October 11, 1993
The Telephone Man
[SDK-35] color copied inserts, laser printed labels. limited edition of first 50 units had handmade packaging, some in books-on-tape long boxes and some in Norelco boxes
Over the course of 1993, The Telephone Man evolved from a drum machine project into a full-fledged band. The recording of this self-titled cassette (often referred to as “No. 35”) was the band’s first visit to the studio. It not only preserved Matt Ronay’s quickly evolving songwriting abilities, but also expressed an emphasis on a return to earlier Slamdek ideals. As mentioned in the discussion of Matt’s previous band, Ennui, earlier in the book, the group of kids he came from grew up on Slamdek. The label was now to the age where it was a part of the old scene and The Telephone Man’s cassette has a decidedly retro-Slamdek look and sound, coupled with an all new approach. Matt and I were logging a lot of hours together doing the never-ending Slamdek chores of cutting, folding, mailing, and all that.
The tape came into existence during a unique timespan. The T-Man recorded these four songs in mid-September 1993, and the tape was in stores about three weeks later, a classic old-Slamdek-style turnaround. Sunspring had recorded a Rick Springfield cover in July 1993 for a second split seven inch with Endpoint (SDK-33). Endpoint hadn’t recorded yet and Sunspring was on its deathbed, so that record didn’t come out until December. Francy Yingling and I were also in the process of working on a seven inch under her name (SDK-34). Francy’s record was eventually cancelled about six months later, before it was completed (see page 155). The Telephone Man’s SDK-35 was recorded and released in a short three week time period, quickly and seemingly effortlessly, while the label’s other projects crawled toward completion at a sleepy pace. Because of The Telephone Man’s expedient progress, their cassette bridged a gap of seven months between the releases of the Sunspring CD and the second Endpoint/Sunspring split 7″. And as a result, it slipped into the fortunate position of being the only new Slamdek release for the fall, and reaching far more people than it otherwise would have. Had the other records come out on schedule, The Telephone Man, the underdog as a new band, would have been sharing advertising space with heavyweights Endpoint and Sunspring, as well as the other new entry, Francy Yingling.
In stark contrast to Matt’s earlier work, and the rest of the stuff on Slamdek, The Telephone Man’s sound was especially darker, moodier, rawer, and more direct. The band had no image they were trying to project, nor any preconceived notions that they were anything relevant to anybody. There was no thick, beefy guitar sound, or heavy handed rhythm section. Instead, their songs took shape by building from basic instrumental ideas, and expanding them to include vocals or distortion as the moods developed. The four songs clock in at just under twenty minutes. Ashli State, on bass, contributed backing vocals which expanded the sound to even wider degrees. The band’s music was dynamic, seemingly uneasy, and had a mechanical feel. Two of the songs on the tape included tracks of Matt, drummer Nick Hennies, and friend Ben Brantley banging on sheet metal and other clangy objects; an idea directly derived from Cerebellum’s cassette in 1989.
The recording and mixing took place September 18 and 19, 1993. While it was recorded at DSL by Mike Baker, The Telephone Man didn’t have the budget to work with that Sunspring did earlier in the year, nor did they desire to pour a lot of time into the recording. DSL was slowly beginning to function as a normal studio, bringing in more and more outside clients, and The Telephone Man was among the first round. They were interested in basically just setting up the equipment, turning on the tape recorders, playing their songs, doing some nominal mixing, and going home. Quite the opposite approach to recording that DSL’s previous clients Sunspring and Hopscotch Army had taken. The recording process went pretty smoothly considering it was the band’s first visit to a studio. I came along, as I had with Ennui, to listen and to be of assistance when needed. But Mike Baker ran the show and got the raw, unproduced sound the band was looking for. The tape sounds pretty much like the band sounded when they were standing there playing in the Jeffersontown home studio; provided the necessary volume is added, of course.
About two weeks before recording, The Telephone Man played a show at Iroquois Amphitheatre. The sunny, clear afternoon performance closed with the emotionally-drenched debut of a new, ten minute song, “Grandfather.”
