#69 – “Am I Awake?” (2004)

Indestructible Object EP
[Hey, the Barsuk website has this song available for free download, but the quality is really shitty, so go out and buy it to hear the REAL hi-fi “Am I Awake?” experience, ya dopes!  This song especially deserves it.]
L.K.: I guess it is appropriate that we are doing this late at night. Helps to get into the proper mindset for the song.
A.S.: The inner teenager in me was hoping it would be “S-E-X-X-Y”, but I will settle for this instead. Also, we should explain that after doing some quick math just to make sure we were on schedule, I found that we are one song behind, so we’ll play catch up. I had a hunch we were behind, so it’ll be nice to finally correct that.
L.K.: I do not think there are any TMBG songs about 69-ing, thank god, so I am glad it isn’t “S-E-X-X-Y” anyway.
A.S.: The only song I can think of about 69ing offhand is Monty Python’s “Sit On My Face”, but I am sure there are others. Anyway, we’re way off-track, this song.
L.K.: There are actually some videos specifically about the making of this song, which is pretty much unheard of for the rest of the band’s discography.
A.S.: Aside from the little snippets in Gigantic concerning the production of “Man, It’s So Loud In Here” – another extremely Elegant Too-reliant track, which is a strange coincidence. Really, I guess the other one, since there aren’t very many songs like this in the band’s catalogue.
L.K.: To be fair, I am not really sure why the videos exist because they really are of interest to nobody but TMBG fans. They would make fairly unimpressive DVD extras to any fans of the TV show the theme was originally written for (Resident Life).
A.S.: And even then, they’re honestly not terribly exciting.
L.K.: Yeah, with the exception of Flans singing a bit of “Everybody Dance Now”, they are fairly dry, but do provide some insight into just how boring the process of recording and mixing a song can be.
A.S.: Having only done extremely amateurish mixing stuff, I can back up the notion that it’s pretty boring. With such an intensely produced song, I can’t even fathom…
L.K.: Those videos do contain a few interesting tidbits though, like the fact that the song contains backwards Marxophone, and that John Linnell plays guitar on it.
A.S.: “It’s the Hendrix guitar!”
L.K.: It is a very intensely-produced song and is pretty different from their usual stuff sound-wise — another example of the band’s ridiculous versatility.
A.S.: I love this song so, so much.  There was a point earlier this summer where I was particularly enthralled by it.  It beautifully captures paranoia — Linnell’s plaintive, generally relaxed vocal performance juxtaposed with the rapid-fire, frenetic drum machine and bongo sounds — it really sounds like a man trapped in his own busy mind trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I have weird, fond memories of navigating the parking lot of a fancy new burger joint in my hometown to the strains of this song.
L.K.: I mostly just remember having it come up on my iPod on shuffle while I was on the hour-long drive home at 3 am for most of last summer; it makes for very paranoid, spaced-out highway driving.
A.S.: Yeah, it’s odd that I associate it with driving slowly through a crowded parking lot midday, when really it’s best suited for high-speed, late night driving, particularly on any sort of highway that cuts right through a city or skyscrapers or something, lots of city lights. The Elegant Too really did this one a service.
L.K.: How so? They’re in there in the studio with Pat Dillett, so I’m not sure what the Elegant Too had to do with it beyond Phil Hernandez’s bongo playing.
A.S.: Didn’t they provide the programming and a lot of the synthesized material for this song?  It’d be an entirely different song without that.  I’d be curious to hear what a more standard performance of the song would sound like, but as you already said, this demonstrates TMBG’s versatility; the additional production adds a really wonderful depth to the song.
L.K.: I guess I am just not sure what Pat is doing there, but maybe this song was co-produced.
A.S.: Probably the brunt technical work.
L.K.: There was a remixed version of this song by Elegant Too on their website, but nothing seems to have come of that version as it never saw official release. Maybe it wasn’t different enough from the released version of the song for TMBG to figure it merited inclusion anywhere… the Elegant Too remixes that have been released on podcasts or the like tend to be pretty radically different. This song is already so techno-y to begin with that there really isn’t much they could “remix” in their style.
A.S.: True, it’d be like the multiple versions of “Snail Dust” on the Clock Radio.
L.K.: Those are different versions though. Those are like entire different songs. The “Snail Dust”s are all remixes of the same song but they all sound noticeably different from each other. It’s not just an issue of a section being mixed somewhat differently.
A.S.: I suppose it is possible to remix “Am I Awake?” enough that it sounds entirely different.  I know virtually nothing about how people remix songs, other than that audio tracks are very fickle and can be altered drastically, so I guess I’d still be curious to hear the remix of this song.  Then again, I don’t really care much for remixes in the first place.
L.K.: I’m not a fan of them either, and most of the TMBG remixes are pretty unimpressive. TMBG are pretty selective about who they allow to remix their songs though, so the Elegant Too are really some of the only people who are even given a chance at it. The band is pretty keen on keeping their master tracks entirely to themselves and a select few others.
A.S.: Which is certainly fair.
L.K.: I don’t think we’re missing out on anything much, really, but I’m still sort of sad that there aren’t extracted tracks floating around, if only for Songsmith purposes
A.S.: Oh lordy lordy. I’d love to hear “A Self Called Nowhere” Songsmithed.  That chord progression is fucked enough, I can only imagine what havoc Songsmith would wreak.
L.K.: Oh we should’ve discussed that when we were talking about “On Earth My Nina”.
A.S.: Or that.
L.K.: Since that is the only TMBG song I can think of with a solo a cappella vocal line.
A.S.: Yeah, I guess we can Songsmith that regardless.
L.K.: Hey, back to the song for a second though… outside of The Daily Show, whose theme song is actually a Bob Mould cover, are there any tv shows currently on the air that have TMBG theme songs? I feel like there was a whole ton of them in the early to mid 00s, and then they all got cancelled or something. The Drinky Crow Show is the only recent one I can think of, but I don’t even know if that’s still on or not.
A.S.: Yeah, MalcolmOblongsDrinky Crow… not too long ago, Flansburgh was posting them all on Facebook. Yeah, I guess Drinky Crow ran for one season, which isn’t that surprising
L.K.: They hit upon a lucrative side-career for a while, but seem to have over-saturated the market
A.S.: Especially with the Dunkin’ Donuts ads. We’ll get to the TV show themes eventually, but the point is, “Am I Awake?” was used as the theme to a TLC series Resident Life, which I have never seen and otherwise know nothing about. Also, here’s another song that has never been performed live, I guess for somewhat obvious reasons. It’s just an excellent song, it deserves its time on the stage, possibly given the same rocked-out treatment that “Man, It’s So Loud In Here” has had.
L.K.: But that one started as a rock song, whereas this one has never been anything but a paranoid, highly digital studio piece.
A.S.: Good point. Also, just gotta quickly point out that this is a rare song in e-flat minor, which is a great (although very difficult) key. Also also, now that I’m looking up Marxophones, I need to listen to “Sour Times” by Portishead again, because that may have backwards Marxophone in it

