It’s come up on occasion that people have asked what the title “Vodka and Pickles” means or why we chose it. We talked about it a bit on a radio interview once, but I thought I’d take a few minutes to both answer that question and talk about the album generally.
Putting together an album was something that we had wanted to do for years, and for a fair number of reasons. Mostly because we knew that we had something which could sound amazing, and we wanted to put together the finest example we could that showed what we were capable of at our best. And there was also a bit of a problem with the fact that a lot of the festivals that we wanted to apply for required a professional sounding demo.
We tried recording an EP in 2011, but the problem that we had was that, while we had a recording engineer, I was still pretty much producing the recording myself, and with no experience. So after months of tweaking and mixing, we had two songs that were unsalvageable, two that had drastically changed since being recorded, and two that we felt reasonably happy with. However, in the meantime, our two percussionists left the band to do other things, so between the changes to the songs and to our lineup, we decided to scrap that project and start again from scratch.
The first time I encountered the idea of single-mic recording in a way that made me think about it was when I read about Hillfolk Noir using it on “Skinny Mammy’s Revenge”. Of course, it is a vintage technique, and no doubt almost all of the dozens of tracks from 78’s that I’ve listened to were recorded that way, but I didn’t really think of it as even an option until then. I remember when I read about it at the time, I thought it would be fantastic to have the kind of discipline that it would require to do that, but I didn’t think we could manage it. Also, at that particular time, we still had our percussionists, and I couldn’t imagine trying to balance them against the rest of the group in that way. However, after they left, and we decided to scrap the first project, it became an idea we could play with. So we experimented with it, read a lot of equipment reviews, did some test recordings, and came up with a plan.
And about a full year later, this is what we got. It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of recording hours and many, many more hours just thinking things through, listening, fixing, listening again. It’s like any kind of complex project. Imagine building an armoire for instance, complete with shelves, curved legs, etc. The more detailed that your plans are going into the project, the more you know about what you need from each part as you make it. You do always have to adjust the plan to fit the parts you’re getting to some degree, but doing too much of it leads to something ugly and unsound. And figuring it out from both ends as you go takes time. For awhile, it bothered me that something like a single-mic project took a bit over a year to complete, but in retrospect, it was a feat of discipline to get it done at all, and it quite possibly could have taken longer. Anyway, now that we’ve gone through the process once we now know that we can do it again.
Which brings me to the album title. No, it’s not a statement about the condition of our livers. In the first place, pickles are traditionally served with vodka – it’s kind of the Russian equivalent of pretzels and beer. So this is what the host breaks out first when he has company. For hardcore Russkis, it is what’s for breakfast. Either way it has a connotation of being what starts thing off – a forshpil. It’s what gets the party started. Between the first recording project, and the various phases our recordings went through, I thought of a lot of names for what to call it (and not all are printable). But as this project was coming to a close, I wanted something that suggested it was just the beginning. Eleventh-hour apologetics? Perhaps. But there it was – Vodka and Pickles: a party unto itself that also suggests even greater things to come.