson and the Rogers Sisters (two acts which included her Ruby Falls comrades), Versus, and the Thalia Zedek Band.
As 2014 came to a close we were asked to join Yo La Tengo at two stellar venues, previewing much of what would be shaped into Intimations of Immortality. We performed at Town Hall in New York City with an unveiling of our Big Band Antietam lineup—including many who would go on to make IOI such a layered album. Steven Levi and Cheryl Kingan (The Scenic Horns), borrowed from The Scene Is Now, joined on cornet and sax, and Sue Garner sang background vocals—although that is a barely accurate term for her contribution, as her vocal flavor is a big part of this record.
Town Hall—dig it! The suffragist League for Political Education built it on 43rd Street soon after passage of the 19th Amendment. Margaret Sanger was pulled from the stage by the police for speaking about birth control in 1921. Pablo Casals appeared in 1923, Segovia in 1929. Marian Anderson, Isaac Stern in the 30s; Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Lester Young in the 40s; Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Nina Simone in the 50s; Dylan and Pete Seeger in the 60s – it was absolutely awe-inspiring to play on that stage, and, since TK had done so before (with Tim and Ira Kaplan) in 1995 during the Ear and Echo era, so nervous that she could not remember a thing, it was great to have a re-do. We played the Trocadero in Philadelphia with YLT later that week, accompanied by Sue.
In 2015 the record solidified and we recorded not only the Scenic Horns, but Ira’s piano and Katie Gentile’s violin. Sue, at The Mule Yard, home base studio for her and Rick Brown, and Tim at Chessie recorded TK’s vocals with care (and coaching). TK picked up a banjo for the first time in, oh, forty years! We were fortunate to have Steve Cooley, the bluegrass wizard from Louisville, track some mandolin and guitar from his studio, Shanty Boat Steve’s, quite literally on the Ohio River. By 2016 we were ready to mix.
As it is in adult life, though, 2016 would throw a couple of challenges in the mix. In March, June Key, TK’s mom and, in the last five years of June’s life, collaborator in the guise of two books, passed (Tim’s mom followed the next year). In late November, TK and TH were displaced from their longtime apartment by a fire next door and they became nomads for a time. It was a struggle, and, ultimately, a victory to white-knuckle it through these passages and come out the other side with the document we did.
At some point during the year, our attention turned to shaping the record, since recording was, for the most part, complete. We decided to ask James McNew of Yo La Tengo if he would have the time and inclination to mix with us. We have always admired him greatly; his laser-like ability to put a note EXACTLY where it needs to be and no more, his gorgeous voice and attention to blends and atmosphere when it comes to vocals, his adventurous nature when it comes to tracking and mixing, not to mention his knowing every pop hit from the last 50 years and most that were not hits, his uncanny ability to hear seminal songs from TK/TH’s musical childhood as if his ears were there, too. This was important to TK because she had constructed a shadow skeleton for IOI while working on it.
For each song TK had a pointed inspiration for sonics and vocal style. In the case of “Sunshine,” for example, she heard an alternate universe where you are driving in the 1960s on the Watterson Expressway in Louisville at 8:43 a.m., during drive time, WAKY on, sun starting a late-spring early-morning bake, and it gets played by a ramping-up-to-manic-morning jock. So this was effortlessly and often wordlessly translated to the McNew brain. He massaged and colored and smoothed and roughed, diffused and sharpened, all through a kaleidoscope of pop sensibility and every track has his touch on it.
Plus, every session was just so damn much fun with him.
During this time our long-time label, Carrot Top, in Chicago, decided to stop operations. Patrick and Julia had, if not come to our rescue, then, let’s say, come to our resurgence back at the turn of the century and we were very, very lucky to have had their support. In the wake of this, we decided to start our own label, Motorific Sounds, for the release of IOI and more to come.
We decided that the release of IOI would include an enticement to buy the physical. Throughout 2016-2017, TK had been doing paintings, one for each song, that would provide clues to decode the layers of each composition. On the back of the 12 paintings were lyrics. In conjunction with the release of IOI, TK had an art show at Café Grumpy titled Winter Count, in reference to objects marking time made by the Lakota Indians. These paintings were replicated on individual cards and packaged with a CD in a deluxe box.
Intimations of Immortality was released on September 8, 2017. We played (and filmed) a set at Union Pool in Brooklyn. Check it out in Part 1 of A Week+ In the Life of Antietam, a film made by TK about the Release Season.
On September 23, we travelled to Chicago for a landmark event: The Sputnik Party. In 2017, TK, Ira Kaplan, Rick Rizzo, Rick Brown, Jon Langford, Julia Adams, and a few other Chicago celebrants all turned 60. As did Sputnik. A year earlier, when in discussion with Rizzo about this impending shift, Rizzo said for that particular birthday all he wanted was for his friends’ bands to all play together. TH held him to that, and called to inquire at the beginning of 2017. Rizzo went into motion and Katie and Tim Tuten were happy to open the doors, or, rather, street, of the Hideout for one more Block Party Blowout. It was phenomenal. 75 Dollar Bill, Antietam, the Condo F**ks, Jon Langford and Skull Orchard, and Eleventh Dream Day played. Check out the video evidence in part 2 of A Week+ In the Life of Antietam.
Right Between Your Eyes
Video: A Week in the Life of Antietam