2nd January 1998
(The original questioner's name is at work somewhere)
Lyrically, the hex albums are pretty groovy. Aside from SCRABBLE...
Ho! you remember the Scrabble anecdote! For our listeners who may have just tuned in, Hex came up in a Scrabble game that Steve and I were playing. Steve had used an x and I placed an e in front of it. He expected me to spell out Sex, but I spelled Hex instead. I was hesitant to do this, because Steve uses every bit of inspiration that comes his way. I was worried that this metal-rock word would haunt me. It did. Nothing against the word Hex, it’s a great word with an interesting history and many engaging and hidden connotations. It just didn’t match the music. Everybody knows that I play arena rock.
...what were your influences at the time [of the first record]
When we put together the demos for the first Hex record, we went to New York to record, and I think that New York was the main influence on that album. I know that people will hate me for what I’m about to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. The Grateful Dead were doing a week long concert series at Madison Square Garden which was right next door to the studio where we were working. If you don’t already know, Steve likes to do impromptu writing, so the lyrics for many of the songs were written during breaks between guitar takes or what have you. So there’s no way some groovy vibrations are not going to sift over from half a billion deadheads and into Steve’s waiting ethereal snare. I mainly edited, acting as a blonde thesaurus with a little red pen wrapped up in velvet. Some of the lines were mine, but not many, “out of the pink sky comes a Spanish radio show” was mine, Elizabeth Green’s “can’t lift her hand for the dust that it makes” (big deal) was also mine (by the way, the original line was can’t lift her head, Steve said that made it too depressing , but used "I cannot lift my head" himself later on Disappointment [Gold Afternoon Fix]), the dog.) But that’s pretty much it.
Does the second album reflect more lyrical input from you as it seems?
Yes indeed it does, my astute Hexographer. Here’s a little rundown: I wrote all of the lyrics and melody to March; all of the melody and most of the lyrics to Hell; suggested the chakra concept for Vast Halos (Steve selected the chakras - there are seven and we only needed four); half of Aquamarine’s lyrics including the line “the silence spreads like syrup - it’s coating everything” which I still adore; all of the melody and the lyrical acid trip parts of Orpheus Circuit “white eyeless creatures all hatched from the foam”; all of the good stuff in Antelope - just kidding! - I wrote the choruses and some of the verse lines, no melodies though except the banshee vocals at the end; none of the Monarch lyrics except the line about spilled electricity - uh, do you really care about this?
27th November 1997
Samuel Younge : Donnette, I simply love all of Vast Halos. Thanks for the effort.
Thanks! I’m so glad you liked it. I had much more involvement in the writing process in Vast Halos than I did in the first Hex recordings. I remember sitting at a poolside table at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel writing the melody line and most of the lyrics to "March" and humming like a madwoman while watching the lead singer of the Fine Young Cannibals swim laps. An outstanding swimmer, that man.
Most of all I enjoy the Antelope song. Would you share some of your thoughts on it?
I love that song too, there is a lot that I would like to say about it. I wrote Brian a long story about the feedback guitar you hear right at the top and then throughout the song. My gear was too loud to use headphones, so I played the whole part without hearing any of the tracks, but it meshed eerily well. When I was playing the feedback, it seemed just like so much noise, but then in the playback, it was almost creepy how cozily the parts I had done blind fit into the song.
One other interesting thing about Antelope, it almost didn’t exist! Steve wrote the chord progression on an Ensonic SQ80 which I was learning how to use. He had worked on the song for a while and we were both really excited about recording it. Then I was fiddling with the keyboard one day and I totally wiped the song out ! It was gone ! Steve was able to recreate it for the most part - in fact I think what he did the second time may have actually been superior to the original. But there was a haunting melody that was still missing. In the studio I played what I thought was the lost melody - it's the slide guitar part you hear twice, and Steve was electrified, but he swore that he had never written such a melody line. I still swear that he did, and I just remembered it. Who knows? I saw Eno speak one time, he said he once heard a song on the radio that was remarkably similar to one he had worked on for a while and dropped. He then said one of my favorite quotes "Hey! I saw that one go by." Maybe the little melody line was Eno’s!
Antelope was the only song on Vast Halos that was recorded concurrently with the Gold Afternoon Fix recording sessions. The rest were recorded later. I think Antelope may have been a test song to see if we could write more material together that would be as good as the first record, but I wasn't really in on the workings of that machine. I guess we passed the audition though.
I don’t know who Antelope is, Steve wrote the character, so it’s probably Steve. Singing it I always felt that Antelope was a kind of huckster, or thought of himself that way, but was really capable of creating great magic that he ultimately could not control and therefore disavowed. Ironic that if Steve is the Antelope that he would eventually have twins, although when I wrote the line about twins ["Twin sons bravado and despair"], I was using it as a metaphor.
One more thing, there’s a little line in Antelope that might be more interesting if you know the history of it, although it is somewhat ghoulish. Towards the end of the 1800’s, possibly due to Poe’s short story "Buried Alive", a general scare rose up about being buried alive. And to give the folks of the time some credit, for some reason or another, it seems they had been digging up a lot of coffins with scratch marks all over the insides of the lids (eek). In order to assuage people’s fears, little bells were installed at fashionable graves along with a string that went down to the finger of the person of questionable mortality (i.e. the corpse). Naturally, when a slight wind kicked up, all of these little bells would tinkle merrily away, giving the truly living a pretty severe case of the heebie jeebies. Thus after the 40 years in 40 years and the 40 years in 20 years all being gone, you now have bells ringing in the underground. I’ve always wanted to tell that story, thank you, Samuel, for providing me with an opportunity to do so.
I am offically volunteering here and now; you can take me to South Dakota any day as long as you sing to me when we get there.
I think in South Dakota you’re only allowed to sing "Freebird" on the back of a Hog. Still wanna go?
Richard and Dena : On "in the net", Steve's backing vocals or "grunts" are pretty cool. Having a great memory, could you possibly explain the inspiration?
Pretty good, you picked out the one place on either Hex record where Steve’s voice is audible on purpose. We had been discussing Roman slave ships and how they used oars to row these huge vessels across the sea, often to destinations where people literally expected monsters to live or the horizon to suddenly end. Can you imagine being in the hull of a ship like this, unable to see anything but the bit of ocean around your oar, torn from your family and friends and enslaved? Then forced to row this huge boxy ship out into the unknown world ? Steve put in the grunts to give this sort of horrific hue to the song, but it ended up sounding kinda sexy instead, so oh well, whaddaya whaddaya.
What percentage of the lyrics on the first Hex album did you write?
The lyrics on this record were a true collaborative effort for the most part. ‘Arrangement’ was already written, as was ‘Hermaphrodite’, so I get zero on those. I guess Steve did about 60-70% of the lyrics, but gave me full editing and veto power. When we calculated it together for copyrighting purposes, he graciously credited me with writing half the lyrics.
Ha you noticed! This was the first song Steve and I did together, another one written in his early Church days. I guess the range was comfortable for him when he wrote the song, and I could get there, we left it as is. This song is the only one on the Hex record that has the original vox tracks from the 16-track Fostex we started out on before Hex began to take on a life of its own and insisted on 24 tracks and Bryce Goggin. That could explain the (very subtle I might add) difference in sonic texture that you astutely noticed.