Snowball II – ‘Flashes of Quincy’ LP | Track by Track

snowball ii

Flashes of Quincy is out now.

Popgaze? Shoepop? Gazepop? Ah, who cares what it is called. The only thing that really matters is that LA’s Snowball II, named after The Simpson’s cat, manage to combine the pop sensibilities of indie rock stalwarts like Bob Mould, Stephen Malkmus, and Evan Dando with a hint of shoegaze from the venerable My Bloody Valentine playbook. It works bloody well, which makes me angry that more shoegaze bands didn’t head in this direction back in the 90’s instead of just breaking up or getting, well, kind of shit.

Anyway, Jackson Wargo, who wrote, performed, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered the entire bloody album all on his lonesome (I think he also makes a demon pastrami on rye) took us through each track to give an insight into his mind and songs.

Order Flashes of Quincy from Bandcamp.

1. Anais & Me

I’m unsure whether I wanted to emulate The Kinks or Lilys emulating The Kinks more with this one. Point is probably on the moot side of things because I didn’t really nail either of them. I bought a Chameleon Labs 7602 mk ii preamp/EQ—which had been described to me as a Neve 1073 clone of sorts—before tracking Flashes of Quincy, and was trying to poach guitar tones from The Kinks’ Arthur and Lilys’ The 3 Way. This was to little/no avail—the phrase “close enough for rock ‘n’ roll” became a mantra of sorts throughout the whole production of the album (mix & master included). The whole process was pretty much just me sitting in my parents’ spare bedroom recording feedback and screwing up guitar parts before a sharp cut with me screaming “CLOSE ENOUGH FOR ROCK N ROLL” in various accents. I’m sure there are takes saved on my hard drive of me singing Victoria instead of Anais trying to sound like Ray Davies. But alas, I sound like me.

Anais is the kid sister of an old friend I had—she used to remind me of a younger me a bit, so I felt a sort of protective instinct towards her I suppose. But if you listen closely, the song isn’t about Anais at all.

2. Groan’s

I wrote this one on the morning of my 23rd birthday about a girl with Crohn’s disease. I recorded a demo of it about an hour later (which became the final version), and then I promptly went to the bar. The guitars and bass are all DI. I replaced the vocals and the drums, and remixed it, but that was pretty much it.

Always impossible to shake the Pavement influence. Although, I actually come from a more classical school when it comes to performance/perfectionism. It’s out of my comfort zone to be impulsive, improvise, embrace imperfections, allow fluidity and, shall we say, compositional evolution. Hence the repetitive mantra. I wasn’t in the sessions for Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but I like to believe SM said garbage like “eh, close enough for RnR” all the time.

3. Sear ‘Em!

‘Sear ‘Em!’ was the first song written — no, I take that back. ‘Your Occasion’ was the first song I wrote for the album, but ‘Sear ‘Em’ was the first song I completely recorded. I had a finished version of this song before we released ? that was nearly identical to the album version. I had a different drummer on it originally, whose tracks I intended to keep for the album version, but after Tim Kmet tracked drums for everything else, the tones were pretty unmatchable in the mix process, so I had Tim replace them with the same kit he used for everything else with a much smoother outcome. The photo referenced in the final chorus are in the inside sleeves of Doughnut Holes.

4. CR-VUC

‘CR-VUC’ was the last song written for Flashes of Quincy. I had asked Kurt Heasley to come to my studio to sing/play guitar on a track for the record before I had an exact plan of what I’d actually have him sing/play guitar on… Tentative plan was to have him sing ‘Appositive Stream’ and play a guitar solo on it, but two days before he came, I panicked & wrote ‘CR-VUC’ for him to sing. I taught it to him line by line while we tracked it. We probably spent 8 hours in the studio, but only recorded for maybe 45 minutes or so. We spent a ton of time talking about SunnO))), literature, Alleister Crowley, and Stephen ESPO Powers. I read three or four books he recommended that day—I purchased even more, which are still sitting on my desk, taunting me. It’s a strange thing to have worked collaboratively with someone who has been my greatest musical influence in the last decade—I hope to continue involving him in Snowball ii, if he’s up for it.

I hold ‘CR-VUC’ as one of the better songs I’ve written thus far. I haven’t written a song since, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous to do so. I’ve heard a lot of songwriters, Kurt included, talk about how they try to steer clear of autobiographical nature in their artistry, which I have a hard time believing. I’ve never been able to get away from it since I began writing songs, and I wouldn’t say that I have much of an interest in it. All of the songs recorded here are of an autobiographical, journal-type nature, though this one in particular isn’t written from my perspective, which makes it a little more appropriate to have another’s voice sing.

