There’s really no need to get into the why of This Is War. All that really needs to be understood is the what of This Is War. The motivations and underlying concept deserves explaining, and we’ll talk about that later, but either way, once you hear this you’re going to at least tacitly understand what drove Scott Warren to put this thing together. You’re going to know Scott from around. You’ll probably have heard at least one of the bands he’s either fronted or played drums for in the last ten or fifteen years, be it Bombast, Lone Locust or more recently, Vultures!. You might also know him as one half of the production team behind the Rockerie, a fully functional studio that runs out of a warehouse on Windsor’s west side. I know Scott as the drummer who replaced me in the long-defunct Johnny El Camino, many years ago.
So Scott and I have stayed in touch. I suppose it’s sort of hard not to stay in touch with someone so active in such a small, local scene. But we’ve remained relatively close. Even if you’re not a fan of what Scott’s done musically, you’d be able to recognize that it’s good and that the man knows what he likes to hear which I have respect for.
You’d know this if you’ve heard any of his bands, but there’s a fairly consistent undercurrent there and it sounds a little like Queens of the Stone Age or the Foo Fighters. Maybe some Soundgarden and the more ‘tuneful’ aspects of the Melvins tossed in there for good measure. If it’s got Scott’s name attached to it, it’s rock and it might just have a nice, tasty hook in there too. Of course all of this depends on who he’s playing with at the time, but to use the tried and true music journalism cliche, his ‘output has been consistent’. A good sense for song craft? Check.
Scott and I had been tossing emails back and forth for a while; “Hey, let’s do this.”, “Why don’t we write some songs together?”, and so on. Scheduling can be a bitch, so nothing ever seemed to materialize. When you’re a musician in a smallish local scene where everyone knows everyone else, there is never any shortage of those drunken conversations on a Saturday night, where you pat each other on the back, extol the virtues of the other’s work and talk at length on how you should do something together in the future. That’s what this had been between Scott and I. Except sober. And via email. The point is that nothing ever seemed to work out.
And then the whole ‘This is War’ thing happened.
Ever the prolific promoter, Scott started tossing photos and posts out on the Facebook and if you were paying attention, you could tell that something interesting was going on. Pictures of amps and tracking sheets, song titles and updates from the studio. From what you could gather from the vague and sometimes cryptic little bits of information that Scott was pushing out, there were a couple of things happening: a) It’s a ‘solo’ album. b) It’s a ‘solo’ album in the loose sense of the word, and c) There’s going to be some impressive guests on this album.
This was more than enough to pique my curiosity as it would be an example of what the man can do without having to co-operate with anyone. If it’s his album, the involvement of others would be kept on a short leash. He’d be asking for help, but only asking those whose contributions would fit most closely with his intentions.
I know some of these guys. From what I could gather online, Andy Langmuir (Vultures!, Lone Locust, Bombast) was involved. As were Jeff Riley (Vultures!, Somatose) and David Allan (Explode When They Bloom, Poughboy, Cellos). There were a couple of allusions to some guest vocalists too, but until that point we’d been kept in the dark about who exactly those guests were. Details only trickled out, so we’re left wondering exactly what the scope of the whole thing is. Song titles like “Know That You Know Nothing” and “Easy Off”; Scott’s playing guitar; There’s 17 songs in the works…Then I get this email, two days after Valentine’s:
“Wrote a track on Sunday for my album that can only be executed by you. Interested?”
Fuck yes, I’m interested.
I had dropped the more traditional idea of collaborating with Scott when This is War started happening; the man was busy doing his own thing, exercising his own demons and I didn’t want to get in the way of that. So now I’m being invited into the fold. Neat-o. Shortly after this exchange I was sent a track via Soundcloud and it was not at all what I was expecting. In hindsight, I hadn’t really known what to expect, but this was not it.
Heavy. Noisy. Bizarre. “September’s Whore” plays out like some kind of Morse Code nightmare in slow motion, with an undercurrent of static that breaks into a sort of catchy, sort of morose chorus. Wrap it up with some more static and then do the whole thing again. I’m left scratching my head and thinking ‘what in the name of Christ am I going to sing over this’ and then the pressure is on. Scott knows what I’m capable of, and he knows my particular limitations, and this is what he sends me. Okay. Game time.
Time passes, and as is par for our course we miss some connections here and there and I started to fret about whether or not my ‘grown up’ schedule was going to allow me to contribute to this. I want to be in the studio with Scott, and I want my name somewhere on the behemoth that this album is eventually going to be, but I don’t want to hold him up. My understanding is that things are rolling along and it’s becoming a beast with seventeen heads and if I stall too much longer I’m going to miss my boat.
