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A TRAGIC TAIL
Someday I will tell the whole story in full, but for now here is a synopsis plus there are further notes about the production as well as what was going on at the time, on each of the tracks' individual pages.
IN THE BEGINNING
It's the story of a group of talented San Francisco-based musicians who started getting together in recording/jam sessions in 1998 (see Fiend and Shimmer collections for events immediately prior to this), and before they knew it, got offered an indie deal on the strength of a 3 song demo. Now-defunct TK Records, from Portland, Oregon, was at that time riding high with guaranteed distribution via Capitol Records, and having had a recent success with Dandy Warhols, who then made the jump from TK to Capitol for their next album. A similiar trajectory was predicted for Lil Tiger. It was a totally solid group (Tim Mooney, Michael Belfer, Joe Goldring and myself, credits below) with no weak links in any position, a pedigree of experience between us all and neither too young nor too old; seemed like we could avoid being pigeonholed. I feel like a bit of a twat admitting it now, but in the interests of full disclosure I should say that yeh, I did think that with this bunch of guys, I could definitely pull off that cheekiest of stunts: commercial success plus artistic integrity.
But instead of a record deal changing our fortunes for the better, it destroyed the whole project. Through Tim and Joe, we had always had access to our own 16-track studio and in fact, recorded every time we met. We could've released independently if we hadn't been offered a deal so quickly. It was early days yet, but the Internet was about to explode. With the crystal clarity of hindsight I can see that we so didn't need to rack up debt at a big posh studio and no more did we then need to have our almost-finished tapes locked away, ultimately to be erased.
THE MEGA-MERGER OF '99
For those not aware of what was going on in the mainstream music industry then, 1999 saw the mega-merger of media giants RCA and Universal happen, sending financial tsunamis throughout the entire global industry (and triggering wave after wave of even bigger mergers over the next few years) with the result being that, TK Records folded, the studio bill didn't get paid (many other bands had to default too) and ultimately went into liquidation! I had 7 friends in '98 with either publishing or recording deals, going all the way up to a guy I worked with at a restaurant who nabbed a 3/4 million dollar deal with Virgin records, the talented Jimmy Luxury (inventor of swing-hop), who was even advance-booked on Letterman. Two years later not one of those records was out, some of them never came out.
Tim had one friend, singer/songwriter, Mark Kozelek, who was doing pretty well already, under the name the Red House Painters, and had graduated from trendy boutique label 4AD to equally pukka but significantly bigger Island Records. He was soon-to-be-almost -famous already (wink, wink) but even he wasn't safe. I remember him telling us how the A&R guy responsible for his record lost his job as part of the downsize fallout from the merger and literally from one day to the next, his phone was disconnected and when Mark went by the office the doors were padlocked. Even established artists like that, who already had proven track records of sales and a fan base, were having trouble placing their orphaned albums with any label, what hope did a quirky new band, whose members were all over 30, have in that kind of climate?
Well so what, boo hoo one might say, I mean a lot of people lost their jobs and their record deals, what makes Lil Tiger's tale so tragic? Lil Tiger was just one of many casualties of that merger, the human collateral that never gets taken into consideration when the corporate raiders get dollar signs in their eyes or make their windfall announcements at shareholder meetings. Let's put things in perspective and not fall victim to self-pitying terminal uniqueness already!
But there was another factor in our case that in fact does compound the tragedy further, we didn't just lose a deal, we literally lost our work. Due to the fact that we were using a combo of digital and analogue we were mastering onto luxurious fat reels of expensive 2 inch magnetic tape, with its warm tone and extra headroom.
And it is like a dagger in my chest, ladies, gents and all-inbetween, to now reveal that in the totting up of studio assets during its liquidation, this tape ended up being valued as raw material, at so much per foot, while its priceless contents - our unreleased album - had no monetary value whatsoever. In fact it devalued the tape as the tape was now "used".
Whereas if we wanted to buy the tape, we were liable for its full value of accrued recording time debt under the terms of the original deal.
It was horribly unfair but legally the studio couldn't sell us the tapes at the scrap price it ultimately got when sold as part of the assets of the studio. Of course I had no idea this was even a possibility until after it happened or I would've gone in there and stolen them first. It would have been nice of the owners, who were friends of ours (one of them Craig Silvey was co-producing us), to give us the heads up so we could've done a quick snatch and grab but I guess they lost everything too. I can't really blame them for not trying harder to save our record. I guess.
