by Morgan Davis
Burgess Meredith have blossomed into one of Austin’s most intriguing and inventive power pop outfits, combining their love of sharp songwriting with a love for studio wizardry for a sound that’s equal parts Apples in Stereo and Harry Nilsson. After premiering their new album A Dimension of Sound and just in time for their release show tomorrow night at Hole in the Wall, we spoke with Josh King about the band’s penchant for making great Craigslist gear finds, how their work lines up with the seasons and their favorite performances from their namesake.
Morgan Davis for Ovrld: In one of the emails I got about your new album, you mentioned that A Dimension of Sound is a phrase that came from The Twilight Zone’s iconic opening. Obviously, The Twilight Zone usually had a horror element to it, or at least a profound sense of the eerie, but in the case of your album, the concept of a dimension of sound seems more positive. What’s your specific vision for a dimension of sound and what do you want that phrase to communicate to listeners?
Josh King for Burgess Meredith: We’ve always enjoyed the “spooky” music that accompanies old sci-fi: heavy vibrato on looming melodies executed on theramin, combo organs, synths etc. Always great campy sound effects too. In the opening of “Outside” we were trying to create some of that… we wanted the sound of a sort of eerie field where a flying saucer was landing. We imagined “In and Out of True” as a train ride that leaves the listener in an open field before “Outside” begins. There’s a couple things happening right there but among them is a ‘60s Moog that belongs to Jesse [Hester]. That instrument in particular really helped capture the spooky vibe we wanted.
Since we had created these kinds of auditory mood shifts, we wanted a title that conveyed that in some way. While rewatching “The Obsolete Man” episode of Twilight Zone (one of the many great Burgess episodes), the Rod Serling opening had resonated especially and the phrase “A Dimension of Sound” jumped out. We looked up the movie version (since Burgess Meredith himself narrates that one) and when we heard Burgess say the phrase, it sealed the deal.
Throughout the LP there are many scene changes, like the “In and Out of True” to “Outside” change and to us, A Dimension of Sound, both in its origins, and its isolated meaning, felt like the right title and indicator for the collection of tunes this would be and the scene changes that accompany them.
JK: We spent a good amount of time on the transition into “Wendy” from the beginning of the album. We really wanted that dynamic shift downward to remain engaging. And we actually moved between a couple different spaces while tracking the album, depending on what we needed. We do love to record as much as we can ourselves.
Throughout that process we were Craigslisting our way around the area hunting for sounds we knew we needed. Especially for songs like “Wendy,” we wanted older keyboards and production elements. We purchased a harpsichord from a fella down south and drove out to Llano to pick up an old ‘60s Hammond chord organ on the cheap as well. Discovering that the chord organ was actually in tune was pretty wild.. that never happens. The verb and volume pedal on it really helped define some of the sweeping stops throughout “Wendy.” And the harpsichord was just perfect for the B sections. That whole song was incredibly fun to record. The bones of the rhythm key parts are a blend of Jesse’s performance on my old upright piano and a Wurlitzer run through a Leslie speaker. Stuart Sikes over at Big Orange helped us get that super dreamy Wurly tone.
While over at Big Orange, we also got to track an actual Mellotron for the first time. Hearing the squirrelly flute tapes play along to “Wendy” was so cool. Yeah, “Wendy” has all of those great old keyboard sounds on it. I think that’s why it would definitely be a stand out when recalling the tracking process.
JK: We love Jon Brion and projects he’s worked on. I don’t know if that’s very surprising! But yeah, Elliott Smith, Jon Brion, Amy Mann, M Ward would be some folks we feel draw inspiration from the same artists we do. We also really enjoy Dr Dog. They are fronted by co-songwriters as well, and that always made them feel similar even though our styles may differ a bit. We really enjoy the dynamics of a band where the storyteller shifts back and forth.
As far as surprising, and maybe this is or isn’t, I’m not sure, but some might be surprised to learn that many of us nerd out on old Stone Temple Pilots. I still think Tiny Music is a wonderful album that’s not nearly as dated as so much other ‘90s music is.
Ovrld: A recurring motif on A Dimension of Sound is departure, particularly connected to seasons, like the one-two punch of “The Leaver” and “Summers End.” The album art even has an autumnal feel to it, with its pumpkin spice orange and falling leaf yellow color palette. Do you think of Burgess Meredith as a fall band, rather than the Beach Boys’ more summer-oriented approach?
JK: Yeah, we definitely selected the colors that wash the cover both because of the psychedelic aesthetic, and also because of the fall quality. We like to think of Burgess as a band that responds to the seasons. Our first EP feels very much like a summer listen. We sort of think about the 7″ vinyl, Double A-Side, we put out as a wintertime recording. It was recorded and released in the dead of winter. I love the pics from the recording sessions where we’re all decked out in winter gear. Church House Studios didn’t have any heat but it was fun to bundle up and track. This album definitely felt like a fall record to us.
Ovrld: Some of your recording has been at Good Danny’s with Danny Reisch, which notably had to move to Lockhart to continue operations after being priced out of Austin. As a band with a clear love for the studio, what do you think about Austin studio culture and the impact Austin’s explosive growth has had on it? Do you feel like it might become necessary for your band and others to make similar moves in the future?
JK: The Austin housing market sure does’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. And yeah, lots of music projects have had to set up shop outside of town as a result. Fortunately for us, we have a home base at the moment and it appears we’ll be able to continue working out of that space for a bit. But whether the first EP with Danny, or our latter two recordings with Stuart Sikes, we always end up doing a significant portion of the recording ourselves.
We really enjoy the recording process and always try to be patient with it. Over time, as we’ve acquired more gear, we’ve continued to build up our home recording set up and ultimately able to track more of the parts. This time we also mixed a good portion of it as well. We’re now at a place where we can rehearse a new idea and if we like what we have going on, we can dial it in right there. Jesse and I cowrote and recorded “Welcome Home” for this release in just a few days during the latter part of tracking.
JK: We want to play some live shows!
Ovrld: On a final, more fun note, since I read that you like to watch the work of your namesake for inspiration whenever you’ve hit a roadblock, what are your top five Burgess Meredith performances?
5 – Golobulus (G.I. Joe: The Movie 1987)
4 – Romney Wordsworth (Twilight Zone -“The Obsolete Man” 1961)
3 – Mickey (Rocky 1976)
2 – Henry Bemis (Twilight Zone – “Time Enough At Last” 1959)
1 – The Penguin (Batman 1966)
Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City, the multimedia collective he co-runs. When he isn’t doing that, he gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes here at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.