12 Days of Apologies – 11. Dinner Bells

Dinner Bells

Listen to this super early version of Dinner Bells from Wolf Parade’s 2003 self released EP 1. That EP also has an incredible version of Modern World, early song Wits or a Dagger, and live favorite Secret Knives.

Freelance journalist and Polaris Juror Erik Leijon submitted this piece about Dinner Bells:

Dinner Bells is one of those songs I hardly listen to anymore because I wore it out the first time around. Although I’m born and raised in Montreal, the release of Apologies coincided with my semester abroad in Colorado. I bought the album (and Depeche Mode’s Playing the Angel) at Finest CD in Fort Collins, CO with a credit card my mother had given me for emergency purchases. When I got back to Montreal that spring, I spent hours at home listening to the sorrowful, dirge-y, under-appreciated Dinner Bells, which suited my mood of missing the place I had just been to and unsure of whether I really wanted to come back home. Later that April the band played Le National and I saw them give one of the best drunken performances I’ve ever seen, and it jolted me back into reality. Dinner Bells, though, remains stuck in that time. Too inextricably linked to a very specific period in my life, which a song can sometimes do.

Fan Made videos

Watch this tremendous music video for Dinner Bells made by Evan Carson: https://youtu.be/s8AhXHrf1B4

This Assassin’s Creed demo might be the best music video for Dinner Bells:


Part 2 of my talk with Spencer is about the songs he wrote for Apologies and how the tracklist came together:

The genesis of ‘You are a Runner’:
Everyone was out getting food or something and Arlen and I put that rif together just me and him. The beginning thing, and the chord progression for the whole song. It’s quite simple right, I just kinda whipped it up and was like ‘Arlen can you play drums’ and he did this weird thing where the drums didn’t really line up with the rhythm of what I was doing. And then there’s this moment of ‘lets not fix that’ and lets keep that a little bit awkward like that. Then it became a great rhythm once we got it tight. So we had the music and I remember writing the lyrics for that song in the basement of the studio kind of like right before I tried to sing them. There was a point then where Isaac was like, ‘this could be a great song’ but it just doesn’t have the energy, it’s not bombastic enough. He was like yelling and getting everyone to keep playing it over and over again. It was fun. Isaac helped to build up the energy of a song like that, which ended being one of my favorite songs on the record.

When we were in Portland Arlen and I wrote the tunes, like the structure, when everyone else was away. But Chris was in the room so we got him to record it. That’s like one of those magical quite time moments that sometimes happen in studios where if you can get just a couple members together while the other guys are busy sometimes you weirdly can get more done really quickly. Sometimes really nice things happen. There’s a song on Mount Zoomer called ‘Call it a Ritual’ which was the same thing, just me and Arlen where the only ones in the barn for that 2 hour span and we put that chord progression and drum beat together. They’re almost the same, right? To me they’re kind of sister songs. Both piano and drum heavy.

There were some other songs that were written in the studio other than ‘You are a Runner..’ . There’s a song of Dan’s called ‘Snakes on a Ladder’

I believe there is a missing reel and it has a couple songs on it. So we re-recorded Killing Armies for Apologies, and there’s another version of that song that is on the missing reel somewhere basically. And then there’s ‘Snakes on a Ladder’ and there was something we called ‘The Bus Song’. Which was a Dan song. I think there’s another version of ‘Shine A Light’ on there too. There’s the long recording of the warm up of ‘You Are a Runner…’. There was a big difference between the version we of ‘Shine A Light’ that we recorded in Portland vs the one we recorded in Montreal. The song we called ‘Costello’ (We Built Another World), there’s a version of that too that got re-recorded and Shine a Light. There are much cleaner versions of those songs on this missing reel I think. But I’ve only heard about this reel from Arlen and Dan so you have to take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt. I don’t know if it even actually exists. It makes sense to me that there could be songs that didn’t make the record that would have not ended up in Sub Pop’s hands. There’s not real gems on there, otherwise it wouldn’t be the reel of unused material. Probably just some real skunkers.

When we re-recorded songs in Montreal at the hundred sided die, I think we re-recorded Shine a Light, Fancy Claps, and Costello (We Built Another World). My best memory of that is Tim Kingsbury coming in and playing on Fancy Claps. We all had so much fun. Cause Tim is such a nice guy and Wolf Parade is not always nice guys you know. Wolf Parade is just weird guys and then Tim is just a nice positive energy and we had so much fun recording that song.

