Speedfossil – NO ANESTHESIA (Q&A)

Sit down and listen attentively. NO ANESTHESIA gets better if you pay attention. Thoughtful, delicate, but also joyful and fun.

Sweet Sweet Music blog talked to Speedfossil’s Garret Vandermolen about how the record came about.

You seem to have no problem writing and singing about heavier subjects.  It won’t always be comfortable, will it?

I think the heavier subjects are a big part of the shared experience when you’re writing a song.   Everybody goes through uncomfortable parts of life, even those who seemingly “have it all”.    

I think it’s actually, at least for me, on some level, slightly comforting J  to write about those types of things because you are getting it out, and not keeping it bottled up inside – you’re starting a dialogue to help you process it.  Also, sometimes writing and singling about heavier subjects means reaching into your past and putting it out there, so I think I’ll be able to keep doing it.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

I’ve been trying to start a band, in some way or another, since I was about 14 years old.  I’ve been fortunate enough in life to play with some great friends and really good people, and have had some degrees of moderate success along the way.  But I have to say that this group that worked with me on NO ANESTHESIA was special, and it felt different this time.  After coming back to making records in 2014, after a 12 year hiatus, Speedfossil went through a bunch of personnel changes.  Toward the end of 2018, early 2019, this current line- up of me, Mike, Dan, and Hector, solidified.  When we started doing the first recording for NO ANESTHESIA, I sensed that this record would be different, in a very positive way.

How did this record come together?

This record, for me, is a special one in the Speedfossil discography, because it’s the first true “band” record.  As I mentioned earlier, Speedfossil went through a bunch of line-up changes.  At first, it was only 2 people, really, but we needed to put a band together to play the songs that were on the first album, 2014’s LIGHT OF DAY. 

I am REALLY lucky that, somehow, Mike, Hector, Dan and me all ended up “finding” each other and becoming the band that is Speedfossil.  We were playing songs together for live shows from the first two albums, and I wrote “You Got A Lot of Nerve”.  

It was the first track we recorded together as a band (along with a B-side cover of Squeeze’s “Is That Love”), that was the start of the idea for NO ANESTHESIA – an album of songs recorded without any digital manipulation or editing, and mostly first or un-edited tracks.

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

I’m very open to input from all of the guys-I think I’ve surrounded myself with a group of musicians that, on a technical level, are better players than I am.  If they don’t like something, or have an arrangement or modification to a song, we work it out.   It’s a very ego free group in that we are all contributing ideas and energy in an effort to make the song great.  If an idea doesn’t work, we move onto something else.  “You Got a Lot of Nerve” is a great example, that instrumental bridge before the third verse got bumped up to a spot to open the song because Mike said, “Hey, that’s a hook, we should put that out there right off the bat, it’s catchy and would be a great way to start”.  He was right!

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

From a critical perspective, NO ANESTHESIA has already been a success on many levels.  Lots of great reviews and some great radio airplay – we’ve also been playing out more as band.   I think for me, the meaning of success would be to keep that going until the next record AND, hopefully, selling some records! 

How great is the urge to stay creative?  To keep writing songs and lyrics?

I’m what you call a “lifer”!  I’ve realized that writing songs and making records is a big part of who I am – it’s something that I have an undying passion for and it truly makes me happy.  I love the whole process of recording and finishing a song, and then presenting it as a finished work as part of an album (and vinyl is the preferred medium!)

As an artist, you choose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

I think so – I’m already a “tell like it is” kind of person, so doing it in the form a song is just an extension of that personality.

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

Chris Difford and Glenn Tillbrook are two of the three.  I am a HUGE Squeeze fan, and the songwriting, both lyrically (Difford) and musically (Tillbrook) are, to me, absolutely brilliant.   I could learn from two of the best!

I also think Britt Daniel from Spoon. His songwriting is also a style that I relate to and, in many cases , want to emulate. Great melodies, succinct and smart lyrics over cool rhythms.  What’s not to like?

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

We had to do a Speedfossil show at this little divey bar/pub called the Tavern at The End of the World back in 2019.   I had just gotten the line-up of me, Mike, Dan, and Hector together for Speedfossil, and it was going to be our 2nd or 3rd gig together as a band.   Dan ended up having a rather serious hearing issue and had to stop playing rock music for a month or so – and we had  this gig booked.  We decided to do it as a 3-piece, and I had to “learn” the lead guitar parts.   I remember rehearsing for it and just not feeling great about not having Dan there – it was  terrible rehearsal for me and I was feeling pretty dejected.  Hector, who had just joined the band, said “hey man, you wrote these songs, don’t worry about playing what Dan plays, just work out what makes sense for you and we’ll do the songs that way, it will be fine”.   The next night, before the gig, I stayed up super late just working on everything and making sure I was ready.   When we played the Tavern, it was just one of those shows, where, even though we were down a man, everything was clicking.   I could feel the energy in the room and it was a really great performance.   There was some guy in the front, who was just really enjoying what we were doing – applauding, shouting, smiling, egging us on.  At the end of our set, he came up to me and said “You guys were great”, shook my hand, and pressed a $20 bill into my hand!  I’ve never had that happen and will always remember it!

