On a near-perfect spring day in Cambridge, Mass., Concord’s long-celebrated and best rock’n’roll band, The Rippin E Brakes, gathered at “The Bridge Stage and Sound” to record their first studio album in three years.
This is a momentous occasion for a rabid E Brakes fan, to be invited to geek out over the recording process as the band creates something with such a controlled conviction, something both searing and tragic in theme, well, it’s hard not to geek out just a little bit.
“It’s by far the most focused record we’ve ever put out.” says bassist and band cofounder, Eric Ober, 38, about the E Brakes new collection of 10 songs called “Memory of the Century.” “We rehearsed for months with only recording in mind. Lyrically, sonically, composition, there’s a lot of intention there.”
Intent, Ober says, as if the band climbed out of the belly of country rock and dove head-on into the mire of these modern times, where cheaters ascend, jokers are made Kings and curses are shared like kisses at a bar mitzvah.
Ober admits, “It’s like nothing we have ever done before.” An untrained musical marvel of sorts, Ober, who normally plays in no less than six bands at once, has the uncanny ability to rip any instrument really, really well. And write. And sing.
The marination began this past winter in the “snow drifts of Concord,” when band poet, Derek Astles, 40, a jack of all trades off stage, started getting the itch to record again, to get all spacy with his riffs, “hypnotic,” as the bard says.
“Reading the news on a cold snowy morning,” said Astles. “Letting the rock and roll fire me up.”
That’s exactly what motivated Astles to break past the boundaries of his own interior walls, past the broken-hearted love songs he’s been known to craft so well. Now, he would write as a witness to the illness gnawing at our nation – the hate and bait, the feeders vs. the fed, all smashed like mash at the bottom of a stinking pot.
“It gets hard to stay positive these days.” Astles says, who also plays a vicious lead guitar throughout the entire record. “I feel like I expressed myself. But I’m as ever-changing as anyone. I hope.”
Astles, Ober and the band’s steady man drummer, Joe Wielock, a successful landscape designer by trade, set a firm practice schedule for Sunday mornings this past winter at Ober’s creative space in Concord called Wrongtown, right after church.
It was in that small studio space where an idea became a sound, which then became a reckoning, a masterful blend of punk, rock, more punk, more rock, without nary a hint of acoustic guitar or harmonica anywhere in sight, each a trademark of earlier E Brakes recordings.
Sonically, as Ober says, the band went straight-up electric, as hard as they’ve ever gone before. Songs like “Bad Blood” are a resilient reminder of how quickly a personal connection can go bad.
“Point Your Finger” is an equally penetrating rocker about blaming everyone but yourself for your sorrowful woes.
“Flogger” touches on self-annihilation, and how satisfying that sometimes can feel for the man “inside of this mask.”
Except for Ober’s righteous composition, “Anything Goes, God Bless,” which is an ode to Concord’s former majestic train station, the Boston and Maine R&R, and the end of rich tradition, much of the record sound is intense, and dare I say, very 1990s.
Which played well when it came time to decide where to record the final product, the E Brakes, without hesitation, headed south to “The Bridge Sound and Stage,” an elite recording studio tucked down a side street off Massachusetts Ave.
In 2009, The Bridge took over what was the mecca of recording spots for many of the hitmakers from the 1990s, a place called Fort Apache Studios. The Pixies, The Lemonheads, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Dinosaur Jr. all recorded gems within these same walls.
Sound engineer and producer, Alex Allinson, one of the owners of The Bridge, along with Owen Curtin, steadied himself behind the helm of the massive sound board in Studio A. Astles is outback the studio spinning up some inspiration, prepping for his vocal sessions. Ober and Wielock have ordered Thai food.
The session lays out with pin-perfect direction from Allinson, whose soft vibe and subtle encouragements nearly always got the best take of vocals out of the boys on the third take.
Clear-throated and locked in the pocket, Ober attacked his turn, singing stronger than he ever has, stamped and nailed it. Astles growled and snarled and nearly bit into the microphone in the sound room. His eyes closed, neck stuck out over his body, getting all that poetry, all those images from the winter shackled to his mind out of his head and into a file to be pressed and released to the masses.
“Memory of the Century” is due to hit all the music platforms this summer. Tweaks have been made, fences have been mended and the band’s virility is at an all-time high. When the E Brakes do play this record live around town, you better bring a vest of ice to wear, because these boys will be coming in hot. No brakes with the Rippin E Brakes!
Just like it’s always been.
Rob Azevedo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org