Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 25-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.
David’s illustration is about the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), currently headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio—just down the road from Dayton, where Swearing At Motorists played a song-by-song run-through of Number Seven Uptown last night with original drummer Don Thrasher. dave doughman is back in the USA for one show only.
We met dave in Toronto, in 2001. He was Unwound’s excellent live sound man. Mecca Normal was joining the tour to open shows from there to Atlanta. This was a few days before 9/11—we lost our Boston and Manhattan shows, but play on 9/13 in Hoboken, at Maxwell’s, where Unwound’s music is profoundly soothing. dave starts doing Mecca Normal’s sound, too, because he likes us. He wants us to sound good.
In Philly, Mecca Normal stays the night at the huge space dave shares with his drummer Joseph. dave puts on a Swearing At Motorists CD, the incredible Number Seven Uptown. I love this album—the sound of it, the sound dave gets—and I know I want to work with him in some way. Mecca Normal leaves the tour in Atlanta, driving north to Toronto to fly home to Vancouver.
dave and I hatch a plan to record at Unwound’s studio outside Olympia, Wash. I rent a car and drive four hours south to hear what our voices will sound like together. At Farm No Heat, I am given a room with a mattress on the floor, a room where they put all the stuff they took out of the basement—piled it in, worse than random. Going to sleep is a matter of putting on a jacket, hat and gloves, to lie in my sleeping bag, waiting for warmth. Come on warmth. Just enough to fall asleep.
dave sleeps in the living room, where tomatoes are ripening on a blue tarp over the bright green shag carpet. On day two, dave makes a geometric shape with the ripe tomatoes, to see if anyone notices. No one does, because none of the residents stays at Farm No Heat. They have gone to their girlfriends’ places in town where there is heat.
Tally of furniture in the living room: three big couches, two matching chairs and an oddly stylized painting of Muhammad Ali. One of the chickens in the yard is called Cassius Clay.
In the basement, the recording-studio control room eventually gets warm. We stay in there, inventing guitar tracks, passing my 1960-something Martin 0-18 between us, overdubbing vocals, deciding to call our duo Transmarquee because we’d both owned 1980-something Grand Marquees as touring vehicles.
On day three, Justin, Vern and Brandt of Unwound come to see how we’re doing. Vern asks about the white powder laid out in the control room. It’s baby powder. I use it on my hands, for playing guitar. OK, so I made it look like a bunch of coke. Hey, I’m straight edge, man—gotta get my thrills somehow.
dave comes to Vancouver to record and produce the next Mecca Normal album—The Family Swan—the songs he mixed night after night on tour. Who better to record them? dave gets great guitar sounds, and we love working with him. Finishing the album in three days, dave gets on a bus to the airport—L.A., Dayton, everywhere—touring until we meet in San Francisco, where Mecca Normal finally sees Swearing At Motorists play at the Bottom Of The Hill. dave’s great warmth is matched by giant leaps in the air that look as necessary as barré chords, crucial to guitar playing.
Out of all this action and chaos, two gestures stick in my mind, describing dave: 1) Standing outside at Farm No Heat, waiting for Unwound to do something in the studio, waiting to get back in there, dave’s cell phone rings. He puts a finger in his ear. It isn’t a good connection. A friend asks dave how to do something, how to set something up to record. dave is incredibly helpful and patient, giving her information and encouragement. 2) After losing the show in Boston, Mecca Normal didn’t have a place to stay. dave hands me his Red Roof Inn guide from the window of their van. 9/11 crisis all around us, it’s more than a list of motels; he is extending the universal map of help.
“Give me 10 minutes and we’ll be friends.” —”Hex Or No Hex,” Transmarquee
“I have a plan/I’ll draw a map when I get to where I’ve been/For now, I’m not lost/I just don’t know what things mean.” —”Don’t Be Another Double String Of Fake Pearls,” Transmarquee