I was in the process of trying to raise money to buy the masters when Toast Studios went into final liquidation. It's pitiful to think of, but all I needed at that point was 15 grand. Although we made a record that would have cost 200 grand in terms of the actual time and gear used, we had only racked up a bill of 30 grand or so at Toast. This was due to things such as the amount of raw material we were able to bring across from our original studio, our inside status with Toast's owners, getting weird midnight slots and jumping into dead space between bigger, richer, bands and so forth. Plus Craig Silvey was really into the project and had waived all his producer's fees for points on the record.
So I'd managed to negotiate the knock-down price of the tapes to 15 thousand, which I still didn't have a penny of 6 months later. Still I wanted to keep staying in touch and letting them know it wasn't abandoned, but when I called to say I was still trying to raise the money, it was already too late. The tapes had been sold as "scrap", for their value as tape - our album was going to be erased. I've rarely felt more instantaneously sick in all my life as when the sheepish studio manager told me this over the phone. Only the news-of-suicide or fatal accident phone calls beat that moment in the heart-sinking stakes. The poor guy had become kind of a friend too, after our many months in and out of Toast, and I imagined I could hear the shame of helplessness crackling his cheek skin through the telephone wire.
There are those who might say, "well, so what, why couldn't you just play the songs and record them again?" But as you read through the individual track notes here, the answer to this becomes clear. The studio was being used as an instrument, to its fullest capacity and the recordings were not just documents of good songs, they were little individual artworks unto themselves and entirely impossible to recreate due to the variety of methods used, analogue gear, and random elements such as the Oblique Strategies. There is a reason why phonorecords of songs have their own copyrights independent of the material. Yes, the song is the thing, but a recording is also its own thing. Otherwise why would people bother to cover songs? These recordings were unique and categorically not replicable. That is the tragedy. We also spend a fuck of a long time on it.
Looking back it seems crazy that the 4 of us didn't come together in a more effective way to secure those tapes during the vital few months when everything was falling apart. The truth is that it was hard to keep the momentum and focus going after taking such a hit, plus there were tensions in the band that stopped this uniting. Michael Belfer, despite having a busy schedule gigging with an absurd-but-$igned-to-Geffen band called Black Lab, resented the work that Mooney and Goldring and I did during his absences. Actually he resented Goldring, who'd joined us after we got a deal, full stop, regarding him as both an interloper and All Team Mooney which Belfer found threatening. So there was a lack of cohesion in the aftermath of the deal collapse.
Another factor was that all three of those guys were working session pros, either as players or producers. They needed to get on with the professional musician side of things and couldn't really afford to spend so much time or energy trying to flog what seemed like a very dead horse indeed. Mooney had recently gotten married and he and Joe were developing their own studio clientele at new premises and working on other projects that were uncomplicated by all this mess. Belfer was in afore-mentioned band in Geffen's B-string. It was paid work.
A couple or 3 other people, most impressively our manager Robert Bennett, stayed on and worked for free for as long as they could, trying to resurrect things but our timing couldn't have been worse in terms of what was happening in the industry. Everything just froze for literally 18 months. Eventually, everybody had to move on.
For me it was more complicated, as I think it always is if you're the singer and lyricist, the front-person. When you write and sing the words, your identity is always going to be a lot more bound up in the publication of a personal artistic expression. You can't just say, "oh well, I'll re-use that riff over here...", in quite the same way as an instrumentalist. A song once written, is a complete thing to its singer-author. So each time one of these projects has folded, for me that's meant saying goodbye to a whole raft of material. I only have maybe three or four songs that have had a life beyond their original version with original lineup. Which partially explains my devotion to recording I guess. At least it's all been pretty well-documented.
