With BLURT’s new feature, we want to spotlight tunes that hold special places in our hearts and in our collective experience as devotees to and lovers of timeless indie rock. No, you probably won’t get the scoop behind “Night Moves” or “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but don’t be surprised if “Shake Some Action” or “Death Valley ‘69” turn up on our playlist. To kick the series off, we asked Eric Matthews, of both solo and Cardinal fame, to talk about his classic number “Fanfare,” from his 1995 Sub Pop hit It’s Heavy in Here. Coming soon: Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom pulls back the curtain on one of his early gems.
BY TIM HINELY
BLURT: What was the initial inspiration for the song?
ERIC MATTHEWS: Here’s what happened. Cardinal was debuting and the first single off the album was in the UK, “Dream Figure” (Flydaddy/Dedicated). And because the A-side was a song I wrote, we thought it would be cool if I wrote the B-side for the next single that would come out here domestically and in the UK, a Richard Davies composition. “If You Believe In Christmas Trees” was the single, and I was sent off to write a B-side, and came up with “Fanfare.” It was a slow acoustic dirge more like the “Reprise” version at the end of It’s Heavy.
Well, after I wrote it, I pretty much pulled a move where I said, “No, I am keeping this one for my first album.” It caused some friction between Richard and I, but I was a selfish prick about it. And frankly, I think it turned out all for the best because of course, it worked well for me—but way more to the point, we got “Say The Words Impossible” from Richard for the B-side, and that is one of the best songs he ever wrote.
Cardinal recording “Fanfare” would not have worked, really, too small a room. I needed Jason Falkner for it to have worked. “Dream Figure,” my only song on the Cardinal debut, I was all alone on it, just me and the drummer. That song took 3 hours to complete recording from start to finish, and that is the rush job that “Fanfare” would have gotten, and my career might not look nearly as good, such as it’s been.
Did it take long to finish writing it?
Not at all. I actually used the same tuning on guitar that I used on “Dream Figure,” and it just shot out of me. The lyrics may have taken an hour, but yeah, it was a quick put-together. The trumpet was automatic, and helped me name the song, whose title has nothing to do with the lyric.
Any idea how your long-time fans feel about it—would it be considered a “fan favorite” or anything?
I am starting to get the message at this point that people really regard it [highly]; that it was a major sound for them when it came out. Remember, at the time [in the mid ‘90s] the stuff on the radio and MTV was all hard, jagged, and loud. I used elements of that in my production of it, wanted to make it a “rocker.” But something about perhaps the softness of my voice and the blasting trumpets, the vocal harmonies… it’s like Chet Baker made a pop record, and yeah, it seems to have really sunken in for people as a benchmark song. It helped sell the record, where really there are far more meaty songs.
Is there anything about the song you’d change?
Well, not really. That said, when it was all finished and I handed over lots of space for Jason Falkner to play all those awesome moving guitar lines. And just sitting back to how hard we as a trio (Jason, Steven Hanford, and I) rocked, the insane groove of the thing, I did feel as if the song itself sort of got lost in the big mix. So, very late in the game, I got the idea to do that condensed acoustic version of the song “Fanfare (Reprise)” and tack it at the end of the album. I love that I did that—show people the warmth, quiet, and breath of the thing.
Tell me a little about the recording of it—where and when, how long did it take, any watershed moments or glaring problems, etc.?
We recorded “Fanfare” downtown Portland, Oregon, at White Horse Studios (gone now) in early 1995. It was recorded quickly; we only did three takes as a trio and pretty much just nailed it. Me on guitar, Jason on bass, and Steven on drums. Vocals took me an hour, trumpets an hour, and Jason an hour of guitar overdubs. I mean, three punk rock guys just laying it down.
Mixing was probably an eight hour affair. It’s all in “post.” No big moments to speak of. My studio environment is pretty no-nonsense. We have fun, but only with the music. It’s all business, everything mapped out and planned to the dime. I am as much executive as I am musical producer. And lucky for me, Tony Lash, my then-production partner was very much like me, a creature of focus and discipline. He made “the band” sound good and we just rocked out. Jason was given the assignment of “lead guitar” and I only told him about essentially filling spaces with movement. I had come to know very well his creative melodic approach to guitar work, especially on [The Grays’ 1994] Ro Sham Bo album. He stepped up and had those melodies at the ready and kicked as—took the song to the next level in my opinion.
At the end of the day, we all looked around and it sounded like it belonged on radio. And the album title came from Jason. We were in the control room listening to a take of the live trio. Jason turned to me and said, “I think we achieved total heaviosity.”
How do you feel about it now?
I feel that the song got people to check out the whole album. That album is what it’s all about. The single is always the bait. And clearly, it worked, people got it, got me. Last year was the 20th anniversary of the song and album, and it came back out, a reissue where Sub Pop and Lo-Fidelity jointly released the album. The reissue gave people an opportunity to get deluxe vinyl and bonus tracks, that whole kind of thing. And best of all, that reissue got me back on track, as I did a deal with Lo-Fidelity, my new champion Jeffrey Kotthoff, signed me to a multi-year deal. I have a single coming out just after thanksgiving and a new album, Too Much World, coming out in February, 2017.
So, you can look back, and Jon Poneman from Sub Pop would say he gave me that deal because of my work on the Cardinal album. But yeah, it’s “Fanfare” that people heard in their cars, at the record shops, on college campuses, etc. Everything starts at that point for me, my childhood smile…