Lyrics are too often taken for granted.  What is the line of text or are the lines of text that you hope listeners will remember?  And why?

That’s a great question, and there are many lyrics where  I like to use word play, and write a lyric that could be interpreted in a few different ways, like on “Count Me Out” when I say “I suffer from my point of view”.  Is my “point of view” an ailment or of detriment to me, or am I just suffering, as I see it?  From a story telling perspective, I think “The Devil You Know” has the most complex lyrics on NO ANESTHESIA.

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

Ha!  Of course, it’s for the songs on the next Speedfossil album that we started working on!   As far as NO ANESTHESIA goes, I do think “Luckiest Man In the World” has the elements of a good pop hit.  It’s short and sweet, upbeat, and has some fun musical sounds  on it (rock and roll guitars, synth, and a vocoder).

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

Junior Wells – “Snatch It Back and Hold It”

Spoon – “Fitted Shirt”

Speedfossil (got to have one of mine!) – “The Verge”

Squeeze – “Someone Else’s Heart”

The Beatles – “Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows” from the Love album

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

It’s just an amazing feeling.  You are all in it together when it’s happening and everyone is enjoying the music! 

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

For the recordings and albums, I think we try to craft well written pop songs, and then record them with a degree of “honesty”.  What I mean by that is we’re not using technological tricks to edit the performances – it’s a very human presentation, if that makes any sense.  Real analogue instruments and amplifiers, and not digital modeling and effects.   We all use some pretty classic vintage instruments and amps and treat the recording interface like a tape machine.  For me, listening to Speedfossil on a vinyl album is the way to go.  We aren’t really a “singles” band – I want you to listen to side A, in its entirety, and then flip it over and listen to side B.  If you are streaming, we try to make that the best possible.  I’ve got a great mastering engineer that specifically “tweaks” the tracks to sound great streaming, we also master them specifically for Apple, too.

Suppose you were to introduce your music to new listeners through three songs. Which songs would those be and why?

“Luckiest Man In the World” – I think this showcases the best of what Speedfossil can do – tight harmonies, great melody, engaging instrumentation and arrangement, all in less than 3 minutes.

“Livin’ The Dream” – I like to do a few songs on piano, and when we play live, it’s a part of our set that really gets a great response.  Also, this track has a really fun horn arrangement and some interesting musical twists and turns.

“The Verge” – this song is Speedfossil in full out rock mode – turn it up and rock out!

If you could tour the world with two other bands, who would you ask, and why?

If we’re excluding major artists that are already out there doing it, I would ask our label mates, The Chelsea Curve. They are just a great band that totally rocks.  The songwriting is fantastic and fun and they deliver the goods live.

I’d also ask another Boston band called Francine that did several records for the Q Division label. Clayton Scoble does all the songwriting for that band and the songs are just absolutely brilliant – lyrically and musically.  I’m a super fan of that band!

What compliment you once received will you never forget?

There is a writer for a Boston based publication that told me after NO ANESTHESIA came out that he really loves what we are doing and hopes that we keep doing it (as in: don’t give up!)because it’s great.  It meant a lot to me, because we only know each other through email and phone calls and have never met face to face.  He  has always been there to help support us and get the word out.  I knew he liked us, but when he told me in a phone call after an interview, it was just so heartfelt and it really meant a lot to me.

Those magical moments when you’re working in the studio.  Which moment was the most magical?

It is magical when all the parts start coming together on a track and you start to hear the fully formed realization of the song you’re working on.   “Rag Doll” is a really great example of that magic.    Mike, Hector and I had cut all the basic tracks pre-pandemic and they just sat for a long time (like, almost a year!), because we just weren’t sure about it.  One night during the heart of the worldwide COVID-19 isolation, I decided to work on it, and basically stayed up till 3 or 4 in the morning and finished the track.  The parts just seemed to come out of nowhere:  vocals, harmonica, Wurlitzer, and really good lead guitar solo.  I don’t know why it came together that night, but it did.

What place do you occupy in the music industry?

Ha!  I think we are still trying to figure that out!  We are no longer in the Spring of our youth, but I think we are still putting out some really good pop songs – and we often perform with more energy than bands half our age.   I do believe that good music finds its audience, and I’m hoping that we will be able to perform more as a band and start going to some places we haven’t been to, yet, to perform.

If you could pick three singers to sing harmony vocals on your next record, who would you ask?

From Boston, Jill McCracken-she’s just a great vocalist and I’m hoping she’ll actually be on a future Speedfossil track. 

Also, another Boston singer, Kevin Condon.  As my bass player Mike would say, “he has the voice of an angel”.

And, from the fantasy team, Jeffrey Foskett – he did all the high harmonies for the Beach Boys, I’ve kinda got a thing for that!

The record is done, the music is out.  Is the best fun done now or is it just beginning?

I’m hoping we’re just getting started!

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