5. Resident of the United States

This song has a pretty similar story to ‘Groan’s’. They were written in the same week I think. A few hours of me sitting in the garage writing, a few hours of me frantically tracking a demo that I ended up liking at the end of the day and having Tim throw drums on later. I think I did a few overdubs through a Soundcraft Series 600 console I picked up in Santa Cruz, CA off of some guy for only a few hundred dollars. That board kind of colored a lot of the album with a ‘90s indie rock tint of which I’m pretty fond.

I think this song began a series of more cryptic tones in my otherwise conversational lyric writing. I always like to think that the object of each song is a person who’ll listen and understand the more specific allusions and underlying themes, but that’s proven to be ineffective more often than not—as far as I know, at least. My lyric writing is always specific to something. The hope is always that thoughtful listeners will understand every word, but maybe the lyrics are just for me. There’s a solace somewhere in that, even though it’s never been what I want.

6. Your Occasion

This song exists because of a relationship I was in with a girl who was going to grad school a couple thousand miles away for most of the time we were together. I’d fly out to visit her as often as I could, but after a bit, each trip out seemed less of an occasion to her—became less of a reason to go out and have adventures and more of a reason to sit on the couch and watch television. It was a nasty shock when I realized what was happening. But I think the worst part about the whole matter was that after I had written this song, I realized that I didn’t know how to properly spell the word “occasion.” I misspelled it on the lyric sheet and the Pro Tools session, and had to play it off like I meant to misspell it when someone pointed it out to me. I think it sounds like Ryan Adams had Kevin Shields produce one of his songs.

7. Appositive Stream

In the spirit of grammatical fluidity, I like to think of an appositive stream in the context of one speaking of someone they know or once knew, and repeatedly believing they’re misdefining their relationship with that person and subsequently redefining said relationship. With respect to this song, it’s in the context of a conversation I had in a bar with someone I used to date—and it’s an attempt to choke that sort of thinking. But it isn’t any more that than it is “a positive stream,” which is a whole other animal. I like to play grammatical games with punctuation and homonyms, etc. I’ve spent a long time reading James Joyce, and I like to twist things in ways I learned from him.

8. Meet Yr Dad

A shameless homage to The Dismemberment Plan. ‘Meet Yr Dad’ was originally a song I wrote for another band called Mac Luster, in which I was playing during the Flashes of Quincy production process. We played it at dozens of shows in Southern California. When we recorded it, I even had Tim try to emulate a bit of what Clarinda was playing on drums when Mac Luster used to play it. Telling the Mac Luster dudes (Jake Mazon & Clarinda MacClean) that I’d usurped the song and thrown it on a Snowball album wasn’t exactly something I was looking forward to doing, but it went over much smoother than I’d anticipated. Funny thing about the song is that I actually did end up meeting this girl’s dad, and the first thing he ever said to me was, “it’s nice to see you again.” So yeah.

9. I Exist

The name of the game is Vox Repeat Percussion. Originally built into the Vox Starstream guitars in the ‘60s along with a germanium fuzz. Truly a wonderful sound that’s all over this recording. I first heard it used by Spacemen 3 and quickly became obsessed with it. Acid Fuzz makes a great, if pricey, emulation pedal called the Sonic Boom, which has the Repeater, Fuzz, and Booster that I use every day and will until I die I’m buried with it in my hands.

“I Exist” was one of the working titles for Flashes of Quincy. During the writing of the album, I read both David Markson’s book Wittgenstein’s Mistress and David Foster Wallace’s essay on the book, in which he writes that were the novel in his editorial hands, he’d have changed the title to I Exist. Markson writes the book as a journal of sorts from the perspective of a woman who is convinced she is the last person on planet earth, though the reader suspects whether the woman is actually insane, which we never find out for sure. To me, songwriting & record production generally feels like an emotionally demanding, elaborate, and expensive way to write a letter or a series of letters to which there mostly often isn’t a response. It’s easy to feel both insane and that you’re the last person on planet earth when writing and recording this way—especially if you do it all alone in a home studio like I do.

10. …Is All

I wrote ‘…Is All’ at my aunt’s house in Ohio over the summer—it took maybe half an hour. The synth ostinato is from the harmonic series setting on the Critter & Guitari Pocket Piano. The natural harmonic series actually builds a dominant 7 chord, which I’ve set on the tonic of the song, but the song is in a major key. So there’s a unique rub between the b7 of the synth line and the natural 7 in the chord progression and melody — which I find very beautiful and soothing, just as I do with the content of the lyrics.

Find Snowball II on Facebook.

Follow Overblown on Facebook and Twitter.

Do you want to change music journalism?