But getting out there and being a paid singer, well that's something I've never been great at figuring out how to do anyway. So I guess all of those factors put together explain why I was the only one still trying to buy the tapes off Toast for a year or so after the band was over, and why I'm the one who's finally doing something about it now, even so long after the fact. A lot of people were heartbroken by what went down and I'm in no way trying to minimize their losses or sadness or to big up my own. But it's also true to say that while everyone connected with Lil Tiger cared a lot, I cared the most. Michael and Tim were nearly a decade older than me and had already had a measure of previous successes in the recording arts. Joe was a young un but a real go-getter and heavily in demand as a bassist, guitarist, engineer and producer. Although he contributed a lot to Lil Tiger, and was as bummed as the rest when it folded, it wasn't his pet project or life-changing stuff.
Again, it was different for me. I had crossed over from a fine-arts background in experimental theatre and jazz improv in my 20s, a career that had been going well when I was entranced by the House of the Rising Sun, so to speak, and pledged my soul to being in bands instead. I'd been into the recording arts since I was a teenager, had lived at various collectives that included home studios until gradually it had taken over from my interest in the strictly performing arts. Thus began an odyssey that had taken me to New York, then LA and finally back to San Francisco.
At the time I met Michael Belfer, (who then got us together with Tim who then brought in Joe) I was licking my wounds from two previous record-deal mishaps in a row, one major, one indie.
Lil Tiger was third time unlucky for me in a series of vicissitudes that occupied nine years of my life with very little results achieved in the normal career sense. It was a heavy, heavy blow. I started to feel like I was cursed to make great records that only a few people would ever hear!
So accepting that this creation was just relegated to the dustbin forever was something I could never do no matter how hard I tried. And I did try to forget, to just fucking leave it in the past already. I didn't want to be stuck like a broken record myself.
Life does go on and I've been involved in many projects since then, but I've stayed in the underground, albeit the international underground, even going back to experimental theatre and writing for performance. I don't know if I would've found my way back to the written word, other than lyrics and poetry, if rock'n'roll woulda worked out for me. I've found in my many years in the arts underground indie4Evah scene, there is and always has been lots of great music-making and performance going on. I've met, played, recorded and performed with some fascinating people, some amazing musicians in a variety of styles and with unusual instrumentation. Some of these are even making a living from their artwork, just not going through the regular channels, doing it on their own terms. Judged by the quality of the output, if not the remuneration or wide-renown, I don't feel ashamed of my career.
But every so often I would pull out the CDs of those almost finished Lil Tiger tracks that we managed to escape with and listen again and think, "no, but, it was really gonna be a good record!" If I was ever going to do anything that would emerge out of the underground, I think that was kind of it. I still think it sounds good. The passage of time hasn't hurt it at all, even though it was never mastered and the mixes aren't perfect, positively bad in a couple of cases.
A few other friends of the band and true believers who'd been around from inception to dessication (such as the valiant Joshua Heller) also never let Lil Tiger's flame totally go out. From time to time they would bring it up and say, why don't you just put it out yourself?
Litigation and the ongoing validity of various signed documents hung over the carcass of Lil Tiger for a while after it woz killed and so that was one reason why at first I never did anything more than self-bootleg the material, rotate tracks on Myspace, once it had been invented, and occasionally I'd put it or individual tracks on home-made CDs to distribute to my own circle.
Later, thought still unhappy it never came out, I wondered what the point was of belatedly releasing unfinished music from a band that didn't exist anymore? It seemed like a giant pain in the arse and a great way to poke at an old wound, so I just kept trying to let it go.
Today however, it's incredibly simple to self-publish, self-distribute, via the Web. If these tools had existed ten years ago, this whole disaster might never have happened - it certainly would have been simpler to salvage.
When I watched/read the beautiful and moving Web-book-documentary "Welcome to Pine Point" by the Boggles, essentially a multi-media memorial to a Canadian mining settlement, I felt that there was a connection to the Lil Tiger story; in both cases, corporate decision-making had devastating impact on disparate lives, although in the case of Pine Point, not just an album but an entire town was erased.
It gave me the idea for creating a Requiem for a Lost Tape, in the same vein of this new art-form the Boggles were pioneering. I wrote to them with a synopsis, explaining the connection to Pine Point and they were kind enough to write back very encouragingly, that it was an intriguing story to be told and they were interested.
This is my first step towards making something happen in that direction. Ideally I'd like to hire the Boggles themselves to do it. People like that can't work for free, understandably. It's incredibly time-consuming. So, all offers from angels gratefully considered.
