When producer Gordon Raphael (the Strokes, Regina Spektor) started working with local bands Education, Tangible Green, and Ill Prospekt last December, no one was happier than the bands themselves. Since then, more local bands and some out-of-towners have joined Raphael in the studio built by local supporters, but it is only now that we have an idea of what a Raphael-produced San Antonio album sounds like: loud.
Age Cage, recorded and mixed in nine days, is an in-your-face statement by a band that proved to have the skills, determination, and seriousness to pull off a full album in the time others with bigger budgets spend to work on a single song. (read our review of Age Cage here)
“We practiced really hard, so we did the songs in one or two takes,” said guitarist Brian Baker while visiting with the Current recently along with bassist Andrew Kerr, singer Philip Bowman, and keyboardist/new addition Allen van Hellen (drummer Alton Jenkins was in Austin). “That really impressed `Raphael`. The mixing was done in two days, so we were quick about it. Up until now, no one has been able to capture what we do live with these songs, and Gordon did. He captured every little sound, the raw power of the instruments.”
“They were tight and well-organized,” Raphael told the Current in an email sent from New York. “Making an album in a week takes a great deal of discipline.”
The symbol of the power and attitude of the album is “Number 20,” a song they wrote for Manu Ginobili.
“As the song says, he’s a criminal and is out on bail, trying to steal from everybody,” said Kerr. “When he drives to the hole, he’s just reckless abandon, and that’s what this song is: reckless abandon, the most powerful song in the album, by far.”
“There’s a stigma that musicians can’t be into sports, but we all play sports,” said Baker, “and we all agree that Manu is our favorite player of all time.”
But the album is not all raw power. “I do” is an acoustic love song, a first for Education.
“We specifically practiced that track for 30 minutes and it turned out to be a magical song,” said Baker. “We went, ‘That one’s gotta go in the album.’ We always have been so loud that we never got around to an acoustic song.”
The album ends with a short instrumental ballad on piano, but most of Age Cage is layers and layers of distorted instrumentation, as far away as possible from the clean sound of Is This It, the album that put the Strokes and Raphael on the map. “`Raphael` had this idea of having this raw, powerful album, so we rolled with it and we liked it,” said Bowman.
“I had a very small studio that the band, together with Josh `Villarreal` and Josh Vela set up for me,” said Raphael. “The gear in it was extremely inexpensive, such as an old PC computer, Cubase running thru some MOTU converters: About $30,000 less than anything I’d ever used before! Yet, there it was, the sound was undeniably rocking, loud and clear. It kind of broke my big-time Pro Tools religion.”
For Friday’s release party at Sam’s, the band introduces a new member that’s actually not that new. Van Hellen played with them in Rebels of the Sea, an old high school band, and recently returned from two years of teaching English in South Korea.
“I followed their evolution into Education, thinking, ‘Oh my God, I wish I was still with this band.’ I missed playing music with my best friends in the world.” When he came back in December, he begged the band to let him play “anything, even tambourine.” The band agreed.
“He came back just on time, it was a no brainer,” said Kerr. “He’s a fully talented musician and, when we went into rehearsal, five minutes later he had everything down. And he has the voice of an angel, so we now have three-part harmonies.”
Education and the other bands produced by Raphael aren’t the only ones that are happy. If anyone feels happy and grateful these days, it’s Raphael.
“Education was the first band I worked with in San Antonio, and in fact the first US record to be released with my work since `The Strokes’` Room On Fire and Regina Spektor’s Soviet Kitsch in the early 2000s!” Raphael said. “While working on that record I was contacted by lots of SA bands and other bands in America, which has begun a big love affair of music and sound here for me. I’ll always have a big love for Education for their awesome music and the fact that they re-opened the door for me here in the USA! An expatriate returns! More distortion, please!”
Education CD release party w. Glow in the Sun, Marcus Rubio and the Gospel Choir of Pillows, Horse + Donkey, Henry + The Invisibles
8pm Fri, April 8
Sam’s Burger Joint, 330 E Grayson St