The Wizard of Oz was made famous by ruling a kingdom through smoke and mirrors, or in his case, a mega amp and a large cloaking device. Dorothy and the gang were amazed that so much power and magic came from such a simple source.
That movie always creeped me out (come on, flying monkeys and feet that curled up underneath a fallen house), but it was way before its time in terms of cinematography and Hollywood sex orgies. The sheer way the Wizard of Oz showcased the endless creativity that can come from the human mind is why it will forever have its place in the filmmaking history books.
That childhood-like imagination and magical creativity has also worked wonders for George & Caplin, two mere mortals who today reach back into their days as young neighborhood companions, and using those carefree days to write and create music that goes off of your typical musical brick road. The two masters of musical disguise pull out more tricks than Ziegfried and Roy looped on wine spritzers, equipped with electronic toy treasures discovered from the bin at the Salvation Army, all the way to the classic piano and acoustic guitar.
Their latest release Electronic Eulogy From Morse Code Infinity will be celebrated this Friday, August 27 at Climax Lounge with Red Cloud and Porlolo, so put your best red shoes on ’cause Toto, it’s gonna be a bleeping, rocking ride.
Once upon a time, Jason Fredrick Iselin and Jeffrey Wentworth Stevens met when they were five years old and have best friends ever since. But it wasn’t until 2001 when the two actually put their heads and minds together, “So I guess you can say the project has been in the works for a long time,” says Mr. Stevens. “We grew up in Suburbia playing, socializing, and wielding our imaginations in a cul-de-sac where Jason lived, which has been quite the inspiration for our new album.”
It was also through their history as friends that the two grew to be avid Alfred Hitchcock fans, which led to their moniker, a character from the movie “North by Northwest.” Jeffrey explains further, “Well, actually the character doesn’t even exist in the movie. The whole movie revolves around assumptions and a severe case of mistaken identity around the name George Caplin. You have to see the movie…it’s a classic. We owe a lot of inspiration sonically and visually to Mr. Hitchcock.”
It was at Climax over a year and a half ago when I first got to take in the sonic exploits of Fisher Price, space-age vocals, and captivating pop desserts. In 2004 there’s a slight different story being told. One listen to Electronic Eulogy… and you can hear the tell tale signs that the boys are getting bigger every day. The textures have become a lot more intricate and woven and contain more organic instrumentation than ever before.
Jeffrey elaborates on their process, which involved recording the same guitar part numerous times to make it work with a particular synth line, or crafting a 10 second piece for hours. “Over the last year we have really worked hard on our engineering, recording processes, and overall mixing of music to make a more seamless marriage between organic sounds and electronic sounds. We value our process immensely and we tend to get lost in it,” he says.
Because of this intricate methodology, many of the songs on the album cannot be reproduced for their live shows without losing some aspect of their essence in the process. And on the other end, during their writing and recording time a song’s personality trait would happen accidentally or momentary, or musical equipment was destroyed while tweaking it to the limit in order to reach a certain sound goal.
That’s not to say G&C hasn’t worked out the live show kinks in order to pull off a full set that has pleased their listening audience. “It took us many months to reconfigure our gear for a live show but now it is quite simple,” says Jeffrey. “It’s just a lot unplugging and plugging in instruments for various songs. Lately it has been getting more complex and it seems like almost every song we have to tune the guitar differently or plug in a new set of instruments.”
In addition to performing at all the usual haunts like Hi-Dive and Climax, George & Caplin have played odd gigs such as a benefit for kids at the Downtown Aurora Visual Arts Center (DAVA). “It was great. We had kids banging on tables with Hit Sticks and drumming away on drum machines.”
It’s not often that you see a band loading in a Speak ‘N’ Spell with their guitars and keyboards. But that’s what makes George & Caplin stand out among the other kids on the block. When Jeffrey began making electronic music in the mid 90’s, he started with that childhood imagination and toys. “We do use a lot of thrift store electronic toys/keyboards and most of the time we rewire them to try and create a unique palette of sounds,” he comments.
With this emphasis on instrumentation, I had to ask if the lyrics are more of an afterthought, or if they go hand in hand with their songwriting process. Jeffrey replies, “It depends on the experiment. As John Cage would say, ‘It is simply an action the outcome of which is not foreseen.’ Many songs develop without lyrics and later we will go back and play with lyrics. Other times we have a sketch of some lyrics we really like and we write a melody that emphasizes them. Or on other occasions we will have lyrics or a melody and drop one or the other because the other piece is working stronger as a vocal track or an instrumental. We really just let the song lead the way.”
G&C recruited the talents of Marcellus Lewis from 86spaceboat, a new friend of theirs with what Jeffrey calls “a great talent for keyboards” and who seemed to fit in effortlessly with their project. Corey Ryan from Sandusky was also brought in to play drums and guitar, having done the same with their two previous albums. “He is definitely a great person to talk to about philosophy and recording ideas,” says Jeffrey, who utilized these ideas at Yorkshire Studios (aka Jeffrey’s estate) where the album came to be.
Beyond Hitchcock, the groups’ other heroes include such artists as William Basinski and Kleenex Girl Wonder, along with Brian Eno’s Another Green World. “[It] is something I personally aspire to,” explains Jeffrey. “Mr. Eno’s philosophies guide much of our own experimentation and his songs are definitely foundations for us.”
The child within any of us never really dies; it just takes on a new form. Today those George and Caplin cul-de-sac days and childhood memories are a close as the slide of a CD, the strum of a guitar, or the tweak of a knob, as Electronic Eulogy… can attest.
“They have always been a massive influence on both the songs and even more importantly on the way we write together. We definitely write music in the same way that we played with our Tonka Trucks back in the day. On the new album we just really decided to devote many of the themes back to our own childhood. It has always been present though.”
Electronic Eulogy From Morse Code Infinity is now available at Waxx Tracks, Twist & Shout, Cheapo Discs (6th Avenue), and Tower Records. For more information on the band go to www.georgeandcaplin.com.