“It’s dark in the midafternoon as light filters through drawn shades. The sheets wrapped around my body as I try to sleep, as I try to remember. The light takes my energy away. Pick me up, put me down, I’m not as pure as you thought I would be. I can’t sleep for what I remember of you. Pick me up, put me down, I’m not as pure as you thought I would be. I lit the match, I held it to my lungs, it’s supposed to bring you back. I wish you could see who I am, see what I have done, see who I am. The sky’s colors are all running through, they’re making grey, I wish you were here. I can remember the way that you smile, the way that you laugh. I know that you’re gone. The leaves fall off the trees, to the ground that you lay on, and you are not here. I wish I could say goodbye to you on that day in May, but I was somewhere else. I know that you’re somewhere else too, but I know it’s the same way.”
September 1993, The Telephone Man at Iroquois Amphiringing intheatre:
Ashli State, Matt Ronay, Nick Hennies.
The Telephone Man cassette didn’t set any amazing sales records or change the face of the earth. In fact, it only sold about 165 copies. There is no doubt that the odds were undoubtedly stacked against it. Slamdek was in the middle of a strange time, not just in the months surrounding its release, but for about six months before it and for a year after it. It was alone in the spotlight for about two months as the only new item, but when December rolled around it quickly began getting buried. Slamdek had three releases in December and another in January. In trying to keep up with all of it, the label was considerably overextended (more than usual).
Furthermore, The Telephone Man was evolving so rapidly that the tape was hardly a reflection of the group by the new year.
In December 1993, Ben Brantley joined the group on second guitar. His addition to the group expanded their horizons in all directions. The quiet parts got quieter, the heavy parts got heavier, the intricate parts got more intricate, and the contrast between vocal and instrumental portions became more extreme. The group returned to DSL in February 1994 to document four more songs. Perhaps some of their finest material, it was unfortunately never released. “Douglass Boulevard” is mostly instrumental with a quiet narrative by Matt in the middle, then he and Ben share vocals at the end. For the classic “Let Me Tell You How Much I Like You So You Can Treat Me Like Shit,” Ashli takes the lead vocal. This song appeared on a free Slamdek sampler tape given away at the first Slamdek Rockers field hockey game, March 19, 1994. And Matt handles the vocals for the dramatic “Rain = Flood” and the short and catchy “Kelly.”
After the February 1994 session, they began to settle into their niche. Their full, defining sound was one totally unique to them, yet unmistakably major league Louisvillian. But like Cerebellum and many other earlier Slamdek bands, The Telephone Man’s true importance was never fully evident until it was too late. During their two years together, they metamorphosed so constantly that they essentially played a completely different style of music every four or five months. In their later days, the stereotypical Louisville genre they were often pigeonholed into was one they helped develop during its crucial times. But as the unsung heroes of the genre, they took to the home stretch quietly.
“I will follow you, through the woods, through the fields of grain. I will walk up steps of steel, and I will brush away things that do not heal. Decision making processes can grow here if we let them metamorphosize, let them go, be free. I don’t know what I am doing when I decide where I am going. I don’t know. Needles and stitches.”
Whole Man, Half Man
I Will Follow You
Side two was blank.
[Some 1994 editions of the cassette have the first three songs on side one and “Grandfather” on side two.]
Produced by Mike Baker and Scott Ritcher. Cover design by Matt Ronay.
Nick Hennies, drums
Ashli State, bass/vocals
Matt Ronay, guitar/vocals
Thank you’s: ASHLI: Max Jason Dollinger (this is about you, thanks?), Suzanna Stoll, Jason N., Jeff M., Layla, Jason H., Tara, K. Scott, Mr. and Mrs. Hennies. NICK: Kendle. MATT: Scott, Ben, Nick and Ashli, Nick’s parents, Jason N., Rodan, Josh, Layla, Endpoint, Drew, Samantha, Greg King, and Buzz.