Child Bite's EP-in-One-Week Adventure
The group sets out to record an EP in one week with no set drummer (in the middle of a Star Wars-dotted St Patrick’s Day Parade near a haunted train station)
As 2011 dawned, Detroit-based art rock ‘trio’ Child Bite decided to make lemonade out of their own personal lemon — that of not having a drummer — by hooking up with six different drummers within a short time period. The idea was to scribble, noodle, and jam out five somewhat solid ideas for songs to later be quickly yet meticulously crammed into the audio oven of producer Chris Koltay’s High Bias Studios. That delectable smell in the air is Child Bite’s resulting confection. Grab a fork and napkin.
Child Bite were kind enough to invite TMT to observe and report on the process, opening doors to their rehearsal space and, a couple days later, inviting us to High Bias Studios. Our last communiqué with the group included unpacking their 2010 LP, the pummelin’ n’ tumblin’, inverted pop and surf-/noise-tinged exploration, The Living Breathing Organ Summer , which was preceded by an interview where instead of a trio sans drummer, they were a trio sans lead guitarist. Yes, Child Bite have had somewhat of a revolving cast of players as of late.
In the end, the EP’s final cuts were developed by five different Detroit-area drummers: Brandon Moss (Bars of Gold), Matt Rickle (Javelins/Fawn), Ryan Clancy (Silent Years), Brandon Sczomak, (current Child Bite guitarist), Dave Vaughn (Detroit Cobras), and finally DD/MM/YYYY’s Moshé Rozenberg, who hopped off a Greyhound on Monday, March 7 and was taxied (by Child Bite) straight to the rehearsal space.
Their “press record” deadline was less than five days away. What follows is a loose documentation of Child Bite trying to make this happen.
Day 2 (Tuesday, March 8): Rehearsal
Inside fellow Detroit art rock quartet Zoos of Berlin’s space.
“More of a pressure cooker situation,” said singer/guitarist/keyboardist/band-founder Shawn Knight, standing inside a professionally outfitted studio nestled into a factory space in downtown Detroit. He was flanked by his assembled group — bassist Sean Clancy, guitarist Brandon Sczomak, and guest drummer Moshé Rozenberg — on a somewhat anxious Tuesday evening. They were tasked with “figuring this shit out” in time to record on Saturday morning, before tours come a-knockin’ the very next Monday.
Clancy said that any potential freak-out is over: no drummer=”this isn’t a real band” is reassuringly quashed by some fortunate next turn, a good live show, or a new collaboration (i.e. Rozenberg).
“This experiment is only out of necessity.” said Knight. “We want to find Mr. Right! I did state on our Facebook once that we were looking to steal a drummer; it’s gonna have to be that way. But, for now, we’re just borrowing until we end up stealing a rent-to-own. It’s not ideal, but our credit is shitty.”
Sczomak, also a skilled drummer, asked if he considered filling that void: “I’m not raw enough for this band, drumming-wise.” Amy Palomar, our photographer, exclaimed as a credit to CB, “What a compliment!”
Knight said this is “new territory” on another level, this being the first songs not written with original members, drummer Daniel Sperry and guitarist Zach Norton, who departed last year after five years together. “95% of Child Bite’s music is written with four guys in a room,” Knight said of the equal contributions from the ensemble, “or…,” he looks around, “three guys in a room. It’s always in a room, everybody’s in the room.” If anything, he surmised, the rotating drummers were less claiming each song sketch with their own signature and more so helping CB’s three permanent members solidify their own visions for the songs. By extension, Rozenberg, as much as he could painstakingly study these initial five recordings and dedicatedly recreate each drummer’s subtle idiosyncrasies, he would eventually follow his own intuitions and drum sensibilities.
“We don’t really linger too long on any specific idea,” Clancy said. “It’s only when we’re tightening up structures and we know we’re going into the studio.”
“I think that’s kind of the theme of the band, in general,” said Sczomak. “Don’t dwell, just do it and move onto the next song.”
“Not to say that we don’t care,” Clancy said. No, Sczomak agreed, it’s just that “you could change these songs forever.”
“This is really refreshing,” according to Rozenberg. “Talking about a band that doesn’t pick songs apart or change a billion times, yeah… that’s my band [DD/MM/YYYY]! We’re here moving forward all the time, but my band is like one step forward, one step back.”
So Child Bite pushes Rozenberg off a cliff. Let’s practice, record, and wrap it up in a week.
