A special thank you goes out to good friend and fellow bandmate, Jason Perry, for his permission to post this for you all and for taking the time to share some anecdotes on this particular release.
Welcome to 2017 everyone!! Taking into account our country’s current political climate, I simply can’t think of a more fitting post to start off the year.
What we have here is the final CD release by Springfield punk-rockers, Resident Genius, titled ‘You Can’t Blow Up A Social Relationship‘. This final EP is the product of a long-time collaboration between the band and the now late American historian, and social activist, Howard Zinn. Zinn is probably best known for his highly acclaimed and best-selling book, A People’s History of the United States. If you haven’t already read this book, I highly recommend it! The band had a few members float in and out over it’s lifespan (2002- early 2006), but three “core members” stayed consistent — Benjamin Hopper (drums/vocals), Jason Perry (guitar/vocals), and Chris Stroud (bass). Other folks that were part of this band at one time or another were Nick Wasmer (keys), Trish Anderson (guitar/vocals) and Jay Vanselow (guitar/vocals). This CD was released in 2005 by THICK Records out of Chicago, IL. I’m not 100% sure if the label is still in operation or not. Resident Genius played their final shows upon release of this EP, which I’d say was a strong note to end on. A lot of time and effort was put into this release and I’d say that the end product is something that everyone involved can truly be proud of. The statements made by both the band and Mr. Zinn on this split EP are short, yet powerful, and touch on issues that are just as important and relevant today as they were over a decade ago when this CD was originally released. It’s like the old saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I hope that at some point in my lifetime I can throw on a record like this and the lyrical content be completely irrelevant to what’s currently going on in America.
For the rest of this post, I’m going to turn it over to Jason.
Benjamin Hopper and I came up with the idea long before Resident Genius had ever recorded anything at all – probably about three years before the split with Zinn was released. Initially, I think Ben thought we would just release CD-Rs(!) and keep it really DIY. With the exception of the Zinn split, that’s pretty much how we released everything…and we were fine with it.
Meanwhile, Zinn and I had formed a relationship via telephone and written communications that focused on my later-aborted Masters thesis on Josiah Warren. Zinn was pretty generous with his time and, having heard the Bad Religion / Noam Chomsky split, I thought it would be cool to do something like that with Zinn, a personal hero, of sorts. He was all for it. During one of our conversations, he had to call me back as Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam was trying to reach him. Funny.
As was the case with most Resident Genius songs, the songs on the split were largely written by myself, Ben, and our original bass player, Chris. We started out the project as a band of five, but were whittled down to just two original members by the time it was released. Anyway, generally speaking, I’d come in with an idea and Ben and/or Chris would accept it, suggest changes, or veto it outright. Trish was pretty agreeable to whatever, as was Nick Wasmer, the keyboardist. None of us knew what the hell we were doing but I look back on that band, and in this project, specifically, with fondness. Since Ben and I were like-minded regarding the larger “vision” of the split, we didn’t really have any issues.
Ben was so much more than just a drummer for the band. He offered plenty of good ideas for many of our songs along with working tirelessly to book shows, contact bands, schedule practice at various places, figure out band merch, etc.
Chris, on the other hand, pretty much poo-pooed the split idea from the start and very much gave the impression that the whole project was a waste of time and spent most of his time, in general, creating havoc or being obstructionist. Whether that was intentional or not, you’d have to ask him. Oh man, he really was not comfortable with being associated with someone like Howard Zinn. That’s not to say Chris was some raving conservative lunatic, but he constantly questioned the wisdom of the project from the get-go. To be fair, ultimately, it was Chris and I who sifted through the hours of Zinn tapes that Roger Leisner from Radio Free Maine sent to us. To be fair again, some of these songs have Chris’s stamp on them. He did contribute to the music, as he did with a sizeable portion of the Resident Genius songbook.
That brings us to an important point. Chris probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his artistic input as it was often overshadowed by embarrassing displays of showboating onstage, purposely antagonizing fellow band members, dismissing songs that had any keyboards on them, etc. I’m not going to lie: he was difficult to be around. He knows my feelings on this and they haven’t softened even a decade later. The incessant arguments between Chris and me, Chris and Ben, Chris and Trish….jeez…see the common denominator there? It just came to an ugly head and Chris was unceremoniously forced out before the Zinn split even hit the streets in October 2005. Still, when you have four or five..um..strong, clashing personalities, a decent song here or there will come out.
Also, Joe Tury, who recorded 99% of Resident Genius songs, was absolutely invaluable to the band. He was a suggestion box, auxiliary musician, mediator, taskmaster, engineer, producer, abuser – often all at the same time. Without him, I’m afraid we never would have been able to record a single note of music. We really are indebted to him.
I think we sent it to Zak Einstein of Chicago’s Thick Records – just on a whim. Thick had a ton of great bands and a couple local Springfield connections. Surprisingly, he agreed to release it. Zak had some questionable business practices and that was also voiced by other artists on the label. Ended up being a not so great experience being on that label but that’s a story for another time.
…and Jason’s thoughts on the songs…
“Everything I Had I Gave” – The intent was to keep the song acoustic. That didn’t happen, but there is acoustic guitar throughout. We hadn’t done anything like that before and it felt good. No bridge or chorus to speak of – that was the case with a lot of Resident Genius songs. A number of local musicians didn’t understand that and thought we purposely didn’t know how to write “proper” songs. We didn’t really, but I think it works. It’s a song about Zinn based on a couple things he told me during our phone conversation. A little, quick, humble ode to him. Fitting way to start off the EP.
“Dear Mr. President” – Probably our one and only attempt at writing an accessible pop song. Riff was lifted from whatever that classical song is called – Canon in D? I don’t know.
“Army of One” – Inspired, in part, by those ridiculous “Become an Army of One” commercials.
“Dover Air Force Base” – Loosely based on this story http://archive.vva.org/archive/TheVeteran/2001_09/mortuary.htm. I found it utterly fascinating and it was a colossal fuck up on the government’s part. I think I had heard a couple songs from NOFX’s ‘The War on Errorism’ while writing this song. I liked how they smacked a cello sounding thing right in the middle of “Franco Un-American“. I thought, “Hey, let’s a get a real cello and smack it in the middle of one of our songs.” I think it worked. We had Abby Eddy from the Illinois Symphony come in. I’ll never forget the horrified look on her face when she showed up at the Timmys practice place in Williamsville, IL (which doubled as Joe Tury’s Red Room Recordings). The door opens and Trish and Chris are screaming at each other, hands flailing about and everything. She just had this look of, “What the hell did I just walk into?”
“Needles” – Every time we played this song live, Ben and I just couldn’t get the intro right. We always hated when this song came up in the set list. Hands down, the weakest song on the EP. Probably should have slipped something else in it’s place. Whatevs.
“Distortion, Massachusetts” – This took forever to put together. I had suggested we have Robbie Kording from The Timmys or Chris Yeager from the Gunga Dins swing by and record some vocal parts for this. Chris (our Chris) was against the idea of what he thought was becoming a parade of outsiders coming to participate. If memory serves, we couldn’t get a hold of Yeager so we asked Jeff Williams from NIL8. I purposely left the section of the song open for him to do what he felt would further the song. I think Jeff wrote it on the spot at the recording place and was in and out in less than an hour.
So…there ya go, folks! Thanks again, Jason, for taking the time to share all of this great information about this recording with us!
DOWNLOAD .WAV VERSION HERE!
DOWNLOAD .MP3 VERSION HERE!
…and just for the hell of it, here’s a copy of Jeff William’s handwritten notes for his part on “Distortion Massachusetts”.