Ten Year Bender is the second studio release from Stand & Deliver, the current incarnation of my long-time rock project. Recorded in 2002 and 2003, the original, limited-run version of the album was titled songs for depressed people².
This record was intended to be my first “solo” project as a singer-songwriter. And I did release about 60 copies of it, burned onto CD-Rs on my old desktop PC, packaged with my own original artwork and stick-on CD labels. I even threw it a well-attended and enthusiastic record release party at xhedos cafe¹ in Ferndale.
Part 1: Bringing a ‘Lost Record’ Back from the Dead
But as Lupo and I remixed the songs for the 2015 release, it became clear that the new version had to be called Ten Year Bender. (Ironically, the title track is one of the two finished songs from the 2003 sessions that we left off the original release – I think in part because it seemed too happy!)
I always saw the song “Ten Year Bender” in light of my own ‘Hero’s Journey’ through the alcohol addiction, depression and psychological torment of my twenties. And yet it was almost exactly ten years after the songs were recorded that Lupo and I found ourselves back in the studio finally working together to bring them “back to the light.” As if the album itself had been lost on a decade-long bender. In fact, the more we worked with the metaphor, the more we started to see it as the myth writing us, rather than us crafting the myth.
This record is so central to my own personal mythic journey, and yet it makes sense to me why I couldn’t face it for so long. The themes and even the tone of the record capture a raw, vulnerable moment in my life. As I wrote and recorded these songs, I was in the process of first questioning, and then changing, everything.
From my vantage point now, this is a simple, honest, and beautiful record. But it is at times deeply sad and doubting. And as I became more overtly spiritual in the decade in between making it and writing this, I found it hard to stand behind the young man who wrote and sang those songs. He seemed so….lost, so stuck in his anger and his “tragic victim of Fate” stance.
But Ten Year Bender is the hinge, the fulcrum. Without that kid from Flint, Michigan who repeatedly put himself face to face with ridicule, poverty, self-hatred, contempt and – most importantly – his own inner demons, I wouldn’t be here now. And here now is a pretty good place to be, a lot of the time.
I think we made the decision to release the 2015 version as a Stand & Deliver album for a couple reasons. First, although I wrote all the songs on this record, all of the members of the original band contributed to the album. Second, bringing this record back to life turned into a truly herculean task. Lupo spent hundreds of hours alone at night after work in the last two years working to rescue the original tracks from early-aughts technological purgatory while respecting the original vibe of the songs. Without his personal investment in the project the second time around, I don’t know if this record would ever have seen the light of day again.
Almost by Accident: Making the Original Ten Year Bender
I had originally intended on recording the songs with Brendan Benson, who went on to achieve some measure of fame as a member of the Raconteurs with Jack White. But I ran out of money. I hadn’t really talked with Lupo since the break-up of Mystery Train (Stand & Deliver’s original incarnation). We all had big dreams back then and when the wheels fell off, it wasn’t pretty. I suppose these things never are, but hurtful words were said and bridges were burned.
And then I found out Lupo was really sick and attempting to recover from a life-threatening illness. I went to a healing circle at his parents’ house in Grosse Pointe one night and we started talking again. He wasn’t well enough to go back to work for several months, and he’s a Taurus (they’re doers!), so he suggested we record it at his place.
We did the original tracking for the record in 2002. Ivan, our drummer from Mystery Train, was on tour as the drum tech for Destiny’s Child. He happened to be back in Detroit for a bit and one of us had the bright idea: Hey, Ivan’s a genius. Let’s just record the drums with him while he’s in town.
So we did. We recruited Lupo’s cousin Frank to play bass, and we recorded all of the drums in a single day. Ivan and Frank had never heard the songs before so I’d give them the rough framework of the song – “this is the verse, C-F-G, and we do two times through the verse and then the bridge goes to A7”- and we’d play through it a couple times until it started feeling good.
I think what happened is that we originally planned that first tracking session as a rehearsal. Lupo threw up a pair of overheads plus a single mic on the kick drum, thinking we’d have time later to mic the drums properly. And then Ivan got called back on tour and didn’t return until months later.
Throughout the winter of 2002 and through the spring of 2003, Lupo and I would meet at the studio two or three times a week and flesh out the songs. At first Lupo could only work for a couple hours before he had to go home and go back to bed. But he got stronger as we went along and by the spring we were making good progress.
This was the first record where I played almost all of the guitars. During the Mystery Train years, Lupo could be kind of an asshole when it came to being unprepared or sloppy. I didn’t know this at the time, but he has a perfectionist Virgo Moon in his natal chart. And I was the quintessential “shadow Pisces” during the Mystery Train period. Beautiful and terrible – but definitely bringing a lot of slop.
Lupo’s patience and encouragement as I tracked the guitars on Ten Year Bender, sitting for hours waiting for me to nail a good take – on a part he could have knocked out in ten minutes – went a long way towards healing our relationship.
It Wasn’t Always Pretty – Taking It to the Limit With 933 Megahertz
We tracked Ten Year Bender on a 2002-era Pro Tools rig. At the time, it was pretty close to state of the art. An Apple G4 with a massive 933 Mhz processor, upgraded to 1.2 GB of RAM. It sounds crazy, right? We recorded the vocals through a Neumann TLM-103 condenser mic and used a variety of good guitars, vintage amps and stomp pedals. But the audio interface was a Digi 001 rack unit.
