Stranded In Stereo: My Formative Years: Course of Empire

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

My Formative Years: Course of Empire

The year was 1994 and I'd just returned from another suspension for saying inappropriate things on-air at a college radio station. I said inappropriate things off air as well but that's considered endearing somehow. I sat down with a stack of new music to preview. I was exposed to many artists that day. But this one stands out despite their eventual commercial failure. The single was "Infested." In particular, the Darwin Goodman mix.

The song was remixed by overdubbing portions with segments of Benny Goodman's 1937 single "Sing, Sing Sing." What's wild about that is how tightly it fit. This was most than a decade before Moby did the album
Play. Nobody had remixed from 78rpm mono source before. Course of Empire's two-drummer attack had a strange rhythmic mein that just worked with the 56-year-old dance number. It was a rock remix that was more radically re-imagined than anything even hip-hop had attempted yet. It was genius. I actually reached out to their guitarist Mike Graff to ask about it's genesis.
"The Darwin Goodwin mix was really producer David Castell's idea. He stumbled upon the notion while mixing the original version of the song. It was a triumph at the time, because the technology was so primitive at that point. There is one thing I can tell you: One night during those sessions, we had to carry our drummer Chad Lovell back to the studio after a bit of over-indulgence. We put a Shure 57 on him to record his drunken babblings, and caught a sample of him moaning, just before puking into a trash can. You can hear that sample in the mix right before the horns kick back in at the end. A classic Chad moment, recorded for posterity!"
With that tidbit from Graff I also got a hold of Dave Cassell He was able to offer even more insight.
"I spent a lot of hours a/b'ing various swing grooves for the album version of "Infested!" I don't even think Zoo Music contracted me to do a remix initially - it just kind of started with gene krupa's 4 measure tom groove and 14 hrs later it was the Darwin-Goodman mix. The funniest or saddest thing about it was that the label released it as an alternative single early in that COE tour and fans of the remix, too stupid to realize they were hearing extended samples of the 1934 recording, were showing up disappointed cause there was no horn section on stage. I seem to recall that the "Goodman Estate" almost denied zoo permission to use the material."

Course of Empire made the leap from Zoo Entertainment to TVT essentially based on the strength of this single. Zoo was merged into Volcano Entertainment, then into Zomba and shortly thereafter faded into the ether at BMG. How does that matter? Well in every respect, Their record on TVT, Telepathic Last Words was their last shot at making it big. Producer John Fryer (NIN Love & Rockets) emphasized their darkness but not their industrial side. That record was stark, intimidating and stunning.

COE did a final show in 1998 at Trees in Deep Ellum and all their old fans came out. The same fans that brought them to renown came again to say goodbye. They recorded the show, and in 204 released an album of B-sides Phone Calls From the Dead which included 11 tracks from that show. I am proud to say I did make that gig. Then as a surprise they self-released a double disc compendium of demos just last year. I bought both.

Download: "Infested Darwin Goodman mix" [mp3] // "Automatic Writing No. 17" [mp3] // "Respect" [mp3]


MeredithBixby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MeredithBixby said...

Cool post! In Mike's quote you typed "Darwin Goodwin". I hope that's not an accurate quote! "Buddy Rich" tag? Should be "Gene Krupa" ~
The MP3 links don't seem to want to work, unless I'm missing something, which wouldn't be unusual.

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