L.K.: You know, there are more Marxophones in modern music than I initially thought, given that I had never heard of the instrument before TMBG’s use of it.
A.S.: Yeah, this Wikipedia page has a nice list of songs that use it in pop music.
L.K.: Incubus!
A.S.: Surprising! A lot of these make sense now that I think of them.
L.K.: It’s the weirdest list of bands.
A.S.: While Portishead’s use of the instrument is gloriously eerie, it is not backwards, and I really don’t see anything else on there that I’d suspect would feature the instrument reversed.  I could be wrong; if anyone wants to do any backwards-Marxophone research, please be our guest.
2 Responses to “#69 – “Am I Awake?” (2004)”
  1. From the video, it looks like Pat’s not producing, just engineering the track. (The difference is that Engineers tend to do the actual recording and operation of the machines/DAW/etc, while Producers are more “hey, what if we put the live drums in here” like Flans was doing.)

    Actually, I thought the video was pretty interesting, but then again, I am an audio production geek, and actually ENJOY mixing things. So I am weird, I know.

    (Also: If anyone is interested in this sort of thing, and is a Zappa fan, on the Overnite Sensation/Apostrophe Classic Albums DVD, there’s a lot of bonus footage including Dweezil in the studio with Joe Travers and the original master tapes, pulling out and isolating tracks, and it’s CRAZY INTERESTING, especially since there’s lots of stuff that you don’t even really HEAR in the mix, but if it was absent, the song would sound flat. It’s SUPER COOL.)

    • There we go, engineer, that’s the word! a.k.a. dude who does the brunt work.

      I think I can speak on L.K.’s behalf and say that we’re both much more interested in the composition/performance aspects of the whole process; of course there’s a lot of crossover on our parts (as I’m sure there are on yours), but our interests are more on that side of things. So feel free to interject with any input on the recording process for any songs!

      I’m a huge Zappa fan, but I haven’t seen that DVD. I’m only familiar with the series insofar as just catching some snippets of them on VH1 Classic back when I had cable, and usually it was just the one for Queen’s “A Night At The Opera”. Can they even air the Zappa one? I suspect they’d have to remove just about everything regarding “Dinah-Moe Humm”. Thanks for the recommendation though, I’m curious to find out what these tracks are…

      P.S. Checked out the kittysneezes site not too long ago and there’s some really cool stuff up there! I especially enjoyed reading the interviews with Ed Palermo, Renaldo and the Loaf, and Harry Partridge. You’re a great interviewer; keep it up!

      – A.S.

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