And most of the non-outboard effects (such as reverb and compression) were done with stock DigiDesign plugins. (To be fair, I still think the old Digi Bomb Factory compressor holds its own against many of today’s boutique analog-modeling plugins.) Looking back, it’s pretty amazing how great the original recorded sounded – it’s a testament to the fact that music made with passion by musicians with a shared vision can move your soul regardless of the recording medium.
But, in addition to the psychological and spiritual challenges explained below, there were a couple of musical flaws that always bugged us. One of the original female back-up singers was pretty badly off-key on two of the poppiest songs on the record, “Ten Year Bender” and “The Deal.” And since we recorded all three girls in front of a single microphone, Motown Records-style, the only real fix would be to re-record all of the backing vocals.
Which is what we finally did in 2014, with the amazing Karen Bennett singing all of the parts. Karen (Black Bottom Collective), was one of the three female vocalists on the original record and is one of my favorite female singers of all time. I still get chills listening to Karen’s singing on the remixed version of “The Deal”!
There were also a couple patches where my guitar was jarringly out of tune. I still had a big inferiority complex about my guitar playing back then and every time I heard those passages I’d cringe inside. With much more processing power and plug-in options available a decade later on, Lupo was able to hide those patches in the mix.
ReDiscovery: Compass Point, Bahamas, 2012
The last time I saw Ivan during this period was in 2003. He was back in town and he swung by the studio and recorded a few extra percussion parts. The big, booming drums in the outro of O Lord, Will I Walk Free? That’s Ivan playing the furnace ducts with a crescent wrench. I wouldn’t see him again until 2012, when Lupo and I went to Compass Point in the Bahamas to record the drums for Stand & Deliver’s next two albums. Another weird ten-year deal.
It was at Compass Point – where some of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time were made, including records by AC/DC, Bob Marley, The Talking Heads and many more – that Ten Year Bender began showing signs of life again.
Lupo is a huge AC/DC fan and one of his dream had always been to record at Compass Point. In January of 2012, we flew down to the Bahamas with a couple suitcases full of microphones and equipment and recorded the drum tracks for 24 songs in just nine days. Ivan was working so hard on the last day to nail out the final few songs, I just remember his great bald head dripping sweat for hours over his drum kit. At the end of our last night in the studio, we were tearing down the equipment, rolling up cables, and packing everything away for the trip back to the U.S. Lupo put the 2003 version of Ten Year Bender on his iPhone and played it through the PA. At one point, we all kind of stopped working and looked at each other.
“This is a really good album,” Ivan said.
“These songs sound pretty darn good,” Lupo said.
“Wow,” I said.
We had each had our reasons for disowning the album.
- I had hoped that Ten Year Bender would be the springboard to a successful solo career as a singer-songwriter. But after a disastrous tour of the West Coast in 2004, I ended up broke and broke-down in New Orleans and stopped writing and performing for nearly (you guessed it) ten years. After the heartbreak of that tour, I couldn’t listen to the songs for a long, long time.
- Ivan was always a little embarrassed about the drums, because what you hear on the record isn’t representative of the magic he’s famous for churning out behind a drum kit. Keep in mind that the drums you’re hearing on Ten Year Bender – that’s Ivan playing songs he’s never heard before, while keeping one eye on me as I shout “bridge!” into the microphone or make some kind of guitar motion that’s supposed to mean “back to the chorus!”
- Lupo is a perfectionist by nature. He heard the flaws and blemishes on the album long before I did – and knew it could be so much better than it was in its original version.
Now, having just finished nine hard days and nights in the studio, working together to overcome challenges and find our way back into that magical place inside the music that, as younger men, we took for granted, we were able to look back at this wonderful little record and appreciate it for what it was.
Which, I suppose, might be a way of saying that we were each able to look back on our journey through those years and appreciate our younger selves for who we are and for how hard we tried and for the fact that, whatever water has flowed under the bridge, here we are still making music together.
Ivan has toured the world a couple times over as a drum tech for some of the biggest acts in popular music. He’s a world-class drummer in his own right. Lupo has asked him many times over the years: “Why do you want to play with us?”
Ivan always gives the same reply: “Because you guys have something that is rare. The ability to tune in to the Divine flow and create music. Because you can do it, you think everyone can do it. But most of them can’t. And that’s what I love about playing with you guys.”
In the next post, I’ll look back at the personal journey that led up to creating the album. And in the posts on the individual songs, I’ll write more about influences, inspirations and…well, your guess is probably as good as mine at this point!
Next Post: Bumming Out In Paris, France
1 Coffee shop/spiritual vortex on the main drag in Ferndale, Michigan where I did a couple years of open mic nights in the early aughts – and where I got my first astrology lesson from the owner, elemental astrologer Caleb Grayson. Back
2 I thought this was the coolest title ever. On one level it seemed to capture the whole slacker/indie vibe of the 1990s, when several of the songs were written. I’m thinking “Horses” by Palace Brothers or just about anything by Nirvana (Kurt Cobain and I share the same birthday). On another level it was just telling the truth: we live in a soul-sick society where just about everyone uses – pharmaceuticals, booze, food, TV, sex, Internet, church, yoga – just to be able to barely tolerate the meaninglessness of the life they’re living. But “depressed” is still a loaded word. People would see the CD and recoil a bit. Like, “Why are you showing me this? I’m not depressed!” Back