The long windup
The Lookyloos took their sweet time making their dreamy debut album. It was worth the wait.
Not many bands take six years to come up with a debut album.
For the Lookyloos, a Sacramento-Davis group that started life as a side project for Eric Janssen, then a member of Davis group the Curbfeelers; Dave Thompson, then (and still) a member of Acme Rocket Quartet; and Paul Takushi, drummer for the late, lamented Chance the Gardener; a perfectionist streak might be the culprit, but the real story is a little more complex.
“We started out, we had been playing maybe a year, and we had 12 or 13 songs,” says Janssen, the Lookyloos’ guitarist, singer and songwriter. The band had commenced to record its songs with Thin White Rope/Acme Rocket Quartet guitarist Roger Kunkel in his garage studio. “He has an eight-track with half-inch tape,” Janssen says. “And one thing led to another: We got some songs done, we got some overdubs done, and then, for one reason or another, it just languished for a while. In that meantime, Dave got some hefty computer equipment.”
For Thompson, the band’s bassist and technical guru, the limitations of the equipment they had been using became readily apparent. Although eight-track may work fine for straightforward punk rock, the graceful, dreamy sounds of the Lookyloos called for something that could better capture their gently shifting chord progressions and layered harmonies. “Our interest waned,” Thompson admits. “We didn’t think that the recording captured the essence of the songs.”
After another spell of taping at a place called the Aggie Hotel, the Lookyloos kept playing around town but stopped recording—until Thompson got his home setup squared away. “When I got the computer, it opened up new opportunities to work with,” he says. “It opened up 16 tracks; we could do it at our leisure. I spent a lot of time downloading all the eight-track stuff onto the computer. We found how much we really liked those songs, and we started getting excited about putting them out on a CD.”
With the possibilities opened up by augmenting the basic eight-track recording with lush, atmospheric background vocals, the Lookyloos were once again energized and ready to experiment. And, as any fan of the mid-1960s period that gave the world the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Kinks and a host of others knows, experimentation is the spark that illuminates great pop music.
The fruit of their efforts, Perhaps the Most Satisfying Joy Left to Us in an Age So Limited and Vulgar as Our Own, just came out this week on Lather, a Davis indie label run by Jed Brewer of Harvester and Carquinez Straits fame. It was worth the wait, packed as it is with 13 songs—well, 11, plus a couple of short moodscapes—that draw on Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys filtered through a prism of New Zealand Flying Nun bands, like the Chills, propelled by a jangly and chiming guitar-bass-drums approach reminiscent of early R.E.M. Presented with that observation, Janssen concurs. “That’s what we would want to project,” he says.
“Eric’s into the Beach Boys thing a lot,” Thompson says, laughing. “He’s into the late-'60s, early-'70s versions of the band, getting into the weirder Brian Wilson aspects. That’s been brought into the mix as well.”
But Janssen is no all-controlling auteur like Wilson. “I don’t tell Dave and Paul what to play,” he says. “It’s more coming up with the general kernel and the words. Typically, the way a new song works is, I’ll figure out my part and the words, kind of a general feel thing. And I’ll show up at practice with it, and Dave and Paul will make stuff up that they think is appropriate, and we’ll all edit it together.
“Eighty percent of the time, I’m sort of bored with a song before I bring it to Dave and Paul,” he adds. “And then it turns into something else, and it becomes a lot more interesting.”
Indeed it does.