To discuss e.p. (released January 15, 2014), I met Pink Elephant at the Feder Building, their practice space. After Eric Witkowski (vocals, guitar) unveiled his pre-packaged Hess Mart sandwich, Jeff Thompson (drums) told him he was “carrying a loaded weapon” and explained how a friend had been poisoned so badly by such a sandwich, he nearly died, vomiting at least 18 times before going to the hospital. Eric, while eating, recalled “blowing up” a bathroom at a KOA campground in New Mexico while traveling, and our conversation was off to an explosive start. Below is what followed. I have also included some insights from Nate of Nasty Records, who provided me some words about what became Pink Elephant’s e.p.
How The Idea Began
Nate (of Nasty Records): Before the holidays, I ran into him (Eric) at Firehouse Saloon one night, and we got to talking. I mentioned that I ran Nasty Records Recording, and he stated was interested in working with me.
Eric Witkowski: First of all, I don’t remember talking to Nate about it. Probably because I was blacked out drunk, so that whole portion of the story should get axed.
Nick Walter (guitarist): The idea was that we were going on a mini-tour three dates out, so we wanted to have something to sell.
Eric: We were getting ready for a weekend tour, but we were recording a full length – coming up in mid-February. All we had was the e.p. recorded when we first got together with our old drummer, and we really wanted to show off this young fellow’s (Jeff’s) chops to the new audience, plus our new songs. The old e.p. was a year and a half old. We wanted something affordable and quick. Something we could record mostly live, and he had the setup and the price. I went and listened to his stuff, and it sounded okay, so we went with it.
The Recording Process
Did you record live?
Eric: We did 2 and 2. I played with Jeff live, and these guys (Greg and Nick) came in and played over what we did.
How did it take shape from there?
Eric: We had an idea of the new material we wanted to record in terms of a relative flow for four songs.
How about additional sessions for mixing?
Nick: We weren’t super wild about the first mix, so we just went in and walked through it with him and came up with our mix.
Nate (of Nasty Records): They are all great players and came in ready to go. The session went very smooth. We got everything tracked that day, shared a few laughs and discussed some creative ideas for mixing. I went on to mix everything and had them come in a few times to fine tune and adjust different aspects of the recording to make sure we got everything how they wanted.
Extra tracking or recording effects?
Nick: No. We tracked everything in one day.
Eric: We did autotune my vocals (laughs).
Greg Wilcox (bassist): A lot of reverse reverb (laughing).
Stories From The Studio
Jeff Thompson: The one closet at the end of the hallway. The roof was leaking really bad. It was raining.
Eric: There was a hole in the ceiling. He (Jeff) opened it, and it was dumping in. (transitions) We recorded one of the songs, the first song we did, “Hook”, and then we went to listen to it, and Nate was like, “It’s not here.” His program had erased it.
Jeff: It was just the vocals.
Eric: Yeah, it was just the vocal stuff, but it was three songs. We had a show the night before. I unwisely stayed out late and was going on three hours sleep, so my voice was a little shot. We lost all the vocals, and I had to redo them. Weird little glitches.
You mentioned the house where you recorded has some history?
Nick: The home of Rochester’s first mayor. He built it and lived in it until he died. It’s a cool mansion with pillars and everything.
Greg: The upstairs, where Nate was, used to hold city council meetings there. I kept picturing old dudes with wigs on.
Eric: It’s a gorgeous building.
The Future (recording a full length this month)
Eric: There is this studio in Syracuse. Moore Sound Studios, run by this great dude called Jocko, who you (looking at Jeff) have recorded with before.
Jeff: Yeah, Tiger Cried Beef recorded there. Thunderbody, Ginger Faye Bakers, and, I don’t know if he still is, but he ran sound for John Brown’s Body.
Eric: He’s a local legend.
Jeff: It’s a cool place to record. You stay there. There is an apartment upstairs.
Eric: We’re going to be living there for four days, at the studio, which I’ve never done…just to be able to focus
Jeff: Barry, of Limeworks, just recorded there.
Eric: Limeworks just recorded there? (excitedly) That’s gonna sound good!
Will you leave after four days with a completed album?
Eric: No. The following weekend I have to go back for two days of mixing and mastering, which Jocko himself will be doing (Jocko’s engineer is doing the recording). Then, after that, we’re looking for this to be vinyl, so we have to have it pressed. I have ideas from the band, why+the+wires, about that.
Jeff: They get one of those old gramophones and play directly into it.
Nick: That’s how Dead Moon did it. They would cut straight to vinyl as they played, and just press off of that.
Greg: Let’s do it (joking).
Nick: I think it was in Hype, a pretty cool movie.
Anything to add?
Greg: Go Seahawks!
An argument ensued where Jeff drew a clear distinction between rooting for Peyton Manning and rooting for the Broncos. He added that upon his return to Indianapolis, for his game against the Colts, even the nacho concession guy was pleased to see him, so he must be a good guy. I could not contradict the Nacho Clause, so left Pink Elephant to practice.
Words From a Listener
Music can sometimes hearken back to a moment personal to you, but foreign to others. What got me interested in e.p. from the start was the picture. It doesn’t look like any album cover I can recall, but its industrious simplicity, along with its title, brought back the nostalgia of first happening upon June of 44 music, along with other Quarterstick and Thrill Jockey artists, and the comfort of feeling akin before even giving that first listen.
As any music listener will attest, a first look means very little, but “Silver Spoons & City Maps” is singularly strong enough to meld anticipation and reality. There is no pop formula; I have no idea what the chorus is. There are not dynamic changes (the alternative/indie standard) to dramatically pull the listener in; soft stops provide the strongest dynamic, but no crescendo precedes or follows. The instruments speak for themselves – meaning: this recording does not rely on the digital age, or knobs and effects, which is why it could be recorded in one day and tweaked in a few additional Nasty Recording sessions. Jeff goes from snare heavy to tom heavy which drives you from hypnosis to head nod, Eric changes melody rather than tone, and the guitars transition from finely controlled chords to finely chaotic solos/noise. Though the first song has the most distinct footprint, the three tunes that follow blister on without disappointment. When these songs stick in your head, they do so in their entirety; it’s not infection through catchy vocal lines, riffs, or beats.
There is no question what Pink Elephant is delivering; they are not cast from double entendres and innuendos, and this actually challenges the listener’s complexity more. Anger does not have to be jaded, emotion does not have to be manic, intelligence does not have to be witty, attraction does not have to be pretty, and Pink Elephant does not have to be the standard. Listen to e.p. once and see if you don’t listen again.
– PJ Muldowney
(Released January 15, 2014)