The Making of “The Old Country”

There were some unique things about the making of this cd. One was the hotel. The owner of M.A records, Todd Garfinkle, lives in Tokyo, is married to a Japanese woman, and speaks fluent Japanese. He rented a hi-tech hall in a little town in the country about 2 hours west of Tokyo. It had great acoustics, but the town was really tiny.

Mark Nauseef, Miroslav Tadic, and I rehearsed at CalArts ouside of LA, flew over to Tokyo, and were picked up by Todd, who drove us to this town. There was only one good hotel, and it was in an amusement park. To get there, you had to make a left and go under the rollercoaster. This was so strange (especially in the dark) that Todd couldn’t believe it, and we drove past the place twice before eventually turning in. Another strange thing was that the hotel seemed to have no towels- “People bring their own” was the answer we got from the manager. Todd persuaded him to give us some. There was no soap of any kind in the rooms- the manager opened the gift shop and sold us soap and shampoo.

Then he told us that breakfast was at 9 am. The next morning, we received stern phone calls telling us that breakfast was ready. We wondered why they seemed so insistent until we realized that we were the only guests and they didn’t want to stay open any longer than necessary. So we had to dine promptly. Walking down the hallway to the dining room I heard all sorts of birds chirping very loudly. “We’re really in the country”, I thought. Mark mentioned to me that there seemed to be some sort of “white noise” in the hallway, too. Later we found out that they were playing a cable radio station that featured sounds of nature. The one they chose each morning was “Birds by a Rushing Stream”.

On the third day, the amusement park opened and there were finally others in the hotel. Since the rollercoaster was right outside my window, I was treated to clattering wheels and screams for the next few mornings. I named one of my tunes after the name of the rollercoaster, “Hayabusa”.

There weren’t too many good restaurants in the town, either, and late one night after a day of recording, we found ouselves in a bar, the only place with food that was still open. It was also the only dirty place I’ve ever seen in Japan. We sat on the dusty, carpeted floor while flies buzzed around us. They had conveniently supplied a flyswatter, which I found under the table. The main attraction was a giant screen with karaoke videos about drug dealers and prostitutes, and the customers seemed to have stepped right out of them into the bar. Occasionally, one would grab the mic, drunkenly bellow a tune, and sink back onto his stool.

The owner, trying to make us feel welcome and giving us the friendly proprietor treatment, came over to us with the mic and smilingly sang a song while he put his hand on Mark’s knee, which Mark didn’t exactly like, to put it mildly. He said things like “Hey Buddy, get your _ _ _ _ _ _ _ hand off my knee!” while the guy smiled and sang on enthusiastically in Japanese.

Rather than see a fight break out over that or the terrible food – my chicken was spoiled- I grabbed the mic and played harp to the next tune, to the general confusion of everyone there. We couldn’t get out fast enough. Todd was worried, Mark was angry, I was hungry, and Miroslav was laughing- he said it reminded him of places in his country (Bosnia).We ended up at a convenience store eating snack food.

In spite of (or maybe partially because of) all of this strangeness, we managed to record a cd full of challenging and unusual music.

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