The Telephone Man – Castner c/w Automatic Pilot

October 31, 1994
The Telephone Man
Castner c/w Automatic Pilot seven inch
[SDK-38] First 300: handmade designs on blank white seven inch covers with photocopied inserts. Second 200: laser printed one-of-a-kind covers with fax paper inserts.

The Telephone Man’s second studio release unsuspectingly became the last release of new material that Slamdek would issue. The two-song seven inch was the result of a summer’s worth of energy. It began in May 1994 when bassist Ashli State left the band to play full time in Guilt, with whom she was already sharing her skills. At the beginning of June, Matt Ronay graduated from duPont Manual High School. The night of his graduation, I expressed to him how sad I was that the Telephone Man full length album we were planning wasn’t going to be happening. He, Ben Brantley, and I hung out that night and drove out to Fern Creek to play Putt-Putt. We had a lot of fun during the excursion. As the conversation progressed, I volunteered that if the three remaining band members would stick together, I would play bass for the rest of the summer so they could record an album of all their current material. After seeing great bands like Crawdad and Sister Shannon escape the recording process, I wasn’t about to let that happen to another one of my favorite bands, if I could help it. Ben and Matt agreed, as did drummer Nick
Hennies when they told him.

Three months earlier, while Ashli was still in the bass position, they had recorded four more songs at DSL. The February 1994 session remains unissued with the slight exception of “Let Me Tell You…” that appeared on a free cassette given away at the first Slamdek Rockers field hockey game in March ’94. This recording session was part of the beginning of the end of Ashli’s work with the band. She had to leave the studio early to practice with Guilt. Matt wasn’t too happy about that.

“Douglass Boulevard”: The boy’s angel was out at sea. He had an anchor tied to his hip. I let him go… Hovering over the boy, the angel spread his sparse wings around the boy. The light still shone through his wings, they were all worn from protecting. All that the boy thinks that he has been through. He came into the room holding the small, red bag in one hand, reaching for the nail to put it upon. He reached and reached and fit it upon the resting place where it was supposed to cover him up at night. Last night he was covered, even though the boy and the angels slept in separate rooms. The boy knelt down in his tattered garden. A desperate tear clinging to his face, the fluid blurred his disturbed sight. Revealing only the emptiness before him. The dirty hands that are all stained only because of him, that are scarred only because of him, that are callused because of what he did to himself, that are worn to the bone because of the things that he said to himself every morning.

“Let Me Tell You How Much I Like You So You Can Treat Me Like Shit”: Why? Why did I have to be the one to keep your mind off her? Was I random? Was I convenient? I didn’t want to be a piece in your game. Isn’t it funny how the person who makes you feel like everything can make you feel like nothing? I didn’t need you to make me think that everything I ever thought about myself was true. Why didn’t you tell me that you were afraid? I didn’t need you. I didn’t need you to make me feel like nothing. I already did. So here I am, aborted, left to walk out of this just like I walked into it. Empty.

“Rain = Flood”: The rain fell down dark and heavy. It covered the windows. It covered everything. It came through the window seals. Hearts made of steel. No more light next to boxes and boxes. Short live long rain. It came running and running. Condensating glass. Crushed me to sleep.

“Kelly”: I feel the pavement is gray, the pavement beckons me to the ground. I feel I should be happy at least once in a while. The nighttime has shred. You remind me as long as I lie to myself I will always be hurt. Temporary is permanent. Forever is a lie. Trust is not a valid reason. Will you stay for a while?

When I joined the band, we began practicing almost immediately. The first few practices were at Nick’s parents’ house in Hikes Point. We were all excited about the prospect of playing with each other and we shared a mutual enthusiasm for the music. By midsummer, practices had been relocated to Matt’s parents’ house in the Highlands and things got increasingly louder as it progressed.

