CHOPSTICK BRIDGE is the second album by Bostons Avoid One Thing, but in many ways it marks a vital new beginning. The bands 2002 self-titled debut was written and recorded almost entirely by bassist/singer Joe Gittleman and was met by some critical acclaim Gittlemans a stone cold poet.Heidi Siegmund Cuda, L.A. Times, Fox News, The Source.
Already a veteran of two of Bostons most revered groups, Gang Green and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, hed drawn the disc from a collection of solo songs hed been working on since 1995. But after two years of heavy road work (on the Vans Warped Tour and with Dropkick Murphys, the Alkaline Trio, and many others) and one harrowing brush with tragedy, the newly-solidified lineup now a classic power trio with guitarist Miss Amy Griffin, late of Boston rockabilly sensations the Raging Teens, and drummer John Lynch is, for the first time, a true, solid, bonded unit. This band has become the main thing in my life, says Gittleman. Its gone from a side project and part-time proposition to a full-time discussion. And this time it was much more of a group effort. When Griffin came aboard as a charter touring member back in 2002, her razor-sharp lead guitar and one-woman girl-gang vocal harmonies (imagine Billy Zoom and Exene Cervenka morphed into a single being) immediately meshed with and fleshed out Gittlemans tunes. But on CHOPSTICK BRIDGE Griffin takes a much more prominent role, writing and singing lead vocals on three tunes, while getting a co-writing credit on a handful of the rest. Writing the songs together, and really being invested in themnot worrying about fitting the mold of someone elses vision, where you dont want to overstep your bounds, but elevating things to a real group effortthat was really rewarding. says Griffin. Its the beginning of something new, Gittleman affirms. Its the first time that everyone involved in making the record is here, and theres a level of shared ownership that we never had before.
That new outlook is evident on Chopstick Bridge; the disc retains the seasoned punk bite of their debut, but theres also a marked progression evident on such tracks as the pensive, slow-building, Pixies-ish Next Stop Is the Last Stop, the four-tracked country tune Airplane (a solo Amy joint), and A Lot Like This, a song in such a classic mode that it somehow manages to evoke a Cure-like somberness at the same time it summons the defiance and helplessness of Sid Viciouss version of My Way. And even on the discs most powerful, adrenaline-charged rockers, theres an intricate interplay that highlights melody over mere brawn. So much of that is Amys guitar playing, says Gittleman. She made the songs more interesting. Shes a great guitarist, and I lack those skills. It was fun to work with someone who sees things so differently than I do. The result is an album in the tradition of the raucous, unsafe-at-any-speed blitzkrieg pop of Husker Du and the Replacements.
The disc was recorded by Paul Q. Kolderie (in addition to his work with Radiohead, the Pixies, and Hole, he also helmed many a Bosstones album) at Bostons Camp Street Studios in December 2003 and January 2004; the final mix was completed during halftime of the New England Patriots Super Bowl win. The bracing, anthemic Fillmore East was inspired by a real-life run-in the band had during the touring behind Avoid One Thing. It actually happened at the Metro in Chicago, but I set it at the Fillmore to make it a little more interesting, says Gittleman. All these skinheads decided that they didnt like our band and we needed to be punishedit deteriorated into the usual scene, your standard spitting and cigarette-butt flicking. My mother-in-law and father-in-law happened to be up in the balcony seeing the band for their first time. Meanwhile, Griffin brings a distinctive metallic flourish to Capital Letters: I really like playing the beginning of Sweet Child O Mine, she explains. That represented the greatest guitar-hero finesse when I was 12, and I wanted something similar for Capital Letters; something relatively simple, but melodic and driving. I mean, I was listening to a lot of Manowar when I wrote it, but I dont think that influenced it much. And the songs lyrics display her utterly distinctive lyrical bent, with verses veering from a challenge to herself to take risks, to a rumination on the legions of collectible trinkets hawked on late night TV and home-shopping channels, to a vision of a homeless man on Christmas. The disc also benefited from new drummer John Lynchs inspired wallop. The thing you need to know about John Lynch, says Gittleman, is that hes the biggest Kiss fan youll ever meet. Hes got a Kiss tattoo. He has pictures of himself at age 4, trick-or-treating in Kiss makeup. He loves Kiss without the slightest sense of irony, and he lives in his parents basement. Hes also super-talentedhe works faster in the s studio than any drummer Ive ever seen.
Pretty high praise coming from Gittleman, who got his start as a teenage roadie for such formative Boston post-punk bands as the Outlets, the Del Fuegos, and Treat Her Right. The first real tour I ever did was the week I graduated high school, he recalls. I was a roadie for Gang Green, and then I ended up in the band about a year later. A founding member of the Mighty Mighty Bosstoneswho were slugging it out in the trenches for more than a decade before reaching multi-platinum success in the late 90she recorded the songs for Avoid One Thing during breaks in the Bosstones hectic touring and recording schedule. By the time Gittleman assembled a band to hit the road for a blistering East Coast tour in March of 2002, the songs were already beginning to take on new life, thanks in part to Griffins guitar work and backup harmonies. A release date for the album was set on April 9 of that year on SideOneDummy. But the week before the discs street date, the unthinkable happened: on April 2, 2002, Avoid One Thing drummer Dave Karcich, an old friend of Gittlemans whod previously played with the Pilfers and Spring Heeled Jack, suffered a brain aneurysm. He died three days later. The day we buried him was the day the record came out, Griffin remembers. Instead of celebrating the discs release, the band attended Karcichs funeral in his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut. Its still not easy for Gittleman to talk about. I still think about him a lot, he says. I feel like its worth saying that weve been through a bunch. It was tough. After the last record [was released], it was pretty much one long funeral march. It was hard to feel good about any of it.
Indeed, the band considered calling it quits. One turning point was a memorial show for Karcich, at which his old bandmates and friends gathered to remember him and play the music to which hed devoted his life. Dave was so jovial and so supportive, says Griffin. After the smoke cleared and some time went by, it became easier to see that he would have wanted us to continue.
It was a humbling experience for Gittleman, but one that reinforced his commitment to the music. Ive been doing this for such a long time that I really dont know what else Im suited for, says Gittleman. If someone were to offer me a job where Id have to be there every day at 9, Id probably get there at 7:30 looking for a soundcheck. And I really love the whole process of writing the songs and recording and working with these guys, and going out on tour. Me and Amy share this similar, bizarre sense of humor thats very hard to find. I dont think that just because Ive been fortunate enough to have had success, that thats what Im somehow deserving of. My feeling is, the moment I feel I cant get in the van and load my own shit, thats when its time for me to move on.