(about the creation of ‘I’ll Believe in Anything’)
I think I wrote that song when I was living above the Barfly in Montreal. Wolf Parade first started practicing in my apartment when I lived in a different part of Montreal, and that was just Dan and I. When I was living above Barfly, that’s when I first started playing with Arlen. It was this loft thing and we were able to have band practices there. Barfly’s a bar in Montreal. There was a piano there in the loft that was left there by whoever lived in my room before me. So I didn’t actually own a piano but had access to this one that was actually in my bedroom. I wrote ‘I’ll Believe in Anything’ on that piano. I remember that. It was a love song, I was in a relationship at the time and I had sort of screwed up and hurt that person’s feelings and it was just an apologetic love song. The words and music came together at the same time. Which doesn’t always happen. In fact it’s kind of rare. It was a real singer songwriter kind of song on the piano. The mini discs (aka the source material for his first Sunset Rubdown release, Snakes Got A Leg) have 2 versions of that song. There’s a piano and vocals version and then there’s one that is keyboards and drums. Which I played a keyboard called Jupiter 4, which is the first keyboard that I used in Wolf Parade and used it for the first few years.

That keyboard was used on Apologies and a lot of the sounds of that record and the EP’s before it come from this keyboard called the Jupiter 4. It’s like a Roland analog synthesizer. So there was another version that was drums and that thing and that was the version that got turned into the Wolf Parade version. It had this random arpeggio setting that I would turn up to a really high rate and just sort of hit the C chord over and over again and made that weird into thing at the beginning of the song. It sounds like random notes but it’s an arpeggiator of a C chord. Eventually I stopped using the Jupiter on stage and Dante had to learn how to recreate that intro thing and he sort of took over part of the keyboards and I just played it on more an electric piano sound. I think from the time I wrote the song to the time Wolf Parade was playing it live, it happened all within the same year. I probably wrote it, then played it once at a solo Sunset Rubdown show, then recorded it. It’s a very uplifting song, you know it’s in like C major and it really swells up to the chorus, and I think the lyrics are sincere.

You know I used to really beat around the bush a lot with vague poeticism. And even though I definitely do that in this song too, maybe not so much as compared to the rest of the record. The lyrics were sincere, I felt really bad at the time when I wrote that song. I felt bad for hurting my partner’s feelings, and that song came out. There’s a truth to it. It’s an honest song. It’s still fun to play this song, and it’s the only song that we’ve played at basically every single show we’ve ever done. It never stops being fun to play live because people enjoy it and that made us feel like we were doing something worthwhile.

I spoke to Arlen as well, with more of the technical side of the recording process of Apologies. Here’s part 1 of our talk:

We were kind of thrown into this process of making a record. I don’t think, at the time, anyone in the band had really made a full record. It was all really new and and we didn’t really know what we were doing. We were working with Isaac, and he had really specific ideas of how he wanted to do this, but there was zero pre production. Which is usually something that you at least do a little bit of before. So we were trying to do this pretty high production value sound so we had click tracks that we did a bunch of the drums to. It was actually kind of a struggle technically to get things going because we hadn’t planned too much on tempos and that kind of thing. We just were a band just playing in a jam room and we had made those EP’s which were all kinda like 4 track style basically Throw some mics in a room and press record. Now we were getting into the sphere of a more contemporary recording. We did do it on tape, we used 2” tape on a Studer machine. We had a console; I think it was a Broadcast Neve from the 80’s. Chris Chandler he was kind of the unsung hero of that whole record. He was like the glue that held all that total madness together. Isaac was doing his best but he was super busy with Modest Mouse and we had no idea what we were doing and we were totally broke. Chris helped keep everything moving along.

For myself, recording my tracks with a click track, I struggled a lot with it and it was really tough because with Wolf Parade, I find that the song dynamics are really dependent on tempo and we do have lotts of little small tempo variations within a song. Like we realized with ‘This Heart’s On Fire’ that we were trying to record that with a flat tempo, so just one tempo one bpm setting and we just couldn’t get the song to pop like it usually does. So we actually had to make a tempo map on a click track. Count out all the bars, and basically design it so that the song is basically continuously ramping up in tempo and doing it actually very precisely. We had to actually draw it out to be able to do it. It was really crazy because we never had to sit down and break our songs down bar by bar and count things out and figure out ‘ok this is where we have the little lift in the song’, the tempo lift, so we have to use Digital Performer that Hadji had. We had to draw out all these tempo maps basically. It was pretty intense. That’s something that you usually not doing in the studio, we would have done it in pre production. We had no idea. We just thought, ‘oh I’ll just play the click track’. We didn’t realize the way our songs were that we really actually had to figure this kind of stuff out. That was an interesting struggle with that record.