In late July we took all our equipment to a huge house off Brownsboro Road near Chenoweth Lane. The house belonged to the parents of graphic artist and Macintosh guru Zan Hoffman. They were in the process of moving so the house was virtually empty. Over the course of two cool, damp summer nights, Zan recorded our entire hour-long set on an eight track machine. This was to possibly become a Telephone Man album, however, the house was sold and we never had the opportunity to add vocals or mix any of the recording. It all sounded relatively good, though, and had a really wide, crisp, raw sound.

We played a $3 show at a Baxter Avenue coffee house called Highland Grounds in early August with Serial Heroes. Our hour-long set included all of the songs from the February recording except “Rain = Flood,” as well as a few other tunes held over from the later days with Ashli (“If She Tried…”), and new ones that had materialized since I joined (“Heretic,” “Castner,” “Nothing Left To Offer,” and “Automatic Pilot”).

The Telephone Man played its last show upstairs in the Louisville Gardens Theatre with Falling Forward and Hedge on August 18, 1994. We did a shorter version of the same set, playing for 38 minutes, of which I made a DAT recording.

The following day, we visited Mike Baker at DSL to record this seven inch of two new songs from the summer, “Castner” and “Automatic Pilot.” This was the day before Matt went away to school in Baltimore, and hence the last opportunity to document the band. The T-Man’s last stand, so to speak. We were there only a few hours and everything went as smoothly as could be expected. Slamdek was exceptionally low on funds, having put out the Endpoint CD reissue, so the Telephone Man DAT sat around for about a month. When money came in again, it got sent to United in Nashville for the seven inch pressing.

“Castner”: In Castner’s world, things are lit by the light of the moon. It reflects on shiny things. I hold Castner’s hand while I watch flashes of light in the sycamores. In Castner’s world, the sea is a place, the sea is a place where lonely sailors go to. I guess that is where he makes his home. He asked me to understand what it’s like to make the night your home. I try to, I try to understand. I try to, and Castner sleeps. I kissed Castner on the mouth. Castner slept. And then he sank down to the bottom of the sea.

“Automatic Pilot”: For a brief moment I controlled the sun. I gave it life, I saw it dance on the wings. I made it dance on wings on air. Catching my eye. What more could a boy ask for? I gripped the steering shaft. I controlled the sun. I gave it life. I saw rays dance on wings of alloy. I made them dance on wings of steel. Catching my eye and propelling me from my single to a control stick fighter. Until they caught my eye and propelled me from the yoke of my single to the control stick of a fighter. Or maybe it was a Concorde or Boeing. What more could a boy ask for? Maybe something super, something sonic, something I couldn’t control at all.

Matt came home for a weekend in October during which he, Ben, and I trudged through a stack of 300 blank white seven inch covers. With the assistance of Matt’s rubber stamp collection, some colored water, markers, leaves, fabric, and spray adhesive, we made about 300 one-of-a-kind seven inch covers. I later made another 100 with the Macintosh, printing over magazine pages and paper samples Matt and I collected two years earlier while working on the Ennui 7″. And Matt made another 100 when he went back to Baltimore with paint and stencils. The record was released on Halloween to all the usual local stores, and was shortly after picked up in distribution by Caroline, Cargo, Revelation, Network Sound, Victory, and Dutch East.

The Telephone Man seven inch sold about 350 copies in the short four months between its release and the closing of Slamdek. About 150 copies of the first and only pressing remained at that time. As the band’s best selling release, the posthumous record gained them a small cult following and took their music outside of the city limits for the first time.

When Matt returned for the Christmas holidays in 1994, he and Ben began making four track recordings of songs with a country flavor. This project, Marcellus, never released anything nor played live, but put Matt behind the drum set. He also recorded some folky lo-fi songs while at school with friend Mandy Katz. He sent me a tape of some of these notable songs, one of which, “650 Miles,” was covered into a cheesy rock version on Metroschifter’s Number One For A Second 7″.


Side one:

Side two:
Automatic Pilot

Matt Ronay, guitar
Ben Brantley, guitar/vocals
Nick Hennies, drums
Scott Ritcher bass

Recorded by Mike Baker at DSL