Somewhere along the line I have a conversation with the drummer in my band, who had just contributed to This is War. “It’s fucking good”. He describes a carefully constructed and apocalyptic motherfucker of an album that can be a bit overwhelming. There are some heavy guitars at play, and even more heavy emotions. Some kind of hard-boiled fist fuck of an album that demonstrates Scott taking a troublesome situation and turning into some troublesome art.
The man got dealt a shitty hand some time ago and if you’re Scott Warren, when life hands you shit-lemons, you forgo the lemonade altogether and make a cathartic concept album about the road from losing what you think is everything, to rebuilding and then coming back stronger in the end. So now the heat is on not only to schedule some studio time with the man, but to put an appropriately troublesome/apocalyptic/hard-boiled stamp on it.
Fuck. What am I getting involved in here?
Pulling up in front of the Rockerie is an interesting experience. Hidden inside a dry storage warehouse, which itself is tucked away on a side street in the west end, you get the sense that you’re entering into some kind of near-future, post-industrial crime drama, where gritty detectives duke it out with gang members in abandoned warehouses. It’s Robocop. Or one of the sets from that shitty ‘93 Emilio Estevez movie Judgment Night. Scott met me at the padlocked gate and we wound our way up some stairs and past palettes loaded with odds and ends on their way to supermarkets and distributors. It’s cold. It’s got a concrete floor. And it’s lifeless, except for Scott, myself and a single dove who has taken up residence in the rafters somewhere. A door on the other side of the big room opens into a modest, but fully functional and professional two room recording studio and then the whole thing makes a bit more sense.
The studio itself reflects a little bit of the building, which in turn reflects a little bit back on the region. Let’s not forget that this is Windsor, so it’s apropos that you’d be recording in a semi-run down warehouse, in a semi-run down part of town. Moreover, it’s an album about losing shit and then getting shit back, written and recorded in a town that some might say has lost it’s shit and is also in the process of getting it’s shit back. Let’s not wax too poetic here, but the whole thing works on a couple of interesting levels. And I’m thinking all this before we even get started…
He plays me a couple of tracks and I’ve got to admit, I’m a little struck by exactly how all over the place this thing is. And not ‘all over the place’ in a scattered sort of way, but like a mix tape put together by someone with a very keen ear for the last twenty years of rock music. In terms of construction, they don’t get any more polar opposite than “September’s Whore” (the Sturm and Drang doom parade that I’ll be on) and “The Pinkest Slip”. The latter struck me as one of the prettiest, saddest things I’d heard in a while; all acoustic strumming over layers of hypnotic synths and percussion sounds. He’s got softly sung (and apparently improvised) lyrics over a bed of dreamy psych-balladry. Quiet. Bittersweet. Great.
We start talking about the way things have been coming together for This is War and it becomes even more apparent that Scott is putting everything he’s got into this. There’s not only an emotional attachment to the songs that are brewing, but it’s all being done at the expense of considerable time and energy too. I’m sure that the ‘giving birth’ analogy gets tossed around much more than it should, but the way Scott frames this album is such that it’s an incredibly apt description; A whole lot of blood, some pushing and then wham… something brand new is laid out on the table.
And then we start talking about what we’re going to do, cloistered away in a building that feels a lot like the apocalypse happened, on a gorgeous afternoon when we should be on picnics and flying kites. Before the headphones even go on we talk about evil, and making people uncomfortable with sound. We talk about biblical imagery, noise and how best to capture something that’s going to hopefully gnaw at people a little bit. Maybe even scare them too.
Without sounding too presumptuous, that’s exactly what happened.
Working with Scott was an interesting experience; we discussed things and there were intentions laid out before he hit the record button, but inside of this there was a whole element of surprise and chance at play. We tried things, hooked up old, dirty microphones to old, dirty amps; we tried singing in one room, then another and then we tried getting me to move around the studio, we tried whispering and howling and adding effects to the whole mess. In the end, what was sent to my email inbox the next day sounded an awful lot like what you would expect the Southern Baptist idea of a day of reckoning to sound like. Dense, heavy and scary-as-fuck.
And now we wait.
He’s got the beast trimmed down to a lean 13 songs from the 17 he wrote in the first place. A couple more guest spots and then his own vocals and the it’s done. There are rumblings that a live show might be in the offing, but let’s deal with one thing at a time. It remains to be seen exactly how this thing is going to be released, but I can guarantee you’re going to want to hear it.
There is no shortage of wispy singer songwriter types around, strumming some BS and trying to give us all a taste of what they’ve got going on inside. Emoting and strumming and emoting some more. The pool of solo talent is a shallow one, lacking in anything remotely interesting. But this is a little different.
When you see Mr. Warren around town this weekend, buy him a drink and start harassing him about when you’re going to be able to hear this album that he’s been cooking up. Trust me, it’s going to be worth it.