I like to think that Andrew Meissner just showed up at my basement door one night.
The truth is more prosaic than that but not much more. Andrew was living in an apartment up the block from me. A nice, well-kept building next door to the Greek restaurant, Minoa’s.
When he’d arrive home he likely heard me practicing my drums, making some awful noise on my guitar or jamming with friends. He also knew that I wrote for The Province and might have mentioned me to his friend, Bob Kemmis, who in turn urged Andrew to visit. I knew Bob from things I’d written about his band, The Last Corvairs, and Andrew knew Bob from being the Last Corvairs’ sound man.
So Andrew marched up to the house, knocked, caught me off guard and explained himself. I momentarily was nonplussed, but offered him a beer from the beer fridge I stocked in the basement. He told me he wrote songs. Why else take an interest in me and what I was doing? Either he had his guitar with him or I gave him mine while I took my place behind the drums. Andrew played a few songs, we had another beer – or two – chatted a bit and he was off home.
The next morning I tried to figure out what had happened. I can’t say I initially was knocked out by his songs and his singing voice is what euphemistically is called an acquired taste. He didn’t sing so much as he brayed.
Still, there was something that said pay attention. I kept thinking about a line in one song that said, “You’ve changed your mind so much it rolls just like a pearl,” and in another he describes someone who has installed mirrors in his bedroom so he can wake up with himself. Pay attention.
Andrew’s day job took him all over the world, installing p.a. systems and alarms. As I got to know him, I purchased a few better microphones, some cables and a 24 track mixing desk. At this point I still was recording on my four track, but the extra channels meant more clarity and flexibility. The desk also was used to record the Bruno Gerussi’s Medallion reunion live at the Press Club.
Andrew put a band together of himself as leader and rhythm guitarist, Vern Beamish on lead guitar, Paul Iverson on bass and me. We seemed to click right away. I knew Vern from the instrumental group, Ad Nauseum, for which I drummed. He played with a couple of others so I knew he was dedicated. Paul was a surprise. I first heard of him when his band, Holy Smoke, opened for T Rex at the Agrodome. Holy Smoke was just generic hard rock but the trio was better than T Rex. T Rex’s Marc Bolan had gained weight, a cocaine habit, and Gloria Jones, who had the original hit of Tainted Love and seemed to be steering Bolan in a better direction. In the UK, the period of TRexmania was ending, Bolan was never going to make it in North America, especially with the plodding overly loud show he revealed at the Agrodome.
As for Iverson, he briefly was in the Juno-winning Strange Advance and had earned himself a reputation as a guitar doctor. Got a problem with your guitar? Take it Paul at Richard’s Rare Guitars. Presumably, he also heard something in Andrew and his songs.
We practiced in my basement and a sound took shape as we gelled as Mothball, Andrew’s name for us. Everything was going smoothly until the night there was a knock on the front door.
MOTHBALL AND THE DECIBEL METER
Kerry answered and let a man in who came downstairs. He was from the city of Burnaby and was answering a noise complaint. This was new to us, particularly me, as I’d been making noise in the basement for years and until now wasn’t aware of any problem. However, a condo complex had been built next door, so presumably the complaint came from someone who’d moved in. Most of the playing was during the day and the jams seldom went past 10p.m. and mostly were on weekends. Being reasonable , I asked who complained so we could work out something privately. Were we keeping children awake? Did the person have unusual working hours? What?
The city, however, doesn’t give out that information. It’s sensible. I might be the type who would go to the plaintiff with a baseball bat, threaten him/her or worse.
Mothball tried to make concessions and send the guy off satisfied but here we learned about the stringency of the noise bylaws.
You’re allowed a certain volume to 10p.m., less by 8p.m., still less after that. By 8p.m. the loudest you can go according to a decibel-meter is 75db. That’s nothing. It’s a conversation between two people. However, if you’re playing quietly in a basement and the db Meter peaks at 75db on the front lawn, then you’ve broken the law. We tried to go below 75db. By the time we were finished with Burnaby’s bylaws, I was drumming with brushes, the other guys had turned to acoustic guitars and the p.a. was off. We were still too loud. The guy came in through the basement door, decibel meter in hand, to show us we were still in excess of 75db. No doubt, we couldn’t be heard on the street by now but that didn’t matter because there was no flexibility. I got a fine in the mail and we had to switch to using a rehearsal space. In time, I made peace with what I thought was unfair and it must have been a relief to Kerry, who probably had to suffer all kinds of inconvenience.
By this time, there also was another problem on the horizon. Paul had duties as a single father and, at the same time, was trying to launch a R&B cover band. Mothball wasn’t working a lot anyway. If he couldn’t practice we understood and prepared to change. The transition was smooth and logical. Vern and I had Ad Nauseum with Gord Berry, who played bass. When Paul left, it made sense that Gord would jump in as bassist. We became Ad Nauseum with Andrew Meissner.
Shortly after Gord joined, Mothball recorded at MagicLab. It was a good afternoon session with five songs recorded. The arrangements vary little from the four track basement versions, which, perhaps demonstrates how ready we were. Andrew had a foundation of strong material – I particularly liked Three Seconds, which is about suicide, but also demonstrated how Andrew let us develop our parts. To me, it had a few challenges that I had to meet and which I enjoyed. I also was experimenting with background vocal arrangements and tried a few I now regret or would have done differently.
Paul was precise and, therefore, dependable. Gord was more exploratory, playing off the melody. I would work out where I wanted a fill or an accent, more often getting my cue from the singing. There are many four track tapes reduced to cassette comps. Same damn 12 or so songs.but they’re interesting to me to see how the songs develop. Vern gets a lick or melody line and stays with it and that becomes the song’s signature. Gord plays around fruitfully, I use restraint and dynamics while Andrew tries out different sounds and approaches to rhythm. It might have been the same damn 12 songs but they were good and changing subtly
I still don’t know what the songs mean. Andrew is thoughtful, educated and literate so I trust him. I think I know the gist of a few, such as Three Seconds – whereby the suicide has three seconds before launching off the bridge or rooftop and the final splat. The one I’m intrigued by at the moment is Junk Mail For The President. Does the Prez get junk mail just like you and me? Is there a mailbox out front the White House? Is the junk mail collected every day and screened by a staff member. What if the Prez wants a pizza or Chinese food at midnight? Does he reach for a junk mail brochure and dial his order? Then again, Junk Mail For The President might not be about that at all.
As Andrew planned it, the MagicLab recordings would be sent to Los Angeles where a friend of his , who’d worked with Michael Jackson, would mix them. Andrew took them from my house at least once before returning them. He has them now, I think, and, more than 15 years later, the tape languishes.
Andrew had taken a new job that, as before, took him around the world, had gotten married, settled into a house in Ladner and experienced fatherhood.
We talked once in a while after my stroke but he dropped out of sight and I haven’t heard from Andrew in years.
But then, he might come knocking.