GroupThink album notes by Jessie Jacobson
Jerome Faulkner and I formed Second Language in late 1981 after our previous band The Trend finally gave up the ghost after 2 ½ years on the club circuit, two lead singers and four drummers. The Trend began as a new wave band with art-rock overtones but as we went along, my tastes and songwriting changed, the tone of the music darkened and the two of us, along with bassist David Letwin found a new singer and drummer but the band’s renewal was short-lived and we broke up within nine months.
Jerome and I decided to continue working together but we were looking for something much more ambitious. In The Trend I wrote the lyrics, the vast majority of the music and was largely responsible for the arrangements. For our next project, we wanted to locate compatible musicians who weren’t interested in boundaries or a specific style and who could collaborate on composing new material. And I wanted to sing my own songs.
The idea of improvising together appealed to us but we didn’t realize just how much until we began searching for band members and recruited bassist/multi-instrumentalist Chris Hutchinson and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Rick Winward. As Jerome (keyboards, clarinet, flute, recorder) and I (guitar, bass, keyboard) both loved the idea of expanding our creative palette, having four multi-instrumentalists and the ability to play musical chairs live and in the studio, improvising became the foundation of the band.
While over the years we incorporated improvisation into our gigs and recording sessions to some degree, our rehearsals became the breeding ground for the vast majority of our material. Every rehearsal, apart from honing material for shows or recordings, we free-form jammed with a total disregard to anything other than being present and unfettered in the moment. When Chris and Rick left the band, Toni Zeto, Jerome and myself insisted on finding replacements that could slot into our improvisational composing style and sense of fun and outrageous self-indulgence. With the addition of stellar rhythm section Jarrett Lesko (bass) and Brian Bielski (drums), we found them. And even after Jerome and Toni left, most of the new members were also multi-instrumentalists and good ones at that.
Throughout the lifetime of the band, we recorded virtually every one of our improvisations. And, to me, those recordings became as vital a part of our legacy as any gig or studio recording session. Some of the best music we ever created together can be found on those seventy-eight cassettes and sixty-two DAT tapes. Yet it was a part of the band that the world-at-large rarely got to hear and we think it’s time to correct that omission.
Unfortunately, the sound quality on the cassettes, while decent given the medium, is simply not up to the level of professionally releasable material. This excludes all the 1980s jams which is a shame as the sheer range of instruments, instrument-swapping and stylistic diversity is pretty damn enjoyable, if we do say so ourselves.
Therefore, for this double-CD worth of improvisations, hopefully the first in a series of such releases, I turned to the final batch of Second Language improvisational recordings, mostly dating from the time after the band officially split up for the second time in 1996. Shortly thereafter, Jarrett, Brian and I resumed playing together solely on a casual but regular improvisation-only basis and were soon joined by former members Toni Zeto (vocals, percussion), Dan Nolton (guitar), Mike Murray (guitar, vocals, harmonica, bass) and Chris Fudurich (keyboards, drums, bass) all in different combinations for the next year and a half until I moved to England in the fall of 1997.
That didn’t stop us from jamming together again over the next two years each time I returned to L.A. to visit family and friends. And as always, I recorded it all. Some of those sessions provided many of the highlights on this CD. In fact the majority of this album dates from 1998-1999. This wasn’t a reflection on the earlier 1990s improvs or the players involved, but after not having listened to these recordings for many years, in 2016, remembering how remarkable I thought those sessions were at the time, I chose to start at the end and work my way backwards.
That said, two tracks, Cowgirl Junkets and Strangled Daze Heir Plain feature stalwart 1993-1996 2L guitarist Sam Graf in fine fettle while Blue Sunset, the earliest piece on this collection features 2L keyboardist Katriina Huotari (1991-1995) who was to the band in the 1990s what Jerome was in the 1980s. And my nephew Brandon Jordan, in his pre-KillRadio days (a mere 17 years old at the time of recording), guests on additional keyboards on three cuts. Meanwhile Jarrett plays lots of bass and guitar along with a bit of drums and keyboard, Brian plays some keyboard and I try my hands at guitar, bass and keyboard along with lots of vocalizing.
Stampede is the only studio-based improvisation on this album. The original improv was recorded mid-1996 by Chris Fudurich in our rehearsal room during a tracking session for our unfinished proposed final studio album (which we are in the process of completing over 2020-2021 and releasing as Spread It All Around). Stampede features Brian on drums and myself on bass and vocal. When we listened back to it, Jarrett and I were inspired to overdub two spontaneous guitars at once in an effort to maintain the randomness factor, and, with the addition of a shaker and a superb mix by Chris in 2020, we had what I hope you will agree is a damn fine track.
All the remaining tracks are improvisations recorded in various rehearsal rooms on a Sony TCD-3 DAT Recorder. Blueshift, Polka Dot Dress, Times Are Tough, Elder Statesmen, Grey Easter, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Hate And Fear, and Strangled Daze Heir Plan have been edited owing to excessive length but their essential essence remains intact. All other tracks are unedited.
As for the titles of the 'songs' on this album, the vast majority of them are derived either from our improvised lyrics on some tracks (i.e. Inner Eyes, Elder Statesmen or I've Had It Up To Here With Hate And Fear) or outrageous puns based on who or what the individual improvs reminded me of back in the day. For example, Cowgirl Junkets and Cowed By Chunkies are plays on the Cowboy Junkies (though neither track may remind the listener of that band) and so forth with Knife-Edge Males (Nine Inch Nails), Strangled Daze Heir Plain (both The Doors' Strange Days and Jefferson Airplane), or Vegans Of Aging Wrecks (a play on earlier 2L song Visions Of An Aging Race).
As for the lyrics, they tend to be stream-of-consciousness vamps but that doesn't mean some of them don't sound like songs or make any sense even if they generally lean towards the abstract side of things!
As I mentioned before, we hope to follow up this double-CD with more improvisation-based CDs/downloadable albums including a set of our 2014-2019 reunion sessions and even a free download/streaming-only set of those magical 1980s cassette recordings. And, yes, I believe we still have a lot of great jams in the can! In the meantime, we hope you enjoy GroupThink and that it whets your appetite for more improvisational 2L music in the near future.