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Published: 2009/10/14
by Brian Robbins

Jeff Austin: Not All Show

Pressing on (leery of any more respiratory system issues), I ask about some of the specific cuts on The Show. “‘Dreams’ reminds me of a sweet ol’ Ronnie Lane sort of tune,” I say.

Austin laughs: “Tom Rothrock has this little outdoor area at his house and one afternoon we’re sitting out there, kind of just messing around and talking. I had my mando and Tom gets everybody else to bring their instruments out, too. Now we’re all sitting there and he’s like, ‘Cool – let’s write a song.’ And we did – we worked out a chord progression that was the main body of the song and Tom said, ‘Great; now how about a chorus?’ So we did that, too – we came up with that really simple one-line chorus that you hear on the album. And then it was, ‘Okay – now each of you guys go off to a different part of the house and write your own verse.’ So we went for it; we all went off and wrote our own thing and came back. And it all kinda fit – we had melody lines, but it just worked together, which is kind of neat, you know?”

“While we’re talking about the group mind,” I say, “How about ‘Honestly’: the middle of that song reminds me of an acoustic RatDog thing, following Weir’s approach of an ensemble jam, rather than solo spotlights on any one player.”

“That’s a good way of putting it,” says Austin. “If you listen closely, there actually is a long banjo solo that kind of rolls throughout that break, but everyone is sort of weaving around it. I’m playing the mando plus there’s another track on that song with all the noise and the effects. That was me and Tom just punching buttons and turning knobs while the mando feeds back … we wanted to add an ambient texture – an atmospheric wash – and let it get really chaotic before it unifies into that melody at the end.”

“It works,” I agree. “Everything’s wild and swirling – and then you land the spaceship on the back porch and get out to finish the song with a full-fledged bluegrass stomp.”

That makes Austin laugh, but he manages to keep the road cough in check. “Cool – great image! I love it.”

If there’s an opposite end of the spectrum to spaceships and joyous bursts of bluegrassiness, it would be “Isolate” – six minutes of tension that never gets resolved. When asked what it was like to record the track in the studio, Austin again gives credit to producer Rothrock, who directed the band like a modern-day Alfred Hitchcock. “Tom had me keep my mandolin part as sparse as possible. He was like, ‘Just play one thing,’ so my hand never moved on the neck. Even when everyone else is changing the chords, I’m hanging right there on the G and -”

“Excuse me, guys – time’s up.” The PR lady cuts in to pull the plug on things (never knowing how close to disaster we were just a few minutes ago).

“Hey, that was fun, man – especially the mando stuff,” says Jeff. “When the time comes, let’s get together and talk about 30dB, okay?”

And then he’s gone – I hope on his way to a nice cup of tea and nap before tonight’s gig.

But probably not.

*****

Brian Robbins is a musician and former offshore lobsterman who lives on the Maine coast.

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