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15 years later, Uncle Green preps for Rycopa album release party at Smith’s Olde Bar
As summer 2011 drew to a close, the far-flung members of the long-disbanded Atlanta rock quartet Uncle Green quietly reunited here to at long last mix their final recording, “Rycopa.” For 14 years, the master tapes of the 32-track, two-disc opus had rested on a Sony Music warehouse shelf, gathering dust as the record industry morphed from dust to digital, CDs to MP3s, YouTube became the nation’s premier A&R guru and Kickstarter-fueled DIY recordings became common place for indie bands.
Last year, after an extensive search for the masters, “Rycopa” was located and a deal was struck with Sony to reunite the band with the long-lost album. In just 36 hours, long time friends, family and fans of the rock group (the same four guys, Matt Brown, Jeff Jensen, Peter McDade and Bill Decker would go on to record as 3 Lb. Thrill and score a minor modern rock radio hit “Diana” in 1995 while under contract to Sony Music) put up the money via Kickstarter to fund the mixing and release of “Rycopa.”
The quartet will host one incredibly tardy album release party gig for “Rycopa” this Saturday night at Smith’s Olde Bar in Midtown. The Uncle Green/3 Lb. Thrill gents will also greet listeners and friends at a family-friendly in-store at Decatur CD Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.
Last September, Brown and Jensen allowed Atlanta magazine to crash their mixing session with engineer (and iconic Coolies guitarist) Rob Gal at Gal’s Grant Park studio (Gal’s latest musical incarnation, Pink Pompeii will open Saturday night’s gig at Smith’s Olde Bar).
“Honestly, for me it might as well be the next day,” Brown reflects as “St. Lazaro,” the Jensen-penned opening track to “Rycopa’s” second disc soars to life on the speakers and animatedly bounces across Gal’s computer screens.”It’s really strange.” Adds Jensen: This doesn’t sound dated to me. It was not tapped into any zeitgeist at the time then and it isn’t now. It’s not necessarily timeless but it was always our own thing.” Explains Brown: “It helps that it’s not topical at all. There are songs about Egyptian pharaohs, rednecks and Jerry Lewis on here!” “It’s weird to see pictures of my children and realize this album is older than they are,” Jensen concedes (Jensen and Brown reunite with longtime pal Gal in studio at right).
During the mixing sessions, Jensen has acquired the nickname of “the pit bull” since he recollects on which master tracks the band stored “Rycopa’s” vast buried treasure of stray accompanying musical instruments and audio effects. Cracks Gal: “Jeff will be like, ‘Listen, there’s the staple we dropped right there and it’s critical to the mix!’ He somehow remembers where they put everything on the tapes.”
Unlike the other six studio albums the quartet recorded, the “Rycopa” sessions were conceived, written and recorded on the band’s time frame at a house they shared near Little Five Points late in the last millennium. “Traditionally, whenever we got into the studio, we knew the clock was ticking, the meter was running and we had to get the songs down and recorded,” Jensen reflects. “We did all the creative stuff at home in advance. On this one, we got to do all the creative stuff on the fly as we recorded. That’s why, stylistically, it’s so different. Quite literally I wrote the song ‘Gunshow’ for this album one morning and we recorded it that afternoon. We had never worked like that as a band.”
Famously, the album sat on a shelf for years after Sony passed on releasing the double album since they “didn’t hear a single” in any of the album’s elaborate 32 tracks (we humbly disagree since the hilarious, hook-encrusted “It’s a Red, Red, Red Redneck World” has currently been lodged in this columnist’s head for the past 48 hours and we’re currently contemplating an intervention. . .).
Late last summer, Brown was inclined to agree: “We listen to this now and think, ‘How did we think anyone would be willing to put this album out?!’ I mean, it’s unquestionably the best thing we ever recorded. It’s just miles ahead of the other albums. We knew from day one that this might be our one chance to do whatever the hell we wanted and we capitalized on that. But from a label perspective, we now completely understand why they didn’t care about this at all.”
Adds Jensen: “It’s something that’s hung over our heads all these years. It’s remained a source of frustration because we got 92 percent there but only ended up with these crappy cassette tapes of [an unmixed and unreleased] project we all really loved.” These days, Jensen and his family reside in Washington D.C., Brown and family reside in New Jersey while the McDade and Decker clans are based here.
But in the age of modern technology, where guitar riffs can zip across the internet and into your email in-box and Skype can reunite band members across the world in an instant, does Jensen see a possible post-”Rycopa” recording future for the now 40-something year old Uncle Green boys? Last summer, Jensen told us: “Even the thought of putting the album out and doing a live show seems like science fiction right now to me. But there’s something incredibly fun about the thought of sending Matt an acoustic track and saying, ‘Mess around with it and see what you can do with it.’”
Brown adds with a grin: “It’s totally possible. I mean, we’re sitting here talking to you and mixing ‘Rycopa’ after 14 years, right?!
“Rycopa” is currently available at Decatur CD, Criminal Records, Wax n Facts and online at CDBaby.com. Tickets to Saturday’s show can be purchased for $12 at TicketAlternative.com. Longtime Uncle Green and 3 Lb. Thrill fans can chat with the band members directly about the new double disc and this weekend’s gig at the band’s official Facebook fan page.