Showing 33 posts tagged O Positive
The lag time between the release of Cloud Factory and the band’s major-label deal meant that they’d written more songs than they could possibly record. I was unable to find my favorite unreleased O Positive song “3/4”, but “Waited” was another live favorite that never made it to wax or aluminum. This recording is from the band’s 2009 benefit show for Alan Pettiti’s sister Paula.
After seven years of being a band and two well-received EPs, O Positive signed with Epic in the fall of 1989. Once signed to the label, they started looking for a producer with whom to work on their album. They selected Peter Walsh, a veteran British producer whose credits included Peter Gabriel Plays Live and Climate of Hunter by Scott Walker. “[Walsh’s work] had the British well-produced thing about it, which we liked,” Herlihy recalls. “All our stuff, we strove for good production value…We liked spontaneous playing, but we liked good production, like an Echo and the Bunnymen sort of a thing. So Peter Walsh just fit the bill for us.”
The band made quick work of their time in the studio. They went up to Vermont to record the album in November of that year, and completed the final mixes in February of 1990. While the schedule looks pretty fast for a major label album at that time, it seemed like almost a leisurely pace after the shorter recording sessions that went into their previous work. Herlihy sounds an ambivalent note about the two months that went into recording that album. “I’ve come back to the perspective that to be a recording artist, you should be able to sit down and get it done, and not necessarily chew the same food over and over and over again.”
The longer gestation period allowed the band to experiment more with unusual instrumentation. While Walsh didn’t encourage them to use sides of raw beef as percussion (as Scott Walker has done), “Dave Martin was off in a separate studio doing all kinds of experimental textures…and doing all kinds of cool, ambient stuff that made it onto the record in different ways.” “Hope the Boat”, the album’s second-side sleeper, benefits from Martin’s crafty skills. “He had some bowed saws on there and some other things that were integrated into the main studio (recording). All the while we were working on the album, Dave was in another studio doing all kinds of really tribal, ethnic, ambient stuff.”
When their major-label debut, toyboatToyBoatTOYBOAT, came out, O Positive took an irreverent view of their unusual album title. “It’s just a tongue twister, you know,” Herlihy told the Harvard Crimson in 1990. “We just wanted to have some fun. We wanted to hear the deejays say it, like they’re chewing molasses.”
That may be, but there’s more to the title than just a prank on disc jockeys. The record’s nautical theme extends from the album title, through the song titles – “Overflow”, “Hope the Boat” – to a smattering of references to boats, oceans, and water. Session player Sonny Barbato’s accordion lines suggest bagpipes and sea chanteys, further emphasizing the oceanic imagery that threads its way through the album.
This lyrical and musical evocation of the sea was no accident. “I was always trying to write songs and I’d always have my notebook with me,” Herlihy recalls. “I began to see how the idea of floating or the idea of being safe but not really that safe, like a boat. It’s a thin separation between you and drowning, but it feels like you’re safe. For some reason it kept coming up and coming up again, and just the idea of moving along through a big space and you’re a little vessel. It appealed to me. We recognized it after the fact, and strung it together that way.”
While the band had written a title track for the album, they held off on recording it until their next LP, Home Sweet Head. About twenty-five songs had been demoed for the album, and “Toyboat Toyboat Toyboat” was completed after they turned in those demos to A&R. Though the song hadn’t made the cut, band factotum Dave Martin suggested it as a title because of how well it tied the album’s theme together.
On toyboatToyBoatTOYBOAT, the ocean represents a sense of uncertainty. O Positive turns clichéd statements inside-out (“will you swim when your ship comes in/or wait to wonder at your hesitation?”) and counters sprightly major-key melodies with unsettling imagery (as on “Back of My Mind”, with the buried lyric about “you’re drowning in the deep blue sea”). The band may have been in the catbird seat locally, but even while making their major-label debut they seemed to address the ways in which things could go wrong.
It also took me 21 years before I realized that the band was not, in fact, standing on the end of a pier, but was rather crammed in a small room.