Acclaimed as one of the best rock albums for many a moon, 'Buzz' by GUARDIAN put the band with production maestro Steve Taylor. Tony Cummings reports.
When Cross Rhythms last wrote about Guardian in 1993 the innovative 'Miracle Mile' was in the CD racks and the band were readying themselves for their first UK appearance at the Greenbelt Festival. Since then the band have gone from strength to strength first with their intriguing acoustic based 'Swing Swang Swung' (1994) and now with their Steve Taylor-produced tour de force 'Buzz'. The band - lead singer Jamie Rowe, guitarist Tony Palacios, bassist David Bach and drummer Karl Ney - have received mucho accolades and radio play with the edgy, grunge-tinged rock of 'Buzz'. Its creation was no accident.
"We just sat down and said, 'Okay, this is 1995. This is our fifth record. We need to stay current. How can we stay current and hip without jumping on some bandwagon?'" explains guitarist Tony Palacios. "We were on tour with Steve Taylor in the autumn of 1994, on his bus for 35 days. In the beginning, none of his band knew us. As we were coming on the bus, all they were thinking was, 'Oh my gosh, some metal band is coming on the bus with us.' But we all ended up having a great time."
The band's friendship with Steve led to an eventual working relationship in the studio. "Steve started working on this album with us after seeing us live 35 shows in a row," David explains. "I think the Elefantes have only seen us play maybe twice ever. So Steve's perspective of Guardian was totally different. He was going in and trying to capture what he saw on stage every night, whereas the Elefantes built the albums in the studio."
"What was so cool about Steve," Tony says, "is that we'd be holed up rehearsing in this little old church back room out in the country and he'd come by every two or three days. We'd play through the songs for him and he'd say, 'Okay, after the second verse it needs to take a left turn.
I'm bored now. Something needs to go there. I don't know what it is, but find out.' So we'd take notes and then go home and write a new part. It was a matter of listening to the band and listening to the vibe. If there was something there he didn't like, he'd say so."
"We do have a lot of blues roots," David adds, "and Steve said, 'You know guys, that's cool, but you've already done that. Let's go in a new direction. Let's not rest on our laurels at all.' If there was anything that, to him, was reminiscent of 'Miracle Mile' or 'Swing, Swang, Swung', he'd take us in another direction. He stretched us. In retrospect, that was very healthy for us musically."
An avid Guardian listener may notice a trace of Taylor's lyrical twists and turns on several tunes from 'Buzz', another first for Guardian in the songwriting department. "We would collaborate a lot with John Elefante," David explains, "but this was the first time we've really had outside help on the lyrics. It was like Steve was a fifth member of the band. He's a great writer, not just a lyrical writer, but his prose stands on its own as prose. His lyrics are good by themselves and that's hard to do. That's writing a notch above."
Working with production maestro Taylor, who in the States had gained huge CCM success with the Newsboys, initially made Guardian a tad nervous.
"You know, we were kind of scared of the 'Newsboysitis'," remarks David. "But his music is so different and then we found out about his taste for film and bizarre sounds. This guy is like a really eclectic person, period. He would take us, let us be us, and it wouldn't be anything like the Newsboys - just like his own music. It was almost by accident, but it turned out that it worked.
"Steve is the quintessential songwriter, and I learned how to chop songs down and cut the fat off. The brothers, they write good lyrics, but lyrics were not the 'be all - end all', like words are with Steve. It turned out that we ended up writing most of the stuff ourselves, but it was with Steve pushing us. We would take stuff and he'd say, 'No, you better go back.'"
Tony expounds: "It was down to, 'Okay, great line, great line. This line already said this, so this line is a throwaway line. Okay, now this word...' It was like turning in an essay or something, and there were pencil marks - 'check this idea out...' It's like grading your paper. It's hilarious." "I think Steve's secret passion is that he would like to direct a film," says David. "And I felt like I was working with a film director. He was like, 'You've already stated this emotion, you've already built this plot and you need to turn to this point...' (To him) songs are scripts."
Compared to 'Swing, Swang, Swung', this moving score is like a rock 'em, sock 'em adventure; whereas 'Swing...' was a love story. "To us," David explains, "'Swing...' has turned out to be the most misunderstood record that we've ever made. Originally, it was a record that Jamie had an idea for after 'Fire And Love', for our Pakaderm contract. (It was originally to be called 'Wire And Wood'.) Then a couple of years later, after 'Miracle Mile', 'Swing...' was supposed to be an interim record. That's all it was supposed to be. We really wanted to just do, like, an acoustic record, just to do something different. We've always had that element to our sound in at least a song or two on each album. 'Swing...' got overblown and was miss-marketed. There was a big delay on it. It should've just been released as an acoustic EP. But, we got carried away and wrote a bunch of songs and we ended up with 12 good songs. To this day, a lot of our fans told us, 'I don't like it', or 'It took me a long time to get into it.' I know Tony and I, especially, stand on 'Swing...' as probably one of our best records, because I think the songwriting was really good. But again, our fans are realising that Guardian wasn't gonna sell out. So for us, 'Buzz' was no surprise to us."
One of the standouts on 'Buzz' is the multi-faceted jewel, "Are You Gonna Keep Your Word?" "It was just a love song Jamie wrote for his wife," explains Tony, "and he brought it to Dave and I about a year ago. We heard it the first time and said, 'That's one. Definitely, that's one.' When Steve heard it he said, 'Let me work on this with you guys.' And what was cool about Steve working on that was that he preserved the love song quality, but put a heavy spin on it as far as being faithful and understanding that: us, as men, or just people in general, are capable of falling. Like the song says, 'My heart is not above deceit.'"
"'I have been faithful...' David explains. "That's just saying, 'I've been faithful to my wife, but I'd be a liar if I said I haven't either had near occurrences or just lusted in my mind.' That hits me every time -when you realise, you know, you watch these great pastors that fall, and you realise, 'Hey man, that could be any one of us.' And especially with men. You know, the praying young man is like, 'Why testosterone, God? Why?' You know, but again, that's how bridges were built."
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