“We released Organ Summer last year but we’d recorded it two years ago, so it feels like forever since we’ve done anything,” Clancy said, glossing over their tours, of course. “We got tired of being in limbo. Let’s fucking do something.”
Day 7 (Sunday, March 13): Recording
High Bias Studios, located in southwest Detroit (a stone’s throw from famed haunted/abandoned Michigan Central Train Station), wound up being such a spooky muse for producer Koltay’s most recent clients, Akron Family for S/T II. That said, this was the day of Detroit’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. We weaved our way through street-lined clusters of tipsy Celtic enthusiasts, a veritable tailgating scene of hastily parked buses and RVs blaring buzzy bagpipe music, casuing red-cupped, Guinness-sipping, green-swathed grinners to break into Riverdance jigs. For some reason, there was a gang of Star Wars characters, suited up in costumes and makeup, mustered near the front of the parade.
“My hands are nothing but pain… ” Rozenberg said. Five consecutive nights of rehearsing 7PM to 1AM plus the entirety of Saturday from 11AM to midnight, laying down tracks in studio had led to considerable calluses and cramped-up triceps.
Psychologically holding up? “Ohh…” Knight shrugs, “fine!”
“I think so,” Clancy nods.
Knight: “We moved really fast yesterday and still could take our time.”
At this point in the interview, I start stretching, and it encourages all four members to join in, limbering up before they finish the EP’s final track. “Watched half of Encino Man and ate tacos… Koltay’s an excellent cook if you ever get the chance.”
“That’s some karate shit!” Rozenberg reacts to my wide stance and then mimics. “Actually, this is a pretty cool dance move… see that foot? It’s a build up to if you’re gonna go crazy with footwork.”
“Like Babe Ruth,” Knight stretches, “pointing at the fence: Look at this shit; it’s about to do something.”
Knight commended Koltay for effectively accommodating their audio needs, setting up everything “before we got here.”
They each agree that their rigorous schedule leading into this — six hours, nightly, of prep work — led to a smooth and assured recording experience. They stuck the landing, so to speak.
“This has been awesome. I like doing stuff like this,” Clancy said. “But, at the same time, it’s very disorienting and hard to have a good foundation when you don’t have a permanent dude.” The band has a tour booked, with Silent Years’ Ryan Clancy on board, but beyond that it goes back to their usual ‘trio.’ They know, and heartily appreciate, their fortune of finding willing drum-collaborators and hope their luck continues.
The EP is “just guitars and drums,” Clancy said. “Mathy, a lot more dissonant.”
“These songs are a little more aggressive,” said Sczomak. “More of a kick to the balls. That guy,” he points to Rozenberg, “brings the fire.”
“Tonally, it’s more gnarly,” Clancy offered. “Just… dirty guitars and dirty bass and maximum drums, in your face. Dissonant, but also lots of little hooks and catchy little melodies. I think it comes off as more intense.”
“Koltay said that Organ Summer seemed like it was doing more pop kinda things — not so much this time.”
“I don’t necessarily produce [CB] the same way as I do Akron/Family,” Koltay said of his subtle role while also commending Child Bite’s savvy and determination. “Yesterday, I said, ‘Maybe you should play that song a few beats per minute slower,’ and, it turns out I was right, but most of what they do — they’re very self-policing, and if they need help, they’ll ask for it. Ultimately, I usually default to the artist. The room has a sound, this place has a really distinct sound, and I think for most bands it turns out to be a fun place to hang out and record. I’m trying to make people less conscious of the process; there are no clocks in here. It doesn’t really feel like a studio. It feels more like some stoner’s bedroom.”
Koltay mixed Organ Summer, but this EP is both parties’ first proper recording experience together.
“I feel like you should always take [recording] seriously,” Koltay said, “but records… these guys are gonna make records for a long time. This is one record. You should always be prepared: I should, they should, and this is definitely an awesome recording. But, people say:’But I just want it to be perfect!’ Well, perfect? Have you hever heard this record by Neil Young called Harvest?, ‘cause it ain’t perfect, but almost every song on it makes almost everybody who hears it feel a direct emotion.
“It’s more important to me that people are having a good time when they’re playing this; I don’t want to record anybody when they don’t feel like being recorded.”
Clancy summed up his experience through the week: “As stressful and as hard and as fucked up as it is… days like yesterday, or even now, where it’s like: I just like being in a band! The whole week I’m like: Oh this is so much work, I just wanna go to bed, I’m tired! But, I am so stoked right now that we did this.”
“At the end of the journey, man, I’m so glad I did this.”
[Photos: Amy Palomar]