For the most part I kind of got my stuff done because the way we were doing it was recording all the drums basically first, with Spencer and Dan doing some scratch stuff, then everyone kinda of over dubbing, then doing vocals. So I was basically finished by day 5. Then I sat in the back room that they had. The studio was kind of 2/3rds finished so there was this unfinished room that had like an old seat out of a 70’s ford van or something. Isaac gave me his playstation 2 so I had playstation 2 and no money. The crazy thing about making this record was how broke we all were. We were so fucking broke. We’d eat like one meal a day usually at like 2am. I was stuck in the studio with nothing to do. With what money I did have, I could eat a piece of pizza or I could buy a 12 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. So I would basically walk to the store buy a 12 pack of Pabst for like $3.99, it’s like America and that’s how cheap it is. It was amazing. I was just like, wow I can drink a 12 pack of this a day! I did that for like a week or something and I then I basically gave myself an ulcer from drinking 12 beers a day without eating anything, and playing play station.

Here’s what I can recollect from Apologies on the technical side:
There was two sessions to the Apologies record, one at the studio in Portland and the other in our jam space at the Hundred Sided Die in Montreal.

Things are a bit foggy, but this is what I remember as the set-up for the Portland session –

All the instruments were recorded to a Studer 827 2″ tape machine, vocals and some overdubs were done to a RADAR 24 machine sync’d to the 2″ machine. The console was an 80’s Neve broadcast console that was for television. I can’t remember any of the module names, but it didn’t have any of the famous modules Neve is known for like the 1073. It did have a bunch of esoteric panning and monitoring stuff, probably due to it being designed for a TV studio.

I can’t remember all the outboard we used to track… Chris Chandler brought some stuff with him. I remember he has the drum overheads (or maybe the room mics) running into a pair of Telefunken U72 mic pres and then into a pair of Tubetech CL-1B. We were also using Chandler LTD-1 preamps, I think on guitar.

For mics – on the drums the close kick mic was a Beyer 380 and I think a Sondelux U195 as a distance mic, though I could be wrong on that. The snare has three mics on it – two on top, a AKG 451 and Beyer 201, on the bottom I think it was a Sennheiser 441.

The overheads were AKG 451s. I can’t remember the tom mics for the life of me, I’m guessing a Sennheiser 421 on the floor, maybe a SM57 on the rack. There was also what was called the “trash mic”, which was a EV 635 aka “The Buchanan Hammer” left in the corner, or maybe even in a metal trashcan. I believe it was crushed by a compressor before going to tape to give it a blown-out, lo-fi vibe.

There was a hi-hat mic, I think it was some model of AKG small-diaphragm pencil mic.
The room mics were one of my favorite parts of that session – they were a pair of Sondelux 251s in M/S stereo (an early stereo technique where you have a mic in cardioid and the other mic in figure-of-8 perpendicular to the cardioid mic) . That mid-side room sound was the drum sound for “You Are a Runner…”. It creates a super wide & deep room sound, it almost feels like it’s wrapping around your head.

My drums were a Premiere kit with an 18″ kick, 12″ rack and 14″ floor. I had an Ayotte 5″ steel snare drum. Cymbals were all Zildjian A’s.

On guitar there was two mics, a Royer 121 ribbon and an AKG 421. Dan used Issac’s 1950s Fender Deluxe. I think Dan used a Mosrite of Issac’s and my old Jay Turser Gibson rip-off.

I think all the synths/keys were DI’d or maybe through some sort of vintage Fender amp. Spencer played a Roland Jupiter 4, the Yamaha PSS-480 portasound, Fender Rhodes & a Yamaha piano.

Hadji went all DI too. He was using soft synths in a laptop. There was a bunch of synth stuff at the studio, like various filters, echoplexs that he was running stuff through.

I remember there was a pretty big mic shootout for the vocals, I think for Dan the decision was the Sondelux 251 and for Spencer is was the EV 666. Pretty big contrast in prices between those two mics! The vocals were split and two preamps captured the take – the U72 and LTD-1. I think there might have been some compression to tape.

Now for the Montreal session….

That was for Shine a Light, Fancy Claps & We Built Another World. Shine a Light and Fancy Claps never made it to us to mix and We Built Another World was originally recorded at too high a tempo for Dan to sing.

We recorded these in the Hundred Sided Die, which was where we jammed. We recorded it to a laptop using a first generation Motu 828 and my Mackie 1202 for pres. We basically beg/borrowed/stole what we could to scrape together enough stuff to make the recording. We had two mics on the drums – an Audio-Technica 4050 as an overhead and a Shure 545 on the kick. The guitar was an SM57 with Dan’s janky Fender Super Reverb
Spencer was using a borrowed bass amp mic’d with an Oktava MC012. Hadji was maybe overdubbed later through a DI.

Tim Kingsbury was going DI for bass and I think I had another Shure 545 on his amp when he played guitar.
Vocals were done with a Beyer 201. Monitors were a pair of boombox speakers.

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