After a trip to LA this January, a friend (bassist and electronic musician/artist Jake Rivera, who's been in his share of genius little-heard bands himself) suggested I start using this online platform to unearth my chequered past and so I started putting up all the "suppressed" archives of my almost laughably disaster-prone musical career when I got back to England in March. I was 3/4 done with putting up this Lil Tiger collection and writing the notes but besides the technical side of things, it's quite emotionally tiring work, reliving the whole thing. Guess that's why I put it off for so long.
So anyway I'd stopped and taken a break when I got the awful news that Tim Mooney, the pulse of Lil Tiger, had met his untimely death, June 14th, 2012.
The guy who never missed a beat died too young because his heart stopped working. What a terrible irony.
I can't even imagine the sorrow of his surviving family and close friends back there in California because Tim was a genuinely great person to be around. His personality made it possible for the more volatile people in this group to work together for a time. Michael and I used to fight. Joe used to fight with Michael. But even Michael couldn't pick a fight with Tim. He'd just get this faintly amused and puzzled look if anyone was ever acting like an unreasonable asshole which had a very extinguishing effect.
His presence is definitely going to be missed by those who were around him a lot. Even though I hadn't seen Tim in probably 8 years, it hit me pretty hard.
Joshua Heller (of yet another secretly legendary band, the Black Athletes, my first teacher in recording arts and messenger of the P-Funk), one of our biggest champions, was appropriately enough the one to tell me the news and said he'd been listening to Lil Tiger ever since he'd heard and how great Tim's playing was. I was absolutely devastated to hear that Tim was gone, immediately thought of his wife Jude who was our band photographer and his daughter and put the tracks on loud so I could cry. Petaluma, where the family lives, was also where I had lived for a couple of years on and off before I left the US and so many bittersweet memories came flooding back. Tim's playing never ceased to amaze me but it amazed me all over again in light of his recent premature demise. The whole dang thing still sounds pretty fresh to me and I've heard it a thousand times.
I believe this collection of recorded works features some of Tim's best work as a co-writer, as well as shining examples of the world-class drumming for which he is already celebrated. It was gutting when the project was ruined by the very machinery that was supposed to support and promote it. But it is even more depressing to think I'll for sure now never get to play any of these songs again with Tim. I always held out hope that would happen somehow someday.
But it would give me great pleasure and rectify the situation to a degree, if more people were to know of it and to listen to this phonorecord. I listen to it now and I still feel really proud that I was part of such a lengthy and involved creative process with such a talented and diverse group, even though the sorrow for what happened is still there.
That sorrow is now compounded by the painful knowledge that if Lil Tiger ever does gain any kind of wider exposure and appreciation such will definitely be posthumous for at least one member now.
Thus, I'd like to conclude this recollection by dedicating this collection's much-delayed release to Tim Mooney, a great guy and a stellar musician, the drummer and literally the heartbeat of Lil Tiger. His playing alone makes the record worth listening to and there are even quite a few other good reasons too.
I've publisehd an elegy for Tim on my blog at 66witches.wordpress.com
(I know that should be "eulogy" really, but I like the musical and poetic connotations of "elegy" so am going to be deliberately incorrect.)
I still retained all the original signed agreements between all the members and even though expired, intended to honour them in spirit. I will look at them, but seem to recall that I agreed to give up my entitlement to 50% for lyrics plus an equal share of the musical composition rights, and instead to equally share everything between all members 4 ways, regardless of differences in contribution (real or perceived) on a song-by-song basis, and in this way to forestall any disputes between other members, as I am giving up the most.
In the event, once again, that any monies are ever raised, I'd also like to give Craig Silvey the points he never got and that were also agreed. I heard other sad news recently that Thor, the ex-owner of TK, is essentially homeless today. That was the beginning of the end for him. So if any real money is ever raised I'd love to somehow find him and give him back the $25 grand he did spend. What happened wasn't his fault at all and he really loved the band.
I'd also expect Joe, Michael and myself, to agree to donate back an additional 10%, collectively, derived from our shares back to the Tim Mooney Memorial Fund.
The other co-owners of Toast may, however, consider themselves paid in full as they have already received monies for the tape that they sold as scrap.
- Diana Rosalind Trimble, July, 2012, East Sussex, England
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